(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program blog; the views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Back Home: What I Notice

The Caravansary in JFK Airport
One of the advantages of international travel is that you notice things that you took for granted in your home culture.  Experiencing another culture's ways of doing things makes you aware of things they do differently that is outside your experience.  When you return to your home culture, things stand out that are different from the outside culture.  The trick is to pay attention and write them down before they become common and part of the background of your life.

So, here are the things I noticed the first few days back:

Guns prohibited signs
Everywhere. The first sign I noticed as we walked the gangway at the JFK airport was "no guns."  (Like, what are you going to do with your piece between the airplane and customs?) I got used to seeing "Horsecarts prohibited," but haven't seen that sign in 9 months.  No wonder Europeans think we are gun obsessed culture.

A plethora of entertainment
We flew Jet Blue to SFO for a family wedding as soon as we arrived in the states.  Jet Blue offers satellite radio and TV at each seat. Nice.  But I'm thinking, "this is what the average cable subscriber in the US gets," as I scroll through 99 TV channels and about 150 radion stations.  And you know, I couldn't find one channel that I was interested enough in to stay for more than 15 minutes.

Traffic moves slower, but no better
After enduring Romanian cabdrivers for nine months, an experience worthy of a live action Crazy Taxi amusement park ride, the traffic flow was downright slow.  But drivers still run stop signs, cut you off, turn across lanes, stop in the middle of the road, and other irritating actions.

A Melting Pot
Walking the streets of San Francisco, we encountered Chinese, Korean, Japanese, El Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Mexican, African-American, African immigrants, Indian.  Most of these consider themselves [        ]-American, and maintain their cultural traditions while acculturating to the majority culture.

At a globalization conference, I learned about a blogger in London who decided to see how many immigrants from the 195 countries in the world he could meet on the London Underground.  The speaker said he lacked three countries (I can't find the blog or I would give a link).  A reminder that the world is a small place.

In Romania, there are fewer global citizens, except in the universities with exchange students from all over Africa, Asia, Middle East, Europe and America.  And in Romania there is much greater attention to "who is Romanian," and people with a Romanian passport will not identify themselves as Romanian, "I'm not Romanian, I'm Hungarian."  That's a big one in Transylvania, where the region passed back and forth between Hungary and Romania over the past 900 years.  Hungarian ethnic nationalism is a big deal.  And some Romanians will say other people with Romanian birth certificates are "not Romanian," as in the Roma, an ethnic minority who have lived in the region for about 1000 years, the Jews, who came with the Roman empire, and the Germans, who immigrated and established fortified cities starting in 1141.  During the Ceausescu era, Romania took payments from GDR to deport people of German ancestry (residents for 900 years) and from newly created Israel to deport Jews, which reinforced that "Us-Them" way of looking at the world.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Nicula, The Heart of Romanian Orthodoxy

We visited the Nicula Monastery as a guest of Radu, a Romanian Orthodox priest that we met in Cluj.  The monastery is home to the “Holy Weeping Icon of the Mother of God, “ which is considered the heart of Romanian identity in Transylvania. The tradition of painting glass icons began at Nicola as a way for pilgrims to take home reminders of their piety.

The Holy Weeping Icon and Romanian Nationalism
The icon was painted in 1681 by a village priest for the benefit of peasants in his parish. After a few years the icon was given to a larger church in Nicula.  In 1694, Hapsburg officers were visiting the church and noticed the icon was weeping.  This created quite a stir, villagers came with handkerchiefs to collect the tears which effected healings and good fortune. 

The count who ruled over the region took the icon for himself, but the peasants kept a constant vigil outside his castle and asked for it back, threatening to burn his castle.  The count decided to build a church at a nearby monastery to house the icon; some accounts say he was forced to do this by the Hapsburg Emperor.   
The faithful Romanians attribute the tears to the Holy Mother weeping over the Romanian Orthodox Church being forced to affiliate with Rome., “a forewarning to the sad events that were to hit around the year 1700,” according to a plaque at the monastery. The affiliation occurred with the Act of Union of 1698, according to the Wikipedia article on the Greco-Catholic Church of Romania, which allowed the Byzantine rites while giving allegiance to the Pope.  The Hapsburg Empire decreed that all churches in Romania were Roman (Greco-Catholic is the term they use now), the Orthodox holdouts tried to build new churches.  So the Hapsburg Empire prohibited building stone churches (Wikipedia says it was during the 17th and 18th centuries), and the Romanian orthodox found a loophole in building wooden churches, which are so prominent in western Romania. We heard stories of instances where the Austrian army would desecrate Romanian churches by riding their horses into the sanctuaries, thus the explanation for the low doorways in the wooden churches, to keep the horses out.

Painted Glass Icons
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the monastery and icon became a pilgrimage site.  During the holiday Dormition of Mary (August 15) up to  30.000 pilgrims  camp out on the surrounding hills. The priests taught the pilgrims to paint copies of icons on glass to take home with them, a tradition unique to Transylvanaia.  Because they were traced by peasants, they have an innocence and simplicity in their rendering.

The Monastery during Communism
When the communists came the weeping icon was stored for safekeeping in the village, inside a wall in one of the houses.  The pilgrims continued to come to the Nicula valley to show their devotion and also their nationalist pride. As was common with the Communists, the monastery was closed to the public with only a few older monks left to tend the grounds.  It remained open only because of the collection of glass icons which were seen as a Romanian cultural heritage.  When the wooden church and all  the icons burned in 1972, the Communists proposed closing the monastery.  However, the abbot moved a nearby wooden church and asked all the people in the area to donate their glass icons so he could demonstrate to the communists that the church and icons still existed.  The communists relented with their idea.
After the fall of Communism the weeping icon was brought out of its walled storage and placed in the monastery where faithful Romanians come to venerate the image of the Virgin.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Danube Delta Trip

We glided through narrow, winding channels lined with a canyon of reeds for a half hour, then around a bend, a broad lake opened up in front of us.  The horizon was ringed with reed banks, and where the reeds met the edge of the lake was a shimmering, like sparkling diamonds.  Before we could ask what that was, a curtain of birds, thousands of them, rose to the sky--white pelicans.  It was perhaps the most beautiful sight in my life.

We were touring with Peter and Caroline Vasiliu, our hosts in Crișan, a small village on the Danube Delta.  Peter grew up on the Delta, his father was a tour guide, and he and his wife opened one of the first eco-tourism lodges on the Delta.  The accomodations were nice, the food outstanding, and the company was international, as we were the only Americans we encountered the whole time we were on the Delta.

The B&B has a traditional thatched roof

Nancy's new friend Laura, Peter and Caroline's 3 yr old daughter

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"You make friends with a gypsy, you make enemies with everyone else."

That's a quote from Johnny Depp who plays a gypsy in the movie, Chocolate, and it seems to describe the reactions that I get from Eastern Europeans to my four postings about my experiences with the Roma in Romania.  Each time I've received negative comments, each from different sources, all from within Romania.  "Gypsy-lover" was the most offensive to me, having grown up in the South during the Civil Rights movement; it was too close to the offensive phrase for a white civil rights supporter.  The others: "You're lucky you don't have to live next to one," and a comment quoting a Byzantine saint who said that the Gypsies are dirty and despicable people, not to be trusted.  At least, the reactions to my comments were more benign than what Madonna got for her comments on Roma discrimination during her Bucharest concert (She also confused her location, 'Hello, Budapest!' which got her off to a bad start with the crowd).
From BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11027288

My latest response comment says that my blog is about Gypsies, not about Romania, and it gives the wrong impression about Romania. I have an admittedly skewed perspective on Romanian life and culture:  My project here in Romania is to learn about  non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and about Romanian social problems. Many Romanian NGOs that I meet work with disadvantaged Roma, the poorest  of the poor.  A common reaction I get, even from Romanian NGO staff, is that I really shouldn't look at the social problems, only at the folklore or food or the music (but not Gypsy music, how could anyone enjoy that!?) or the pretty mountains...

And I can appreciate that Romanians want to put "the best foot forward" about their country.  They are proud of their country and they have a beautiful land and culture to share with others.  But the economic and social disparities between the elites and the "have-nots" are distracting, whether they are economically disadvantaged Roma, or poor ethnic Hungarians, Szekely, or other Romanians.  And right now, economic prosperity is in short supply, and tensions around "Us/Them" in general is on the rise all over Eastern Europe.  Romanians need social policies that "raise the tide for all boats," not just the powerful.

From BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11027288
Prof. T.A. Acton, Professor Emeritus of Romani Studies at Greenwich Univeristy, said that the Roma are disliked across Europe, and disliked most where they are most prevalent.  And having traveled in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Turkey, Greece, Czech Republic, Spain, all countries with a significant Romani population, I'd have to agree.

One thing that I've learned from my time in Romania is that it's not that simple: the issues and tensions with the Roma are complicated and are rooted in a history that's much longer than anything we have in America.  And I've learned that it's not just Romania's problem: the Roma have a difficult situation in Bulgaria, Serbia, France, Italy, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Netherlands [follow the  links to news reports about the Roma in each country.]
An example of how complicated the issues are:  UNESCO reports that across Europe Roma children lack access to education; but many Roma see education as a threat to their traditional way of life, according to a USAID report.  And given the exclusion of Romani history, culture, and language from the classroom, no wonder they see school as a threat.  The US Embassy recently provided a grant for educational materials for Roma elementary schools.
Second example of the complicated issue: My host department of Asistenţă Socială held a conference on the recent forced evictions of a Roma community in Cluj just four blocks from our building that highlighted for me how complicated the issues of social inclusion and property rights are. People have a right to live, and the city has a right to public property not being appropriated for private use.  Then, according to news reports last week, that property has recently been approved to become an Orthodox educational center teaching, ironically, social work.

Part of my job as a Fulbright scholar is intercultural exchange, learning about Romania and teaching about America.  We can each learn about the other, as Robert Frost's poem, (Sorry English majors, this is translated to American English from his Scottish dialect) says,
Oh, what a gift is given us
To see ourselves as others see us.
It would from many a blunder free us
and foolish notion.
We can each learn to see and to solve our own problems based on the other's experience, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

The American experience of civil rights, as tumultuous and disruptive as that period was for us, can be instructive for Romanians who want to learn from our example.  Martin Luther King's dream, "that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" is an admirable goal for Romanians, too.

Nancy and I had dinner with a prominent Romanian government official who related that, as a child, her grandmother a hired a Roma clan to make bricks for an addition to her farmhouse.  They moved on the property, and for the summer, she played with the Roma children, sat by their campfire at night to hear music.  She said they were hardworking, worked from dawn until sundown, took good care of their children, and treated her and her family with respect. She concluded, "Not all Roma are like the stereotypes; some are, but others are decent people."  It gave me hope to hear a Romanian leader judging the Roma on the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Romanian documentary films I'd like to see

 A Gypsy Elvis impersonator!  Winter traditions that predate the Romans!  Life after the collapse of Communism.  Gypsy life in America. What more could you want!

2008 ASTRA Film Festival Poster
I discovered the website for the ASTRA Film Festival, an annual event of the National Center for the Romanian Documentary Film.  They are affiliated with the UCLA Film and Television Archive in Los Angeles.  These short documentaries give a powerful glimpse into Romanian life and culture.

That would be so cool to have a showing in San Antonio.

I'd love to see these:

American Gypsy: A stranger in Everybody’s Land
Jasmine Dellal, 
USA, 1999, 80 min
There are one million Gypsies in America, who most people know nothing about. They continue to live according to traditions that remain mysterious to outsiders. This is at least in part because a central aspect of Gypsy culture is the limiting of contact with non-Gypsies. The film tells the story of one Romani family in the American Northwest that has defied the wall of silence surrounding their people.
The Curse of the Hedgehog
Dumitru Budrala

Romania, 2004, 103 min
The film follows the life of an extended Roma family for a whole year. They belong to the “Baiesi “ group of Roma, who live in extreme poverty. The filmmaker accompanied them on the way from their dwelling place in the mountain to the lowland villages, where they try to trade handmade goods for food or money.
These winter tours are survival trips for them, as they have no other income whatsoever. However, the film is more than the story of their struggle to survive. During the 100 minutes, we come to understand why they refuse to work the land, and how they relate to the Romania shepherds, and to the rich Baesi from their village they call “businessmen”, who make large fortunes from selling fake rings abroad.
We discover how mythological thinking is activated in their everyday life, along with their Christian Orthodox religiousness. By watching this film, we achieve a better understanding of the absurdities and the pain that fill the lives of these people living on the edge of society, and we come to admire the wit, and the humour, which help them to come through.

ASTRA Film Festival 2008

Zina – The Story of a Village in The Carpathian Mountains
Dumitru Budrala

Romania, 2004, 60 min

Documents mention Jina for the first time in 1396. Today, the village has 4,350 inhabitants. The heart of the village is situated at 1000 meters altitude, with a spectacular view of the Southern Carpathians to the south, and towards the Transylvanian Plateau and the Western Carpathians to the north.
The film follows the tradition of the documentaries made in Romania in the 1930s by researchers studying the traditional rural life, under the coordination of the famous sociologist Dimitrie Gusti. The film reveals historical facts, and talks about myths and legends. It shows ancient rituals, and feasts of the present time. It introduces to the viewer a strong and proud community, keepers of an extraordinary cultural heritage. How did the village Jina come to own more mountains than any other village in the area, and to occupy 330 square meters, which is the equivalent of the surface of Bucharest?

TAM -We Are Staying
Schiltz Anne, Charlotte Grégoire

Luxemburg, 2006, 54 min
Two filmmakers spend time getting to know Ruth and Natalia, two young Romanian women who grew up together in the Transylvanian village of Malancrav.  One of them is a Gypsy, the other is a Saxon; one left the village, the other chose to stay. The only thing they seem to share is their friendship.
The film explores the relationship of the two women and questions our understanding of social and ethnic belonging, migration, money, rural life and the search for one’s roots.

Leaving Transylvania
Dieter Auner

Ireland, 2006, 52 min
After the collapse of communism in Romania, thousands of ethnic Germans migrated from Transylvania to Germany. The exodus continued year after year. The young Saxons, or ethnic Germans, were eager to leave Romania dreaming of a prosperous future in the West.
For the elder, however, migration was a traumatic experience. Leaving Transylvania documents this dramatic situation seen trough the eyes of an elderly couple from a village called Arbegen / Agârbiciu. Hans and Maria Kenzel, aged 70, are two of the very few who decided to stay. The Kenzels look after the local church fortress, ring the bells and wind up the clocks. Dusting off pews in the huge empty church seems to be their only link to the old times.
They have two options: to leave everything behind them or to stay.

The Last Peasants - Temptation
Angus Macqueen

UK, 2003, 49 min
Angus Macqueen’s three-part series follows the human stories of three Romanian families torn apart by the realities of migration. The remote village of Budesti in Northern Romania is a world of of the past, filled with horses and carts, and medieval beliefs. But the young villagers see no romance in their existence.
Their eyes are turned to the modern world of the West. In Budesti, every family has an illegal immigrant abroad. After exploring in Journeys the realities facing the immigrants, Temptation observes the clash of cultures, and the expectations of different generations in rural Romania.
Observational, up-close, and touching, the film looks at the changes imposed on the local community by the collapse of Communism and the new relationship with Western Europe. 

Fabrizio Scapin

France/Italia, 2000, 57 min
Christmas time in a village in Maramures, Northern Romania: a time for family reunions. Those who have left the village come home for the winter vacation, particularly as old rituals and traditional celebrations go on ceaselessly from Christmas to New Year's Eve in the rural area. These people pride themselves on having preserved their identity; they have the self-consciousness of being the descendants of the free Dacians, as neither the Roman legions nor other intruders succeeded to conquer their territory. This does not prevent them from looking for a better life elsewhere.

Transylvanian Winter
Dumitru Budrala

Romania, 1995, 35 min
The film was shot in the Carpathian pastoral communities of Southern Transilvania. The winter rituals take place between December 20th and January 7th. Every New Year, at every symbolic renewal of the annual cycle, people celebrate. On occasions like this ancient Greeks and Romans used to sacrifice animals, organise games and banquets and give each other gifts.
The rituals and the ancient songs of the Carpathian communities show a certain resemblance with those of the ancient world.

ASTRA Film Festival 2007

The Brassy Band
Poverty is the first thing to cross your mind when thinking of a Gipsy village. And it really is the first thing to strike you when entering a Gipsy village. However, despite the poverty and the hard life, Gipsies have the sense of music and rhythm like nobody else. Music is part of their daily life, and they need music just like they need air. The film explores the fascinating hidden world of the Gypsies.

The Potter From Binis
A portrait film about a potter from Banat, Ionică Stepan, aged 80, who keeps alive the tradition of six generations of potters. His grandfather used to travel across the Austro-Hungarian Empire to sell his pottery or exchange it for grains. According to tradition, a man could not marry before mastering the art of pottery. The film observes what has remained of the potters’ tradition by introducing  a remarkable character to the viewer.

Viva Constanta!
România, 2006, 49 min
A Gypsy Elvis impersonator!  What more could you want!  Tudor Lakatos is a school teacher. He is in his 40s, he’s a Gypsy, and he wants to be famous. He also found a way to reach fame. He is an imitator of Elvis Presley. The lyrics of the great hits once played by the “king of rock-and-roll” have been translated into Romany, and Tudor Lakatos gets ready for the tour to Constanţa. His Romany-Rock  repertoire is the key to fame.

Independence is a former one-person apartments building in Sibiu, transformed into a block of flats. The very narrow apartments make life not very comfortable here. Răzvan is a child living in the Independence building, whose mother left to Western Europe for work. A sensitive portrait of a child who tries to live a normal life, but who sometimes is overwhelmed by the feeling of missing his mother.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

NGO Report: Diakonia "I drank the ink, so I had to go to work"

Diakonia is making a difference in a poor Romanian village by helping villagers create sustainable sources of income through traditional crafts, by helping poor Roma children develop school skills and life skills, and by caring for elderly who live alone at home or in the nursing home.
Villagers have pride in their engraved gates
Last week I visited Mera, a Hungarian village outside Cluj, with Brigitte, from Fundația Creștină Diaknoia (translated: Diakonia Christian Foundation),  and Csaba, a faculty colleague.  Diakonia  is a ministry of the Reformed Church in Transylvania.  Diakonia began in 1992 as a medical mission of Dutch doctors and nurses.  They opened home care nursing services and a nursing home in Cluj, and later opened a nursing home in the village we visited. 
Soon after opening the medical clinic and nursing home in Mera, they recognized the need to develop a comprehensive social program in community development, assistance in obtaining identity cards and government benefits, educational programs for poor children, and support for elderly who live alone ("Adopt a Granny").
Community Development: Soon after they opened the clinic, they met with local village leaders, the pastor of the church, the schoolmaster, and interested villagers to discuss issues concerning the life of the village.  The villagers decided that to show pride in their community, they wanted village residents to repair or renovate the traditional engraved wooden gates at each house.  But this was a poor village, no one had any money, ...and on and on... then they decided to have a Village Day where they would show the traditional music, food, and handcrafts of village people.  ...And raise money to repair or install traditional engraved wooden gates.

