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Wine fest in Moldova, and random thoughts about Middletown: Ed O'Connor

Posted 11/27/19

Pop the champagne! Open the caviar! The black, not the red, please.

I celebrated two anniversaries in October.

First was my (our) 14th wedding anniversary. Olga and I were married in Chisinau …

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Wine fest in Moldova, and random thoughts about Middletown: Ed O'Connor


Pop the champagne! Open the caviar! The black, not the red, please.

I celebrated two anniversaries in October.

First was my (our) 14th wedding anniversary. Olga and I were married in Chisinau in 2005. To commemorate the occasion, we went to the same restaurant where we had our first dinner together 14 years ago. Yep, it is still open.

The second was my “golden” anniversary. This was the 50th column I have contributed to the multi award-winning Press & Journal in Middletown.

Each column averaged a little more than 1,000 words, so they total in excess of 50,000 words. To put that into perspective — if in book form, it would constitute between 180 and 220 pages.

I remember in school when we had to write 500-word reports and I struggled to see how many “the’s,” “an’s”, “a’s” and other small words I could use to hit that amount.

No whining about the wine

The annual Moldovan National Wine Festival was held the first weekend of October.  The No.1 crop (grapes) and final product (wine) were celebrated. We heard on the news that this year’s bumper grape crop was 700,000 tons.

There were people from all over the world at the wine festival. We met a Frenchman who had lived in Ecuador.

In 2018, the Chinese bought more than a million bottles of Moldovan wine. For decades, England’s Queen Elizabeth has purchased wine from Moldova.

There were 68 wineries represented at the event. This was the largest exposition to date. A portion of Chisinau’s six-lane main thoroughfare, Stefan cel Mare Boulevard, plus center city square were closed to accommodate the holiday.

We got very lucky. Initially, the prognostication for the weekend was for cold and rain. We bought rain boots. But the rain gods smiled favorably upon us. We never donned the new footwear in the almost perfect autumn weather.

For $11 each we sampled 24 wines from the country’s prolific wineries, then purchased some. It was just like the Jerry Lee Lewis song ... “Drinkin’ wine, spo-dee-o-dee. Drinkin’ wine — pass that bottle to me.”

I met and spoke with the U.S. ambassador to Moldova, Dereck Hogan. I also got a photo of him schmoozing with the third Moldovan president, Vladimir Voronin, who initially organized the wine festival.

Eight days later was “City Day,” commemorating Chisinau’s 583rd anniversary. The wine festival was a large gathering, but it dwarfed in comparison to City Day. Starting at 9 a.m., the aforementioned main traffic artery was closed for about 1.5 miles. A multitude of vendors purveyed their wares on both sides of the street, avenues and parks.

Tens of thousands attended and enjoyed a spectacular fall day. Food and wine were again ubiquitous. Many stages were erected showcasing the country’s talent, from singing to national folkdance troupes resplendent in indigenous garb.

On one side street was a wrestling tournament. The winner was awarded a sheep. It sounds like Perry County.

In one park, a chess master played 15 simultaneous chess games.

The culmination of the event began at 7:30 p.m. at the main stage. An orchestra and singers entertained thousands with nonstop Moldovan music until 11 p.m. A spectacular fireworks display ended the evening.

Even though I feel very uncomfortable in large crowds, we fought our way through the throng for a few hours then returned home. We found that one local TV channel was broadcasting live, so we watched the last hours of the event from the comfort of our sofa while enjoying wine and cheese.

Another memorable thing happened in October. Olga’s 20-year-old niece, Ann, from Russia, visited for 10 days. The last time they saw each other was 2005. Ann had not been with her father during this same time frame. We all got to share some experiences together before she tearfully departed for St. Petersburg.

Random thoughts

• Over the years, I have enjoyed watching ballroom dancing. We happened upon the live TV broadcast of the 2019 European Ballroom Sport Dancing Championships which, unbeknownst to us, was held in Chisinau. The winning couple was from Russia; a Moldovan pair placed second and in third position another Russian duo.

• According to, there are things millennials are not doing, not buying and products they are not using. The one I found fascinating was fabric softener. Their reason? They don’t understand what it does. Our future leaders? Seems to me that fabric softener would be self-explanatory ... but I guess not with “educated” millennial morons.

• Alas! It’s that time of year again. The days are getting shorter and the nighties are getting longer.

• Tell me it ain’t so, Little Ralphie. The end of an era is imminent with the closing of Saturday’s Market.

I was there for the grand opening when it was known as the Middletown Merchandise Mart, the Big M. If memory serves, it was in the autumn of 1957.

My father took me there to get the autograph, on my slightly used baseball, of Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jack Sanford. He had been named the 1957 National League Rookie of the Year.

Other than Joe Sukle’s signature on a paycheck, Sanford’s autograph was the only one I ever possessed.

• Bad luck? Our apartment building is a nine-floor structure. We live on the sixth floor. Not too long ago we entered the elevator, pushed “number 6’ and the lift started its upward journey. Clunk. The cabin got stuck between floors. I had never been in that situation before. What to do? There was a red button with the symbol of a bell. Upon pushing it we could hear an alarm.

Finally, after a very long 10 minutes we detected a whirring sound, felt movement and were finally able to exit on our floor.

It was my fault. The elevator has a small capacity. The sign clearly states, “Accommodates four people (or two Americans)”.

The bad news: We were carrying six liters of wine, which must have put us over the weight limit. The good news: We were carrying six liters of wine.

My idea was to orally dispose of some fruit of the vine to lighten the load. Olga didn’t think that would work. Oh, well.

• Speaking of luck: Last week, I bought a lottery ticket ... and won a comb.

Your “golden” gallavanter ... Eddy O

Ed O’Connor, a former resident of Middletown and Lower Swatara Township, is an expatriate living in Chisinau, Moldova.