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Romanian urban grime vs. pastoral bliss 16/11/2013

Posted by allthingsro in books.
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Two very different pictures of Romania emerge from Never Mind the Balkans, Here Comes Romania by Mike Ormsby and Along the Enchanted Way by William Blacker, both UK authors who lived in Romania.

Ormsby’s image is much darker. Things don’t turn out well for Lucky, the rescued dog, nor for a woman in the audience on International Women’s Day. Even his attempt to watch a football match in bar is mired by corruption. It’s as if something is rotten in the state of Romania, pervading every aspect of life, every chance that things might turn out better. The tone is wry, the author acutely observant and, despite everything, upbeat.

The village folk populating the Enchanted Way are a much sweeter bunch. A childless couple take in the author and welcome him into their peasant lives, unchanged for centuries and just about to disappear. Occasional gypsy-bashing aside, these are good-natured souls. The prose is sticky in places. But the superstitions and witchcraft don’t cease to intrigue, the double wedding perhaps the most memorable episode.

If I was asked to position myself between the two extremes, I would come down on the darker side. A tram ride through Bucharest  sums it up. I left the building sites and pristine modern office blocks housing banks in the centre behind and started through the quieter, higgledy-piggledy neighbourhood of old villas. The tram stopped, and I remembered it had stopped in the exact same place the previous day. I looked around to see where the red light was, which line of traffic was blocking us. There was none. The driver had got down from his cab to manually switch the tracks. That’s one Romania: creaking along, improvising solutions, making do.

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