T-Alive in the news
18 June 2015
Transylvania Alive has been highlighted in the online newspaper, Salaj Pur si Simplu. Journalist Mihaela Moldovan wrote the June 18 article, "România este încă o bijuterie ascunsă într-un bolovan".
Please practice your Romanian with the article in Salaj Pur si Simplu before reading the English translation....
- Within the last 3 years you faced a lot of challenges and changes, one of which – even for a while – a job in Sofia, Bulgaria. What was the position and how did this experience distinguish from your precedent roles? I served as Director of an American overseas research center in Bulgaria – one of about 28 such centers in the world. It was a very prestigious role in an institute that supported about 50 American and Bulgarian scholars each year, offered site preservation grants, published books, and hosted an impressive library. I was able to rely upon my skills, but was challenged by new duties, such as fundraising and keeping donors content with our activities. I was a professor of archaeology and art history in Rome, Italy for about 10 years. At the same time I was Chairman of the Art History department at John Cabot University in Rome – 4 years – an administrative position whereby I managed a staff of 20 professors and dealt with university administrators to develop programs and ensure quality of academic programs. I used my teaching, research and administrative skills in Bulgaria. The position in Sofia brought me out of an academic shell and opened me to deal with businessmen, ambassadors and embassy staff. It also opened me more to the public aspects of archaeology – site preservation, museum exhibitions, and presentation of sites to the general public. Academic research is, of course, important, but how the public engages meaningfully with sites and archaeological materials is crucial – the public gains better information and, in return, this can lead to more funding for archaeological and historical sites.
- Romania and Bulgaria are in the same European region and somehow they share big parts of the history. Did you find similarities in the way of life during your stay in Bulgaria (tranquility/struggles)? Similarities and differences. The two countries are in the same region and share certain things – food, emerging economies, hope for the future, “westernization”, corruption; both countries are still struggling economically, politically, and in terms of identity (past vs. present; West vs. East). But there are also many differences, beginning with language and ethnicity. The form of socialism was different and the revolutions of 1989 were different. The people of both countries have fears and concerns about the future – many people are angry with their politicians and the fact that Romania and Bulgaria are the poorest countries in the EU. Romanians are generally more joyful and optimistic. I think they intellectualize less and do the best with what they have. I have already seen great changes in Romania since I first visited in 2003 – mostly at the micro level (new houses, cars, small businesses, etc.), but also at the macro level – developing infrastructure, improving quality of life in cities, etc. There is still a long road, but if everyone pulls together under enlightened and selfless leadership, there is great potential and both countries can rise through the economic ranks.
- Well acquainted with the Romanian culture and also with the people in Salaj, you decided to settle down in Zalau. What do you think about life in Zalau? Zalau is great! I grew up in a small town, more like Simleu or Jibou and I lived in cosmopolitan Rome for more than 10 years. I much prefer small cities and proximity to nature. Zalau has almost everything that we need and also has interesting cultural manifestations such as the museums, concerts, displays of traditions. The people are very friendly and helpful and they have a lot of pride in Zalau and Salaj. With a 15 minute drive, you are already in the countryside and in 75 minutes, you are in Cluj. Perhaps we could use a movie theater and a KFC, but life here is good.
- You discovered Zalau and Salaj via Porolissum years ago, but unfortunately, here isn’t a university comparable with the ones you worked for in Bulgaria and Italy. I understood that you have an idea that could keep you in touch with Porolissum, but also involving international students at the same time. Please tell me more about this. In March 2015, I founded an asociata in Romania, Transylvania Alive Association for Cultural Heritage (www-transylvania-alive.org). As the name implies, the focus is on studying and promoting the cultural heritage of Romania – prehistory through the modern day. Because Romania is so large, we focus on the northwestern regions. With Transylvania Alivewe are able to organize excavations with colleagues at the museums and universities of Romania. But we are very interested in promoting all historical sites to tourists and, in fact, one of my projects is the development of an online database of historical sites. Ancient sites are included, but I am having a lot of fun exploring and researching more modern sites, like wooden churches and Austro-Hungarian castles.
- What is your best advice for international students visiting Romania for the first time? Come and come again. Romania has much to offer, whether you are a humanist, a business major, a political scientist, or a botanist. The people here are very receptive to foreign students and scholars.
- Your descriptions of the Roman fortress are marvelous and full of passion. What does Porolissum mean to you? It is an important archaeological site where I directed excavations with Alexandru Matei for 7 years and trained more than 80 foreign students. We did great work and are currently preparing long-awaited publications. I am very proud to be one of the few foreign scholars to have worked in this region and am happy that so many students fell in love with the place and the people. I will always return to Porolissum, but I am beginning to document many lesser known archaeological sites in the region, beginning with a project called the Agrij Valley Survey, where we are planning to document all known archaeological sites between Buciumi and Jibou in order to trace the activities of human beings over the course of more than 5000 years.
