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:

ENGLISH, Uncategorized

Eric Bevan – In Memoriam

I met Eric and Mary Bevan in Budapest in 1996 at an English-Speaking Union International Conference. Who would have said then that it was going to be an extraordinary friendship, an exchange of experiences, feelings, values and true human emotions based on the generosity and openness of these two extraordinary human beings who have never been afraid to embark on the unknown waters of a distant East-European culture with open minds and open hearts! And what a journey it has been!  Over two decades of discoveries and learning about worlds that we thought we knew everything about. We do know Europe and its countries very well, don’t we?

The most significant moments in my new life, as a new life started in Eastern Europe after 1989, have somehow been connected with Mary and Eric, sometimes only Eric, other times Mary, but both of them always at the end of a fax-machine (remember them?!?), of an e-mail or simply a phone with good advice or help when needed.

And now … it’s only Mary! Eric is no longer among us, except for all the things he offered us, taught us, built together with us or simply enjoyed life together with us. Death, no matter how sophisticated we are and how rationally prepared to accept it, is still one of the most traumatic events that can happen to those who are left alive. But it is also what makes us look at one’s legacy, what has been left behind, at what gave meaning to a life, and what that meaning tells us and how it possibly helps us go on when the world continues to be mad, again and again, without having learned from its past, but still hoping.

So, I will try to make sense of what I know of Eric’s life as seen and experienced by my Romanian mind. Which obviously is just a small fraction of what his life really meant. As Mary, his partner in the adventure of life for 57 years, was saying in her tribute, Eric had been a lucky man: for having lived 84 years, out of which 82 in excellent health, for having worked with extraordinary people, for having enjoyed some 20 years of retirement to do the things he and Mary wanted to do together.  And Eric had been extremely lucky also because life allowed him to be his own master through three essential elements: a good sense of humour, the ability to recognize opportunities and seize them and a strong sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. Everything wrapped up in courtesy, respect for others’ point of view and an amazing desire to help the less lucky.

My first business here in Bucharest, had been possible by a generous donation from Contexta. It was a language consultancy called BEST – Bucharest English Studies and Training set up together with Veronica Focșeneanu, my respected and admired English teacher from the seventies. BEST had been among the first private language consultancies in Bucharest and one of its main objectives was to generate funding for the ESU-Romania. Both Mary and Eric helped whenever help was needed and the fax machine constantly buzzed in their lovely house in Dorset with questions and clarifications that a new business needed constantly at the time.

The 1999 course for the House of Deputies of Romania had been a miracle and Eric the enabler. It was offered freely to selected experts of the House of Deputies, but the costs of the course had been funded by donations raised by Eric through the Salisbury and South Wilts ESU branch. No use to remember here the bureaucratic intricacies through which we had to go to make it happen. Enough to say that everybody involved in the project had been happy with the results. So happy, in fact, that the project had been awarded the ESU Hardacre Trophy in 1999 (picture below) and in Bucharest the feedback received had been extremely positive.

Eric and The Hardacre Trophy, 1999

The cover of the Report of the House of Deputies Project, 1999

The most extraordinary thing however I’ll always remember about Eric is the way he and Mary became wonderful friends and had been present in our lives in so many meaningful ways. My son discovered England with the help of Eric in 1997. Eric took him to the most wonderful place that Ionuț could have dreamt of, the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, and took him on their sailing boat at sea. He thus will for ever be alive in the mind and heart of my son who, beyond his career in the car industry, is both a speed hill climbing competitor and loves sailing so much that he’s passed the tests for a sailing permit. This tribute is about Eric but I simply can’t stop talking about the many lives he had touched with the generosity of his heart and actions.

Ionuț at sea on Eric and Mary’s boat. 1997.

The Beaulieu Motor Museum_on a 1912 London bus.

I just have to add my son’s honeymoon in Eric and Mary’s house, my daughter’s many trips to Dorset or to London and her stay at their lovely house or meetings somewhere convenient, my own visits and chats with Eric and his coaching me through so many fascinating aspects of British business culture, his highlights of Scottish traditions that he loved to keep, the haggis (which we discovered was similar to a Romanian traditional dish) and the way to address and serve it on a Burns Night, our 2006 tour of England with incredible stops at Skipton, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, the Brontë Parsonage Museum and mainly our memorable stay in Cullingworth, at what used to be an 18th century cotton mills and is now a self-catering accommodation place.

After having visited Skipton Castle, 2006.

Benton Mills, 2006.

There are so many things to remember about Eric and to be grateful for. I’ll probably need to write a whole novel about our meetings, projects and enriched lives. I’ll just add some pictures to highlight those moments. And my prayers that Eric’s sense of commitment to the things he started, from gardening and cooking, to his having fun and enjoying life, after a successful career in business and government, will guide me as well along my own new life which would have been lesser and poorer had I not met Eric and Mary on that trip to Budapest.

2017, Crafts centre pottery lessons for us.

2017, Visiting the Bevans with Radu, my grandson.

And whenever I need to stop and think of a direction in which to continue to go, Eric’s words will always be with me: “Start writing all those stories, Mariana! They are fascinating! And we, over here know so little of your lives beyond the curtain.”

In the end what else can we dream of? That we continue to be remembered after we are gone, that our life has not slipped by like a field mouse, but it did shake the grass and was meaningful to so many.