If I didn’t mention Dracula in the same breath as Romania, it would be like disregarding a pink elephant in the room, so I’ll say it… Dracula! Vlad Tepes, otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler, otherwise known as the legendary Dracula, hails from the center of Romania, the infamous Transylvania. He has a castle that people may visit and an up-and-coming amusement park, and his face is plastered onto every kitschy souvenir that exists. Dracula is more than just a legend in Romania; he is an industry. My students grow weary at the mention of his name. They complain, “That’s the only thing in the world anyone knows about Romania, a stupid myth.”
Respectful of my students’ complaints, I will leave Dracula to the movies and share a new Romanian legend. I was told this story one afternoon over a cup of strong Romanian coffee by my host-country counterpart and friend, Vanda.
She led me back long ago into the days of castles and knights, when there lived an old Romanian king and queen. They didn’t live happily ever after, Vanda informed me sadly, for the queen desperately wanted a child but was unable to conceive. She consulted magicians and wizards, she tried herbs and even black magic, but the queen grew wrinkled and gray and still no baby came. At long last she gave up, convinced she was too old, but miraculously, that spring, she became pregnant. The king and queen were ecstatic and the queen’s belly grew large and round. Royal subjects from all around the kingdom came to admire the old, pregnant queen and her gigantic belly.
The day finally came for the baby to be born, but the queen, in much pain, could not deliver the baby. Again, she summoned the magician and the wizard, and she tried herbs and black magic, but the baby refused to be born. Instead, a tiny voice came from her belly: “I will not be born,” squeaked the unborn prince, “unless you promise me ‘tinerete fara
batranete si viata fara de moarte'” – Youth without old age, and life without death. The queen groaned with pain; how could she guarantee youth without old age and life without death? She pleaded with her unborn son to be born; she promised him that he would never want for anything, that he would be rich and handsome and lord over their vast kingdom. But the baby continued to make the same demand.
Finally, the king took command of the situation. He promised the baby prince that, indeed, if born, he would experience youth without old age and life without death. He reassured the queen that as the child grew older he would come to understand the impossibility of such a wish. And so, finally, the prince was born and the whole kingdom rejoiced.
The prince grew up strong and handsome, as all princes do. He never wanted for anything, as the queen had promised. But when the prince reached the ripe age of 20, he once again went to his mother and father and demanded his birth wish. The king and queen, now quite old and growing older, still smiled at their beautiful son. “Son,” the queen explained, “we have given you the best of everything in the world – wealth, good looks, a kingdom of your own. But youth without old age, life without death, we do not control and are not free to give.”
The prince sulked and angrily reminded them of their promise. “You promised me youth without old age and life without death, and if you cannot deliver these things, I will be forced to search them out on my own.” So, against the wishes of his aging parents, the prince set off on his quest for youth without old age and life without death.