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Numero 15 - Aprile 2006

di Carol Perehudoff, pubblicato sul Chicago Tribune il 23 aprile 2006

BUCHAREST, Romania - "The museum is closed," a woman tells me in the foyer of Bucharest's National Art Museum.
"Why?" I ask. "It's only 3:30."
"Special occasion," she says, as a guard sends three Italian tourists packing.
If I weren't welded to the idea of seeing the icons before, I am now. "But I'm only in Bucharest for one day!" I cry.
Amazingly, she relents. "But you have to be out by 4."
"Fine." Before she can change her mind I charge up the stairs and enter the galleries, where I'm surprised to find a full contingent of guards.
What they're doing in a closed museum is a mystery to me. But since I'm not paying their wages, I relax and enjoy having the Romanian art treasures all to myself.
The icons are magnificent: St. George on a grey horse, St. George on a beige horse and, once, St. George with a pink castle in the background. Mircea il Vecchio
But best of all are the frescoes. Huge slabs of faded haloed saints and royal figures, on moody blue backgrounds with scarlet robes and glittering gold.
My favorite is a regal-looking character called Mircea the Old. Who was he, I wonder? The historical Romanians I know could be counted on the foot of a three-toed sloth: Ceausescu, Vlad the Impaler (a.k.a. Dracula) and Nadia Comaneci.
Feeling it's time to learn more about Romanian history, I leave the museum and head for the gargantuan Palace of Parliament. It feels almost as empty as the closed museum, albeit on a much larger scale. In fact, it's the second biggest government building in the world, second only to the Pentagon. Palazzo del Parlamento romeno
A project of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, the Palace of Parliament was a huge drain on the country's finances, and people went hungry while rooms were lavishly decorated in marble, crystal and gold. Which is just one of the reasons they executed him in 1989.
The next day I take a train north to the Transylvanian city of Brasov, a medieval town with rows of pastel merchants' houses, an old-fashioned square, women in kerchiefs and a big black church named, appropriately, the Black Church, after a fire covered it in soot in 1689. Brasov
I'd like to stay longer, but my quest to seek out Romanian historical figures leads me to Bran Castle (otherwise known as Dracula's Castle), 16 miles southwest. I'm on the trail of Vlad Tepes--the real Vlad the Impaler, born in 1431 (as opposed to novelist Bram Stoker's fictional neck-biting version of 1897).
Shuffling along with a group around the towers and spires of the 14th Century Bran Castle, I'm confused by the fact that our guide, Mihai, avoids mentioning Vlad at all.
"What about Vlad the Impaler?" I ask. "I know it's a myth he lived here, but didn't he attack the castle? Wasn't he imprisoned here for three months?"
"Yes, yes, I suppose so," Mihai says. "Now here is Queen Maria's bedroom."
"What about Vlad?" I ask eagerly. "Where did he sleep?"
Mihai looks pained. "You know," he sniffs as we walk down a twisting staircase. "In Ceausescu's time it wasn't even allowed to mention the name Dracula."
"Why?" Castello di Bran
"Because he was an important symbol for Romania and shouldn't be used for anything so silly."
Mihai has a point. The real Vlad maintained law and order in turbulent times, and he did repel the invading Ottomans. But he did it by impaling them--it's even said he liked to arrange groups of impaled corpses in arresting designs.
Queen Maria was much nicer. She volunteered as a Red Cross nurse during World War I and attended the Paris Peace Conference afterwards to gain back territory Romania had lost.
A plaque on the wall tells me more. In 1385 the castle came under the ownership of Mircea the Old, prince of Wallachia. I know him, I realize. It's my frescoed friend from Bucharest's museum.
Like Vlad, he fought against Turkish expansion and was an art lover to boot, although his means of creative expression fell more to restoring monasteries than arranging impaled corpses. Best of all, he was Vlad's grandfather. Suddenly these people are coming to life in my mind.
I head back to Bucharest, still no historical expert, but at least with the addition of Queen Maria and Mircea the Old, my tally of famous Romanians uses up all the fingers on one hand.

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