Letter to My Granddaughter and How We Escaped the Lysol Police

The Year 2050

Dear Granddaughter,

You’ve always wanted to know how and why we ended up living in Mexico. Now that I am on my deathbed, I want to share this story with you, so you can document our family’s history and its many tortuous paths from one end of the world to another.

Well you were only a baby when there came a plague upon the world.  Our adoptive country, where we had made a life, having escaped wars and dictatorships from our native one, was now in the hands of a leader whose head was in the place of his ass and his ass sat proudly on his shoulders where his head should have been. Your Daddy was lucky enough to have gotten a job opportunity with a toilet paper cartel across the southern border in Tijuana. He and your mama left overnight with the help of a kind Coyote who took pity on the desperate people in this country and was taking many across the border into Mexico.

Your mother, who was an accomplished actress entertained the members of the toilet paper cartel every night when they gathered in the local dive, with her performance art, raising consciousness about Zoom racketeering, and other such calamities. So, the cartel owed your Daddy a favor, and they vowed to help him and his family. But you were small and fragile, and we decided it was too dangerous to take you along on that long journey. Your Daddy promised he would send for us after he and your mama got settled in Mexico.

At this time, the leader of this country woke up one morning and through the crack of his ass that was sitting on top of his head came this order that all the population had to be injected with Lysol. He mobilized all the army reserves, police and state troopers to catch whoever they saw walking in the street and give them a Lysol injection. Apparently he got that idea from his vice president who appeared to him in a dream in the shape of a snake and he said: “Mr. President, Your Highness, Supreme Leader, I think my people found a cure for the plague. The only thing is that the cure might be a bit worse than the problem.” “What is it Mike? Tell me, I trust you like no other.” “Well, Mr. President, Supreme Leader,” said the vice president channeling his voice and spirit through his favorite cobra snake: ”We have to inject the population with disinfectant, Lysol, bleach, whatever we can find. Apparently, the disinfectant goes directly to the lungs which are infected and kills the plague and cleanses the entire person from within, you know, sort of like the holly spirit would do it.” “It sounds brilliant, amazing! What’s the problem?” “Well, the problem is, Your Highness, that in the disinfection process the lungs are burned and destroyed and the patient dies. The survival rate is only 3%.” “That high?” said the president. “Well, it’s a rough estimate, we could lower it even more if we added some cyanide to the Lysol. This way only the 1% are left alive.” “I knew you were the only one I could trust Mike, you are a genius, you and Jesus Christ.”

So dear Granddaughter, men with syringes filled with disinfectant were lurking at every street corner. I knew then that I had to do everything in my power to escape and join your father and mother in Mexico. So, one dark night with no moon, I thought the time had come for the last resort: using the vampire traditions of my ancestors.

When I left my native country, three quarters of a century ago, I didn’t think for a second that I would ever make use of that backwards practice which had caused our people to be stereotyped around the world. But at the last minute I took in my purse the vial with the vampire spit that kills on contact. That night I wrapped you well in waterproof swaddles, hid you in my bag, took the vial with vampire spit and ran for my life. I walked for many days and nights, hiding in forests, canyons, deserted houses that had once been inhabited by people who had died of the disinfectant injections. And as I ran and ran for my life and yours, I left drops of vampire spit behind everywhere we passed. The Lysol police were falling like flies. It was us or them. We arrived at the border with Mexico on the fifth day.

A kind Coyote saw us and helped us cross over in exchange for the vampire spit. He hid us in his transport of face masks in the back of his truck. Your mother and father met us the next day and took us to their beautiful house on a nice street in the city, filled with bougainvillea and azaleas and blooming cacti and all kinds of other wonders. And it is this very house you have grown up in and have known as your home. And I will tell you one last little secret my girl: I had a second little vial of that precious vampire spit the night we crossed with the help of the Coyote. I kept one for us just in case you ever must deal with the Lysol police again. It’s in the tiny purple cupboard in the basement where I kept all my vampire memorabilia from the old world. Only you can open it, it’s one of those special devices you open with your eyes. Only use it as a last resort. I can die peacefully now that I shared our story with you. In your turn share it with your children and grandchildren, so they learn from the lessons of the past.

Domnica Radulescu, in Mexico

Domnica Radulescu, in Mexico City















Meeting Gabriela and Keeping Calm and Kind During Crazy Times

As I am still in New York after the cancellation of my immigrant art festival, I decided to watch and observe people, the streets, the public spaces and behaviors, while of course minding all the safety rules of social distancing and hygiene.  So far everywhere I’ve been, New Yorkers exhibit model behavior.  From the wonderful staff at the Bernie Wohl Center where our event was going to take place and where we had one rehearsal before closing, to the hotel concierge and cleaning staff, to restaurant staff, to random people in the street or at Starbucks, people are poised, calm and kind, even laughing, having fun and most importantly mindful of each other. Also, the hotel staff assured me that I will be refunded for all the nights I am canceling due to my early departure in order return sooner to my hometown of Lexington of Virginia.

This morning, as usual I stepped down from my hotel in the Upper West side to get my soymilk cappuccino at the nearby Starbucks.  The staff was all smiles and kindness even joking around and not a bit phased, though the manager was giving “time to wash your hands” signals every half an our or so.


