movies

A review of The Way I Spent the End of the World…

This week, I watched three Romanian films. All three were in Romanian, and all three were made around 2006 or thereabouts. Why was I watching Romanian films? Simple… because they’re interesting, and surprisingly entertaining, even if I do have to read the subtitles. I also find Romania’s recent history fascinating.

A few years ago, after I saw a couple of Romanian films and mentioned them online, my Italian friend, Vittorio (whom I never talk to anymore because he got disgusted by Facebook), recommended that I see The Way I Spent the End of the World. This film, made in 2006 and directed by Romanian Cătălin Mitulescu, is about the love between two siblings, Eva and Lilu Mattei, born ten years apart. The story is set in a village near Bucharest in 1989, just before the Romanian Revolution, when former dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, were run out of power and publicly executed.

A trailer for The Way I Spent the End of the World.

Eva (Dorotheea Petre) is 17 years old and, at the beginning of the film, is a student at a high level school– probably akin to a Gymnasium in Germany. One day, her boyfriend gets a fake note from the principal sent to her so he can steal a few minutes with her outside of class. The two of them are typical hormonally charged teenagers, horsing around in the school’s hallways, when they accidentally knock over a bust of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s head. It shatters, causing them to fear for their lives. It wasn’t unusual or strange for them to be so frightened. At that time in Romania, people were terrified of Ceaușescu’s secret and brutal police force, the Securitate.

Naturally, Eva gets in trouble and winds up being expelled from her hoity toity school– voted out, no less, by her classmates, who probably just wanted to avoid getting into trouble themselves. She gets sent to a technical school, where she meets a rebellious young man named Andrei (Cristian Vararu), the son of a dissident. Eva hooks up with Andrei and the two decide they want to cross the Danube into Yugoslavia and escape to Italy.

Meanwhile, Eva’s seven year old brother, Lalalilu “Lilu” Matei (Timotei Duma) has already figured out that Ceaușescu is bad news. He loves his sister, Eva, who is more motherly to him than their actual mother is. In a sweet scene at the beginning of the film, Lilu has a loose tooth the family is trying to help him lose. Lilu says he’ll never open his mouth again and Eva tempts him with delicious cherry jam. With much coaxing and sweet talk, she manages to yank the loose tooth. This scene always sticks with me, because it sets up just how close the siblings are, even though they are ten years apart in age.

Lilu has a lot of friends and they all talk amongst themselves about their leader. They whisper about what happens to dissidents, such as Andrei’s father, who is punished for speaking out against Ceaușescu. Moreover, Lilu is convinced that Ceaușescu is the main reason his beloved sister, Eva, wants to defect from Romania. So Lilu and his friends hatch a plan to kill the leader. Lilu tricks his way into a children’s choir scheduled to sing for Ceaușescu as he addresses the nation on what would turn out to be his very last day terrorizing Romania.

My thoughts

I have watched this film several times, having invested in my own copy a few years ago. I find it fascinating on so many levels. First off, there’s the fact that Eva and I were both 17 years old in 1989. I grew up hearing about the Eastern Bloc nations, the Soviet Union, and how terrifying communism and socialism supposedly are. In 1989, it was never in my dreams that I would one day live in the former Soviet Union for a couple of years and then, after that, move to Germany and visit so many nations that were once closed to Americans. I have not been to Romania yet. Bill went in 2008, when we lived in Germany the first time. I have visited Bulgaria, though– back in 1996, when it was still pretty recently open to westerners. Those experiences in the 90s really blew my mind and have made me want to know more about what it was like before the fall of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain.

Secondly, I love watching the chemistry between Eva and Lilu. I am much younger than my three siblings are. When I was a child, they seemed more like my aunts than my sisters. When I lived in Armenia, I briefly lived with a young woman who was my age and was raising her nine year old brother, since their parents had died. I only lived there for two months, but I remember how she took care of him. I don’t think she was as affectionate to her brother as Eva and Lilu were… and Eva and Lilu still had their parents. But it’s clear that Eva takes care of her brother as if he was her child. The actors portraying these two characters did a remarkable job of connecting and being convincing– so much so, that I didn’t even really need subtitles to understand it.

Thirdly, I like the music in this film, along with the imagery. In one scene, when Eva is at her new “reform”/technical school, she’s asked if she can sing. She starts singing a lovely folk song. The song leader stops her and says, “That’s pretty, but it won’t do. Do you know anything else?” She answers that she only knows similar songs– she was not taught the pro-Romanian nationalist songs the song leader is looking to perform for Ceaușescu. It’s at that point, that everyone realizes that Eva had been a student at a much better school before she was sent to “tech” school, and it causes the other characters to wonder about her. Why is she going to an inferior school, where she will be forced to sing boring nationalist songs rather than the complex, beautiful folk songs she was taught at a school with a much better reputation? I thought that scene lent an interesting layer to the story. Eva doesn’t belong– she’s at the lower school because she’s being punished for having a “bad attitude”, not because she’s got a poor intellect or no talent. It’s like an unspoken warning to the others to behave.

