Friday, June 13, 2014

Back in Moldova

I remember my first visit to Moldova not least because it was the day after the July 2005 bombings in London.  I had walked half way across the city to Paddington and taken the first train to leave for Oxford and found myself sitting opposite two people who had been directly affected by one or other of the blasts. One had taken refuge in vodka, the other in repeating his story over and over. I simply sat listening and wondering whether anything would be working the next day. It was and I found myself in Chisinau.

One of my most vivid memories of that visit was going to the National Art Museum on a Sunday afternoon and finding myself the only person there except for the staff, one of whom followed me round assiduously turning lights on and off as I passed. I can remember nothing of the art except the necessary Roerich was there. So prolific was he that I expect every significant, and possibly less significant, public gallery in the former Soviet Union had one!

Chisinau had and had not changed in the intervening nine years. The cars were more up to date, new buildings were present or in preparation, most especially the ubiquitous shopping malls; and, there was an air of greater prosperity. However, the roads had the same quota of potholes, the elderly buses competed with the same ramshackle mini-buses and as soon as you stepped out of the capital the picture had not changed, there were villages denuded of all but the elderly and the very young, stepped back into time.

Moldova is hot at the moment given the events in Ukraine. Mr Barrossa was in town and an EU integration agreement is in the offing. You hope that the forthcoming largesse may be spent wisely, a wager on which you do not hold your breath, though undoubtedly something of value will emerge.

However, as always, there are the seeds of alternative stories. There was the couple who had founded, with our assistance, a wonderful social enterprise focused on children and educational toys. Their enthusiasm was infectious and their modest success encouraging. There was too the fabulous entrepreneur who had spent eight years in Italy learning the leather trade and saving (whilst still sending money home to support his relatives) and who was now employing 40 people in his own business, building a local brand for leather goods.

For me, it was simply a pleasure to be back in the region.

The toy entrepreneurs had a shop in a Soviet apartment building. I walked into the stairwell and smelt an old familiar smell, a certain stale mustiness of undisturbed dust- the embrace of a region, a time- it was nostalgic and lovely.


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