My apartment is a little more than a mile from my work. The walk to work is through one of the best parts of town, the city center. The central part of Balti is a walking area, there’s the cultural house, a movie theater that shows Russian movies with Romanian subtitles – Balti is a Russian town, a fountain that doesn’t work, a mall with lots of expensive and beautiful clothes, several restaurants and bars and pigeons that seem to always cover one section of the large cobblestone thoroughfare. There’s a small alcove park off the central part of the walking area – just across from the wedding or events hall, just past the corner where the accordion player sits and just before the unused fountain – that seems to always have someone in it having photographs taken, a couple, a wedding party or simply a few girls taking model shots of each other. The park is new, its semi –circle of columns perfectly white and unweathered, the busts that line the side almost gleam still and the landscaping is still perfect, no missing patches of grass or worn paths where people have chosen to avoid the side walked section. Sometimes if the scene is interesting enough I will watch these photo sessions – there’s something about almost being a part of their moment, this memory, something about the way our lives are almost intersecting here, that I love.
The best part of my walk to work though is the large park that’s just past the turn off for the central piata, past the WWII tank that’s number, 720, is so important to know as a Balti resident, but right before the Celentano’s. Every day the flower ladies are there, these same three women sitting there, with their makeshift booths, selling the most beautiful flowers, perfect roses for one lei each. Flowers here are sold by the flower, not by the bunch, although you can bargain if you’re looking to buy a bunch.
In the park itself, there is a market – everyday but Mondays; there is a superstition here that if you spend money on Monday, you will spend all week. The market here sells clothes, antiques and other household goods; the vendors lay their wares on the ground, spread out neatly on tarps, sometimes marked clearly with prices other times simply grouped by like object. The clothes here are from anytime in the last three decades, for any and all ages, but the used women’s clothes here seem to come in the size zero Moldoveanca and the size 14 baba variety only. The other vendors sell odds and ends and a few in the corner sell soviet coins and antiques, these clocks, chess sets, candelabras and even the occasional menorah that make you wish you knew more about history in this corner of the world- that make you wonder what these objects story is. When you ask prices here, in Romanian, the vendors respond in Russian – sometimes they will correct themselves if you speak in Romanian again, sometimes they simply use their fingers rather than speak Romanian. I wonder when this happens if they can’t speak it or simply won’t, since they certainly understand it.
The park slants down a hill and I usually avoid the asphalt paths and opt for the dirt one in the center that will take me to the small alleyway at the bottom of the hill that cuts through the backyards of the houses and onto the street where my office is. There is a rooster and two hens that live in this alley. Technically, they must live in the backyard of one of these houses, but since I run into them in the alley, I consider that their home. I wonder on the days when I don’t seem them if they’ve gone on to become part of zeama or simply are resting in their pens; some days they’re strutting down the gravel, other days they’re resting nestled together in a little corner and some days I hear them before I see them and am reminded of the rooster at my house in Stauceni and how it used to wake me up every morning, before I adjusted to the country noise and learned to sleep through it.
The afternoons on my way home from work, the park is different, empty of the vendors – they’ve gone home for the day and sometimes depending on how late it is, the flower ladies have packed up too. The park is almost always filled with couples in the afternoons, public displays of affection are not only common here, but seem standard for parks. Almost every bench has at least one couple sitting on it, some are younger maybe high school aged, some maybe slightly older than me, some are simply sitting holding hands, some are kissing, but some put even the most aggressive American displays – yes, even Kate and Max‘s, (fellow PCVs who love PDA) to shame.