Sunday, September 25, 2016


For some reason, we’re now at the end of September, and it’s still 90 degrees outside. Whoever denies the climate is changing is a fool. This summer is lasting forever. I’ve been dying to wear my scarves and boots again, and no, I have not gotten my pumpkin spice latte yet. It just doesn’t feel right. Not yet, anyhow. It’s supposed to cool down so that the highs are in the low 70s this week. We’ll see if that stays or not. Actually, that’s the perfect weather, so I hope it stays all winter. 

It's so pretty! And tasty, too! And I have plenty of rum left over.
 So, while it’s still temperate out, we’ll pretend we’re in another temperate area: Monaco. Today’s “bread” is Fougasse Monegasque. It’s more like a cookie, though. I emptied a yeast packet into a large bowl and poured in 150 ml of warm water into the bowl, whisking in ¾ c of wheat flour as well. Then I let it rest for nearly a half hour for it to double in size. Then I added in the remaining 3 ¼ c of wheat flour, 2 Tbsp of orange rum (in lieu of rum and curaçao), 2 Tbsp of water plus 1 tsp of orange zest (in lieu of orange blossom water), 2 Tbsp of olive oil, 2 tsp of anise seed, the zest of 1 lemon, ½ c of sugar, 2 sticks of butter, and 1 tsp of salt. I mixed everything together until it started to look like a dough. Then I formed the dough into a log and wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for 2 ½ hours. (The recipe didn’t say to wrap it in plastic; that’s something I added. Hope I’m not being over-confident, but it wouldn’t be the first time for that, either.) After this time, I took it out of the fridge and made balls of dough and flattened them with my hands. Then I brushed the tops with an egg wash (using the yolk) before adding sliced almonds, crushed macadamia nuts, and red & white sprinkles. (Yes, I painstakingly separated the red and white sprinkles from the blue ones in a red-white-and-blue patriotic sprinkle pack. Because I’m that dedicated, and I really know how to spend my Saturday nights.) I put these in a 350ºF oven for 20 minutes. When they came out, I sprinkled a little more orange rum on top along with a little bit of powdered sugar. These were quite good. I kept the flavors on the subtle side, although I kind of wish I had added just a little more to it. It was a bit crumbly on the outsides of the cookies, and I didn’t make the entire batch, so I have some to make for later. 

The lemon was the secret to this whole thing.
The main dish I made today was Salmon a la Provencale. I don’t typically cook with salmon filets, so today is special. I rinsed them off and patted them dry, laying them on a greased baking sheet. In a small bowl, I mixed together some chopped almonds, butter, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, basil, parsley, lemon peel, garlic, and pepper. I spooned this mixture on top of the filets. Then I baked the salmon in the oven set at 450ºF. The rule is that you should cook this for about 6 minutes per ½” of thickness, which is about what I kept it at. The recipe called to cook it for 6 minutes per side, but if I flipped them, then all my stuff would fall off the top, so I just kept it in there for about 10-11 minutes. (Salmon should flake easily with a fork when it’s done.) I really liked this, especially the topping on it. The grated lemon zest really did it for me; it went really well with the fish. The kids scraped most of it off, so maybe that’s why they didn’t like it. I do believe if I make this again, I might sprinkle a little salt on the fish before I put the topping on it.  

Don't think I'm not making this for Thanksgiving. Because I'm totally bringing this to Thanksgiving.
To go with this, I made Risotto al Porcini. I couldn’t find porcini mushrooms, so I went with shiitakes. I soaked them in some boiling water for several minutes before slicing them up. I added some chicken broth to the water. In a skillet, I sautéed some chopped onions in butter and oil until they became golden in color, then I added in my uncooked rice and stirred it altogether. When the butter and oil was all absorbed, I poured in my white wine and stirred until it was absorbed too. I added the mushrooms with the chicken broth water into the skillet, adding in some sausage links (I cut mine up a bit) and Parmesan cheese into the mix, stirred everything, and covered it with a lid. I let this simmer until the rice was soft and most of the liquids have been absorbed. This was truly awesome. The sausage was the best part, but even at that, it was quite flavorful. I could easily bring this to Thanksgiving. Next time, I might use some oyster mushrooms or maybe some mixed mushrooms. 

This was a pretty fancy dinner for us tonight.
This meal was a hit with the family. OK, scratch that. It was a hit with my husband and me. The kids were pretty meh about the whole thing. But at least I’ll have some leftovers. They were pretty skeptical about the salmon filet, but I had to explain to them that this was the same kind of cut as when we went fishing a few weeks ago–just a different kind of fish. If I were to ever get the chance to go to Monaco, I believe all I’d do would be attend concerts and eat. Although the kids want to go to Monaco just to walk around the entire border since it’s only about 5 miles or so. Hey, I’m game.

Up next: Mongolia   

Saturday, September 24, 2016


From the time Monaco was under the Grimaldi family tutelage, music has been supported and enjoyed by the people. Musical studies and concerts were encouraged from a young age. 

One of the world’s leading orchestras, the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, was established in 1863. Many talented musicians and conductors have worked with this orchestra throughout the centuries, and its excellence in music performance continue to this day. Today, the orchestra is housed at the Salle Garnier, part of the Opéra de Monte-Carlo, located at the Monte Carlo Casino. It is also where the Les Ballet de Monte Carlo performs as well. 

The Les Ballet de Monte-Carlo is actually a rather new organization in comparison with some of the other arts groups. Princess Caroline, at the urging of her mother Grace Kelly, helped put forth the motions to create a classical ballet troupe. Today, students come from all over the world to study and perform with Les Ballet de Monte-Carlo. 

In 1973 a children’s choir called Little Singers of Monaco was created as a global representative of Monaco for children’s choirs, a choral ambassadorship if you will. One of their main goals is to continue the tradition of singing liturgies in the Palatine Chapel, a tradition that goes back to reign of Prince Antoine I (reigned from 1701-1731). 

There’s not too much out there among the popular music from musicians who hail from Monaco. But there have been a few who have made it to international notoriety. Josh Stanley was born and raised in Monaco but studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Growing up in a multicultural area led him to be able to speak French, Italian, English, Chinese, and German. He also merges several different musical genres as well, from acoustic, pop, and rock to electronic, house, and jazz music. He’s probably most known for his song “Sarko” that was dedicated to Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president. 

Another musician I came across is Léo Ferré. His music features my favorite instrument: the piano, along with strings. The album I listened to reminds me of the type of music you hear in an old movie during a love scene, or perhaps, an unrequited love scene, the quintessential French love song. Or something. 

I also listened to Séverine, Monaco’s answer to "Everything the '70s had to Offer." She was very popular during the early 1970s and 1980s and represented Monaco in the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest where she won that year. She competed in others, but that was her only win.

As I did some additional research, I found another band from Monaco. I sampled some of the work of Godkiller, a one-man metal band. Actually, it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve heard. He tries to incorporate some classical elements to his music, which I appreciate. I mean, outside of the screaming-for-singing, it’s not too bad. 

Although I have a degree in music, there are still many composers I have not listened to yet. Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti is one of them. He studied at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, arriving with a letter of introduction from none other than Toscanini’s wife. While he was there, two of his fellow students were Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber. Menotti was famous for writing modern operas. He won two Pulizers, one for The Consul (1950) and one for The Saint of Bleecker Street (1955). Although he traveled around, he had a house in Monte Carlo, which is where he passed away at the age of 95.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Because of its close proximity and relationship with France and Italy, Monegasque art shares many influences from these two capitals of European arts. The Grimaldi family, the ruling family for many centuries, did much for supporting the arts and creating organizations and foundations that help promote a variety of arts-related cultural events. 

One of the more important prizes in visual arts is the International Contemporary Art Prize. First awarded in 1965, it has been given under the guidance of the Prince Pierre Foundation since 1983. The Prince Pierre Foundation was created by Prince Rainier III and named after and in honor of his father. The foundation’s main goals are to support, promote, and award the best of Monegasque art, music, literature, and dance.

For such a small place, theatres and museums dot the streets of Monaco. Cultural arts programs and festivals are held throughout the year, and awards are given out many times annually. Art galleries, like the famous Monaco Fine Arts or Monaco Modern Arts, are often popular with tourists and locals alike. Many talented artists throughout Europe showcase their work in galleries throughout Monaco. Architecture and design are also quite popular in Monaco as well. 

Many writers from Monaco write in French, Italian, or Monégasque. And truthfully, many write in more than one language. One of the more famous writers from this small country is Louis Notari who wrote in both French and Monégasque. He’s often considered one of writers whose efforts were instrumental in promoting and establishing the Monégasque literary scene. To say he was merely the author of the lyrics to their national anthem is an understatement; this feat alone was a changing moment in their literary history. See, before this, the Monégasque language was pretty much an oral language—this was the first time it was used as a written language for anything significant. 

Louis Notari
Louis Frolla, following Notari’s lead, was also a Monégasque writer. His pièce de résistance was a grammar book on the Monégasque language and a French-Monégasque dictionary. Louis Barral wrote a complementary dictionary a couple decades later. (I wonder if being named Louis is a prerequisite.) 

Many authors have used Monaco as a setting or a partial setting before in their novels and there are certainly travel guides, but finding Monaco-born authors is a little harder. There just aren’t that many out there, but perhaps more will start publishing some works and grow their local literary scene. There are some literary prizes awarded yearly, but I read that none have been given to writers who are actually from Monaco. I want to dig deeper into this to see if this is true and why exactly. I just find it hard to believe no one in this country has been published. 

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Scene: Sunny seaside. Luxurious yachts. Heartthrob men and glamorous women. It’s the rich man’s playground. Known for its casino and Grand Prix racetrack, it’s the type of place you’d expect James Bond to vacation (partly because three James Bond movies were filmed at the Monte Carlo Casino). However, Monaco is more than this. There are actual non-famous people who live here doing non-famous things. This is their home, and we’re going to explore all ¾ square mile of it. 

Monaco’s name stems from the Greek word monoikos, which means “single-dwelling.” Originally, there was a small Greek colony there. According to Greek myth, Hercules visited this colony, and a temple was built there for him after he expelled all the other gods. This temple was called Hercules Monoikos.

This is the second smallest country in the world, next to Vatican City. To illustrate its size, to walk its entire border would only be a little more than 5 miles. It is completely surrounded by France, but it’s only about 10 miles from the Italian border. Because of its size, it’s the most densely populated country in the world. Monaco enjoys a nice Mediterranean climate due to its location directly on the Mediterranean Sea. Temperatures in the summer stay temperate because of the breezes coming in off the sea. It’s pretty rare for it to frost or snow in Monaco; the average temperature in January is only in the mid-40sºF. It’s more like a once-a-decade kind of thing. This sounds like my kind of place! 
Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III
Monaco got its start as a Genovese colony in 1215. And starting in 1297, it was ruled over by the House of Grimaldi. Get used to this name because they’ll stick around for centuries to come. The colony became a part of the Crown of Aragon (Spain), and the Grimaldi family purchased it from them. Although they would establish their principality, they eventually became a protectorate of France, which lasted up to the French Revolution. During the 1800s, the people were growing tired of the heavy taxes levied upon them by the Grimaldis. This led to some civil unrest among the people, leading to the decision to give up two cities to France. In 1869, Monaco also made the decision to stop collecting income tax from those who live there (wouldn’t that be nice?). The success of the famous casino in Monte Carlo essentially covered the functions of what income taxes had been used for. The Monegasque Revolution changed how princes functioned in Monaco. They were no longer the absolute voice of the government. After WWI, France was given limited control over Monaco. During WWII, the Italians took over Monaco, follow by the Nazis who dispelled all of the Jews. Prince Rainier III assumed control of the throne in 1949 and married American actress Grace Kelly (she ended up getting out of acting and spent her time doing philanthropic and princess duties). When Prince Rainier III died in 2005, he had served for 56 years. Today, his and Grace Kelly’s son Albert II serves as Prince of Monaco. 

Monaco is listed as a city-state, so it doesn’t really have a capital per se. It’s similar to Singapore or Hong Kong (how it used to be, rather). There is a ward of the city known as Monaco-Ville (or Monaco City in English) that was once a walled city (some of the original city walls are still standing in places). It now houses the prince’s palace among other attractions. The name itself is a misnomer since it’s not actually its own city, but just a section of the city-state. The largest ward in Monaco is the well-known Monte Carlo, famous for its casino and Grand Prix racetrack.

The casino in Monte Carlo. The closest I ever got to Monte Carlo is owning a 1996 Chevy Monte Carlo.
Clearly, Monaco is not hurting for money. It has the lowest poverty rate in the world, the second-highest GDP, and its unemployment rate is estimated between 0-2%. Its largest economic driver is tourism, mainly from its famous casino and its beautiful climate. (However, Monaco’s citizens are not allowed to go to the casino to gamble.) It’s also known for its banking and financial centers, which has also served as a tax haven for the rich. (We totally MUST keep the rich happy, right?) Although it’s not a member of the EU itself, Monaco is closely tied to France, so it also uses the euro as its currency.
Saint Nicholas Cathedral
The vast majority of people here are Christian, and more specifically, Roman Catholic. There are a smaller number of people who adhere to other Christian denominations. Because of its location and history, there is also a small number of Greek Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish followers in Monaco. However, almost 13% report having no religion.

Road signs are often in both French and Monegasque
The official language is French because of its close ties with France. Italian and English are also spoken in communities where there are residents from Italy and English-speaking countries respectively. Their national language is Monégasque, a variety of Ligurian. Ligurian is a language spoken in northern Italy, Monaco, and southern France. It’s said that Christopher Columbus spoke Ligurian. 

Perhaps, it’s a fascination of how the rich live. Perhaps, it’s a fascination of tiny, out-of-the-way places. Perhaps, it’s an interest in places that have demonyms different from their country name (Monaco/Monegasques), and it makes me sound super chic when I know the proper way to say it. You know what else makes me sound super chic? When I tell people I’m going to cook food from Monaco next week.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, September 11, 2016


To be truthfully honest (pardon the redundancy), Moldova was a country I barely knew where it was located before I started this. Now, I’m almost ready to plan my next vacation there. (My bank account and accrued PTO allotment is the only things stopping me from going.) Seriously, I’m just waiting for Duolingo to finish developing its Romanian lessons (the website says they’re at 99%). I’ve studied French, Spanish, and Portuguese—Romanian can’t be that hard, can it? Between their music, their wine, their carved wooden boxes, and embroidered tunics, I need to be there. Actually, I just need to drink my way across Europe, recording and writing about their music. Quick—someone needs to make this happen. 

I didn't even take a photo of the inside. It's glorious. Really, it is.
But now, that brings me to their food. The first thing I made was the bread, Placinte (also spelled Plachyndy). This amazing bread package starts out with making the dough: I poured in 250mL of buttermilk (you can also use kefir), ½ Tbsp of distilled vinegar, ½ Tbsp of sugar, and 1 tsp of salt into a bowl and mixed it altogether with a fork. Then I slowly sifted 2 ½ c of flour and ½ tsp of baking soda into the buttermilk mixture until it all started to come together as a dough. I rolled out my pastry mat and dusted it with flour, kneading it and working the dough until it stopped being sticky. In a separate bowl, I mixed together my chopped arugula (in lieu of sorrel since it’s kind of hard to find here, and I only used about a couple of ounces worth), four green onions chopped, and about a tbsp each of chopped dill and chopped parsley. Once I mixed all the greens, I poured in two eggs slightly beaten and mixed everything together. Then I took my dough and divided it out into four equal pieces, taking each piece and rolling it out to an 8” circle. I brushed the inside of the circle with some olive oil (in lieu of the suggested sunflower oil) and spread the greens mixture throughout the surface of the circle. After it was covered, I folded each side into the circle so that opposite sides touched in the center (pinching them tight, of course), then folding the top and bottom in the same fashion. I went around all the edges and made sure they were all pinched down, floured the outside again, and then flattened the package with my hand or rolling pin. In my big skillet, I heated up about 100mL of oil and dropped each bread package into the oil when it was hot. It took about 3-4 minutes for it to be done. I thought this was the best part of the meal. The combination of arugula and dill was superb. And the egg made it seem like there was cheese in it. Clearly the winner for today.

Very much of a comfort food. And the humidity died down today, making me think it was fall!
Next, I made Moldovan Potato Cheese Soup, or Moldavsky Sup Iz Syra I Kartophelya as I commonly call it all the time. I started this off by melting butter in a large pot and adding in chopped onions and chopped carrots, letting it simmer for 20 minutes until they were soft. Then I added in my potatoes, some paprika, a pinch of cayenne pepper, some chopped parsley, some salt and pepper, and some chicken stock and brought it all to a boil. Then I let it all simmer for about a half hour. After all the vegetables were soft, I strained them all out and put them in my blender to make a puree out of them. Once I added my puree back to the pot, I added in the cheese. (The recipe called for ewes cheese and suggested Basque Ektori, but seeing as how I had no idea where to find this without paying an arm and a leg for it, I went with their other suggestion, cheddar. And it didn’t say how I should have my cheese, so I grated an 8 oz block of aged cheddar.) I let it all simmer for another 15 minutes or so. After I dipped it out into bowls, I topped it with chopped chives. I really liked this. It was creamy and cheesy, although the aged Wisconsin cheddar gave it a slight musty flavor on the back end. Perhaps I should’ve used a mild cheddar instead, or maybe a nice gouda.

Not too bad, but next time, I'll add more spices in the mix. You know, spice it up.
Finally, the other dish I made was Sarmale, or stuffed cabbage leaves. I place some rice in a bowl and poured boiling water over it, letting it sit for 15 minutes. Then I drained it off and set it off to the side. After heating some oil in my skillet, I sautéed my chopped carrots, parsley, onions, and tomato paste together. I cooked this until my vegetables were soft. Then I poured this into my bowl with the rice. Heating up some more oil in the same skillet, I browned my finely diced pork, transferring to my rice bowl when it was done. Then I added a little bit of dill and black pepper to the rice bowl, stirring to make sure everything was mixed well. Then I carefully pulled apart my cabbage leaves. In a large pot, I brought about 2” of water to a boil and put my cabbage leaves in the pot for about 5-10 minutes until they were soft and flexible. Now comes the part that seems difficult. I took out each cabbage leaf, and I spooned in a bit of the rice and pork mixture into the center and folded the leaf around it. I used a toothpick to help keep them together. Traditionally, whenever I’ve tried to make anything wrapped in a leaf, it never stays together. I’m certain I’ve not been taught the secret voodoo trick to this. But I gave it the old college try, placing them back into the pot and topping them with the two leaves I held back. Then I poured more hot water into the pot, letting them simmer for another 30 minutes. Here are my thoughts on this dish: 1) my husband gave me some pointers for rolling them, and it worked, more or less, 2) I forgot to add in some dill, and it definitely needed salt, 3) the rice mixture yielded way more than I used, and that was with me cutting the recipe down. Otherwise, these were pretty good, but they were probably the weakest dish of the meal. But they weren't bad. I definitely feel better about making cabbage rolls, though. 

Why my photo got cut off is beyond me. But it was a very good meal. Can't wait for my leftover lunch tomorrow.
For a country I didn’t know much about when I started, I now totally want to go visit. Definitely sure a wine tour is exactly what I need right now. And all the other things I mentioned. And some more of that bread, of course. (Did I mention wine?) Actually, if I ever were rich enough to take an entire year off, I say I want to do something like travel around non-stop, but in reality, the kids have to go to school. Oh, but wait until they go off to college…

Up next: Monaco

Saturday, September 10, 2016


Like Moldova’s literary history, this small country shares many of the same musical elements as its larger neighbor, Romania. And really, a lot of their music is stemmed from the traditions of Balkan music and other Eastern European styles. (Technically, Moldova is not considered a Balkan state, even though portions of Romania is sometimes included. But they share some common history, so, you know, whatever. I’m including it anyway.)  

Folk music continued even during the Soviet years. However, they were really worried about their close cultural ties with Romania, so certain aspects of their music and culture were squashed. One key part of their culture that finds its way into their literature and music is a type of ballad called the Miorita. The Orchestra of Moldovan Folk Music and Dance plays folk music from not only Moldova (hence their name), but also of the region in general. 

Many of the instruments heard in Moldovan music are also played throughout much of Central and Eastern Europe. One instrument that can be heard in Moldovan music is the cimbalom, which is like a hammered dulcimer. (I sooooo want to buy a hammered dulcimer. I love this instrument!) Another instrument is the ney (also spelled nai), which is like a pan flute. Other traditional instruments include the violin, the flute, and the bagpipes.

Folk music and folk dancing go hand in hand. One of the oldest dance troupes in the country is known as Joc, formally known as National Academic Ensemble of Folk Dance. Dancing is often performed at festivals and other events. The current director, Vladimir Curbet, has been teaching and directing there since 1957. He’s currently 85 or 86, so that means he’s been working there for the past 59 or so years!

Several years ago (ok, like more than a decade now), I was working at Mori no Ike (the Japanese camp of Concordia Language Villages in northern Minnesota), and every year, they have an International Day (known as I-Day). Each I-Day has a theme song, typically a song that is not in any of the languages taught at CLV, and everyone learns a dance to perform altogether. One year, we used the song “Dragostea Din Tei” by the band O-Zone. I knew it was in Romanian, so I figured they were from Romania, but I learned this past week they are actually from Moldova! (And then T.I. and Rihanna used this song as the basis of their song “Life Your Life,” and I was all hipster, like “I already knew this song, yo.”) So, I finally listened to O-Zone’s whole album this song was from. Much of it is in a similar style as their most famous song. It’s fairly catchy with a lot of synthesized sound effects and Europop riffs. 

I also listened to Alternosfera. They are like a hard rock band in many of their songs, but then they’ll incorporate some elements of classical music and folk music into their songs as well. I’m a fan of stretching and merging musical genres, so I was fairly intrigued by their music. 

Andrew Rayel is another musician/DJ who mainly works in trance/techno/electronica (bordering on club pop at times), another one of my favorite genres. I’ve never heard of him before this, but I’m quickly becoming a fan of his works. He apparently has a radio show called "Find Your Harmony." I may make a specific playlist of his stuff. 

One band that kept coming up in searches for Moldovan music is the band Zdob si Zdub. They’re a rock band, but they have a kind of early-to-mid-1990s sound. It’s almost reminiscent of something, but I just can’t put my finger on it. Each song reminds me of a different band in a slight, nondescript way, sometimes Gogol Bordello, sometimes Crash Test Dummies, sometimes They Might Be Giants, sometimes I’m not even sure.  

There were several other musicians and DJs I listened to who only had a handful of songs available on Spotify. Some of the others I sampled include Sunstroke Project, Radu Sirbu, Natalia Barbu, Dan Balan, Arsenium, and Pavel Stratan.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


Moldova has a very arts-rich history, and the arts are an important part of their culture. Their art is divided into several genres; one of them is called decorative arts, which includes handicrafts, pottery, ceramics, metalworking, traditional clothing making, etc. One art that they are particularly known for is their ceramics. Ceramic bowls and pots were used for preparing and cooking food and for food storage as well. Moldovan ceramics differs a little from other ceramics traditions in the fact that their ornamentation is made up of lines, dots, and circles like no one else does. Their choice of colors, ornamentation, and basic form sets their ceramics apart from the others. 

I think I need this.
They also have a strong tradition of woodcarving. Quite a bit of their woodcarving is for household objects such as tables, chairs, other pieces of furniture, utensils, and tools. But Moldovan woodcarvers are also known for carving the support pillars in their homes or porches. Just hope they don’t carve it too thin! 

I really need these, too.

For women, embroidery has long been an art that has been passed down generation to generation. And really, up until recent decades, there wasn’t a home where the woman didn’t decorate something with embroidery. Things like pillowcases, tablecloths, curtains, towels, and women’s blouses are examples of some of the objects women typically embroider. Some of the motifs include floral designs, animals (butterflies, chickens, ram horns), or other natural designs (rivers, trees, mountains). Many women also just embroider geometric or zig-zag designs as well. 

And this shirt, too. I think I need to start saving my money to go to Moldova.
Many Moldovan artists today work with a number of mediums from painting to sculpting to graphics and computer arts. Many of the top colleges and universities offer arts programs, and art galleries dot cities and towns across the country. 

by Mihai Grecu (1916-1998)
Literature in Moldova shares not only a common language but many literary traditions with Romania. The earliest works we know of go back to the Middle Ages to about the 10th or 11th centuries. During this time, written works were pretty much religious texts. And it was also written in what’s called Old Church Slavonic. The first book in Moldova to be published was Kazania, which was published in 1643. However, a translation of the Psalms into Romanian was published not long after this. 

The 15th–17th centuries saw quite a bit of changes to literature during this time. A prince by the name of Vasile Lupu established a university and several publishing houses, not to mention establishing some of the earliest laws in Moldavia. Later on, historical works and chronicles began to take hold, documenting the history of the land. 

This carries us into the 18th century where secular works began to take a foothold. More dictionaries and language books also were produced during this time. Storytelling and lyric poetry was becoming more common, especially love stories and stories of social struggles. The first newspapers began being published during the 19th century. 

During the Soviet years, writers were still producing works. Much of these works came in both prose and poetry forms and often discussed the revolution. During WWII, literature was still produced without hesitation in all genres: children’s lit, epic novels, essays, short stories, poetry, and other genres. There was also a rise in literature from Bessarabia and a slight rise in literature written in Gagauz, mostly available from the efforts of Mihail Ciachir who put together the first Gagauz dictionary and grammar book during the 1920s and 1930. In the early 1990s, another surge in Gagauz literature took place after independence.
Ion Druta
Today, Moldovan writers span all genres and styles. Some Moldovan authors of note include Ion Druta, Emilian Bukov, Leonid Corneanu, Samuil Lehttsir, Gheorghe Asachi, Ienachitsa Vacarescu, Demitrie Cantemir, and many more.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, September 4, 2016


It’s often overlooked. It’s often confused for other countries. I bet you couldn’t even find it on a map. But don’t worry. Even I was scratching my head at where Moldova is. Well, ok, it was more like a scratch that turned into combing my fingers through my hair to make myself look cooler than I am. But alas, I did find it. And I knew some things about it that I didn’t know I knew! (Which makes me wonder what other secrets Moldova is keeping from us!) 


The country is named after the Moldova River. However, where the name for the Moldova River came from is unclear. One legend says that a prince was hunting along the river where his hunting dog, Molda, drown in the river after being too exhausted to swim across. 

Moldova is a landlocked country, bordered by Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east, and southeast. It used to be part of Romania, and they share similar cultural ties. The Prut River run along the border between Moldova and Romania, while the Dniester River runs near the opposite border with Ukraine. Although it doesn’t actually have any border with the sea, it’s really not that far from the Black Sea (via Ukraine). Because of this close proximity, Moldovans enjoy a generally mild and sunny climate. Early summer and mid-fall are often times of heavy rainfall. 

People have been in this area for a long time. Oldowan (prehistoric) flint tools have been found in Moldova that are estimated to be nearly a million years old! Moldova was part of the Roman and Byzantine Empires and an common stop for traders and travelers between Europe and Asia. It was also invaded a number of times by many different groups of people. The Principality of Moldavia was established during the mid-1300s, stretching from the Carpathian Mountains to the Dniester River, essentially covering current-day Moldova along with parts of Romania and Ukraine. By the mid-1500s, it was part of the Ottoman Empire. Outside of a few revolts, it remained under Ottoman control until it gave the eastern half of the territory up to the Russian Empire in accordance to the Treaty of Bucharest of 1812 (the western part remained part of Romania). Russia made Moldavia and Bessarabia in an oblast and Russianized the area. During both WWI and WWII, the people here were considered part of the Russian influence and fought for and alongside Russian soldiers. There was a strong communist presence during this time as well. However, after the wars, there was also an anti-communist presence that demonstrated resistance to the Soviets, even though many of the members were either executed or deported. The Russians forced the Moldovans to use the Cyrillic alphabet to distinguish it from Romanian that was written in the Latin alphabet. Finally, Moldova finally broke away and established its independence from Russia in 1991. They also immediately declared themselves neutral (probably a good idea­­—no one likes a break up where you keep getting involved in everyone else’s drama). Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Moldovan elections have been a topic of contention into the validity of election results (along with your typical amount of political corruption) and have resulted in some political instability. 

The capital city is Chișinău (pronounced kee-she-NOW). It was formerly known as Kishinev, based on the Russian pronunciation of the city. This city is not only the capital city, but it’s also the largest city in the country. It’s not exactly known where the name Chișinău comes from; there are several theories historians have come up with over the years. It’s an old city (but probably not old to European standards)—it started out as a small monastery village in 1436. Today, the city serves as a major transportation hub and its commercial and financial capitals. It’s also home to its entertainment and mass media headquarters. As a modern city, Chișinău has several theatres, museums, universities/colleges, shopping centers, famous architectural works, arts festivals, parks/gardens, and sports stadiums.

After a period of economic struggles following their independence, Moldova went through a series of changes in order to strengthen their economy. Some of these changes included changes to their currency, liberalizing prices and interest rates, stopped the practice of giving preferential treatment to state-owned business enterprises, and making moves toward more privatization (including land ownership). They also worked together with the World Bank and the IMF to come up with a feasible economic growth plan. Moldova has long had a wine industry—for the past 5000 years! There is a large portion of vineyards for commercial use, and many families have their own private vineyards as well. Tourism is also an important part of Moldovan economy; they’re especially known for their wine tours (I might really consider adding a Moldovan wine tour to my bucket list). Because of its temperate climate, agriculture does fairly well here and has long been an economic driver. Moldova is also in the process of building a pipeline between Moldova and Romania, opening up the option of getting their oil and gas from sources other than importing it from Russia and the Ukraine. 

The vast majority of Moldovans are part of the Orthodox Church. There are several Orthodox churches represented in Moldova: Moldovan Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church, Orthodox Church of Bessarabia, and Romanian Orthodox Church. (How they differ other than what language they speak, I don’t know.) Together, they represent about 93% of the people. There are a small number of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and nonreligious people as well.

Officially, the main language spoken here is Romanian, although it’s been referred to as Moldovan in the past. Under Russian control, the Romanian spoken in Moldova was written in the Cyrillic alphabet; however, today it is written in the Latin alphabet. Romanian is a Romance language, meaning it’s based on Latin (=Roman) and related to French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. As I looked through some basic Romanian phrases, I could definitely tell some similarities to Portuguese and French but with some Slavic influences as well. The government also recognizes Bulgarian, Gagauz, and Ukrainian as regional languages. English is the most popular foreign language studied, followed by French and German. 

As I was reading about Moldova, there’s one point that kept popping up: they sure do love their wine. For starters, Moldova holds the largest underground wine cellar in the world in Cricova that’s supposedly hidden away somewhere. (Why????) The Guinness Book of Records awarded the Largest Quality Wine Collection to the Milestii Mici collection, coming in with over 1.5 million bottles of wine! (I wonder if there’s a Largest Cheap Wine Collection award…) And apparently, the largest building in the world shaped like a bottle is found in the village of Tirnauca (it’s aptly the home of the Strong Drinks Museum). With vintner practices and cultivated strands going back nearly 5000 years, my interest in this country has piqued a thousand percent. I can’t wait until my kids are at a socially acceptable age to take on a wine tour. But once they’re that old, my husband and I can just travel by ourselves!

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