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tearing the rag off the bush again
Fly Fishing Romania PDF E-mail

"Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. . . ."
—H.D. Thoreau, Walden (1854)


A couple of weeks after arriving in Bucharest, I received an invitation to attend a party. The purpose of the get-together was to welcome the new Fulbrighters, and at the gathering was a Romanian professor of British Studies. I remembered him from my previous posting, five years before, but we hadn't interacted much. British Studies and American Studies in Romania are rivals for students interested in pursuing English-language study, and the American and British departments can sometimes resemble belligerent fiefdoms. So I assumed that since his orientation was British Studies and mine was American Studies, he didn't have anything to say to me. Also at this bash were the customary Romanian dishes. Among the mamaliga (cornmeal mush, or polenta) and mititei (thumb-shaped grilled meatballs with mustard) sat a marinated carp dish, looking impenitently gelatinous. This fish dish caused the topic of conversation to turn to how local taste in certain fare is bound to national identity. Carp, or crap in Romanian—it's not out of the ordinary to encounter the "plate of crap" on a Romanian English menu—is considered an essential part of the country's gastronomy. Talking about fish prompted Kim to bring up my interest in fly fishing. When she said that I'd brought some gear and hoped to get in some angling while in Romania, everyone in the room turned in unison to look at me. I believe that they now had a new, somewhat contradictory angle on me. I probably look more like the casual, pony-tailed, garden-variety American academic than the Papa Hemingway-River Runs Through It fly fishing type. Or maybe it was a question about my work ethic. Marxist philosophers are understandably not very popular in Romania. Still, the writings of the Frankfurt School are useful in this instance. In Dialectic of Enlightenment, Theodor Adorno said that late modern existence is divided artificially into labor and leisure. Though presented as opportunities for relaxation, leisure time activities are really a means for capitalist society to regulate politically resistant urges. The "culture industry," or the entertainment business, persistently reinforces the idea of dividing up modern experience into rest and work. After a long day of work, we just want to relax, or culture industry products continue to reinforce the idea that we just want to relax. The consumer product itself, with its dream-inducing effects, makes us relax while it is the very thing we should be examining for ideological content—the Hollywood movie industry is Adorno's preferred example. He says that instead of this kind of aura of consumption and commodification ultimately making people happy, which is leisure's professed purpose, the popular cultural product causes folks to feel resigned to the drudgery of the modern world. Popular entertainment and the relaxation it is supposed to generate in fact repress the desire for happiness through a continual deferral of reality, thus making human subjects discontented and unsure why, and finally powerless to resist.

But I don't think that Adorno thought about the predicament of higher educators and work. College professors seem to qualify as a categorical exception to the labor/leisure imaginary. We aren't supposed to have any free time, or to waste time doing something other than work; we are inherently perhaps one of the only sets of professionals that is supposed to exist leisure-free. And we think this ourselves, we academics. It's a thing of pride with us that we are constantly at work. So I am incessantly busy, or appear to be, which is most important. Writing this essay, for instance, both counts as work and doesn't count. I'm producing as a writer, something literature professors are expected to do, but I'm not manufacturing the kind of product my job identity prescribes: literary scholarship. Without relentless work in my subject area, I am not categorically: college professor. And lacking this identity, or devoid of identity itself, I'm forced to encounter that forlorn, inscrutable thing: my self. If I were not busier than others, the world would think that I must be a figuration of an inferior variety of the category: a lazy professor. This may be what the party thought as they turned to look inquiringly in my direction.

Whatever they were thinking, I think that fly fishing, or at least how I have experienced it, doesn't signify a leisure pursuit in the way that the Frankfurt School philosopher describes it. It's true that fly fishing counts as a form of play, but fly fishing has all of the attributes of work: tasking oneself with a challenge, exerting oneself with a set of tools. In other words, choosing the right fly and determining how to catch a fish with it. I don't think that the category of leisure, moreover, can bear the kind of zeal that fly fishing obliges. Adorno's leisure is passive engagement and resignation, and the managing of the consciousness of consumers, while fly fishing's state of intense concentration is immanently at odds with relaxation and surrender to larger forces. The act of fly fishing better resembles reading critically—interpreting against the current, sometimes reading against one's own fixed knowledge—than passively, submissively taking in a movie. To make one final point, Adorno is describing the condition of spectatorship, and fly fishing is anything but that. Now whether there is an ideological component to the work of fly fishing is another question.

When I arrived in Romania, I had not been really able to indulge my obsession with fly fishing in any serious way for almost ten years. When I was a grad student, I lived in the Pacific Northwest and fished as much as possible. It's not an overstatement to say that partly due to fly fishing I added an extra year to the writing of my dissertation. Before the season opened, I spent time doing things like practicing fly-casting in a park. If I hadn't been a fly angler and saw someone fly casting in a place where there was no fish and water, I'm pretty sure I would have thought the person was wasting time and doing something a little ridiculous. When the season came, I drove for five or six hours across the Idaho panhandle to remote wild cutthroat streams, then camped out for several days, fishing from daylight until dusk—a pile of ungraded papers sitting on my desk at home. I did bring books along, but I rarely cracked them. In the evening I sat in front of a fire drinking brandy and talking with Kim or my fishing friends, depending on who was with me. When I climbed into my sleeping bag, I looked at a page or two of a book, then turned off my flashlight and fell asleep, my legs aching agreeably from wading through fast-moving water.

Every fly angler has one standout memory. Mine is of a pool I chanced on while exploring the North Fork of the Clearwater River, a fly fishing-only, catch-and-release stream with protected native cutthroat trout, located on the southeastern edge of the Idaho panhandle. If you set about looking for the spot, be advised that this is a remote place. If you travel east, from Washington toward Orofino, Idaho, and follow the old logging roads, you will find yourself eventually driving across a narrow bridge spanning the North Fork of the Clearwater River, a wide, wild stream that spills down the canyons of the Clearwater National Forest. You will then drive for several hours along the dusty gravel road that holds close to the greater North Fork. When you have finally reached the junction in the North Fork, instead of being tempted by the blue-ribbon panhandle trout stream on the right, Kelly Forks, you must turn left up the time-consuming, twisty, narrow, maddening washboard road that intermittently hugs and veers from the lesser North Fork. A few miles up the gravel and dust from my pool you would ultimately encounter the rough country of northwestern Montana, Lolo National Forest, though I admit I never made it quite that far myself.

Then again, the hole is almost certainly no longer there, given the vagaries of runoff and Heraclitus's Law of Universal Flux. In Cratylus Plato characterizes the old philosopher's theory: "Heraclitus . . . says that all things go and nothing stays, and comparing existents to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river.” Plato liked Heraclitus, because the sixth century BCE philosopher then stated, paradoxically, that change ensures permanence. That is, the transformation of some things makes possible the sustained existence of other things. My way of articulating this is probably not what the philosopher of the Logos had in mind, but the theory might be worked loose a bit to stretch for my purposes. For me the hole in the river, my pool in the stream, remains the same in my memory. This is as close as I get to the eternal.

I said that fly fishing resembles the performance of critical reading, but I think that it might be also compared to the act of writing. You inscribe your designs on the surface of the water, the fluid, always-transforming top page. With your implement, you cast turns of phrase, then retrieve them to be revised for precision, and then lay down more trenchant lines, an act of persistent association with nature. You hope that the result will be to catch life, to hook the elusive, elemental living thing: to raise the weighty, tugging thing, being.

I was alone on this trip, a hot late August day, driving all those hours by myself, when I chanced on the hole. A near-vertical chute channeling water briskly through a cluster of sun-washed white boulders made a perfect pool. As I scrambled down the nearly sheer bank, my white-felt-soled shoes sliding on loose gravel, I didn't feel anything special about this location. Then I waded in and could see that fish were feeding on the surface. All over the pool. After about ten minutes, at the point when I usually start thinking about whether I should change something—when that old vacillation starts settling in, when I begin to lose the shell of identity and become conscious that I am by myself—I began to catch fish. A rare occasion, I never experienced the familiar feeling of uncertainty. Should I move on to another spot? Should I change the fly? Or I didn't have the chance to become indecisive. Since I was catching fish, I instinctively persevered with what I had tied to my leader: a simple elkhair caddis, #12. I caught one sizeable cut after another, hooking a nice fish on almost every cast, for several hours straight. I didn't tangle up my line in a tree behind me; I didn't stumble and fall in. It's true that I snapped off a few flies, but I still freed more fish than I could count. In fact, I caught a lunker with one of my caddis imitations in its mouth. I remember laughing a lot.

When it ended, I found myself standing waist-high in rushing water, wrapped in rapidly advancing darkness. By myself. As I found my way out of the pool, practically swimming in the dark, then in the gloom scaled the steep bank and stowed my gear in the car by the dim glow of the trunk-light, I discovered that I was done in. I felt lonely driving home, a bottle of beer between my legs, and was happy, after so many hours on the warren of high-beamed roads, to see Kim when I came in. I remembered that one of the best things about going fishing was returning home to Kim.

