A tale of two weekends

I send weekly emails to my friends and family back home. Sometimes I am going to post them here. They have been edited to ensure that certain private details never see the light of day!

Elvis Rromano is an Elvis impersonator who also happens to be Roma. He plays Rock and Rrom, which is a melange of Western music and the kind of traditional music you hear at weddings and funerals. The latter style is distinguished not by proficiency but by performance; you want your music to have character and energy, even if it does not necessarily sound professional.

Which is not to say that the Romanian Elvis cannot play; his finger work with the guitar was exemplary, but his Elvis performance… Not so much. But then I could only go by the scant phrases sung in English, because a lot of the rewritten lyrics (like “Viva Constansa” and “Don’t step on my Gypsy shoes”) were political songs sung in a register and language I still do not understand.

We were at the Elvis Rromano concert at the Londophone near Parcul Cismigiu to celebrate a colleague recent awarding of a PhD. Ironically, said colleague was not with us, having (one could say predictably) developed the kind of tension-related migraines one gets when the body suddenly realises it can start focussing on the fact you’ve been putting your body under a lot of stress for quite some time (but have not had the time to deal with it).

So, sans our special guest, five Fellows and a few friends met up in a crowded underground bar to watch an Elvis impersonator play.

And play.

And play.

One of the few Romanians in the group pointed out to us after the fourth set that Elvis and his retinue would play all night if the crowd demanded it; the expectation was that the audience would decide when the performance would end, not the performers themselves. This was all part of the particular musical culture Elvis Rromano was manipulating; when you get someone to provide the music for a wedding or funereal celebration you want someone who will play as long as possible. For those of us with more Western sensibilities around going to a gig this was a bit confusing; no one wanted to leave until it was over but the performer would only go home when we did.

As luck would have it, it was the bar staff who decided that the show could not go on; when your work shift is about to end and you still need to clean the bar it doesn’t matter that Elvis and his fans are in the building.

Capitalism always wins out in the end.

We were locked into the room by a Romanian man whose name I never found out. He told us that we had one hour to solve a series of increasingly difficult puzzles. My partner in crime stared at me. We knew the cost of failure; it was not an option. But we did not know what might befall us before the hour was out. Surrounded only by books on esoterica and maps of unknown islands, we set out to free ourselves.

How we had got into this predicament I will reveal shortly, but I guess I should speak to what would happen if in an hour’s time we had failed in our task. There would have been embarrassment, a wealth of it. After all, a world renown expert on conspiracy theories and a systems architect on a six figure (British Pounds) salary should have no trouble puzzling our way out of anything… Except we were operating on less than three hours sleep after having had quite the night.

Step back some twelve hours to the night before. My friend had come over from London to spend Easter weekend with me (his Easter, though, and not mine; Romania is an Eastern Orthodox country and Easter this year in their calendar was the next weekend). Wanting to show him a good time, I recommended that we have drinks with some of my fellow Fellows at the NEC (having introduced him to my friends from the ICUB the night before) and the night had gone (as the kids say) large. One of the Fellows (she who had failed to attend her own PhD awarding celebration the week before) joined us and insisted we go to one of Bucharest’s most popular clubs for a few drinks and some dancing.

We did not get home until after five.

I’m not opposed to dancing (something many people seem to find surprising) but noisy dance clubs are not exactly my scene. But I both wanted to show my guest a good time and appreciated that this was my colleagues first chance to properly blow off steam post her PhD. But I had made what was, in retrospect, the mistake of booking my UK-based friend and I into an Escape Room the next morning. Escape Rooms require some amount of concentration; dancing into the wee hours and getting little sleep after, however, tends to dull the mind.

For those of you not sure what an Escape Room is, it’s a series of puzzles which terminate either in utter failure or finding the key to get out iof the room. They tend to be themed and I had found the perfect one (for me at least): the Secret Society. My partner-in-crime and I were too unlucky researchers who had discovered that the secret society we were researching was all too real, and we were now its victims.

Armed only with coffee inside of us, we began our work, deciphering puzzles, locating objects from hidden spaces, and discovering that in my sleep-addled state I had forgotten that there was a V in the alphabet. It was, then, a miracle we finished the thing on time, but part of our problem was often overthinking the solutions to puzzles, inferring there was some extra step we had to take. The best of example of this? We found the key to get out of the room but assumed it was just the next item to be unlocked. Eventually the organisers had to slip a note under the door to say we had finished the room and could unlock the door now…

The lesson? Don’t stay out until five in the morning when you have cognitively-challenging work to do the next day. Or realise that if a Kiwi is going to come and stay, maybe organise activities for the afternoons only.