- Given a large sum of money to invest in the Porolissum, on what should we focus the most? Salaj County is already investing in Porolissum – developing infrastructure and reconstructing some of the Roman buildings. Information about Porolissum is crucial – weatherproof panels near all buildings in Romanian and English; good tour booklets in Romanian and major European languages. If I managed to obtain a major grant, I would preserve the area of Porolissum’s forum. But, Porolissum is just one site in Salaj and I would hope that given EU or other grants, lesser known sites can be highlighted. Many sites do not even need preservation. They do need good road signs leading visitors to them and on-site information. This is something I plan to do with Transylvania Alive in cooperation with the county and mayor’s offices.
- You first visited Salaj county 12 years ago; and now you live here in Zalau. What differences do you recognize regarding the opportunities for tourists after all these years? I’ll start more broadly with Romania. Many of the cities, such as Baia Mare, Timisoara, and Cluj-Napoca have undergone important developments in the last decade. Infrastructure has improved, the historical centers have received face-lifts, there are many good hotels and restaurants. More tour guides are available. Transportation is still underdeveloped – trains and buses are slow, there are few highways. But this is not entirely a bad thing – more time for visitors to look out the window, more opportunities to get stuck on country roads as herds of sheep or cattle cross the way (something you do not easily see in the West). We will all be happy when the highway system is finally developed, though. Imagine driving from Oradea to Brasov in just a few hours! Bucharest needs to invest in advertising to west European countries, North and South America, Australia and Asia. There are so many tourists who have been to England, France, Spain and Italy, who are looking for something new. Romania is still a gem hidden within a boulder. Bucharest and county councils need to keep improving infrastructure, preserving sites, encouraging entrepreneurs to develop good hotels, restaurants, tour guide groups and to spread the word. Sponsor videos that can be shown on the web or satellite TV. The national and local governments are doing a great job promoting culture inside Romania – but they are preaching to the choir. They need to get the word out and make sure visitors have an unforgettable experience. As for Salaj – relatively little has changed except for Porolissum and the Botanical Gardens in Jibou. The county is just beginning to improve conditions at Porolissum – there still is no visitor’s center and a thirsty tourist cannot find a drink on site. There is virtually no on-site information. The gardens in Jibou underwent great development between 2007 and 2010 and it is a great pleasure to visit. I wish funds would be invested into the Wesselenyi castle – a very important monument in the county.
- You have also some interesting ideas for promoting Romania abroad. Please share with us what you have in mind. The County and the Salaj County Museum are doing a good job in recent years. The Museum has been fully renovated and the sites of Porolissum and Buciumi are being improved. Similarly, other counties and towns are investing in improving nearby sites and museums. This is all wonderful and once they complete work on major sites, they should focus on minor sites. Marketing specialists tell us that word of mouth is probably the best manner of advertising. Romania needs to make the country very attractive to foreign visitors. It is a very charming and traditional country and many visitors appreciate the somewhat non-modernized way of life in small towns. The national and county governments need to complete infrastructure projects as soon as possible – highways and faster buses and trains; they need to provide funds to improve historical sites. Scholars at museums and universities need to focus on the public more – not only conduct personal research to be presented at conferences, but to put their findings into a meaningful package that tourists can understand. Hotel, restaurant, and shop owners should continue to improve conditions – get rid of the 1980’s carpets and blankets in hotels; a good mix of traditional and international food; etc. Cities and private investors should paint the facades of buildings in the center of town, repair streets and sidewalks. They say money attracts money – so invest in Romania and you’ll see returns. The more improvements that are made here, the more people will spread the word. OK – Romania will not take many visitors away from Italy, but it can be a leader in the region. It can easily compete with its Central and East European neighbors – Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Hungary. If Romania can make itself more attractive than its neighbors, potential tourists who want to visit the region will be increasingly attracted to Romania. Advertising is important too – advertise on the web, in travel magazines, in the New York Times. Romanian universities could make partnerships with American universities, for example, to have student and scholar exchanges – especially inviting Americans to Romania. This is another good way to increase interest in the country. I am very happy to consult with officials and entrepreneurs to help develop tourism.
- The younger generations in Romania seem to have a good level of English language skills. But what about the rest of the population? Do you think a specialized school could bring improvements? Everyone knows that English is an important language. You can manage without English, but it is important for economic and political development. When I was a graduate student, I worked for about 5 years at an English language school in Rome, teaching English to professionals in Italy. It was very effective. High schools and colleges in Romania teach languages, but sometimes students are not motivated or interested. The professionals learned English well and were motivated because their companies paid for the lessons as a form of professional development. The lessons were during the working day, so they could escape from their desks a couple of hours per week.
- What do you enjoy the most when it’s about living in Zalau? Being with my family.
- Please name 5 words or phrases that summarize Romania for you. gorgeous nature, healthy organic food, fascinating history and traditions, great people, bright future.
- Everyone has a motto that guides him or gives him hope. Ending this splendid afternoon, please share your motto for this year with us. Do what you love; love what you do.