Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

The Country Where I Was Born



Paradox is not for the faint of heart, so Romanians, who live with dozens of paradoxes every day, can be said to be courageous people. I am one of them, a paradox, I mean. Here are some other Romanian paradoxes:

• Everyone loves Romania but wants to leave as quickly as possible.

• Everyone has lots of ideas but no money.

• Everybody says that individuals are OK, but the government sucks.

• Writers and intellectuals curry each others' favor but wage intergenerational war; the young want the old to come clean about their past, the old find the young ignorant about history and impertinent.

• (Almost) everyone praises democracy but finds its workings disgusting.

• Everyone agrees that everyone is corrupt except for himself or herself.

• Everyone knows that officials are corrupt, but they will bribe an official if they have the chance.

• Everyone pays lip service to minority rights and humane treatment of animals, but when pressed they'll admit it's only so they can join the European Union (EU).

• Everyone wants to join the EU but everyone fears it and secretly despises it.

• Everyone knows that the old communist secret police (Securitate) runs the country through politicians and newly minted millionaires.

• Everyone agrees that the press is free, but they wish that it didn't carry so much bad news and, anyway, the media is in the hands of Securitate.

• Everyone thinks that they understand capitalism but would rather have socialist health care, education, and public services.

• Everyone wants the files of the secret police opened, but they are opened only selectively in a Darwinian struggle for (little) power.

• Everyone is an avant-gardist and a traditionalist.

All that said, I'm an ungrateful wretch. I really do love Romania and the people who inhabit it. I received the country's highest literary honor in September, the Ovidius Prize, in Constantza, the Black Sea port of ancient Tomis where Ovid died in exile. Recently, the United States established a military base here that gives it access to Russia and the Middle East. The Black Sea is pretty black, eggplant dark really, and it roils between Ukraine and Turkey. The bottom of the Black Sea is littered with ancient Greek ships, including the trireme that carried the poet Ovid from Rome to his place of exile.

In Constantza I participated in an intense intellectual forum, met extraordinary young poets and re-familiarized myself with one of the world's great literatures, albeit one almost unknown abroad. Romanians are people with soul -- beautiful, passionate and great users of language. The country itself is a treasure trove of extraordinary landscapes, mysterious mountains, deep forests and ancient villages. The cooking is rich and various, and one can be a vegetarian if one wishes. Romanian eggplant spread is enough to sustain one physically and spiritually.

That said, everyone there would like to live in Iowa. Beats me.

Andrei Codrescu's new book is New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing From the City (Algonquin Books).

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