But the nicest thing happened while I was sitting down at the only available table with my cappuccino and oatmeal. The larger seating area upstairs had been closed off, most likely due to the pandemic, so I was lucky to get the only available table with two benches facing each other.  A young woman with a couple of bags noticed the closed off area as well as the table where I was sitting and was going to go away looking a bit disappointed. I said: “you are welcome to sit here, please, I don’t mind it at all.” She was very grateful and for a while we each sat in silence facing each other, me reading the news on my phone, then taking some notes in my notebook, she drinking her orange juice and making some phone calls.  At some point I decided to break the silence and said: “Hard times, hm?” She looked back, smiled and said: “Yes, but if we are careful it’s going to be ok, we are lucky, we have our homes, we have food.” Indeed, I thought, so lucky are we to have homes and food as I remembered the several homeless people literally sleeping on the hard sidewalk yesterday as I walked to Central Park from my hotel.  She said: “it’s not the end of the world,” “indeed I said, only the end of the world is the end of the world, we are still here.”

We started talking and sharing about our lives, where we live and where we are from, the usual. I found out she was born in the Dominican Republic but lived for most of her life in New York, first in Manhattan, right nearby to where we were on the Upper West side, that she had recently moved to Brooklyn which she loved thanks to the wide spaces, the openness, the neighborhood feeling and the houses. I shared I was from Virginia and had come to New York for the show which had been cancelled and I was ok with that, thankful we at least had a rehearsal, that I was going to return home soon and felt calm and hopeful. She said: “You seem so cheerful,” and I said: “yes, what good is it to stay worried and dark?” She said: “So you decided to come out today?” I said: “Sure, I feel cooped up in my hotel room, it’s a beautiful day to walk around.”  She inquired very delicately about my origins, not the usual abrupt and intrusive “Where are you from?” Then she guessed I was European and then wanted to guess what part of Europe.

She did guess I was East European and guessed I was an artist, called me Bohemian, complemented me on my style.  We ended up spending almost an hour talking and sharing until we heard again the manager call out to the employees to wash their hands which was pretext for more fun bantering and joking around.  Upon leaving she told me her name was Gabriella and I told her my name, we complemented each other on our beautiful names. I left Starbucks feeling joyous and hopeful and decided to walk around some more in the crisp brilliant air of this day.

As I walked down the beautiful streets, Broadway, Amsterdam, I thought of worse times in history, such as the war my parents had survived, the devastating earthquake I survived in Bucharest in 1977, September 11 of course which my new friend Gabriella had also reminded me of, and which had given New Yorkers a true badge of honor for courage and endurance, and of course devastating epidemics like the plague.  I have been thinking a lot these days of great books about the plague and of course two favorites always come to mind: Albert Camus’s La Peste, and Bocaccio’s Decameron.  And I find their lessons more precious and relevant now than ever: hold on to kindness, be courageous, keep your sense of humor, treasure every moment, hold on to beauty, engage in storytelling, help others.  And count your blessings you weren’t born in 14th century Italy when soap and clean water were not in abundance, chamber pots were poured out of windows, testing kits had not been invented, not to mention the internet.  Oh, but wait, they didn’t have Trump, they had the Medicis, who though corrupt were smart, educated and patrons of the arts! Well, nothing is perfect! Keep washing your hands though and keep your spirit strong!


This is myself with actresses and playwrights Emily Blake (left) and Jessica Carmona (right) at a chocolate and wine bar in New York on the night of Saturday 14th celebrating our work for the canceled immigrant art festival that would have opened exactly on that evening. We co-organized and produced it.


Emily Blake in rehearsal on March 12th at the Bernie Wohl Center, performing the monologue titled Lula’s Nightmare from my play ‘Welcome to the Jungle of Calais’ which was part of the festival.

Update to the original essay.

I wrote this a few days ago while I was still in New York. By the time I left the city yesterday, restaurants and bars were all closing or were getting ready to close that evening, the Starbucks where I got my daily coffee was still open, but all sitting was taken away. However, the staff were the same kind, lovely and smiling people as before.

People in New York are practicing “random acts of kindness” such as this one: a woman was seen carrying a huge trash bag filled with necessities for the homeless and go by homeless people and giving away foods, clothing items, cleaning supplies.

I am now back in my hometown of Lexington, where things are as calm as ever, the trees are blooming, and the birds are singing. I’ve never felt luckier to live here than I do now. I am however self-quarantining in a separate room in my house given that I just returned from New York to make sure I am fine. And I feel fortunate to have a back yard where I can walk and breathe fresh air.

As soon as I am back to normal, I plan to volunteer at the local food banks. My dear partner is tripling his hours of volunteering for the local food banks.


Domnica Radulescu, in New York on the upper west side, March 2020













I Am Not Forgetting Charlottesville

I gave birth to my youngest son in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia hospital on a beautiful April morning with dogwoods and red buds in bloom more than twenty years ago. I have spent thousands of happy hours with my children and family in Charlottesville, walking on the downtown mall on hot summer evenings, melancholy fall afternoons, blustery winter nights, ate delicious meals at the many restaurants abundantly strewn all along the mall, the university corner, the Belmont area. My younger son attended the university of Virginia and my older son recently got married in Charlottesville on a glorious summer morning. I attended concerts where my own son played his inspired music at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, saw beautiful plays at the Live Arts theater, attended and participated in film and book festivals. My sons even have a picture with Dave Matthews on the downtown mall.

