• 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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