A couple of weeks ago, a conference was organized by American Studies students in Bucharest. A call for papers went out, and there were two categories: academic and creative. The topic of the conference was about confused/displaced American identity (I think they called it “Transnational American Identity”).
When I saw the email calling for papers, I was like a nerdy kindergartener who really wants to contribute in class.
ME! I’m a culturally confused American! Pick me! I’ll read a poem!
Last week, as I was riding through the dull, flatland of southeast Romania on a quick road trip, I was reminded of a really spot-on creative piece that was shared during that conference.
The story made me laugh because it’s actually a trip through the mind of one of my former students in Constanta, Tiberius.
Tiberius’ best friend, Stefan, wrote this piece of prose.
He told me that I could post it on my blog, but only if I included this picture of Tiberius:
Home is where the heart is
by Stefan Rosioru
They say there’s no place like home. It makes sense; home is where the heart is, that’s what they say in that classic song. What if your heart is someplace else? What if you feel you don’t belong to the only place you have called home for as long as you can remember? What if “home” lies halfway around the globe, in a place you’ve never actually seen, but is still a part of you?
It might be just a silly thought. But Tiberius pondered these questions, as he still had a long way to travel; he had been on the road for 3 straight days, with little sleep, food or spare time. At the wheel, his father kept pushing the buttons on the radio, looking for something upbeat, to keep the blood moving. Father kept pushing his buttons. The radio static woke Tiberius up a few times, but he managed to nod off. He was sick of noise and interference; he had been fixing internet connections, telephone switchboards and wireless routers for the past few days, and he needed his fix too. A pack of smokes and a beer should do the trick. Good thing a gas station popped up.
Halfway to Constanta, on the A2 Motorway, it was the perfect place to blow off some steam. The gas station was a bit too clean, Tiberius thought. So was the highway. The railing that separated the two lanes seemed out of place. So was the constant flow of traffic towards Bucharest, the river of tourists going back to their static lives in the restless city, as the weekend ended. The scorching heat reflected off the pavement, and the restless rumble of the cars passing by melted into a droning buzz, almost hypnotizing. The car’s door was open, and the next song on the radio was a classic. A Horse With No Name by America completed the picture, as The heat was hot and the ground was dry/ But the air was full of sound…
The Bărăgan desert was exactly how Tiberius wanted to imagine the wide Texas cornfields; tractors the size of small houses plowed through the field, turning and churning the dust, gleaming in the sun, advancing slowly but steadily towards the end of the field that was nowhere in sight. Just like the next location that they were supposed to reach in a few hours; Tiberius tipped his baseball cap, nodding towards the tractor drivers in the field. He was a hard working man, just like them. Only he didn’t drive a tractor, but he was riding shotgun next to his father, having nothing left to do but gaze into the distance. On the horizon, ecologic and streamlined wind farms were glimmering in the sun, their majesty being nowhere near the ruggedness and sturdiness of the pumpjacks that could have tied the landscape together better.
They were moving soon. Shiny new Romanian, Bulgarian and Turkish trucks were scurrying alongside them on the highway, rumbling and hissing as their haul slowly swayed from side to side. They too seemed out of place. They were nothing like the majestic American 18 wheelers he liked to imagine riding along on the highway that was too narrow and too petty for his fantasy. The scenery caught his eye; he was finally approaching familiar lands. The land of Dobrogea was slowly unfolding within his sight. The abandoned concrete buildings on the right side of the motorway, artifacts of a bygone era, instilled the air of desolation of deserted Mexican pueblos. Rowing down Rio Grande towards Dobrogea, the landscape began to change. The vast and flat surroundings became greener.
As the city of Cernavodă began to appear on the horizon, it was a different country altogether. The streets were stretching downhill, winding and meandering among office buildings, apartment blocks and convenience stores, converging on the main street, parallel to the Danube-Black Sea Canal. Having a dark red bridge crossing the Canal as a main focus, and ignoring the monumental nuclear powerplant in the background, a post-Communist San Francisco took shape as Father turned right towards Constanţa. Tiberius had never visited San Francisco, or any part of the USA for that matter. Still, inexplicably, the bleak overall appearance of the city, closely tied to the nuclear powerplant, reminded him of the Gold Rush that once had been the heart, the pride and joy of that little town on the West Coast.