Traditional painted furniture and hand-made textiles
The Village Day has been an annual event since 2002 organized by a committee of representatives of different groups in the village (union, church, civic).  This has spawned a cottage industry in traditional crafts. We visited one of the village leaders and looked at her traditional painted furniture and handmade textiles.

Documentation Assistance: My American friends can't imagine how important an identity card is in Romanian bureaucracy.  At age 12, every Romanian citizen goes to a government office with their parents and their birth certificate to get their identity card.  For many of the Roma in the village,  their births occurred at home, so they had no birth certificate. Their world consists of face-to-face contact, so they didn't see the need for any document from the government to work for a neighbor in the village for a little cash.  Imagine this going on for several generations, and you get an idea of what the situation was in the village for the Roma.  Without an identity card, they could not get a regular job, could not get job training, and could not get government benefits that they may be due, such as retirement,  disability, or social assistance.
A Roma house under construction
So the Diakonia social worker helped obtain 13 birth certificates for children and 31 identity cards.  They helped 16 youth attend job training and helped several village residents gain employment.

Children's Educational Program: Public school in Romania is compulsory through age 12, so each village has an elementary school.  However, public school only goes from 8am to 12 noon, and if parents want children to stay until the parents get home from work, they must pay the teacher privately to watch the kids and help them with their homework. So, in Romania "after-school program" means a whole lot more than it does in the US.
Diakonia provides an after-school program for 25 children, mostly Roma, which provides them with a hot meal (probably the only nutritious meal they get all day), a personal hygiene kit (some don't have running water, none have hot water; they teach them to wash before the meal, and brush their teeth after the meal; sometimes they provide clothing and wash their old clothes), school supplies, and educational games and activities to encourage and develop reading skills.
The after school program is staffed by 3 teachers (all of whom have degrees in education; the lead teacher has two Master's degrees in Early Childhood Ed and Special Ed) and 2 social workers. They do psychological assessments and have identified almost 25% of the children in their program have severe learning disabilities.  The teachers in the after school program try to coordinate their services with the public school, but one frustration these teachers have is that the public school teachers don't believe in making accommodations for special needs, even for the 2nd grader who has an IQ of a 2 year old. Punishment and shame for not doing what you're told is the norm for the village school, even if it is beyond a child's capabilities.
Chickens in "Roma Hill"

When we walked into the Roma section of the village we were greeted by an older man. When told that we were with the after school program, he said, "You're doing good. When I was a child at school, I 'drank the ink,' so I had to go to work."
Our hosts later explained his figure of speech "I 'drank the ink,'" as he didn't take school seriously, so he dropped out at an early age and went to work in the fields.  As they explained, to the Roma what we "Gazde" do is not work--they only understand day labor: you shovel a barn all day and the owner of the barn gives you some money...and you don't need to do that again until the food is gone and you need more money. They can't figure out how they can get in on our deal where you sit around all day, maybe read some books, look at a screen, talk to people, drive around the city, and once or twice a month someone gives you more money than they can imagine.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Romanian recipes I want to bring home

Now that I'm at the end of my time in Romanian, and because at heart I'm a foodie, I find myself thinking about the best meals I've eaten in Romania and trying to find recipes so I can eat faint reminders back in the states.
Cornell's birthday dinner
The best meals I have eaten were home-made by our landlady, Luci.  We were invited to Cornell's birthday dinner with his extended family. Luci had been cooking for weeks!

The most memorable meal was the Gypsy Birthday Party Cami arranged for her visiting college friend Laura.  We did a rural home-stay with a Roma family and went to another village to visit a musician clan who grilled meats in our honor.  They harvested the largest fish I have ever seen to add to the grilled sausages and chicken.  But what made it memorable was that they sacrificed a rabbit for the birthday guest. 

So, on to the recipes:
As the Romanians say: POFTĂ BUNĂ!

