"If you grew up hearing names like Tito, Mao, and Ceausescu, but really didn't understand their significance, read this book!" -- Mark Skidmore, Paramount Pictures
Out of the Transylvania Nightby Aura Imbarus
In an epic tale of identity and the indomitable human spirit, Out of The TRANSYLVANIA NIGHT explores tyranny, freedom, love, success, and the price paid for misaligned dreams. An incredibly powerful memoir.
"I'd grown up in the land of TRANSYLVANIA, homeland to Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, and, worse, the Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu-who turned Romania into a… See more details below
In an epic tale of identity and the indomitable human spirit, Out of The TRANSYLVANIA NIGHT explores tyranny, freedom, love, success, and the price paid for misaligned dreams. An incredibly powerful memoir.
"I'd grown up in the land of TRANSYLVANIA, homeland to Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, and, worse, the Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu-who turned Romania into a land of gray-clad zombies who never dared to show their individuality, and where neighbors became informants, and the Securitate made people disappear. Daylight empowered the regime to encircle us like starved wolves, and so night had always been the time to steal a bit of freedom. As if bred into our Transylvanian blood, we were like vampires who came to life after sundown. I buried the family jewels, tucked the flag into my sweater and left my outpost to join the action . . . tonight Ceausescu would die!"
Known for using stand-ins to pose for him, Aura doubts if it was even Ceausescu himself who was killed that night. Nevertheless, when her countrymen topple one of the most draconian regimes in the Soviet bloc, Aura Imbarus tells herself that life post-revolution will be different. But little in the country changes. With two pieces of luggage and a powerful dream, Aura and her new husband flee to America. Through sacrifice and hard work, the couple acquire a home, cars, and travel-but trying to be Americans is much more complicated than they expect. More difficulties set in: the stock market crash takes their savings, house, and cars; thieves steal three centuries' worth of heirloom jewels; and Aura's beloved mother dies. Aura's marriage crumbles under the stress. Devastated, she asks herself, "How much of one's life is owed to others?" Tested even further by the vagaries of fate, Aura discovers a startling truth about striking a balance between one's dreams and the sacrifices and compromises that allow for serenity, selfhood, and lasting love. More resolution comes when in 2010, Ceausescu's body is exhumed to answer questions of a cover-up, and Aura can finally lay to rest the haunting mysteries of her past.
Associated Press broke news of former communist Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu being exhumed to answer questions of a cover-up:.http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100721/ap_on_re_eu/eu_romania_ceausescu_exhumed
Aura's courage shows the degree to which we are all willing to live lives centered on freedom, hope, and an authentic sense of self. Truly a love story! -Nadia Comaneci, Olympic Champion and Co-Founder of the Nadia Comaneci Children's Clinic in Bucharest
Unforgettable...it gives the pioneer spirit and courage to be outraged in the face of injustice, and the heart bravado in making change in the world.-Adrian Maher, Documentary Filmmaker, Discovery Channel
A compelling story of a fiercely independent young woman growing up at the height of world wide Communist power and then rapid fall of the Iron Curtain. If you grew up hearing names like Tito, Mao and Ceausescu but really didn't understand their significance: READ THIS BOOK!-Mark Skidmore, Paramount Pictures
A remarkable account erasing a past, but not an identity. Thought-provoking, inspirational, and comforting-Todd Greenfield, 20th Century Fox Studios
Aura's book reveals a very personal but intense description of the life in Romania before and after the Romanian Revolution of 1989. This makes it a contribution to find out beyond historical studies, what happened to and with the people there. This book is sure to find its place in memorial literature of the world. -Beatrice Ungar, Editor in chief, Hermannstädter Zeitung
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Aura Imbarus, PhD, is a former popular journalist in Europe, and co-founder and ambassador of the Romanian-American Professional Network (RAPN). She is also president of EuroCircle.
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Read an Excerpt
Out of the Transylvania Night
By Aura Imbarus
Bettie Youngs BooksCopyright © 2010 Aura Imbarus
All right reserved.
Out of the Transylvania Night Aura Imbarus
Part I: The Transylvania Night
'Then you shall live up there where the stench shall not reach you.' Prince Vlad II Draculea, to a servant made ill by the stench of thousands of impaled men, women and children. (The servant was subsequently impaled.)
The Eyes of Sibiu
The trees on my street had grown microphones, among the ten million microphones that bloomed in the whole of Romaniaone for every two and a third people. The sense of constant scrutiny pervaded us like a ghost of old Vlad Draculea, Vlad the Impaler, whose castle still stood on the other side of the Carpathian Mountains from my town of Sibiu.
Perhaps that was why, on the gray morning of December 21, 1989, I had no sense that everything, literally everything, was about to change. The fortunes of my family had gone through considerable changes in the past, especially after the Communists took over, but in my eighteen years of life, change had come to mean little more than the plunge from one Five Year Plan to the next. Other kinds of change were not encouraged, at least not by the government. Other kinds of change were what the microphones were listening for.
As for me, on that morning, all I wanted to do was eke out a little Christmasa holiday that had officially ceased to exist over forty years before. My parents and I were getting ready to go shopping in the Piata Mare and Piata Micaplazas great and smalland Balcescu Street. The word 'shopping' meant both more and less than it says. It did not mean 'go out and buy what you want.' It did not even mean 'go out and buy what you can afford.' But it did mean 'go out and get in line early, or get nothing.' As a result, my mom had taken a day off from her job as a lab technician in a sweets factory, and Dad would be leaving afterward for his job as an electronics technician at the Sibiu Airport. I was going because this was my first day of winter break from school, and I wanted to find a pretty new dress to cheer my buni, my father's mother, on the coming illicit holiday. I also wanted to look nice myself that day, because an interesting 'someone' might be out shopping, and I hoped to draw an admiring gaze.
But should I risk wearing my red faux Coco Chanel jacket? I admired the garment made of material smuggled in from our German relatives. Perhaps it would be wiser to play it safe with the black sweater Buni had knitted for me. She and I had worked out the design together, and she'd managed to turn the yarn into something fashionable. Romanian co-op fabrics tended to be gray, gray-and-brown plaid, black, dull checks or stripes, or, occasionally, a few somber shades of blue and greennever any colors that were warm or brightall sharing a drab ugliness, as if grayness had spread like cholera, entering houses, covering our bodies, taking over our lives and dulling our minds.
'Come on, Aura, hurry up for goodness' sake!' my dad called from the front door. 'What's taking you so long?'
'Coming,' I answered.
Mom walked into my room to help me out with my crucial decision.
Even under a Communist regime that frowned upon anything that made an individual stand out, including personal appearance, I was picky about my clothes and had been creating my own wardrobe since I was fourteen. I loathed the clothing from the trade co-ops, the cooperativa mestesugaresca, with their dusty shelves and rusty metal hangers offering garments that looked more like uniforms for prisoners or orphanage donations. Mismatched suits were either too short or too long and required an expert tailor's skill to redesign them into anything presentable. On the black marketanother special meaning of the word 'shopping'I constantly sought out fabrics, accessories, zippers, buckles, thread, buttons, and lining, purchasing these treasures with money I'd earned tutoring during the last four years of high school. I copied designs from catalogs sent by my relatives in Germany and smuggled into the country. I also created dresses for Mom and for Buni, who rewarded me with money for every 'A' on my report card. As a straight-A student, my little 'pension' allowed for a few nice thingsif we could find them.
'Aura, sweetheart . . . just pick something, and let's go.' My mother was soft and round and her eyes always reminded me of Sophia Loren's, dark and sparkling, beautifully outlined by her long, curled eyelashes and perfectly shaped eyebrows. 'Come on!'
'Maybe I'll just wear my black sweater with my green wool pants. I don't think it's so chilly outside.'
This minor decision might have saved my life.
The ice crunched beneath my boots as I trudged with my parents across the slick walkways. Our house grew smaller behind us, and the bare chestnut trees, childhood friends that harbored my shoes among their green branches in summer, blurred the house further, as if erasing our safe haven. We turned right onto Rusciorului Street and walked past Suru, the corner tavern named after a mountain peak. Through the familiar streets we plodded, past houses with faded and flaking paint, their dingy bricks chipped. Ghostly slanted chimneys loomed, as if ready to collapse on our heads. Even at 6:30 am people hung around outside, dressed in their dreary, unwashed clothing, throwing away their meager salaries on alcohol, the only pleasure that could soften the grueling boredom of working long repetitious hours, six days a week, in local factories. The reek of sweat, government vodka, and homemade moonshine made my nostrils sting. If my fellow citizens looked at me at all, their expressions were sulky. Most averted their eyes. Dad nudged my elbow to hurry me along.
As we passed the railroad station, I heard a train approaching, coming from Copsa Mica. Emissions from a nearby factory that produced carbon black for dyes had earned this station the distinction of being one of the most polluted in Europe. The factory's steady belch coated homes, trees, and even animals with soot. A smelter in the area emitted noxious vapors that caused lung disease, impotence, and a life expectancy nine years below Romania's average.
The uneven pavement and potholes made the streets a dangerous place to walk. The houses became increasingly decayed; carbon dust and the sickly green of moss and mold rendered a uniform drabness that extended to the discolored window curtains hanging in tatters inside dirty, cracked windows.
Dad said, 'It's going to snow again.' He nodded toward the low, gray clouds that were moving along the vast, white Carpathians just south of Sibiu. 'Maybe a blizzard.'
Yesterday and all last week, the weather had been mild, the cold sun shining in vibrant blue skies, glaring off the snow on the steep, tiled roofs, melting and freezing into silvery icicles, brightening the sidewalks along the dirty streets. This city could be a truly enchanting place if its old world charm were restored. Now, the leaden sky dampened my holiday mood.
I shivered. The red jacket would have kept me warmer. I tugged my black knit angora beretwhich I thought looked quite flirtatious against my auburn hairdown over my ears and pulled on black leather gloves, gifts from my parents after careful saving. Despite the deprivation in our lives, I considered myself, at age eighteen, quite fashionable. By Western standards, my clothing might not have been special, but in my city of Sibiu in Transylvania, I stood outwhich wasn't exactly a good thing.
As if reading my thoughts, my father glanced at my neck and recoiled. 'Aura! Dear God!' He turned to my mother. 'Do you see what she's wearing?' Then, to me in a lower voice, 'Are you crazy?' He looked around. For the moment the streets around us were not crowded, but there were always the microphones, and the people peering out of their dingy windows.
I felt the blood rush into my cheeks as if they'd been pinched. I'd hoped that for once I could just wear my jeweled Byzantine cross set with diamonds, a cross no longer than the end of my thumb. I'd received it from Buni when I passed my entrance exam to Octavian Goga High School. It was a family heirloom, passed down in secrecy through generations to avoid having it confiscated by the many oppressive governments that had held power over the years. I was so proud to have received it, and I knew better than to show it off, but it was almost Christmas, and what good was having something sitting in a box, never being able to publicly enjoy it?
'Cover it up. Now!' Dad said. 'You already draw too much attention. Do you really want to get us all in trouble because of your vanity?'
My mother jumped in to save me, calling my father by his pet name. 'Fanel, don't make such a fuss for nothing. There is nobody around us anyway.'
'Nobody you see,' Dad said. 'That doesn't mean they aren't here, watching, listening, following our moves. We must always be in control. Use your mind before you act, Aura!'
'Ok. I will. I promise.' I tucked in my white gold cross, so cold, a virgin to strangers' eyes, so beautiful.
Just then, two neighbor ladies crossed our path, but we didn't exchange a Christmas greeting. We nodded, and they sort of twitched. One of the women in a threadbare gray coat eyed my beret and green pants and murmured something to her companion, most likely criticizing my attire, which defied the government-mandated drabness. Clothing that exhibited any semblance of individuality was forbidden because individuality threatened the Communist agenda. I suspected I was already on a black list somewhere, and the whispers of the women sent a chill up my spine. Dad was right. Spies were always listening, watching, checking every piece of mail. Every other neighbor became a secret agent and informant for the securitate.
As long your face registered all the pessimism, sadness, and pain you felt, nobody thought anything of it; but if you squinted in defiance or spilled over with excitement or laughed in merriment, someone would notice you and wonder why. He or she would start watching you. The homeland that had produced Vlad DraculeaDracula's prototypehad somehow infected the soul of our President and General Secretary of the Communist Party of Romania, Tovarasul Nicolae Ceausescu. Tovarasul meant 'comrade of comrades,' the one most equal among equalsin other words, dictator.
No hint of morning sun penetrated the heavy cloud cover, and the mountain's icy breath left my woolen clothes feeling like skimpy summer-weight cotton. On the walkway ahead of us, a child coughed, and Mom started coughing as well. I had heard other people wheezing and hacking up phlegm behind the closed doors we passed. During winter the temperature in all public places couldn't exceed 160 Celsius (610 Fahrenheit). The government rationed gas and allowed each family a mere twenty kilowatts of electricity per month. The temperature in our homes during our long winters never reached anything close to comfortable. Mom and I both suffered from bronchitis and asthma due to the cold temperature at home, at school, and at work.
As we neared the town squares, the number of people on the street steadily increased, building to numbers greater than usualthe only clue that revealed any holiday expectations. An outside observer would have assumed we were on a grim march of some kind. There were no decorations, no carols playing from speakers, no gypsy music, no color anywhere. Throughout the year, no one exhibited purpose, no hope for the future, no desire. Yet at Christmas, so many seemed to reach deep down in their souls to rekindle a reason to live. In their homes they sang covertly and danced around small fir trees, snitched from forests guarded by government rangers. From the miners who toiled in dank, black holes in the earth to the plant workers who labored long hours for subsistence wages to the peasants who scraped away at their dry plots of land, the Christmas season offered the only a flicker of gaiety.