I dream of returning to that spot. I literally dream about the spot, the pool appearing to me sometimes like some deep, unfathomable uncertainty. In my dream I find the pool finally but don't have time to fish it before I awaken.

This was my last visit to the North Fork before leaving the Northwest to take a job at the opposite end of the country and the beginning of my life away from fly fishing. I got a job teaching at a small state college in Savannah. I counted myself lucky to have landed a tenure-track position, something that was by the mid-nineties getting to be difficult for people who do what I do. And before we left, Kim and I got a copy of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. We looked forward to seeing the sites mentioned in the book, understanding that it was whimsical—that the Savannah in the book didn't really exist. Still, we thought the book was a hoot and looked forward to moving to the old colonial seaport. Also I thought that I might be able to fish. My PacNorthwest fly fishing friends kidded me about fly angling for bass in the Georgia swamps, spinning what they thought were hilarious, carnival-like scenes of hurling lures the size of bullfrogs and hooking into gators then being chased by characters from Deliverance. That sort of thing.

In Georgia I did try fishing for trout in the hilly Blue Ridge Mountains, but, one of the crowd, it bore only a slight resemblance to standing alone in the middle of a brisk, cold freestone trout stream in an Idaho canyon. With all that company I felt kind of lonely. In any case, I didn't live in northern Georgia. I lived in distant Savannah, which was of course nothing like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The "historic district" resembled a combination theme park and movie set. Hollywood films were almost constantly being shot in the squares, and along with the streams of tour buses, the spectacle atmosphere aggravated an already appalling municipal crisis: badly routed traffic patterns and no parking. The tour bus operators pointed out locations mentioned in "The Book"—Savannah could only sustain a single text—skipping over the brutal history of who built the magnificent antebellum residences that the charming, affluent white characters in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil played in. The rest of the town was the standard repetition and replication of strip malls and gridlock, the postmodern god-awful snarled line of franchises and SUVs. If there was any charm in the southern simulacra of Savannah, I didn't encounter it. Eventually, out of desperation, I got around to trying saltwater fly fishing off the breakers around Tybee Island. But this turned out to be a pointless encounter with that unreadable, brackish saline solution, the North Atlantic. Whatever the fly angling magazines said, saltwater fly fishing was not for me.

After a few years on the Georgia Sea Coast, I went on the market again. I said that I was looking for another job because my department was swimming with cutthroats. My old boy colleagues took their stand: laziness masquerading as upholding standards and a scarcely veiled racism. And it is true that I did want to get out of that toxic environment. But I also would have liked to angle myself a job in a place where I could fish for trout, or at least a location that was closer to fishing. I netted another job at a state university in Kansas, exactly halfway back to the Northwest. Before I took the job I looked at my road atlas and decided that I could fish the White River in Arkansas, or better yet, drive to Colorado to fish. In comparison with the distance between the Northwest and the Deep South, these destinations looked close on the national map. There was even supposed to be trout fishing in Kansas.

The trout fishing in Kansas turned out to be trying to locate a fish in a watery ditch with no sign of the genus Salmo. Anglers in Kansas generally fish marshy lakes for bottom feeders. I then decided to visit some friends in northeastern Arkansas—I would give a paper at a conference on their campus. I excitedly packed the car with my fly fishing equipment. After hours of driving southeast, I finally got to a trout stream in the Ozarks. In the course of a few hours, I caught one sluggish rainbow in the tributary. So I next tried the Rockies, to the west. Colorado was glorious, particularly the Arkansas River headwaters, but the brown trout of the Arkansas held close to the river floor and didn't impetuously feed on flies like the agreeable cutthroat. The pressure on the streams, along with the whitewater rafting—the multitudes of tourists, the theme park atmosphere—cast a striking contrast against the solitude of the Idaho panhandle. And it was a ten-hour drive to fish in Colorado. As Heraclitus said, "Geography is fate."

When I returned to Romania, a place where at least my feeling of isolation would be justified, I brought along a travel rod that broke down to six foot-and-a-half long pieces, a fly reel with a weight-forward floating line, and a vest crammed with necessary tackle. I didn't bring a pair of waders because it would have taken up too much space in the luggage, but I did permit myself a pair of neoprene felt-soled shoes. I did this on the slim assumption that I might be able to fish. The Rough Guide to Romania reported that there was allegedly a good trout stream in northern Transylvania. I studied my map of Romania, locating the river where the Rough Guide gave its rough guess at where one could find a trout habitat. I circled the spot where I would try to get to to fish. I imagined the stream as just like those of the secluded canyons in Idaho.

