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Andrei Codrescu at amusement park

Eyes of Sibiu {format} 12:15 Andrei Codrescu & Larry Massett

Andrei returns to Romania, his homeland.

Broadcast: Jun 13 2003 on PRI/MPR Savvy Traveler Subjects: International, Travel, Literature, Historical

The Eyes of Sibiu

by Larry Massett and Andrei Codrescu

HOST: We're taking a trip with well-known public radio personality Andre Codrescu. Andre is Romanian and grew up in that country in times of hardship. But as he has been a U.S. citizen for 20 years now, he feels he has lost the local taste of the land where he spent his youth. Producer Larry Massett traveled back to Romania with Andre and recorded this story of a man now in the role of "tourist" in his radically changed native land.

Andrei: Hello? Is this the American Embassy?

Larry: My friend Andrei travels with a make-believe cellphone.

Andrei: I would just like to make sure that I have correct information about the earthquake.

Larry: He has a real one too, but when he gets restless he grabs the ghost phone and calls up strangers.

Andrei: Because I heard there was an earthquake coming and I want to make sure that all American citizens will be informed and that you have a big basement for them?

Larry: Actually the part about the earthquake is true.

Andrei: No no not an attic. Because it’s an earthquake.

Larry: Everyone in Bucharest says an earthquake is about to hit. No doubt this is just Romanian pessimism

Andrei: Yeah well- Anybody!!?...Oh no, just American citizens. That’s good. Thank you.

Larry: Andrei’s been an American citizen for twenty years now and has lost the local taste for quakes, crashes, and collapses. He thinks we ought to rent a car and get the hell out of town.

(street sounds, rental car agent talking in Romanian, Andrei translating )

Andrei: The car is new, it’s got about 4000 kilometers...It’s not hit by anybody, it doesn’t have any dents, nicks, cuts, or teeth marks....Larry is now climbing into the car and trying to figure out if sticking in the key and turning it works...

Larry: What are these guys?

Agent: (in English) for lights

Larry: Ah, so you can brighten and dim- and this button?

Agent: I don’t know

Larry: Well we’ll just ignore that Andrei: Is there anything else we should know on the road? Will we be stopped for speeding?

Agent: The speed is ninety kilometer outside the city-

Larry: How fast is that in real terms?

Andrei: Kilometers are shorter than miles...just divide it by ...two and that’s about...uh..

Agent (exasperated) : Is not important how many mile are. Because you have in kilometer and you must be careful. Ninety outside, fifty inside the city

Andrei: But does anybody drive ninety actually, or do they all drive a hundred and twenty?

Agent: Maybe....if you are not pay a lot of bills

(Andrei laughs. Music and traffic up)

Larry: Ninety kilometers outside the city my foot. The car guy forgot to mention it’s impossible to get outside the city. You can’t do it. Bucharest is dressed up to look like Paris, with grand boulevards. There’s even an Arc de Triomphe. But just under the modern dress is a labyrinth of little one-way lanes, cobblestone dead ends, spaghetti- twisted alleys, and grimly determined intersections that insist on repeating themselves over and over like speech impediments no matter which way you go...

Andrei: Okay now I think- I think- if we go through here this is the way I’m not sure really because it seems to lose the road here.. right, that wouldn’t get us anywhere, let me see now- which way is north?

Larry: At some point after driving for several hours, I realize we have just passed the car rental agency for the third or fourth time. Never mind, never mind, Andrei says, just be glad we haven’t run into the dogs yet.

The dogs. What dogs?

Andrei: Those dogs, man. Bucharest had a wild reputation for wild dogs. There were tens of thousands of wild dogs in Bucharest. There were divided feelings about what to do with the dogs, because the people of Bucharest loved the dogs and they were feeding them, despite the fact that there were so many people bitten and terrified of them. Most people loved ‘em.

And so, quietly, the last mayor of Bucharest decided to eliminate the dogs. But...the smart dogs, the ones who haven’t trusted people since about their great-grandfather-dog time...they started inhabiting empty lots at the edges of the city. So it is entirely possible to drive into a cul-de-sac and meet gangs of dogs that are quite hostile to humans, who know humans, who know what humans are capable of. And their eyes are red and their fur is standing, and they have not just hostility but an articulate hostility to people and they are hungry and they look like they like human flesh very much.

So you better not go there. We better not go there.

