Guess what? I’m going to Romania next week.
Don’t worry, I’m not staying for long. I’m not completely backing down from the vow I announced in August, made at the urging of my lawyer, psychotherapy team and concerned parties at the American Embassy in Bucharest. Also, my dietitian said I needed to detox from eating pizza six days a week for 13 months straight, but what does she know?
I’m jetting in via Rome with budget airline Blue Air for 11 indulgent days – December 28th through January 8th – after being successfully lured there on the strength of the New Years Eve celebrations and the unhinged street parties that will follow on January 1st to celebrate Romania’s photo-finish acceptance into the European Union.
I sense the head shaking you’re doing right now. The third-party exasperation generated by my continual masochistic behavior is not completely lost on me. Many of you undoubtedly remember that I complained a lot while I was living in Romania. Usually daily. Occasionally hourly. In fact, a 15 minute walk to my favorite Chinese restaurant, surrounded by incessant, pointless horn blaring, people cutting me off then stopping right in front of me and cars flying down narrow streets with no sidewalk at 50 KPH without a care in the world, coming centimeters from flattening my toes or tearing off an extremity, wound me up so much that I very nearly rejected my favored pacifism for a semi-automatic stun gun, a cattle prod and a bucket of Extra-Strength Valium PM. Indeed, if I stayed in Iasi much longer, I was going to have to be armed and tripping balls just to cross the street for a shawarma.
So yes, I acknowledge that flying (and training) half way across Europe to a destination that caused me intense anxiety just for a party seems ill-advised and impulsive, but allow me to make two points: First, I’ve suffered, lavishly, through the build up to Romania’s European Union membership over the past two years and if anyone deserves to be there for the celebration it’s me. Well, yes, I suppose the Romanians too, but primarily me. Second, this is gonna be one hell of a goddamn party.
You see, as much trouble as I had on a daily (hourly, minutely…) basis in Romania, trying to be productive, interrogating people for accurate information for the Lonely Planet book, begging jackholes to simply answer an email, there were nevertheless several things about Romania that I really dug. New Years Eve was one of them.
Romanians love NYE. They particularly love the parts that can be lit on fire and made to explode extravagantly. In Romania, any fuckwit can get their hands on large caliber fireworks that would be outlawed for unlicensed people in any other sensibly cautious society. Furthermore, this powerful artillery is disturbingly cheap.
Imagine a legion of idiots…
Wait how much is ‘a legion’ anyway? Hundreds? Thousands? Better make it legions of idiots…
Imagine legions of idiots with unfettered access to lunar-rocket sized missiles for about US$3 a pop, that will soar 100 meters (300 feet) into the air before detonating in a fireball the size of a city block. Now imagine they’re all drunk on moonshine and they don’t sleep a wink between December 26th and January 1st. That’s New Years in Romania.
It’s a glorious thing to behold, assuming you’re not desperately trying to bang out multiple writing projects (or sleep for a couple uninterrupted hours for that matter) and one of the most popular launch pads in the city happens to be in a square less than a block from your apartment. Never mind that this year; I fully intend to be one of those idiots. I’ve got no looming assignments on my plate (yet) and I just got a relatively giant manuscript delivery check from Lonely Planet, so I got me a hankerin’ to blow some shit up.
Last year in Iasi, mere moments after Christmas dinner had been dispensed with, the deafening explosions started and they continued every few minutes, 24 hours a day, all the way until late on January 1st when the last drunk ran out of booze and ammo and was forced to trudge home to his wife and explain why he hadn’t been home or to work for a week.
I’ll arrive in Iasi at 5:30AM on December 29th, after a flying into Bucharest and then taking an overnight train to Iasi. After a good long nap and some Romanian wine, I’ll be primed for wanton destruction.
I’m staying in a friend’s apartment on the western-most edge of the city. Immediately in front of the building is a river and beyond that just undulating grassland, a couple shepherd’s shacks and grazing livestock. No buildings to obstruct the view or competition from the bombardment going on three kilometers away in the city center. Just me, an armload of dodgy, discount munitions and a herd of soon-to-be-pissing-themselves cattle. I realize this sounds juvenile, but you have to remember, I’m from Minnesota where there’s strict laws concerning idiots with fireworks. The most powerful pyrotechnics I’ve ever been in charge of were a string of Black Cat firecrackers. I didn’t get to go through all those vital, character building, Beavis and Butthead moments that most other kids experience while growing up. I’ve got catching up to do.
As fulfilling as it’ll be passing two days lighting off stuff that could bring down an airplane, the highlight will be the mayhem of December 31st. As soon as the sun goes down at 4:45PM, the sky lights up with a constant barrage of colorful fire balls being set off in every corner of the city. The smell of gunpowder is pungent. The sensory overload from all the noise and light is so profound that deep inebriation is virtually required just to stay conscious – which of course everyone is quite happy to oblige. Then the climax, a fireworks display like you’ve never seen, right above Iasi’s magnificent Palace of Culture, where the show by the hired pyrotechnics team is enriched by every last wino, detonating his entire stash while surrounded by tens of thousands of people. It seems like dozens of people should die, or at least be maimed, but this doesn’t happen. It’s just a beautiful display of light, color and unforgettable edgy chaos.
Mind you, that’s just New Years Eve. I’m not entirely sure what kind of insanity Iasi has planned for the EU parties on January 1st, but to be honest, I’m a little afraid and that excites me. They’ve been waiting for this moment for over 10 years, with the past two years being particularly frenzied and hopeful. I’m counting on the party of my life. Totally worth of the budget flight and overnight train trip I’ll endure (both ways) to get there.
Oh yeah, before that I’m gonna spend a peaceful Christmas in Sorrento, Italy with my pal Marge and her husband in a quiet villa outside the city, gorging on food and wine, sleeping and acquiring the necessary defensive weaponry that I’ll need for Bucharest. I’m gonna have to cool my heels in Bucharest’s north train station for about four hours; ground zero for the city’s scam artists and thieves. The first jackhole that tries to poach me is gonna get a face full of mace and an extendable baton blow to the groin.