On this week's Big Night Out, Clive Martin visits modern Vama Veche to investigate why people are still drawn to the seaside town, and in turn, why so many of the area’s founders are leaving.
Prior to 1989, Romania was under communist rule. It lasted 42 years before the locals cracked it and started a revolution. During the communist era, Vama Veche, a village on the Black Sea coast, became a haven for free thinkers, but once communism fell, Vama Veche saw an influx of locals looking for somewhere to celebrate their freedom.
Vama Veche looks like schoolies week on the Gold Coast, yet the young Romanians visiting claim to be there to experience the bohemian lifestyle. There are lots of white guys with dreadlocks (always a bad sign) and everyone is high on something; it makes for a fun guessing game throughout the episode. As Martin puts it, Vama Veche is, “more about EDM than enlightenment now.” Martin interviews a group of teenagers who talk about the good old care free days of the town that none of them are were alive to experience. There’s something intriguing about how young people are drawn to Vama Veche for the authentic hippy experience, but it’s just a thought, and one that makes everyone a poser. Places like this exist all around the world, quaint spots that have become tourist traps. Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi is the unofficial anthem of these towns.
Martin discovers a few of the original Vama Veche commune from the 60s and 70s are still in town. They hang out in bars talking about how great the place used to be, but their numbers are dwindling because the town no longer feels like home. There’s a tradition in Vama Veche where Ravel’s Bolero is played on the beach at 6am. People travel from around the world to stay up all night so they can tick ‘hear the Bolero at sunrise in Vama Veche’ off their bucket list. Martin discovers the man responsible for starting this tradition, one of the original Vama Veche crew, fled.
In the mountains of Transylvania, Martin finds his Bolero trendsetter who has forced himself into exile for his contribution to the demise of a town he loved greatly. It’s lovely in isolation, it’s also hard to fathom someone finding peace in Transylvania but it turns out all those vampire movies are lies. While Martin talks to his new buddy about the commercialisation of Vama Veche, one wonders how much worse could it get? Sure, the seaside town seemed to be experiencing the gentrification most beautiful places endure, but maybe it would level itself out.
Martin heads back to the coast to visit Mamaia, Romania’s most popular resort town, an example of how bad it can get The mayor of Mamaia turned the place into a commercial party town that thrives on the wealthy first generation of Romanians born into money in the decade after the revolution. Romania is only 25 years free of a communist dictatorship yet greed wasted no time becoming the dominant state of mind.
Visiting one of the biggest clubs in Mamaia and witnesses a lot of indulgence, but views the reality of the situation on the faces of the beautiful women standing around looking disinterested in their partners. Public relations chaperones for Mamaia tell Martin the party scene is putting the town on the world stage as a destination but the place has no personality or identity; a hollow experience to the core.
Ultimately, this week's Big Night Out brings into question how rituals endure and what ideals stand the test of time against capitalism. People do love the old ways, but it’s all talk and no action. The intentions of people and places get filtered down with each generation until it withers.
As the Bolero plays while a magnificent sun rise happens over the beach, it still feels like you can still expand your mind in Vama Veche. You’ve just got to know where to look.
Big Night Out airs a double episode this week, starting at 9:20pm on SBS VICELAND. You can watch previous episodes of the show on SBS On Demand: