This voyage has been eagerly anticipated, a trip to Transylvania, Romania in search of Dracula legends, and simultaneously discovering a few gay hotspots in a country to which none of my friends has ever been. I was feeling uniquely qualified for this challenge, after all, in college when I couldn’t get cast in a mainstage play, I ended up playing the role of Jonathan Harker in a terrifically bad production of Dracula in the dormitory dining hall. I also spent years touring throughout Los Angeles schools in a show sponsored by the f ire department in which I played “Manfred the Fire-f ighting Vampire.” I’ve got this whole vampire thing figured out. My partner is intrigued, but confesses some disappointment we can’t be searching for Romanian gymnasts instead of Drac. Speaking of gymnastics, I have been diligently practicing my very best Sarah Michelle Gellar backflips and roundhouse kicks, feeling confident, if called upon, that I’d be well prepared to kick some blood-sucker butt.
Romania is often called “an island of Latinity” surrounded by Slavic nations. Stupid me, I had been expecting the people and language to be of an eastern European flavor, when in reality, Romania (from “Roman”) is a Latin nation. The language and locals bear a keen resemblance to Italian. Romanians are stunning specimens of physical beauty – tall, dark, and handsome doesn’t begin to do them justice. Young men and women alike are sinuous cover model material. As playwright/ performer David Drake (The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me) points out (his ancestral name being Drakula, and the subject of his newest show Son of Drakula), “They’re a longlegged people, and very sexy. The men are very sexy…well, the young ones. Once they hit 30 they go speeding downhill like a car without brakes. Overnight the teeth fall out, the hair falls out, the belly goes straight out, it’s unbelievable, they’re instantly old. Women too, they go from being gorgeous looking like Cindy Crawford to suddenly waking up one morning and they’re Bea Arthur with a babushka.”
While the oppressive communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, which ended with his overthrow and execution in 1989, has left a primarily impoverished country slow to recover from the brutal dictatorship, individual Romanians, at one time forbidden to speak with foreign visitors, couldn’t be warmer. A Bucharest native is only half joking when he reports, “Here, if you ask a person on the street how to get someplace, they will stop and say ‘Hello,’ then ask ‘How are you?’ then tell you the way, or take you by the hand and lead you there.”
The Romanian relationship with the legend of Dracula is a complex one. Bram Stoker, the Irish writer who originally penned the novel Dracula, never actually visited Romania or saw Transylvania. Of course, the vast majority of the novel, and nearly all of the movie scenes take place in England. Writings about Romania’s King Vlad Tepes, also known as “Vlad the Impaler” because he frequently skewered his enemies on stakes, caught Stoker’s whimsy, and from that he fabricated all the vampiric details. Vlad the Impaler was known as Drakula, which is the diminutive form of Drakul, his father’s monniker from when he fought under the Order of the Dragon (dragon = Drakul). That is where the similarity ends.