Romania, the obsession of an American Ambassador

article by Raluca Ion in Cotidianul, September 21, 2009

[Translation from Romanian]

Former U.S. Ambassador to Bucharest Jim Rosapepe will be launching, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, an extremely optimistic book about Romania. In „Dracula is Dead“, former US ambassador and wife, award winning journalist, Sheilah Kast, go beyond homeless children and communism, and discover an “amazing country”, which has a success story to tell to the world.
On November 9, once with the 20 years anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, American readers can buy from bookstores “Dracula is Dead” and turn the page to the rarely seen face of Romania. “In December 1989, Romanians overthrew dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, ending more than forty years of Communist totalitarianism. Twenty years later, Romania is a thriving democracy, an economic success, and a member of NATO and the European Union“, this is written on the website presenting the book, which takes you from Bucharest, the Paris of the East, where Orthodox Christianity works together with latest technology up to Oltenia, whose inhabitants are comparing themselves to Texans.

Going through the pages, you get to see Peles Castle and King Michael, still active in the public life, almost 90 years old, but also Maramures, home to the Merry Cemetery and at the same time, the birthplace of Elie Wiesel.
The two authors show the world that Transylvania, which is known not only through Dracula, was once the scene of conflicts between the Romanians and Hungarians, and that the Black Sea was sometimes called “the only good neighbor of Romania except for Serbia” and that the saints painted on the walls of the “remarkable” monasteries of Bucovina resemble the faces of the people in the street.

The Chief of the Associated Press Office in Bucharest, Alison Mutler, has started reading first two chapters of the book and considers that: “It is very well written, it has very good information, but at the same time it’s written in a lively manner, with inspired word games, you can read it right away. This does not mean it’s a superficial book, it’s full of history, it speaks about the Holocaust, about the tensions between the Romanians and Hungarians.” The journalist believes that Romania needed such a book: “There is quite a shortage of books about Romania, especially authorized books. And Mr. Rosapepe knows a lot about Romania, he is a foreigner who knows how to explain Romania to the Anglo-Saxon world. I believe this book will have a positive effect on Romania’s image, I don’t think it will be as popular as “Sex and the City”, but surely it will open people’s eyes. He is very optimistic, he believes that Romania is a success story and says, “Look what they managed to do in 20 years, they are both NATO members and EU members”.
Romania is praised in the preface of the book by Madeleine Albright as well: “Romania is a living legacy of Rome, as well as a great American ally. Jim and Sheilah are outstanding guides to this country, which is both familiar and exotic”. Jim Rosapepe and Sheilah Kast think of Romania as : “A strong, creative, charming, democratic nation following years of dictatorship and isolation, Romania really is the new Italy’. The book will be launched in Romania on November 23, at Bookfest, in the presence of the two authors.
Waitresses who can quote Aristotle
In the chapter “Something to chew on”, Sheilah Kast tells the story of a night that Jim went to a restaurant in Bucharest and entered into conversation with a waitress from Piatra Neamt, which didn’t get into college and who quoted in a fair English, Aristotle. “Jim tried to think of high school waiters and waitresses he’d met in the United States who quoted Aristotle. He’s still thinking.”
Angels at breakfast
In another chapter, dedicated to the monasteries in Bucovina, the authors make you fall in love with Voronet, leaving out the standard statements of the Romanian travel guides and finding life in the world painted on the walls: “Voronet is sometimes called the “Sistine Chapel of the East” because of its magnificent frescoes (…) Voronet blue, an intense shade made from lapis lazuli, is known to artists around the world”. Sheilah could not take her eyes off the west wall, wondering why, if medieval artists could make such vivid pigments last outdoors for centuries, Sherwin-Williams (note – manufacturer of paints) can not make a paint that would preserve the hue on the house for 20 years. As she contemplates on this logical matter, she started to recognize some of the faces in the Last Judgment painting laid out before her. “Several of the angels looked very much like the Romanian women she’d seen at breakfast at the hotel in Suceava. One of the saints resembled a taxi driver she’d noticed on the street.”