E misto la Techirghiol

Ioana Calinescu
The situation was rather embarrassing. Petruț in blue Speedos, covered in a heavy, shiny black layer of mud out of his sincere wish to become part of the motley group come for treatment; an old couple, buck naked, in a bizarre composition, as black as coal, little white summer hats on their heads, their legs sprawled on the sheet, reading the newspaper, their arms away from the body... Though reluctant at first, Petruț approached them and popped the question: ‘May I take your picture?’ The couple stared at him for...one, two, three, four, five seconds, then one of them said grinning: ‘Given the situation...yes.’

What did I know about Techirghiol? Ever since my childhood days, I knew it was the place where the train, on its way to the seaside, slowed down and dangerously tilted to one side, that you could spy on naked people through the holes of the concrete fence, that it got some weird smells, that people daubed themselves with pitch-black mud and that there, on shore, right at the entry to the lake, the water was as black as an abysmal hole. I also knew it was good for rheumatism, that you could swim in Lake Techirghiol, that, even if you didn’t know how to swim, it was also a spot preferred by nudists and old people. And, last, but not least, I knew that under no circumstances was I to let myself get roped into going there as consequence of one of the most ridiculous and unpleasant experiences of my childhood. Indeed, although it might seem a fun activity, a child forced to smear mud all over her body and afterwards wash it off in salty, foul water (which also got into her eyes), might perceive this experience as something extremely displeasing.

For the most part, these are some of my childhood memories/impressions of Techirghiol, impressions which haven’t changed in the last twenty years. The decision to include Techirghiol in this project meant I was dead set against dipping one single finger in that healing mud. However, the situation quickly turned around, not in my favour. I would sabotage the project. One simply cannot walk, camera in hand, among mud-smeared people, as if one were in a zoo. It’s offensive and completely... unprofessional.

So, this summer I decided to cover myself in mud in the ‘Mother and child’ quarter on the Techirghiol beach and I bloody loved it. I’ve no idea why it’s called that, but ‘Mother and child’ is the code name for that part of the beach open to both men and women, where people in bathing suits come together with their friends to fix their bones and hangover, where retired people are relaxed and funny, where youngsters, children and old people, drenched in the silky black mud, become new chess pieces and walk back and forth on the path separating the sand in two, in what is an amusing choreography of straw hats, sunglasses and crosswords puzzles. It’s obvious many of those meeting here have been coming for years; they know one another and that makes the general atmosphere on the beach very relaxed and intimate.

And there was something else that made me come back. Besides the buttery mud (which I don’t know if it’s actually effective, but it sure does leave your skin much softer), besides that salty lake (which makes you think you’re a great swimmer who could easily cross it, even if the truth of it is that you can’t cross a channel), it’s that peacefulness and old-fashioned look to it that lured me back. I like exactly what other people reproach Techirghiol: that, although it’s got a huge potential and it could be a very popular treatment spa, it’s the same as it was fifty years ago. The beach of Techirghiol might not be modern, but it sure as hell doesn’t look shabby. It’s an old-fashioned, but clean spot, just like a modest, but tidy household.

And it’s not like I didn’t see the run-down aspect of the stone passageway under the main road, leading to the entry to the beach, or the headless showers and the chipped slabs. It’s just that it simply didn’t bother me. I love the fact that, after this experience, I cannot imagine a more awesome idea for me and my friends than a summer morning on the Techirghiol beach, our eyes half-shuttered with sleep, a light hangover, our whole bodies covered in mud and our legs soaking in such a salty water it reminds me of the lump of salt my grandpa used when his hand shook while shaving.