Talk Talk Talk – Romanian-American women: a perspective

Posted on December 1, 2006 by Sandra Pralong

Data: 1 decembrie 2006


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Titlul articolului: Talk Talk Talk – Romanian-American women: a perspective

A dinner party held at Leslie Hawke’s Bucharest apartment, attended by some prominent Romanian-North American repats, elicited a discussion that was fascinating, lively and honest. Here’s the first of two parts

Dinner with Leslie

Romanian-North Americans – typically, Romanians who left the country and spent their formative years in the US and Canada, and who have since returned – have a unique perspective on the country. During the summer Leslie Hawke invited a group of prominent Romanian-North American women to dinner. The discussions, which were taped with the full knowledge of all present that the transcriptions would appear in Vivid, were illuminating. Present were Leslie Hawke, Elena Francisc, Cristina Merrill, Sandra Pralong, Dana Saftoiu, Marina Sturdza, Alexandra Tinjala, Tereza Valcan and Edit Vesser. Many thanks to Cristina Merrill, who transcribed the tapes, and Amarjit Sidhu, who took the photographs, and cooked.

Sandra Pralong: Altogether I was 16 years out of the country. I left when I was 15, I came back after 16 years, and now its 16 years later. And I have been back and forth many times during these years. I’ve been in the US since 1974 for a couple of years, and then went back to do a master’s in 1982 and stayed over until 1990, when the Revolution caught me in New York. And I came back with the first plane. Everyone says that but I really was with the first plane. At that time, in the winter of, the airport had been closed at some point. Not because of the shooting but also because of the winter. It snowed a lot after Christmas Day. There were no planes landing, no trains, no nothing. I had come to Amsterdam then I made my way to Budapest with a group of Helsinki Watch observers, and they told us there is no way to go from Budapest to Bucharest: A, because you can’t take a train and B, because we don’t recommend you drive and C, there are no planes. We returned to Vienna where a gentleman who was the head of the International Helsinki Watch arranged for us to get seats on the first Austrian Airlines flight that landed in Bucharest. Jam-packed with reporters.

It was eerie because this was January 3rd 1990, just a week and a half after the Revolution. The people on the tarmac, the women guards, were very rude, very nasty. I had this romantic vision of it being really open, of them throwing flowers at all these foreigners coming, and all these reporters. And they were very edgy and very, very unhappy to see all the cameras showing up from the plane. And then it was very bizarre, because as we went out of the airport, all the signs – it was very shocking – that had the word “socialist” included in them had been taken down. So the word ‘Long Live Republica … Romania’ for example, had been abridged. The police cars had been changed from militia (eng: military) to politia (eng: police). And I was thinking who on earth had time to actually make these changes. All the work that had gone into making sure that on the road from the airport, you systematically saw the word ‘socialist’ taken out seemed very suspicious. And most suspicious was the fact that in the Intercontinental – because we stayed in the Intercontinental – they already had brand new flags without the hole. I was thinking there is a lot of effort put into cosmetically making sure – and I wrote in Newsweek when I came back – that a lot work had been gone into making people believe that things were going on, which probably hadn’t.

Another anecdote: We were going to see the new government to make sure they were going to obey the rule of law and not have retribution and ensure human rights would be respected and that Romanian national democracy would be built on the rule of law. And so we were waiting to meet all these dignitaries. I was the only Romanian in this delegation. I was translating. There was one of these wonderful secretaries that was typing. And very, very dirty offices, very dirty floors and carpet. You could see it hadn’t been washed for a long time. And you could see these wonderful Romanian maps, with relief, on wood, and the place where the socialist coat of arms had been taken down. The wood was darker than the rest of the wood that had been bleached by the sun. And so I’m looking at this and I have this little idea that there is something going on, that these people are trying to make us believe that there is great revolutionary fervour to take us all the socialist signs, and I am asking this woman, ‘What happened here?’ And she said, ‘Oh there was so much fighting, there was so much going on, and people were lying down, and there was so much blood everywhere.’ I was thinking ‘Gosh, how could there be blood everywhere when this place hadn’t been cleaned in 25 years! She was going on and on, and I was starting to get very nervous. I was saying ‘How did they take down the coat of arms?’ And she said, ‘Oh, but you don’t understand, there was fighting. They came with a wrench and they took it like this.’ And I was looking at it and there was no wrench sign at all. The place had been unscrewed very neatly. And I was thinking, there were revolutionaries with screwdrivers. The rest of the delegation was so mad, ‘You are ruining our mission because you are not believing,’ they said. So this is how I arrived in Bucharest. And this is what determined me to come back and to settle here. I could sense my antenna. There were kids in the Intercontinental, students, who came and wanted to speak to the delegation, the human right observers and they said: ‘You need to understand that we are being asked to motivate our absence from university. We are being asked so that we can keep our registration at university to show a certificate that we have been fighting as revolutionaries. But you don’t understand, they are the same professors as before. So how are we going to tell them that we fought against them? How are they going to grade us? They were very panicky and very upset that all these things were being made for them to have to prove something in which they believed but for which the people around them may have taken retribution against them.

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