Guest writer Leon Schnell uncovers some surprises in foreign travel guides about Romania – some of which could be addressed with a quiet conversation.
If you’re following this series, you might recall me mentioning that it’s impossible to find books about Romania in South African bookstores, even in the packed travel guides sections. Not difficult: flat-out impossible.
This was only confirmed for me recently, when I visited a warehouse clearance sale of one of South Africa’s largest national bookstore chains. Picture the scene: a warehouse full of tables loaded with thousands of books, loosely organized by topic, with shoppers scurrying around in a desperate quest to fill boxes (yes: boxes) they’re carrying or dragging behind them on trolleys.
Browsing the table loaded with unwanted and unloved travel guides to distant and obscure places, I felt certain that I’d stumbled on the secret. Surely here I would find a dusty tome on Romania, never delivered to bookstores but faithfully ordered along with books on the rest of Europe.
Not a chance, I’m sad to say.
I don’t roll over that easily, however. I know Romania exists, because I am married to a woman who claims to come from such an exotic land and has supporting documentation with curiously shaped edges and many stamps (no doubt from the Queen of Stampilas) to prove it.
Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I’ve discovered that travel guides on Romania do in fact exist, but what I discovered might surprise you.
First up: The Rough Guide to Romania
If you’re in Romania now, did you know that ‘bear and wolf tracking’ is listed as an outdoor activity a tourist might be interested in? There’s a Dracula reference as well, but at least it’s included at the end of the book’s description as an apologetic ‘of course’. This just happens to be the first item you’re presented with if you search ‘Romania’ on Amazon.co.uk.
Next: Let’s Go series
Buoyed by my earlier success in finally finding a travel guide to Romania – ok, a reference to one – I looked through the 2013 Let’s Go range of guides, but couldn’t find anything on Romania. The Yucatan Peninsula? Yes. Guatemala? Yes. No Romania. It’s probably hidden somewhere, but a search confirmed my suspicions: neither it (nor ‘Bucharest’) existed. At least in the bustling world of student travel, anyway.
Finally: Let’s Go Romania
This is better: another real travel guide on Romania. Ok ok, so maybe it does promise to reveal the ‘gruesome truth about the ‘real’ Dracula’. And yes, it does include ‘full coverage of Transylvania’. And yes, its other big Romanian highlight is a bird-watching tour. The real surprise, however, came in this little note: “The new edition of this guide will be in stock mid-May.” Want to guess the name of the new title? ‘Romania & Bulgaria travel guide – 6th Edition’. On my blog I’ve been joking about the ‘Romgarians’, but it seems I struck pretty close to the mark: Romania’s officially been downgraded from having its own travel guide to sharing one.
This story about the Romanian Cultural Institute’s (ICR) intention to open ‘several Romanian bookshops abroad’ came to mind.
Reading that story for the first time, I couldn’t help wondering what types of books would be stocked. I also thought it was possibly the most unique thing I’d ever heard of – certainly I cannot think of a single other country opening its own bookshops dedicated to its own books. The ICR has to be commended for this.
Will the books stocked be about Romania, or be written by Romanians, or both? Will the books be in English or Romanian, and if they’re in English will they be translations of books in Romanian or will they be written by Romanians in their second language about their home country (which has serious implications)?
I guess we’ll have to wait and see. In that story the ICR has indicated that Paris, London, Berlin, Rome and Madrid will be targeted first, and I can only hope that they remember to add ‘Johannesburg’ to that list – although with any luck by the time they do I’ll already be in Romania.
Reading some comments below news stories on another English-language Romanian news website, I was surprised to find a story with comments in English, Romanian and what might have been Albanian (as my Albanian is rusty this was a guess based on the story). Is there any wonder that Europe is in trouble, with all its citizens talking past each other in the public space?
I’m doing what I can, however. I’ve downloaded my first Pimsleur Romanian lessons from Audacity – the .wav is mightier than the pen, it appears – and am doing my bit to actually start integrating with Romania ‘from the outside’. My Romanian wife, however, has a more difficult task: she already speaks Romanian and English (lucky for me), and she’s now wondering which other European language she should learn to get along in Romania’s job market.
Given all of this, I can’t help asking myself for the umpteenth time: just what did Romania do to make itself so ignored by the rest of the world? South African bookstores aside, why do international publishers have such a skewed perception of the country?
My suggestion to the ICR and anybody else interested in this: before you open bookshops – although that’s a great idea – it’ll be cheaper and easier to invite the foreign publishers to come for a visit and see the Romania YOU want them to see, and spread the vision of that country and not what some underpaid freelance writers think they should write about.
As for Europe in general ... maybe a dominant shared language would be easier for everybody, alongside a shared currency? Just a thought. Trăiască Romania! (or Long live Romania!)
(photo source: sxc.hu)