And finally, I really liked the way the Romanian people were portrayed in the Mateis’ neighborhood. There was a time when neighbors knew each other and mingled. We don’t see that so much today, especially in the United States. I’ve seen it a bit more in Germany, although even here, people are kind of distant and keep to themselves. Before COVID-19, our village had a biweekly wine stand, where we’d all gather in the “Dorfplatz” and drink wine. Although Bill and I are far from German speakers, that wine stand provided a chance for us to mingle with others in our neighborhood. Wine is a good social lubricant, when consumed in moderation. There’s a nice scene in The Way I Spent the End of the World where all the neighbors are eating and dancing, drinking plum brandy, and bonding. It kind of warmed my heart, especially after our year of “social distancing”.

Scenes from Ceaușescu’s last speech are included in The Way I Spent the End of the World. It’s cool to see how Mateis and their neighbors react as the dictator is taken down. It’s beautiful!

This film ends on a triumphant note, too… as Lilu and his friends are preparing to carry out their “diabolical” plan to execute Ceaușescu so Eva won’t have to leave home… and the public takes care of the deed for him. Later, we see Eva dressed in a Holland America Line cruise uniform as she reads a letter from her beloved brother. She’s earning money to send home to her family– quite a realistic ending, as I have encountered a number of eastern European nationals on my cruises and from reading the excellent book series Cruise Confidential by Brian David Bruns, an American who worked for Carnival cruises as a waiter, then an art dealer. At the time he wrote his first book, he had the distinction of being the only American to actually complete a contract waiting tables in the cruiseline’s history. And he also dated a Romanian waitress named Bianca. I have reviewed several of his books and referenced one of them in this post. Maybe some of us wish Eva had stayed in Romania with her brother, but she looks happy and somewhat regal in her uniform… and she has escaped to see the world, something that would have been unfathomable during Ceaușescu’s regime. She would have been expected to bear babies for the state, instead.

I do think it’s helpful to have some understanding of Romania’s recent history– particularly as it pertains to Ceaușescu’s era. Younger people who weren’t around during the Iron Curtain times might not appreciate this movie as much, because they will be less able to understand the context. Also, because it’s in Romanian, you have to pay attention to the subtitles to get what’s happening, unless, of course, you know the language. I suspect that Europeans would enjoy this more than Americans would, because a lot of Americans have no concept of life outside of the United States. However, as an American, I will happily state that I love this movie, and I think it’s worth the effort to watch it, if you’re willing to try to understand it. At the very least, it might encourage younger folks to learn about why charismatic wannabe dictators, like Donald Trump, are so dangerous.

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nostalgia

Black Friday… not about slavery.

I don’t know how this happened, but I grew up the daughter of small business owners and never heard the term “Black Friday” until 1994, when I took a job working at Windsor Shirt Company in Williamsburg, Virginia. Although my parents were in retail, they never used the expression “Black Friday”, and somehow I never heard of it on television ads, in newspaper or magazine articles, or anywhere else.

My job at Windsor Shirt was one of two jobs I ever had in retail. The other job was more like a retail/food service hybrid… it was at a chocolatier that served desserts, coffee drinks, and sold chocolate themed gifts. I liked the chocolatier job more than the shirt company job for a lot of reasons. For one thing, my boss at the chocolatier was a lot nicer to me than my boss at the men’s shirt outlet store. For another thing, I like chocolate more than I do men’s dress shirts. I held both jobs at the same time, and although the chocolatier paid minimum wage plus the odd tip, I much preferred it to hawking menswear… although I liked the clientele at Windsor Shirt Company more.

I remember my boss at Windsor Shirt that year was complaining that no one wanted to work on Black Friday, including me. She hadn’t explained what “Black Friday” was or why it was important to work that day. In the 90s, I was still very much into our family Thanksgiving gatherings in Natural Bridge, Virginia, clear across the state, and I wanted to spend the holiday with my folks. In my defense, it was my first retail job and I just didn’t have a clue, despite being raised by parents who ran a retail business. They simply closed for Thanksgiving weekend rather than fool with “Black Friday”.