I searched the faces of young men for the one I most wanted to see, but I saw no one I knew that day, though I glimpsed wary animation, an occasional expression that could turn into a smile. Certainly, no one suspected that the Christmas season of 1989 would be any different from those of the last five years, or the five years before that.
We turned left onto Karl Marx Street with its state-run markets. We always hit them early, before everything was gone. The basic sources of survivalbread, milk, sugar, butter, potatoes, and meathad become increasingly scarce during the current Five Year Plan, and lines stretched ever longer. Only last week, my parents had awakened at 3:00 am to stand in line until 6:00 am to get milk. My mother had saved eggs to bake a pie that would last the family two weeks. Luckily, we still owned a refrigerator with a freezer that worked, though both were often empty. Each month, the state allowed each individual to buy no more than ten eggs, 500 grams (just over one pound) of meat, one liter of cooking oil, and half a kilo of sugar. Provided they were available at all.
Mom dragged me into a government grocery store while Dad waited outside. I stared at the gray, dusty shelves offering mustard, more mustard, and even more mustard. Jars of pickles filled other shelves, but our lives were already sour, so who needed pickles? We passed right by the dark, unrefined soy oil for cooking and the bottles of horrible-tasting cola-colored juice made from prunes. Mom bee-lined over to the produce section, only to find a display of nearly rotten apples. Though Ceausescu had outlawed Christmas, its celebration was tolerated to some extent, so one time per year, grocery shops received oranges and bananas, wondrous flavors we would savor and remember throughout the whole year. On Christmas day last year, a working day, my parents had rushed out early in the morning to queue up to buy one kilogram of each of the fruit delicacieswhich, in English, I used to mistakenly call delicatessens. But on this gray morning of the twenty-first, no part of the exotic fruit shipment had arrived.
Next we tried the refrigerated section. There, a few small bricks of cheeses that were mixed with starch or flour lay beside bucuresti salami, consisting of soy, bone meal, and pork lard, and, the pihce de risistance, tacbmuri de pui, chicken wings, gizzards, and claws.
'Pfhh!' Mom snorted.
Of course, she didn't really expect much better. Our renowned Sibiu and 'Victory' salamis, along with high and mid-grade meats, were strictly for export. Goods of any quality went out into the world, a world that was supposedly starving, so we were told; although my uncles in Germany had a different story.
Mom and I stopped to gawk at one display of endless bottles of cheap champagne called vin spumos. We thought of it as fizzled wine. Why would anyone need sour champagne? What government mockery was this? What did they imagine worthy of celebrating? Another year lived near starvation? A moment to toast the idea that under Communism, equal rights meant equal misery?
We couldn't even whisper these thoughts to each other in public, but Mom gave me a look that told me she was thinking the same thing.
Dad stepped inside and subtly tapped his watch. Since the check-out queue stretched for what looked like a half-hour wait, we left with nothing. Time to move to the other shopping area, the one no one spoke about but everyone depended on. There we would meet one of Mom's underground connections, made through somebody who knew somebody who had a supply of things the stores didn't sell. At Christmas, people tried to buy almost anything not made in Romania, like women's clothing and blue jeans. Any American brand cost the equivalent of between $100 and $300 for a new pair of jeans. French and German cosmetics sold well also, along with electronics from Western Europe or Japan, and chocolates from Switzerland, Germany, France, or Belgium. Currency, gold, and other jewelry were traded only on the black market, so authorities couldn't track them. Everyone was supposed to declare the jewelry among his or her possessions. The diamonds on the beautiful cross I wore exceeded the limit allowed as a personal possession. Dad was right. I was an idiot to wear it.
We trekked on toward the imposing Piata Mare, where the famous 'eyes' of the buildings looked down on all who entered. Originally a grain market in the early 1400s, later the site of beheadings, hangings, and cages for 'crazy people,' the square gave rise to a unique architecture. Its buildings featured attic windows that peeped out of the smooth rise in the roofinstead of a gableforming an uncanny 'eyelid' that hung over dark, recessed panes. It looked as if black, unblinking human eyes, sometimes five of them to a single stretch of tiled roof, were always watching you. With Ceausescu in power, it was especially disturbing and eerie. You had no idea what or who was hiding behind those windows.
Closer to the piata, Mom kept looking around, subtly shifting, so she could scan for our black market man without drawing attention. She most wanted to buy items that served as a second currency in Romania: Kent, Marlboro, and Camel cigarettes, Johnny Walker and Teacher's Scotch whiskey, or Ballantine's Scotchthe 'currency' that would purchase what you really wanted. To get medical care, you had to bribe nurses, doctors, dentists, even hospital security guards. To get a raise or secure a job, you bribed your boss. Bribing the City Hall administration was the only way to acquire a permit or approval, or to avoid fines. You bribed the militia (police) to get out of troublereal, pending, or imaginary. You bribed your auto shop to get your car fixed, if you were lucky enough to have a car. You bribed the manager at your grocery store to share the good news when they were 'getting something,' like fresh meat, sugar, oil, or any other 'delicatessens.' Even if you shopped in approved department stores, you had to bribe managers to buy the occasional imported appliance, clothing, or other goods. Romanians were forbidden to possess foreign currency, particularly US dollars and German deutsche marks. People went to jail for transactions of merely forty US dollars.
We were looking for a 'Gigi Kent,' part of the underground world. His real name might be George, but he'd go by his nickname, Gigi. His specialty was his surname, as in Kent cigarettes. One Gigi Kent was a doorman at the Continental Hotel and wore a uniform. He sold chocolate, soap, peanuts, and cigarettes. He was a god to anyone in a hurry for American cigarettes.
There was another possible side to this sort of god, however. Like policemen, postmen, security officersanyone likely to encounter many people in the course of a day's workblack market operators were potentially valuable to the machinery of state operations. So while Gigis could be true underground traders, they could also be strands of the authority's web. Anyone who tried to buy, say, $500 worth of cigarettes from Gigi Kent risked getting into instant, big trouble. He or she could be arrested and held by the police or securitate and intimidated during the night. By the next morning that 'customer' would very likely agree to become an informant. If the police determined that the new informant was well connected or had a sizable social network, he would be 'invited' back to the securitate, and there, in some petty bureaucrat's office, would 'negotiate' his future 'support' for the principles of Communism. His future and that of his family would depend on whether or not 'they' decided that he might prove valuable to them in the future.
Despite all this, we kept moving toward the square to connect with our new Gigi Kent. I was eager to see if this particular contact carried chocolatewhich I craved like an addictbut I was also nervous. We carried no bundles or shopping bags of groceries as camouflage. I feared the consequences of the wrong attitude, the wrong comment being overheard, the wrong black market vendor turning our names over to the securitate. If we were caught, they'd discover my cross. I must have looked frightened because Mom gave my hand a little squeeze.
Just inside the Piata Mare, we turned toward Perla, a bakery. No one who could be a Gigi Kent stood there smoking, though we were exactly on time.
'He's not coming,' I said, pouting a bit. 'Ohh, I could almost taste the chocolate.'
'Let's go to the Piata Mica,' Mom said. 'You can get your fabric for Buni.'
We started walking again. I kept thinking about the Gigi Kent's failure to appear. Selling things was his job, even if illicit. Why didn't he come? Did he know something we did not? Or was I just tense in general? I wanted an ordinary shopping day. Soon enough I'd be applying to college and taking exams; the coming year would be very hard. An Armageddon year, I told myself.
I pulled my sweater tighter around myself.
As we neared the smaller square, two men dressed in black rushed past us, speaking a foreign language. The securitate usually wore black, as if on endless funeral duty, but we rarely heard foreign languages in the street.
'Aura!' Mom said. 'What were they saying?'
I had taken foreign languages since the age of four and was familiar with English, French, and German. 'Something in a Slavic language. I really didn't get it.'
'Slavic? Interesting,' Dad said. 'Wonder who they were. . .'
We were approaching the entrance to the Piata Mica, where a thirteenth century council tower separated the large square we had just come from this smaller one. I looked up at one of the slanted roofs and its 'eye.' Snow covered the lid, and icicles hung from it like hoary, defeated eyelashes. It seemed to me that 'Old Frosty Man,' an imagined gift-giving figure enthroned in the Communist coup against Saint Nicholas, must have had such an eye.
Snow began to fall, melting into my hair at the back of my neck and dampening my face. A cold white shawl settled on the shoulders of my sweater. The snowflakes danced in lazy flurries, reminding me not of a Christmas carol but of the delicately insinuating opening adagio of Ravel's Bolero. A fragile moment of beauty and simple perfection . . .
A series of loud pops erupted, then intensified into volleys of gunfire. Echoes rebounded, the bullets seeming to come from everywhere at once. People screamed and scattered, the peace of the previous moment turning to helter-skelter, pandemonium. Bullets zinged past my ears. Children clung to their parents, who hustled them away or crouched to shelter them.
I stared into the square, where dark figures lay in white snow stained scarlet. A woman stood stiff with shock, looking at the sky. It seemed to me that the shooting came from the rooftop eyes. . . .
My father's arm crashed against my back and drove me onto the ice and cobblestones in the street.
Steady rifle volleys and random gunfire sent bullets whistling above me. Ricochets shrilled off the light posts and the bare tree trunks. I tried to flatten myself against the snow and ice, the rough cobbles of the street gouging into my face. I breathed in snow, freezing my nose and lips. For a moment, time froze the hourglass, each grain as slow-moving as a glacier.
I didn't dare raise my head, even to see if the snipers were advancing. All along Piata Mica, adults and children screamed, shrieked, shouted out prayers, swore, wailed.
'God save us!'
'Where are these bastards?'
'EVA! Eva? EVA? Oh, my God!'
Boots pounded the snow. My heart thundered so fiercely, I thought it would bang its way out of my chest. I was numb, panting, hysterical. My breath escaped in white puffs, revealing my position. The snowfall intensified, powdering me as if I were slowly fading away into the whiteness.
Something cold clamped my gloved right hand. I raised my head just enough to look in that direction. My mother's hand had found mine, though her face was still buried in snow.
Gunshots still crackled in the air. Sirens blared in the distance, and frenzied people rushed away from the Piata Mare. I heard the shuffling footsteps of the elderly, the quick moosh-moosh-moosh-moosh of young people running in a tumultuous, screaming panic. I wanted to join them, but an iron vise gripped my left arm, dragging me through the snow, my elbows digging a path. My father said, 'Crawl, Aura!' He spoke my name through clenched teeth. 'Rica, hurry!'
Mom and I obeyed instantly. Shards of ice and grit covered by the snow ground into my knees and elbows as we scuttled along. Creeping along the sidewalk, pressing against the walls of houses, I fixated on every attic window. The 'eyes' of Sibiu harbored murderers.
Who were these snipers? Where did they come from? What did they want from us? Why were they hiding themselves in the attics? Why were they firing at us?
That was when I realized that if I'd worn my red jacket, I would have been an ideal target and drawn fire to my family.
Still crawling, we reached the part of the street that ran underneath the old Liars' Bridgethe first cast-iron bridge in Romaniawhich connected the upper town to the lower. A popular legend claimed that if a person told a lie while standing on it, the quaint old structure would collapse with the liar's weight. It clearly wasn't true. Communist officials crossed it all the time, and the bridge continued to support them.
On the other side of the bridge, the street seemed wider than ever. There were no people there, not even a stray dog. We crawled like frantic reptiles to the bottom of Karl Marx Street.
'Okay, run for it!' Dad said.
As I stood, I half-turned my face in the direction of the still relentless gunfire. An explosion shook the earth, and then another.
Some survival instinct took over in me, and I ran with a hell fury inside, trampling anything in my path, flying over the ice patches, leaping in great strides over banked snow.
I must escape . . . find safety . . . must not slow down . . . God, I don't want to die, I don't want to die, I don't want to die!
I gasped frigid air into my lungs and felt like I was a fugitive not only from that moment, but from my whole life. I was aware of myself as a Romanian with so little to run to. I had a sense of losing my identity and vanishing into a white abyss. Yet I wanted to live. I raged against 'them' for stealing my country and wanting to take my life and my family's lives. I ran. With every stride, I felt a conviction that beat within my pounding heart, knowing my anger was greater than my fear. I gritted my teeth with the rebellion that teemed in my soul that morning as I ran.
Rusciorului Street! We flew around the corner onto the street that I walked every day to go to high school. It never felt so long, never so ominously empty. At this time of day, I would normally be about to salute the tri-color flag that stood alongside Nicolai Ceausescu's portrait, which hung in every classroom, before singing the Romanian anthem, 'Trei Culori Cunosc Pe Lume' ('The Three Colors I Know in This World'). But now . . . would there be any more school? Would I live to graduate?
A few drunks stood around Suru's tavern, bleary-eyed, too drunk to comprehend the popping noises and the blasts. One watched us with a puzzled expression, mouth open.
My mother wheezed, barely able to catch her breath. Further down the block, I glimpsed an old man inside one of the houses, one of many people whose silhouettes I saw on my way to school. In that split-second as I ran by, I read pain on the man's face. I had seen this expression before. It was as if his eyes were begging for forgiveness for a world he hadn't created but hadn't been able to prevent.