When at the Bucharest party Kim mentioned my hope to get in some fly fishing while in Romania, I was surprised to hear the Romanian British Studies professor say that he also liked fly fishing and would take me fishing some time. This made me feel hopeful. Not only could ancient bridges be crossed at last—American, British, Romanian—but even if he never got in touch, it meant that there must be fly fishing in Romania.

In truth, I was too busy to think much about fishing. As well as teaching and other duties related to being a cultural ambassador, I spent nine months writing a book. I worked on the book every day because I had sworn to myself to send my manuscript to the publisher by the end of my year in Romania. Yet during the between-moments of writing and teaching, while traveling around Romania giving lectures and attending conferences, I would pass a stream in a car or van, bus or train. I would search the sparkling blue meandering line for any sign of trout. Romanian anglers use fourteen-foot staff-like poles without reels, sitting in chairs along the shores of murky green lakes. The line is simply fixed to the end of the shaft, and presumably when a fish chomps a baited hook, the angler swings his or her catch over to shore and dances around with the flopping animal until finally getting hold of it and throwing it in a bucket. (I admit I never saw anyone catch anything—I assumed they were fishing for carp—so I can't be sure if this is indeed what the scene must look like.) I saw someone fishing a stream only once or twice, but never, it seems almost needless to say, anyone with a fly rod.

I have another representative narrative. During our first week in Romania, Kim and I hooked up with a student of mine of five years before, from my first posting at U Bucharest. This time the student, her brother and sister-in-law took Kim and me on a road trip around southern Transylvania. We stayed on an "agroturism" farm in Bran, a resort town between the Bucegi and Piatra Craiului Mountains where the turreted pile of rocks recognized as Dracula's Castle is located. Though it's improbable that the fifteenth-century Prince Dracul ever even visited the dwelling, Bran Castle is a kind of Dracula miniature theme park, Disneyized Romania-style, with mass-produced vampire junk for sale at the base of the bastion. Dracula, or Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler, from Turkish: kaziklu bey, "impaling prince"), was not a Transylvanian count but a Wallachian prince. This was of course Bram Stoker's historic gaffe. The Transylvanians and Wallachians were generally enemies, so saying that Vlad Dracul ("son of the Dragon") was Transylvanian is a bit like saying that George W. Bush is a committed Marxist. The modest castle's promotion as the home of Dracula is an attempt on the part of the Romanian state to cash in on the unaccountable American enthrallment with the night stalking count of Hollywood folklore. In truth, Bran Castle, set high in the mountains of southern Transylvania, was during the interwar period the summer residence of Queen Marie, the solitary English sovereign in exile, who entertained her retinue of lovers in the stately pleasure dome, discretely remote from her king's sight.

Ancient history and the moment of the modern can hold an instructive conversation. During one phase of the pre-'89 totalitarian period, the ruler Ceausescu undertook the idea of promoting Vlad as a national hero, mostly because the name of Dracula is synonymous with iniquity in the West. This was Ceaucescu's way of giving the finger to America. But the irony in this was bitter indeed, as Vlad was brutal to both the enemies of Romania and his own population. As his handle designates, Vlad's way of eradicating his enemies was to insert a stake into the anus, up through vitals, and out through the neck, then hoist the body by the pole, arms and legs floundering, skewered like a fish on a spit, left to be suspended until the person expired. Teenage Vlad Tepes learned this practice from the Turks when he was their hostage.

Adult Vlad's war with the Turk invaders was always going poorly. At one desperate turn, when the Ottoman Empire launched a massive counter-offensive, Vlad's forces were badly outnumbered. So Vlad Dracul drew his enemy deep into his own territory, burning villages and poisoning the wells of his own people as he fled. According to the Greek historian Chalkondyles, when the Turkish Sultan reached Vlad's capital, the Ottomans encountered twenty thousand Romanians, men, women, and children, impaled on stakes. The Greek historian's narrative may be unreliable, in view of his allegiance to the Sultan, but even Vlad's apologists say that he was merciless, even toward his own. The irony is that Vlad made for a grimly appropriate prototype for the Romanian national leader of the modern period. Ceaucescu imprisoned anyone accused of criticizing the state, and left thousands to rot in unthinkably foul detention centers. He starved his population half to death, and left them with no means for keeping warm and healthy through a succession of hard winters, while selling off the country's resources to outside interests to pay off the national debt. Meanwhile, he, his family, and his inner circle lived like royalty. Vlad the Impaler was indeed a fitting exemplar for the Banality of Evil made flesh, the idiot despot himself, Nikolai Ceaucescu.

