Thursday, October 26, 2006 NIGHT OUT: TRANSYLVANIA

-- No werewolves here By EMERY P. DALESIO

CLUJ-NAPOCA, Romania — It's the end of October, and I'm in Transylvania, the Holy Land of Halloween. The epicenter of spookiness.
Nah. What passes for scary in this region of Romania is traffic. I wish I had a string of garlic to keep away the speeding vehicles that are supposed to come to a dead stop when you set foot into a marked crosswalk.

While you might see a horse-drawn hearse clip-clopping down a boulevard in this university town of more than 300,000 people, people here pay little attention to Halloween -- a holiday nowhere more popular than in the United States.
The end of October means simply that it's been about a month since the city has swelled with about 100,000 students attending colleges of medicine, veterinary, pharmacy, engineering, liberal arts, and more. It's been about a month to settle into new apartments and find the groove of a city more interested in fashion statements than Frankenstein's monster.
While the Romanian tourist board tries to encourage visits to the countryside by Dracula-lovers with dollars, a night out in this city is wild mostly for customers at the scores of discos and bars.

Similar to how the fan bases of rap and country don't tend to mix in the United States, Romania has its own cultural divide -- between people who like the music called "manele" and those who don't.
The rift is apparent on opposite sides of one street in Cluj.
On one side is Club Obsession (Strada Republicii 109). It's in the fancy new Sigma Shopping Center, which actually has parking -- nonexistent in most of this old town. Admission is 20 lei (about $7.25), and a round of two Jim Beams on the rocks and a bottle of Tuborg beer comes to 35 lei ($12.75). That's steep considering many university students pay 200 lei a month in rent and sleep four to a bedroom.
Transylvanian yuppies reserve low tables and glossy red sofas at Obsession by prepaying part of their expected tab. Every table is reserved. There's a remarkable number of tall, thin women. In fact, no one here appears even a tad chunky.
The club hires local university drama students to mime for the amusement of early arrivals, but the party starts at midnight with go-go dancers wearing bikinis and fishnet stockings writhing on pedestals.
Lasers are flashing. On flat-panel televisions, the club's logo vibrates with the beat that's so strong it tingles your soles and makes your hair bounce.
Now, walk out of Obsession, past the waiting taxis, to the other side of Republicii street. The sidewalk and the street are dug up like so many in this city almost 17 years after the Communist regime was driven out.
There's music coming out of the second floor of an aged concrete building. A wooden wagon wheel is enmeshed in the fencing outside the Country Pub.
"This is the kind of place were a fight can break out," warns Alexandru Cristorian, 25, my guide for the evening
You walk through swinging saloon doors, and a DJ is playing manele, a music that crosses Gypsy rhythms that have a Turkish or North African beat with lyrics about having the better bling, finer women, and more terrible enemies.
The music has been popular for more than a decade in rural and poor urban neighborhoods, but it's spurned by intellectuals and only now appears to be breaking into the country's musical mainstream.
There's no cover charge. The no-nonsense barkeep dishes up a tumbler of cognac three-inches deep, a 10-ounce glass bottle of Coke, and a bottle of local beer for 20 lei. Dancers sway together or hold extended hands to dance in small rings. Despite my guide's warning, there is no vibe of aggression as the men dance happily with each other.
Club Karma is a simple, cheap hangout in the basement of Students House, a cultural center that hosts meetings, debates and shows for any of the dozen or so public and private university campuses in town. Imagine the low-ceilinged party room at a frat house full of heavy smokers.
Ciorba, a meaty stew. Ask for the sour cream (brought in a cup and mixed with a spoon into the broth) and hot green peppers to munch with a mouthful of stew and a chunk of bread. Casa Vikingilor, which is decorated with murals of Vikings, serves huge helpings of Romanian cuisine at prices tailored to students in the neighboring dormitories.
WHAT TO DRINK: The local brewery makes a killer dark beer, Ursus Negro, that's bold yet doesn't camp on your tongue.
asap contributor Emery P. Dalesio works for the AP in Raleigh, N.C. He is teaching journalism in Romania.


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