To tell you this story, I’ve got to first tell you a story about Spain.
To begin with, Spain is a really wonderful country. The weather is gorgeous, the sun shines in a very special and heart-gladdening way, the food is delicious, the music is enchanting and the people are kind. I’ve met many, many, many people throughout my life who have been to Spain and not one was every sorry that they went.
I used to live in Spain, myself. I strolled around town eating tapas and listened to the flamenco music and took my fair share of siestas and yep, even went to a genuine bullfight. Definitely a wonderful country and I’d love to go back any time.
After I no longer lived there, I read the book Iberia, by James Michener. Like all Michener books, it was long, it was thorough and it was what they call “sweeping” – it really transported you to the place. Unlike many of Michener’s other fine books though, Iberia is a work of non-fiction – it’s a true account of his real travels and adventures in Spain (and Portugal).
Every town in Spain has (at least) one feria, which is essentially a city-wide party and festival, where all work ceases and all the town residents from ages 8 to 88 get together and celebrate. How each town does it is unique. I think most people are familiar with Pamplona’s running of the bulls and you might have heard of the Tomatina in Buñol as well, where everyone gathers in the street for the world’s largest food fight with tomatoes.
Where I lived, the feria took place on an enormous plot of land near the river. The rest of the year this land stood empty, despite its potential commercial real estate value, and looked like the parking lot to the world’s largest Wal-Mart or something. But as the feria drew closer, the lot would start filling up with what were called casitas, literally “little houses”, gaily-colored square tent like structures with a wooden platform base.
A long, long time ago, this feria began as a “market days” type event where horses were traded. So in this giant lot nowadays, no cars or motorized vehicles are allowed but horses are permitted and you will see very colorfully decorated horses prancing around with their riders often in elaborate get-up as well.
The action, however, mostly takes place inside the casitas, inside the large tents. Many, many drinks are consumed, music is played and people get together to tell jokes and laugh and dance and meet old friends and a wonderful time is had by all. The feria coincides with the harvest of a special kind of grape that is made into a kind of wine that isn’t aged – it is made and consumed only within a short period of time. During the feria, it flows like water.
If you read Iberia, Mr. Michener went to this feria as well. But he had one major problem – all of those thousands of casitas with merry-making Spaniards inside of them are privately-owned. You cannot just walk into them uninvited because they won’t let you in. There’s only a handful of casitas where the owner lets the general public in, and those are usually sponsored by political parties.
So there was Mr. Michener, this awe-inspiring writer, this inveterate traveler and all he could do was walk up and down the rows of the casitas and catch glimpses of the fun going on and nothing else. Without an invitation, without an “in”, there was just no way to make it past the entrance. Despite his stature and earnest intent, he was forced to remain an outsider looking in.
At the time I was living in Spain, I was living with a Spaniard so I had my invitation. I was inside of those casitas. My girlfriend’s father was somewhat of a local bigwig and through his graces, I was invited in to many other casitas and many hands were shaken and many glasses of the special wine were raised and toasted. Heck, I might have even danced a little, I don’t remember.
What I do remember though is reading Iberia and realizing that there is a tremendous difference between visiting a place and actually living there, from being on the outside and peeking through the tent flaps and catching brief views of the “real” place and being on the inside, speaking the language, shaking hands and telling jokes and being welcomed in the festivities.
And now back to Romania (yay!). Yes, I’ve traveled to many places. And yes, I’ve had the privilege of actually parking myself in a few places for a while and living there and getting past the museums and the big churches and the old castles and the shopping districts downtown and the restaurant or two wherein I sampled a dish that I’d never tried before and the hoisting of a few beers or soft drinks with a friendly local who spoke excellent English. And it’s always surprised me just how more there always is when you live in a place.
I am beholden to this nice young woman, whom I had the privilege of meeting yesterday. She’s a tourist in my country (Romania) and yes, really, really likes it here. She’s spent much more time in Spain apparently and is headed back there shortly. And even though she’s writing a book and I got her to semi-promise not to write about me, here I am writing about her (LOL).
Well not her private life, obviously, as she can do that for herself, but we met for a drink and because I live here, I knew where a local place was that was very close by. To get there, you have to walk down an ordinary street and see a large gate leading to a very dark alley. Currently inside that alley they’re doing some kind of digging or something so there were two men in dirty overalls digging in a trench. And then you have to walk past them, turn and go up a flight of stairs (completely covered in graffiti) and turn a corner and voila – a very nice, warm and inviting bar.
She turned and said to me, “You know, I never would’ve known this place was here,” and it’s true. There’s absolutely no sign outside and no indication that there’s anything but a dark and dirty alley there. Locals just all know it’s there and so I guess there’s no need to advertise its existance. And it was that exact comment that prompted me to write this post because it’s true, if you don’t live here, you’d never know it was there.
That is sort of my “mission” here on this blog, so to speak, to take you inside the metaphorical tent flaps of the casitas of Romania, to get past the Dracula menus and the castles and the wow ZOMG people still use horses here for basic transportation and the woe-begotten filthy gypsy beggar children and show you the Romania I know and love from the “inside”.
For better or for worse, as the saying goes, this is the land where I live. I guess, just like a spouse, sometimes we have our bad days LOL but overall it’s a place that I’ve come to really get to know and appreciate. Spain is a wonderful country but there are many countless fine writers singing and extolling its praises. Romania? Not so many. So this blog is my humble effort to do this wonderful country a little justice and let you see it through my eyes, the eyes of a half-foreign and now half-native person.
And you, my dear and beloved reader, get to come along for the ride – yay!