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Romania Unadulterated: Book Review – “Bread, Salt & Plum Brandy”, by Lisa Fisher Cazacu

September 11th, 2010 · 2 Comments · Books, International Media, PEOPLE, Reviews

Bread, Salt & Plum Brandy by Lisa Fisher Cazacu

I bought this book after finishing William Blacker’s Along the Enchanted Way – the two accounts of Romania (roughly contemporaneous) could not be more different from each other, like chalk and cheese and reading it came as a shock! Please do not get me wrong, one does need  shock therapy in order to take a harder look at ourselves and see how one could improve one’s own lot: according to Lisa Fisher Cazacu there is still a lot to be done about it and I believe her.

This is as straight as you could get it – an unadulterated uncosmetisized account on Real Romania, ten years after the fall of Communism. Its title, Bread, Salt & Plum Brandy alludes to the tradition of hospitality in offering a symbolic piece of bread with a pinch of salt as a welcoming gesture to a visiting stranger. As for the plum-brandy bit this is the national liquor which accompanies merry-making and the author had an ample taste of both. But who is this young gutsy lady who threw herself in the turmoil of working as a  American Peace Corps volunteer, on an assignment to this God-forsaken  port on the Lower Danube? This is the nearest to the Balkans as you can get!  Well, she is a buoyant, enthusiastic Texan who  is ready to fore go her TexMex food, her Pizza Margaritas and her Starbuck coffees (oh how she misses all these, but then she made a stick to beat herself with) in order to do good and improve the lot of poor Romanian youth. Nothing wrong with this, quite the contrary: this is very commendable, except that Romanians are not used to altruism and suspect poor Lisa of some ulterior motives –

May be she is an American spy, trying to steal Romanian secrets?

What secrets? these the reader will soon be cognizant of,  by reading this candid account which often dissolves into hilarious scenes of the Theatre of the Absurd. But I am not going to spoil the potential readers pleasure of discovering for themselves the funny side of  this clash of cultures. And clash there  is and plenty of it, but Lisa is not going to be easily defeated: better still, in the process she gains TWO ‘pluses’, not one:

FIRSTLY she comes to realize  the true blessing of being born in a country where  public services function properly and are taken for granted:

what, no bus service to take children to school? What, no compulsion by Romtelecom the national telephone company to fix the fault on Lisa’s line at a weekend?

Who needs a phone, anyway?

The list of Ubuesque mishaps is endless and a great eye-opener both for the reader who could not imagine it and for the natives who got used to and put up with it for far too long!

But, thankfully, not all natives – for Romania is experiencing a brain drain of unprecedented scale and not just brains but muscles too – Romanians emigrate in droves to get away from the quagmire of corrupt officialdom – in the last two decades more than two millions mostly young able-bodied people have voted with their feet and left their country , not in good cheer, but in despair …

One of the statistics is Lisa’s Romanian husband and this is the SECOND ‘plus’ I had in mind as a benefit of Lisa’s Romanian experience: for this rumbustious and unflappable young lady would not allow her unpleasant experiences tarnish her romance with a dashing Mr. Cazacu. They get married and beat the bureaucracy at its game (o yes, even the American bureaucracy because we learn that there is some…) to live “happy ever after” in Texas!

Who needs a better happy-ending than this? in fact, on reflection there are bits in this account to please each and all readers. I for one, after overcoming  the initial shock, I enjoyed this brave story in spite of its stark comments, or perhaps because of it. Thank you Lisa!

GIURGIU, the Danube port where Lisa Fisher Cazacu was posted. This is a historic lithograph dating from the mid 19th century showing a market Fair; in the background a Turkish mosque built by the Ottomans (only its minaret survives today) and further away a Christian Orthodox church. Giurgiu in the 21st century has remained a Balkan backwater.

For a “feel” of other travelers accounts of the river Danube (1800-1940) see our other article:

Romantic Travels on the Lower Danube (1800 – 1940)


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2 Comments so far ↓

  • alexghe

    The tower in the image is not a minaret and it was not bult by the turquish. It is a watch tower and over time water tank holder for the fire dept., and now clock tower and it was built before the tuquish bi the genovese.

    • editor

      Domnule AlexGhe,
      Multumesc pt observatia Dummitale. Faptul ca sunt nascut la Giurgiu, nu schimba nimic din textul cate il comentezi. Va trebui sa revin la sursele literaturii calotorilor in Tarile Romane ca sa fiu mai la obiect. Ce imi ramane, totusi clar este gravura din Orasul Giurgiu, pe vremea cand era raya turceasca si care ilustreaxa cartea cu jurnalul de calatorie pe Dunare, dela Viena pana la Giurgiu si mai deparye prin tara Romaneasca. Autorul este Contele Rus Alexandru Demidoff, iar artistul pictor care l-a insotit in calatorie este Raffet, Sunt doua gravuri cu Giurgiu, una cu un iarmaroc si alta chiar a minaretului si moscheii cu pricina. Data, daca mi-o amintesc corect este pe la 1835.Este evident va pe vremea cant Giurgiu era chiar raya, deci avea un statut diferit de restul Tarii Romanesti, sa fi avut in mod cert o moscheie, daca ne place noua sau nu: acesta este un adevar istoric, dar istoria dar Romania se schimba dupa cum bate vantul.

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