March 23, 1999
On what should have been an ordinary workday morning in Bucharest, in the struggling country of Romania, I left my shabby apartment—they were all shabby in Bucharest—and followed the honeyed scent of baking bread five blocks or so to the bakery, where I stood in a long line to buy a baguette for breakfast. It was my routine to savor my warm bread as I walked for half an hour to my office at Graffiti Publitas, where I helped businesspeople emerge from fifty years of Communist oppression. But that morning in March there were no smiles of appreciation for my business garb and American running shoes. Street sweepers who normally greeted me as they wielded ancient straw brooms kept their eyes on the street. The gypsies who squealed and smiled their approval, the citizens who politely acknowledged me each morning with a buna dimineata, doamna—good morning, madame—were silent. And at the bakery where patrons with small families were expected to buy a dozen loaves, my request for a single baguette produced no reaction. In fact, as I counted five hundred lei, the equivalent of eleven cents, the shop clerk made no eye contact.