My boss, who was a vegetarian, said I could go eat with her family. I was kind of offended by that, since Thanksgiving isn’t about the food for me. Seriously… although I like turkey fine, I can think of other meals that are a lot more exciting to me than a roasted bird is. I wanted to see my family, not hers. In those days, they still knew who I was and wanted to see me, too. Every year, the family has a big party and that serves as our family reunion as well as a holiday celebration. It’s important to most of us.

This particular boss was the type who spoke in a sing songy voice that thinly veiled her condescension and hostility. She used to beckon me with her fingers and speak to me as if I had limited intelligence. Strangely enough, most of the people who worked there said her husband was unfriendly, but I got along with him just fine. I remember thinking he was a perfectly nice guy, albeit a man of few words. I guess he’d have to be to deal with his wife every day.

In the end, my ex boss begrudgingly gave me Black Friday off, and I went to Natural Bridge, but rushed back to work on that Saturday. Ex boss was pretty nasty about that, too, warning everyone to park in the right area so that all of the parking spots were available for customers.

Man… I was so glad to quit that job, and she was glad to have me gone. My boss at Windsor Shirt and I didn’t mesh at all, for a lot of reasons. I’m also very glad I didn’t work Black Friday, since the following year, I was serving in the Peace Corps in Armenia, where I taught English, and I would not be home again for Thanksgiving until 1997. Little did I know that after I got married, I’d go “home” for Thanksgiving even less frequently.

My job at Windsor Shirt was handy, since I could buy clothes and shoes at a discount, and I needed both before I went to Armenia for two years. I stocked up on boots, sweaters, and turtlenecks, all of which really came in handy over there. That job did help me determine that I dislike working in retail, and I absolutely hate Black Fridays in stores, which brings me to the reason I’m writing today’s post about Black Friday…

This morning, someone shared this viral post on Facebook.

Shocking, indeed. I had never heard of this story and decided to investigate it.

I had never heard of this version of the “Black Friday” story, and I took courses in African-American literature and Women’s literature in college, where we discussed these things in depth. First off, by 1904, slavery in the United States was abolished. Secondly, while the term does have roots in the 19th century, it had nothing to do with slavery.

According to History.com, the first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” came about due to financial disaster. Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk decided to try to make a lot of money in the stock market by buying up a lot of gold and trying to sell it for huge profits. On Friday, September 24, 1869, their conspiracy fell apart and the stock market crashed, causing financial ruin to a broad array of people from all walks of life.

“Black Friday” was used again in the 1950s, when police in Philadelphia coined the term “Black Friday” to describe the masses of people who descended upon the city to watch the Army vs. Navy football game. The huge swarms of people made it impossible for any Philly based cop to take the day off work and caused them to have to work extra long shifts due to the bedlam. Not only did the crowds cause injury and property damage, there was also an uptick in shoplifting as criminals took advantage of the confusion.

Because the term “Black Friday” cast a shadow on the city during the biggest shopping season of the year, Philadelphia business people tried to coin a new expression, “Big Friday”. But that didn’t take off so well, so after a few years of trying, they eventually started using “Black Friday” to denote the big shopping day the day after Thanksgiving. That’s when the Christmas/Hanukkah seasons really get into gear and people start looking for gifts to exchange. By the late 80s, “Black Friday” became an expression that meant retailers would see their bank accounts go from “in the red” to “into the black” due to all of the money being spent.

And now that I’ve read about that, I can see why I had never heard of “Black Friday” until 1994. I graduated high school in 1990, and that was early in the history of today’s meaning of “Black Friday”. I moved away from home to go to college, and my parents didn’t open their business on Friday after Thanksgiving, anyway. As the History.com article points out, “Black Friday” isn’t even the biggest shopping day before Christmas. It turns out the Saturday before Christmas is even bigger. That makes perfect sense, if you think about it. I’d imagine convenience stores also do well, as people scramble to get something after all of the other stores have closed for the holiday.

Anyway, while I think my friend– an African– means well by sharing this mythical tale, there is no basis in truth that the original “Black Friday” involved slaves being sold at a discount or otherwise the day after Thanksgiving. Slave sales the day after Thanksgiving probably did happen at some point in history, but the event wasn’t called “Black Friday”, and today’s “Black Friday” has nothing at all to do with slavery, unless you want to facetiously include being forced to work that day or be fired. My former boss hinted at the possibility of my termination if I didn’t work that day; she opted not to fire me, because she happened to be pregnant at the time and needed me to stick around until after the baby was born. Personally, I find “Black Friday” pretty tasteless regardless, but there’s no need to make it more so by spreading falsehoods. Snopes agrees with me, by the way.

