How I spent Friday watching the world end

There is something about my Fridays in Targu Mures. They are odd, conflicting, almost schizophrenic. Last night fit the bill perfectly. Things kicked off around 6 PM when I decided to attend a photo exhibit opening coupled with a poetry book launch. This local artist had traveled to India and she was displaying some photos and launching a book inspired by her travels (read an interview with her in a local newspaper).

What a pathetic event it turned out to be and it wasn’t because of her art. The photos were nice. Not spectacular, but nice. Plus, I didn’t have a chance to read her poems as the show was stolen by the local intelligentsia, as embodied by high school literature professors.

I had to get out of Teatrul 74 after two local middle-aged white guys with literary pretensions introduced her work. I felt chained to the totem pole of metaphor and whipped until the stream of blood became thick enough to carry hairballs of thoughts, which unraveled on the cement into perfectly calibrated haikus. You get the idea.

In Romanian literature classes no one cares what you think–a professor type the speakers embodied. The hierarchy of greatness has been established decades ago and there are dozens of great minds who have labored to craft an analysis of a poem or a novel. Who needs the student’s opinion? They would probably add shit to the literary conversation, so what they do is copy down everything the teacher dictates and then recite it back word for word. That’s how you score big! Not by thinking, but by endorsing the wisdom of middle-aged white guys with a poached belly who speak about the “lyrical discourse of amazement,” the “surrealness of love” and other assorted crap.

I hate acts of public masturbation and last night, the local literature crowd performed plenty of them. Metaphors, criticism built from joining words only devout dictionary readers can define and a cacophony of quotes from middle-aged white guys of the past. That’s what a book launch should be like. It made me feel like watching a sleazy fat creative writing professor trying to pull the panties off his students with musings on the “civilization of the hand.” It was gross, but all so fitting in the pool of Romanian arts, where (I’m generalizing for literary effect) men are the misunderstood thinkers and women the whores that torment the purity of their inner lives.

If you think this kind of discourse applies to the fading generations of Romanian lit professors, think again. The hip generation has its exhibitionists, too. They publish a magazine called Re:Publik, a glossy, over-priced exercise in snobbery.

Next on the list was a recent and heavily decorated Romanian film called Cum mi-am petrecut sfarsitul lumii (The way I spent the end of the world). At heart this movie is, as the tagline suggests, a trip through memories. But the memories of this movie are the memories of the last year before the Romanian revolution of 1989. I can’t help describe Cristian Mitulescu’s movie as a movie about the revolution, even though the actual revolution only takes up a few minutes at the end. But the state of mind that preceded it, is beautifully captured. The paranoia, the absurd of it all, the poverty and the happiness people found in everyday life are all packed in this time capsule.

The word “revolution” is easier on some and harder on others (my dad, who was in Bucharest tending to patients shot during those days, called it a “bloody perestroika” once) but few could deny its value as a turning point. What the movie does so very well is ignore it for a good period of time. Why? Because there was no way a high school student in the fall of 1989 could anticipate the fall of the regime two months later. So lives were being lived. No great plans were being masterminded. Sure, some dreamt of leaving the country, others dreamt of Ceausescu’s death, but wishing for change is a natural part of the minutiae of daily life, which includes love, laughter, sadness, school, work and so on. You can see a lot of the products we used during those days (and the days immediately following December ’89) on the La trecut blog.

Mitulescu creates a brilliant character in a little boy who decides Ceausescu is at fault for the problems of his family and decides it’s his job to get rid of him. It’s touching because the movie allows him, and us, to believe Lalalilu did play a part in it. When the December days finally roll around, I was shifting nervously in my seat. Yes, I was only a little older than Lalalilu is in the movie and I remember being on the balcony of a friend of mine staring at people marching towards downtown and yelling for “freedom.” I had no idea what “freedom” was but if so many people asked for it, I thought, it should be something pretty good.

Lavi said it already, but it’s important. This movie doesn’t have the misery, violence and the purposeful grotesque that so many filmmakers use and have used to portray Romania. We are nowhere near making a brutally romantic and disarming film like Amelie, but “Cum mi-am petrecut sfarsitul lumii” is a step in the right direction.

Cum mi-am petrecut sfarsitul lumii

No matter how cynical I get about the revolution, its spark and its backstory, I can’t deny that it has allowed my generation to walk out of a theater after watching a political movie and into a club where a Romanian rapper dropped waves rhymes over a bunch of ecstatic 17 and 18 year-olds. I couldn’t help feel odd and overtaken by corny pronouncements. Vexxatu Vexx was rapping in a Targu Mures club on a Friday night because something happened on the streets of Bucharest.

I once wrote about how this 18 year-old kid practically died in my father’s arms in December ’89 telling him: “I hope I’m not dying in vain.” Romania is a much different country now than it was then and yes, it’s no shame in admitting people died so we can see a movie about how they felt in the months and days before a stray bullet killed them. People died so we could wear jeans, find a suitable definition for freedom, eat chocolate, experiment with hairstyles, buy unlimited amounts of bread and listen to a rapper bring down the house on a Friday night.

On a crazy Targu Mures Friday night.

4 Responses to “How I spent Friday watching the world end”

  1. Hey, I don’t know if you remember me, but I knew you and Elle back at Mizzou. I was just thinking about her the other day, and I had lost her email address. So I googled her name and this blog came up.
    Tell her to write me sometime, I’d love to know how you two are doing these days. I’m at elamprich@gmail.com

    — Lori

  2. Lori, sure I remember you. I’ll pass this on to Elle, who is in DC keeping very busy.

  3. LOL, I’m in St. Louis. And it seems I see the review to the pre-”revolution” film.

    I thought the link to the old commie stuff was cool.

    John

  4. nu era o revolutie in romania in 89 … a fost o lovitura de stat, aranjata, mai pe scurt, de fortele imperialismului international.
    nu spun ca ceausescu era bun … clar ca nu era …
    dar nu era nici un comunist ….
    oricat de rau ar fi fost, sunt mai multi oameni care o duc mai prost acum decat era cazul pe atunci … restaurarea capitalismului i-a saracit pe cei mai multi, simultan permitandu-le celor carora nu le pasa de nimic in afara de propriile lor interese sa se imbogateasca chiar mai mult …
    romania e o mica versiune a americii … si marionetele SUA care, oficial, guverneaza tara asta care le permit criminalilor de razboi in washington DC sa-si puna bazele militare …
    romania e o tara prost condusa …
    tu trebuie sa te interesezi de ceva mai profund de cluburile banale pe care le frecventeaza tinerii aici

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