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New Europe

Day Fifty: Chisinau to the Danube

Zdob si Zdub 
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Eurovision friends re-united. In a south Moldovan farmyard Roma sings, Grandma bangs the drum, and Zdob si Zdub back them up.
Michael Palin - New EuropeI wonder what he thinks about Moldova's place in the world.

'We are European. I don't say which is better, but we don't belong to East culture. The Dniester is the border between East and West. For centuries.'

He heaves a sigh.

'Maybe it shouldn't be, but it is.'

Later, driving south from Chisinau for the last time, we see, rising from the immense vineyards and long lines of walnut trees, a solidly impressive red and white painted concrete sign which informs us that we are entering the Republic of Gagauzia. Their 170,000-strong inhabitants are an unusual combination of Christian and Turkish. Half the size of troublesome Transdniester, Gagauzia stopped short of demanding full independence and became instead an autonomous region within Moldova.

The broad slopes are home to some of the best vineyards in the country, and as wine comprises thirty per cent of Moldova's GDP it's important for both sides to maintain harmonious relations.

In the capital, a nondescript town called Comrat ('Comrade'), the doorway of a church in the centre sports a large, ghoulish painting of John the Baptist's head on a charger and opposite, outside the town hall, the only extant statue of Lenin I've yet seen in Europe.

As if to emphasise the unusual arrangements between the host nation and its satellite, the Gagauzian flag of blue, white and red horizontal stripes flies above the administration offices alongside the blue, gold and red verticals of the Moldovan.

There is to be one last celebration before we leave Moldova. In the village of Valeni live a couple, well into their sixties, who have attained considerable notoriety in Moldova. A pair of staunch metal gates open onto a small courtyard, with single-storey outbuildings on three sides, in the centre of which is a long table set for a meal. Beyond that is a yard in which I can see sheds, bales of hay, milk churns, horses, goats, chickens, a flock of geese, a drum kit, four black Marshall amplifiers, a line of mike stands and a cluster of cables coiling through the dust.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Fifty: Chisinau to the Danube
  • Country/sea: Moldova
  • Place: Comrat
  • Book page no: 128

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