Friday, October 07, 2005

Towards the country that doesn't exist.

Eduard combines the esthetics of a nobleman of the Carpathians with accent for English in the style of Bart Simpson’s. Two months had passed since last time we had met, in the Rainbow Gathering in Dividalen, Norway. He was played now as local, in his native Sinaia, nicknamed “Pearl of the Carpathians” by the first king of Romania Carol the First. The first Romanian monarch was actually German, from the house of Hohenzollern, and as judged by the way he decorated his castle he never felt a down-to-earth conexion with the world around him (Romania). On the contrary, Peles Castle is an ode to a negative world, to all that Romania is not. Entire rooms are replicas after originals in other Eurpean palaces and castles, from Granada’s Alhambra to Florentine and Venetian palaces. Eduard loves Romania as much as Carol I did: often he says how much he hate it. Eduard’s enthusiasm for all things slightly alternative is only matched by his enthusiasm for big businesses that may help him to finnance his trips. So you can see him on the phone as he tries t convince a Canadian partner to start a company selling air purifiers in Bucarest, with hipothetic earnings of up to a millon dollars a year. Next, he hangs down the phone and explains me how to get to Bucarest with three euros.

Tiraspol is the capital of a country that doesn’t exist: the Republic of Trans Nistria. In Sinaia I started to make enquires about getting there. In 1990, as Moldava was spliting from Romania, Trans Nistria declared independence (never recognized) from Moldova. As one Eastern European country after another were turning to market economies, trans Nistria explicitly supported the soviet communist system, and becoming the European last bastion of it, with logistic support from the 14th Russian Army, a tender bunch that Moscow forgot (could not) relocate. The winds of change Scorpions sang about seem have been blocked by the Carpathians.

Getting to a country that doesn’t exist is, by itself, difficult. Add to that the burocracies. Officialy part of Moldova, a Moldovan visa is required to entry Trans Nistria. Being a complex paperwork, I decided to head straight to it, visaless, and try to enter Tgrans Nistria at a point where central Moldovan customs had no representation. That meant travelling to Odessa, in Ukraine, in giving it a try from there, directly to Tiraspol without getting trough Chisinau.

The trip was long, with notable assistance received from people working in petrol stations. If hitchhikers had a God’s Pantheon, the petrol station employees would defenitely had a space on the shelf. When night had isolated me in a small petrol station in Bacau, it was the young lad filling the tanks who found for me a car going to Suceava, 50 kms before Ukrainian border. Morover, he had no need to hand me a bottle of mineral water before I left. The driver’s name was Robert, and he run his own publicity business. When we arrived in Suceava, around 11 pm, he could then afford to put me up in a hotel. He later confessed that when he was 20 he dreamt of a money-less world, where everybody would take only enough for his needs. A system based on trust we are defenitely not ready for. But he considered that me challenge had to do with his dream and that he was substantially helping me to accomplish his dream.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Walking Transivanya: between identity and nihilism.

I arrived to Sighisoara (Schassburg for the Saxon community) with the double hope of fulfilling both my intelectual curiosity for the Transilvanyan Case and my sensibility for walled medieval citadel. Declared UNESCO World Heritage Site, the citadel hosted, until 1897, the different guilds of Ssaxon craftmen, blacksmiths, tailors or carpenters, to whom the city owes its past prosperity. Heading for the 1648 Clock Tower I stumbled upon the house where Vlad Tepes was reportedely born, now a café. On the street, a natural size Dracula, kitsch beyond the point of repulsion, invites passers-by to the tourist-trap. I suddenly realized that the walls could not protect the citadel from the risk of self prostitution coming from within.

