Thursday, March 02, 2006

Martisoare si un film american

Wednesday was the traditional first day of spring in Moldova, and nothing says, "Spring is here!" like four inches of overnight snowfall. And it had been so warm just a week ago.

March 1st is celebrated in Moldova, Romania and Russia in the form of Martisor (marts'-ee-shore'). Today and for several more days, people pin small trinkets called martisoare on their friends, teachers and co-workers. The martisoare are usually a mixture of artificial red, white and green flowers and leaves (like the one pictured).

I noticed in the cafeteria today that the teachers in the lower grades received many more martisoare than the teachers for older students. Therefore I didn't feel bad that the martisor pictured is the only one I received today. It is from the same seventh grade girl who gave me my only personalized Valentine and has taken pictures of me during class several times with her cell phone—sometimes kids' brains aren't as tough to figure out as teachers like to say they are. I bought 10 martisoare last weekend in Hincesti, but only gave one away today, to my school director. I will be giving more out to a few other teachers and my host family, but not too fast; I don't want to look like a marti-whore.

With the beginning of spring also came the low-key start of my school's English club. I showed the Adam Sandler comedy (there was a six-year time period where that was its own genre) The Wedding Singer. I advertised it for just two days, wanting to attract only a small interested crowd. I got an audience of about 20 students, mostly seventh graders, that crowded around my laptop at the end of the last class. The physical comedy worked well (you don't have to speak English to see humor in a bare-assed baby, a fat woman eating wedding cake or a Boy George-like character), but most of the higher dialogue was lost on all but the top three or four students.

Some learning definitely took place. My students asked me if "kids" meant "children," since "kids" is seldom written in our textbooks. I also provided an on-the-fly explanation of "gonna," saying that it was a colloquial form of using the present progressive and another verb in order to talk about future actions. But when the young boy, Petey, delivered his line, "Hey Linda. You're a bitch," all the kids laughed. "Oh, you know what that means, eh?" I asked in mock surprise. They laughed even more.

Watching The Wedding Singer allowed me to finally reverse an experience that I've had for the past four years of working with children. Ever since my summer camp days, each group of kids I have taught every week and every semester has always told me that I look like Adam Sandler. One sixth-grade boy called me only by the name Adam Sandler for the entire four months that I worked at his after-school program. But now I am in Moldova, a place where, instead of lighting up a child's face with comedic visions, the name Adam Sandler merely brings forth quizzical looks of, "Mr. Peter, how do you expect us to know American actors?" It had been nearly nine months since a child told me I looked like Adam Sandler. Then, not even ten minutes into the movie, it struck.

"Seamana ca Domnul Peter," one boy said. "He looks like Mr. Peter." The other children quickly agreed.

"Seamana ca dumneavoastra, Dom Peter," said five students at once.

"Stiu," I said, smiling. "I know."

Only when the movie was finished (many left early to eat, and I ended with an audience of eight, half of which came in for the second half) did I realize how my Adam Sandler experience had changed. My students didn't tell me that I looked like Adam Sandler; they told me that he looked like me.

When the Peace Corps talks about being the first American some of these people have ever seen, volunteers rarely think about it from the angle I experienced Wednesday. Even with American movies and music all over the airwaves, I got to Mereseni before Adam Sandler. To add to the benefits, people are so unfamiliar with my surname that I never hear references to Wayne's World or Austin Powers (for the record, I added an extra "e" in Mike Meyers's last name to disassociate him from my family after watching the waste of celluloid that was Austin Powers 3: Goldmember).

And so goes the cultural exchange; I get to experience the generous giving tradition of a meteorologically inaccurate first day of spring, and the Moldovans get to watch films with movie stars that remind them of their teacher.


At 9:18 AM, Anonymous Lauren Y. said...

this has nothing to do w/ your post, but remember hillary richards? we had class w/ her right? well she facebook messaged me like we were buddies. were we? or did she facebook you too? hit me up.

hope you're having fun in moldova, seems that anyone who is anyone is going there nowadays.

At 12:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wanted to tell you the Martshor is not common in Russia. It's a pure Romanian, Bulgarian and "Moldovan" tradition.
If you'll be giving out martishores on the 8th of March I bet no lady will consider you a "martihore". I loved your humor, Adam.I mean Peter

At 3:38 PM, Blogger Ed said...

Hi Peter,

I'm visiting Moldova in a May, I was wondering whether you had any advice about good places (and cheap places) to stay. I'm English but have been living in Croatia for the past year and a half. I'm going on a huge Balkan tour and since I'm visiting Romania I just have to go to Moldova and see Transdnistr too. I'll be taking it in as part of a huge 6 week journey, with other places (Albania, Kosova, austria, Italy, Greece, Blugaria and all the ex-jugoslav places too) so I guess you understand why I need to keep the costs as low as possible.

Anyway, if you have any advice, I mean I'm looking for somewhere at a maximum of 10 Euros per night, and I don't mind how grotty it is, please pop over onto my Balkanbaby blog and leave me a comment or send me an email.

Taks for your time and help,

All the best,

At 2:28 PM, Anonymous odette said...

hi! you have a wrong impression about the "merts-ee-shore" thing, as you say. there are not just red'n white plastic flowers, theese are symbols, appeared in our culture many years before plastic was invented and, at first were made of nut shelves, and all kind of stuff. the only inmportant thing was that red'n white string. white-the snow, and red- blood. it's an interesting myth i'd like you to read.

all my best,


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