Adventure in Moldova - People Along My Path - Octavian
Almost all of my painters in Chisinau spoke English. It was delightful. But, almost nobody at the school for special needs children spoke any English, including the director. So, I needed a translator. And, that's how Octavian came along my path. Octavian spoke really good English, but he was still a little surprised when he was contacted by the U.S. Embassy for the task. Quite understandably, he asked, "Do I need to take some kind of test for this?" The answer was no, because he had something else going for him.
Not only was Octavian able to speak in English, he was an extremely talented artist. He recently entered a mural competition in Chisinau. His project used both Greek and Moldovan symbols to share the story of Zeus kidnapping Europa. With his design, he wanted to make it clear that Moldova is part of Europe, even if you've never heard of it. If like me, you don't know the myth, it's an easy Google search. Octavian's work was well appreciated in the community. In fact, he won a trip to Paris. Not bad for his very first mural!
Okay, so the guy spoke English and was an artist. But, he was so much more than that. Octavian provided the warmth and leadership that I especially needed on this project. The facade of this school was really complicated for the mural. I had 17 yards of columns, windows and doors to navigate around. Most murals can be gridded and drawn in about four hours. This one took me two days. And, while I was drawing for most of that time, volunteers were already present and eager to paint. I told Octavian I needed him to guide, direct, and completely be in charge of the painting while I finished the drawing. Could he do it? No hesitation. No sweat. No problem. Years of scout leadership had prepared him. He not only handled the situation. He excelled at it. It was a treat to watch him interact with the youngest painter (four years old), the grandmothers who passed by on the street, the special needs students who wanted to participate and the whole cast of high school volunteers. I could not have functioned so easily without Octavian as my right hand and second in command.
When he is not
painting murals or translating for foreigners from Ohio, Octavian is
a graphics illustrator and he's successful enough to work free-lance.
He studied at the University of Fine Arts and Design in Cluj, Romania.
He obviously speaks English and Romanian, but you also need to add Russian
to his list of languages. That comes in a little handy since his girlfriend,
Tania, is a native Russian speaker.
Much to my delight, Octavian asked me if I'd like to go out for drinks one night. Of course, I did! But, I had two requests. His girlfriend needed to join us, and we had to eat placinta. It's a local pastry that's spelled very close to something with an "e" instead of an "i". That would just be simply gross! And, if it helps reduce the shock any, the letter "c" sounds like a "ch".
Now, I had placinta stuffed with cheese or potatoes while in Moldova. But, Octavian told me that it also came stuffed with cabbage, pumpkin and cherries. Since I had to have them, and didn't know where to find them, Octavian and Tania were taking me out to eat. And, yes, the food was amazing. Stuffed with cabbage, cheese or potatoes, placinta is kind of a main course dish. But, if you fill it with pumpkin, cherries or apples, it is definitely a dessert that is often sprinkled with powdered sugar.
I thought my experience with Octavian and Moldovan food would end with placinta. I was wrong. Octavian invited me to his mother's home for another traditional feast. Just visiting his mother's home would have been enough, but she was a really good cook. Mama Octavian lived in one of the horrendously ugly Soviet apartment block complexes. It was gloomy outside and inside. However, upon opening the door to the apartment, Octavian's mother had freedom to decorate as she pleased. And, it was a refreshing contrast to everything else I saw in and around the building.
Everyone, including Mama Ocatvian, knew I wanted to have mamaliga. I wasn't exactly sure what it was, but it was highly recommended by my painting crew. It was a must-eat experience. And, you eat it with your hands so that makes it even more interesting. Mamaliga looks like cornbread but it's heavier and moist. You pick up a bunch and squeeze it into a ball. Then, you dip the ball into a garlic juice and next into grated sheep cheese. Okay, you may not kiss anyone after eating mamaliga, but it's still going to be a terrific experience. Of course, I had to find a recipe.
I had a small influence in Octavian's life and Romanian speakers have had a huge impact on my muraling career. Much to my surprise, Octavian said that he was very familiar with my art. When he was in grade school, his English courses were illustrated with my art. He had no idea he would ever actually meet the artist. I, of course, had no idea my art was used at all in schools in Moldova.
When I painted my earlier murals in Romania, my friend Iulian shook his head when he saw me pencil out a grid on the wall for the project. He asked, "Why don't you use a chalk line?" Well, that technique never occurred to me before.