‘So, so you think you can tell… heaven from hell?’
– Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here
I suppose the public relations issue facing Romania is the same of many countries like it. Countries that are currently like it, countries that once were like it. You’re sandwiched into a modern, first-world continent, and the tourist you hope to depend on are unsure whether you’re poor or not, dangerous or not, worth visiting or not.
When they do visit, they remand you remain authentic. But not too authentic, of course – they’re white and they have children, and they’re demanding and they want convenience and they think every dark corner is unsafe. Even though dark corners are as common as bright corners.
I have never been to Romania. I won’t pretend to understand its problems – and I’ll admit, I’m wary of insinuating it has problems, because I’m ill-informed. I’m a knows-nothing, isolated, quarantined Canadian. I’m the exact type of person I whine about. I want adventure. But I want the warm shower and the good shampoo, too.
And ignorance is what hurts Romania, at least to the outsiders who don’t arrive at Heathrow but leave from Heathrow:
from The Guardian‘s Carole Cadwalladr, Romania: Hellhole or Country of Romance and Mystery?
“Most people in Britain don’t understand the difference between Roma people – Gypsies – and Romanians – citizens of Romania. The two are endlessly conflated and confused not least because many Roma are Romanians – the country is home to the biggest population in Europe. ‘A lot of people here get angry when some Roma go abroad and something bad happens. They feel like they are giving the country a bad name. It speaks to some deep prejudices that exist here. Racism and embedded prejudice.'”
Cadwalladr discovers Romania’s capital is pulsing with new, young, energetic arts and culture – the kind of brimming, frothing and unstoppably progressive excitement that the once-Iron Curtain’d Berlin had and Prague had and Budapest had. But that vibe is also layered with the ruins of authoritarianism, and there are weeds where there are flowers:
“But then, history – and the traumatic effects of Europe’s recent history – is a whole lot closer to the surface in Romania than it is Britain. It’s still dealing with the consequences of the second world war and its aftermath in very direct ways.
“… according to Michael Bird, an English journalist who runs an investigative website based in Bucharest, Romania tends to ‘inspire two extreme reactions in the British press. Either it’s a hellhole for the rightwing press. Or it has this mysterious romanticism. It’s where the middle ages meets totalitarianism. Nineteen Eighty-Four meets Game of Thrones.'”
Photo at the Top: Archul de Triumf in Bucharest, Romania (Credit: Wikimedia Commons, user Renegrob)