The Danube flowed beneath them, meandering away under the bridge; Tiberius knew that somewhere in the distance, the Romanian bayou was preparing for a flood, as heavy rains threatened to cause the river to overflow. Nevertheless, during the countless times they went to the Danube Delta, he learned to appreciate the beauty of the river. He had worked in countless hotels, B&B’s and lodging houses, fixing telephone systems and internet connections for the annoying tourists that seemed to seize and desecrate the beauty of that remote area, buried deep into the South-Eastern corner of the map. His favorite town was Sulina, right at the river mouth, at the far side of the Sulina Channel, where the murky waters of the Danube flowed into the sea. After crossing the channel by ferry, he always told his father to make a stop next to his favorite lagoon, overlooking the river. He always sank his toes in the Mississippi mud, surrounded by small groves of willow trees, reeds and shrubbery, whistling to the tune of Born on The Bayou, and watching as the silent boats of fishermen stirred flocks of mallards and pelicans from their nests behind the reed curtains. He could almost hear the clamor and the bustle of the Mardi Gras every time they approached that remote little town in the South. Strangely enough, the alligators hadn’t come out yet.
But Sulina wasn’t on their map this time. As the road led them farther away towards Constanţa, the famous vineyards of California replaced the barren lands that surrounded the whole Cernavodă area. Or Murfatlar, as they were commonly known by the locals. Tiberius wasn’t a connoiseur, but the knew his favorite Pinot Noir tasted exactly like the Napa Valley wines, as far as he was concerned.
Green Grass and High Tides were an hour away, and the way he saw it, the entire region of Dobrogea comprised everything he needed to see, feel or hear, though at a smaller scale. Just as Skynyrd once said, I can see it inside/It’s my heart that sees, not my eyes/And if you listen close I’ll tell you why/Home is where the heart is…and my heart is at home. Tiberius adjusted the radio frequency, tuned to 95.9 FM just in time to catch the chorus of John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads; his father liked to sing the Romanian version by Gil Dobrică, Hai acasă, tapping the tempo on the steering wheel: …And drivin’ down the road/I get a feeling/That I should have been home yesterday…
His home was about 30 kilometres north of Constanţa; the airport overlooking the small town welcomed them with bright red landing lights and ground crews waiting for the next Freebird -C-130 Hercules aircraft- to land. The American military base next to the airport was the only patch of American soil that he had set foot on. His backyard offered a nice view towards the barbed wire fences of the base, the watchtowers and the barracks, while the main road in MK was flooded with Marines who went for a stroll every Saturday night, in order to blow off some steam and blend in with the locals. He had always found it peculiar that although the villagers hardly greeted each other, the American soldiers always nodded or tipped their hats as a sign of acknowledgement. These new friends seemed like long lost siblings, brought together by chance; sitting down for a drink in the small and dirty pub next to the military base, they shared stories from back home, the home that Tiberius had never seen, but he missed anyway. The misdoings of the Bush administration, the hurricane Katrina, the live concerts of Ted Nugent and Hank Williams Jr., the importance of the 2nd Amendment for the common man, these were all stories that Tiberius knew and loved, although Ceauşescu, the flooded villages in Muntenia, the upcoming music festivals in Constanţa and the corruption of Romanian politicians were the topics of choice on the other side of the road.
They had no idea, but somehow they shared the feeling of displacement. This small town somewhere in Eastern Europe looked nothing like home to them. Still, little did they know that beyond the barbed wire fences and the outskirts of MK, the Great Plains were stretching all the way to Constanţa; the bayou was only 100 kilometres further north, the sunny California was crammed between the muddy riverbanks of the Danube and the abandoned cereal silos scattered around Constanţa, and Route 66 stretched across the land, towards the West Coast of Dobrogea.
The guys were checking out of the military base for their evening walk right as Tiberius passed the airport. Corporals Josh and Corry were waiting next to the main gate, and Sergeant Taylor started waving at him right as he was passing by. He was finally home. Home is where the heart is.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Home is where the heart is
America – A horse with no name
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Born on the bayou
The Outlaws – Green grass and high tides
John Denver – Take me home, country roads
Gil Dobrica – Hai acasa