------ (dogs. silence. then waves) -------------------------------

Larry: On the other side of the dogs- several hundred miles on the other side of the dogs- is the Black Sea. Andrei’s never seen it. He comes from the mountains and his family was too poor to go to the beach. But he’s thought about it a lot. Constanza, the port, is where the poet Ovid was exiled when he got on the wrong side of Caesar Augustus. Here Ovid wrote his sad poems- the “Tristia”- lamenting the barren sands, and the barbarians who threw rocks over the city walls at night, and the poor dolphins who froze to death in the ice of the winter sea, so far from Rome. It’s a desolate and lonely coast, it’s-

(sudden loud music and carnival sfx)

Larry: Good grief, it’s just like Atlantic City. Casinos, high-rises, carnivals. Beautiful people everywhere, with dark glasses and roller-blades. This is a new look. A new generation. It occurs to Andrei a lot of these beach puppies don’t remember the revolution. They’ve never even been communists. Who knows what they think? He decides we will interview them.

Girl: I’m fifteen years old. I go to high school. I like Brittany Spears, Ricky Martin, Christine Aguillera, Back Street Boys

Andrei: And what kind of music does your father like?

Father.... Folklore, folkore...Folklorica Romanica

Andrei: And what do you want to do when you get out of-

Girl: I want to be a liar

Andrei: A liar?, avocat?

Andrei: A lawyer. A lawyer. The difference between liar and lawyer is very small

Guy: I finished high school. And I’m going to study electronics and telecommunication. And I hope it will be okay.......

Andrei: I was here two years ago and it seems to me things are much more prosperous now.

Guy: Yes....well... it’s tough when you are young, it’s tough to find a job, and even if you find work it’s very poor paid. I want to go abroad. I would like to go abroad and work for ten, twenty years, and then come back here and have a nice life.

Larry: Andrei thinks they have a pretty nice life already: Why, in the old days kids didn’t have designer sunglasses. They didn’t have glasses at all. They didn’t even have... eyes! Humpf!

( music cross-fades to ambiance of Andrei bickering with a gypsy in Romanian)

Larry: There is one park in Constanza without beautiful youngsters or loud music. Just a statue of Ovid. The place is as unvisited as a Latin poem. There is, however, a resident demoLarry: a two-thousand- year -old gypsy who is not taking no for an answer. She is driving Andrei nuts. No doubt she drove Ovid nuts too. Finally he asks me to give her some money:

Andrei: A small bill? She wants a big one but I want a small one. Because you hold it in your hand so you can have good luck. So I can take it with me and have all the things I want.

[the gypsy keeps talking under him]

Andrei: So she could tell me my name and the name of the one I love and see all the roads and the far roads I’m going to go on. And she knows that my eyes are laughing but my heart is crying. And she knows that I go places.

She knows lots. And she talks fast.

------------ ( music and fast highway sounds)-----------------------

Andrei: Hello? Is this what they call the Pink House?

Larry: We’re heading for the mountains now.

Andrei: We were told this is a place where you have curative hydrotherapies?

Larry: The beach was nerve-wracking. Andrei wants to relax.

A. Yes, and what sort of baths? Mineral...yes...and massage. And electro- what? ......cution? Electrocution? Does that hurt?

Larry: Sibiu, that’s where we’re going. A small town in the mountains.

A How much is it? Right, and for the electrocution? Okay, thank you very much. I’m inquiring on behalf of a friend who is holding something to my head.

(sfx: rainstorm)

Andrei: Well, here we are in the medieval Gothic city of Sibiu, my birthplace... walking toward the main square, with the cathedral and the old tower. In my childhood it had benches and trees. Now it’s a paved cobblestone square, with all the important buildings of my childhood still around it. The one on the corner there was once the headquarters of the communist party.

Larry: The tallest building is a stark-looking church with a clock tower.

Andrei: The construction of that was started in 1100, in the 12th century, and it was finished 400 years later. The clock tower is how we told time mostly, because we didn’t have a watch or a clock in the house. My mother would say “Go find out what time it is,” and then I would go from my house, it took about five minutes to walk to the clock tower, and on my way home I would meet some kid and we would talk for a while and then I would get home and I would tell my mother what time it was, which was the time I read on the clock was a wonderful place to grow up, time was very flexible and as you can see right now it’s raining and there’s a hint of fall in the air, which is the most richly poetic season for a place as old as this.

Larry: All around us are ancient homes with steep roofs and little attic windows popping out of them like eyes. Andrei calls them the eyes of Sibui. Andrei: This square had some fighting during the revolution in l989, people were shooting from these windows of the old houses here. Houses that have these attics with openings that look like eyes, and so you are constantly under the watch of these ancient haunted places. But the square had some fighting and some of the shooting came from these eyes, apparently, and people were killed in this square..

