A Romanian Romance

A Romanian Romance is a quite new kind of book, a post-modern amalgam of autobiography, guide book to Bucharest , brief history of Romania , day-to-day diary and internet exchanges, which take up a third of its pages. It will be one of the first books to derive directly from website messages, that ever-more dominant phenomenon of modern life. At its heart is a question that is rarely outside the newspapers these days, that of sexual relations between age and youth. In the past few years these have been facilitated by two scientific advances, one chemical (Viagra), one technological (the internet). These affect all sexualities, but, given its especial mobility, are peculiarly suited to the gay ‘life style'.

The book was written, as it was lived, in the course of 2006. Only half-way through its living did I realize that I had a book here; near its end the writing had reached the present and I could only surmise how it would end. The result is one man's attempt to understand Romanians in general and a young Romanian, Lucian, in particular. Almost forty years before, while living and working in Paris, I was introduced to Emil Cioran, a Romanian philosopher who had been living in France since 1940 and now wrote in French. Once a week, for over a year, I dined at the apartment that he shared with Simone Boué, a teacher of English in a Paris lycée; my task was to converse with them in English. Later, in London , I met another Romanian, Eugène Ionesco, whose ‘absurdist' plays I had seen several times in Paris . In 1975, doing research for a novel, I spent some ten days in Romania , driving around the country.

Then, in January 2006, my mind went back to Romania . Through the website Gaydar, I made contact with some hundred young Romanian men. In March, I spent two weeks in Bucharest . I met up with some of them. One introduced me to Lucian, a 22-year-old student. We embarked on an intense, enigmatic relationship. Over the next few months, we communicated regularly on the internet. I returned to Bucharest in July, to find that Lucian was in Holland , which left me free for further adventures and misadventures.

Back in London , as the dialogue proceeded back and forth, I doggedly pursued my attempt to get inside Lucian's mind. I broadened my researches: I embarked on a study of Romanian history, from the Roman invasion to the end of Communism and its sequel. I read the works of Cioran, Ionesco and Eliade - the three great Romanian writers of the twentieth century – and learned of their relations with Romanian fascism. Cioran, my first contact with Romania , turned out to be the key to my understanding of the country and its people. Seventy years before, he had concluded, as I had, that there is an inveterate passivity about the Romanian character.

   A passive acceptance of fate and death; failure to believe in one's individuality and strength; the
   immediate acceptance of all aspects of reality... Yet Romanians show great lucidity: they are fully
   aware of their insignificance, their ‘emptiness'... Not only foreigners despise Romanians: Romanians
   despise themselves… A thousand years in which history was made without our involvement, a
   thousand years of subhistory... Romania is geography , not history.

Those lines come from a book published in Romanian in 1936, when Cioran was barely twenty-five. So what I detected about Romanian passivity was not solely attributable to Communism. Indeed it explains why a doctrine so alien to Romanians, espoused by a Party that numbered about a thousand members in 1939, could so easily take over the country in 1945. I came to the conclusion that sex and history are interactive to an unsuspected degree:

   We are all familiar with the notion of power as an aphrodisiac… What is less often remarked on is the
   insidious way in which politics infiltrates that most private of areas, sex. At first sight, sex seems the
   one area where politics cannot intrude, a refuge where human beings can escape the social, public
    sphere. Yet all societies shape personal, and therefore sexual, relations. This goes well beyond,
   though clearly embraces, any legal or religious limitations on sexual activities. Doesn't one learn more
   about people - a people even - by having sex with them than by merely talking to them? If this is so, it
   is paradoxical, for the sexual act, of all human acts, is surely the most basic, the most universal, the
   most animal. Should it not, therefore, be the least revealing of individual or cultural differences?