The opposite of vampiric terror, at least today
I have both read DRACULA and watched NOSFERATU (1922).
DRACULA was amazing.
And NOSFERATU did a great job in scaring me with the appearance of Count Orlok.
How beautiful, thank you for this wonderful piece of writing!
As a limited traveller your posts fill me with culture, thank you.
In my childhood Transylvania was a thrilling and terrifying name. I find it interesting to me as an adult, how one book can persuade us that a whole country must be tainted by its effect!
I read the novel "Dracula" by Bram Stoker 15 years ago. At that time, I was a teenage boy who loved to read crime and horror fiction voraciously. I had never been to Europe but this book was my first ticket to Europe in imagination. I travelled with Jonathan Harker from England to Budapest, enjoyed the beauty of the Danube River and then roamed around the Carpathian Mountains and finally ended up at the infamous Dracula's castle in Transylvania. What a magnificent journey it was!
This article reminded me of my old memories with Transylvania. Really loved it !
The inspiration for Dracula was Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula (Dracula can be translated as Dragon). Early on, the Ottomans took Vlad and his brother hostage to secure their father’s loyalty. In later years, the Ottoman Sultan sent envoys to Vlad’s court to demand tribute. Vlad had the envoys killed and impaled on posts outside the city.
There were a few other Ottoman incitements that caused Vlad to burnish his reputation for bloodthirsty tendencies and he never really overcame his hatred for the Ottoman sultan. At one point, he even undertook a scheme to capture and kill the sultan. In his spare time, he rounded up and murdered Balkan Muslims.
He certainly earned his reputation and the historical Vlad Dracula is much more interesting, imho, than the fictional character.
Frankly, my four months in Usha were far more "interesting" than I bargained for. I managed to write a "novel" about it when I returned. That piece of work will remain in my bottom drawer. I learned a whole lot more about living in a kibbutz than perhaps my fellow travelers did. When you get into the kind of situation I did, it's wonderful to have that kind of organization to steer you through the maze of bureaucratic, medical, and legal systems.
thank you for this tour of parts of Romania. I lived for a semester on a kibbutz, Usha, that was established by Romanian Jews in 1939. It now has about five or six generations living there. In 1976, there were only three generations and of course the older ones were those Romanian founders. Tough, resilient, and kind people. Many of them fought in the Israeli war of independence. The kibbutz nurse not only served her military unit as a nurse, but also as a gunner. Her photo was included in a photo exhibit that year in Jerusalem. It was a shock to see her in the two positions, but such is life in Israel.
oh, and PS, funnily enough I just read King's 'Salem's Lot, which is his take on Dracula in small-town America, if you've never read it. The afterword in the book was his thoughts on Dracula and the vampire myth. Shaina Read just posted about it (the reason I read the book was because I knew she was going to do a breakdown on it): https://kindlinghorror.substack.com/p/salems-lot
a joy to read as always.
22 (!?! how can it be so long) years ago I went to Brașov, with my then girlfriend as part of a near month-long a summer camping trip through Eastern Europe before we both commenced our university studies. It's one of the best memories of that trip. I can't recall the precise location, but we did a two day hike up one side of a mountain/hill (staying in a little cabin) and then down the other side, with the very end of the trail coming out by Bran castle. Such stunning views on that descent. I also remember the top of the walk being incredibly foggy, to the point where we almost lost our way. I don't recall what we ate. Probably pauper student budget food, unfortunately. Romania as a whole was beautiful, though. We also went to the Danube Delta (possibly Sulina, based on my quick Google), camped in someone's back garden because the camping ground the Lonely Planet claimed was there was actually not there at all and we had no way of returning until the next day when the river ferry would come back. Turned out to be a wondrous experience, though. The nicest boy and father took us in for the night and let us camp in their garden and we ate and drank with them until late as ALL THE INSECTS I'VE EVER SEEN proceeded to clamber for the light of a lamp. Wild stuff, but so beautiful. It was in the age before digital cameras and I remember being disappointed with my pics when I got them developed. Nothing adequately captured the delta and peace that was there, but I have it secured in my memory still.
I feel it's important that much of the context of Bram Stoker's vision of Romania is an embedded xenophobia. There's a ton of Western Civ / invader from the EAST! material in that novel that very few film adaptations really represent or contend with. Oddly enough, Guy Maddin of all people, a Canadian filmmaker, leaned in to the theme as a form of camp in Pages from a Virgin's Diary ( https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0293113/ ) that also features Dracula performed by an Asian actor.
When you consider the plague-driven refugee situation of the Romanians into Western Europe and Dracula's affinity for plagu-ish animals (rats, bats, wolves), and then the fact that his targets are "pure" women betrothed of the lead characters (pages are wasted on men standing around pontificating on the purity and perfection of Lucy and Mina, it gets dull), I can't help but read Bram Stoker's original text as a "They're bringing diseases and coming for your women" text.
So, Stoker's vision of Romania is not based on the real geography of Romania but the moral purity of Romanian immigrants.
few things to add:
- if you stayed in brasov, you might have visit the wonderful black church in the middle of the city (it is the one in the middle of the photo of brasov). also it is worth mentioning that up the mountain, very close to brasov there is peles castle, which ceausescu used as a residence.
- sighisoara is an absolute charm especially during summer festival.
- sibiu was in 2004 (not 100% sure) the european capital of culture, the museums there are a treat.
- the name transylvania comes from latin and means the land over the forests (it was once full of forests) trans=over, silva=forest.
what else do i know? oh, in some parts of romania sarmale are made not with cabbage but vine leafs. there are few photographers that documented transylvania, one of them, irish, moved there for good (i don't remember his name)
Thanks, Kate. I’m so enjoying travelling the world with you!
Thanks for the reflection!
I've only ever seen the different Dracula adaptations, but I have been interested in visiting Romania, especially as I know someone from there. One thing that's interesting to me is that Romania is one of those European countries that seems to perpetually have an association with ancient magic and monsters in pop culture. There is a great game called 'Resident Evil Village,' for example, that is set in Romania (though the country's name is never actually mentioned) where you have to fight werewolves, vampires, Witches, and other gothic monsters.
Great piece and a fascinating place. I have to confess that I am so squeamish that when I was assigned Dracula for my undergrad reading, I had to pretend I read it all, when I actually only got a quarter way in...I had such bad nightmares I had to give the book up!! I don't think it helped that I started reading it at bedtime...
This is such a delightful choice for "Summer Travel"! I think "Dracula" is a tremendous novel, not least because it gives a sense of old Romanian superstitions, the charm against the evil eye, and so on. It also talks about the food and drink in the Carpathians, and it was nice to see food mentioned as part of your piece too. I'm not surprised it's such a huge tourist attraction. Whitby in the UK has a Dracula museum because if you remember, when Dracula came over to England his craft landed there, so they make the most of the association.
I once had a Romanian dentist. At my first assessment she said, in a thick Romanian accent, "I like to see lots of blood!" Not really a stereotype, then! An interesting take when assessing new patients, especially for the nervous ones!
Smashing article, Kate. You have such courage when travelling.