Another excerpt from the memoirs of an American poet, this time Andrei Codrescu. He's from New Orleans -- originally, from Sibiu -- and is probably best known in the US as a commenter on National Public Radio, although his writing has its charms too. (Was he the one who quipped how great it was to live in a country where those three words, "National Public Radio", symbolize boredom, not nationalism? Might have been Daniel Schorr.) This is from
The Muse is Always Half-Dressed in New Orleans The Hole in the Flag, his account of his trip back to Romania in December 1989:
The metro entrance gaped at our feet like a huge open mouth. We had read that the metro entrances of Bucharest were also entry points into Ceaucescu's maze of tunnels, a secret subterranean network constructed to outlast even nuclear war. There were reports of rooms stocked full of canned and frozen delicacies, armories containing missiles, communications centers gleaming with the latest technology. The underground network was reputed to be thousands of miles long, multilayered, a complicated nervous system whose exact shape and direction no one single person knew. Architects who had worked on portions of the system had been killed. [...]
The land of Romania is combed with the tunnels of various ages. When I was a kid, I could get from my school to my house via an old tunnel that began just under the wall adjoining our chemistry lab. It was one of many built to serve as escape routes during a Turkish assault. It connected to older tunnels that honeycombed the city and ended in the mountains. We could sink under the city at the blink of an eye, and often did, when we skipped history, which was taught by a horrible man with an eye patch named Comrade Rana. But the tunnels existed precisely because history was one subject the Romanian people had been unable to skip. [...]
A brief article, written in spare soldier's language by a certain Major Mihai Floca, described the tunnels under Bucharest being deactivated by his elite commando unit. He wrote of giant refrigerators stuffed with a variety of meats, stores of foods that "most people have forgotten the taste and color of," immense closets filled with quality clothes and shoes, comfortable dormitories, ultramodern workshops equipped with the latest electronic monitoring equipment and computers, caches of weapons, sophisticated bombs, germ warfare shells. The brightly lit "labyrinth" was vast, leading everywhere, under secret buildings, under the television and radio stations, under the Ceaucescu's many palaces and safe houses. "They were prepared to live forever in there," he concluded sternly.
You know, I might think that Major Floca might be indulging in a bit of post-Revolution urban legend, except now I've seen that damn Palace of the People. Now I wonder how well the tunnels' Ceaucescu-era concrete has dealt with the local water table and earthquake tremors. Codrescu continues:
What is it about Commies and tunnels? Harrison Salisbury reports in his book on Tiananmen Square that the Chinese troops that burst out of the Great Hall of the people and the historical museums ringing the square had slipped there secretly from tunnels under the Forbidden City. "There is even a branch railroad line with an underground station in Zhongnanhai," writes Salisbury. If one considers that the chief metaphor used in Communist propaganda is the "light of communism" or the "dawn of the new age," the tunnels become even more baffling. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense: A movement born and elaborated underground that came to light through violence and then ruled illegitimately must always make provisions to return to the darkness of its beginnings.