Last Sunday’s visit to Charlottesville which I consider a home as much as my own home town of Lexington an hour away, was filled with grief, horror, anger. My son and daughter in law found themselves in the crowd of courageous counter protesters on Saturday, only feet away from the gruesome and deadly accident, and my daughter in law broke her hand when she saw a good friend lying unconscious on the pavement.

Last Sunday I stood for a while at the vigil site for Heather Heyer, the woman brutally murdered the day before, holding sweaty hands with strangers gathered there to pay homage to the victims and find solace in each other’s company. People wrote loving messages on the pavement, there were flowers and helium pink balloons. I even wrote a favorite line by the poet W.H. Auden “we must love one another or die.” The man who held my hand on the right wearing a sign with “hate has no place here,” shook my hand warmly in silence as he left the site, the woman on my left hugged me warmly when I left the site. All in silence. Silence was soothing and the only appropriate response at that point as words felt inadequate for the horror and absurdity of what had happened.

And yet as I was sitting on the outdoor patio of one of my favorite restaurants on the mall, Citizen Burger, a profound sense of hopelessness washed over me. Rage too, indignation, terror, all together. It felt wrong to be sitting there sipping my gluten free beer and nibbling at my beets and walnuts salad, when a couple hundred feet away a beautiful young woman had lost her life, a couple of dozen others were injured including my own daughter in law.

Yes vigils are nice, important, they bring solace and closure to the living. We gather, mourn, feel a sense of solidarity with one another, shed tears and move on. It felt like that was not enough though. I frankly would have liked to have seen the entire city in mourning and all businesses closed in protest like the one business called Angelo that was exactly that: closed in protest. It felt that everything pretty, colorful, flowers, drawings, balloons following a gruesome act of terrorism was in some way normalizing it despite all the best intentions of all of us participating in such vigils. I wanted darkness, silence, mourning, stark refusal. A radical and national waking up moment, uncompromising and unflinching.

The comparisons to Hitler, Nazis and fascism are no longer figures of speech, they are a blatant reality: Hitler loving people heavily armed chanting blood curdling slogans about burning people inside ovens, threatening peaceful citizens, ramming a car into peaceful protesters, killing, injuring. And this was happening in one of the cities known as among the most liberal, educated and safe cities in Virginia and the country.

The signs about “love trumps hate,” “love always wins,” that I have seen in marches and demonstrations since the women’s march in January are sweet, necessary and hopeful but as a survivor of one kind of brutal dictatorship I have news for all American liberals and democrats: love doesn’t always trump hate and love doesn’t always win. For Heather Heyer and her devastated family, love certainly didn’t win. She didn’t “give her life,” as I’ve heard it said, she didn’t ask to be crushed under a fascist’s car, she hadn’t signed up for the army and to fight in a war, she was truly expressing her freedom of speech on the street of what used to be known as a lovely safe city and was brutally murdered for it. She was peacefully protesting and was killed for it. A beautiful passionate young woman at the height of her promise!  She didn’t “give her life” but her life was brutally taken away.

Wake up Americans and face the hideous truth in your own backyards: we are living a fascist takeover spurred and supported by the very president of the United States and his white supremacist cabinet. White supremacists and rabid racists ARE in our government right now, they are living and working in the White House. The main forum for the elaboration and proliferation of fascist ideology, Breitbart news was created by the president’s ex chief advisor, the grotesque Steve Bannon. He openly stated that he aims for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” Meaning the destruction of democratic institutions that would eventually become powerless in the face of extreme ideology and would stop protecting us from random acts of abuse, oppression, violence in the name of what exactly? Of America and of America being great again, of “taking the country back,” of “unity,” and of god bless America? Which America exactly is supposed to be great again, be taken back and blessed by a god whose name is being used for hideous purposes? Bannon’s departure from the White House is only a ploy and a trick used to actually strengthen the power of white supremacy. The chaos in the White House is deliberate and desired in order to distract us and create a deafening noise throughout the entire world of news and media while behind the chaos very well thought out plans of replacing democratic processes and institutions with fascist rule are being carried out.

Love is great and indispensable but love is not enough! Fierce determination, unshaken resistance, uncompromising denunciation, wide eyed lucid thinking, strength and firmness need to join up with love. And education education, education. Teaching children from as early as they can talk to have zero tolerance to intolerance, teaching them the correct history of their own country, critical thinking and an inquisitive spirit. A police force that does not side with fascists would be really nice too! Very little has been heard about the young black man De Andre Harris who was beaten into a pulp with sticks last Saturday by Nazi vigilantes in a parking structure in Charlottesville. I would like to see a police force that unlike the police that I saw in Charlottesville last weekend is not standing in heavily armored gear as bystanders to violence as if on parade for their impressive uniforms and not to protect citizens. There were passionate pleas to the Charlottesville city council and to the police force to not allow the fascist rally to take place. None were listened to. Furthermore all blame is cast on outsiders from Charlottesville. While it is true that most Nazi demonstrators came from outside of town, the event was organized by local Nazi sympathizers of whom the local blogger had a crucial role in setting up the event. Wake up Charlottesville as well – there are plenty of white supremacists and nazis in your very midst and the outsiders are coming into your town with help and support from these insiders.

