Slightly Dizzy in Miroslava

The Backgammon Boys of MiroslavaHere in Romania there is ample opportunity afforded to one so inclined to frequent a drinking den of the undoubted quality of Queen Street’s erstwhile Connaught bar in Toronto, Canada – with its splendid, terrifying, toothless patrons and ancient, angry bar staff.

That legendary hole has sadly become loft-apartments for the iPad-ocracy and a crystal-healing emporium. Yes, you have to go to Eastern Europe now to be sure of finding a good dive fast.

One such establishment – alas I have not noted its name – can be found but one country block from the oligarch-palace-style abode of the best friends of my significant other, Oana, in a village on the outskirts of the city of Iaşi, name of Miroslava.

We had a half-hour to wait for the minibus 5km back into town so I suggested making some new friends inside that bar. Oana was unambiguous: “You can go. I will not. They will beat you.”

I had long been intrigued by the place, impressed that out front there are almost always colourfully decorated horses attached to a cart, sunburnt, drunken farm-workers/gypsies and a dog chasin’ its tail. Until then I had experienced only its hellish hole-in-the-floor outside “mensroom” – so foul the European Union has not dared to catch up with it yet. I had yet to sample the barfly culture of its dim interior.

“I must do this,” I told Oana.

“They will beat you,” she reiterated and went back to Elena and Dan’s house to wait and to grumble about me.

Indeed, a posse of young fellas was installed around the door – watching the dog now chasing another mutt’s tail. I needed to negotiate with these track-suited beer boys to gain entry. This proved to be no problem; the dog show was far more exciting than any tourist/traveller, however rare one might have been in those parts.

Inside, the place was large, utilitarian, draughty and strewn with heavy wooden bar furniture plus bedraggled plastic lawn chairs looking like the debris of a failed garden party. There was also a bar that looked resolute enough to stop a tank.

The barmaid could be described in the same way as her bar. When I asked for a large bottle of Cuic (good Romanian beer, and dangerous with only 22 minutes now until the minibus out of town), she gave me exactly the same look of bemusement mixed with distrust that the bristly old geezer behind the bar at the Connaught had given me all those years ago.

The joint was redolent of those apocalyptic restrooms and it occurred to me it would be an equally uncomfortable place with the heat on in winter. Not necessarily a bad thing.

I sat and drank. And it turned out Oana was right. They might well have beaten me. Three old men were playing backgammon – completely oblivious to my presence. Had I asked to play I may well have lost.

The young ones had drifted back in by the time my Cuic was half full (not half empty, as Oana had feared). I sneaked a photograph of the old backgammon men.

Some minutes passed and a yelp from outside signified that one dog had bitten another one on the bottom. The young ones ran out en masse to see how this turned out.

And I followed to Oana and the bus. “Elena and Dan say they will beat you,” she said.

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