The old man had probably fought in the great world wars, and maybe those other wars had begun for him in just this way, with sniper fire, explosions, and neighbors running in terror. Our history bore many boot prints, hordes fighting for a homeland in Romania. Early Romans conquered and mixed with Dacians, whose descendants battled and assimilated Slavs, Greeks, Hungarians, and Saxon Germans. Our ancestors were warriors.
Was that what was happening? The start of World War III?
As soon as I glimpsed our bare chestnut trees, I rasped, 'Our house!'
We rushed past the trees and scrambled inside, slamming and bolting the door behind us. My mother and I flopped onto kitchen chairs, trying to catch our breaths. I could still hear the distant gunfire.
'What is happening?' Buni asked. 'I've been at the window since I first heard explosions! Is it tanks?'
'I don't know,' my father answered and hurriedly related the story of Christmas shoppers being gunned down, our long crawl through a war zone, our dash home.
My stoic, levelheaded grandmother had survived both world wars. Eighty-four years old with white curly hair, she was as tall as an Amazon and acted like a woman half her age.
'Quick!' she commanded. 'We'll barricade ourselves inside.'
All I wanted was to sit down and warm myself, but like a trained battalion, we dispersed in all directions, each with a mission. Dad closed the front shutters outside and locked all the doors. Then he and Buni climbed the attic stairs, past the sausages we'd hung to dry in the cold air at the top of the stairs, and brought down wooden planks. Dad, Mom, and I angled irregular boards to fit into the wooden window frames that sat recessed in our eighteen-inch thick brick walls. Driving in long nails, we secured the two dining room windows and my two bedroom windows, which all faced the street, and other windows at the sides and back. Buni prepared sandwiches and hot tea. Mom rounded up warm clothing, and I made myself helpful with whatever anyone needed me to do. We turned on one single light bulb in the kitchen and gathered around it, suddenly quiet, not really knowing what to say or how to face this new reality. I was too upset to eat my sandwich. I just sat there holding my lovely cup of hot tea, sent by our German relatives, smelling its fragrance, the steam warming my face.
More gunfire. It was still at a distance, from a different part of town.
Who were these aggressors and upon whom were they firing?
We began calling all our friends and relatives. Snipers were firing throughout the city. Heavy gunfire was also raining down from the Continental Hotel and the municipal hospital. A few people reported having seen hulking strangers around the city last night, believed to be foreign soldiers. I told Buni about the men dressed in black speaking a foreign language.
'Damned bloody Cossacks!' Buni made a spitting sound. 'Wonder how many girls have been raped. . . .'
'You know what Diana said a few days ago?' I said.
'Your friend from school?' Mom asked.
'Yes. Her father's in the Romanian army. He said that four MiG-29s arrived in Romania.' I knew from the times Dad took me to work with him in the control tower at Romanian Airlines that the Soviet Union had built these planes to counter the American F-15 and F-16 fighter jets.
We stared at each other a moment, and then Dad turned on the television, which Uncle Neluon a visit from Germanyhad bought from the duty-free boutique, called 'The Shop,' using a year's worth of Buni's savings. We could not go inside The Shop, for everything was sold in foreign currency. We watched the television only rarely, fearing it might brake easily, but that day we tuned in without hesitation. Instead of seeing a controlled close-up of our 'beloved' president on the screenas we expected, live camera-feed panned Romanian masses protesting in the main square of Bucharest and booing Ceausescu as he stepped onto a balcony and tried to deliver another of his wooden speeches, one already heard many times. He seemed totally baffled and shocked by everything going on around him.
We watched as the securitatethe presidential watchdogssingled out people in the crowd. They tried to arrest them in the manner they were used to, but the masses wove left and right, distracting their attention. Ceausescu withdrew and later gave a televised speech from the studio inside the central committee building declaring 'martial law' due to events at Timisoara, claiming there was an ongoing 'interference of foreign forces in Romania's internal affairs' by 'Hungarian fascists' and an 'external aggression on Romania's sovereignty.' Whatever that meant.
TVR, our only Romanian TV station, rehashed Ceausescu's words and further suggested Arabs as possible aggressors. Dad turned it off.
'Events at Timisoara?' I asked him, astounded. 'What was he talking about?'
'I heard a little about this,' Dad explained. 'There was a revolt in Timisoara five days ago. I heard it on Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, but the details were sketchy.'
My mother sighed, clearing away the plates and napkins. My uneaten sandwich would be saved for another time. 'Uprisings come and go. Conspirators are punished. Life goes on.'
'And how many people will be taken away after this and disappear forever?' Dad asked.
Anger came through in his words. My parents' political thinking frequently diverged. My mom was a diligent worker and preferred to be compliant rather than risk the official harassment meted out to those who resisted or defied authority the way my father did. She had agreed to be the official Communist Party Secretary where she worked; she had actually been the person who had welcomed Ceausescu to Sibiu during one of his visits.
Dad banged his teacup down on the saucer. 'Rica, even if you serve this bastard, his words have never blinded you. How can you be so immune to what's happening now?'
She carried the plates to the sink. 'I'm afraid. You're already blacklisted, Fanel. Aura too, probably. I don't want anything to happen to you two and Buni. I don't want to make waves.'
'And so you close your eyes?'
'No, I do not. I just do whatever is in my power to keep this family safe.'
'Safety means getting rid of the regime.' Dad's voice was insistent. 'There is no other way!'
Fresh gunfire volleyed, sounding perhaps three blocks away.
Dad cocked his head toward the sound. 'I think Colonel Dragomirescu is behind the snipers here in Sibiu. It's his way of telling us not to get any ideas like they did in Timisoara.'
We all looked at each other, suspecting Dad's theory was correctbut if so, it was a threat that didn't stop me from wanting to support any rebellion against the securitate.
'Since Nicu Ceausescu isn't a bastard like his father,' Dad said of the president's son, 'he makes Dragomirescu nervous.'
Dragomirescu was Elena Ceausescu's right hand, her 'eyes and ears,' charged with constantly monitoring Nicu, who had been appointed by his parents to rule Sibiu, a post similar to being a governor. Nicu, however, had dismissed all the special agents who were supposed to supervise and report his daily routines to his mother. The son was known for his non-allegiance to his family and their politics, so this might have made Dragomirescu think that any citizens of Sibiu who liked Nicu must be discouraged from getting any crazy ideas. But I did anyway.
'Dragomirescu has brought the damned bloody Cossacks down on us!' Buni made her spitting sound again. Then she went a little pale. 'We must hide the china and jewelry!'
Mom agreed. 'Fanel, give me the key. Aura, come help us.'
From its hiding place in a drawer, Dad retrieved the long iron key to the cedar chest that held the remaining evidence of what the Imbarus clan had been before 'those bastards took all of our land and wealth,' as Buni often repeated about the Communist takeover.
In the dining room, she threw a ragged old quilt over the polished splendor of the two hundred-year-old dining table made from the gnarled wood of nut tree roots, and spread on it the family's heirlooms. The array was worthy of a Sotheby's estate sale, but it was more than just jewelry: it represented the success, prestige, and position the Imbarus family had held before the Communist takeover. This treasure had inspired my childhood fantasies. Looking backward in time, I had pictured my blonde, blue-eyed great-aunt Maria wearing the three strings of pearls with her beautiful silk dresses as she rode off in a carriage. I had imagined the amber necklace with beads ranging from light cream to dark brown hanging around the neck of the tall, proud Ana Imbarus. And there were gold pinky rings with stones of onyx and emeralds, no doubt worn by my great-great uncles, Iosif, Valentin, and others. Gazing forward in time, I had imagined myself wearing the ring with the flower petals of rubies and the leaves of emeralds . . . one day, after a higher justice restored my family's properties.
'Hurry!' Buni said. 'We're going to bury these in the cellar.'
'Not in the dirt?' I cried.
'Yes, underneath the potatoes.'
Dad went down to dig proper holes.
Buni handed me soft torn cloth, and Mom brought in a stack of old newspapers. I set about wrapping necklaces, bracelets, brooches, clasps, coronets, girdles, earrings, and strands of gold beads, then knotting the bundle into a little bag and wrapping it in the paper. As a child, I had learned the names of gemstones by asking questions about this jewelry. Amber, jasper, lapis lazuli, and my favorites, amethysts; the clear, bright beryls and their impurities that created color: emeralds, aquamarine, yellows called heliodor that came from Russia, and pink beryls as well.
I dawdled over a ruby and sapphire necklace with matching gold hoop earrings.
'Quickly!' Mom said.
The air had turned so cold I could see my breath, but we didn't dare stop to light a fire. I wrapped the velvet-lined cases containing a tiny sack of loose diamonds, a necklace with square-cut stones of aquamarine, a chunky ring with three champagne diamonds, a turquoise cross with matching drop earrings, and a necklace with dark hematite beads, shiny as silver teamed with tiger's-eye stones. Mom wrapped the box of old gold coins, while Buni took extra care with an antique Russian enamel cloisonni egg.
I picked up a Greek cross with an aquamarine in the center and four matching diamonds on each of its lengths, but Buni snatched it from me. 'This piece belonged to Aurelia Imbarus, your great-great grandmother.'
'Yes. She and her husband built the Stefan cel Mare church.' She lifted the cross and kissed it. 'With its unseen power, it has always kept us safe.' Tears sparkled in her eyes like the little diamonds I'd just wrapped. 'Put your own cross with it, Aura,' she said gently.
I brought my cross out from under my sweater, and the whole endeavor became personal. For the first time, I had the feeling that I was about to bury a loved one.
Dad came in to collect the loose jewels and coins. These would be buried the deepest.
As he headed to the cellar, three loud explosions sounded to the west. Buni, Mom, and I sat and looked at each other, listening. Intense bursts of gunfire followed, then nothing.
We went to work frantically wrapping three sets of porcelain china, silverware and a few platters, vases and ashtrays plated with silver or hammered gold. But I balked at wrapping my silver saucer. 'Can I at least keep this out for my marmalade and five o'clock cookies?'
'No, Aura, you cannot!' The gun blasts had obviously made Mom's patience run low. 'We must hide everything. Everything. We cannot leave a trace of what Imbarus used to mean. Nothing that will remind them of who your father's people were.'
'But, Mom, it's just one saucer. . .'
'One saucer can stir the mind of a looter. 'If this is what is displayed, then what is hidden?' That's what these dogs will think.'
'By God,' Buni said, 'they will not take these from me. They took everything else, including my brothers and sisters, the servants we used to have, the carriages, even your dad's nanny. And all our property. . . . So. They will not have these last remains. Ever! As long as I live!'
Gunfire peppered away somewhere to our south. We finished wrapping, and I helped Dad take all the packages into the cold dankness of the cellar, where the war noise sounded no louder than woodpeckers tapping trees. Shaking a little with the cold, I handed Dad the wrapped items as he buried them on top of the jewelry. He carefully returned the soil, and piled potatoes on top. We nestled other items behind the array of preserved pickles in great jars, and behind canned vegetables, and among all that visibly remained of the wondrous colors of our jewels, the ruby and amber marmalades Buni made from summer fruit.
Back in the kitchen, I took the cup of hot tea with both hands that Buni had waiting for me. Still, I couldn't make the shaking stop.
'Let's eat something,' Mom said. 'Who knows if we'll be able to eat all that pork from the Saint Ignatius pig? Who knows what will happen tomorrow?'
She was referring to the raw pork that filled our refrigerator, its blood pooling on the shelves and trickling out at the bottom of the door. This particular bonanza had arrived the previous day, the result of the old Saint Ignatius Day custom of sacrificing a pig. We'd bought a share of my uncle's hog, though my mother's brother didn't go in for the barbarous tradition of slaughtering the pig in his back yard, as others still did.
Grafted onto a Christian saint day, the custom had originated in pagan times and included drinking a round of tuicaplum brandyto the soul of the pig, an entity that would then gratefully bless the celebrants not only with the nourishment from its body, but also by putting in a good word in heaven for its slaughterers. I guess it seemed logical back then. In good years, we also loved the rich traditional turta cake made with butter, walnuts, and honey and rolled into thin layers to represent the swaddling clothes of the Christ Child. I think I was twelve the last time I ate a slice of turta.
'We don't dare use three hours of gas to roast that meat,' Dad said. 'Find something else.'
With the pork and the contents of the freezer, which we had stockpiled throughout the year, we could last the winter if necessaryprovided we could figure out a reasonable way to cook the food. This had often been a problem even without gunfire and explosions outside. Sometimes we couldn't pay our electric bills and lost our power, and all the carefully saved meat would spoil.
A simple supper of potatoes, toast, and polenta with farmer cheese and sour cream would make a meal that used less energy. I drank reconstituted powdered milk, acquired thanks to Mom's 'borrowing' abilities. She had smuggled the milk powder from the Victory lab where she worked, putting it in a little bag she carried under her hat. She also sometimes smuggled powdered eggs, but each time she 'borrowed' something, she had to pass an inspection from a security guard and a doorman. You'd think being a Party secretary would bring perks the way higher positions did, but she was as frightened of being caught and turned over to the Communists as any of her fellow workers. She took great risks during the leanest times when there was little food to live on, but also sometimes when she just wanted to see the smile on my face when Buni turned ordinary ingredients into special desserts.
As we tried to cook and eat our meal, Dad monitored the gas and electricity meter.
'Do you think they'll be totally shut off during the attacks?' I asked.
'There's no way to know,' Dad said.