Who needs turkey? That dinner plate arrived yesterday after I broke one of our dinner plates on Tuesday. We weren’t able to bring all of our dishes with us when we moved in 2014, and World Market doesn’t ship to APO. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be here, but I guess I’ll just replace stuff with this pattern now. I just got three smaller plates delivered a minute ago.

Bill and I had a nice Thanksgiving. We had Cornish game hens, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and peas for me (since Bill can’t have them until he gets scoped), spinach for Bill, homemade rolls, and chocolate cake for dessert. I mentioned on Facebook that German ovens and hormone infused turkeys don’t mesh, due to the small size of the ovens most people have over here. Someone asked if hormone infused meats were “allowed” in Germany. As my German friend pointed out, they’re not. However, the commissaries on any American military base abroad carry American products, and that includes turkeys from the United States. We don’t just shop on the economy for food, although we certainly try to as much as possible.

If I was inclined to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas, I probably would not go to a German Metzgerei, because it’s not likely that their turkeys would be prepared the way I would expect them to be. For instance, the first time we tried to cook a German chicken, we mistakenly chose a “soup chicken”, which was intended to be boiled in a pot of soup. It was much too tough to eat. I would not want a similar disaster to occur with a turkey, given how much time and effort goes into cooking them, so I would probably opt for a Butterball, even though they’re not as clean as German birds are. Or we could just do a breast, but I like dark meat more than white, while Bill is a white meat man.

Since there are just two of us, and neither of us cares that much about turkey, we decided Cornish game hens were better. And we have plenty of leftovers, too. I only managed to finish about half of mine. Germans don’t seem to cook turkeys like we do, anyway. They prefer to eat goose this time of year. I wish Bill hadn’t made so much cranberry sauce. I don’t like it as much as he does, and he can’t eat any until after he gets scoped on Monday. The rolls were a hit, though, as were the potatoes!

We also had lots of wine and lots of Gordon Lightfoot. I bought all of his album in MP3 form from Amazon so I could stream it from my Bose speaker in the living room while I finished our latest jigsaw puzzle. It was 1000 pieces, and we were missing four until we found them under the couch.

This was a real bitch to put together, but seeing it completed is rewarding. And now, I’m going to take it apart and start on the next puzzle, which will probably also take two weeks to complete.

Well… I’m not sure what we’ll do today. Bill took the day off, since he worked enough hours last week to pretty much make up for today. We may venture into Wiesbaden in search of coffee beans, or maybe we’ll check out the Christmas markets… but that would mean shopping on Black Friday, which is sort of catching on in Germany, too, even though Thanksgiving isn’t a “thing” in Germany.

Today’s featured photo is not of Black Friday– it’s of the hellacious security line Bill and I endured a few years ago when airport workers went on strike. We went to Hamburg for MLK day in 2015. I think in 2020, we may visit London again. We’ll see…

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23andMe

Guess I’m not Spanish or Italian anymore…

23andMe just updated their algorithm again. According to them, I no longer have Spanish or Italian DNA. I’m a little bummed about it. Now, instead of Spanish and Italian DNA, I have gone back to having Scandinavian DNA.

Back in September 2017, Bill and I submitted saliva samples to 23andMe. These were my original results.

South Asian? That was surprising. Turns out it was also apparently wrong.

About fourteen months ago, 23andMe updated again. This time, they said I had Scandinavian DNA to go with my majority British heritage.

I always wondered if maybe there was a little Swede in my creed.

But then they updated again… and until a couple of days ago, they had removed the Scandinavian connection and added .7% Spanish, Portuguese, and .5% Italian ancestry. I also went up a trace in British and Irish ancestry, as well as Native American. I could believe the Native American connection, given that my people have been in Virginia for a couple of centuries. I figured at least one or two of them must have gotten with a local. And I could also see the Spanish connection because of the Spanish Armada. There is such a thing as “Black Irish” people– those are Irish folks who have dark hair and dark eyes because they made babies with people from Spain. Also consider that Spain actually isn’t that far from Britain or Ireland as the crow flies… and that they got their dark features from people in Africa. Southern Spain is not so far from Morocco, you know.

I kind of enjoyed thinking I might have a dash of spicy Spanish or zesty Italian in my DNA. But, then 23andMe ran their data again and, wouldn’t you know it? I’m not only no longer Spanish or Italian at all; I’m also a tiny bit more Native American.

So maybe I’m a little Scandic after all… for now, anyway.

