Our first first time back was in June of ’93. I was 16 and at the end of grade ten.
I don’t remember much from that trip but I have a vivid impression of going from technicolor Hungary with its billboards and American stores to dusty Romania washed in sepia tones. In my memory it was like the Wizard of Oz movie going from colour to black and white – this impression lasted for many years – until I returned as an adult almost 20 years later.
But to be fair, I still think of Romania as sepia toned. This last time I was there, we took a train from Timisoara to Budapest and entering the train reminded me of a train I took in India and exiting took me to a new subway line that emerged at the centre of town and made me think of American excess like Times Square. I had only been in Romania for a week and already I was excited about the availability of cheap burgers and idea of the Body Shop.
But back to 1993.
We crossed the border to Romania and I was like “I’m from here?!” It was so foreign. I couldn’t imagine the person I would’ve been had I grown up there. I couldn’t even speak the language. We visited my cousin on a farm and I was struck by the rural poverty of it. The lack of knowledge of bands and shows I was into. I remember she was in grade six or maybe grade eight and she was stressed out about an exam she had to take that would determine which high school she went to which determined the trajectory of her career: academic or trades. So much pressure! What kind of school system made you decide your career trajectory so young? Thank god I didn’t grow up there.
Other things I remember from that first trip back:
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I brought all four books of the trilogy with me and over three weeks I read them twice over.
- A feeling of remembrance on the street and in the house. Like I had been there before. The foreign and the familiar at once.
- Two black kittens I named Simon and Garfunkel. I loved hearing my grandma say “Gar-fin-kel” in her heavy Hungarian accent.
What did my parents and my grandparents feel? As a teenager, I was oblivious to the adult dramas around me in that three room house. I spent my time reading, missing my friends and watching MTV out of London. Soul Asylum’s Runaway Train played endlessly and REM just released the video to Everybody Hurts and we all agreed it was very good.