I’m sick of hearing the line uttered by even the most inspired and liberal political figures or political satirists that they would fight for the right of even the types of rabid fascists that killed Heather to have their freedom of speech so they can chant their vile hate. I’m sure as hell not fighting for their freedom to do that and I denounce it as a sickening and illegal abuse of freedom of speech. Speech can also be action. Hate speech leads to hate action. Heavily armed people chanting violent threats to Jews and people of color are not exercising their freedom of speech, they are a threat to freedom of speech and to all of our freedoms and safety. Hitler’s youth who were chanting in the streets of German cities hateful slogans in 1939 and 1940 were also among those who turned on the gas to gas chambers where millions of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, anybody deemed short of the Arian standard of humanity were hideously murdered, men women and children. Hate won big time there!

Yes, I applaud the initiative to out white nationalists and fire them. Go ahead and fire the fascists! They are not “the other side” whose views we also “need to hear” and have a dialogue with. Really? We need to have dialogues about the pros and cons of burning and killing people who don’t look or think like that bunch of screaming angry white men? Should we maybe have dialogues about the pros and cons of bringing back slavery, of killing people based on the color of their skin or their religions? There are no two sides here, there is an evil side and there is the side standing up to the evil one. Similar to World War II. Half a million Americans died fighting fascism in World War II and without D Day and the British and American intervention in Normandy, German might be the official language imposed in France today and in many other countries with svastikas as a national symbol. No we don’t need to have those dialogues, we don’t need to listen to “the other side,” unless we want to see again the actions called out in their hateful expression of so called freedom of speech.

The reason our so called president cast blame on “both sides” is precisely because he and his cabinet of white supremacists are supportive of the rhetoric of those groups and their calls to action. Make no mistake, without the still standing American institutions, the separation of powers, the somewhat still free press and the push back from variouspeople, communities and institutions, this president and this government would be precisely an American version of Kim Jong Un, Hitler or Trujillo, a ruthless dictatorship killing and silencing any opposition by any means at their disposal. If any of the hopeful people with “love wins all” signs think it can’t happen here, think twice and look around you: it’s already happening. Militias supported by the government are beating and killing people in the street, there have been numerous attempts by the president and his cabinet to criminalize peaceful protests while violent fascist rallies are being allowed to happen, fact checking and fact reporting are being delegitimized, white policemen are acquitted in courts of justice for brutally murdering innocent Black men and women, actions of the government to obtain private information of private citizens are sustained and conducted nation wide, as are initiatives to undermine voting rights for minorities, and threats to punish leakers and critics of the president have been launched since his inauguration. We are already in a dystopian and dictatorial regime that is trying hard to close in on us, squish our freedoms, our right to dissent and to eradicate our diversity. They haven’t completely succeeded thanks to what is still left standing of the constitution, of the democratic institutions created by the founding fathers, and of the brave citizens and communities who are and have been standing up and pushing back.

Yet even the most trustworthy of the reporters, journalists or media outlets cannot help themselves from interviewing and broadcasting the words of people like the head of the KKK in order to sensationalize their news reports. After the Charlottesville events Vice had a detailed interview with one of the most rabid of the white supremacists rallying in Charlottesville last Saturday wearing more weaponry on him than if he was fighting on the front lines of war combat. Do not give these people a platform, do not interview and broadcast their interviews on national news, they do not deserve that exposure and it only gives them more publicity! You did the same in the pre- election season, all of you media outlets, from my beloved NPR to MSNBC to CNN, across the board from the left to the right, and you gifted DT with billions of dollars in free publicity. You thus played a crucial role in the results of the election by enhancing his visibility. Try acting a little bit less in the interest of ratings and a bit more in the interest of our country.

I entered on American soil on a cold December day in 1983 with great hopes of creating a new life in freedom. I believe I largely achieved that goal and I consider America still as my country despite everything. Still. It is here that I completed my undergraduate and graduate studies, gave birth to and raised two beautiful sons, who are of course American citizens by birth and not by naturalization like myself, I made a family, a career, wrote books, buried my father on American soil, bought property and planted trees, drove thousands of miles across its beautiful expanses from the Appalachians to the Rockies, from Lexington Virginia to Chicago to New York to the beautiful beaches of the outer banks or the cornfields of Indiana. It is on this land that I matured from the young idealistic and confused refugee I was thirty four years ago to the woman I am today, a proud mother, a passionate writer, professor, creative artist, still idealistic, even more uncompromising in my disdain for bigotry, injustice and hate, with a few more wrinkles, battles won and battles lost and the patchwork of scars from these battles to prove it. I am more knowledgeable of American slang, pop culture, history and music, hoping to be a grandmother to American born grandchildren. And I’m not yet going anywhere, this is my country too. I am not leaving it yet, as I’ve heard many Americans proclaim. I’m not a patriot, I have never been, but for all practical reasons this is where I made my home and I intend to keep it until all hope is lost. I hope that day never comes and I hope I don’t have to take the road back to where I left thirty four years ago other than on business trips, vacations or fellowships like the one I’m going on this fall to teach at the university where I once was a student.

One should never underestimate the surprises and ups and downs of history. My parents survived World War II, the Stalinist terror of the fifties and I together with them survived the dictatorship of Nicolas Ceausescu and the trauma of displacement. And I could say that I even thrived from that trauma, painful as it might have been. I am not going anywhere yet, heartbroken and terrified as I may be of what is happening in my adoptive country. I take solace and find hope in the knowledge that thousands of activist organizations and groups have emerged following the presidential inauguration, in the powerful and numerous protests, rallies, marches, town hall meetings that have blocked, delayed or undermined many of the awful and unjust initiatives of this administration: the travel bans, the repeal of the affordable care act, the doubled commitment of mayors, governors and business CEOs to the rules of the Paris accord despite the president’s exit from it. I am still holding on and staying put on the barricades in my adoptive country. As much for my American born children as for myself and for everything I still love about it. And what I love most about it is precisely that which is the target of hate and violence by the new born and old born fascists: the stunning rainbow of colors of our nation, the gorgeous mosaic of the most diverse humanity that throbs from one American coast to another.

