Horia Ursu: Guest Blogger on Ecstatic Days (Aug. 18-22)

I’m very pleased to welcome Horia Ursu, one of my Romanian editors, as the guest blogger for Ecstatic Days this week. Ursu is very active in the Romanian literary community, running Millenium Press and working on various other projects (some of which I am sure he will tell you about). Ursu has also contributed photographs to articles in Locus. He lives in Satu Mare, Romania, with his wife Lucia and his daughter Stefana (all three pictured above).

UPDATE: Now, Horia is a dear friend and it just so happens that he is a character in my Predator novel, which is coming out in Romania September 1. So I thought I’d reproduce below a pivotal scene about Horia from the book, especially given Sir Tessa’s unease in the comments thread below. (And, yes, I know it’s unlikely, the single swat, head gone, but this is a Hollywood movie basically…)

As a child in Romania, Horia Ursu had lived on a remote farm in the mountains near Brasov, before, as a rebellious teen, he’d literally run away with a ragtag sideshow circus that had broken down on a dirt road near his home. He’d made his living for a time as a kind of freak, bending bars, eating worms, and things like that, before his physique had gotten him a shot at wrestling in another circus, and then much better opportunities, each leading him, although he didn’t know it, toward a life of organized crime. Much of the entertainment in Romania was controlled by the Romanian mob. It was not only natural but expected as he became richer and richer that he would put some of that money back into mob-related activities. Thus Horia had followed money to mob as effortlessly as another man might follow a cement block chained to his leg into a river–another favorite Romanian saying that Horia liked to use as he hobnobbed and wheel-and-dealed his way through the rest of his life, after back pain ended his wrestling.

Horia had seen and heard about many strange and terrible things because of his mob connections, but the truth was the worst was still back on the farm, and it was something he carried with him always.

One spring his cousin Bogdan Hrib decided to take him out hunting. Bogdan, who smelled of cheap cologne and plucked his eyebrows, had a habit of promising things and never doing them, but one day he showed up at the farm with two shiny new shotguns, six boxes of ammo, and seven stories from three glorious weeks of illegal gambling and barely legal women in Bucharest. This had been during the days of the dictator C______, a name never spoken aloud, and people were safest in the countryside, although it was said that the madman had spies everywhere.

So Horia, thirteen at the time, went hunting with his cousin on remote trails through the steep hills near the farm, Bogdan rambling on and on about previous hunts, his big take at gambling, how someday he’d leave Romania altogether and become an entrepreneur in the West, well beyond the arm of the madman. And the truth is, Horia, smart and starved for culture, or even just information about the outside world, drank it all in as the “God’s honest truth,” as Bogdan was fond of saying. Honestly, Horia didn’t care if they never fired a shot that day.

Until, that is, they ran into the bear that was Horia’s namesake. It was a truculent Romanian bear—large and unpredictable and no doubt wary, living in an area where industrial pollutants entered the water from the north, making predators more vicious, even crazy.

They encountered the bear the way one encounters a stranger when walking quickly around a corner in a big city: suddenly, on a steep trail, at a bend, they faced the bear and the bear faced them.

“God’s truth!” screamed Bogdan, who pissed his pants and raised his shotgun in the same moment—and then froze like a statue.

For a full four seconds—an eternity in that situation—Bogdan hesitated on the trigger.

The bear growled, rose on its hind legs, roared again, reached out, and took Bogdan’s head off with one quick swat of its massive paw, the sudden motion knocking Horia to the ground, though he had the presence of mind to hold onto his shotgun as he fell, the wind knocked out of him.

Above Horia: Bogdan, headless, crumbling to his knees with gouts of blood erupting down the sides of his neck like a human volcano, Bogdan’s head already bouncing down the side of the mountain to the bottom of the ravine.

The bear stood growling for a few seconds, made a huffing sound, stared directly at Horia as it got down on all fours. Horia was terrified, was weeping, but still had his hand on the trigger of the shotgun, had the gun propped up to fire right between the monster’s jaws if it came a step closer.

But it didn’t. Instead, with another huff, a snort, and a chronic wheeze it probably got from ingesting the poisons from heavy metals, it disappeared back down the path.

Dust motes hung in the air, made visible by the sun streaming down through the trees. A few lazy insects flew like winged fairies through the golden light. Birds sang in the trees. Beside Horia, the dead, headless body of his world-wise cousin Bogdan slumped like a supplicant in prayer.

Horia sat there for a long time before he came out of his trance to the sound of his own belabored breathing, before he let the shotgun fall from his hands and he ran back down the path the three miles to the farm.

Little wonder, he thought later, that he started drinking seriously the next year, wanted so desperately to leave the farm. But he had learned something from the experience, something important. First, that you can have all the right tools for a job, but if you don’t use them at the right moment, it doesn’t matter; they might as well be the wrong tools. Second, that there are times when it isn’t necessary to use all of the firepower at your disposal and that, for him, revenge would never be a reason to kill.

Oh yeah–and, oddly enough, I kinda want this, but am afraid it would mean I would be forced by the No Opposing Impulses In Same Brain Commission to give up my Nabokov book collection:


  1. says

    @Sir Tessa: I don’t think it’s that bad, re-reading the above excerpt :) THAT Horia Ursu has had far more adventures than me :)
    @rebecka: Thanks! I try to do my best with the covers. After all, they’re the ones that the potential buyers see first.

  2. says

    Reading Horia’s trackback here, I see at the very least I’ll learn more Romanian words during this time, as I didn’t know “zile” was “days.” :D Yes, I’m such a language geek at times…

  3. says

    @Larry: as much as I know you’d want it, I don’t intend to post here during my stint such things as a Romanian-English dictionary of foul words :) But there will be backtracks, as I intend to keep my own blog’s readers up to date with my activity here, so the backtracks will probably be a daily feature in the comments :)

  4. says

    Ha! :P I had almost forgotten about the desire to know that really horrid profanity! But in all seriousness, it isn’t the profanities as much as the everyday expressions that interest me. I think I’m seeing references to “Book Porn” every now and then at your blog, come to think of it… ;)

  5. says

    *wave* Hi Horia!

    Larry, you can mail me any time you’re curious about Romanian. I’m a bit of a language buff too. You can have fun trying to read my (RO) blog here.

  6. says

    That’s cool!

    Er, I should also say that anything about Romania in my book is suspect, as is the stuff about the U.S. LOL. AND, my publisher Bogdan Hrib, as you can see, makes a cameo in the above scene.


  7. says

    Mobsters and book porn, a beautiful combination, huh? And Jen, I recently read (well, I attempted to via my fluency in Spanish) your Romanian blog via the link on Michael Haulica’s blog (reminds me, I need to add him to the blogroll in the near future). And if I have any questions, I’ll be certain to ask either one of you!

    And Jeff, isn’t it all fiction anyways? :P By the way, when exactly is the book coming out in the US? Despite being swamped right now, I do plan on reading it soon after its release.

  8. says

    First of all, Horia, congrats, :)
    Second, Larry, I hope someday we will talk in Romanian ;) (at least the basics),
    And last, but not least, Jeff, I really hope to get to meet you at Bucharest this month, I really hope I can come :)

  9. says

    Late September is perfect for me, then, as I’ll have the routine down pat by then. And Mihai, perhaps in a couple of years. I still have to master the rudiments of Serbian first, even though Romanian would be much, much easier for me, for obvious reasons.