But my course has diverged from fly fishing Romania—my narrative meandering through circuitous correspondences, like one stream spilling into another.

One night on the Transylvanian farm we were served fresh sautéed trout, caught by one of the boys who lived there. Trout appears on Romanian menus almost as much as carp. Romanians are skilled at producing at home a delicious, slightly sweet white wine, as well, something folks have been doing there since well before the time when Augustus exiled Ovid to what is now the Romanian seaport Constanta, on the Black Sea. The emperor was angry with the poet for writing the pornographic The Art of Love. (Addicted to the life of the Roman élite, the center of the world in his time, Ovid felt desperately isolated in Constanta. A vintner in Romania is capitalizing on the Roman poet's misery in exile. On the shelves of stores one encounters a sweet white wine called Lacrima lui Ovidiu: "The Tears of Ovid.")

I had drunk a lot of the homemade wine by the time the trout appeared, and seeing that the fish was fresh-caught, I got a bit animated. The boy regarded me, probably having never seen an adult get excited about a serving of fried fish before. The next day he showed up with a plump rainbow—its stripe still a glittering red. The boy was glowing too. Because I'd shown so much enthusiasm about the trout we'd had the previous evening, he'd gone off and done some more fishing. I tried to find out what I could about the fishing he'd done, but could only learn that he'd visited a nearby lake. I wanted to know if there was a trout stream that filled the lake, but for some reason my questions were unintelligible. I imagined that my inquiries only stimulated questions about me. The next day we continued our road tour, visiting among other sites the true home of Dracula, a house in the medieval citadel of Sighisoara. We ate in the kitschy vampire theme restaurant housed in Vlad's residence, the ruler's real childhood home. I had trout again.

I have one more evocative story. While attending a conference in Iasi, in the northeastern corner of Romania, next to the Republic of Moldova and not far from Ukraine, I'd met the head of the American Studies program at Babes-Bolyai University, in Cluj-Napoca, the old capital of Transylvania. In the spring the Romanian American Studies professor invited me to give a talk on my book for his department. We took a six-hour train ride from Bucharest to Cluj. Much of it passed through the canyons of the Fagaras Mountains, a range of the Transylvanian Alps, with the occasional stream—the Olt and Mures rivers and their tributaries—coming into view. That evening we dined at a restaurant set in the house of Matei Corvin (or Corvinus Mátyás, his Magyar name), the fifteenth-century Hungarian king. Though the oldest in the city, the Matei Corvin house is recent by Central European historical measure. The Roman general Trajan founded Cluj in the second century, during his conquest of the Dacians, the Romanians of antiquity (the folks Ovid found so barbarous). The Dacians called the town Napoca, and the Romans may have originated the Latin variant, lost now, that eventually led to naming the city Cluj. The Saxons, German-speaking settlers sent to colonize the region by Stephen V of Hungary in the thirteenth century, gave the capital the name Klausenburg, from the old Klause ("mountain pass"). The Hungarian residents referred to the city as Kolozsvár, the Magyar modification. In the 1470s Prince Vlad Dracul, escaping with his life following bloody, disastrous encounters with the Turks, appealed to King Corvin for succor. Convinced that the Wallachian prince should be reined in, Matei Corvin made Vlad his captive for a few years. The restaurant is roughly elegant, with stone walls and massive, hand-carved furniture, muted lighting and a wait staff that nearly outnumbers the clientele. The menu is bulky, page after page of selections, including mamaliga, mititei, and crap, and several Hungarian dishes. Dining in the house of the Magyar monarch Corvinus Mátyás is like having a conversation with the dead. So, hungry for conversation, I ordered the goulash, a dish Vlad doubtless would have been forced to eat in the very same room.

Our largish party included a near-retirement age French professor of history, I think he was, who taught at the Sorbonne. We drank a lot of Romanian red wine, the luxuriant dry Byzantium Cabernet Sauvignon from the legendary Dealu Mare vineyards, and went through several courses over the course of several hours, a standard Romanian repast. We talked mostly about food. After he had drunk more than a few glasses of wine, the French professor held forth on various subjects, discoursing in an elliptical way so that no one else could talk while he spoke. He talked about Iraq, launching into a kind of History Channel lecture on the Middle East, including a few indisputable, uninspired opinions about military strategy. Something about Napoleon. For him, the past was a series of coherent, causal events that fit into a neat narrative. For my part, I tried to get in that the war was nothing less than a calamity and then attempted to offer a few barbed opinions about the idiot president, George W. Bush. But I don't believe he heard me, possibly because he was giving a lecture rather than engaging in a conversation. He also didn't think much of the irrefutably superb Byzantium Cab, comparing it, predictably, to Bordeaux and Burgundies. Nevertheless he drank glass after glass of the vintage and got very drunk.

