Last year Moldova won the distinction of having the highest rate of alcohol consumption in the world by a huge margin, which makes it a favorite destination for college students. A few years earlier, it ranked last in the world in terms of life satisfaction, which makes it a preferred destination for suicidal people. It is also the poorest country in Europe, attracting many destitute people who want to feel in good company. In 2008, Eric Weiner documented in The Geography of Bliss the utter desperation most people experience there, which makes it a Mecca for existential writers. Finally, a couple of years ago Transparency International wrote a scathing report about the level of corruption in Moldova, which makes it an excellent training ground for Miami politicians.
For the past 54 years I have managed to hide the fact that my ancestors were from Moldova. When people detect an accent I tell them that I was born in Argentina and lived in several places, like Nashville, which have influenced the inflection of my voice. My parents were already born in Argentina; so technically I’m not lying by hiding my Moldovan roots.
I managed to keep my Moldovan secret for years until I found myself in a restaurant with friends in Boca Raton a few weeks ago. My friend asked the cheerful waitress were she was from, and the next thing I know I’m telling her that my ancestors were also from Moldova.
Irina (not her real name, her real name was Ioana) told us that she came to the US from Moldova a few years ago. She was ecstatic to hear that my grandparents were from her country and proceeded to share with us The Encyclopedia Britannica version of Moldova’s history. For 24 minutes she stood next to us and gushed about the many atrocities that were bestowed upon her countrymen and women since the establishment of the Principality of Moldavia in 1359. As a former history teacher in Moldova she was obviously starved for an audience, while I was starved for lunch. While she was getting hotter and hotter with the telling of every invasion by Crimean Tatars, my entrée was getting colder and colder. When she got to the Treaty of Bucharest in 1812 I decided to start eating between calamities. Unless I started eating I was going to become the next victim of the Russian Empire, which annexed Moldova and gave it the name Oblast of Moldavia and Bessarabia. When Oblast was converted to the Bessarabia Governorate in 1871 I decided the hell with it and attacked my food with the same vigor that Romania went after Bukovina and Transylvania.
When she got to the beginning of last century Irina went back to get us deserts. I used the opportunity to finish my plate and recover from the carnage. After serving desert Irina went straight to Bessarabia’s proclamation of Independence from Russia on February 6th 1918, conveniently skipping the first 18 years of the century, at which point I asked her about the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 in which dozens of Jews were murdered and hundreds wounded. It turned out that our adorable hostess was never taught the incident that prompted the exile of my ancestors. When she started squirming I asked her about the second pogrom that took place between October 19thand 20th of 1905. At that point she told us that she needed to serve other customers, to which I said if she knew of the Jewish community in Kalarash, just outside Kishinev, which is where my ancestors were from. While I was relishing my revenge, unbeknownst to me I gave her more ammunition. Kalarash, she told us, is where the best cognac in the world is distilled. She went on and on about the cognac, and like many of her compatriots, she completely forgot that Jews were massacred there by her Cossack ancestors.