Din California la Curtea de Argeș și înapoi – From California to Curtea de Argeș and back

În ziarul Argeș Expres din 4 aprilie 2024 a apărut un frumos articol despre importanța prieteniei și a păstrării valorilor tradiționale în mediul academic și nu numai. Mulțumesc frumos, Cristina Mincu, pentru disponibilitate și generozitatea redării dialogului nostru plăcut și cu multe deschideri. Articolul a apărut și aici:

Iată în continuare traducerea în engleză a articolului.

The “Romanian dream”, lived by an American who came to Curtea de Argeș: Victoria Seitz, on the adventure of a lifetime, with her friends Mariana and Olesia

In the picturesque heart of Romania, in the town of Curtea de Argeș, I witnessed the celebration of a story of deep and delightful friendship between three women equally passionate about culture, new experiences and authentic human connections. Victoria Seitz, a former professor of marketing at California State University of San Bernardino, USA, fell hopelessly in love with our country and, especially, with the beauty and mediaeval history of the Bessarabian Citadel. Professor Victoria Seitz her title of Doctor of Science in 1987 from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, with the doctoral thesis: “The patronage behaviour of non-users, users and users-intensive catalogues for the purchase of clothing”. Alongside her, in this story, are Professor Mariana Nicolae (from Bucharest, but now living in Curtea de Argeș) and Dr. Olesia Mihai (from Iași), two friends whose devotion and affection have crossed years and distances.

Victoria Seitz first came to Romania in 2002 during an academic trip to Iași and Bucharest, on which occasion she met the Romanian women who would become her best friends. Since then, her connection to these lands has become deeper and more passionate. In love with the rural beauty of the country and the authenticity of the city of Curtea de Argeș, Victoria returned to these places several times over the years, observing with amazement and joy the evolution and growth of the local community.

In February this year she decided to spend a short vacation in the Royal City, to celebrate, together with Mariana Nicolae and Olesia Mihai, Olesia’s birthday marking a beautiful life milestone. Seven years apart from their last meeting, the three women revisited memories and created new experiences in a new occasion to explore friendship and places.

I met Victoria at Mariana Nicolae’s house – a timeless setting, with romantic and elegant furniture, emanating a lot of good taste and love for art, where the best occupation is that of telling stories and reviving memories. The way the interior of the house is arranged is eclectic and reflects influences from the many trips Mariana has taken throughout her life. We sat down to chat by a beautiful fire glowing in the fireplace and with a platter with alluring pieces of cake with sour-cherries. Becoming nostalgic, the marketing Professor from across the Ocean started her story confessing that she is still sincerely in love with Romania and, especially, with Curtea de Argeș. She visited our town for the first time in 2004, and although it didn’t have much to win you over then, Victoria’s heart stayed on in this place. Therefore, after 20 years, during which she has returned to our town several times, she can tell us exciting things.

With each visit to Romania, Victoria deepened her connection with the local culture and traditions. Fascinated by the beauty of the rural landscapes and the hospitality of the people, she traveled and explored these lands with her friends, discovering new aspects of our picturesque paradise and living the “Romanian dream”. In this context, the company of the two friends from old Dacia was invaluable to her.

“I love Curtea de Argeș! I came to Romania for the first time in 2002, in Iasi, as a Fulbright Professor. I was invited to the Al. Ioan Cuza University, for a semester, to give different lectures to the students. That’s how I met Olesia. Then, I moved to Bucharest, where I had the opportunity to meet Mariana. I returned to Romania in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2017, either as a Fulbright specialist or to participate in numerous conferences in my field of academic activity. The last time I came over was seven years ago, so it’s been a while since I stepped back on these beautiful lands. All these years kept me away from my favorite friends, Olesia and Mariana”, Victoria began to tell us.

She likes the countryside a lot for its authenticity and tranquility. Although she knows that it is a small town, she considers Curtea de Argeș to be an attractive place. And, in order to better understand the essence of the community, she asked questions and did her research on the history of the place, but also of the country, so that she can make comparisons and draw parallels between the Romanian society and the one from which she comes.

“I’m in love with nature and the countryside… It helps me relax. I had the opportunity to visit Timișoara as well, but my heart remained in Curtea de Argeș. As an American, coming from such a different society, everything seems so much easier here. Curtea de Argeș is a very courteous city. Over time, I also learned its history, I know that it was once the capital… In the more than 20 years since I have been coming to the area, I have seen this city evolve and its course has been amazing. It’s a good sign when you’re watching a community grow so much, so spectacularly… It means that its people really care about the future.

Everything here is gorgeous. You can’t help but admire the hills, the mountains, the fresh air. I don’t deny that I also liked Bucharest, but that is a metropolis, with agitation and noise, like in the big cities of America. Here, in the province, you can also listen to the voice of nature, contemplate the surroundings. And Mariana’s house is very welcoming and suitable for meditation. We have quality time together. I revisited, on this occasion of my return to Curtea de Argeș, the Vidraru Dam, where again the landscape impressed me a lot…”, Victoria shared with us.

Over the years, the friendship between her, Olesia and Mariana has been solid and full of fulfillment. These three remarkable women have combined their passions and experiences to create valuable projects together, including books and scholarly articles, offering unique solutions and insights in the field of marketing and personal image. Their story of friendship transcends borders and cultural differences, demonstrating the power of genuine human connections and mutual learning.

“Mariana was also a Fulbright scholar in America and spent 6 months at the university where I teach, California State University, and Olesia later came to the University of Santa Barbara, California, also as a Fulbright scholar. From our intersections resulted two books that I wrote together with Mariana. One of them is called Key to Success. The professional image, and appeared in 2008, at the Humanitas Publishing House, the other appeared at the ASE Publishing House. Mariana is very creative and deep. She helped me develop these two projects, wrote them, edited them, translated them and prepared them for printing… We also wrote numerous academic articles about business education and marketing. Our friendship helped us discover more about ourselves. She’s the one with the pen and the story, I come up with examples from the US, we talk about international trends, how things are done in various other areas and that’s how we complement each other. We have each benefited from our friendship, both professionally and personally. Between the three of us there is a special bond that I cherish. I’m very happy that I have such soulmates!”, Victoria pointed out.

In the book mentioned before, the two authors intertwine their totally different experiences – one Romanian, the other American – to offer simple solutions, available to anyone, to create a personal image to help people get promoted from the beginning of their careers: choosing the correct way to dress at work, improving their skills and art of oral and written communication, preparing a speech, etc.

For Victoria, Romania became more than a tourist destination, it is a place where she discovered new meanings and perspectives on the world.

“My story is about the Romanian experience and how staying here awakened in me a new level of sensitivity that I didn’t know I had before stepping on Romanian soil… The people I met helped me understand more about Eastern Europe and what lies beyond what we call the Iron Curtain. I learned about the struggles and hardships that this people went through, during the times of restrictions from the period of Ceaușescu, but also before the communist regime… And I also had a better understanding of the lives of Mariana and Olesia. That’s also how I realized how much propaganda is circulating in the United States regarding the world over here. In America we often quote the saying Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I know that this was what happened in Romania. But I learned that in Eastern Europe, although the countries were all under communist rule, they were governed differently. For example, the Czech Republic flourished, while in Romania there was a lot of oppression, people suffered shortages. There are still enough leaders, even today, who do not care about their people. I can say that America also had a leadership that didn’t care about the people and we don’t know what will happen even after the new elections. At a high level, everything is arranged, but we, the common people, suffer…”, observed the Professor from California.

Through her voice, Victoria Seitz shares a deep understanding and appreciation for Romania and its people, highlighting the cultural and human richness of this country and encouraging people to discover and appreciate the beauty and authenticity of the world in which they live. While, for many Romanians, the “American dream” is associated with economic opportunities and the Western lifestyle, in a country considered to be successful and prosperous, where personal achievement and the fulfillment of objectives can be achieved, this is how, for an American, the “Romanian dream” comes into being, associated with the deep awareness of the cultural wealth and human values that Romania offers. For Victoria and other foreign travelers, our country represents a place of understanding and inner fulfillment, offering perspectives and experiences that can change the worldview and one’s own life. Here’s what Victoria told us:

“I think that the Romanian experience made me a better person, from small things like the food and drinks over here, to the interaction with special people. When I think of all the places in the world I’ve visited, this is definitely my favorite, and I’m being honest. Before I came to Romania I was very naive, although I had traveled a lot. But, having the opportunity to penetrate deeply into the local culture, I saw that the Romanians have gone through hard experiences over time, which I did not have, so I learned from them that you have to be prepared for anything, that the world is constantly changing and that misfortunes and difficult trials may come upon us at any time. In American newspapers, you don’t read about the turmoil of the world over here, nor about what is happening in Moldova, as this information is insignificant for Americans. The pages of the newspapers are barely enough to write about us… Over here I learned what is not taught in school or anywhere else. Before I first arrived in Romania, after I accepted the Fulbright scholarship, I wondered where this country was like. I had no idea, because I didn’t know anything about it…”.

Now retired and with the mentality of an experienced person, who through her life reached a high level of wisdom, the guest from across the Ocean most appreciates the sincerity of the people and the human values that she finds here, in contrast to some aspects of American culture and society that she considers more superficial and devoid of genuine human connections:

“You come to a country considered backward, underdeveloped, poor, and you find that it has a huge volume of culture and traditions, history and substance. Although a simple people, the Romanians have much more than we Americans have, because they are close to each other. They are well connected with each other, have strong family relationships, have love. In America, the news of divorce dominates and people are cold, shallow, families are broken. You, the Romanians, have more than us, you have depth of soul, you have identity and the feeling of belonging, of heritage. All the people of this country should see that they have so much to offer and should stop letting foreigners do business for them and rule over them. This is what I always tell Romanian students. I try to instill in them the idea that they have a lot to offer, because I have often heard Romanians say that they are not good enough. Yes, they are good enough! They are really better, because they have their own things, they have what they need to get ahead!” concluded Victoria.

From those deep musings, I directed the discussion towards how the “Romanian dream feels” at the level of entertainment. An important part of Victoria’s experience was the discovery of Romanian wines, which she appreciated and promoted with enthusiasm:

“I spent New Year’s Eve in 2004 here, in Curtea de Argeș, with Mariana and Olesia. They had energy all night long. We got home at 3am and I was exhausted. It’s amazing how much vitality the Romanians have, being able to spend a whole night and not get drunk, even if they always taste the liquors in their glasses. They are warm people anyway, even the language sounds friendly. The hosts at the hotels and guesthouses are very kind and welcoming. The hot chocolate here is very tasty, like nowhere else I’ve been. Another good thing is the coffee: it has an intense taste that I can only find in Brazil, where I was born. As for the food, polenta is in power! Here I also ate sarmale, which I associate with important holidays. There are so many dishes, so many appetizers that, when you get to the main course, you’re already full… I remember that, during my visit to Iași in 2002, I was saddened by the fact that I couldn’t find any souvenirs: no T-shirts, no magnets. I didn’t know what to buy as a souvenir… Now, they are everywhere and that makes me so happy! Of course, I don’t mean the ones that are made in China. I also took home traditional drinks. I got in touch with Romanian wines and, when I got back to the USA, to California, where I used to live, I tried to promote the Romanian wines and even created a link through which wine could be imported from Romania, to be sold over there. This association worked for a while…”.

Here we conclude the story of the friendship between Victoria Seitz, Olesia Mihai and Mariana Nicolae, which is a tribute to human connections and journeys that open new perspectives on life. Beyond the limits imposed by the paper sheet of the newspaper or the interface of a website, the beautiful relationship will continue until the One above allows it. It was fascinating to learn how, in a modest Romanian town, two Romanian women and an American one discover and share the joy of friendship and the beauty of travel… Despite cultural and social differences, human connections and personal discoveries transcend borders and give us the opportunity to enrich our souls and improve our understanding of the world around us.

There are more pictures in the Romanian version of the article that you can find here:


James Baldwin: The Fire Next Time / Urmează focul

Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Poate că întreaga rădăcină a suferințelor noastre, suferințele umanității, este că sacrificăm întreaga frumusețe a vieții, ne întemnițăm în totemuri, tabuuri, cruci, jertfe de sânge, turle, moschei, rase, armate, steaguri, națiuni, doar pentru a nega certitudinea morții, singura certitudine pe care o avem. Cred că certitudinea morții ar trebui să ne bucure – ar trebui să ne facă să hotărâm ferm să ne câștigăm moartea confruntând cu pasiune paradoxul vieții. Suntem responsabili față de viață: este micul far din acel întuneric înspăimântător din care venim și la care ne vom întoarce. Trebuie să negociem această trecere pe cât de nobil posibil, de dragul celor care vin după noi.

James Baldwin, Urmează focul  


French centenarians / Persoane centenare din Franța

Written by an American woman who moved to France to follow her heart.

“According to FR3 television, (and every other news outlet that covered the story), 30,000 people in France are 100 or older — and the number is rising, more quickly than expected. There are thirty times more centenarians than in 1970.

We’re ahead of Spain and Italy (in total numbers), partly because we have one of the largest populations in Europe, but also “because life expectancy among women is particularly high.” Remember Jeanne Louise Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122 years and 164 days?

Having a large number of centenarians is not the same as having a longer average life expectancy. But France has both. What can we learn from the French about living longer? (…)

Walking is easy to do in large cities with good public transportation. Our boulangerie is at the end of the block, easily accessible for early morning runs to get fresh bread. Ditto for everything else we need, including a couple of grocery stores, a dry cleaner, and a hair salon.

I walk everywhere or take public transportation. I drive so infrequently in France that it always makes me a little nervous when I do.

According to the statistics, just slightly more than half of people over the age of 100 live in facilities. In the population of those who don’t, 33 percent live alone, 12 percent live with another person (typically, their children), and four percent live as couples.”

If you want more details read the article. It’s really good and … fun. And it probably also explains why the French don’t want to work for more years.

Articol scris de o americancă mutată în Franța pentru a-și urma chemarea inimii.

“Potrivit televiziunii FR3 (sau al a oricărui alt canal care a transmis știrea), 30.000 de oameni din Franța au 100 de ani sau mai mult. Iar numărul lor crește mai repede decât ne așteptam. Sunt de treizeci de ori mai mulți oameni de vârstă centenară decât în 1970.

Suntem înaintea Spaniei și Italiei (ca cifră absolută), parțial pentru că avem una dintre cele mai mari populații din Europa, dar și „pentru că speranța de viață în rândul femeilor este deosebit de mare”. Vă amintiți de Jeanne Louise Calment, care a murit în 1997 la vârsta de 122 de ani și 164 de zile? (…)

Un număr mare de persoane centenare nu este același lucru cu o speranță medie de viață mai mare. Dar Franța le are pe amândouă. Ce putem învăța de la francezi despre cum să trăim mai mult? …

Mersul pe jos este ușor în orașele mari cu transport public bun. Brutăria noastră se află la capătul blocului, ușor accesibilă pentru alergările de dimineață devreme pentru a cumpăra pâine proaspătă. La fel și pentru tot ceea ce avem nevoie, inclusiv câteva magazine alimentare, o curățătorie chimică și un salon de coafură.

Merg pe jos peste tot sau folosesc transportul în comun. Conduc atât de rar în Franța încât întotdeauna sunt puțin nervoasă când o fac.

Potrivit statisticilor, doar puțin mai mult de jumătate dintre persoanele cu vârsta peste 100 de ani locuiesc în cămine pentru vârstnici. Dintre cei care trăiesc neinstituționalizat, 33% trăiesc singuri, 12% trăiesc cu o altă persoană (de obicei, copiii lor) și 4% trăiesc în cuplu.”

Daca vrei mai multe detalii, citeste articolul. Este foarte bun și… distractiv. Și probabil explică de ce francezii nu vor să lucreze mai mulți ani.


On the footsteps of fairy tales – from Persia to Iran

As I was saying – the decision to go to Iran was unexpected even for myself. I like to I travel, but since the pandemic has slowed down our travelling impulses, I try to remind myself how today we can travel virtually very well with the help of the internet. And even though I don’t have the technology that allows me to immerse myself in a certain virtual reality, I can still travel comfortably almost anywhere in the world without leaving my favourite place at home where I feel relaxed and comfy. Actually, there are places difficult to reach except virtually. I don’t necessarily mean the bottom of the oceans or the heights of the Himalayas or the outer space. There are places, which for different reasons, are not accessible to us. Opportunity, excessive costs, we’re not all in the same league with Elon Musk, can be some disincentives.

But, lo and behold, the stars aligned and the algorithm tracking me sent me the unrefusable offer and … the decision was made. I’m going to Iran. Why? Probably because, since over one decade ago, I have been looking to the world that exists beyond Europe, whether Central, Eastern or Western, and I wonder how we came to the point of looking at this huge and so diverse world only through our cultural glasses which are so narrow and distorting?! Did I say cultural? Is ideology part of culture? Or is it vice versa? It is a simple question, and yet the answers are multiple and not easy to give. At least not here, in this column where I want to get, I hope, to tell you about 1001 nights of fairy tales chosen and told by a woman to a powerful ruler whose life and death decision she thus influenced. Hey, what am I doing here? Have I put on the glasses of a very fashionable ideology now? Whether we call it feminism or gender studies or gender balance or intersectional feminism doesn’t really matter. We all know the reality I am referring to.

Let me return to fairy tales. Everybody knows that “1001 nights” is a collection of Arabian stories! Why then bring it up in an account of Iran or Persia? Of course, we live in an area of the world where Bucharest is often confused with Budapest, and of course that irritates us in various degrees; and we usually think of the Middle East, with one truly exceptional exception, as inhabited by Arabs. And that leaves us more or less indifferent. Who cares anyway? Maybe most of us don’t, but what about those who live there?

I remember my Persian students who, very politely, were trying to tell us that they are not Arabs. Yeah, but you speak a Semitic language and you write with characters that look very much like the Arab ones. “Not at all”, they would answer patiently. “We speak an Indo-European language, quite different from Arabic. True in Iran we use the Arabic cursive script which is particularly ornamental. And just as true is that we highly appreciate the art of calligraphy.”

Streets  Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash  
Jérémie B. – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

True indeed. I was impressed by the patience and discipline with which they work or should I rather say they painstakingly create works of great delicacy and fineness – words I no longer hear nowadays except probably in book titles such as “The Painstaking Chronophage/ Migălosul cronofag” by Adrian Săhlean [1] the excellent translator of Eminescu into a fresh and intelligible English. The Persians took the art of calligraphy to an extraordinary refinement and their constant respect for and inclination towards literature, especially towards poetry preserved Persian making it intelligible even today.