We had gas stoves in every room in the house, but they were all shut off except for the one in the kitchen. Even here, we often used butane canisters, charcoal, or the logs stolen from neighboring forests, or from Paltinis, a ski resort where the only people given access were the 'elite' tovarasihigh-ranking comrades of the Communist Party. Stealing logs from the resort was terribly risky, for if you were caught, you would end up in jail.
The phone kept ringing with reports from friends and neighbors, describing new damage from the violence in the streets. Everyone speculated about what was going on. The gunfire would be intense one minute, and then everything would be eerily quiet, then sporadic pops and blasts could be heard.
The kitchen stove went cold, and Dad shut off the gas. Then our one light bulb died. As it turned out, all gas and electricity supplies had been shut down for the rest of the day and night. We couldn't even look outside to see if it was still snowing because of the boards on the windows, and I imagined great drifts piling up. The cold set in quickly. Dad used a butelli container to provide another hour of minimal warmth, and by candlelight, we turned on our radio, praying we had enough batteries to see us through however long the violence would last.
The BBC reported widespread fighting and explosions throughout the whole country.
'This is no ordinary uprising,' Dad said. 'People all over are fighting. This could be civil war.'
He sounded both tense and excited. Buni, Mom, and I stared at him, wanting him to soften the words, saying he didn't think it would last long, or that this time maybe there would be positive reforms afterward. But we knew about the Soviet tanks that had rolled through the streets of Prague before, and the harshness of the suppression of any dissent in any of the Communist satellite countries. As grim as our lives were, we might be facing even more austerity if we survived the immediate conflict.
I dressed as if I were going outside for a walk, pulling a wool cap, long stockings and gloves on over my pajamas to keep from freezing while I slept. Mom crawled in bed with me for reassurance and warmth, an effort to keep our mutual asthma in check. I thought of the eye-shaped windows up in our attic. Attic windows were where most of the sniper fire had come from. We hadn't boarded ours up, and someone with a pick and rope could climb in that way. . . .
We lay there silently, neither of us breathing the slow deep breaths of sleep. Even during normal times, street lighting was minimal, and break-ins happened often. They would almost certainly increase during the fighting. What if the securitate decided this was the time to teach blacklisted people like my father a lesson and break in to drag him away? Or what about foreign thugs with looting on their minds? Or rape?
Every time I shivered, Mom snuggled a bit closer, and I tried not to think about my fears. At least there was no wind howling. I imagined snowflakes floating rather than falling in flurries out in the blackness of the night.
After what seemed like hours of lying there awake, the sky must have cleared because I could see the silhouettes of our great chestnut trees through the six-inch gap in the boarded windows that aligned with the crack between the shutters outside. I could tell by the glow that the new snow was reflecting moonlight, illuminating the grace of the bare branches, as if the horror of human power struggles did not exist, and nature's stark beauty was all that mattered.
'God help us!' people had screamed in the streets.
God help us. Please! I prayed. Help my mom, my dad, and my buni!'
My head became heavy and a familiar heat lulled me. In that half-awake state, before sleep claimed me fully, one of my recurring visions began playing in my mind. A crowd of people screamed and cursed, and then a ray of light covered their anger, dissolving it. An ambulance passed by like a shadow. I stepped back so it wouldn't run me over, but when I looked around again, it was gone. I was alone . . . and afraid. Then the ambulance passed me again . . . and stopped in the middle of the street. The back door opened and three bodies, beaten and trampled to death, were kicked out into the snow. Bruised, contorted, bloody, their faces were frozen in fearful grimaces. Though dead, one opened an eye and stared at me. 'We did not do it . . .' he said in a slow voice. 'We didn't kill anybody.' Then, in a spasm, his head dropped to one side. I had this vision often. Somehow, it was important that I understand it. . . .
The vision woke me, heart pounding, lungs straining to get enough air. I opened my eyes and saw Mom sleeping beside me. Mom always liked to help me interpret dreams. She had decoded my dreams of fire, water, and of flying in a way that rang true. I wanted to ask her what this vision or dream meant, but since she seemed to be sleeping lightly, I decided not to wake her.
But I couldn't get the vision out of my head. Dead bodies in the snow . . . but not the bodies I had already seen in previous visions. This had been very different. Was it related to the fighting somehow? My eyes welled up as I stared at the fragile purity of the snow reflected in the light outside.
The Alienated Ones
I had to report to the barricade for my shift in less than an hour, so I wolfed down some of Mom's cuchelemilk curd balls, boiled and rolled in bread crumbs, topped with precious drops of melted butter and powdered sugar stolen from her work. I felt secure and comfortable at our old kitchen table, its white and red paint leached away over the years, exposing barren, scratched wood. The peeling white kitchen walls bore the layers and smells of Buni's and Mom's endless cooking.
Dad and Buni sat in the living room, obsessed with news reports.
'Aura!' Buni yelled. 'You haven't seen this. Someone got Nicu!'
I'd heard about it while on barricade duty, but hadn't seen the footage. I rushed into the living room to see Nicu Ceausescu on camera after his capture, saying that some rebel had stabbed him in the abdomen. He was taken to a local hospital, where a spokesman said his condition was stable.
'Wounds to the gut are the worst,' Buni said. 'Victims last for days of horrible suffering before dying.'
'It looks like a mob mentality is taking over,' Dad said.
'This is so unfair!' I said. 'He was different from his parents.'
'The people's rage has been awakened,' Buni said. 'A legfagyosabb teli ejaszakak elesztik a legehesebb farkasokat.'
I knew she was speaking Hungarian and asked for a translation.
'It means, 'Out of the bleakest winter night come the hungriest wolves."
Dad nodded. 'People haven't seen any logic or justice in years. I hope we still remember what they are.'
'How could someone from Sibiu have done this to Nicu?' Mom asked.
And what about Michael? As Nicu's neighbor, was he safe? I kept this fear to myself, but I was even more determined to find out about him.
I recalled the day, the previous summer, when I saw Nadia Comaneci playing soccer in Nicu Ceausescu's front yard. My house was in the lower part of the town, much of which my ancestors had once owned and where they had once had many houses. The upper part of town quartered Ceausescu's securitate and highly ranked officers. Michael and Nicu lived close to Thalia Hall, only a few blocks from my high school.
After school sometimes, my girlfriends and I went to Pacea, the central cinema, or roamed around to catch a glimpse of the best looking guys in town, especially Nicu and Michael. I didn't catch sight of Michael that day, but there was Nadia in shorts, playing soccer with friends. She was in her late twenties by that time, and it was no secret that she and Nicu were involved. Nadia had soared into superstardom at the age of fourteen when she became the first gymnast to score perfect tens at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, and every young girl in Romania idealized her, none more than I. There were rumors that Nicu abused her, and that her fingernails were often black and blue from his smashing her fingers, a reminder that if she left when off competing, he would track her down and pull her nails out one by onethings denied by Nadia herself. I never ever believed those rumors, because from what I saw, he was too nice to complete strangers to do any harm to someone he cared for.
Nadia had been given an eight-room villa in Bucharest and brought in her mother, brother, and several servants. She wore expensive jewelry and drove a Dacia, a Romanian-made Renault, with its license plate of only three digitsallowing the select few who were 'more equal' to park anywhere, drive at any speed, and drink all they wanted before getting behind the wheel. I'd seen the Dacia twice before in front of Nicu's house.
Nicu drove his own dark blue Renault around town, wearing dark glasses and black suits that gave him a very diplomatic air. With dark, wavy hair, blackberry eyes, a clean-cut pale round face, Nicu caused double takes wherever he went. Thirty-six years old when he was sent to Sibiu, he gave people something to talk about with his various relationships. Political women, singers, and gymnasts all passed through his bedthen there were the women working at the hotels he stayed in or the restaurants where he dined, the hairdresser who used to cut his hair. He ignored the marriage his mother insisted on, and women were happy to be chosen, usually benefitting in some way beyond the coupling.
Still, despite his playboy lifestyle, Nicu used his position as the prime secretary of Sibiu County, equivalent to a governor, to help people. On the day my friends and I saw Nadia playing soccer, we also saw two desperate-looking people hiding alongside Michael's two-story house so that militia officers patrolling the streets couldn't see them. Each of the three or four times I ventured near the house I would see someone, usually leathery and wrinkled, clothed in rags, with a white envelope trembling in his or her hands. These people took a terrible chance in order to hand Nicu, the son of the cruelest dictator in the Eastern Bloc, a crumpled letter. I had seen Nicu's driver stop, pick a letter up, and hand it to Nicu before leaving the grounds.
Nicu had helped families keep their homes, intervened when someone was arrested for political reasons, helped arrange a complex surgery that required a trip to a Western country. Soon after Nicu's arrival in Sibiu, major changes in the economy and in people's lives took place: monthly rations of meat, butter, eggs, milk, flour, and sugar were increased; electricity and natural gas consumption increased. People realized Nicu was different from his father.
And now he was severely wounded, possibly dying.
'Well,' Mom said, 'I think most people from Sibiu are praying for him.'
'But if the new revolution begins with such an injustice, this can't be a good sign,' I said. Then I went outside for barricade duty across the street.
The neuropsychiatric facility, Hospital Number Three, had long provided a place for neighborhood teenagers to hang out. As children, we'd played in its vegetable garden and unpaved areas, found roof leaks and windows with broken out panes, peeked into the morgue, explored the many abandoned wings and closed attics where fat rats ran from one corner to another. This hospital was ours, and we were its children. We fed our sick 'friends' with candies and waffles that Mom brought home from the Victory sweets factory. I knew patients named Ioan, Sanny, and Ungar. They were mentally unstable but not insane. Their families had abandoned them here so the State would take care of them. We remembered the stories they shared of how they ended up in the cuckoo's nest. We befriended them, teased others, or ran for our lives to escape the patients we bugged too much with our pranks.
Ward Number Nine harbored the most severe psychiatric cases. Their rooms had thick iron bars at the windows and doors, and food was served through a tiny crack in the door. From this place, I had many times heard screams of despair; I had seen people smashing their heads against metal bars; I had seen people laughing or roaring in fury.
The hospital had opened in 1863 as Ospiciu de Alienati, Hospice for the Alienated Ones. New sections for psychiatry were added in the 1950s: neurology, infantile neurology, and recuperation, while a new building housed mentally challenged kids. As teenagers we used to hang out around the bench meant for visitors in front of the hospital, staying until our parents called us inside at night. This was a natural spot to have built the checkpoint barricade. It struck me as apropos for another reason as well: with plenty of 'alienated ones' stabbing and sniping at innocent people, life couldn't be much crazier outside the hospital than inside.
'The people in the house across from mine had somebody in their attic that left boot prints all around their yard,' Daniela said.
I shuddered and described the enormous prints that had circled around my house.
Vicentiu said that their tool shed had been slept in by a man in black who also left boot prints the size of concrete blocks.
Adela, a nineteen-year-old girl, was smoking. 'You know that woman with the dyed red hair who hangs out at Suru? I heard one of those mercenary creeps broke into her flat and raped her before heading out on the fire escape.'
Looking toward the South, I saw that the wind coming off the mountains had pushed the city's many rising plumes of smoke eastward. Laden with ash, the cold air nipped my cheeks. The staccato clatter of gunshots still reported fighting in the distance. My companions and I checked the IDs of anyone we didn't know who passed through the narrow opening in the barricade. What would we do if an actual mercenary tried to drive through? In our state of mind, perhaps jump on him and beat him to death?
Other friends stopped by to hang out and share their stories, and we took turns doing patrols in pairs. Then the gunfire and explosions in the center of town intensified, and those who didn't have to be there left. The rest of us stood nervously at our posts. Dad came out and hovered for a while, but when the noise died down, he went back inside to check the news for reports. An hour later he popped back out with the news that the BBC had announced that USLA troops loyal to Ceausescu had confronted unarmed protesters in Sibiu. Victims were clubbed to death, shot at, stabbed. The Romanian Army was fighting back, supported by street fighters.
Night fell early again, and our watch dragged on. I hopped from one foot to the other and slapped my arms, hoping the next shift wouldn't be late. At 6:00 pm, a man in his forties named Luca arrived with others to relieve us. He knew my father. We exchanged news, and I was about to leave when Luca stopped me.
'Tell your father that I'm worried about his friend, Gabriel. He was protesting at Casa Sindicatelor with a fellow named Michael Chiorean.'
Michael? My heart started pounding. 'Luca, tell me what happened.' Casa Sindicatelor was the Trade Union Cultural Hall. The day before, some four hundred students had organized a protest there, with thousands of other people gathering by noon. 'Gabriel and Michael . . . were they with the students?'
'Yes, with the leaders. I was there, too. The hall has a balcony right above the main entrance, and Gabriel and Michael and the others used it to address the masses with the hall's amplifiers. A hundred or so representatives of different factories from Sibiu followed them inside and took turns shouting out lists of demands and making speeches. Gabriel and Michael were ready to deliver a hopeful speech about Eastern Germany's anti-Communist riots in Leipzig and Berlin and the downfall of Communism.'
'But the shooting started,' I said. I'd seen the news clips.
'Right. Snipers fired at the speakers on the balcony, and they all rushed to get away. Panic broke out. Gabriel and Michael ran out of the building, and I followed them. It was total chaos. Other snipers were shooting at the securitate's headquarters. A demonstrator very close by me was shot in the leg. We ran towards the militia's building, but there was shooting coming from it, too, as well as from the army building across the way. Machine gun fire and automatic weapons, all shooting at each other! Gabe and Michael were caught in the crossfire. I got away, but in the stampede I lost sight of them. Neither has returned home yet.'
