Romania: Of Palaces and Whores

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19 Nov 2001

Saturday, Sasha (the Director), Raluca (a young woman who works here, who is well on her way to becoming the resident COM expert [and, as it turns out, was also on her way to becoming Domnul Ionescu's personal assistant]), Valy (an even younger ex-game programmer, now working with me on voice mail), Mitch (of Active Voice - this was his last day in the country), and I piled into a van with driver to go off to the near reaches of Transylvania. Random notes:

  • peasants with long low horsedrawn carts.
  • a gypsy village, many houses looking unfinished, but doubtless inhabited.
  • snow, ice, potholes in the road, lousy rear suspension on the van.
  • very interesting conversation about the degree to which one is responsible to take care of others, with Raluca holding down the idealistic end (but admitting she very much wants to own a home and a car) and Sasha the cynical (but admitting that 6 months ago he took in a stray dog).
  • Queen Maria's palace at Sinaia [Pelişor (Pelisor); I gather that the nearby palace Peleş (Peles) is more famous, but I found it much less appealing]; she herself had a major hand in the design of the building and its furniture, executed many of the paintings herself, etc. Most of it is in the Art Nouveau style; very simple, neutral corridors allow individual rooms to depart from that style without clashing. There is one extremely over-the-top room done up largely in gold, but for the most part the building is in excellent, subdued taste. One of the few palaces I've ever seen that I could imagine as a home.
  • A very wide mix of towns: architecture ranging from Bavarian to Slavic to modern, from impoverished to ostentatious, and from excellent to awful. A lot of heavy industry; Sasha says there was more once, much of it has been idled.
  • Castle Bran, which they like to call "Dracula's Castle" for the tourists, and it looks the part, but which has only the most tangential of connections with Vlad Tepes

On the whole, a great day, although I had to fend off motion sickness at times.

Castle Bran, 2012, photographed by Todor Bozhinov
Castle Bran
Photographed 2012 by Todor Bozhinov
Used here under
CC-BY-SA 4.0 license

I actually have access to more TV in my room than I originally thought: turns out something was broken, making reception far worse than it needed to be. I now can get about half a dozen of the local channels. They never dub, which is great, because I can follow English or Spanish dialogue and pick up some Romanian from the subtitles. On the Australian stuff, the Romanian subtitles even help.

Wide selection of TV fare. Local variety, quiz, and news shows; sports; imported TV fare (including a lot of US crap); music videos (domestic and foreign); and a surprisingly good array of films from around the world: tonight, for example, one of the stations is showing Sally Potter's "Tango Lessons", which I think was one of the great overlooked films of the Nineties.

On Sunday I went to the National Art Museum. One wing houses a decent (though not earth-shattering) formerly-royal international collection. There was one truly great painting I had not previously known ("Christ at the Pillar" by Spanish artist Alonso Cano external 
link), and a good smattering of minor works by major figures including Lukas Cranach and several of the Breughel clan. The Romanian wing contains early works by Brancusi and numerous works by a very fine sculptor named Dimitrie Paciurea. Paciurea was new to me. Some of his work prefigures Maurice Sendak at his best; others invoke the darker side of classic mythology. Conversely, many of the paintings in the Romanian collection remind me that if you want your work to hang in a National Gallery, you would do well to live in a small country and paint folkloric subjects.

After the Museum I went to a park, Cişmigiu (Cismigiu) that looks like it could have been designed by the Olmstead firm. Very nice. One amusing experience: when I went to get a cup of coffee at a rather crowded outdoor cafe in the park (in sunny but almost freezing weather) I at first thought the waiter was some guy trying to hustle me: he had almost exactly the same look as the street hustlers here. I guess the same could happen in the East Village.

Last night (Monday) I went out to a place called Fire Club to see what was supposed to be an evening of experimental film. Lots of art students (no cover!), good music (early Bauhaus, late Einstuerzende Neubauten, etc.), but dumb movies. After sitting through nearly an hour of an excruciating Japanese film called "Tetsuo: Iron Man" (sort of a gorier "Eraserhead"), hoping the next would be better, the next turned out to be (I kid you not) "Tetsuo II". I left. [Some people like the Tetsuo films, which are not entirely without ideas. However, most of the audience seemed to share my low opinion. And these were art students.]

After a week or so, one adjusts a bit to this city. I've recalibrated my notion of a well-lit street, so that what I previously would have called a dark alley qualifies as a major arterial. The (rather small number of) street hustlers in the center of town seem to have gotten the word that the American in the hooded tan jacket won't hand you his wallet, and they no longer approach me. [I spoke too soon, but they were not nearly as thick on the ground as in the first few days.] The whores in the hotel lobby still smile and wink, but they don't expect anything more than a smile back. Actually, last night, there were half a dozen police on the sidewalk outside my hotel and not a whore in sight. Guess someone didn't pay the bribe money. Think I preferred the whores.

(By the way, they tell me that the presence of prostitutes in the lobby of my hotel is not typical; in fact, the reputation in that respect of my hotel is one of the reasons they want me to check out another hotel for my next stay. Doesn't seem to bother the French and Italians who make up most of the other hotel guests, and no, it's not just men staying there because of easy pickings: plenty of respectable middle-aged couples.)

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Originally written: November 19, 2001

Last modified: 23 February 2021

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