The truth is that things are never simple: either to explain or to grasp. As a teacher I have known this for a very long time. And I also know how frustrating it is for everyone involved in the learning process to discover that there aren’t always simple, clear and universally applicable rules. “But I want to know the rule” many learners would say, especially those who come from the exact sciences. The rule and possibly some exceptions. But what do we do when there is a rule and multiple exceptions, as in learning English and not only. Let me, however, come back to “1001 nights” one of the charming books of our childhood. I am particularly thinking of the 1001 nights: Arabic fairy tales retold by Eusebiu Camilar, which came out at Tineretului Publishing House in 1956.

Today the stories of 1001 nights are no longer told by Scheherazade, but by Hollywood and Walt Disney, or even by various local film industries that have the power, and the budgets, to look at the stories of Scheherazade and Shahriar from multiple angles, and many of those who watch them most likely don’t even know that those stories started to be told probably in the 8th century and travelled over huge territories, from India through the Middle East to Turkey.

As in other similar situations, there are many voices that claim their primacy over the collection of fairy tales. Ulrich Marzolph, Professor and specialist in Islamic studies and Persian narrative tradition at the Georg-August University of Göttingen, believes that the general public thinks of the book as a collection of Persian, Arabic and Indian folk tales collected and transcribed into Arabic about a thousand years ago [2]. Despite this popular perception, Marzolph believes, based on documents, that the stories were first written in middle Persian known as Pahlavi. Their transcription took place between the 8th and 13th centuries and only later were they translated into Arabic.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica [3] says about the same thing, underlining the diversity of the contributions to the widely read collection of fairy tales. The person who wrote the article from The Encyclopaedia Britannica considers that although the names of the main characters are Iranian, the frame of the story seems to be Indian and most of the other names are Arabic. And, of course, the style of stories and other elements of internal analysis of the text lead to the same conclusions: multiple, uncertain authorship.

Britannica also tells us that the first known reference to the tales is a fragment from the 9th century. Incidentally, Britannica also agrees that the Persians were the first to mention the legendary collections of stories from Iran, India and Greece called in those times “One thousand nights”. In 987 Abū ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿAbdūs al-Jahshiyārī began to write down a collection of 1,000 Arabic, Iranian, Greek and other folktales, but died leaving only 480 written.

And this is how we realize that “A thousand and one…”, with its various titles, is only a way to indicate a large number. This was an age with no obsessions related to the accuracy of numbers. Subsequently, after the West began to translate the fairy tales into French and later into English, the number was interpreted literally. And more stories and fairy tales were added.

But who cares about these details today? From the wonderful collection, most of those formed in the Western culture (is this use of terms about to become an oxymoron?) remember, at best, the stories about Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sindbad who did not even exist in the original corpus. Is that really how things are today?

To check whether young people know about the 1001 stories and taking advantage of a written exam that I had with my students from Applied Modern Languages in the ASE I made a small experiment. I asked the students to write at the end of their papers what they knew about Scheherazade.


‘Do you want me to write it down?”

‘Yes, please. Yes.’

I did as asked.

‘And if we don’t know anything?’

‘If you really don’t know anything, write: Scheherazade – I don’t know.’

I was really looking forward to the end of the exam to see the results. All I could do on the spot was to verify whether they answered the question or not. The vast majority had. The outcome?

Out of the 43 students present in the exam room, twenty answered they “didn’t know/heard/or even ???”. Twelve gave me various correct options. And I also had a separate category, eleven answers, with some very interesting explanations. I considered these 11 responses as positive, although you will notice below that some prove otherwise, but they have the merit of being extremely hilarious. Therefore, out of 43 respondents, 20 did not know who Scheherazade was, and 23 did give some sort of correct answers from which we can conclude that they probably know.

So what? For me this situation clearly represents the loss of a cultural reference system that deepens the gap of lack of communication not necessarily between generations, but between those who “know” and those who “don’t know”. I forgot to mention that my students did not have access to the Internet, which partially explains the results. Over the years I have sadly discovered that many young people no longer know proverbs or other classical cultural references. Of course, there are those who respond after discreetly consulting their friend Google. But when you don’t have access to a friend?

And here are the “special” answers that I can’t resist sharing with you: Scheherazade is a poem; a wise woman – a doctor; a story – a revolt; a sonorous name, but I don’t remember the context; a Persian sultana/queen; a character/a female character; cinema. And most remarkable for its ingenuity and comic: Scheherazade is an organizational model stylized in organizations for their better performance. It is probably relevant to mention that the end of semester test during which this mini-quiz took place is called “People and organizations”.

The most elaborate answer was from one of the students with a clear and declared interest in literature in general and poetry in particular. “Scheherazade is a name that seems to represent the quintessence of Orientalism. Being a made (not born) ‘Eurocentrist’, I can almost hear Edward Said criticizing and dismantling my claim. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the name of a soap opera watched by my grandmothers. I know however, in the spirit of René Guénon, that the true essence of Orientalism is another one.”

