17 December 2007

To Ceausescu and Back: Notes from a Tunnel

I recently discovered a new autobiographical blog called Notes from a Tunnel by someone who "was born as a member of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania, a child during Ceausescu’s dark 1970s, a teenager during the surreal Romanian ’80s, a student during the radical ’90s and a visiting √©migr√© in recent years." Here are some of the blogger's earliest recollections about life in Romania during those years.

The First Glance Back
The following recollections though, from the Romanian pre- and post-Revolutionary years, are street-level snapshots with often surprising similarities between the old and the new country. They come together not as a grand portal into the past and quasi-present, but a small window for just one head at a time to peer through it....Having left that country eleven years ago, returning there regularly to this day, I can still meet and converse with many ghosts, ghosts cosily nesting in the altered, recently became ultra-material(istic) world of the Carpathian mountains.

This is about both the past when those ghosts still possessed powerful bodies in my weathered homeland, making Europe seem just some distant mirage, and the present when that world, still silently and slowly being kneaded by these ghosts, has gone through hasty re-decorating for its welcome party into a suddenly so reachable and tangible Europe...

It is also about the surprising and worrying parallels that one sees between that, thought to be defunct, world and the present day experiences in a historical democracy, the latter paradoxically resorting to exponentially increasing amounts of control in an attempt to safeguard its values...
Home
My home town, Marosvasarhely... A medieval city in Transylvania, comfortably resting in the valley of river Maros, in just one of the many valleys which spread themselves on the map like half-open protecting hands... Valleys that so often were not protective enough, but at least were able to soften the sounds of thunderstorms and too numerous battles into a gentle rumble that used to reverberate along the many rivers of that bruised land... A town that in peacetime used to gaze down on lively markets unfolding their tents on the plains outside its old walls... hence its name, ‘marketplace on river Maros’ ....

All this sits pretty much right in the middle of Transylvania where eminently non-fictional creatures have been spilling and consuming blood for too many centuries. They did this in broad daylight, totally immune to garlic, casting onto those hills and plains of ever-changing colour very long and dense shadows which persist to this day in political life, in the ethnic tensions arising from the echoes of annexing the former Hungarian territory to Romania... These shadows are also present in the collective psyche that only in the last few years was freed from the most recent non-fictional, demented, but so calculated Evil.

I grew up there, during Ceausescu’s ‘Golden Era’... and can’t recall whether there was a certain moment when I realised that everything surrounding me was a tragicomic absurd play, set in a theatre made to seem considerably smaller than the world entire.

I still find it difficult to reconcile those two sides of me... One, the small kid opening his eyes and ears tentatively and initially very fearfully, a happy kid enjoying to the max a very minimalist childhood, accepting the food rationing and powercuts, propaganda and fake celebrations as the normal and, above all, the only possible reality. Then there is the other person, the grown-up looking back and finding that weird reality filled with funny and sad absurdities, contradictions still tying the mind into a confusing identity-warping knot.
Light
My school days and years came after I learnt the fundamental physics of light and heat. Not the complex laws defining and governing them, but how ideological darkness and cold calculation can alter them when it came to what I then perceived as normal everyday existence. The joyous and by all means luminous play of the mind that took over for brief hours my early school days was quite opposite to what came after school, when due to shortages of class rooms we started doing 'afternoon shifts' alternating with our normal weeks of 8AM daily start...

I was finding my way on streets rendered pitch black by power saving measures, with constellations of warm orange and yellow and reddish dots, daubs and flecks of lights coming through the windows, coming from kerosene lamps and candles and the occasional battery-powered torches, projecting shadows of tired bodies animated by tired souls inhabiting the houses and block flats.

The economics of these cuts didn't make any sense, as the consumption of the population was infinitesimal compared to what was engorged by old-fashioned, hopelessly obsolete industrial monsters. For example, the aluminium plant at Slatina was making deplorable quality aluminium with old electrolysis methods, soaking up every electron that the also inefficient power plants around it could squeeze out of low-grade coal or methane.

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