Finally processing some photos from Romania, especially of some of the people I met:

2012 October 122 (Romania)a

 

 

2012 October 116 (Romania)a

 

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And yes, it seems as though Jesus does really live in Romania:

2012 October 102 (Romania)a

Two weeks of perpetual motion thus far: Beijing, along the Chang Jiang (‘Yangtze’) for three days, Wuhan, Frankfurt and then all night (unplanned) on trains and stations in the Romanian countryside, Baia Mare in Transylvania, and then more trains to Berlin. A few preliminary images; reflections later.

Heartwarming to see Lenin posters about. There should be more, many more.

I guess you can really do this only in China.

But now it gets a little more interesting:

For this is none other than the bed of the younger Mao and his wife – when they lived in Wuhan. So this is, as I observed when we were ushered in, where it happened.

Couldn’t resist sharing the same space … until I was sternly reprimanded by the staff.

I really must get a sign like this for home.

But then, after 60 hours of travel, most of it on multiple trains, I was in Romania.

I spent some time hanging out with the locals in Transylvania, in the mountains and villages.

From the old woman’s house, we stumbled across the local distillery.

That small mug was full of Palincă, plum brandy. He handed it to me and said ‘drink up’ …

Which is probably why I agreed to wear some local winter gear.

Thankfully, I was not alone in enjoying such delights.

As some of you may know, I have recently spent a week in Transylvania with some of the best hosts in the world. It began in Bucharest, from where I took the ‘express’ to Baia Mare, the second last stop on the route.

‘Express’ meant it stopped at every second station, and in between it rolled along at a very leisurely pace – absolutely the best way to travel. 14 hours it took, for 690km:

Once in Transylvania (Maramureş to be exact) I enjoyed the mating rituals of the locals:

Was intrigued by the burial practices:

Was drawn to diabolically spicy Reformed churches:

And even more alluring Orthodox churches in the villages:

I even went to a rock concert:

But what really intrigued me was the fact that students and professors have different toilets – the professors a type of unisex arrangement:

Throughout this time, I kept being offered clear liquid in plastic bottles, which I naturally thought was water. Ţuică is its name, I was told, although I couldn’t figure out why it was served in small earthenware vessels and had a rather fiery taste. Which is probably why I thought this was the main road home:

By the time I realised I had been swilling the 60% proof plum-brandy, the locals were ready to celebrate my departure with gay abandon:

Can’t wait to return …

Is Reformed theology spicy?

Given that one of the Romanian words for ‘spicy’ is ‘diabolic’ – as I found with the diabolical pasta I ate on my last night there;

Given that the main source of such spicy food is the sizable Hungarian (Magyar) population in Transylvania;

Given that the religion of these Magyars is Reformed (Calvinist) Christianity;

One can only conclude that Reformed theology is indeed diabolically spicy.

That’s in the far north-west of Romania, part of Transylvania. And this was taken at first light in one of the villages:

In an interview with The New York Herald in 1921, Lenin says:

Some people in America have come to think of the Bolsheviks as a small clique of very bad men who are tyrannizing over a vast number of highly intelligent people who would form an admirable government among themselves the moment the Bolshevik regime was overthrown (Collected Works, vol. 36, p. 538).

What is remarkable about this anti-communist propaganda is both how boringly similar it has been for about 90 years and how pervasive it remains. Anyway, given that those cliques of ‘very bad men’ have now been overthrown and they have been replaced by ‘admirable governments’ of ‘highly intelligent people’, let’s have a look at the state of play in the ‘post-communist’ countries of Eastern Europe

Then there is this recent survey in Romania:

Only 27 percent of Romanians said communism was “wrong,” while 47 percent answered “it was a good idea, but badly applied” and 14 percent thought it was a “good idea, and well applied.” A striking 78 percent said neither they, nor their families, ever suffered under communism.

All of this took place under that evil, hated ‘dictator’, Nikolai Ceausescu.

Let us now move to Bulgaria, a place I know quite well. In a recent book, Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism, Kristen Ghodsee notes a growing nostalgia for the communist era. Why, especially in a supposedly Stalinist state? When capitalism was suddenly imposed in 1989, a few well-connected foreigners and a new local class of oligarchs and criminals took over the formerly state-owned assets – those we would call ‘business people’. Ordinary people felt they had been robbed, many lost their jobs just as the state’s social support system was dismantled. Is this unique to Bulgaria? No, it’s called capitalism as usual.

