I remember that deliciously surreal moment with piercing clarity — the day I walked into Nicolae Ceausescu’s former bedroom and, on a whim, bounced up and down on the late Romanian dictator’s bed.
It might have been the firing squad for me had I been caught doing that before his ignominious downfall and execution in 1989 in Bucharest.
But in 1992, my sacrilegious behavior only elicited guffaws from my fellow journalists, who had been invited on a junket to Romania, a former Soviet satellite state that has since rediscovered democracy. In any event, I’m certain that Ceausescu would have been spinning in his grave had he known that an irreverent Canadian journalist had shattered the sanctity of one of his homes.
This happened on a grey day in September when a pack of inquisitive reporters from the United States and Canada trooped around Ceausescu’s palatial hunting lodge in Covasna, inspecting the premises like seasoned real estate agents.
Our Romanian guide was aghast by the luxurious surroundings. “For us, this is unbelievable,” he said in awe. “Never in my life did we believe this existed.”
While ordinary Romanians like him suffered through privation and hardship, Ceausescu — a hard-core Communist who brooked no internal dissent but who bucked the Soviet party line on foreign affairs — indulged his proletarian fancy by building swanky country homes around this generally impoverished country.
Since his demise, these chalets have been converted into hotels.
The tour of Ceausescu’s house was thorough. We peered into pantries and closets, fingered bone chains, flushed toilets and flipped through books.
Like a prodigal son, Ceausescu poured loads of money into this lodge, at a time when food rationing and blackouts were common. Since it was merely one of several lodges he maintained, he managed only two visits to Covasna after its construction in 1985. Nevertheless, the staff was always on duty.
The lodge is set on an expansive, manicured plot of land amid the pristine, pine-scented Carpathian mountains. After passing through a high wrought-iron gate manned by a guard, I turned left and found myself staring at two forlorn brown bears in a cage. Ceausescu liked bears, as well as wolves and foxes, which he and his cronies hunted. For a hunt like this, serious hunting packs would be required to haul back the carcasses; in the present day, it’s easy to find such products with sites like outdoorempire.com having reviewed them to make the selection process easier.
In front of the lodge was a helicopter pad. The walls of the lodge were made of fine volcanic rock, the doors of sculpted wood. The floor of the spacious foyer was clad with creamy marble flecked with grey and pink. To the left was an elevator. The hardwood floors were adorned with vibrant Oriental rugs. The walls were panelled with knotless oak. The ceiling mouldings were elaborate. Heavy green curtains draped some of the windows. The crystal chandeliers sparkled in the light.
Behind an ornate desk in the study was a shelf filled with leather-bound ponderous political tracts written by none other than Ceausescu, the “genius of the Carpathians.”
An enormously long mahogony table with matching chairs was in the dining room.
The kitchen was spotless, with stainless steel stove tops and gleaming silverware in sliding drawers. In clay pots in an adjoining room were bright red geraniums.
A winding staircase led to the second storey. The two master bedrooms, one for Ceausescu and another for his wife Elena, were appointed with fireplaces, tapestries and porcelain statuary.
I could not resist the temptation of jumping on his queen-size bed and bouncing around, barely able to suppress a laugh.
We were guided into the basement, peeking into a movie theater and then into a spa with medical paraphernalia, a sauna, a massive shower stall, stainless steel bathtubs and an assortment of exercise equipment.
The journalists were impressed. Ceausescu certainly knew how to live off the fat of the land until time ran out on him.