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The Black Sea 

I'm at an Internet cafe in the city of Constantza on the Black Sea and I've written this column three times. The nice guy who runs this joint managed to kick me off twice just as I'd finished my well-meaning mumbles about topless beaches, Romanian capitalism, native pop music and the ubiquity of the Internet. So I won't say anything about those things, except that the Black Sea has no surf so the children here don't run screaming every time a wave hits the beach. They wade right in. That's a lot like Romania is wading into capitalism. If there is any screaming, it comes from old people on meager pensions who can't afford the well-stocked shops, the snazzy cafes and the restaurants, or the movie theaters where Men in Black 2 is playing to sell-out crowds. Gone are the dour looks and sullen faces of the communist era. Fashionably dressed young people talk into their cell phones, conducting "mysterious business," as everyone is fond of noting, even if they are themselves part of the "mystery." The only mystery to my superficial gaze is how the new capitalists can survive the strain of so much niceness and heavy demand. Romanians hate to say "no," so the overworked daughter of the hotel proprietor, for instance, will say, "Right away," when you ask for coffee, which doesn't mean that you'll get any. I'm traveling with Larry, a laid-back audio producer armed with a tiny tape recorder he uses to pick up the sounds of horse carts and BMWs on the road and my incoherent mumbles. Speaking two languages at once has increased my usual mumbling to a series of interjections, some of them not so positive, given the screw-ups. On the other hand, this is what travel is all about: annoyances mitigated by the existence of a separate reality called home. Don't go anywhere if you don't have to, but if you mean to voyage cheaply and like sexy beaches, do come here, by all means. Stay off the Internet and go topless: it isn't just women shedding decades of commie primness, it's a whole country thrilled to drop its hairshirt. I'm now sending this because I can't do it again, I swear.
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