In times of intolerable violence and injustice, I have acquired a bizarre strategy of survival. I read or think about books I have read by War and genocide survivors. They teach me how to survive and stay whole in the midst of political tsunamis and when everything seems to be collapsing around me. How to hold on to my core. One such testimonial that I keep going back to is called Wounded I Am More Awake, written by a survivor of six concentration camps during the genocidal war of the nineties in the Balkans. He tells of how during the terror, torture, pain and squalor of those camps, his foremost concern was to survive without losing his humanity. He did so by helping his weaker fellow camp mates since he was a doctor, thinking about his family and reciting poetry together with his fellow prisoners. He survived to write the book and acquire the realization that “wounded” he was “more awake.” This is my wish for you too America: while wounded, be more awake!





My Grandparents’ Photograph and Why I Wrote “Country of Red Azaleas”

grandparentsThere is a photograph in sepia of my maternal grandparents that has always haunted me. I carried it in my purse together with a handful of other family photographs when I escaped Romania to Italy in 1983.  My grandmother is wearing an elegant black dress, her hair is gathered in a chignon and she has a corsage of white orchids; my grandfather is wearing a tuxedo and his hair is combed back leaving open his smooth high forehead. They are both smiling and look radiantly happy. My mother always said about that photograph: “They were dancing at a ball during the war.”  That was all. The date on the back of the picture is December 31st 1943. Indeed, World War II, a New Year’s Eve party at the height of the war, crossing into the horrific year of 1944, Romania still fighting on the side of Germany, and American and Russian bombs falling like rain over our country in the middle of the Balkans. One of the American bombs hit my grandparents’ house in the summer of 1943 and split it in half. My mother’s family were all lucky to have found themselves in the half of the house that remained standing.

Growing up under the absurd dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu and gathering many more stories about my parents’ war childhoods I often came back to those two facts: my grandparents looking beautiful and radiant at a fancy ball and their house having been split in half by an American bomb half a year earlier.  How could they be so happy, so radiant, how could they dance, and how could my grandmother choose delicate white orchids and carefully arrange them in her corsage all while bombs were falling from the sky and splitting people’s houses in half or obliterating them altogether?

I only started to grasp that contradiction decades later, as an immigrant in the United States, after I had experienced and survived some of my own wars of a different nature: leaving everyone and everything familiar behind, settling in the United States as a political refugee, and the resulting displacement, loss, homesickness. The image of my grandparents offered me solace and strength throughout some of the hardest periods of my journey – if they could not only survive but even be able to dance, I could survive and be happy, too. And I finally understood that having survived the American bomb was precisely a reason to dress up, dance at the New Year’s Eve ball and be happy for every moment of stolen life.

When war erupted in the early nineties in the former Yugoslavia it felt like the reopening of an ancestral wound. The crushed house of my grandparents started taking shape in my imagination and acquiring a tragic kinship with the bombed houses of Sarajevo. I had never even been to Belgrade or to Sarajevo, to Kosovo or to Albania, but I had grown up hearing of our Yugoslav neighbors who apparently lived under a milder and more liberal kind of communism. They could travel to the West, their food stores weren’t always empty like ours, and I knew that Romanians sometimes crossed the border into Yugoslavia and then escaped to Italy. Although the Balkan countries differed from each other, those of us having been born, grown up, and lived behind what the West so dismissively referred to as “the iron curtain” or the “eastern bloc,” felt a certain sense of spiritual, cultural, and political kinship with one another. Throughout the centuries our countries had been jumbled up in various kingdoms, frontiers, and were changed and rearranged under the reckless whims of various invaders, empires, and regimes. And as a result, we shared elements of cuisine, folkloric music, a common hatred of the Soviet Union, a passionate idealization of the Western world and a great love of American music and cigarettes.

By the late nineties the news of the genocide and the rape camps became unbearable as I found out more about the unspeakable atrocities committed by Serbian officers against Muslim Bosnians. Works by the journalist Slavenka Draculic, and news about the many million dollar settlement won by the famous legal scholar Catharine McKinnon, had begun percolating. They took my breath away. I thought of the wartime childhoods of my parents and the wartime youth of my grandparents and post war Stalinist terror which they still talked about in whispers around the dinner table so many years later. Sometimes I took out the picture of my grandparents at the ball and wondered how the Bosnians survived under bombs and sniper shots, how they carried out their everyday lives. I was concerned especially with the particulars: the meals they cooked, how they got their water, whether they ever read, laughed or even danced anymore? More than anything, the mass rapes and the executions in July of 1995 kept me up at night when my young children didn’t. I started noticing occasional refugees from Bosnia, mostly women wearing colored headscarves like the ones we used to call babushkas in Romania. I wondered whether they’d survived rape camps, if they had lost family members, sons, husbands to the genocide or to snipers in Sarajevo. I wondered what was hiding behind their polite smiles,  what  stories they carried, what memories bloomed as they cooked their Bosnian meals that spread cumin and cinnamon fragrances all throughout the hallways of my mother’s Chicago apartment building where some of them lived.

