Just In Case

I already wrote a guide to Romania but it is entitled the Complete Guide and I realized that sadly, there’s some information missing! Just in case you ever find yourself called by a Romanian television station to be interviewed (in Romanian!), there are a few things you need to know ahead of time. Actually, there’s only one thing you will need to know ahead of time – absolutely nobody will tell you what’s going to happen. Suddenly you’re on the air and away you go :)

I was on Realitatea again last night for an hour, and it was quite an interesting experience. I believe this time it got successfully recorded so when I get that file I’ll post it here and you can see it for yourself.

As I mentioned earlier, the first appearance on Thursday was based on the Gandul article. Some mysterious entity in Bucharest (more on this in a minute) thought I’d be worth 2 minutes of air time and summoned me to Realitatea‘s Cluj office. They had a little intro set up with the footage from Gandul and then asked me one or two questions about why I live here voluntarily. And that was about it. Last night it was a little different.

First, the set up though. Realitatea is the Romanian equivalent to CNN or the BBC or any other 24-hour cable news channel. Besides covering the headlines and “top stories” they need a lot of talking heads to fill up the time and someone decided that I would be useful as another one of those talking heads this week.

The main office and studios for this channel are, of course, in Bucharest. The satellite office in Cluj shares space with a newspaper (Ziua de Cluj) and is mostly used to house a few cameras and journalists to send out to places nearby in case anything of interest happens. But they also have a studio set up on the third floor (second floor in European parlance) which can go “live” when needed.

About a million years ago I worked in a television studio in America so I can tell you that the set-up is about the same. There are giant banks of lights shining on you. The set looks really nice on television but in person you can see the flaws – dents in the panels on the side, the fact that the microphone is being propped up in a cheap piece of foam with a sticker on it, and that the shiny “glass” table is really plastic. It’s just like I wrote about yesterday – what you see on your screen is always a manufactured kind of virtual reality.

Since the main action is going on in Bucharest, I’m actually sitting all alone in the Cluj studio. They gave me an ordinary mobile phone with some ear pieces and that’s how I can “hear” what’s going on in Bucharest (and what you see on the TV when you’re watching it at home). There are some monitors in the studio showing the live feed but there’s some kind of delay from the satellite or something so what I’m seeing is on eerily out of synch with what I’m hearing. Therefore I can only poorly hear what’s going on (live) and seeing a two-second delayed image in front of me on a screen and I’m all alone (physically) talking in a giant, empty room. If that’s not slightly insane, I don’t know what is.

Again, there’s never any preparation ahead of time. The brief time on-air on Thursday was just me reacting to the Gandul piece and I pretty much guessed what they’d ask me about. Last night they had a longer segment (over an hour) with several guests in the studio in Bucharest (including Silviu Prigoana, a politician) because Ilie Nastase had just released a statement about how disgusted he was with Romanians. Then they had the Nastase on the phone talk about his quote and the guests in the Bucharest studio react and then threw a few questions my way via the remote feed from Cluj.

I asked the Realitatea people in Cluj what to expect and what was going on and they didn’t know themselves. Everything was “Bucharest says” or “Bucharest wants”. Even when they called me on the phone to summon me to the studio it was “Bucharest wants you”. I was joking with the camera man that Bucharest was like God or Santa Claus and mimed praying to the ceiling and asking “Bucharest” to bring me a new bicycle for Christmas, which got a laugh :P

I was much more relaxed this time so it was a lot more fun and assuming I get the footage put up here, you can watch it and judge for yourself how I did. But I really had no preparation whatsoever, neither knowing what Nastase had said earlier in the day nor who would be in the studio or what we’d all be talking about or anything. All I knew was to show up in the Cluj studio and sit in an empty room with a poorly-audible feed in my ears and try to smile at the camera and speak intelligibly when asked questions in a foreign language.

You know, come to think of it, this all fits squarely in the category of winging it :))

Prigoana seemed determine to get in a few licks on me but the female guest in the studio (sorry, I didn’t catch her name) and the moderator treated me well. Nastase might’ve been a talented tennis player but his thinking and mental attitude are all old-school Communist complaints of just how awful everyone is and how nothing ever changes. If you’ve been reading this blog for more than 60 seconds, you know how virulently I oppose such sentiments and I did my best to counteract his stupid, tired thinking.

Folks, if you want to find fault with Romania and life here, you can do it. You can find fault with anything if you look hard enough. I’ve been to the Louvre Museum in Paris and seen just how tiny the Mona Lisa is too, okay? There is no “perfect” country and there are definitely serious problems here in Romania. But sitting around and making generalized complaints does nothing. It’s like complaining that yesterday here in Cluj was a cold, gray overcast day. Yes it’s true but so what?

You take the good and appreciate it and leave aside what you can’t change and then do your best to make the most of the rest. Really, it’s as simple as that. And I did my best to get that across in my limited Romanian just like I do every week here on the blog and in my documentary and everything else. It’s no secret that I keep on repeating the same thing over and over and that’s because I believe in it and to encourage everyone else to do the same.

Sadly, a few people like Nastase want to continue in the tired old way of complaining and doing nothing, the very definition of a carcotas. Which reminds me that unfortunately the show Cronica Carcotasilor has returned on air and continues to pump out their “comedy” of ridiculing and belittling the powerless.

Someone mentioned to me the other day that Mircea Badea largely does the same and I realized this is true. I’d have to buy a television and spend a few hours doing research to document more examples but there are a lot of people in Romanian media who make their money by ridiculing, insulting, belittling and otherwise attacking the powerless or “ordinary” people and yet never use their wit and humor (which sometimes is quite sharp) against someone who IS a “big cheese” or who could fight back.

I know there are several “morning zoo” type shows on Romanian radio who get their yuks from prank calling and tricking ordinary people, often the elderly. Cronica Carcotasilor wouldn’t exist without clips from news programs of bewildered peasants misspeaking and fumbling their words after some disaster strikes. And Mircea Badea would rather skip over discussing the Greek financial crisis to make fun of me and how I “hear voices” in my head.

Therefore a large segment of the Romanian media is dedicated to attacking and tearing apart other Romanians and laughing at them and belittling them. There are a few racist nuts who get airtime (like CV Tudor) but generally speaking on Romanian media it’s Romanians constantly attacking and criticizing fellow Romanians. It’s no wonder I am such an odd duck here, someone who actually likes Romania, when day after day people are subjected to these kinds of shows.

So there you go, folks, the ultimate irony. I don’t own or watch television and I certainly don’t tune into those radio programs which indulge in this kind of behavior and yet there I am, appearing on them and in some tiny way lending them my support.

After my segment was over, one of the Realitatea people drove me home, which was pretty cool because there was a soccer game going on in my neighborhood and since it was the Cluj team versus a Bucharest team (Dinamo) the streets were blocked off to cars because there were thousands of shouting people waving banners and tootling horns and throwing firecrackers, but we got through all the police barricades because I was in a press car. So that was nice.


UPDATE: Here it is!

Much thanks to Diana Lupu for recording this.

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