Monday, 11 November 2013

Romania: living here and writing about it

The heart is the undiscovered country. You travel to a foreign country to discover your unconscious mind.

Laurence Durrell said you have two birthplaces. The place where you are born and the
place where you learn about life. I was 36 when I came here and my second birthplace was Bucharest.

For some people who do not put their feet on the ground and take part in life there can be a transparent sheath between themselves and life. They are tourists all the time, in their home town or when they are travelling. Perhaps I am one of these people. I felt throughout my four years at Cambridge that I was a tourist there. In London where my contemporaries were pursuing paths to money and love I walked around with an acute overwhelmingly passion for the city which you can only feel if you grew up in Southend-on-Sea. 

Philip Guedala said Michael Arlen’s characters walk down Jermyn St with such an acute sense of its being Jermyn St that one almost suspects them of being in London for the day. Perhaps this is how I have lived in Bucharest in the last twelve years. Perhaps this is why I like being a foreigner here rather than feeling a foreigner in my own country. How awful to feel at home somewhere. Does anyone feel at home anywhere? Does anyone interesting? Perhaps grown-ups do. Perhaps that is one definition of being grown-up.

If as Malcolm Muggeridge said sex is the mysticism of materialism, then this can also be true of travel too. And not particularly the beach holiday kind of travel so much as the more adventurous travel. Travel agents sell dreams. Only books and travel have the qualities of dreams and for the young only dreams are real. Reality is a terribly dull thing. When one gets older life acquires a texture and begins at last to one’s surprise to feel real, which means like a novel. About the same time novels seem less interesting. For some people perhaps travel does too.

When I came to live in Bucharest in 1998 I felt that I was a character in a novel by Joseph Conrad in the South Seas in the 19th century. The foreigners who had floated here after the revolution who could have been creations of Conrad in ironic mode. Bucharest had changed a lot between 1990 when I first visited and 1998 when I came to live here but it seemed extremely far away from the western world and it seemed in some ways still in, if not the nineteenth century, then the early 1950s at any rate. Later I refined it to 1959, after the British and Americans had discovered sex but before modern feminism was invented. 

When I flew back from England I felt for about a day like a character from Star Trek materialising slowly on another planet. That has gone now but I still feel a great joy when I come back here from London, to somewhere much more human, much more provincial, more traditional, much warmer, where life is real and people think normally.


  1. Your facebook account has been deleted - but I see that you have not passed away - so I can continue to read your interesting insights on here instead. Mel

    1. I suspended my account and feel widowed!

      This is something I wrote years ago but did not think to publish. It is rambling, I'm afraid.

    2. Yes facebook can be quite addictive; I shared a link to one of your articles with my Uncle who does a lot of charity work in Romania.

  2. What do you mean Romania seems infinitely more like everywhere else?

    1. infinitely more than in 1990, but I have edited that portion out to be used in another post

  3. I think, as we age, we are writing a novel in our head every day to rewrite the day in a finer, more agreeable manner lest we suffer terrible disappointment