Larry: Andrei wants to find the liar’s bridge- that’s “liar,” not “lawyer.” It’s a old stone bridge where lovers go to pledge eternal faithfulness- everyone in town’s been on that bridge at least once, Andrei says. We can’t seem to find it. We do run across an actual practicing liar:

(old man accosting Andrei) Andrei: (Talking over the old man) Four thousand he wants, four thousand. He will get very far if we give it to him, he wants to get to Kluge

Larry: Here’s four thousand.

Andrei: He’s going to Kluge. He’s got this story that he needs to get to another city somehow to be a priest. He needs to be a priest and only four thousand lei stand between him and priesthood.

Larry: We just made a future priest?

Andrei: He tried to kiss my hand.

Larry: The liar’s bridge keeps hiding from us. We wind up at the outdoor market instead.

(market amb and music)

Andrei: Plums..cabbage..tomatoes..peppers..oh man, we’re in Oh my god we’re in melon-world, mountains of melons. I’ve never seen so many melons, all the melons in Romania are here.

Larry: Pretty cheap, two thousand a melon.

Andrei: Two thousand is what, about a sixteenth of a dollar? For a whole melon, a sweet melon that you can eat with your friends in the cemetery.

Larry: And look, he says, the potatoes, look how fat they are. When I was a kid they were nothing but shrivelled-up little spuds. And look there, the peaches-

Andrei: Peaches are good here. The peaches just make you weep and blush...

Well, let’s climb the stairs again and see if we can’t find the liar’s bridge. They may have removed it during the revolution...

(sfx: old-fashioned clock strikes four...hotel ambiance)

Larry: The hotel we’re staying in is called the Imperator Romanilior, the Roman Emperor. It’s not that old, just l6th century. It looks like a movie set- like the ballroom in “The Titanic,” with acres of chandeliers and burnished mahogany and overstuffed millionaires who the audience hopes will be drowned soon. This used to be the favorite hangout of the secret police

(we hear the old woman speaking in Romanian)

The old woman looks out of place here. She’s sitting quite stiffly on the velvet couch, as if she were in church. Her hair is done carefully and she’s wearing nice clothes, her best clothes, clothes she can’t afford:

Andrei: (translating over the woman) She said the blouse she is wearing cost a million seven hundred thousand, which is her pension for a month.....She says after twenty-six years of work she gets one million eight hundred lei which is about fifty dollars, yes?

Larry: She’s an old friend of Andrei’s mother. When he was growing up- before he got away to America- she used to help them out with food and money.

Andrei: She says they’ve never lived as badly as now....She said all summer she wasn’t able to taste any fruit, she couldn’t afford to buy fruit, and she has to make big bottles of bullion and that’s what they live on, they can’t afford bread..... They want to eat fruit, all summer they couldn’t, not a peach, not an apple...

Larry: It’s one thing to be young with dark glasses and roller blades. To be old in this country is a serious mistake

Andrei: She says winter is coming and there is no money to pay for heat. Heat is two million two hundred thousand, that’s about eighty dollars. And they don’t have light. They have only a single bulb and they economize, they don’t turn it on... So they just don’t know which way to turn.

Larry: Tomorrow we’re going back to the capital, to Bucharest- unless the earthquake has knocked it over-so maybe... somehow we could say....something to ...somebody....

Andrei: I asked her what I should ask the politicians in Bucharest and she said,”Ask them how long are they going to keep us in this misery? Until we die of hunger?

(sfx: rainstorm)

N It’s raining again and almost dark, but we want to walk around..and around.. and around...and what you know, we stumble on the bridge.

Andrei: We are on the liars I told you, where lovers go to whisper sweet nothings. Let’s go to the middle, there’s a great view here:

Larry: Just opposite is an old house, and from the top of the house, from the attic window, someone is watching.

Andrei: Look at the old lady looking out. She’s been looking out for three hundred years. This is her three hundred and first. And she’s still curious. She hasn’t left that place for about hundred and fifty years, but she’s been looking....

Larry: She looks like she’s seen everyone come across the liar’s bridge: the Romans in their sandals, Germans in jackboots, gypsies with feet of silver, and the communists in their dialectical slippers; and pretty soon, the rollerblades will be coming. She’s not going anywhere.

Andrei: Her entire apartment is filled with old hourglasses and medieval clocks. She gets up in the morning and dusts her mechanical dolls, listens to the clock chimes, and looks out.

( dogs barking, music )

Andrei: Ah... the eyes of Sibiu watch you. The presences watching through them are old and disembodied. The ghosts are watching.... The eyes of Sibiu are eternal.