Jet Lag a Tool for Recapturing Youth in Romania

Commentator Andrei Codrescu makes a return trip to Romania, his native land, and finds that his jet lag makes what is weird there weirder. He sees a lot of German tourists, visits his brother's new home in the mountains, and brings us up to date on the state of the former communist country.


Thomas Wolfe contended that you can't go home again. To that, commentator Andrei Codrescu adds the word sober.

ANDREI CODRESCU: People, if you think time flows in one direction only, forward, you don't know jet lag. With jet lag, you can move backwards in time and recapture your youth. Me, for example, I flew to Europe. And when I got there at 9 a.m., it was 4 a.m. in New Orleans. All the Europeans were up and about like it was really morning, drinking coffee and looking pissed off like only Europeans who have to go to work can. I'm saying Europeans here, but I mean Romanians in Bucharest. Romania is now in the European Union.

Anyway, I saw them off to work. And then I stayed up until my friend Llona(ph) and her son, Luka(ph), found me and took me to a restaurant with steaming food and fiddlers. At about something like 8 p.m., which was about noon back home, I sank into the cuisine of my native land like a worm to the bottom of a bottle of Mezcal and started hallucinating.

Next day, which was - I'm not sure when - Llona, Luka and her colleague, Alex(ph), drove me to Sibiu, the medieval city where I was born, and put me into the hands of poets who are conducting a marathon that involved over a hundred poets reading for 20 minutes each all day and all night. By now, it didn't make any difference to me what time it was back in America because I entered the twilight world of poetry, which is famous for being made by people without watches, and was transported several thousand years back and forth in time in the Romanian language.

My hometown, Sibiu, used to be a quiet place when I lived there as a child because most people had been killed in the war and the ghosts had to run off the joint. Not now. In 2007, Sibiu was proclaimed a world city by the U.N. and, like Gore winning the Nobel Prize, you couldn't just lie there anymore and be a nice place for dreamy kid poets.

It was as full of tourists as New Orleans at Jazz Fest, only the town's half the size of New Orleans and all the tourists are German. And instead of jazz, there were to see a newly renovated old city that sparkled like a mini-Prague with good intentions, hosting simultaneously poetry marathons, the European cultural congress, run-on sentences and a whole bunch of living Dutch painters.

The Brukenthal Museum of Sibiu, known the world over for dead Dutch painters, was now totally out of control.

After I marathoned as long as I could, I celebrated my brother Robert's(ph) 50th birthday at the restaurant hand-carved entirely out of wood by a primitive artist, I kid you not. Peasants in flowing white robes cinched to the waist with white belts kept pouring wine into painted clay carafes and setting fire to plum brandy. My brother built himself a house in the mountains. And the very same wood carver carved him a bar in the rock under the house. That's one dude I could employ.

There is no way to make the story short because it's not a short story. It's more like a novel. But suffice it to say, the next day - don't ask me which one - I was in another medieval Transylvanian city being transported by a famous local witch from one tower to another. This city called Cluj, and also Kolozsvar and Klausenberg, is so old that every time the light changes and the river of cars flows forward, another piece of history, like about 500 years of gargoyles, falls off a medieval building and kills a pedestrian.

I'll stop here. But I can tell you that from Cluj I went to Frankfurt, Germany, where they made me into a book and I became very timeless and young because that's what not sleeping for centuries does for you if you don't have the time to look in a mirror. I'm in a hotel lobby in New York now, singing out loud. I can hear you, too.

BLOCK: When he finally gets home, Andrei Codrescu will resume being a professor of English at Louisiana State University.


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