Mind you, these are states that were supposed to be unbearably repressive, paragons of dictatorship. And not, say, Yugoslavia, which was often held up as example of a humane and workable communism. While we are in Yugoslavia: four in five people with whom I speak from the ‘former Y’ tell me that it worked pretty well.

At this point the well-oiled reply of the Right will probably come in: yes, of course, older people can get nostalgic for dictatorships and autocracies, because they had some certainties in their lives, however bad things might have been. But we can dismiss these feeble longings of the old …

Crap. I have met young Russians, born either just before or after 1989, who have together raised toasts to – the USSR! Add to that the fact – as a colleague in Kiev reports after much research – that perhaps one or two countries in the former Eastern Bloc have attained the GDP of 1989 – after more than two decades of capitalism.

Maybe, just maybe people actually value things such as universal health cover, education, full employment, short working days, plenty of time to meet and talk. Maybe, just maybe, planned economies are in fact better. Even the hated (in Eastern Europe) and former anti-communist Zizek seems to think communism was better. As he puts it: we had cradle-to-grave security, never took our rulers seriously and had the mythical West to dream about.

Then again, as a friend from one of these places told me some time ago: when we learnt about capitalism at school, we all thought that it really wasn’t that bad, that our teachers were simply making it up; but now, living under capitalism, I realise that what they said was true.

For those of you thinking of going to the Maramureş, up in the mountains of northern Romania this October (looks like I’m going to be there). Check out the brilliant website:

The North University of Baia Mare, the Faculty of Letters, Department for Foreign Languages

Second Call for Paper

The Third International Anniversary Conference

From Francis Bacon to William Golding: Utopias and Dystopias of Today and of Yore

October 20th – 23rd 2011

We are celebrating 450 years since Francis Bacon’s birth, and 100 years since William Golding’s by launching an invitation to an interdisciplinary fathoming of the depths of the human attraction toward utopias and dystopias. Whether they use the Baconian method ‘invented’ by the 1st (and last) Viscount Saint Alban, or the allegorical treatment of places and characters of the British dystopian poet and novelist, there are hundreds of writers, poets, artists, philosophers and critics that have added new facets and interpretations to the dreams or nightmares of humanity concerning their social organization, political hazards, humanist and religious values, as well as future heavens or apocalypses.

From the New Atlantis to Oleanna, Shangri-La, Xanadu or Shambala, many such Arcadian sites have been imagined by humanity to place their utopian visions. Dystopias are envisaged horrid places of Amalgamation, of the human being living in a Limbo, or in such places like Kazohinia, Kallocain, the future Zanzibar, the Metropole, the Terraplane, Metro 2033, or Grandoria. Since Foucault we also speak of Heterotopias, which are so fashionable in popular culture, especially with such complex and mixed symbols as those present in museums, theme parks, malls, holiday resorts, gated communities, wellness hotels and festival markets…. . Ecotopias, which started in the Hippie Movement with tones of primitivism and eco-anarchism are ‘sweetened’ by such contemporary dreams as the green skyscrapers, or the hovering cities…..

We invite contributions from academics in the domains of philology, philosophy, theology, psychology, and the arts to tackle any aspect of the above, in a conference that will combine paper presentations with cultural events, and with our tribute to the great two personalities that we are celebrating. Theme theatre performances, as well as art exhibitions, movies and musical events will come to add new insights into the vast domain, as well as into the lives and work of Bacon and Golding. We are only suggesting a few guidelines for panel discussions, but we are open to other suggestions, as well, for papers presented either in English or in Romanian:

-         the rhetoric of utopian and dystopian writings;

-         recurrent themes in literary and philosophical debates on utopias and dystopias;

-         genres of utopian and dystopian literary creations;

-         postmodern thinking and Foucault’s concept of heterotopia;

-         ecotopias and New Age; environmentalist interpretations of the future;

-         Bacon and his vision of a New Atlantis;

-         William Golding’s dystopian vision on the ‘civilized’ human being;

-         social and religious utopias and dystopias;

-         transformation, evolution or devolution of utopian thinking during the centuries….