The results of the ad hoc quiz given to my students can be interpreted in many ways, but I’m not interested in those interpretations here. Especially when some of those who answered “don’t know” are people with advanced soft and professional skills they consider to be their priority at the moment.

I’m thinking however about the importance the Eastern world, and yes, we are right at its gates not having the guts or the will to enter, grants to history, culture, literature and especially poetry as pillars of classical culture. Over here, we are satisfied with adopting culture as a social and mainly organizational binder; culture theorized by Hall, Hofstede et co. often not knowing even them or their works.

Blue Tiles of Jame Mosque in Yazd, Iran, Photo by Mansour Kiaei on Unsplash

I was wondering upon reading an article in The Economist [4] about what happens when algorithms become so advanced that they cannot be distinguished from human writers? The answers are very exciting, but about them next time.


The Temptation

At the invitation of Professor Mihai Stan, editor-in-chief of the Litere / Letters magazine of the Târgoviște Writers’ Society, I started writing about my April 2022 trip to Iran in a column entitled Algorithms and stars. Once again my thanks here for his invitation.

Here is the link to the first article in Romanian available on page 93:

Photo by Sam Moghadam Khamseh on Unsplash

The English version is below:

We live more and more under the sign of algorithms. They rule our lives without our knowing it, without our feeling it, most often without our consent, and all this happens while we continue fighting for the freedom to choose what each of us really wants more and more passionately. We often fuss and debate, with more or less valid arguments, if the influence of algorithms on us is acceptable or not; we think about whether we will be replaced by robots or just ruled by them, but we forget more and more to look at the stars and remember what it was like when they were the ones literally guiding our steps and journeys, not Google maps, or were influencing our destinies for those who believed in the power of some of the “initiated” in reading beyond what can be seen of the visible or less visible universe.

A Facebook algorithm brought me an invitation for a trip to a relatively exotic destination. Sent by a friend from my list with whom I had had awesome adventures before. Therefore, it wasn’t too difficult for me to give in to the temptation, especially since I had to offer myself a birthday present for a beautiful age for which the only real gifts are the immaterial ones: novel experiences and the thoughts they induce. Therefore, giving in to the algorithm and also consulting with my internal advisor replacing the stars, in other words checking my various memories related to that destination, memories from books or constructed from the media or from my international students coming from that area, there I was accepting the invitation.

And why is it a big deal to accept going on a trip? Even if it’s quite long, 18 days is after all a bit of a luxury for those who still work and have various obligations to family and community. Especially while the pandemic is still active in the world, even though our authorities seem to have lifted all bans, and the war is much closer to us than we would have liked it and it affects us in extremely painful ways. Especially those who still have the memory, real or mediated, of the wars fought in Europe before. Not to mention the fact that I had decided to stop traveling, especially over long distances, and obviously by plane, because the planet still needs some timeout from pollution similar to the one during the lockdowns.

This is the value of our promises in the face of the temptations intelligent algorithms constantly send us because they know us too well. The experts in the mysteries of artificial intelligence say that algorithms know us even better than we know ourselves. We have anyway long forgotten, or maybe we didn’t even know the “know thyself” adage. Not even the promised hell of climate change that is already here though we are feeling it probably less than others in the more and more aggressive deserts against the planet that we humans have conquered often not knowing where to stop and how to end the suffering of animals and plants because we don’t really care for the suffering of other people. Not even the hell of climate change scares us any longer. Based on the principle that has become axiomatic though it shouldn’t have that often “homo homini lupus”. And yet, the wolf is a remarkably social animal, highly intelligent, caring and devoted to its family (pack), playful and, above all, attentive to the cubs, whom it “educates” to be efficient in their world, of wolves, but also attentive towards the wounded or elderly whom they do not leave behind when they can no longer actively contribute to the life of the pack [1]. Unfairly demonized by fearful and ignorant humans, the wolf is undoubtedly disadvantaged by the comparison with us.

But doesn’t the same happen with other fields or with other people we do not know or we know less? Aren’t we, more often than not, creatures of habit either through stereotypes and clichés that we pick up without much analysis, out of convenience, or because we simply refuse to complicate our existence with deeper analysis and search?

Didn’t Kahneman receive half of the Nobel Prize for economics in 2002 [2] because for decades, together with Amos Tversky, he studied how people take decisions? And why would a psychologist take the Nobel prize for economics? Because he set out to dismantle a very dear idea to the economists – that of Homo Economicus, i.e., the rational man who only makes well-founded economic decisions. Kahneman and Tversky, both interested in human irrationality, have shown that people often, and of course involuntarily, make irrational decisions. Why? Because, says Kahneman, people use two methods to reason, in other words to make decisions. Kahneman called these two methods Systems 1 and System 2. In Kahneman’s view [3], system 1 represents the fast, intuitive thinking through which we react to the surrounding world, based on what seems coherent to us at the time, taking short-term decisions: it’s cloudy – I’ll take my umbrella; the economy collapses as a result of the pandemic and of the economic sanctions against Russia, I am more careful with my disposable income, I won’t spend money too easily because a crisis awaits us, etc.