Years later Sarajevo beckoned me with an irresistible call. In the summer of 2011 I descended upon its multicolored glory and surreptitious magic and it felt like I had been born there. It was the same summer that a newly discovered mass grave was exhumed, containing 660 bodies from the genocide. The war was still fresh. I took everything down in my little notebook: how they lived for three years without water, gas and electricity, how they ran amidst sniper bullets to get water from the few sources in town, how they even wrote poetry and wore their best clothes just to feel normal and beautiful on some really ugly days. When I was in Sarajevo, I never felt like a refugee, and nobody ever asked me where I was from the way it still happens in my adopted America with exasperating frequency.

The people I met shared their city with me like you would share a warm loaf of bread with a hungry person. Still, I felt as if I betrayed them for not being here during the war, but instead of reproaches they thanked me for being interested in their history.

People told me their stories of survival and also stories of everyday life that had nothing to do with the war. I moved among silk and copper artifacts and almond and honey pastries with the ease of someone who has found her home, yet sadly knowing I had to leave it again. I knew I would spend the next several years of my life writing a story that starts there in Sarajevo, during the same decade when I was living in my native Romania and that it would be the story of two women who grow up during Tito’s regime and are young adults at the time of the Bosnian war. I knew it would be the story of two empowered women who are tied to each other for life and whose love and friendship survives all the upheavals and turbulences of history.  To me their lasting portrait will always be akin to that of my grandparents’ photograph in sepia: a snapshot of irrepressible passion for life in the midst of ruin, and framed by Sarajevo’s red azaleas to my grandmother’s white orchids. This is how my novel “Country of Red Azaleas” was born.

However, the eternal refugee in me has recently started to feel restless and anxious again that what I had thought was going to be my adoptive home for good, might just turn into a terrifying place of discrimination and violence.  The political discourse of hatred and fear mongering takes me back to the speeches that we were forced to listen to during the time of the dictatorship I grew up under, it echoes stories of my parents’ years under Fascist rule and then Stalinist type rule: a hollow demagogical language dipped in the “banality of evil.” To bring it even closer to our times, it resonates with anti-Muslim sentiments and actions during the Bosnian War, for it was largely Serbian “Christian” factions, troupes and the Republika Srepska that carried out a three year long siege and war mostly against Muslim Bosnians in the Bosnia Herzegovina areas. Could history really take such absurd turns that those of us who once  painfully uprooted ourselves and took refuge in the “home of the brave and land of the free” might start looking back towards our native lands that we once ran away from as our new refuge? At least my native country is not at war and now has a democratically elected government. But how about our Muslim brothers and sisters whose countries are at war and had thought America was a safe haven? Is it any more? I now understand even better the sense of vertigo that my grandparents must have felt standing in the half of the house that had escaped the American bomb, the precariousness of having no way to turn and no safe haven: American bombs on one side, Stalinist gulags on the other side.   The expression “carpet bombs” is only now acquiring its sinister concreteness, and the anti-Muslim rhetoric that rose with a vengeance in former Yugoslavia is no longer a rhetoric of those “remote” Balkan countries.  Are the “Balkans” coming to America while the “carpet bombings” are ferociously eager to be catapulted onto different parts of the world? Maybe onto the very countries some of us once left. Maybe bombs are among some of the very last things made in America and there is even a huge surplus of them. So what’s an anxious refugee to do in times like these? Cling to a life affirming image of joy and beauty in the midst of hate, violence bombs?  Put a white flower in her hair, go dancing and hope that her gesture of leaving her country and family with a handful of photographs as her most precious possession is still worth that irreversible break?

Domnica Radulescu

A Pen, a Mirror and a Lipstick or Why I Write.

On the cusp of the publication of my third novel Country of Red Azaleas which is less than six months away, I am anxiously writing my fourth novel, My Father’s Orchards. Anxiously, because I find myself between birth and conception, letting go of one child of the mind and laboring to create another.  It’s a necessary agony that I can’t live without. I write because I can’t not write and because it makes me feel alive. I write because it roots me and re-roots me time and again in the colors, the smells, the feel of the world and writing gives me a country where I can belong.  When I was five months old at my own baptism, the story goes that I gave a sign I was going to be a writer. According to a Romanian custom/superstition, after the Orthodox baptism the family of the baby is supposed to present her/him with a tray filled with various objects representing the different professions: pencils, books, hammers, coloring pencils, water colors, a watch, a thimble, a tiny ball, on and on. According to the story in my family, when I was presented with this auspicious glittering tray I grabbed a pen which I wanted to eat, a mirror which I wanted to crash, a lipstick which I tried to eat as well. The verdict in my family was that I was gong to be a writer or an actress. I have been writing since the age of five and I dabbled in acting, though theater has been a constant presence in my life. So I suppose I am keeping true to my choices of when I was five months old.  Funny thing, it seems to me I have a memory of that day with the silvery tray filled with colorful objects, tellers of my destiny. I grab the pen, I grab the mirror, I grab the lipstick, I want to eat them all.  Yes, I suppose I write out of hunger for the world, I write because it nourishes me and it has chosen me. I don’t care how bad the world is, I write in the middle of tempests and wars and earthquakes, on a boat in the middle of the sea, on a mountain top, at a street corner, on a train, while swimming laps, while walking in the rain. I write out of love for the world and terror of the world.  I write to resist banality, uniformity, the monotony of mass produced thinking, injustice, violence, boredom, and because I chose it when I was five months old. A silver glittering tray with colorful objects, full of temptations, what will I be, what will I be? A writer, an actress, pick up the pen, put on the lipstick, be ready for the world!  If only it was that easy.   Marguerite Duras said in an interview “seule l’ecriture me sauvera,,” “only writing will save me” from the most atrocious solitude.  Yes, a pen, a mirror, and a lipstick.  An actress that keeps writing herself, a writer that keeps acting her roles. it’s a dizzying path, and sometimes the lipstick doesn’t match the mood or the story, but so what! Mismatches are fun.

