Romania: The Royal Art Museum


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At the Royal Art Museum

At the Royal Art Museum.


We arrived home from Romania, and the sidebar excursions to Paris and London, around midnight Saturday, October 18. I have started culling the 3500 photos I took, and was brought back to the afternoon we spent wandering the National Art Museum in Bucharest. Architecturally, it is a testament to 19th century palatial elegance.

Postcard of National Art Museum 1937-38.

Postcard of National Art Museum 1937-38.

It was built between 1812 to 1815 (the approximate time the U.S. was engaged in the War of 1812 with Great Britain). It started as a private residence, was taken over by royalty in 1834, housed the seat of the State Council during the reign of Nicolae Ceausescu, and opened as an art museum in 2000. Its collection ranges from embroidered tapestries dating to the 14th century to paintings by European masters like Lucas Cranach the Elder and Rembrandt to sculptures by its native son, Constantin Brancusi, and others I never heard of.

Venus and Cupid by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Venus and Cupid by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Emroidery with silver gilt thread Neamt Monastery 14th century?

Emroidery with silver gilt thread Neamt Monastery, 14th century?

The Chimera of Air  by Dimitrie Pachurea 1873-1922

The Chimera of Air by Dimitrie Pachurea 1873-1922.

But one of the best unexpected finds was the grand staircase leading up to the European galleries:

stairs at the Royal Art Museum Bucharest

It had endless angles …

stairs 6

… and curves to explore.

National art museum stairs 1

It was like looking at a giant heart:


Yes, Doc. I Drink Every Day


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wine 2

A Monday pour.


Most primary care physicians, as a routine part of a well visit, will ask about your drinking habits. Having spent more time than usual this past year in doctors offices, the dialogue, always with the word “moderately,” and my answer, always the same, came up a half dozen times:

“Do you drink alcohol?”
“What’s moderately?”
“Three or four drinks per week.”
“Hmm. Uh — yes, moderately.”

Truth is, I’m a liar. I’ve started drinking wine at home. Every day. Since I’m dedicated to maintaining good health and my well-being, I know that comes with being happy. So if happiness includes opening a bottle of wine to close down the day’s toil (and every day has some toil), I will pop that cork.

I haven’t always enjoyed a daily dose of wine. I’m a social drinker. I just about salivate my way towards that first sip and, just as mouth-watering, is the anticipation of sharing it with other people. I rarely have a drink before I go out for the evening. But I’m more mature now, and my drinking has fully-developed. I drink gloriously. Like a European.

I’ve come to enjoy and look forward to grabbing the bottle by the neck before I open it up to let it breathe. (I confess that I can’t tell the difference between wine that sits for a bit to “breathe,” or wine that I’ve pulled the broken cork out with my teeth and sucked a first sip right out of the bottle.)

Regardless, once that bottle is untethered, all of the senses start to revel. The smell of an inky, purple-y Malbec, or a freezer-chilled, buttery Chardonnay soothes from the nose down. Unlike that first sip of vodka, which usually makes me quiver into a hoot (“Woo!”), wine whispers its way down my throat, turns up the corners of my mouth, and closes my eyes. It makes the end of the day celebratory; well-lived. Deserved.


Fill ‘er up.

Since I’m not a fan of feeling groggy at night, or heavy-headed the morning after, one glass usually suffices when I’m not sharing. I use the 1940s wheat-etched glasses that my Irish mom (who doesn’t drink a lick), recently gave to me. They’re just a touch of glass; delicate. And I can fill them just below the brim (once) — a pour that is improper (and probably against the law) outside of the home.

So perhaps I will fess up at the next visit to the doctor: Yes, I drink alcohol. Moderately. Every day. I drink wine every day. But usually just one glass. I moderately-pour usually-one glass of wine into a moderately-sized vintage glass. Every day.

A Few Bites from the Land of Dracula


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Enjoy this pictorial for the palate sent by Julie, who has been traveling through Romania for the past two weeks. Who knew? Romania is, apparently, a foodie destination — with menus rich in range and steeped in flavor. Meals, according to Julie, included “the best tabbouleh ever,” veal knuckles, and Spaghetti Bolognese.


The square in Piata Mica, Sibiu Romania.

The food in Romania is decadent. From fried pork appetizers to papanash, a donut covered with cream and sweet berries, there is always something to make you worry about your cholesterol and waistline. Of course – salads are always an option.~Julie


Julie said, even though “Martini” was “on” the menu, there were none.

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See below for what this is called …

photo 1-2

"Best Tabbouleh EVER!"

“Best tabbouleh EVER!”


Bean and Bacon Soup in Bread.




Veal Knuckles.


Fried Pork with Raw Onion.




The servers.


The desserts.


Papanash (cheese and sugar).


Remember PEZ? A Museum Does


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Pez main


Among the fondest memories of we over-50s is penny candy. It amazes my children when I tell them that when I was a kid, you could actually buy something with a penny. In fact, you could often get two of something for a penny — like Bazooka Bubble Gum. In this age of packaged candy that costs a dollar or more, it is truly remarkable that there was a time when we could cash in an empty bottle, and use the two-cent deposit to buy candy!

And just when my children are telling me that the only use for a penny today is to pay sales tax, I blow their minds when I tell them that back when I was a kid, there was no sales tax. People just paid the listed price. Those pennies were just for candy.