System 2 is more analytical, it starts more slowly, and generally prefers not to be disturbed. If system 1, for example, tells you that your boss just walking past you frowns because lately you haven’t had very good results at work, system 2, if it were to activate, would say your boss is frowning because of the horrible traffic on his way to work and of the recent discussion with his wife. The activity of system 2 requires a lot of energy or put differently intellectual activity, that of reflection and meditation, and tires us more than a medium-intensity physical activity.

Well, the algorithms that select our future “options” know very well that we react based on system 1 and they send us all kinds of information maybe, just maybe we take the bait. On the other hand, even if we can’t change our biology, we can adapt and take it into account. Of course, we know that every click on Facebook will bring us ads and information from that area. A lot fake, some biased, and, of course, much replicating the general line of thinking of those in our bubble. It’s so much easier to give a “like” or whatever else Facebook allows us, than to stop for a while, check the information, usually it is very simple and quick, and make an informed decision.

Like me, for example, when I received the invitation to join a group of tourists who were going to a Middle Eastern country that our own Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommended as risky and therefore to be avoided if possible. The temptation, however, had been too big and here I am back safe and sound, having had not only an excellent tourist trip, but an incredibly rich one from a cultural and historical point of view as well. I am now reading one of the novels of the writer of Turkish origin Elif Shafak whom I discovered through the recommendation of one of my former international students from the country I visited and whose action takes place in the country where I spent three weeks of incredible walks into history and culture. Among algorithms and stars. In the future I will tell you here wonderful or just ordinary happenings that deserve to be shared. See you.




[3] Daniel Kahneman, 2013, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Creativity – on the line?

Great ideas come and go easily. That’s why we have the impression that we are so creative. But we are not. In fact we are only imaginative, dreamers at best. Only few people have the strength, the discipline and, yes, the education to follow their ideas and turn them into reality. Natalia Irina Roman is one of those people and on her way to strike gold. Or, if not, at least to complete her Ph.D. in an impressive manner.

A great idea presented in 90 seconds under the classic format of the elevator pitch. A wonderful presenter, great idea, amazing content, so connected to our everyday life and commuter worries. As we are most of us commuters – one way or the other. Natalia is a gifted presenter, but she is also very much aware of the need to prepare. Which makes her a hard worker.

Who is Natalia Irina Roman? She is a space-maker and a visual artist, a woman of great imagination and the strength to apply her ideas. More about her here.

And you can find her idea of a great and useful project here. Presented in 90 seconds at the Bauhaus University Weimar.

I told Natalia that her project reminded me of another one called Poems on the Underground. But while talking more with her I realised that they are so different both in scope and in the space they use. And yet, they are both challenging for the comfort of today’s people. Keeping our eyes glued to a screen makes us miss the serendipitous encounters that we can only find through our own experiences and on our own journeys.

Thank you, Natalia, for a great lesson.



Alexandru Budișteanu passed away. He was 93 years old. I had the privilege of being a friend of the Alexandru and Ileana Budișteanu family and of having worked with them during a period of my life.

On his 91st birthday, unfortunately the last one he celebrated with his friends at the Capșa restaurant, I told him that reaching such an age is a wonderful achievement for anyone. However, to live such a long and constantly active life and to have accomplished all the things that Alexandru Budișteanu has accomplished is truly a success story.

Alexandru Budisteanu’s 91st birthday.

He was born on August 11, 1928 in the commune Pârlița-Târg, then in Iași county, Romania, later Bălți county, the Republic of Moldova. He lived as he says in the title of his book published in 2014, Under four regimes on all continents. He had a fulfilled, intense life, with many trials, going through so many historical changes, but also with so many accomplishments, with wonderful moments, with difficult times, with people who have been grateful to him and, of course, with people who hated him openly or, perhaps, only in private.

I wrote here about how and when I met him and I remembered some personal landmarks of our acquaintance. I will not repeat myself now. But I want to talk here about the request that Alexandru Budișteanu made to me in March 2002 when I went to the US. He had asked me to discover and photograph a monument that had been placed under his supervision in the Garden of Nations in Cleveland. It had been a true adventure to discover the Garden. Remember that in 2002 the Internet was in its infancy: in most cases it could be accessed by dial-up while even if the phones were mobile, they were far from smart. Now, in October 2021, in a few seconds I found out the location of the Romanian Garden (founded in 1967) in the Cleveland Federation of Cultural Gardens. Looking at the website I became sad, but that’s another story, which I hope to tell another time. Here I will only say that in 2002 I found the Garden thanks to the help of the eternal nostalgic after Romania Nicu Manolache. It was a snowy March and it took us a whole day to inquire around until we got to where we needed to be. The photos below appeared in the bilingual, anniversary book, dedicated to Alexandru Budișteanu, Changing lives, we change the world.

