Romania: What the hell happened??
Predictably, a lot of people either hated–or were deeply offended by–the Romania show. Most, I gather, are either Romanian or have traveled to Romania and had a better time there than I did. Quite understandably, no one wants to see the host of a travel show having a bad time of it in their country, griping miserably about how things went wrong–and how utterly fucked up things were.
But the fact is:
Things WERE fucked up. My Russian pal, Zamir, who had helped make such good shows in Russia and Uzbekistan, was definitely NOT a good choice to show me around Romania. I think, if nothing else, we made that explicitly clear.
The “Motel Dracula” was, in fact, just as bad a time as it looked. Maybe we fucked up picking that spot as something to cover. Though it’s certainly representative of a resurgent, Dracula-based tourist industry. What we DID show you, at least, was exactly how awful it was–and how unhappy I was to be part of such a bogus scene.
The scene at Vlad The Impaler’s statue in Bucharest was not atypical of the kind of “cooperation” and last-minute shakedowns we found whenever we tried to shoot at a “typical” everyday restaurant.
Even WITHOUT cameras, looking just for a relaxed meal, we’d often enter a near empty restaurant, ask if a table was available–and have the waiter tell us “No” in the surliest of terms. WITH cameras–asking if we could shoot was an invitation to either an instinctive “NO” or an invitation to gouging. As waiters and hosts it seems, work on salary–rather than tips, no one really seemed to care about more business, promoting their business or even making more money. People are still uncomfortable in general about being filmed. Understandable, given Romania’s history that many would be reluctant to have their picture taken–as this rarely led to anything good back in the bad old days.
But to describe Romania as particularly friendly? Not really. I’ve been all over the world. Over 50 countries. On the friendly scale? Romania not exactly in the top 40. The food–on camera, off camera? Didn’t matter. It was mostly pretty primitive. Soups may taste good–but they don’t make interesting television. I could lie. But I ain’t gonna.
Which is really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Should I–when faced with a show that’s clearly going wrong–as far as depicting good times and good food–do my best to LIE about it? Put on my best, tightest smile and slog through an hour, yammering a lot of utter bullshit about what a great time I’m having and how good the food is and how friendly the people? You can see that on every other travel and food show. Or get it straight from the tap–at the Tourist Board. This show never pretended to have any responsibility to show the “best” of any place–or the “top ten” of anything. Or to even be diplomatic. I, me, Anthony Bourdain went to Romania. I made some bad decisions. And this is the show I came back with. At the end of the day? That’s what happened. That’s what it felt like. Period. Frankly? I think it’s a pretty funny show.