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All a Commie Flop
Janet Graham
December 16, 1968
Skiing behind the Iron Curtain is an experience, especially if you are not really keen on skiing, are prepared to put up with gypsies and vampires and understand that if you don't fall down you will fall off the mountain
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December 16, 1968

All A Commie Flop

Skiing behind the Iron Curtain is an experience, especially if you are not really keen on skiing, are prepared to put up with gypsies and vampires and understand that if you don't fall down you will fall off the mountain

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The Sport Hotel at Poiana looked luxurious from the brochures, and I set off on Monday morning full of another burst of joyful anticipation. In Brasov I discovered that you got up to Poiana by way of a 10-mile drive standing crammed into an open cattle truck. But the air was crisp, the sun glistened on the tops of the frosted pine trees, the truck was full of skiers and skis and ski poles, and I was content at last. I waltzed up to the desk with my reservation in hand. It was just half past 2. "Imediat," the clerk said ominously.

By 10:30 that night I still hadn't gotten a room. I had visited a few, though, lugging my baggage up and down three staircases and searching for the numbers I'd been sent to. Since the rooms were marked with plastic figures above the doors, many of which had fallen off with the vigor of Rumanian door-slamming, it wasn't too easy.

In 401 I was supposed to be joining a German hausfrau holidaying alone. When the shy chambermaid and I knocked on the door we were met not only by the hausfrau and her Rumanian lover but also by a party of three Rumanian businessmen, who, having lavishly tipped someone in authority, were contesting the right of the illicit pair to the room. I returned for the fourth time to the head porter.

Maybe it was time to slip him a �5 note, or at least to make a Rumanian scene, which was cheaper. But just as I was drawing breath, someone tapped on my shoulder. It was a curvaceous brunette with two-inch eyelashes.

"Excuse me," she said and, taking my hand, drew me off into the powder room in a conspiratorial manner. "I hear you have great difficulties," she said. "Let me introduce me: I am Olga Szymanski from Poland, now living in West Germany. I am sharing a room with some Rumanian friends. We have a four-bedded room in the attic. One bed is spare. You would be welcome to join us, if you wish." It was 11 o'clock by now, and I wished pretty fervently. "Please do not inform the head porter or any of the staff," Olga went on. "I believe Rumanians are not supposed to share with Westerners."

And that is how I came to be sleeping with Olga the Polish actress, with Doina the fashion model and with Doina's handsome ski-champion brother, Ion.

"And this is luxury," Ion told me. "You should see the mountain huts, where there can be 30 of us in a room this size. We sleep like sardines on a great wide shelf that runs around the walls, with our feet pointing in to the middle. When one turns over, he gives a shout, and all must turn over together. It is friendly, jolly fun, no?"

Olga and I had our meals together and smuggled food up to Doina and Ion, who didn't want to be seen with me. Our waiter caught us food-smuggling; he didn't tell on us, just added on to our meal bills as the price of his silence. "This hotel," said Olga disgustedly at breakfast, "is unbelievably corrupt. But, on the other hand, no waiter in this country could possibly live on his pay."

This was gently undulating country, and the nursery slopes lay smooth, white and inviting just outside the dining room windows. I couldn't wait to get started. "Where can I hire ski equipment?" I asked.

"Room 13," Olga told me.

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