Today I was privileged to tag along in the field with the charming Nadia and Dana from Leslie Hawke’s (the American actor Ethan’s mother) NGO called Ovidiu Rom which seeks to help put impoverished Romanian children in school. We drove outside Bucharest to the small village of Vizuresti and spent the day teaching kindergarteners as well as knocking on doors and speaking with parents in the hopes of getting their children to come to school. Leslie came to Romania first in 2000 with the Peace Corps and then started Ovidiu Rom in 2001. She is doing humanitarian work of the first order. It was truly a joy to participate. Here are a few images and the larger edit can be seen here.
Nadia makes house calls.
Dana plays with the kindergarteners.
A Roma child.
Dana and Nadia discussing on our way out of Vizuresti.
Today, Nicolae Ceausescu would have been 91. I went to Ghencea Cemetery here in central Bucharest where he and his wife Elena are buried. Amidst the rain in the course of an hour I saw three Romanian tourist men come to see the Ceausescu graves as well as a couple who were younger than me who affixed a brand new name plate to Elena’s grave. This totally astounded me as I expected to only see nostalgic pensioners. When I asked the guy if it was better under Ceausescu (as he obviously thought it was) he said that capitalism is criminal. I laughed all the time thinking that his girl wouldn’t have her purse or jeans or that coat she was wearing had it not been for Ceausescu’s overthrow. I wanted to ask him, ‘oh, ok, so Communist blocs and streets without drains and thousands of stray dogs and paranoid citizens and censorship and a closed border and no abortion rights etc. etc. etc. all made Romania better than a free and open society where at least there is the potential for change!?’ When I see a couple like this I realize just how backward Romania can be. For me it was funny to be staring at Ceausescu’s diminutive grave and be thinking that for most of the hour, I, an American, was the only one in the company of the ruthless dictator who had wrought such destruction on Romania and the Romanian psyche. I am sure that he could never have imagined that in 2009, on his birthday, the only person around would be some American!
The assignment went well yesterday on the streets of Bucharest even if the paranoia of Communism still lingers. Today, I met with the American-Romanian Chamber of Commerce and have negotiated a deal to photograph their occasional events.
I will be one of 100 photographers gathered worldwide tomorrow by Courrier Japon to shoot pictures around the theme of ‘hope’ on Barack Obama’s inauguration day. My photos along with all the other work will appear in the February issue of the magazine as well as in a book. The list of photographers is impressive including some of my fellow Anzenberger friends and a few from Magnum, VII and VU as well as many other top shooters.
This Balkan capital that I now call home was wrecked by Ceausescu. Today, it seems to be finally crawling out from under the dark spell cast on it by the dictator. Top of the range BMWs and Mercs line the streets, fashionistas finger iPhones and consumerism is taking root. But it is doubtful that it will regain its status of ‘Little Paris’ that it enjoyed before World War II. Communism forever changed the landscape of the place and the psyche of Romanians. Something new is being formed.