I would have left with a bitter sensation (and I would have slept in the Piata Cetati) if I hadn’t met the people at “Sustainable Sighisoara”, an NGO that aims to inforce, in the local level, the accomplishment of the Rio and Kyoto protocoles, signed and forgotten by Rumania. When the authorities themselves take destructive measures regarding the communities under their custody, it’s not advisable, but mandatory, for the people to self organize. In this context, on September 22nd, declared as International Day without Cars, I joined the several volunteers that walked the streets handing in trilingual leaflets inviting people to, at least once in the year, take the bus or the bike. Big was our surprise when, back in the Citadel Square, we found a classic cars exhibition, aproved by the local Council, or even its official response to the world wide crussade against pollution…

It’s little known fact by general public abroard that Transilvanya holds three big cultural traditions. The Romanian is the dominant and official. The Hungarian took roots in the 10th century, and then on, until 1918, the whole region was associated with Hungary. The German culture arrived with the Saxons invited in the 11th century by the Hungarian king to protect his kingdom’s southeastern flank. More interested than the soberanity issue is the identity one. Besides the absolutist positions that aim to reduce this diversity to only one of its contents, there are those who defend the singularity of transilvanyan identity, as land with triple heritage, Romanian, Hungarian and Saxon. These regard the official Romanian attitude as a reductionism, illustrated by the statue of Romulo and Remo that ornates one of the boulevards, with the leyend: “To Sighisoara, from Mother Rome”. Offenses to identity are, in deed, less explicit than those addressed to soberanity.

Even if in the Eastern European case the regional identities are neccesary consequence of the collpase of its empires, for some moments it seems to me that Transilvanya is to Romania what the Pampas region in Argentina is to the rest of the Republic: heterogenic and cosmopolitan. A Peruvian friend once complaint to me: when you Argentinians travel to Peru, you say that you go to Latin America, as if you were something else. He was right, morover, he doesn’t suspect that these trips normaly begin in the Argentinian provinces of Salta or Jujuy, fact that unmasks the insular identity of Buenos Aires people. The limit where the cultural otherness begins lies within.
From Sighisoara I moved on to Sibiu, marching some of the way on foot, along minor roads, through small idillyc Saxon villages famous for their fortified churches. In Bierthalm I missed the main road and ended up in the middle of a wineyard. I was rescued by two guys with binoculars that were monitoring the property. Their names are Dan and Norbert. Robert is a Saxon, and agrees with ex German president Herzog on tha fact that you cannot pack your homeland and take it with you to Germany. He proudly stayed in Toblsdorf, one of the 4 or 5 families that did so. Whay tatars and turks didn’t achieve was done by the difference in salaries. Again, the walls show themselves futile. In tiny towns I am received by 80 year old people who open the gates of their churches with enormous keys, beautifuly anachronic in times of magnetic cards. Herr Krauss, in Hosman, shows me proudly the place he has occupied every Sunday in mass for the last 30 years. In Toblsdorf, half a dozen of men loading tiles in a truck interrupt my pace with a: Sprechen Sie Deutsch? I have already lived that, in the villages of Spatzenkutter and Villa María, in the Argentinian province of Entre Ríos, settled by Volgadeutschen. The continents will be one again before the Germans loose their langauge…

In Sibiu, European Cultural Capital for 2007, I hastened to visit Rasinari, a near by village where Emil Cioran was born in 1911. The philoshopher that once said: “What an invitation to laughing loud, hearing the word goal after attending a funerary service. In the town, a street bears his name, and there is even a statue, that every afternoon witnesses the prosession of cows, goats and shephards that fight for a place in the cobbled stone street with kart, people and Dacias. Women that conceal their haird underneath colourful bandanas cross themselves as they pass in front of the philosopher who referred to Nietzsche as a “moderate” (there is an Ortodox church on the other side of the street). The monument is made of clay, one would say donde by a student. No far from it there is a proper bronze replica of Romanian patriotic poet Goga. It seems it’s too much a load for a rural Ortodox village to have the duty of celebrating the most skeptic of philosophers. The proud that villagers feel for Cioran is the same any of us would feel for a famous footballer born around the corner of our house. In any case, he did never mind glory.