IMG_3288 praying trees IMG_3292 lake michigan

Counter Culture

Because I don’t really like or understand the whole idea of a blog  I’d like to start an anti-blog blog, or a cyber counter cultural space. First whoever thought of the name? As a writer with a keen ear for the sounds of language I can’t help thinking of smog, log, fog, nog (like in egg nog), frog, And of course dog which is the reverse of god.  It makes me want to write an absurdist play about the thickness of the London smog that I learned about in high school when I was learning English in my native Romania. Those textbooks always talked about the smog in London, how thick and bad it was. And then out of the once thick London smog comes a bouncing frog carrying a log and fully drunk on eggnog, chasing a dog. The frog drowned in the thick bog. I think the play needs an epilogue. It’s a Dickensian play with slums and smog.

These are some questions that come to mind: Have any blogs so far changed someone’s life? Are they public diaries? Do they tell so called  real stories? Are they like personal columns of a personal newspaper?  Are they our modern society’s screeching scream of loneliness and desperation, our desire to be heard amidst the deafening noises and clatter and chatter and clamor of our world? Can a blog be a call to silence? Will blogs float in the universe among galaxies even when our planet is long gone?

Here is what I will not do: I will not talk about my feelings. I will not share personal events. I will not make sweeping comments about the world and philosophies of life. And this is not a journal. And it is not my therapy or a cyber venue for venting about how bad things are out there in the world.

Can a blog be made to sound like silence? A white on white sign like Mallarme’s poem Le Cygne – “Le vierge, le vivace, le bel aujourd’hui.” And then there is my other favorite line by Mallarme  “Helas la chair est triste et j’ai lu tous les livres.” Would Mallarme write a blog? I think he’d rather drown in the bog.

And  then some images and ideas that haunt me. For instance the homeless. I’d like to evoke an image of the homeless in Vancouver. Before I visited Vancouver this winter everybody told me: Oh Vancouver is great, fabulous, so beautiful, so chic, so cultural and so cutting edge, blah, blah.  Nobody said anything about the homeless. More than I had seen in any other Western city throughout my travels I was welcomed by homeless everywhere. And when I say “welcomed” I don’t mean it sarcastically. I was really welcomed because I looked them straight in the eyes whether I stopped to give them a Canadian dollar or not. Some didn’t care for American dollars at all. Amidst multimillion dollar condominiums, houses, everything multimillion, you suddenly see a stretch of sidewalk where people without a home lie, sleep, eat from other people’s leftovers and garbage. The passers bye  pretend to not see them or that they are insignificant.  Apparently Wednesday is their free day at the community center where they get free  shots if they are users, food and shelter, some medical attention. Wednesday is a good day for the homeless in Vancouver.

Homeless in Vancouver - what the tourist guides won't show you.
Homeless in Vancouver – what the tourist guides won’t show you.

I was afraid every day I would be homeless during my first year in America. I’m in my 31st year in America and I’m still afraid of that. I take the line by Oedipus to heart: “Do not consider yourself a happy man until you have lived the last day of your life.” And I also take it with a grain of salt because on some days I’m dying to consider myself a happy person. Funny thing that Oedipus became homeless too. He wandered the earth with a cane and his eyes gouged out, searching for some kind of redemption.  I don’t think he ever found it: The redemption I mean..

I have had some interesting conversations with homeless people across North America and Gypsies in Europe. Mostly Romanian Gypsies or Roma.  You out there who walk the wealthy streets of the world, try it too. Have a conversation with a homeless person! See what they like, what they dream, how they got to make that leap from living in a home to living in the street. If you’re a writer you might write a story about a homeless person that will bring you money and fame so you can travel to sunny places with no homeless people. You out there,  “Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!” Are you there, there, there? Or have you drowned in a bog under the London smog?

I want to make theater with homeless people like my friend Norma did. When I make a lot of  money selling my new novel Country of Red Azaleas and when I can leave the academic world which has become as cold and corporate as any corporate world out there, and when I can be my own boss and not have to work with colleagues in an office, I want to make street theater with people who live in the street. Just like that. The homeless need theater and bread, good coffee and music, someone to listen to their story and an art gallery to exhibit their drawings.  I dream of a colorful commune made by the homeless, a colorful neighborhood where the homeless make a home with theater, bread and coffee. I know it’s a skimpy diet and if any are gluten intolerant like I am, that could be a problem.  Never mind, we can make corn bread without any wheat. We can eat potatoes and berries, corn and salsa, dance the tango and the samba. And have a theater festival in the street. My little southern rich town with no street life and bearded men with confederate flags littering our streets every year on jackson lee day, desperately needs a theater festival of the homeless. I used to see a couple of them on our clean quaint streets, maybe Vietnam vets forgotten by the state: one carried a boom box around like the man in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. I sort of miss him, it was nice to have some of this much priced deafening southern silence broken up by the homeless man’s boombox.

