While the European Commission was once again Bulgaria and Romania, pegging further conditions on Bulgaria’s and Romania’s to planned accession to the EU on January 1, 2007, I made a quick trip to Constanta, Romania, to the shores of the Black Sea. The city is the ancient Roman Tomis, known as the place of exile of the poet Ovid (43 BC-17 AD). This melancholy ancestor of all the literary exiles gave scarce evidence of the place, for he cared much more about what he was forced to leave behind in Rome: love, friendships, urban elegance, court splendor and gossip. How would a today’s poet feel being banned from Rome or some other magnificent European metropolis (Brussels?) to Constanta? What would he miss there, what would he complain about? A polluted sea, neglected beeches, hardly accessible by broken staircases, much ugly architecture of the last 50 years, sparse cultural life?
Even without being a poet I could complain about all those things at length, but not about the weather. On a splendid September day, the sea was seductive even if probably polluted, the beeches were difficult to access but empty and nice to walk along once one got so far. The harbor with hundred of cranes looked suspiciously quiet, with no visible traffic. Old decayed buildings with an envious sea view stood next to overambitious hotel projects of the post-communist era, abandoned just as they grew an ugly concrete skeleton. The old city on the isthmus demonstrated that in the first few decades of the 20th century Constanta had fine architects, wealthy clients and skilled builders. After 60 years of no maintenance the elegance is gone and the scars are overwhelming. Among those former jewels, ugly intrusions of the Ceaucescu era matched the pretentious post-modern corporate architecture that came after 1989.
In the Orthodox Church, the visiting Timisoara bishop was offering a special service. Near the Catholic Church an old age home and an orphanage were expanding. The mosque was empty and a view from the minaret was stunning on the sea side and depressing westwards, where the new city spreads until far away, in an endless repetition of the same standard office and apartment blocks, all colorless and shabby. Hardly any pleasure boats were on sight but a friend of mine kept developing a scheme to boost the sailing skills of the locals, so they could compete with the Turks in the short-term rental of yachts with a captain and a cook. The meals I had there made me think that cooking skills need some upgrading too.
On the very top of the isthmus, the 1910 casino stands proudly, a victim of several unsuccessful and remote renovations but still impressive in its elegance and majestic position. The city plans to lease it for 49 years to a developer who can invest in repair and then bring Israeli gamblers on charter flights. For the weekend, the place was invaded by a different crowd - artists, producers, programmers and subsidy givers from a dozen of countries, gathered to plan a 3 year long binge of multilateral artistic collaborations, a traveling circus of productions and art works to be created along the shores of the Black Sea and the North Sea and then made to move and give a cultural and civic jolt to many tired cities as Constanta and many other dying harbors.
The buzz of artistic entrepreneurship and matchmaking resisted bravely the litany of official speeches but turned into a moan when the local National Theater offered as after-dinner entertainment an excerpt from its current hit: a Gypsy musical with the most trivial stereotypes, made in anticipation of those Israeli gamblers probably, but offensive, even repulsive for that artistic audience. One more in the series of misunderstandings and mismatches that inevitably occur in almost every international cultural cooperation scheme. Languages, cultures, traditions, habits, oddities of cultural systems and subsidy flows need to be brought into synch and propped up by a common artistic vision and esthetic kinship. A tall order for 100 people on a single sunny weekend. Artistic cooperation begs for time, much needed to patiently sort out aspirations, agenadas and meanings, to build up some mutual trust and professional understanding in lieu of shear personal ambitions and self-promotional drift.
Constanta was the initial testing zone for this risky undertaking and it required much logistic, especially in transport. To get to Constanta from the Bucharest Otopeni airport takes 4 hours of dangerous and wretched ride on congested roads, through repairs and chunks of a highway under construction, silent semi-abandoned villages and much darkness. Once we started moving from an especially nasty traffic jam we could see what caused it: a ghastly night accident, a horse driven carriage smashed along the road, with a dead horse on the ground, another one, uninjured, trembling on the other side of the road. The return ride on a hot day exposes the rural poverty, time seemingly immobilized a century ago, primitive low tech agriculture. Then, on the outskirts of Bucharest, an endless congestion of cars and trucks makes the driver start a mortal slalom from the right to the left lane, along the left and right unpaved road shoulders, a stubborn and risky battle for each meter and each minute, driven by his sense of responsibility to deliver me on time for the departing flight. It somehow works and in front of the airport terminal we share our relief with silent smiles.
Now it is my turn to tremble from stress as that horse surviving the crash 2 nights ago. Since I was flying to Brussels, I felt in the slow queue for the security check that the accumulated experiences of this short and intensive excursion eroded some of my convictions about the enlargement of the EU. Would the postponement of the full membership for a year strengthen the reformist pressure or cause a nasty backlash of anger and a sense of betrayal? The EU prompts the mobility of its citizens rather than to banish them to exile and yet, the realm I crossed seems stuck beyond the perimeter of the EU expectations, away from the standards and features that are almost taken for granted on its territory -- just as Tomis appeared to Ovid as quite remote from the glory of the imperial Rome. Between Brussels and Bucharest, between this Otopeni terminal, fixed by an Italian company, and the Constanta casino, marked for gentrification, a tense game of center and periphery, belonging and exclusion, acceleration and delay, promises and lies awaits its denouement in the coming months and years. I hope to return to the Black Sea next spring but hopefully skip the roads leading to it and carry Ovid’s Ex Ponto in my pocket in order to cure stress with some exilic melancholy.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Netherlands, Croatia, Greece
An excursion to the Black Sea
Author: Dragan Klaic
More information about the participant on culturebase.net
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