This article brings us a lesson from Romania as guest writer Alex Papa takes us on a journey from the ornate Palatul Parlamentului in Bucharest to the traditional horse carts and countryside of Sibiu where he finds true value and friendship.
I never imagined I would visit the world’s largest, heaviest and most expensive administration building in the world. I also never dreamed it would be the Palatul Parlamentului, or the Palace of the Parliament, in Bucharest, Romania. Yet here I was with a friend, both of us slipping on a long stretch of marble floor, and staring down an ornate staircase whose spiraling form resembled a conch shell. I wondered what precisely was the value of this massive structure and the wealth it contained?
The palace certainly contained wealth. Originally built by Nicolae Ceausescu for use as his palace, this strange behemoth of a building remains empty in places. Some of the commissioned furniture and fixtures never were realized. Yet what had been realized was, paradoxically, a consistent study in material extremes. Nothing about this place is small, or even to human scale.
Three thousand, five hundred tons of crystal take the shape of four hundred and eighty chandeliers and lighting fixtures. Velvet curtains and drapery detailed with gold and silver thread coat the walls. Maple, walnut, oak and cherry wood compose much of the material used for ninety thousand square meters of flooring. All of this runs through eleven hundred rooms.
I did not know what to make of these numbers. More importantly, I couldn’t answer my own question: what was the value of this place, and what did it have to do with real people in Romania?
That night we chose to travel the one hundred and eighty miles or so between Bucharest and Sibiu by car. We started out early and drove straight into fog. Our headlights were useless. Its thickness was insurmountable. Our guide warned me to drive very slowly and I soon figured out why. Along with us, the thickly misted road carried farmers in decrepit looking wooden carts dragged by horses. I say, “dragged” because the carts barely seemed to move.
The next morning I found myself in a clearing of cut trees. A group of five men were chopping wood into planks, using what looked like an iron chisel and an oversized wooden mallet. The mallet bludgeoned the chisel and split the wood along a seam. Three men stacked the planks directly into the carts. They waved and smiled at us, but didn’t speak and didn’t stop working until a certain number of planks were collected.
A sixth man stood over a smoking fire, grilling lunch. When it was ready we sat down and learned how delicious a barbeque could be. We had mititei, or grilled mincemeat patties, along with iahnie, a dish of cooked, sticky beans, some rice and a tremendously harsh, warming red wine. At home, these men had no televisions, no computers and no alarm clocks. They spent all day outside working alongside one another and they went home as soon as the sun set. Now the men spoke, laughing and joking that the wine made them less clumsy when wielding sharp implements.
As we ate and laughed, I realized that perhaps I had found an answer to the question I had while in Bucharest the day before. What was of value to the people in Romania was not the Palatul Parlamentului with its vast, empty halls of power. Instead, horse carts and warm food were of value, because they created the conditions for laughter, conversation, kindness and friendship.
I chuckled to myself, for I discovered something I didn’t expect. My mind had managed to find a question about Romania, but my stomach and heart found the answer while eating with strangers next to a country road, with the fog burning away to make room for a glowing sun.
Alex Papa has travelled extensively in East Europe and Asia where he studies the prospects of foreign investment. As an entrepreneur he often helps people learn how to start a business. He funds his travel from his blog where he offers the latest Norton 360 coupon code.
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