Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Day 296 – Gypsies singing on a trolley bus. (Moldova)

Our biggest regret about our time in Moldova was that we didn’t get ourselves organised enough in advance to have a couchsurfing host set up for our arrival. Fortunately though we did get one set up while we were there and she was everything we could have asked for – warm, welcoming, knowledgeable and interesting. After finally allowing ourselves to be convinced that secure car parking is just something that simply does not exist in Chisinau, we were over the moon when Victoria casually showed us to one, not of course having any idea the trauma we’d been through for the last couple of days with trying to find somewhere to keep Trevor safe. 

Victoria suggested we meet a friend of hers that evening at one of their favourite restaurants where we could sample some typical local cuisine, and so as not to worry about a glass of wine or a beer or two, we agreed to catch the trolley bus.  At first it seemed like a right pain as we waited in the cold while multiple other buses passed, ours seeming as if it would never arrive. Needless to say the bus did eventually turn up and as the journey progressed things started to take a much more interesting turn. First of all a hilariously drunk man, bevvied to the point of being an unrealistic caricature that surely only exists in cartoons, stumbled up the steps onto the bus, unable to control his limbs or wipe the dopey smirk off his face. After the driver unknowingly tried several times to close the door on the man as he lay sprawled half in, half out of the bus, a few by-standers stepped forwards to help Mr. Blotto onto a seat which was quickly vacated for his use. At this point almost everyone on the bus exchanged an awkward look as if to say “this is funny isn’t it? It’s not mean to laugh at this bloke is it? We could get grossed out or sad, but let’s just stick with the comical side of this”.

And then, just as the hype of us all adjusting our positions around Mr. Legless was wearing off, a group of young gypsies appeared at the entrance to the bus. The tension was almost visible as the non-gypsies already filling the bus cringed while the gypsies lugged their battered musical instruments onto the vehicle and found themselves seats. Within a few minutes one of the group had started fiddling with his guitar, plucking at various strings and humming incoherently. His friend who sat opposite joined in absentmindedly, tapping on the edge of his drum and beating his foot loosely on the muddy floor. Gradually the group of half a dozen or so joined in, very organically, expertly following each other’s lead and singing along enthusiastically. The rest of the busload couldn’t help but smile at the impromptu performance, blown away by how genuinely the boys were playing and singing. A few lookers-on began clapping or tapping in time, some even tried to sing along, but everyone (except maybe Mr. Boozy who I don’t think physically could) was grinning and laughing, thoroughly enjoying and becoming involved in the performance. It was impressive and incredible how such a simple thing as a few young gypsies busting out a tune on a trolley bus could bring so much pleasure to so many different people.

We had been concerned at the beginning of the spontaneous number that the purposes of the exercise would become clear when a hat was passed around, accompanied by a pleading face and insistent requests for money. When we realised that this wasn’t the musicians’ agenda at all we felt a little guilty, ashamed of ourselves for having jumped to a conclusion based on a stereo-type (even if that stereo-type is not founded on nothing). In comparing impressions with Victoria afterwards though we found that we weren’t in the least bit out of line. Having been born and brought up in Moldova and living in Chisinau for her entire adult life, she could not stress enough that this is not a normal occurrence; she had never seen anything like this display before, and had also jumped to the same conclusion based not on an unjustified stereo-type, but on her previous experience. What a truly remarkable and unique Moldovan experience: gypsies breaking into song on a trolley bus.

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