I started shivering. I wanted to pray, but what could I ask for if the damage was already done?
Part II: After the Bleakest Night
'Out of the bleakest winter nights, come the hungriest wolves.'
Imbarus family proverb
And Now I Leave You
The gallop of time gave me headaches. Weeks collapsed into hours; hours went up in smoke. We had to keep working up to the last minute. Even with both of us working for a total of seven employers a month, we still only brought in about $1,100. We rarely had cash left over. So we had to jam all our preparations into our already crowded schedules.
The house in Sibiu that my parents were living in actually belonged to me, a gift from Aunt Bettie for my helping her through her final years as she died of cancer. I had it appraised at 75,000 dollars, though I had no intention of selling it. This satisfied the government, but we would still need money to live on. We had to sell the Ford, which paid for airfare: two thousand for both of us, one way. We'd only be allowed to take two pieces of luggage per person, so I planned to sell some of my unique clothing collection and other possessions. These were my own personal creations, and my friends knew they couldn't get anything quite like them anywhere else, especially Sibiu. My uniqueness, though often gossiped about, gave me status in Sibiubut in Los Angeles, I didn't want to draw stares until I was sure of my footing. In addition to doing low-wage work, I would be keeping an uncharacteristically low profile.
On the first day of the sale, my smart khaki suit sold first. Forty dollars. My aubergine dress with the huge collar brought in fifty in a tiny bidding war. There went my classy coral dress with a hood for thirty dollars. I sold my arty silk pant outfit that I'd worn on the day I reconnected with Michael. My yellow pant suit and red nightgown brought high prices. My much-adored outlandish lavender tuxedo made out of a coat and long skirt sold for the price on the tag. Friends started bringing their friends by, and one by one my skirts sold: the leopard one, the zebra, the long, skinny, black skirt, the tiny red one, the stripy one, the checkeredall at good prices.
By the end of the first day, 'Aura's Boutique' had brought in five hundred dollars. On the second day I added scarves, handbags, and nighties. The poncho Michael had designed and sewed for me, and its matching coat, were still there. I had refused to sell them before, but now I pictured trying to pack themthe two items alone would fill a suitcase. And would I ever wear them in California's seventy degree weather? Reluctantly, I brought them out and offered them for sale. My friend Gratziela asked how much.
'For you, it is free. I'm so glad you'll be the one wearing it.'
She was delighted. 'I hope that when you come back for visits, you'll want to borrow it back.' I hugged her tearfully.
The sale eventually yielded two thousand dollarswonderful, but not nearly enough to live on for six months in LA. I simply had to come up with more money.
I had already resigned my teaching post, but Dr. Sever Trifu, my employer, had some advice for me. As a well-rounded intellectual who traveled and taught abroad at multiple universities in the US, Germany, Austria, and France, he'd earned my deepest respect, so his suggestions were more than welcome. Over a cup of coffee in his office, he told me how I could continue to work toward my Ph.D. through Lucian Blaga University, but at the same time transfer my BA and MA for credits in California. Dr. Dumitru Ciocoi-Pop had set up exchange programs with more than fifty universities all over the world, including the University of California system. Besides transcripts and diplomas, I should compile a book containing a translated syllabus from each of my classes, and translated major papers and master's thesis. Though horrendously time-consuming, I gathered all these materials and paid two graduate students to help me translate everything in two months' time. Each professor had to sign the documents, then the dean stamped and signed every page, and finally the whole book had to be stamped and signed by the president of the university. I worked like a trooper and got it all done.
Since we wouldn't be buying much in LA when we arrived, I had to fit enough to get by on into two suitcases. I knew I couldn't last six months without my most precious books, so I would fill one suitcase with those and other possessions I couldn't live without. As I selected what to take and what to leave, memories of my childhood somersaulted in my mind. An old prayer book brought back admonitions from a pretentious Greek Orthodox priest as my elementary school friends tried to stifle giggles in church. Lili and I flirted with the choirboys and laughed at the nun's voice shrieking at us for refusing to kneel for prayers. An old arithmetic book brought back a bully from elementary school, still taunting me in some nook of my brain alongside the replay of a devilishly harsh teacher shaming me. I remembered liking the rain for keeping me home from school but hating the hacking coughs and asthmatic wheezes it brought on. I could almost smell the boiled polenta Mom had wrapped up in a rag to slam onto my reddening chest to release the grip of my attacks. I could inhale the tuica Mom boiled to make extra money for doctor bills and to buy clothes for me.
I inspected every room of the house, every cupboard and cranny, every box and chest. I found old woolen stockings Buni had mended to make them last another year, so we wouldn't need to buy new ones. I picked up the faded pink photo album and a thick green one that carried the happy moments we had shared as a family. I gazed at a black-and-white photo of me admiring my beautiful mom when her hair was long and black, a rose in her hand. And there was my Saint Bernard, Benny, and a family snapshot with my grandparents. Oh, here I was at three, Mom and Dad behind me, a chocolate cake in front of me with Aura3 Ani written in whipped cream. Aura3 Years. I wanted to teleport everything to America with me. I didn't want to leave anything behind.
So much emotion is embedded in the process of starting over. All these memories collected to form who I was and who I would become.
Finally, the day arrived when Michael had to tell Pepsi's CEO that he was leaving the country and had to resign. I said goodbye to my radio and newspaper jobs. More difficult was explaining the move to the kids I was tutoring. Saying goodbye was hard for me and them that last rainy Saturday in April.
The rain continued into Monday for my appointment with Dr. Sever Trifu at the university. Time for another goodbye.
'Aura,' he said, 'knowing you as a student and now as a faculty member, I think America will fit you like a glove. You already have the American mentality, the American way of dressing, and with your bubbling personality, you will fit right in.'
I told him how much his help had meant to me and how much I'd enjoyed working with him.
Then I made one final stop. One last important goodbye.
On the first sunny morning after the rain, Mom, Dad, and I took a cab to the cemetery and entered through the old iron gates. Overgrown with ivy, the place attracted songbirds and butterflies.
We wended our way past the tombs and headstones, to Grandpa's and Buni's graves. Dad set about lighting candles. As I filled the heavy vases with water to hold bouquets of hyacinth, lilacs and tulips, a pain sank into my shoulders and back. My hands shook violently. In abandoning my homeland, I was leaving not only the living, but also the dead. Still quaking, I silently promised them this was not a final goodbye; I would be back to visit. I would try, in some small way, to repay my parents and my ancestors for all they had done for me. The calm face of Grandpa and the imposing stature of Buni seemed as clear in my mind as if they stood before me. Even though the lavender wasn't yet in bloom, I smelled it in the air. The scream of an owl startled me and a high wind set the treetops rustling.
I'll be back, I told my grandparents.
We are not here, they replied, but we will always be with you.
Our last full day in Romania arrived. We took the money out of our bank account and closed it. After all the bills were settled, we paid Tantana a few months in advance on the thousand dollars we still owed him after the jazz festival. This left us with only $1,300 to live on in Los Angeles. It wasn't nearly enough. Reality was setting in, and I felt more nervous than I had when studying for my college entrance exams.
Mom filled the house with the garden's bounty of lilacs, peonies, multicolored roses, and tulips from her garden. Their lovely perfumes intermingled with the scents of cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate, and coffee from the feast she'd prepared.
We shared what would be our last meal together for who knew how long, everyone cordial, a bit strained from holding back emotions. My dad coughed and held out an envelope and a tiny golden box. I opened the envelope first and gasped. It was full of hundred dollar bills in US currency.
'Three thousand dollars,' he said. He looked a bit cross. 'Count it.'
'Why? I believe you. Thank you, Dad. Thank you so much.'
'Fanel, this is amazingly generous of you and Rica,' Michael said. Like me, he knew the gift had to represent the bulk of my parents' life's savings. 'I can only offer you my deepest thanks.'
'I want you two to have a roof over your heads in California,' Dad said gruffly, then looked at me. 'Now the box.'
I blinked away my tears and worked the little clasp open. Inside I found a Greek amulet of locks of hair, and I immediately recognized Buni's, Mom's, and Dad's. More tears. Rivulets turning into streams. This was far more important than the money.
That night, I couldn't go to bed even though an arduous trip lay ahead of us. We were packed, ready for the adventure of our lives. But what price had I paid? How much were we sacrificing? Would we ever be able to get jobs as good as the ones we had here? We had a house here and had owned a car, material possessions many impoverished Romanians would fall on their knees in gratitude for.
Not knowing if I would ever see my parents again, not knowing if I'd ever be able to return even a part of the love and opportunity they had showered on me over the years. . . . These thoughts kept my eyes open all night. What if Michael and I were leaving behind all the truly good things life has to offer and leaping into disaster?
I said nothing of this to Michael, who slept soundly. I said nothing, nor did I change my mind about our decision. As tormented as I was, I couldn't let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pass me by.
Shortly before dawn on the morning of May 5, 1997, one of my cousins picked us up in a van. Mom and Dad had insisted on coming on the five-hour drive to the airport at Bucharest. The motor and the hum of tires on the pavement lulled me, and my head drooped against Mom's shoulder. I was only dimly aware of driving up and over the cold Carpathians, still blanketed with snow.
Sunrays on my face woke me as we reached the outskirts of the capital.
Mom pulled a box made of ebony out of her bag and said, 'Aura, I'm giving you some pieces of jewelry that you always liked. Keep them, save them, give them to your children. And if you cannot feed yourself, sell them!'
I accepted the box, and, barely breathing, opened the lid. My ruby ring caught the light slanting into the van, as did a white and gold necklace with diamonds and matching earrings and bracelet. An impressive aquamarine pendant necklace with a matching stone set in a ring created prisms when I held them up to show Michael. There lay a beautiful oval sapphire ring, and there, the emerald pinky ring that always reminded me of the movie Green Ice with Omar Sharif. Oh, I loved the Egyptian collar necklace. A black cord diamond watch nestled aside an amethyst necklace and two crosses, one amber and the other my Byzantine diamond cross that I'd foolishly worn on the day the revolution started.
'Mom, these are our family's heirlooms. I can't take these with me! They belong here. I can't just uproot them. I cannot . . .'
'Aura, I talked to your dad.'
Dad was looking on from the front seat. He nodded. 'These pieces belong with you.'
Mom said. 'Take them!'
The only expensive jewelry I'd risked packing was the pearl necklace Olguta had given me on my wedding daythat and the gold box with the Greek amulet. I was afraid of having things confiscated at the custom's checkpoints or stolen from my luggage. I didn't know what to do. I looked at the jewelry and wanted to return it, but I thought of the poem I wrote after we'd unburied our jewels following the revolution, of how many facets were cut into the jewel of my life. What could be more fitting than to mark a bold new facet than carrying part of my lineage with me?
I kissed Mom. 'I will never sell them, no matter how hungry.'
I took half the pieces out of the box and placed them in my purse. The rest I sprinkled in my luggage after we stepped out of the car at the airport.
The moment came.
Our bags were already on the plane and the boarding call had been made for our flight. Everything had been said, I thought, all promises made. My father's last hug brought the scent of his cologne. Mom's last kisses carried the fragrance of her perfume. Determined or not, I found it almost impossible to let them go.
Then Michael and I walked outside the airport terminal and onto the wind-swept tarmac, the last passengers to board.
Behind me, Mom called, 'Aura, I love you!'
I turned and mouthed, I love you, and blew kisses.
Then Mom screamed, 'Don't leave me!' I turned again as she sobbed to my father, 'Fanel, stop her. . . .' and collapsed against him, the wind whipping her coat and hair.
Michael and I sat buckled into our seats on the Air France jet with our four pieces of luggage stowed in the hold and a huge dream of America ahead, but I still couldn't look toward the future. All I could think of was that last image of Dad holding Mom, hugging her and wiping the tears I knew were streaming down her cheeks. The sight would remain a tableau imprinted on my mind forever. Michael stroked my hair and caressed my arms. I knew he was thinking that it wasn't quite fair of my parents to cling this way, and that he was excited about our adventure. His parents were thrilled about his chance at living in a free and democratic country. He completely understood how close I was to my parents, though, and how terribly hard this moment was for us, and so he kept any critical comments to himself. I appreciated his silent support. Goethe's words came to me: 'None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.' I wanted to think of myself as embracing freedom, but the ties to my family let me know I would carry their bonds with me everywhere.
We were headed toward Paris for an overnight layover, and then on May 6, we would depart for the City of Angels in the New World. After four hours of flying, we hit weather that matched the conflicted storm of my emotions. This wasn't the first time I'd flown in a plane, but it was the first time I felt I would never reach the ground again. Dark, heavy clouds with thunder and lightning surrounded the plane, dwarfing it as if it were a toy. The wings shuddered with great metallic cracking sounds as if the great bird would fly apart. The winds whipped us in drastic lifts and drops. The plane had reached the skies over Paris and was circling the landing area. The flight attendants' faces didn't reassure me with any 'oh-this-happens-all-the-time' looks of efficiency. They looked terrified, though a shaky voice announced over the PA system that we should stay calm, and the plane would try to land despite the horrific conditions. My ears popped as the plane lost altitude. I could hear the engines spitting fire. The landing gear was lowered. We were approaching the runway, but then my stomach lurched and my ears popped again as we quickly lifted upward. The plane started gaining altitude again. The pilot was unable to land. Jagged light danced on the wings on both sides of the plane, and thunder boomed. The air crackled and felt electric. The plane quaked, and everybody went quiet.
