Wed September 12, 2012
Dusty Pretzels A Relic Of Romania's 'Folk Capitalism'
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
After Hurricane Katrina, commentator Andrei Codrescu moved from New Orleans to the hills of Arkansas. He's lived many places since leaving Romania in the 1960s. And he recently discovered a pair of long-forgotten items that have been with him much of that time.
ANDREI CODRESCU, BYLINE: My study is full of in-between things, those objects you don't need, don't care to see again, but can't throw out; things that move out of sight until they go out of mind. But two of these can't-stand-but-can't-chuck items made themselves suddenly visible: a box of chocolates wrapped in the miniature covers of one of my poetry books, and a bag of petrified pretzels from 1989. The chocolates and the pretzels were more or less contemporary.
1989 was a big year for me. I covered the so-called revolution in my native Romania for NPR and ABC News, and I published a big poetry book. The first sign that communism had definitely collapsed in Romania was the sudden eruption of folk capitalism in the form of pretzel vendors. This free enterprise was joyously observed by the natives of Bucharest who waited in long lines to get these pretzels while they were still warm.
I got in one of the first lines and scored a plastic bag full of still-warm pretzels from a smiling, toothless babushka capitalist. I took them back to the U.S. to give away as souvenirs. Bringing alien food into the U.S. is forbidden, but these pretzels were more than food, they represented the triumph of Adam Smith over Karl Marx. But for one reason or another, the pretzels never made it as gifts. They ended up quietly petrifying as I moved from house to house, from city to city to country. They survived the end of the 20th century, Hurricane Katrina, and the advent of Kindle.
The chocolates inside the miniaturized covers of my poetry book were also intended as gifts. The book itself was beautifully designed and full of my greatest hits to date. I was proud of it and of my publisher for conceiving such sweet marketing devices. I, myself, purchased a whole box of them but forgot somehow to give them away. Instead, they joined into the pretzels of the revolution in the store of the nameless weirdness of stuff past.
But suddenly this morning, I ran smack into scattered pieces of tinfoil. It seems that mice had made a feast of my celebratory chocolates. The tiny shreds of my book cover littered the floor. The mice had also pulled down the bag of pretzels, but these they did not touch. The pretzels of the revolution lay untouched and un-nibbled - dissed by mice.
This can only mean that mice had gotten the news of the end of the book and felt free to gorge on its grave, while Romanian capitalism was a much more dubious and, in the end, inedible notion. Mice have an uncanny sense for the genuine.
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SIEGEL: Andrei Codrescu is author of the book "Bibliodeath: My Archives (with Life in Parentheses)." [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The actual title is "Bibliodeath: My Archives (With Life in Footnotes)."] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.