Keynote speakers:

Professor Ian Buchanan, Cardiff University

Professor Roland Boer, Newcastle University

Professor George Achim, North University

 

Scientific Committee:

Prof. Ana Olos, North University (British, American and Canadian studies)

Professor Adrian Otoiu, North University (British, American and Canadian studies)

Professor George Achim, North University (Romanian and European studies)

Professor Petru Dunca, North University (Philosophy and Theology)

Professor Rodica Turcanu, North University (Germanic Cultural studies and  linguistics)

 

Publication committee and reviewers:

Professor Ian Buchanan, Cardiff University

Professor Roland Boer, Newcastle University

Professor Danny Robinson, Bloomsburg University

Professor Petre Dunca, North University

As we would like to encourage a true interdisciplinary participation, with papers delivered both in English and Romanian, we will decide upon sections after the scientific committee has selected the most interesting propositions. Therefore, please fill in the registration form below, and send it to the organizing committee to the following address: baconandgolding@gmail.com by April 25, 2011. For further queries please refer to our website http://baconandgolding.ubm.ro or contact Mrs. Ligia Tomoiaga, at tomoiagaligia@gmail.com

All participants will have 15 minutes for paper presentation and 10 minutes for discussions. Please bring papers in electronic version with you: Time New Roman, 12, with endnotes, APA style.

For those who would like to participate, but who for reasons of distance and cost cannot be present in person, we offer the possibility of video conferencing.

The conference registration fee is € 50 and it covers participation costs, coffee breaks, lunches and conference portfolio. Participation through video conference is € 30 .

We are currently discussing the possibility of publishing our proceedings in an ISBN volume, with Cambridge Scholars Publishing, for papers written in English. The costs will be announced at the conference. Papers will be considered for publication by three independent reviewers. The other papers will be published in a bilingual volume (with ISBN) at the North University Publishing House.

The full story soon enough, but this was one of those epic rail journeys, three days and nights without a wash, border guards who have developed the fine art of waking you in the middle of the night just when you fall into a deep sleep, bangs, thunks and shudders from an old, heavy train rolling slowly along tracks, and countries most people have never heard about. The first leg was on that old run from Sofia to Moscow (mostly the Roman script was pretty much absent, so an  ability to read Cyrillic is somewhat advantageous):

We travelled through four countries on the way – Bulgaria, crossing the Danube at Russe into Romania, Moldova and then the Ukraine (I got off in Kiev). A cosy corner for me, with bags of food and bottles of water. Thankfully they had toilet paper, since I’d forgotten that:

A late night stop in Bucharest:

And then at Ungheni on the Moldovan border (the old border of the Soviet Union) I was roused from my snooze by a swaying, banging carriage. WTF, I thought, until I saw they had jacked the carriage up and were changing the rolling stock:

Apparently, the rail guage was deliberately varied on the border in order to deny those pesky capitalist Americans a free ride into the USSR should they invade. They’d have to stop first for three hours to change over all their wheels.

The Moldovan border guards were nice bunch, as were the Romanians, but not so the Ukrainians. I was up for four hours from 1.30 am, questioned, had sniffer dogs in my compartment, had police, army, airforce, navy and the rest searching the train high and low. The reason: drugs had been ‘found’ in the toilet:

But it all went the way of whatever else enters such collective receptacles:

Kiev at last. Grimy and fucking freezing, I had a squizz at the famous city:

Final leg was a luxurious and clean Ukrainian train from Kiev to Simferopol. Ukraine certainly has the right approach to train conductors:

And they know how to pamper you:

One more night on the train and I was in Simferopol in the Crimea. Boris met me and insisted I board a mini-bus for the two-hour run over the mountains to Yalta. The driver was one of those multiskilled types, able to smoke, talk on his mobile phone, change gear with his little finger and overtake slow trucks on tight mountain corners – at the same time. A shit, shower and shave in Yalta and I was whisked away to a conference on Religion and Civil Society – all in Russian, but I had a lovely Tartar woman whispering the translation into my ear. At the end of this long day I finally sat down to a warm meal, only to be set upon by a singing troupe:

The evening ended with vodka-fuelled Ukrainians and Russians dancing wildly away to old Soviet numbers. I even shared a toast to the Soviet Union with some Russian Marxists.