I was on vacation in Romania in my late 20s or early 30s. It was a short break from my work, from family, from my small children. Laying on the beach in Constanța next to the Black Sea, I was thinking about the fact that the Danube ended here, traveling for almost 3000 km, from one Black (Schwartzwald: Black Forest) to the other Black (Sea). Everyone was so welcoming, unaccustomed to tourists as the country was in the process of opening up to possibilities.

On our way back home, the bus made a long stop at Herculane Spa, established during Roman times (“Herculus Baths”) and know for its 16 thermal springs. I used the time to stroll through the town and then later on to hike up the trail into the mountain. The parking lot was at the entrance to the beautiful Cerna Valley Domogled National Park. As it was really early, the town was still asleep. Although it was summer, a heavy layer of fog was hanging low over the houses and buildings. I was carried away by the architecture, a combination of styles, each period leaving its stamp on the construction and habitats. Due to the politics and other priorities, this elite resort was neglected for years. The old buildings, with a combination of Austrian Baroque style, Romanticism, Neoclassical architectural elements, such as ornaments and reliefs, half in decay, looked mysterious and even eerie.

I remembered us a few years earlier, all glued to a radio broadcast of the demonstrations in Timișoara and Bucharest that eventually led to the execution of the Ceaușescu couple in 1989. We used the word Scuritate (his secret police) as a synonym for instability and oppression. Although my trip was in the 90s, the country was still recovering from years of Russian occupation and then Ceaușescu’s policies to deal with the foreign debt, that impoverished Romanians and exhausted the nation’s economy. After driving though pitch-black Arad, that had one of its frequent power blackouts, I think I was not the only one who sighed with relief when we crossed the border. It is always the people who suffer because of the politics, because of one person’s inadequacy or over-ambition of an individual.

Only much later did I realize how similar we were with our neighbours in culture, traditions and beliefs, including cuisine. They also like cabbage rolls, stuffed peppers, moussaka and even tripe soup (which is one of the rare dishes I’ve never learned to like), and many more. I mostly stayed away from the familiar and I discovered Romanian cheese/sour cream donuts, that I liked a lot!

River under the bridge

Dark and mysterious,
with whirls swirling fast,
like a water tornado
sucking you in and taking you with it
into its depth.
It claims life every year,
regardless of the swimmer’s experience.
It is like a dragon’s mouth,
always open.

Holding onto my mom’s hand
crossing the old bridge,
walking over aged and cracked timber sidewalk,
not damaged enough to be replaced,
but scary for a little girl,
I skip the hole through which,
the moving water calls.

Despite the sound reason saying:
look ahead, not down
and you will be free of fear,
there is something fascinating, alluring
about that imminent threat.
I imagine my feet slipping
and my whole body dropping
through the tiny crack,
my dress inflating like a balloon on my way down,
meeting the cold water of the Danube.

Numerous repairs and upgrades,
makes the bridge eventually safe,
but it still has a body of World War 2 steel cage.
As if testing my courage,
I go across it almost daily,
riding my bike to university,
catching a bus to go on a date,
watching the water level rising and subsiding,
fishermen trying their luck,
kids playing on both sides,
the sun rays gleaming of the waves.

When its body gets broken in multiple places,
repeatedly targeted,
the Danube is finally fed.
The bridge leaves its fractured bones untouched for years,
until it is pulled out from the bottom of the river
and probably taken to a scrapyard.
The river becomes even darker grey,
unfriendly to the crowds on ferries, rafts and boats,
as if asking for a break to chew,
for no more crossing,
for peace.

The Rainbow, they call it
because of the colourful lights
that illuminate the new bridge
and reflect into the water,
an illusion of needles stretched and thrust into the mud.

It has even nicer, unobstructed view
to both east and west.
I am not afraid of the river any more,
but we have very little to say to each other.
The words are all gone with a stream
to the Black Sea.