“Bistrita,” he told me many times over, “is the first word on the first page of Dracula.”
My first introduction to Romania was on a round-trip around the black sea a few years earlier. We had entered from the south, passed through Bucharest and moved north to visit his family.
What was flat expansive country grew into dramatic hills and lush vegetation. The touristic coastland turned into medieval, almost gothic villages with tall wooden walls and magnificent carved gates.
Arriving after 10 hours on the bus he remarked: “At least we know Romania has the best cell phone network in the world.” The lady behind us had been on the phone non-stop since the start. Not a single dropped call.
He never has many positive things to say about his hometown or his country of origin. Every trip was peppered with stories and anecdotes, one more ludicrous than the other:
“Do you know they poison their neighbor’s dogs for barking too much?”
Or stories about the neighbor’s wrongdoings (he’s ex soviet secret police) and how people steal land from each other:
“You could see how they had erased the original boundaries on the map at the city hall’s archive!”
“They turned Dracula's castle into a hotel.” We were driving up the road and he was pointing it out to me through the window. We did not even stop to look at it.
An old man with a beautiful cat told us about milk farming while giant trucks filled with logs bounced down the village road behind us. As it turns out, since the fall of communism, he now sells his milk cheaper to the government who has not paid him in months.
We decided to take the train back; the road felt unnecessarily dangerous to us. During the ride he would translate all the variations and uses of the word for “pula” (penis) that was used in a conversation by a group of men in the same car.
Later I would learn that Bistrita is in fact, the third word on the first page of Dracula:
“3 May. Bistritz.”