The agony of the Romanian seaside *

Ioana Calinescu
As the project Around the Black Sea began in Romania, it will also end in Romania, but not before passing through a poverty-ridden Dobruja (though dominated by windmills), more precisely, through several Lipovan villages with flowers on the streets, confirming the saying: ‘a good farmer makes a good farm’. And an outing with the fishermen on Lake Razelm in canoes and traditional, hand-carved, worm-eaten fishing tools. And because we decided to save our opinions and impressions about the Romanian seaside for a compact series of posts dedicated exclusively to Romania, here we are, talking about the sun and the beach ‘under the auspices of the first snowflakes’. A wacky and inappropriate moment, just like the Romanian seaside.


‘Snakes, tigers…footballer German boxers!’, ‘Don’t waste money on crap, buy your children a snap!’, ‘A photo a day keeps the doctor away!’, ‘Pumpkin seeds will make you say cheeeese!’, ‘Salt sticks and beer will make you cheer!’, ‘Come get your corn, get your fried corn!’

The Romanian seaside isn’t what it used to be…No more rhymes, the Swedish ladies have switched to the Bulgarian seaside, Vier Pfoten freed the monkeys, corn is genetically modified, the sea advances in menacing crawls and will soon swallow the Obelisk and the Gypsies are roasting seeds on Platze in Paris. One would say the Romanian seaside is ready to breathe its last after the ruffian abuses of the past twenty years, after the disgrace constantly brought upon it in the press and on every media channel where people appalled by the state of the Romanian seaside could voice themselves.

Well, things aren’t exactly like this. I passed by the seaside this summer and it’s doing great. Although the years have left some marks… Its hair is starting to really thin on top and it’s grown quite a big beer belly, but, otherwise, it’s got the same liveliness (as ever) pouring out of the speakers and still spends the summers with the same rude waiters and the same roughnecks with the beer pack attached to them. I hadn’t seen it in a while and I became nostalgic for the old swim ring and Radio Vacanța tunes. However, I got over it quickly. The second we entered Costinești, I felt a clawing pain gnawing at my stomach and a harrowing headache on my temples that just wouldn’t go away, not even when we glided through the myriad of sheets spread on the beach so Petruț could take pictures.

The beach of Costinești highly resembles an overcrowded arena of bloodthirsty animals, stimulated by a reverberating music bordering on frenzy. The music is booming from every possible direction and wherever you turn, all you see are rows of grinning mugs, showing their fangs in an eternal grimace of happiness due to their presence at the seaside and to the general fun they’re having. A forced duty to have fun, a race against the clock is hovering in the air: who can pull the most pranks, who can laugh the loudest, who can show the people on the sheet next to them (in the most original and persuasive manner) and the folks back home and they should envy them as they’re having way more fun than them.

No. There’s nothing natural in the explosion of youthfulness in Costinești. It’s something rather tired, dirty and ridiculous, just like the Romanian seaside where cigarette stubs thrown on the beach rival the sand grains, where seawater smells of sunscreen and also has a limy layer of SPF sun lotion, where a bath into the sea resembles a bath in an oversized tub between apartments blocks where you bathe at a fixed time with all your neighbours, where the evening sets in on a sea of garbage left on the beach and where medical care points are decreasing while the number of food poisoning cases are on the rise.

Watching the abundance of sheets and chaises longues, leaving virtually no room to pass, Petruț noticed an interesting thing. Russian or Ukrainian anti-consumerism is a scathing reply to the hysterical Romanian consumerism. On no other beach around the Black Sea do people spend as much as on Romanian beaches. The other beaches, as popular and crowded as ours, remain as clean as a whistle at the end of the day because those people do limit their spending to much more moderate sums. Seldom will one see someone with a beer or peanut bag in their hands. Romanian consumerism comes obsessively, furiously and in huge quantities: seeds, warm beer, baked corn, inflatable animals…and so on till the day ends.

The headache finally went away when we reached the range of resorts bearing the names of the planets in our solar system. The atmosphere was indeed much more peaceful, there were beaches of fine sand and a less eroded seafront, nice-looking canteens of accessible prices, smells of doughnuts and noisy kids. In a way, I believe Saturn and Venus have best preserved the atmosphere of ‘80s holidays; those yearning for Romanian summer holidays of the past will surely find them there. As a bonus, here’s an image that’s been haunting me since my childhood, an image I had come to believe I myself had invented: people walking on water, just like Jesus. Well, that’s how the entry into the sea looks like in Saturn and Venus. Tens of metres of water reach a low level.

To conclude, the Romanian seaside is as swarming with people as it was in the days of ‘Greetings from the sunny Black Sea seaside’ postcards. The only difference is that today it’s really expensive. So expensive you feel like punching the receptionist requesting 200 RON for a damp room with a window giving onto the patio where the ventilation from the canteen is done. Although she isn’t the guilty one. Nobody is. You are the guilty one because, despite every warning, you still gave the Romanian seaside another shot.


*This post wasn’t sponsored by the political detractors of Elena Udrea, just like the posts about Bulgaria didn’t benefit from a financial reward from the supporters of this distinguished lady, but, if either of the two parties wishes to support the Around the Black Sea project, they’re welcome to do so.