Mici (pronounced meech), or Mititei, from Luci
You find these little sausages everywhere and they are great with beer.  We don't have anything that tastes quite like them, I think it's because they don't have chemical preservatives.  Most Romanians I asked about their mother's recipes, said "She always bought them at the store." But when I asked Luci, our landlady who prefers not only to cook her own food, but also to raise it and kill it, she gave me her old stand-by recipe:
400 grams ground beef
250 grams ground pork
100 grams ground lamb
200 ml water
25 grams condiment (pepper, paprika, garlic powder)
10 grams salt
15 grams bicarbonate of soda
Mix with wet hands and form sausages.  Cook on grill or teflon skillet.
Salate de Vinite (Eggplant Puree)
This is a staple at every Romanian covered dish supper, and each person has different ways of making it.  Again, the vinite that Luci makes is the best we've had in Romania! 
This recipe is from cdkitchen.com, with preparation hints from Luci's kitchen.
3 medium eggplants 1/4 cup olive or sunflower oil 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste pinch of ground black pepper 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 ripe tomato, cut in wedges black olives 1 small onion, chopped
Preheat oven to broil (Luci chars them on the gas stove top until they are black.  This gives the final product a wonderful smoky flavor). Pierce eggplant skin in several places with a fork. Arrange onto a broiling pan and place under the broiler. Broil until eggplants are soft and skin is charred. Turn the eggplants once during broiling. (They will leak a good deal of liquid.) Broiling should take about 30-45 minutes. 
While eggplants are cooking, prepare a place to drain them. (It's necessary to remove the bitter liquids before using.) We use a serving platter with one wide end resting on a book to elevate it about 2", and place some paper towels under the lower end to catch excess drips. When eggplants are done, place them on the prepared set-up and allow to drain for at least 15 minutes, then press with a fork or wooden spoon to expel any remaining liquid. Trim off the top stem end and bottom flower end, and peel off the skin. 
Puree the eggplant in a blender or process in a food processor until smooth (Of course, Luci uses a fork). It may be easier to do this in two batches. Pour eggplant puree into a serving bowl and stir in the oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice until well-mixed. Serve immediately or chill for later. Garnish the bowl with tomatoes and olives. Serve the onion in a separate bowl for those who prefer to mix it into the eggplant on their own plate.
Sarmale (Stuffed Cabbage Leaves)
Again, recipe is from cdkitchen.com.
large white cabbage (Romanians use a pickled cabbage leaf that you can buy in the ag-market) 2 onions, chopped 2 tablespoons white rice 1 1/2 pound ground beef or veal 1 tablespoon chopped parsley salt and pepper, to taste 6 tomatoes 2 tablespoons tomato paste 1/2 lemon, juiced 3 cloves garlic, chopped
Break off the cabbage leaves and cut out the hard spines with a knife. Boil a pot of salted water and add the leaves, simmer several seconds, and remove when they begin to soften. Place the cabbage leaves on paper towels and allow to cool. In a greased frying pan, brown the chopped onions and rice, then add 1/2 cup hot water. Cover and allow the rice to swell, then cool several minutes. In a large bowl mix together the meat, rice, parsley, salt and pepper. On a wooden board, lay out a cabbage leaf, and crossing over the part that was cut out, add a spoonful of meat mixture, fold in the sides, and roll the leaf over the meat to form a sausage shape. Repeat with the rest of the leaves and meat. Roll up the small remaining cabbage leaves and cut into strips. Slice the tomatoes. In a large casserole dish, place several tomato slices in the bottom, followed by half the shredded cabbage, and a tight layer of stuffed cabbage. Cover with another layer of tomato and stuffed cabbage, and cover with the remaining tomato slices and shredded cabbage.  Dilute the tomato paste in 4 cups water. Add the lemon juice and garlic and pour the liquid over the cabbage. Cover and bake at 325 degrees F for 1 hour. Add more diluted tomato paste if the liquid lowers to half its original level. Serve hot with mamaliga (a Hungarian version of Polenta; Romanians would object that this is a Romanian dish, too) and sour cream.