I spent two years living and working in several regions of Romania, including the beautiful alpine area known as Transylvania.
In all that time, I never saw a single vampire.
Or did I?
The Halloween season has far greater significance to Americans than most Romanians, who might be more concerned this time of year with such things as preparing for the coming winter, having repeated political debates (the joke they’ll tell you about themselves is “two Romanians, three opinions”), or obtaining another portion of delicious placinta cu dovleac pumpkin pastry.
Still, there is something unusual about the place.
Romania, as another expat there put it, is a frustrating country that somehow continues drawing you back.
Supernatural forces at work? Perhaps.
The Attraction of Romania
On the down side while I was there, there was a lack of goods, services, and sometimes transportation and indoor heat.
Also, as with any job, there were some people who drained me. Crime in Bucharest was something to watch out for. Plus there was the surveillance.
I kept noticing plain clothes internal security guys, the Securitate, tailing me on the streets and keeping track of me at home.
During communist times, these fellows kept the populace in line, and western intelligence communities used to test themselves against these agents. Their emblem was a menacing - an almost-vampiric giant bat with axe.
My primary contact at the U.S. Embassy told me that my apartment was bugged, and the Securitate kept breaking into my home to leave a cigarette in the toilet.
This, by the way, was a signature move to let you know that they’re watching. They put a lot of energy into dropping a burnt cigarette into my commode because, aside from some food and leftover baklava from a little shop near my building (it seemed like the baklava helped take the edge off some of the challenges there), books, and some dirty laundry, they weren’t finding much else at my place.
On the up side, Romanians can provide some very interesting discussions and display a special kind of resigned humor.
The country has rich and vibrant cultural, musical, and artistic traditions that are still very much alive and far easier to explore than I’d found in some other Central/Eastern European locations, as well as new artists and writers pushing the boundaries.
The Roma add their intriguing part to the mix. Its Dacian history predates the Roman occupation.
There are many different kinds of architecture, the geography ranges from the wildlife-rich Danube Delta near the Black Sea to the breathtaking mountains of Transylvania in this “island of Latins in a Sea of Slavs.”
Nearing Vampires in Transylvania
When I first moved to Romania, I gave little thought to vampires.
I was there to help the new government that had emerged after Nicholae Ceausescu was deposed.
I was to provide training and assistance to their top-level people to help them communicate well with other world leaders, jurists, and diplomats.
During my first year, my workplaces were at three buildings in Bucharest. One was with the Romanian Senate: scene of Ceausescu’s dramatic helicopter departure before his capture and execution.
Another was the House of Deputies in what some call the world’s largest building, the Casa Poporului or “People’s House.”
My third location was at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: the Romanian version of the Department of State.
However, there were occasions when I was asked to participate in events in other areas of the country.
On one such trip, I traveled with other presenters to the western city of Timisoara: the location where several years of unrest finally led to the start of the violent 1989 Romanian Revolution.
We got off the train and were greeted by representatives of the conference. Each of us was paired up with a teacher and then transported to his/her house to stay the night.
On the way to my host’s house, I looked up at an ancient castle wall and saw what must have been the largest bat in the world flapping its leathery wings out of the dark and through the lamp lit air.
Perhaps that was a portent for what else I was about to learn.
Learning About “Real” Vampires
My host was impressive. Living in very simple circumstances, this man was still able to spend the evening engaging me in discussions ranging from history and politics to education, languages, and cultures as well as being an excellent chess player.
I’ll always remember how much he knew even though so little was available to him. I know this frustrated him as well, and he wished for more opportunities to use his skills.
Perhaps it was my own prejudices at work, but I was surprised when the matter of vampires was brought up by this intelligent and well-read person.
Yes, we were deep in Transylvania - Latin for land beyond the forest - but during my train ride to Timisoara I was more struck by the natural beauty of the place than anything scary.
Plus, somehow I didn’t expect this man who-disliked the cheesy tours for foreigners that depictedVlad the Impaler as an undead blood sucker - to turn around and tell me about “real” vampires.
According to him, there are two varieties, neither of which fall exactly into the strigoior moroii found often in discussions about Romanian vampires.
One is somewhat like the movie version: only comes out at night, sips blood, etc. The other is what might be termed more of a psychic vampire. This kind can be out in the daylight and drains people’s energy rather than their fluids.
An important point, apparently, is that any vampire has to get out of the sunlight at noon because, “that’s when the sun is closest to the earth.”
To My Surprise
Amused by this, I completed my work in Timisoara, returned to Bucharest, and spoke with some of the people with whom I was working in the Romanian government.
Some of these people who had impressed and challenged me with their intellects started discussing these types of vampires with all seriousness as well. There were others who dismissed the discussion.
So, because some do believe it, I had to adjust my preconceptions and explore it a bit. All of these people were bright and well-educated, yet could speak with simple certainty about something I thought of as only a bit of creative fun or uninformed fearful imagining.
Do I believe it all? No.
But I do know that everyone has beliefs and behaviors that someone else might consider “irrational.” Sometimes, something useful comes from exploring it.
We’ve all known people who can drain your energy just by being around. Don’t you usually feel better when you don’t even have to share the same space with them?
If that’s true then, for whatever rational or irrational reason, can we say that the end result is that your energy was drained by someone?
I don’t know. But, I do know that my return to another cigarette in my bathroom, the Securitate following me, and a challenging person at work was greatly helped by my own irrational belief that a bite of my local shop’s baklava would make it all better.
Next Week: What You Don’t Know About Earl Dorr and His Treasure
© Mark Dorr, All Rights Reserved
Photo reference: http://www.romaniatourism.com/romania-maps/europe-map.html
Photo reference: http://susano.tripod.com/myths.html
Photo reference: http://www.edvard-munch.com/gallery/love/vampire.htm