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Rezervatia unicornilor – First impressions 23/08/2015

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It’s part three of the trilogy Sânge satanic (Satanic Blood) by Cristina Nemerovschi, and M. is weary. Weary of the commercialism and general crapness that is Romania. And, perhaps, weary of being “the most amazing being that has ever existed”.
To recap, M. introduces himself thus:

I listen to black metal; I’m an atheist; everybody thinks I’m a Satanist; I’m bisexual, a misanthropist, sometimes just a misogynist; I’m writing a book; I drink every day, and do drugs every week. How does that sound as the start of a CV?

But M. has a way out. He has a deal. Correction: M. has a F**kin’ Deal. A F**kin’ Deal that will take him to the far north of Europe to deal drugs and escape Romania.

He planned to use his sojourn in Scandinavia for self-reflection. To work out where he was going and who he was. But that was before his drinking and drugs buddy A. wanted to come too. And as an added bonus, Tara, the dominatrix from Pervertirea and now A.’s girlfriend, decided to join them.

A. didn’t make much of an impression on me in Sânge satanic. It’s in the second part of the trilogy that he comes into his own as the most heterosexual and the unlucky one in the M.’s crowd. He somehow always seems to end up being chased by stray dogs on the outskirts of Bucharest or abandoned at the side of the road due to a marijuana-induced attack of diarrhoea. He is invariably in good spirits and in the mood to party.

With A. and Tara along for the ride – with some illegal drugs stashed in vibrators for good measure – anything could happen. I’m only just starting Part 2, with the flight north and A. worrying about his bowel movements in polar night and worrying even more about the aforementioned stash of drugs. Already windows have been broken, a shoe collection vomited on, items disposed of from balconies, and not one but two women have been left on the floor unconscious or possibly no longer breathing.

In short, we’re in for a riot.

Rezervaţia unicornilor is published by Herg Benet.

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Best resources for learning Romanian 10/02/2014

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My fellow Romanian blogger Sam cel Roman has written entertainingly about learning Romanian and bemoaned the lack of resources. I’m nowhere near as proficient at Romanian as he is, but I have found that there’s a good supply of resources if you know where to look, not to mention a host of things to explore online if you get creative. Read more about resources for learning Romanian

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

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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.

Perverted first impressions 21/05/2013

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My first impressions of Pervertirea (Perversions or Pervertedness) by Cristina Nemerovschi are mixed. I was a huge fan of her first book, Sânge satanic (Satanic Blood) – even though I freely admit that I didn’t understand more 50% of some of the drug-fuelled passages.

The novel is centred on four characters. Amalia, an adolescent who has disappeared. Ulf, a blocked writer. Corbu, a painter with a liking for Lolitas and older women. And Tara, a dominatrix.

Sometimes it feels like provocation for provocation’s sake. As if ketamine, bisexuality and immorality in Satanic Blood were not enough, Perversions includes Corbu eyeing up barely pubescent girls, and Tara desiring to be strangled during sex and whipping clients – and an assistant on a TV talkshow.

The themes and ethos of Perversions are similar to Satanic Blood: the same misanthropy, the “live for the moment, be true to yourself, f*ck everybody else” attitude. But Satanic Blood had a scathing humour that is, in my view, largely missing from Pervertirea. I’ll keep going though, Romanian-English dictionary by my side.

Romania before Romania existed 12/08/2012

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Kirdjali by Pushkin is the tale of a Bulgarian brigand. Kirdjali’s adventures take place in what is today Romania and the Republic of Moldova, but the word Romania does not appear once in the short story. Instead Pushkin refers to Moldavia and Wallachia. At one point in the story, an official reads out the judgement served on the brigand in Moldavian, as opposed to the Romanian language (p. 179).
The Moldavians as an ethnic group do not feature prominently in Pushkin’s story. They remain the Kirdjali’s faceless victims (p. 175). The Greeks and the Arnouts (Albanians) who have risen up against the Turks play more important roles.

Kirdjali appears in The Captain’s Daughter and other stories published in 1962 by Four Square Classics, London, and translated by Gillon Aitken.

Romania’s literary Lady Gaga 06/06/2012

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I love this book: Sânge satantic (Satanic Blood) by Cristina Nemerovschi.
What better introduction than her narrator:
I listen to black metal; I’m an atheist; everybody thinks I’m a Satanist; I’m bisexual, a misanthropist, sometimes just a misogynist; I’m writing a book; I drink every day, and do drugs every week. How does that sound as the start of a CV?
This narrator would no doubt pale at this comparison, but I couldn’t stop seeing him as a literary, male Lady Gaga – too populist, too pop. But he is an über-rebel: not afraid to shock – au contraire, no boundaries – sexual or substance-related, no rules.
And for all his misogyny, the novel is, in my view, a love story.

Chickens’ Paradise 28/08/2011

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Chickens’ Paradise (Raiul găinilor) – a humorous, bittersweet slice of life in post-communist Romania by sociologist and author Dan Lungu. Read on

I’m a Communist Old Bag 18/05/2010

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Why does Emilia call herself a communist old bag? Because life was better
for her then. Because communism allowed her to escape the countryside and
make a life in town. A comfortable life thanks to her job in factory producing
metal goods for export. The fridge was always full, meals out were frequent,
and her colleagues were always good for a laugh. Read on