“All things on earth are connected, of course, but those that are similar are connected more closely.”
After collection from the Austrian airport I am sitting waiting for lasagne (it will be a big Austrian-hospitality sized portion I have no doubt) in the house of friends I have not seen for some time. Nor to be fair, until I found out the lady was, I believe, a surprise to most people was pregnant again have we been in any kind of contact (internet or ‘phone) at all. But here we sit, and the two sons impress me with their English and their confidence in conversation and ability to engage. There is some brief – perhaps inevitable competition between them. Who can most quickly and correctly name European capitals?
Romania comes up and I am able to divert the competition for I flew to Bucharest in October and stayed in Brasov … and the talk turns to Dracula. Life is filled with coincidences perhaps; for I was so impressed by my colleagues in Romania and their openness and friendly nature and the excellent tours and discussions that I had with people there that I bought our daughter a book, Vlad as part of a Christmas present – and that is the very book I chose to bring to read (at least) on flights to and from Linz. It purports to tell the “real story” of Vlad Dracul and is written by C.C. Humphreys: whether it does or not I cannot judge, but it is well-written, reflecting a line said to the fictional “scholar” soldier, Harris by Richard Sharpe in the Cornwell series “Write a book with plenty of shooting and battles and you can’t go wrong.”
There is strategy; I imagine based on comprehensive research, character building and what reads like excellent background: all in all very convincing as a narrative… and I am only half way through it (a plane journey). But this lad knows the background, the time as hostage in Turkey, the castles in Romania, the name of the territory Wallachia (well it’s German equivalent anyway) and about the involvement of Crusades and Islam. He proudly tells me that he knows it “from TV, from books, from school … you know…” and I am truly stunned.
I doubt if many English kids of his age would know beyond the vampire legends created by Bram Stoker (who initially had the ideas for the book written and had his vampire lord coming from Syria – until he visited Romania/Transylvania with Sir Henry Irving the actor – and changed the location and film history). In fact in the age of popularity of the Twilight sagas maybe English kids will not even know of this Gothic invention Dracula. That’s a question worth asking because it certainly isn’t an easy book to read!
But what history do Austrian students learn? I certainly like the idea of broad European history; countries and states change on today’s planet faster than in a long time, particularly after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Austro-Hungarian Empire was usually in there somewhere as a big influence.
And what lessons for the English curriculum? English society?
And will we learn the answers any time soon?
And a question I must re-visit: I was lucky enough to visit Bran Castle* while staying in Brasov, but what do I now need to know about Poenari?
*The castle at Bran is excellent, short, steep climb from fine gardens (there was snow on red, fallen-autumn leaves when I was there) refusing to bow too far to Hollywood and features interesting displays about Romanian monarchs and customs, leaving a small room for Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee at the top somewhere – but, hey life is life and the market and pub down below sell the vampire industry to visiting tourists, most of whom would not be there if not for the blood sucking image.