What can you say in such moments? That departures, no matter how predictable, are still very painful? That I have been very happy that Alexandru Budișteanu existed in my life, in our life, as a model of a man from whom I tried to learn as much as possible? That he was asking me interesting questions, as a “failed linguist” as he liked to joke and push me to reflect on the ways in which languages adapt or draw realities? That we were joking about how we would celebrate his centenary, but, it wasn’t meant to be ?! Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, some things do not depend only on us, no matter how much will and love of life one has.

I stop here knowing that I cannot hope to illuminate even if only partially a life as complex as that of Alexandru Budișteanu in just a few lines. But, for those who may be interested, here are some places where you can find more information about his life. Here and here.

I am convinced, however, that our lives will be poorer without Alexandru Budișteanu. Likewise, I know that the lives of those he has touched with his spiritual and intellectual generosity, and there are many, will certainly be much richer.


12 – 26 February 2021 – Chinese New Year

The Spring Festival marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year. The Economist tells us in its daily newsletter that:

The annual return of Chinese to their hometowns and families for the new lunar year is a migration equal to any on Earth. Normally perhaps 3bn journeys are made aboard planes, trains and automobiles. For swathes of the country’s 300m migrant workers, heading to their villages for the week-long Spring Festival is their only chance to see loved ones. This year expect half as many trips. With covid-19 in mind, the Chinese are being urged to stay put. Employees of the government or state-owned enterprises have little choice—they are under orders not to travel. Everyone else faces a range of nudges: carrots including cash to work the holiday, and such sticks as reduced transport options and quarantine-on-arrival. Few could deny that Chinese virus controls are effective, however tough. New cases are rare; daily life feels almost normal. But for those kept asunder from loved ones, seeing in this year of the Ox will feel beastly.

A Happy & Healthy New Year to all those who celebrate it this Spring Festival!


On old age … or how we become invisible

I discovered Ursula K. Le Guin first through leadership and later on as a fascinating writer. She started her blog at 81 and wrote on it for eight years. Her last post was on 25 September 2017. She died peacefully in her home in January, 2018.

Approaching 70 myself, I’m amazed at the lack of interest for real, meaningful discussions about old age around me. So, when I discover Le Guin’s post from May 2013 I feel I know what she’s writing about. Her post is now part of her book No Time to Spare, published in December 2017, from which I reproduce the fragment below.

She wisely points out that the insistence of a lot of people that we are not old is somehow insulting, even if it is meant as a sign of respect or encouragement.  

Becoming invisible is something that happens today not only with the old, man or women almost equally. It also happens to a lot of other people as we become socially more and more distanced, masked and interacting mostly virtually. Some categories fade slowly, but surely away.


Statues – fallen or standing

We go (again and again) through a period of demolishing statues. In Romania, but not only, we’ve been somehow used to tearing down and wiping out parts of our history. It’s a primitive mechanism of both revenge on what had been unfair and oppressive to those who are now in the position to be able to order the offensive pieces away and of “if I don’t see it, it never existed”.

It’s just that this happens today in places which we used to admire for their balanced, objective and generally democratic capacity to discuss, analyse and preserve public records so that history does not repeat itself. Well, not anymore it seems. And I do hope I’m wrong. This article, on “What the Removal of a K.G.B. Statue Can Teach America”, raises some thought-provoking questions.

However, what happens to the statues that are no longer desirable? According to Joshua Yaffa, a Moscow correspondent for The New Yorker, they are dumped or, if you prefer, preserved in the Muzeon, the Fallen Monument Park. Is this because they are nostalgic, or just want to revive the old times or … you can imagine as many scenarios as you are capable of imagining.

However, in another article, another journalist is quoted as having said that waging war on bronze men doesn’t make your life any more moral or just. “It does nothing really.” An interesting point coming from an anti-communist expert.

But the most interesting point is made by the granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, Nina. “Denouncing Stalin was Khrushchev’s greatest achievement, but removing him from all public spaces, trying to delete that history, was a big mistake,” Nina Khrushcheva said. “Once you demolish somebody’s hero you only incite hatred and force feelings underground.”

And the article goes on giving the example of the Ukraine who tore down the statues reminding them of the Soviets, but the effects has not been beneficial. On the contrary it seems.  

We have our own stories of dealing with our past. The three pictures above are emblematic. The sources for them are below.

However, have we learnt our lesson/s?