And have I told you I live in a small semi southern university town with very nice people who all say hello in the street and then comment on your foreign accent or colorful clothes? My favorite place is the women’s locker room at the community pool where naked women of all ages and sizes talk about everything. We all have our little habits and recognize each other’s voices, swim bags and naked bodies. It’s comforting and makes you feel like you have a home. And nobody asks me about my accent in the women’s locker room of our community pool. It’s all about Eve.

Have I broken any of my own rules for the anti-blog blog? Probably so. It’s hard to keep a vow of silence and only Mallarme could make silence with words.

More to come about my street theater utopia  “Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!” (Au Lecteur by Charles Baudelaire in case you were wondering).

I’m almost starting to enjoy writing in this cyber space. Don’t ever call me a blogger though.

vancouver museum of modern art
Favorite Spot in Vancouver – Postmodern Conceptual Art at the Museum of Modern Art

Country of Red Azaleas

I was interviewed late last year by “Work in Progress” a literary journal that features the work of authors involved in a book project: a novel, a short story collection, or similar creative endeavor. I spoke to them about my forthcoming third novel “Country of Red Azaleas” :

“For me, art is an awakening. The question of the role of art and of the artist vis-à-vis the violence and injustice in the world is an agonizing one.  As a politically engaged artist and citizen of the world, as a refugee from a brutal dictatorship I believe art should create an oasis even in the midst of the worst brutalities, an alternative life of the imagination that would awaken readers and spectators and urge them to pose important questions of themselves such as: “What is my role in today’s society?” “How can I initiate or contribute to change in my world?” “How does one survive trauma and keep one’s integrity of body and soul?” However, I do not believe in art that becomes the vehicle for various ideologies or that is preachy, as that often has the opposite effect and also tends to be quite boring. Neither do I believe in art that idealizes violence or on the contrary, indulges in blow by blow descriptions of violent acts. Aesthetic choices also bear an ethical weight, and rather than perpetuating or repeating traumatic acts through recounting them in narrative, drama or film the work of art should lead us to understanding and transcendence of trauma, to recovery and wholeness. It’s all rather ineffable and one cannot be prescriptive when it comes to art and its role in society; it’s a very fine balance between achieving aesthetic beauty and civic responsibility, between creating art that is both aesthetically and politically engaging and it is an agonizing search, but the journey is worth the trouble if one is a passionate artist and cannot live without creating. In my forthcoming novel Country of Red Azaleas a conversation between the two protagonists, Marija and Lara, encloses an ars poetica of sorts: “’Tell the truth without telling the story. Once you tell the story it’s become fiction and someone will like it and want to sell it or buy it.’ But how could you tell the truth without telling the story I always wondered? That was Marija’s conundrum.” And then Lara’s reflection on the words of her friend Marija also point to a possible way of dealing with violence in art: “She shrouded us in a cozy cooling silence forgetfulness dis-remembering that wasn’t really like you forgot everything but like you remembered but it didn’t touch you and you said good bye to it.”

So it is all very contradictory, the artist has to be able to achieve an aesthetically unified work by bringing together opposing tensions, forces, needs: tell untold truths while startling the imagination, initiate social change without sermonizing, awakening not just emotions but lucid thinking. It is not sure whether art really changes the world as so many of us engaged in its creation would like to and need to believe, but what is certain is that we can’t afford to not keep creating. Every oasis created by the imagination with tenderness and responsibility is a move against violence and injustice.

The full interview with WIP Journal may be found at : http://www.wipsjournal.com/wips-conversation-domnica-radulescu-on-her-work-in-progress/

Country of Red Azaleas will be ready for publication by the Hachette Group in April 2016

Theater of War and Exile

Theater of War and Exile
Twelve Playwrights, Directors and Performers from Eastern Europe and Israel

by Domnica Radulescu with a foreword by Maya E. Roth

Not Yet Published, Available Spring/Summer 2015

9780786473120_p0_v1_s600About the Book
In what ways does political trauma influence the art arising from it? Is there an aesthetic of war and exile in theatrical works that emerge from such experiences? Are there cultural markers defining such works from areas like Eastern Europe and Israel? This book considers these questions in an examination of plays, performances and theater artists that speak from a place of political violence and displacement.

The author’s critical inquiry covers a variety of theatrical experimentations, including Brechtian distancing, black humor, pastiche, surreal and hyper-real imagery, reversed chronologies and disrupted narratives. Drawing on postmodern theories and performance studies as well interviews and personal statements from the artists discussed, this study explores the transformative power of the theater arts and their function as catalysts for social change, healing and remembrance.


“Radulescu’s examination of the theater of the Balkans, Romania, Israel, and other sites of violence and exile demonstrates the power of theater to enable the survivors of trauma to document and witness, to reclaim the real, to produce social change, and to promote the possibility of healing, both on the personal and national levels…a model for understanding how artists depict and resist unspeakable violence and living a national identity far from that nation…will surely be of interest to scholars from a wide variety of fields.”–Kevin J. Wetmore, Department of Theatre Arts, Loyola Marymount University

“With an exile’s insight and an advocate’s clarity, with a scholar’s thoroughness and an artist’s passionate partiality, Radulescu assembles and frames an illuminating array of recent-and-contemporary theatrical manifestations that explore war-born, genocide-inscribed trauma.”–Erik Ehn, Professor and Chair of Theater Arts and Performance Studies at Brown University.