It seemed as if the wind had simply carried us away. The stomach-in-throat feeling from the extreme turbulence left me nauseated and wheezing in panic. Michael looked terror-stricken. Was this the end? Dear God, was this my destinyto end in a plane crash on my journey to the New World after all our plans and dreams? I forced myself to focus on positive outcomes and urged Michael to do the same.
The plane circled back toward Paris again, dipping, tilting, swinging like a wind-battered kite. I felt trapped in the metal can, thrown like a tennis ball from one side of the court to another. My stomach dropped, lurched upward, then dropped again. The co-pilot announced that we would attempt another landing. Popping sounds came from the wings. People held hands, and many prayed; others held their heads in their palms. Michael kissed me on my cheeks and hugged me. I crushed his fingers as I squeezed his hand. He held me tight against his chest, just as he had all the nights I cried after Buni's death, hiding myself in my room.
'I love you, Bobo,' he said.
If we went down, I wanted his black curly hair, his long black eyelashes, his eyes that held my reflection to be the last thing I saw. He was the one I had chosen and would choose again. 'I love you, too, Michael.'
Another massive explosion of light, a bang and jolt, and we still existedslightly deafened. I could finally see the earth below, and the airport. We hit the tarmac with a crashing sound and careened along before the pilot finally gained control of the aircraft, holding it steady until we came to a stop.
We had landed. We were safe.
We had left Romania. It no longer defined our future.
I started laughing. Tearing myself away from my roots had almost proved too horrendous an ordeal, but now that we were here in Paris, a new kind of lightning had struck. Freedom.
A freezing rain clogged the city, but who knew when we'd ever see it again? Because our luggage remained with Air France for the morning flight to LA, we didn't have another set of clothes, just our pajamas. We had the city almost to ourselves, because sane people found it way too cold to go outside. Michael and I dressed in every piece of clothing we had, including our pajamas, and went walking up and down the avenues of Paris, singing in the rain like two children thrilled to be on a movie set. The top of the Eiffel Tower was as cold as a Romanian winter night, but there we were reborn. We trooped alongside the Seine and down the Champs-Ilysies, stopping at a few shops and a cafi or two, and dropped into bed in a small hotel long after midnight, utterly exhausted.
Back at Charles de Gaulle the next morning, I was a bit nervous about getting on a plane again, but the worst of the storm had passed. Standing in line, a young man in front of us lit up a cigarette in spite of the No Smoking sign. I had never smoked, and Michael had given it up after fifteen years. The fumes really bothered us. As I was working up my nerve to say something, an imposing male voice said in an American accent, 'Can't you see the 'No Smoking' sign next to you? Get rid of your cigarette.'
The guy put out his cigarette. The man who'd asserted himself was no taller than I, nicely dressed, accompanied by a blue-eyed blondean athletic-looking couple. I smiled and nodded in appreciation. They both smiled back. It turned out they were on our flight, returning back to the States after visiting their son who had moved to Paris to work for a big American law firm there.
Sam and Leslee Mayo chatted with us during the flight and invited us to visit them in LAour first American friends, made even before touching US soil. I was amazed and encouraged. This sort of thing never happened in Romania where no one trusted anyone until they'd known them for awhile, and even then, mistrust always lurked on the sidelines because of the era of people informing on otherseither currying favor or under threat of prison. The Mayos' openness enchanted me. More and more, I had the sense that I was coming to the country to which I had always belonged.
Part III: Dawn
One need not be a chamber to be haunted;
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
New Day Dawning
We landed twelve hours later. The sun shone in clear blue skies, just like in my vision. Inside the terminal, we stood at one of the vast bay windows and looked out at that sky. Hand over my heart and with tears of joy, I whispered to Michael, 'We're in the United States of America. Can you believe it?'
'Just like we dreamed!' he replied, squeezing my hand.
'Oh, Michael, I can hardly contain my feelings! I didn't know you could literally feel freedom, but you can. I'm so happy I don't even have words for it!'
'Our new lives begin right now. We have every reason to be excited.'
And so they had. We hugged, and kissed and laughed, happier than a prisoner on death row who'd just won his freedom to begin life anew on the outside.
Mighty LAX. Daunting actually. Its control tower looked like a spaceship hovering over a weave of freeways. People pushing or pulling their luggage, a Babel soundtrack, an array of ethnicities. Asians, Latinos, African-Americans, and Arabs dashed and dodged among those of European ancestry, catching flights, meeting schedules. I had never seen so many cultures and races in one place. Romania, like most of Europe, was very homogeneous, with each and every country keeping its own culture and religion. The races didn't really mix, and the only Arabs I'd ever seen were medical school students. I hadn't seen one single African or Asian in my life, except on TV or in the movies. How could so many people of so many different races get along under the same roof? This was amazingand exactly what I'd envisioned American freedom to bediverse people working in concert, creating opportunities to do interesting, important, and positive things.
Beaming, I attracted smiles from others in return. The brightly colored T-shirts and tropical shirts and women's dresses made me wonder if the day were a special occasion. People strode around confidently, no furtive slinking or trudging along with stooped shoulders. What an astonishing difference from what we had been used to all our lives: where our fellow Romanians, inured to the harsh conditions of life under communism, wore ever-present and deeply carved worry lines on their faces fearing that someone, anyone, might report you for whatever the reason and punishment was sure to follow, here everyone seemed light-hearted; a good-natured demeanor flickered in their eyes.
And oh, the energy; it just knocked me out. I was so ready for life here! I couldn't wait to dig in and get this show on the road! My father had complained that our coming to America would mean that his well-educated daughter better be prepared to 'start at the bottom.' Well so be it! This was Horatio Alger's country where a 'nobody' could become a 'somebody' through enough hard work and determinationnobodies like Michael and me.
We proceeded to the luggage area, where a very athletic guy with dark sunglasses and dark, long hair pulled in a ponytail, smiling ear to ear, stood with a sign that said, Michael & Aura: Welcome to America! It was Michael's friend Tatomir Pitariu, who looked exactly as Michael had described him. Tatomir was, Michael said, a most talented painter and photographer. But for work, he was a graphic designer, and for that, was paid handsomely.
Michael had met Tatomir in Sibiu at the Nae Ionescu Jazz Club and then again at the jazz festival. They had hit it off and soon discovered they had some mutual friends. Immediately following Ceausescu's overthrow, Tatomir had opened up his own advertising company. He had been hired to decorate two of the most trendy night clubs in Sibiu. He also made signage for restaurants and stores and would run into Michael quite often, because both knew many of those bidding on the same projects. And both had frequented the Hard Rock Cafi, another popular place to meet friends and enjoy good music.
One year before us, he and his wife and young son had won the green card lottery. Upon hearing from Michael that we had too, and were coming to America, Tatomir and his wife had invited us to stay with them until we found a place of our own.
'Michael, it's amazing, isn't it, that two years from the time you met Tatomir in Sibiu, we're staying at his home in America!'
'I know. He'll also be helpful on what to do and what not to do now that we're here.'
'Really? You talked about that?'
'You didn't tell me that. What did he say?'
'To be sure to avoid the common mistakes new immigrants make.'
'And what might those be?'
'Not to invest all the money you bring with you in a car; never apply for a job you've never heard of.'
'No, it's big long list, actually.'
We left LAX, and Tatomir chose to drive the local streets so Michael and I could admire the new city that would make or break us. The streets were clean and wide, and the traffic stretched as far as the eye could see. Sitting in the backseat, just taking it all in, I felt small and insignificant, an immigrant who had come to this huge metropolis to edge my way in, not at all confident that anyone would accept me. Though filled with optimism, I also felt an odd sense of intimidation: me, the immigrant. At least I was a legal immigrant.
The mega-dimensions of American cars made me feel Lilliputian. Zummmm, a car passed us. What's that? A Lexus? Never saw one before. Ford . . . Explorer? Oh, my God, who was driving such a monster? Even the models I recognized were bigger here than in Europe.
I'd enjoyed movies I assumed were filmed in LA, like Pretty Woman, and couldn't wait to see Hollywood Boulevard, the Chinese Theatre, the glamorous shops on Rodeo Drive, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. I looked through the window of Tatomir's car at people loaded down with shopping bags. And street after street lined with palm trees. And that's when my confidence began to blossom. Yes, I belonged to this paradise, where the palm fronds curved and danced and nodded in the warm breeze, the sun brightening their colors, their crowns standing tall against the high-rises. I could feel the city's welcoming vibes. It was if I had lived here before. I belonged in the world of Julia Roberts, Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Disney, and McDonalds. I moved into that altered state called 'joie de vivre.' This was home.
I rolled my window down to breath it all in. It was spring, the spring of my new life.
Tatomir stopped at a stop sign.
'What are we waiting for?' I asked Tatomir.
'This is called a four-way stop,' he said. 'The first car in the intersection is the first to go.' Hmmm. We didn't have four-way stops in Romania. Knowing I'd need to master driving here, I decided to pay attention to more than my surroundings, though it was difficult with paradise unfolding itself in front of my eyes.
'Those trees with the clouds of lavender blossomsdo you know them, Tatomir?'
'Jacaranda. I've shot photos with their blossoms covering the ground like purple snow. Those huge white flowers are magnolias.'
I looked higher and gasped. The Marlboro man smoked his cigarette on a billboard. We drove by the tall, white, nicely adorned Argyle Hotel on Sunset Strip. And here was Chateau Marmont Hotel also catering to a celebrity clientele over its long history. More palm trees, and more palm trees.
A dazzling silver line appeared at the horizon. What could it be? A Fata Morgana? The nearer we came to it, the bigger it became, the more powerful its shine, as bright as the sun, almost blinding. Closer still, I watched it turn deep blue. Tatomir parked the car, and I beheld the immensity and splendor of the Pacific Ocean. I thought that with all the drama of the last forty-eight hours, my waterworks had dried up, but no. Teary-eyed, I removed my shoes, jumped out of the car and ran onto the beach, out into the waves, where I felt myself dissolving in simultaneous delirium and serenity. Conquistadores, immigrants, ordinary travelersnone of their hearts beat faster than mine did the first time I saw this blue Pacific and felt its cold waters lap at my ankles.
My mind screamed America, America, America!,' I screamed as I ran. 'I love you!' I didn't care who heard me, nor if anyone thought I was a blooming idiot.
It finally seemed real to me, a Romanian-born young woman of twenty-six years who had won the green card lottery out of the eight million applicants.
'This is Playa del Rey,' Tatomir said calmly.
After crawling through traffic, we arrived at Tatomir's apartment on the corner of Sweetzer Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. We parked, retrieved our meager luggage and went inside. Tatomir introduced us to his wife, a graceful Romanian woman with blue eyes and long blond hair, very beautiful. Corina hugged me as if she'd known me forever.
Tomorrow our new life would start. As I fell into bed, I tried to recall the names of all the streets Tatomir had pointed out on our drive. And I thought of my parents, and as ecstatic as I'd been that afternoon, I suddenly missed them dearly.
As though he could read my mind, Michael embraced me and said, 'We'll give your parents a call first thing in the morning. Better get some sleep. Big days ahead! Life is going to be good now, from here on out.
As always, I took comfort in Michael's strength. He was right. The City of Angels would help us grow wings, and all our dreams would come true.
Meanwhile, love would keep us afloat.
The Realty of Paradise
Stu, 1bd, 2bd, 1 bath, 6m lease, no pets, $675800, pl sec dep . . .
In the Los Angeles Times classified ads, the heading said 'Apartments for Rent,' but had I picked up the Chinese edition by mistake? What could these numbers and letters mean?
The employment section read: Hostess, front desk agt, foreign lang a plus, 401K, med benef, paid sick days.
Our future depended on our ability to decode such cryptic messages. English, the same language I had learned in school, became foreign once again. Of course, I had learned British English. LA English included slang, jargon, truncations, and regionalisms, even Spanglish. What should I do with slang phrases like "t's up, dude?' The word 'cool' could carry three different pitches. 'Hot' was a staccato drumbeat at the end of a sentence. It seemed like everyone mumbled, linking their words together in a song of blended notes without meaning. Open up your musical ears, Aura, I said to myself. I turned up the volume of the Pitariu's radio and TV, I eavesdropped on conversations I heard on the streets and in stores.
I also practiced ordering meals. With Michael, Tatomir, and Corina waiting in the car, I entered a McDonald's in Malibu on PCHthis meant Pacific Coast Highway but nobody called it thatand waited in line. At the counter, I said, 'I would like a take-away meal.'
The young woman appeared to be about my age. 'Ya mean a Happy Meal?'
I glanced around, thinking I certainly didn't want to order an unhappy meal. The place looked like a tsunami had recently hit it. The McDonald's I'd known in Bucharest and Brasov offered a salad bar, nice flower arrangements on every table, marble floors, and menus. University students competed to work there because the customers who could afford the place left nice tips. Here in the Malibu McDonald's, two homeless people lay on a table, snoring. I'd passed three others by the front door who were laughing and begging for money or food. Teenagers had bumped into me on my way inside.
'For kids?' the impatient order-taker asked.
'No . . . for adults. Take-away.' I guess my accent bothered her.
'Te-KAway? We don't have that.' She blew her bangs out of her face.
'No take-away meal? Do we have to eat it here?' I asked, bewildered.
'No. What numba'?' She was getting annoyed.
'What . . . number?' I asked as politely as I could.
'The numba. What d'ya want?' Now she was pissed.
