Hallowe'en in Transylvania

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This
Hallowe'en, I will be sleeping in a castle nestled in the Carpathian
Mountains in an area that used to be known as Transylvania. Yes,
I'm talking Romania. Let this be a cautionary tale to every wife
who thinks her husband is not listening. Mine was.

We
love Hallowe'en and celebrate it come drought or high water. A few
years ago, we literally drove North to within 10 degrees of the
Arctic circle in order to participate in a ham radio contest that
extended from the end of October to early November. On October 31st,
our lonely trailer in the wilderness was decorated with battery-operated
jack-o'-lanterns, plump plastic bats hanging from threads, and full-sized
cut-out vampires that blew off the outside doors in a hail storm.
Who cared if only the bears could see our pumpkins' flicker in the
window?

About
May of this year, my husband asked, "What do you want to do
on Hallowe'en?" And I told him. I'd heard of a trip that started
at Bucharest (Romania) and proceeded to trace the route Jonathan
Harker took in the first chapters of Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula."
The journey led that unsuspecting solicitor to the doorstep of the
prototypical vampire who invited him into his castle with the words,
"Enter freely and of your own will." At every step of
retracing that famous journey, there would be an accompanying historian
to explain the culture, history and significance of sites and of
the events surrounding them.

The
seven-day adventure featured wonderful stop-offs. For example, on
October 29th, guests stay in Sighisoara – the best-preserved
15th century walled city in Europe (most of the ones
in Poland were bombed out of existence, I presume). This is the
birthplace of the historical figure Vlad Dracula (1431) upon whom
many believe the Stoker book is based. There, a witch-trial will
be re-enacted by 20 local actors, just one example of thousands
of trials held across Europe between the 15th and the
18th centuries.

[Note
to self: downplay how much you enjoy vampire movies. Remember that
many Romanians consider Vlad to be a national hero who held back
the Turks and, so, they resent the trivialization/commercialization
of him as a vampire. Rather like Americans might resent Hungarians
visiting D.C. to celebrate the werewolf George Washington.]

The
next overnight stop is Bistritz – a 12th century
town in northern-central Transylvania which used to be on the main
rail line from Vienna and Budapest, the route to doom that Harker
takes in "Dracula." Like Harker, modern guests dine at
the Golden Crown Hotel on a dish of "robber's steak,"
which Stoker described as "bits of bacon, onion, and beef,
seasoned with red pepper and strung on sticks, and roasted over
the fire." The wine served will be Golden Mediasch. Robber's
steak: the imagination runs wild with images of dastardly men huddled
around a campfire that is the only brightness in many miles, as
they recall a hard days' work of looting the unwary who were travelling
through the Carpathian passes.

The
culmination of the trip? At sunset, guests arrive at the majestic
and wild-forested Pass of Borgo, where Count Dracula met the carriage
in which Harker rode. There houses are so rare that each one has
a private cemetery and, as Harker commented, "The old centuries
had, and have, powers of their own, that mere u2018modernity' cannot
kill." From here, modern guests proceed to castle Dracula or,
at least, to a castle that is as close (in proximity) to the one
described by Stoker. But, unlike Harker, modern guests get to attend
a Hallowe'en party, complete with actors who circulate as vampires
during the evening.

All
this and more I told my husband in innocence, never suspecting that
he would immediately book reservations and pay in advance so I could
not back out. Why would I back out? Duh. Let me correct my opening
line. “This Hallowe'en, I will NOT be sleeping in a castle nestled
in the Carpathian Mountains in an area that used to be known as
Transylvania." I will be wide-awake, repeating to myself, "I
do not believe in vampires!" Moreover, I will be waking my
husband every five minutes, if necessary to have him join in the
mantra.

Among
my many reactions: what should I pack? The question came up specifically
in relation to the Hallowe'en Party for which we were urged to bring
costumes. There is no way I would tote an extra and bulky suitcase
around Europe in order to dress up for four hours. On the other
hand, we were going to wear astounding costumes that would put the
vampires in their place.

The
solution evolved. First of all, I envisioned costumes that consisted
largely of clothing we could use as everyday wear and, so, not "waste"
luggage space. This translated into black Reeboks, black slacks,
black sweaters. (And, yes, we decided to more or less match.) With
a black background to work with – so to speak – I wanted
to find two masks to "carry" the costume so that all you
really focused on were the masks themselves. If they were artistic
enough, then they could also do double duty as artwork to hang on
our wall as a constant reminder of a wonderful time.

We
found a craftswoman who sculpts subdued but beautiful leather masks
of animals. To view our choices, click
here
and scroll down to the Bobcat (mine) and the White and
Brown Wolf (Brad's).

Once
I started envisioning the costumes, however, they seemed too plain.
I wanted a bit of flash and flare. So a girlfriend and I scoured
our rural county for the perfect material from which to make capes.
We found it. The material is similar to nylon in feel – the
sort of fabric from which less expensive lingerie is sometimes made.
Slippery like satin, with almost no weight, impossible to wrinkle,
and a marked tendency to billows out behind as you walk. The cloth
is black on one side, with a rather nice pattern of silver spiders
on the other. Each of our capes comes down to our calves, with the
black side being "out" and the spiders being "in"
to resemble a lining. When folded, the two capes fit into a large
Ziploc bag. Costumes accomplished!

And,
so, now we sit with packed bags and worried dogs, who just know
a kennel-visit awaits them. Soon we'll be flying out on Malev Hungarian
Airlines to adventure in Transylvania. Chills, thrills, and wonderful
food is in our future.

Do
I "forgive" my husband for actually listening to what
I was saying? Well, let's say the score will be settled over coffee
on November 1st, when I take my first sip and ask the
man in my best bored voice, "So, what are you planning for
me next year?"

October
31, 2004

Wendy
McElroy [send her mail] is
the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland,
Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles,
including the new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

Wendy
McElroy Archives

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