the unexpected museum tour

Picture it: Eastern Europe.  Romania.  Pitesti (“Pih-tesht”).  A bustling city parked in the countryside.  Living long in the shadow of Bucharest, Romania’s largest city by 20 times.  But that doesn’t mean Pitesti doesn’t try.  Or take pride in their accomplishments.  After all, they too, have loosed the chains of Communism and are free.

Take their National Museum, por ehemplo.  A minute, but well stocked treasure trove of information (and you eventually get to the swords) about Romania’s environment and history.

As part of an extended mission trip in a foreign country, a leader or host of said mission team would of course want to culture the team.  What better way than to wedge a visit to the National Museum in between racing from the church to a park performance?  After all, the museum is small, and it can’t take too long to get through, especially because everything is in Romanian.

The group of 15 students (high school and college ages), 3 leaders (Steph, Travis, and Erin), 1 official group add-on (moi), 2 hostesses (Dutzi (rhymes with “Oopsi” – as in oopsi daisies) and Elena – young Romanian leaders from the church), and a baby in a stroller (Steph & Travis’ Jovie), all enter.  Lights are off; all is quiet.  In the foyer (“foy-yeazs”), a quiet waif of a woman accepts our 2 lei-each entry fee (about 90 cents) and we enter the first exhibit room, which is 5 feet away after hanging a Louis from the foyer.  Students disburse, and begin drinking in the knowledge that is Romania.  We are off on our own, as in most museum experiences.

But a slight commotion ensues.  A rotund, humorless man holding a stick enters the room and loudly begins proclaiming things in his native tongue.  It seems this man intends to give us a tour.  This apparently deeply surprises Dutzi and Elena. Stunned, they attempt to stifle their shock and amusement at this man as he pivots in the center of the room, speaking authoritatively, his long stick – which we’ve deduced by now is meant to point at the various beefs and cheeses displayed on the walls – traveling in circles around the room’s circumference.  The man isn’t budging from his self-imposed post as tour-guide, continues to talk, and waits for one of them to translate.  Silence.  He says something in Romanian, eyes widened, pokes his head at them, then opens his hands at his side as if to say, ‘Well, go on then.’  (Again, here is a series of surrepetitiously-taken photographs.)

The way his right hand effortlessly controls the stick at this point is important to note, and I think I’ve captured it in this photograph.  It hangs, ever so gingerly, between his pointer and middle finger right at the first knuckle, and he gently swings it.  It betrays his long relationship with said stick, and perhaps his comfort with it, almost like his baby blanket.  One wonders if he takes it home with him, if it’s at his side in the church pew, if he buckles it in its own seat belt, if he has named it, or even if his wife feels like the stick is competition for real estate in her bed.

Dutzi struggles to try and translate.  And also keep a straight face.  When he turns to face another direction, Elena giggles and her eyes widen.  She also makes a face as if to apologize.  Travis looks over and whispers, “This is RIPE.  I’m going to love this.”

Dutzi didn’t know she was going to translate for us today in the Pitesht National Museum.  What does our tour begin with – uh, plate tectonics?  Photosynthesis?  Wha?  I’ve accidentally entered a time-warp and traveled to 6th grade science class with Mrs. Warner and her super-bendy right pointer finger.  I am no longer in a museum about Romania, and I am annoyed.  I did not pay one whole dollar to get a 6th grade science review, especially while taking a very sloooow walk, carrying a 43-pound backpack, in a dusty, stuffy 87 degree building with smelly teenagers.  (No offense, if one of you smellies happen to wander onto my blog.)  I digress.

Students do their best to behave well.  Oopsi does her best with the translation, but she didn’t know she was giving a Biology tour in English today, so there’s a LOT of the the roundish man chattering away and pointing, then silence, and then in English, a brief, generic explanation that I might’ve come up with by looking at the picture on the wall.  The difference in the time it takes the rotund man to talk and Oops to translate is astonishing, and wildly entertaining.  It’s almost like watching an English-dubbed Japanese kung-fu movie: the lips keep moving, but not much is said.  Rotund Man notices, and appears visibly annoyed.  He apparently mildly insults her.

We move on from photosynthesis and enter the room with stuffed animals.  We have in front of us a sample Food Chain.

Rotund Man: Romanian blah blah blah blah blah blah.  Dutzi: “Here are some birds.”  More Romanian sentences…  “And some more birds.”  Two Romanian words.  Silence.  The man quietly looks and does the head poke-hand gesture to Dutzi.  Having apparently first waited for more to translate, but maintaining eye contact with him, she now responds, dead-pan: “A bear.”

At this point, I nearly die. I can’t look at Stephenie, Travis, or anyone else for that matter.  I sneak back it to the next room and weep quietly while struggling to breathe.

Shortly after this, I finally discover what the eyeball is I keep seeing peering around doors and corners. I noticed The Eyeball a ways back, but I now know it’s attached to a woman’s head. There is apparently a middle-aged woman secretly following us.  She goes ahead one room (from a secret passageway maybe?) and turns on the light switch, then makes her way back to turn off the light switch of the room we are exiting (but in some cases, are still in).  She doesn’t speak.  She only very nearly exists, what with her one eyeball and light-switching finger.

The tour goes on, into narrower, hotter rooms.  The tour won’t end.  Everyone is tired.  Maybe we’re so tired from having to stifle the laughter?  We are winding down but he is still going strong.

Completely worth it.


4 Responses to “the unexpected museum tour”

  1. 1 Valerie
    July 11, 2008 at 8:01 am

    The question we’re all burning to know: did you give him a tip? You’re pictures are fabulous, I’m enjoying keeping occasional track of you!

  2. 2 kalbfly
    July 11, 2008 at 8:11 am

    thanks! no tipping in this part of the world. at least i hope that’s true…

  3. 4 Brittany
    October 24, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    haha! oh wow…what a day!!
    I remember the man kept looking at everyone really weird if we tried to take a picture of him…you must have been pretty sneaky:)

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Katie Albert


PO Box 6536
Folsom, CA 95763
July 2008
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