I looked at the line, trying to figure out if she meant the number of people in my party. 'Four!' I said, hoping I was getting somewhere. 'To take it with me.' I made my voice as kind as I could, as if I were speaking to Buni.
'Numba four . . . to go!' She hit a key on her cash register and turned away to address a kitchen worker.
What had I just done?
The guy behind me explained brightly lit menu on the wall behind the cashierthe one I'd thought was simply advertisingand the selections with the different combinations, each having a number. I'd ordered a Big Mac combo instead of the Filet-O-Fish sandwich I'd wanted for myself and none of what the others wanted. At least it came with a huge serving of fries and a shake. Michael and Tatomir split the burger, and Corina and I split the rest.
'Well, a good start, even if I did feel inept in doing something as simple as ordering fast food.
Wanting to share the excitement of the day, I called my parents that night at 10:30, 8:30 in the morning in Sibiu. My dad had just finished his exercise and shower routine, and Mom was making breakfast. I told them about the McDonald's incident, thinking to make them laugh. But Dad said, 'Derelicts lying on a dining table? What kind of a place is it?' The week before he had asked, 'What is so great about palm trees?' and 'How is the Pacific any freer than the Black Sea?'
I'd bought an overseas phone card for fifty dollars, and started calling my parents on Wednesdays and Saturdays or when I had something special to share. I learned never to tell them anything negative, only the positive side of my life so they wouldn't worry.
Corina told me it took about three months for postal packages to reach Sibiu, so I had to find something to send Mom for her birthday right away. At fifty-six bucks, the shipping would cost more than what I budgeted for her gift, but Corina had introduced me to a chain store called Ross, where I found nice things at reduced prices.
After two weeks in LA, and not wanting to continue relying on Tatomir and Corina for rides, we purchased our first car: a white Hyundai for the huge price of $500. It proved to be in workable condition despite the worn gray upholstery still redolent of cigarette smoke and beer; it became our first American treasure.
Excited with our new 'wheels,' we called Sam and Leslee Mayo, the outgoing couple we met at the airport in France, and they invited us to come for a visit. I stared at the classy card Sam had given me that included the title 'Professor,' along with his address and phone number.
'Do you know where this Mulholland Drive is?' I asked Tatomir.
His eyebrows shot up. 'Mulholland Drive? It's street is in Bel-Air where the movie stars live. It's world famous.'
'I've heard of it in movies, but I didn't know people made such a big fuss over it.'
'Uh, Michael,' Tatomir said, 'I don't think your Hyundai will make it up there. The road is twisted and hilly. I'd better take you.'
We all climbed into Tatomir's car and eventually pulled onto a private road and parked in front of a mansion that overlooked the valley and hills: a one-eighty panorama. Michael and I thanked Tatomir and walked toward the entrance of the house.
I soon learned that the Mayos' many trips around the world had beautified their home: blue tile trim and a stunning hand-embroidered wall hanging from Portugal, huge Spanish vases full of flowers, a Mexican fountain, a German grandfather clock, French porcelain and antiques, Persian rugs, an Austrian crystal chandelier, a British phone booth. Interesting and beautiful pieces filled armoires and cabinets with beveled glass doors: an old casino slot machine, silver cutlery, fine china, antique porcelain statues, perfect miniature cars, and clocks of all kinds. Fireplaces conveyed warmth and welcome. A grand piano implied a love of music. Walls of bookcases stored hundreds, probably thousands of books. Beauty, classicism, culture, and history all blended in harmony inside Sam and Leslee's mansion.
They greeted us with huge smiles and sparkling eyes in the coziness of their living room. An intellectual conversation sprang almost instantly, jumping from James Joyce to Alexander Dumas, from Chopin to Strauss, from the city of lights to the city of music, all continued over dinner, and all in an atmosphere of camaraderie, amusement, and enthusiasm. I loved these people and their lifestyle. I now had a new vision of the joy and richnessnot just monetarythat life had to offer. But we, on the other hand, had to start small.
We finally found a place of our own: an unfurnished one-bedroom apartment for $575 a month, plus security deposit. Our palace. Dad's farewell money enabled us to get a five-month lease on a place on Hollywood Boulevard in a two-story building with four other units. The apartment was clean enough but looked more like a jail cell compared with my home in Romania which was sumptuous in comparison to the empty white living room, run-down appliances, and worn, dingy carpet. Still, we took it, gladly. Gradually we acquired things. Corina gave us a mattress and bed frame, sheets, a blanket, two pots and one pan. Eventually a neighbor gave us an old sofa. The silver cutlery I just couldn't leave behind in Sibiu added the only sparkle to an otherwise dreary place. Heirloom silver alongside paper plates.
But our paper plates. Our apartment. Everything was ours and it gave us a good feeling of establishing ourselves. Old and tattered or not, it was shelter, and a place to come home to. It was a start. Our start. We laughed. And we loved. And talked about what we'd do when we got rich.
To ensure we kept a roof over our heads, we paid the whole five month's rent in a lump sum, leaving us a mere $400 to live on. We would have to live even more simply than before, and I had to get a job. Michael had found a college where he would get a certificate in computer programming, so whether we ate or not was up to me.
The race against time started, and I had to make ends meet, and thus began my job marathon. The phrase 'you have no credit history' attached itself to us like a criminal record. It seemed to carry the message that we didn't quite exist. In Romania, I'd made the 'Who's Who' list, but in LA, I was insignificant. After being a graduate student in a Ph.D. program in Romania, a former journalist and assistant professor at the university, I was now applying for dozens of low-paying jobs and receiving dozens of rejections: I was overqualified. I didn't have American experience. I had no credit history.
What should I do?
Another sleepless night. I needed a job, and I needed it fast. There was $400 dollars left in our bank account. It was not enough, not even for a one-way plane ticket to Romania.
While waiting to be called in by HRwhich I learned stood for Human Resources, but nobody called it thatfor a hostess job interview at the Intercontinental Hotel for $8.25 an hour, I met a pale, red-haired woman with sparkling blue eyes whose name was Rita. She read me as if my situation were as obvious as a headline.
'Drop the sophisticated degrees,' she said. 'Just tell them you have two years of college, you speak five languages, and you worked for the hotel industry in Europe. Smile and be positive. That's it.'
Baffled, I followed her advice in the interview and got the job so fast, I'd barely gotten comfortable in my chair.
I was employed in America! We could go grocery shopping at a supermarket. I wouldn't get paid for a month, but we were going to make it.
Tired to the bone, at the end of my first shift, I found Michael waiting for me, with three yellow roses in a small vase.
We both cried, certain that better days lay ahead.
At the front desk, I learned to keep my radar tuned for the presence of the supervisor and his constant admonishments.
'Stand up straight, Aura.'
'Aura! Don't lean against the front desk, no matter what!'
My back started to ache, and my feet were swollen each night. But then, my first paycheck arrived: 1,320 dollars, printed in green on white paper. I bought two ultra-thin gold bracelets, one each for Mom and Olguta, some chocolate, and four blouses from Ross, and made a small package and shipped it to Romania.
I didn't tell my parents where I was working. I told them about buying a new dining set, but not that it was K-Mart's cheapest or that the new dishes we purchased came from Ralphs Grocery. 'They look great with the silver,' I said cheerfully. I'm sure they saw through my game, but we all pretended to accept the view through rose-tinted lenses.
I knew that this was just the beginning, and I accepted it gracefully. I also knew that one thing was sacred: my Ph.D. track. It wouldn't happen as quickly as Dad wanted, but I worked on it every evening. Buried in books and papers covering the floor, I studied every night after work. Days turned into nights, dawn came far too soon, and I woke up with excruciating headaches. My parents sent me two packages filled with Romanian books to help me study for my exam and write my thesis, which had to be a minimum of 250 pages. I wrote in Romanian, yet I had already started to think in English. An unfortunate new language came into being: Romglish. 'Do you want to see a movie together?' came out as 'Vrei sa see un movie?' and I said, 'Eram tare busy la servici' instead of 'I was very busy at work.' The confusion was funny and frustrating at the same time.
By this time, Michael was going to school at the community college and drawing on his considerable variety of skills for contract work; the time he didn't spend going to school or working he spent looking for more work. He had also made a new friend named Adrianalso from Romaniawho taught high school math and who told me about the special credentials I'd need to teach in California schools. Apparently, I was going to have to take even more college courses in addition to my Ph.D. work. I could have finished my Ph.D. work in the United States, but I wanted badly to continue studying at Lucian Blaga University with Dumitru Ciocoi-Pop, the professor I so admired.
To be continued .
Excerpted from Out of the Transylvania Night by Aura Imbarus Copyright © 2010 by Aura Imbarus. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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As an avid reader and teacher myself, I often read to escape. I realized quickly that this book was very real and I appreciate all I learned while reading it. Aura's style of writing makes you feel like you are there with her, in all her adventures. I was immediately drawn into the book, "Out of the Transylvania Night" as I am sure other readers will be too. It is a book you will not put down and a great book to give someone who enjoys history, family, romance, or just a fantastic book!
This book definitely wraps you in right from the beginning. The story of all she's been through in her life is truly captivating and amazing to see how far she's come. Anyone would enjoy this book. The depth and detail of this read makes it seem like you are there with her through her life the whole time. She paints a great picture with her words. I strongly recommend this book to anyone and everyone that wants to learn about what her country went through and experience first hand what it did to its people. She truly shows strength and well-deserved success with all of her incredibly hard work and deserves nothing less!
This book is filled with adventure and mystery that is emotionally grabbing as you immerse yourself into Aura Imbarus' life. Once you start reading it, you just can't put it down!!! Her life story starting as a young girl growing up under the Communist Regime to where she is at today living in America demonstrates the true fighting spirit that is courageous and filled with hope! Absorbing what it was like living under the Communist Regime, this book has made me realize how lucky I am to be born and raised in America. It has taught me such valuable life lessons, ones I hold very close to my heart and want to share with others. She is an inspiration, spreading the message of how each and every one of us needs to have our own individual strength. Her life story is a motivator for anyone at any age! This book is a MUST READ!!!
What a true gem is encrypted between this book's covers, for page by page, it reclaims so much of a generation's spark, brutally drowned in a dark era! Having lived myself the marking events and political impositions linked to this story, I anxiously immersed into its first chapter and straight into that fragment of history. Not only does it measure up to the magnitude of the times right from the start, but the way it delves into the deepest nooks of human feelings and aspirations, brings the author's personal story , into a generic one of anyone brave enough to pursue happiness. It is the story of constantly tilting the balance between goal achievement and sacrifice, of attunement to the Universe in regard to one's purpose and call in life. It goes beyond a chain of events and their impact, into the magic of how they intertwine and reflect into one's own choices and life. While it takes the reader into a new place, it also takes one in a personal place of reflection upon his own destiny and reason to be. If you will follow my advice and read this, please let me know: did it have this impact on your inner thoughts and feelings? Because I believe it will sure help you better define your own experiences and definitions of what you've lived so far. And more over.who does not like and become uplifted by a happy ending?!
Impossible is nothing! Aura's book will teach you step by step that "if there is a will, there is a way!" This is the incredible story of an amazing woman who's indominable spirit could not be crushed by the communist Iron Curtain, nor by leaving her childhood memories behind and moving to a new "home" across the ocean, nor by the loss of material possesions she had worked so hard for! Nothing could stop her fierce desire to fully live the American dream...but one thing! The loss of love and loved ones! The awakening of her true inner self and her stuggle to finally arrive HOME, will lead you on a thrilling ride! When you are finally done reading, you will close the book on your lap with one word filling in your mind: Wow!!!!
Just finished reading "Out of the Transylvania Night" written by Aura Imbarus. What a ride!!! It's a great read for anybody interested in Eastern European history and the challenges of moving to another country while trying to succeed without loosing your cultural identity. Her writing is so evocative as she reveals her home town and her lovely family enduring the terrible times of Communism. Aura's style is warm and inviting and it feels like you are listening to a good friend. A must read!!
If you want to know who Americans are and where America is going, this book is a must read. Aura's story is one of many immigrants from war torn countries and oppressive societies. What made this book special is her skills in story telling, the structure of her narrative, the quality of her writing. She let you into her world and made you a part of her family. She took you to places where she had been, physically and psychologically. Through her eyes, you learned how the Romanians lived under the Communist regime, how they felt during the revolution, and how they struggled to maintain human dignity. Through her experience, you see America through the immigrants' eyes, how they became part of America, and how they are reforming America. I too am an immigrant from a war torn land and oppressive system. Even though my external experience is very different from hers, my inner fiber found a kindred spirit in her. I have worked with refugee forums and intercultural programs in California, and have met many refugees from different countries, all had heart-breaking and soul-affirming stories. Aura not only speaks for the Romanian-Americans, she speaks for all immigrants and refugees who came to America to seek a better life for themselves and a better future for their children. Their indomitable spirit and their faith in the American dream are what made America what it is today and what it will be tomorrow. All the high-falutin and patriotic sentiments aside, this book is an easy read because Aura moves the story along with human interactions that's warm and sequence of events that's natural. You will forget you are reading a book about a stranger from a strange land because you will feel like you are spending time with a bunch of new friends.