Well recently I was travelling on I-95 in Connecticut and I passed a sign that advertized a museum of PEZ. Now PEZ is one of those special baby-boomer-era treats like penny candy. For the uninitiated, PEZ is a small brick-shaped candy that comes in several flavors. It started out In Austria in 1927 as a mint for people who wanted to quit smoking. In fact, the word PEZ comes from the German word “pfefferminz” meaning “peppermint.” The famous PEZ dispenser was designed to look like a cigarette lighter.

However, PEZ did not come to America until the 1950s. So we were the first generation of children to experience it, and the novelty of the now-iconic plastic dispenser. I think that it was certainly the dispenser that made PEZ special. They made hundreds of different dispensers with many famous characters on them. Collecting PEZ dispensers is still widespread enough that collectors gather annually for conventions.

Pez dispensers
At the PEZ Museum in Orange, Connecticut they have displays of the many ingenious dispensers that the company has made over the years. My favorites are the dispensers with the heads of presidents of the United States. But there are few licensed characters in the world from Mickey Mouse to Elvis Presley who have not had their heads on a PEZ dispenser.

In addition to the traditional cigarette shaped dispenser, PEZ also marketed guns as dispensers. This allowed kids to shoot candy into the mouths of their friends.

The PEZ museum is actually located at the plant where PEZ candy is made (the dispensers come from China). So if you go on a weekday, you can watch them make thousands of little PEZ bricks in scores of flavors. And of course, you can buy PEZ. Here, the self-guided tour does not just exit through the gift shop, it is integrated into the gift shop. But where else can you find a Thomas the Tank Engine or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles PEZ dispenser?

PEZ and penny candy are among the great treats of a baby boomer childhood. Sadly, only PEZ is still with us. The types of candy that a penny used to buy, if you can still find them, are now a specialty nostalgia item. But even at the current inflated price, a licorice pipe is a treat that I will want to share with my grandson. And I can amaze him with tales of the wondrous things a penny used to buy for a kid.

I Hardly Knew You, Laurie



Laurie ran a local farmstand that sold tomatoes, corn, peaches, the usual summer fare, along with odd items like jumbo homemade Hula hoops covered with electrical tape, and dreamcatchers made from jute and antique jewelry findings. She sold local honey at exorbitant prices, and by the cash register there was a take-a-book, give-a-book exchange-shelf filled with tattered thrillers from 10 years ago.

Often when I rode my bike, I would pass by Laurie’s to buy an overpriced peach or two and chat about the weather, or the tourists, or what it’s like in the winter at the Shore. Her black Lab mutt, corralled in the back, would whoof loudly when I approached the counter.  

“Calm down Sammy, it’s okay!” She laughed. “He’s almost 13.”

As if that explained his ill temper.

“He’ll probably outlive me.”

He did.

 Someone in town mentioned that Laurie had died suddenly two weeks ago. I couldn’t believe it, so I rode my bike over there and, sure enough, it was boarded up. There was a white piece of paper on the bulletin board outside, weatherized with a taped-on piece of plastic wrap, with a simple announcement: “LAURIE’S FARM MARKET WILL BE CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND PRAYERS.”

Nearby, stood a creepy makeshift totem with purplish lipstick and braided blue rope for hair. It was decorated with draped netting and dangling clamshells, and at its base, lay a painted rock displaying the epitaph “Grow in God’s garden.”

Burnt-out battery-operated candles and a broken wine goblet completed the sad sidewalk tableau. A girl in her twenties passed by walking a dog. I asked her what had happened.

“She just died last Saturday night,” she said, shaking her head. “I live next door, so I heard right away. Real shame.”

“How’d she die?”

“Asthma attack. 54 years old.”

Now I was feeling uncomfortable, and very mortal. She had been six years younger than me. And dying from an asthma attack must be horrible – basically, you struggle for breath, unsuccessfully, until you suffocate. The neighbor didn’t know if the business would reopen.

“Depends if her kids want to run it,” she said, tugging her dog away from snuffling in the roadside weeds. “Which I think they don’t.”

She’d mentioned once she was divorced, but I had no idea she had grown children. And I’d thought the woman who made the hoops and dreamcatchers was her business partner or life partner or whatever, but nope – just someone Laurie had allowed to share the selling space, so she wasn’t taking over either.

She was a friend, but I hardly knew her. Like my older brother, she espoused a homespun hippie philosophy of live and let live, and doing the right thing for the world. With her jeans and work shirts and unruly blond hair, she could have been a pot-smoking Dead Head, but she wasn’t.

She worked hard. She got up early to go to the local farms to pick out whatever they had that looked good that day. Often she harvested it herself, and she had the dirty fingernails and scraped and calloused hands to prove it. But she wasn’t complaining. She seemed to love her work.

Two years ago she had boxes of exotic melons, perfectly round and bright yellowish green, like lime-saffron bowling balls. The fruit was remarkably sweet and juicy, with a subtle floral flavor that snuck up on you after the last bite. I tasted a sample Laurie had set out at the stand, and bought two on the spot. We cut one up that night and it was every bit as perfect as the sample. But we waited two days before cutting into the other one, and by then it was slushy, almost rotten inside, and we had to discard it. Apparently, they had a short shelf life.

“Snooze ya lose!” she laughed, plopping my free replacement melon on the counter. “Ya gotta eat the fruit while it’s sweet.”



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