Friday, March 26, 2010

Martin Woodside, Our Man in Romania

Formerly a student in SDSU's graduate program, Martin Woodside is on a Fulbright Fellowship in Romania (2009-2010) before beginning his doctoral studies in Childhood Studies at Rutgers University (Camden). He files this report from abroad:

The vernal equinox draws nearer, but last week’s weather report called for “code yellow,” which meant more snow, which was kind of hard to believe as it had been snowing pretty consistently since my birthday in December. But it did snow again, all through the week, and spring felt far away. After ten years in sunny California, I suppose I was due at little real winter.

At any rate, snow on one’s birthday means good luck in Romania, a country full of such superstitions and omens. Everyday life here is steeped in the otherworldly, whether it’s a bus full of people crossing themselves as they rumble past a church or the ritual of selecting one of the first nine days of March to forecast your fortunes for the coming year—I picked March 2: sunny in the morning before threatening to rain (but never actually raining) in the afternoon. Some friends invited us to their orthodox wedding this summer, an ornate spectacle which will include an elaborate service (with husband and wife wearing crowns), days of partying and the ritual “kidnapping” of the bride.

Romania’s rich folk tradition also includes a wellspring of folk and fairy tales that are sadly fading from prominence. In fact, the Romanian market seems to have no room for domestic children’s authors at all, and I’ve talked to a number of frustrated writers who were told to try publishing their books in French or English, so they could then be published in translation here. Indeed, the children’s sections of the bookstores here are full of this imported literature, either in translation or (if English) in the original. America is well represented (I was shocked to see my own books from Sterling’s Classic Starts series on the shelves of Bucharest’s swankiest bookstore), with everything from Twilight to My Little Pony, the prominence of the latter making me like it’s 1985 all over again. My proposed research here didn’t involve children’s literature, but I’ve been taking more and more of an interest in this phenomenon.

My proposed research does involve poetry, and so I spend most of my time writing, translating, and hanging out with poets—some of my poems have even been translated into Romanian and will be published at the end of this month. My Romanian language skills are slowly improving, and I’m already well versed in the colorful nomenclature for different types of Romanian drinking establishments—the dingiest dive bar is a “bomba—“ along with a few other things.

Lois and Elizabeth are having a great time as well, especially on our forays out of Bucharest and into Romania’s beautiful countryside, which we plan to see more of once code yellow’s gone for good. We’ve already taken a few trips to the Transylvanian mountains which are particularly stunning and rich with history. Highlights include the city of Sighișoara, with its well preserved medieval citadel left by Saxons brought in to defend the region in the 12th Century, and where we stayed in a hotel that was once the birthplace of Vlad Tepeș (known to some as Dracula), and the Bran Castle outside Brașov, called the Dracula castle even though Vlad Tepes never set foot in it.

And that brings me to touchy subject of the fabled impaler. Do your Romanian friends a favor and lay off the Dracula jokes. They’ve heard it all before, and it’s kind of a sore subject. It’s a good yarn, but Bram Stoker never set foot in Romania, and he wasn’t even that meticulous in his research. Besides, Vlad was actually a hero to the people here, and still is to many, fighting off invading Turks and liberating parts of what makes up modern Romanian for the first time. I mean a joke’s a joke, but they almost built a Dracula theme park here to sate all these incessant touristic yearning. You don’t want that kind of blood on your hands, do you?

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