After reading a galley of this upcoming memoir my first thought was WOW! This is an incredible story of how one girl had a dream to escape the tyranny of her homeland, Romania, and come to America to fulfill her version of the "American Dream". Aura Imbarus takes us from the tyranny of a dictator, her involvement in the revolution to help make Romania a better place, to escaping to America to a better life. She and her husband, Michael, leave Romania and begin the long arduous journey to their idea of the American Dream. After arriving in California, after Aura has a dream with palm trees in it, they discover how difficult it is to start over. They come to America legally, but clueless as to how to get started on their dream. Aura feels the need to work many jobs to fulfill her dreams and gets wrapped up in the material world rather than the physical world. When she and Michael lose all of their savings due to the stock market crash recently and the death of Aura's mother to cancer, she begins to realize what's important in life. She now helps immigrants coming to America learn the skills they need to fulfill their dream of a better life here. She works RAPN (Romanian American Professional Network) as well as Eurocircle, a professional networking organization with over 60,000 members of European origins. She is also a mentor for Blue Heron Foundation, a non-profit and professional organization whose mission is to help Romanian orphans in her native country with money and counseling in order to receive a higher education degree. For an uplifting story and what one woman did to achieve her dreams I highly recommend this book.
I have to admit when I saw the title of this book I was thinking vampires, bats and gargoyles. Not a fan of vampires and such, fortunately this book is not about bats in the belfry. Intending to skim through the book, I dutifully began with the first page of chapter one, and before I knew it, I was on page fifty of this remarkable journey through history and life. It isn't often that one gets the opportunity to gain a perspective of life outside of the United States, to find how similar our wants and needs are,. Wonderful to vicariously experience what it's like to stop and turn around when your journey is taking you in the wrong direction; something most of us don't do. Aura Imbarus has penned a work every person can relate to. Clearly well written, intriguing, even action-packed and thought provoking, although I would have liked more punch in the ending, I thoroughly enjoyed the read and highly recommend Transylvania to any reader. E. Joyce Moore, writer, author
One criteria I have for a 5 Star book is that once done reading I continue to think about what I read. Out of the Transylvania Night by Aura Imbarus is definitely a book that I am still thinking about. Aura's memoir of her life in Romania and subsequent immigration to America is remarkable. I must admit my own knowledge of world events is lacking. A revolution in Romania? In fact give me a blank map and I'd have a hard time correctly identifying just where in the world Romania is. Despite my admitted lack of knowledge on world history and geography this book drew me in and held my interest. A book that had me searching the internet for more information on the author, Romania and Nadia Comaneci. Aura's story of growing up in Communist Romania is a story of hope and the struggle for freedom. This captivating book details the difficulties encountered by those who legally immigrate to America. From trying to obtain a job to learning how to order a meal at McDonalds, Aura's description of her life as an immigrant was eye opening. Through her pursuit of the American dream Aura loses herself and those that she loves but ultimately through her journey rediscovers her roots, her loves and herself. Out of the Transylvania Night is the story of overcoming trials, achieving goals, following your heart, remaining true to yourself and finding real happiness. Aura Imbarus show us there is more to living the American Dream than owning a nice car.
I don't read a lot of memoirs, but the title Out of the Transylvania Night intrigued me, and Aura Imbarus' writing pulled me in straight from the start. Her descriptions create vivid images of an impoverished snow-covered Romania, of childhood, family, the fear and fury of wanting to be just a little bit different, and the horror of knowing not wearing red might have saved a young girl's life. Snipers fire down from the rooftops as a world, never safe but surely at least a little predictable, explodes into dangerous uncertainty. Aura wonders if she'll live to take those exams for university. Her parents wonder if the earth beneath their cellar will safely hide their treasures. And the parallels with fictional Transylvanian fears flow naturally onto the page. As the family becomes cut off from news of the fighting outside, Aura turns to her grandmother for tales of history. The story gathers strength and depth, as does the rebellion. The pages fly by. I really don't read a lot of memoirs, but this one has me hooked. Aura's curiosity becomes mine. I want to know what's happening, who's doing the killing, who's dying and why. The truth is, I already know what happened, at least in part, because I was safe at home watching my TV. But Aura was there, part of the power and ugliness and hope of revolution, and this book brings it to life. The author has a deft hand with background information, feeding it naturally into the narrative. She has a very natural touch with emotion too, with fledgling love, political cynicism, sorrow, fear, and a curiously accurate dreaming that predicts the future. Death moves the reader almost to tears, and success to happy delight. Aura eventually escaped Transylvania with her husband to America. Having immigrated here myself, though by a different route, I found the author's depiction of her experience fascinating: the complications, sacrifice, loss; the hopes and dreams; the lack of a credit record; the trials of learning how to order a meal "to go." And, of course, the temptations. How much of the Aura who made her own choices will remain, the reader wonders, when the world of America has filled her with its own urgent recommendations? Aura becomes a teacher in Los Angeles, and more. But by the end of the memoir it's the grown-up girl of the first pages who teaches such valuable lessons. The reader is left breathless and uplifted by a tale that's in turn so strange and so very familiar-and so wise. I love this memoir, not just for its depiction of Transylvania, but also for its eye on American life and individual strength, and for its hopefulness.
I'll admit: I'm not a memoir sort of person. I'm not even a non-fiction sort, but as I was offered a copy of this book by the author, I figured, "Why not?" And I'm actually glad I decided to give it a try. While most memoirs I've read tend to be gloomy, dull, and often very over-long, Out of the Transylvania Night was a certain sort of surprise. It was a memoir written subtly, and with hope. Though, of course, it told of difficult and depressing times and events, I didn't feel myself growing bored and melancholy while reading. Besides certain dialogue which seemed quite corny to me, it was, all in all, an interesting, well-written memoir, and one of the few I can say wasn't horrible. So, yes, I hate memoirs...but not this one. Aura Imbarus, you've done a nice job capturing your life into a simple, well-made book.
The frozen-eyed city and the palm-tree city - two different worlds the writer lives bethween,cannot break either or the other,beeing connected with deep roots to the one with icy eyes and attracted by the other where in each palm-tree you can find angels of good or evil. A destiny that oscillates bethween past and future,using the present as a bridge. I read it breathless,remembering my own past and predicting a great future to the writer.
"Out of the Transylvania Night" is a well crafted and intriguing story that combines action with romance, mystery with suspense, giving the reader many choices and themes to relate to. The book underlines the problems any immigrant is facing in a new world, trying to adapt himself to a new culture and a new image he wants to tailor for his own persona. A must read for both genders!
Aura Imbarus takes us through her incredible and tough life growing up in Transylvania - communist Romania to winning the Green Card Lottery and moving to the golden land of opportunity, Los Angeles. Her story denotes impeccable strength, strong will, courage and facing challenges most of us would shrink from. It is a story of ultimate love and finding peace with her inner self through her path and journey of her outer world. She inspires us how to live our lives courageously, energetically, passionately and with a soulful loving and giving heart. She motivates us to believe in our dreams again - to never give up on them as they certainly will come true! It is the type of book that once you start reading it, you cannot put it down and through the last Chapter - 37 you want to know more!
"Out of Transylvania Night" is an action driven book that has so many themes and symbols, twists and turns that you cannot put it down. A fast read, the book describes a region - Transylvania - so many people heard about it, but only few have had the chance to travel to that part of the world. With a tearful ending, the book really makes my list of good reads!
For so many people, the word "Romania" brings to mind DRACULA, the dark mysterious vampire of Transylvania, or maybe the great gymnasts. Others may think of the enforced uniformity of a country under communism prior to the democratic reforms following the '89 revolution. The horrific image of our leaders, executed by a firing squad may have, for some outsiders, been the first images of the anguish of the Romanian people, the injustices they suffered, to the point where assassinating their leaders appeared to be the only way they could begin to work toward freedom. Many have also heard of the gypsies, the legendary nomads, tinkers and traders. And Americans have witnessed the images of Romania's orphans, broadcast on television documentaries. Half naked, these children were shown crowded into cold orphanages, hosed off by their caretakers, fighting each other for food, their round dark eyes prompting a wave of foreign adoptions. Still, these images are so few when forming a picture of the true Romania ... Read Aura's story, the Romanian "LADY IN RED" and you will see so many more facets of her country of birth and enjoy a very compelling life and love story of a smart, educated, beautiful, fiercely independent and extremely ambitious woman on life's roller coaster ride from a revolution all the way to California Dreaming! Lilly
Out of the Transylvania Night is an amazing book for everyone to read. It is such an inspiring story that everyone of all ages can enjoy. The book shows how tough it was for a family to live in a communist country. It shows how someone can have a great attitude and successfully achieve the American Dream. Aura's writing style is so creative and you can really picture the scenes in your mind. I encourage everyone to read this book.
This book has been the best book I have read in quite some time. I feel for your loses, but I am glad you have such a strong heart and awesome will power. I began reading this book while I was working on my Friday shift at the Bookstore. I picked it up because I have always wanted to go to Romania for personal reasons. I read seven chapters that day my job and that night I bought it. Thank you for sharing your story it is inspirational. I have learn a lot and have seen a lot in this book pertaining to my life. I feel inspired by Michael's decision to open his own business. It has given me hope and comfort in knowing that as long as I do my band out of love that it will bring me good fortune.
This deeply moving account of one woman's search for her own identity, firstly under the Communist dictatorship of the ruthlessly oppressive Ceausescu, and, later, as she struggles to maintain her integrity in the face of overwhelming materialism. Out of the Transylvania Night opens in the dying days of the Ceausescu regime, as the local Romanian citizenry decide to fight back after decades of misrule. As Dumitru Ciocoi-Pop writes in his Foreword to this heartrending memoir: "In Aura Imbarus's literary confession the genuine represents the perspective forming experience of the entire story, which unfolds naturally and convincingly, offering insight not only into social and political realities unfamiliar to the average American reader, but also into the mysteries and strivings of the female heart." Finding that the Romania to survive the brutality of Ceausescu's regime is almost as distorted both socially and economically as it was before the revolution took place, Aura opts for a new life in the New World, only to find that, although within the space of seven short years she is able to acquire all the outward trappings of the American Dream, her own perceptions have become so distorted that she almost loses everything for which she was once so eager to strive. How she is able to restore her own inner sense of well-being and purpose is of key concern to the narrative of Out of the Transylvania Night. This remarkable story advances at a cracking pace, which keeps one riveted from start to finish. Her family and relationships with others are described with such fulsomeness that it comes as no surprise that she finally eschews the superficiality of outward show in favor of a determination to live herself out as a woman with a deep self-knowledge made all the more acute by the hardships that she has had to endure. Out of the Transylvania Night is refreshingly different to the media coverage of revolutions and political unrest, which usually presents a fragmented and devastated world, with few redemptive qualities. The fluency of the writing conveys the impression that the author has English as her home language-in fact, she writes much better than many English First Language speakers do. Her sense of humor is also catchy. I loved her comment that in America, one has to apply for a TP certificate to qualify for using toilet paper! All in all, an impressive and insightful memoir that reads like a well-written novel, Out of the Transylvania Night is worthwhile reading no matter your age or background. The work ends with book group discussion questions, evidence of the fact that Imbarus, apart from being a former popular journalist in Europe, is also a university professor and award-winning educator. She is a co-founder and ambassador of the Romanian-American Professional Network (RAPN) and the president of its Los Angeles chapter. She is also president of EuroCircle's Los Angeles chapter.
A great captivating novel that transports you to a time and place that was and is indeed very real. A must read for anyone that wants to know what life was like in Romania and how with sheer guts and determination anyone can achieve what they seek. It also has a love story intertwined through the pages and how all that is meant to be will be especially when you believe in it. Csilla Koppany
I thought this book was a very good read. It was hard to put it down. I was shocked to find out what Aura went through in the not so distant past. I think I've lived a very sheltered life, not having a clue what was going on in the world around me. Aura is an amazing woman, a rebel and a free spirit! She has a determination that has gotten her where she is today. It was such an inspiring story to read and to find out what a courageous woman Aura Imbarus is, and an inspiration. From wearing red when she knew the risks. This captivating book details the difficulties encountered by those who legally immigrate to America. From trying to obtain a job to learning how to order a meal at McDonalds, Aura's description of her life as an immigrant was eye opening. Through her pursuit of the American dream Aura loses herself and those that she loves but ultimately through her journey rediscovers her roots, her loves and herself. Out of the Transylvania Night is the story of overcoming trials, achieving goals, following your heart, remaining true to yourself and finding real happiness. Aura Imbarus show us there is more to living the American Dream than owning a big house.
The book provides a vivid description of Aura's adventures during the Romanian 1989 revolution, and of her starting a new life in California. The book has everything: tales of teenage love, of life during communism, of struggle in a new country, and of personal drama, all wonderfully laid down for everyone to enjoy. Thank you very much for sharing your story, Aura - it's been a wonderful reading experience!
"Out of the Transylvania Night" is more than just a memoir, it's an emotional journey that you, as a reader, will take along Aura Imbarus. It's impossible to read this book and remain an objective observer. Each chapter is a thrilling ride; fear, deprivation, love, loss, courage, admiration, identity crisis, love again, rebirth, hope, determination, are just few of the emotions you will get to experience and relive as the author vividly describes her life, and through her skillful writing, you inevitably become part of it. I am confident that I don't speak only for myself when I say that "Out of the Transylvania Night" will leave a mark on you, and after reading it, you will emerge more determined to follow your dreams, more energized to overcome any obstacle in pursuing happiness, while acquiring greater historical knowledge of a nation's struggle for freedom.
"Out Of The Transylvania Night" had me hooked from the very beginning of the book. Aura Imbarus life story was a huge reality check on how easy I have it right now in my life being in my mid-twenties. This book is filled with romance, suspense, mystery and that is something I look forward to when I pick a book to read. This book is truly inspiring. I loved it.