All of these tests are done at a 50% confidence interval, so chances are excellent that these results are mostly bullshit anyway. What they do know is that my origins are almost 100% European. All you need to do is look at me to know that. I’m actually glad to see the higher concentration of German ancestry, since I know for a fact that I had German relatives from the Rhein and Karlsruhe relatively recently, as in the 1800s. You can change the confidence interval on 23andMe to see your actual raw data if you want to– up to 90%. I have always sucked at statistics, even though I took six classes in the course of my seven years in university studies. What I know is that at a 50% confidence interval, researchers are only 50% sure of their results. The overall results become less specific at 90%, though they are definitely more accurate.

Bill’s results changed, too. He’s no longer got Nigerian roots. Instead, he has links to Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. I never thought I’d be in an “interracial relationship”, but I guess I am… Looking at Bill, you’d never know he has any African genes, but apparently, he does. He has Dutch ancestry and the Dutch were quite involved in the African slave trade, which means some of them were having sexual relations with African locals.

I can’t help but remember studying slave narratives in my African American and Women’s literature classes at Longwood University and learning about the “tragic mulatto“. That was a fictional character that appeared in literature back in the 19th and 20th centuries… a character that was sad or even suicidal because he or she was “mixed” race and did not fit into either black or white worlds. In the slave era, many white men got black women pregnant. The children that resulted from these sexual trysts were considered “black”, as one drop of African blood supposedly meant a person was black. Naturally, some of them “passed” as white people and enjoyed more privileged lives. It kind of makes me cringe to think about that today, but it was the law in parts of the United States back in the 1800s. The “one drop” rule was never federally codified and is now, thankfully, a defunct law.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t even been 100 years since my home state of Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made interracial marriages illegal and required all birth and marriage certificates issued in the state to declare a person either “white” or “colored”. Even today, there’s still controversy about racial relationships in Virginia. Just recently, Rockbridge County, which is where most of my family is originally from and where Bill and I got married, was in the news because the marriage licenses issued there required applicants to state “what they were” racially speaking. Virginia was recently sued due to requiring marriage license applicants to list their races. It’s not the first time Virginia has been in the news regarding its attitudes about interracial relationships. Until 1967, it was illegal in Virginia for a white person and a black person to marry. It took the Supreme Court to make the decision to lift bans on interracial marriages.

I’ve spent over half of my life in Virginia, never fully understanding just how racist a past it has. And this is even though I had the benefit of education and a normally functioning brain. What’s funny about these DNA tests that anyone can take is that people are realizing that we aren’t as “pure” as we think we are. People with racist attitudes are finding out that many of them have genetic links to the people they most disdain. We are more alike than we are different. And yet, even in 2019, we have plenty of white supremacists around, proudly showing off their racism to the masses.

I suppose I shouldn’t care so much about where I came from. I find genealogy and DNA testing fascinating, especially since there are so many stories connected to it. I recently wrote about how I found a DNA relative through 23andMe. Her mother was the biological daughter of my great uncle Edward, whom I never knew. He was my paternal grandmother’s brother, and he died six years before I was born. My relative, who writes that I am the only one on 23andMe from my great uncle’s family who has connected with her, explained that her bio grandmother had a “fling” with my great uncle and got pregnant. She was originally from Farmville, Virginia, the town where I went to college and where Virginia’s great teaching college, Longwood University, is located. It’s likely Edward’s girlfriend was a Longwood graduate like me, since she was a teacher by profession.

Bio grandma gave up my DNA relative’s mother for adoption in Roanoke, Virginia, not at all far from Natural Bridge, Virginia– which is where my father’s family is from and many relatives still live. My new relative’s mom had a fling with a man who worked at the Uruguayan Embassy in Washington, DC back in 1944. In 1945, my relative was born. She grew up thinking she was half Hispanic, but she learned thanks to 23andMe, she is actually half Ashkenazi Jewish. Her father, who had “passed” for Uruguayan, was actually most probably someone whose family fled Europe to escape the Nazis.

I love a good story, and this lady is now sharing her story with me. And it’s all because of 23andMe, she’s learning about her mother’s father… a man whom I never knew, but I knew his sister, my grandmother, quite well. I am providing a link to that part of her history, all thanks to DNA testing. Still, I have to admit that having done the test, I have a lot of questions I never considered before… and it’s very interesting to see how the guesses as to what and who I am are changing as more people get DNA testing done. My new relative even found pictures of our great grandparents– Rebecca and Edward Barger– my granny’s mom and dad and her grandfather’s mom and dad. It amazes me that until very recently, making this connection with my relative would have been very unlikely. I wish I could connect her to some of my older relatives, whom I know could answer more of her questions than I can.

Anyway… writing about this keeps me from watching bad TV and eating junk food, which according to 23andMe, I’m probably statistically more likely to do, thanks to my DNA. I’m just kidding. I don’t think they’ve yet made that determination. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if, someday, they did.

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