You aren't supposed to touch the wine bottle in a Romanian restaurant—it's practically an insult to pour your own. So the bottle that has been placed on the table in front of you rests there until the designated attendant picks it up and walks around the table silently, fluidly, ceremoniously pouring wine into glasses. The problem is that you can sit before an empty glass for twenty minutes, sort of watching it wistfully—the lonely half-full bottle sitting there in front of you, as well—waiting for the person charged with refilling a glass to come. This may be a consequence of the Communist days, when everyone was assigned a job, no matter how meaningful, though I'm not sure about that. It may go back to the time of Matei Corvin and Vlad Tepes. Or to Ovid, for that matter.

The French professor did not like to have wine poured into the glass that he'd been drinking from. He wanted a new wineglass each time he had a glass of wine, which was frequently, even if the burgundy liquid poured into it was the same as the one he had been drinking. He even threatened to smash his glass on the stone floor if he wasn't supplied with a new one every time a bottle was opened—he claimed that this was common practice in France. I'd never heard of this and, though I didn't offer my opinion this time, thought it was an excessive cultural ideal to enforce. Also, his theatrical refusal caused such a commotion that the guy appointed with the job of pouring the wine, upset, ran off to get the maître d'hôtel. This being Romania, it took a while for them to come. Meanwhile, my glass sat empty in front of me. When the maître d' and several members of the wait crew appeared, the Sorbonne professor, with practically no knowledge of Romanian, got into a row with them. He even wanted to stand up to make some kind of speech, but several of our party beseeched him to remain seated. Kind of swimming in the copious red liquid myself, I did try to say that I was originally from the West Coast, and that we replaced glasses sometimes when we changed wines at tastings, but I don't think I was heard above the fracas. I then realized why this professor from the Sorbonne was such a fucking idiot. This was his fly fishing.

I drink at it, but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is.

Eventually things calmed down. And because someone ordered a trout dish, we got onto the topic of fishing. Like the Romanian British Studies professor at the party in Bucharest, the Romanian American Studies head in Cluj was a fly angler. He said he used to have the time to fish and when he mentioned the location of his fishing, I recognized it as the very place I'd marked on my map of Romania, the stream in northern Transylvania. I asked him if he would like to go fishing, and he said he would love to but was now too busy, being the director of this and associate dean of that. I was sure he could have found the time, but his identity now prevented him from doing something that so deliberately wasted time. So that was that. And the British Studies professor in Bucharest never called me about going fishing. Someone told me that he was spending the spring semester in the UK, where he was no doubt being treated by the English as well as I was being taken care of by the Romanians. It was just as well. I finished my book and sent it to my publisher a few days before leaving Romania.

Maybe it doesn't matter that I never actually got to fly fish Romania. When I got close enough to a watercourse to get a good look at it, I always saw mountains of garbage at streamside and waste in the streambed. When I had lived in Romania the first time, plastic bottles weren't so common. And because of the pervasive poverty, people naturally recycled plastics, metals, and glass. Now, thanks to the emergence of a middle class fostered by the arrival of a globalized capitalist economy, the macro-homogenization of the marketplace, plastic bottles were all over the place, heaped up in trash hills by rivers and lakes, their smelly disintegration leaking into the groundwater.

Finally, I have one or two fluid thoughts about fly fishing. It is primordial, to stand in a stream and merge with the natural world, simply to exist with fish and water. This is why in my dreams I search for that pool on the North Fork, I believe. I'm searching for the fissure into the core of my self. The mystery of this inhibits perfect comprehension; I fumble for understanding. But language—writing—is the only mode of expression available to me as I grope in the darkness up the loose, near-vertical bank toward arriving at achieving meaning. In Walden, Thoreau wrote: "Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.” Thoreau's three sentences have been reproduced so many times that the words may seem clichéd, the Logos lost, but the excessive service of Thoreau's words does not diminish their penetration for me. I said I never actually got to fly fish Romania. But I would say that in writing this I did get to fly fish Romania. And I do recommend fly fishing Romania.
 
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