(No. 1 of the Romanian series )
Adam, a friend introduced me to Romania. Back then, I was amongst the ignorant. Once when I met a Romanian girl, I asked her about Dracula and shut up for the rest of the night. Names like Bucharest, Brasov, Sibiu, Transfăgărășan, etc., came into my vocabulary because of Adam. I had little clue back then that I’d build more to this and not just by way of names of cities or people but by smell, winding of roads, children, pine trees, stars and the void
I land in OTP Bucharest and head to Viscri where I am about to spend the next few months. On the way – an estimated 5 hour journey – the ladies (Mirabela and Mirona) let me know that we will break for the night at Brasov. I forget to breathe for just a few seconds as I look out, into the formless darkness – an alien landscape – directing my eyes up to the sky, hoping to see a stretch of Brasov styled lights to make me shudder even more. We stop just outside the city. If not for the weariness of the long flight in, I wouldn’t have slept that night. I text Adam, tell him where I am and ask him if he’s felt anything like what I do now…
The first thing next morning, I break into the balcony. Green mountains and a subtle sun – my first sight of Brasov. We drive into the city. Uni-coloured, regimental buildings stand tall, most of them caught between ageing and renewed. Here and there the broken windows and the uneven paint draw up something familiar. The roads are wide. For the height and the width of the city, the people seem few, shrunk.
From the backseat of the car, I listen to Mirona and Mirabela tell me about Brasov and its colour. Beige. A parasailing trip from the past is spoken about, things they’ve done in Brasov or think I could do in Brasov. But the prime question is why Romania, why come here of all the places. I don’t know. I don’t tell them that I was waiting for this day, not knowing why I waited for it at all. But I want to tell them it feels like returning to a memory from beyond. I want to tell them about how I think of time as a horizontal plane of mountains on which you walk towards some peaks and not towards the others. And sometimes you know you’ve walked to the right one.
Then we pass the mountains overlooking the city on which is a large sign for Brasov. I feel full at the sight of it. He wrote, When passing by the Hollywood-style sign of this city’s name, Brasov, I would come to a halt and look up, and Tâmpa mountain, which overlooked the city, would dilate with the darkness of a summer night, distinctively dark against the white light gleaming at its top, where the six letters – BRASOV – stood with panache. The letters were sometimes in haze, like theatrical fog on stage, and sometimes in helpless clarity, caught stark naked in the spotlight below and the moonlight above their heads. I’m in Romania, at the sight of the sign, I would say to myself again. I know what he means. I’m in Romania, my mind’s voice speaks in delirium.
Even then, as we drove past Brasov, I had little clue that I’d come to closely inhabit many of its streets, pavements, bars, restaurants, the post office, piazzas, pharmacies, cathedrals, bookstores, buses, and more importantly the old police station on Strada Nicolae Titulescu. That I’d visit more than I’d want to, spend time talking to strangers or hunting books. I had little clue that one day I’d know how to easily walk there without having to consult a map. That I’d sit writing in many of Brasov’s corners listening to old men on old instruments. That one night, I’d see the Brasov sign for myself, lit against the darkness of the night and halt to look up, a bit tipsy, but wholly happy.
Location: Brasov, Romania.