Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Transylvania Writing Workshop

Some tower in France:)
Let me begin with a few words of commentary: a once in a lifetime, bucket list checking, experience... and the workshop was icing on the cake.  The journey began with a stop-over in Paris - Eiffel, Notre Dame, and the Louvre...it was a quick, down and dirty tour of the City of Lights and amazing.

Next, the Land Beyond the Forest, the home of Vlad Tepes, and all things Dracula, and the first ever horror writing workshop hosted in that country.  The special guest instructor was Richard Thomas, not to be confused with John Boy Walton.  Richard introduced students to Neo Noir, the New Black, and utilized several wonderful authors' work - Jack Ketchum, Stephen Graham Jones, and one of my favorites, Brian Evenson.  The workshop was a good review for writers who have been published and an excellent introduction and learning experience for those who are just testing the waters.  It was made perfect by the organizer and Commander and Chief, Tausha Johnson and her very capable and native Romanian side-kick, Ina Lolescu, both very capable and knowledgeable experts in the running of workshops, administration, and writing - please check the workshop site.
The majestic Carpathians
The scenery was haunting, terror-inspiring, superstitious, and, in a word, sublime.  The Carpathians are not a place, but an experience, and to seal that description, our first night found the local Orthodox priests blessing the participants and the pension where we stayed, Mama Conzonacilor, against evil.  If the setting was not enough to inspire ghosts, goblins, vampires, werewolves, it certainly inspired protection.  The Mama Conzonacilor and our host, Lorenzo, made everyone feel right at home, the accommodations were simply outstanding, the food, native and delicious, and everything Bram Stoker captured in the first few chapters of Dracula.  An experience not to be missed.
Mama Conzonacilor Pensiune
In addition to the writing and lecture, which was intense, but pleasant, several days included tours of the local area and famous (infamous) Vlad hang outs.  The routine involved 4-hours of classroom, including writing, followed by lunch, and then an excursion or more workshop and writing.

The author and his wife at Rasnov
Our first outside activity was to the ancient citadel/fortress of Rasnov, built between 1211 and 1225 by the Teutonic Knights.  It was interesting, a trip worth taking, but offered very little for the writing of horror or ghost stories; however, the age, the ambiance, was an amazing tonic to inspire creativity and most likely to give a respite to jet-lagged participants.  A site not to be missed by visitors.  My wife, who attended as a non-writer, found the excursions to be the most exciting part of the journey; however, just lying around and catching up on her reading at the hotel was nice as well.

Probably one of the most amazing activities was a visit to Bran Castle, an immense fortress located near the border between Transylvania and Wallachia.  The castle, also with Teutonic roots, was destroyed in 1242 by the Mongols.  Unfortunately, depending on one's point of view, it has more links to the English Monarchy than to the infamous Impaler, but as in most histories, tourism drives reality.  The implements of torture,
Vlad Tepes, possibly a tenant at Bran Castle
legends and myths, made it an excellent spot for writers of Nuevo Neo Noir Negro (N2N2), the latest genre in Horror.  It was also reported as the second-most haunted location in Romania.  I believe our camera ran out of battery at this point, so please check my FB links and friends for additional photographs, courtesy of the wonderful writer and photographer, Holli Moncrieff.

Iulia Hasdeu
If I mentioned the second-most haunted location in Romania, you are probably expecting some commentary on the first-most haunted spot in Romania.  Yes, we visited there too, and it inspired a wonderful story that, I hope, will see publication soon.  Iulia Hasdeu Castle, Julia to her American friends, was constructed after Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu's daughter, Iulia, died at the age of 19, an event that dramatically shook and changed Hasdeu's life. Hasdeu, an acclaimed academic and possibly the smartest man of his time, claimed that his belated daughter provided the plans for building the castle during sessions of spiritism. The building was completed in 1896.  Yes, there was definitely a spirit or spirits present, although none showed up on film.  It was an awe and horror-inspiring adventure, which was only added to by the 6-hour van ride to and from Bran.

Next came the actual birthplace of Vlad Tepes, the Impaler and Bram Stoker's infamous Dracula: Sigishoara.  It was a beautiful, protected Medieval Village (UNESCO).  It was like taking a step back in time, and I mean from the time we were in, which already felt like pre-Soviet Romania.  Despite
The author, his wife, and a very nice Roma woman.
its thriving tourism-driven economy, there were many historical sites to see, as well as many story inspiring sites, including a citadel atop Sigishoara Mountain, including an ancient church and still functioning cemetery. The 100-plus steps leading to imposing fortress was made perfect by an old and kind Roma woman selling flowers.  It was a great opportunity to impress my wife, and our friend Ina, by making a small purchase of two bouquets, one of which we left in the very Hollywood-style coffin of Vlad Tepes later in the day.  I am still processing everything we saw and did.  I'm sure there are a number of stories just waiting to be written.  Of all the places on earth I have visited, Romania must be at the top of the list of places I plan to return to.
Vlad and our flower offering

So, Vlad Tepes birthplace... It has become a restaurant, with excellent food, by the way, and a tourist trap akin to a Tunnel-O-Love from the mid-twentieth century.  Still, there was a certain charm, a chic, that can be found nowhere else on the planet.  It was also the only certifiable link to the infamous Impaler on our trip, other than the empty plot of Vlad Tepes at Snagov (next).  The setting and lighting were excellent for a nice snapshot.

Finally, on our way to the airport on the last day, we had to stop by Lake Snagov and the empty grave of Vlad Tepes made famous in Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian.  It was everything we expected.  We especially appreciated our tour guide, Roxana Petrescu.  It was a short, 20-minute drive from the airport.  If you are traveling to Romania, an excellent site to see/visit
on your way into the country or on your way out.

I plan to go into more detail, and include some commentary on each of the sites in additional detail, as well as our Paris adventure and our follow-on 4-day trip in the U.K., including Stonehenge, Avebury, and the city made famous by Jane Austen.  If there are any errors, please let me know.

Mulţumesc foarte!

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