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Sundays with Vlad: From Pennsylvania to Transylvania, One Man's Quest to Live in the World of the Undead Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (October 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307352781
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307352781
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,450,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

One

Tragic Kingdom

“This is Romania. They will drill a hole into the tree, put a lit stick of dynamite in there, and say, ‘You’ve got about two minutes to unchain yourselves.’ ”

Every morning when you head out to squat in your little cubicle, sip burnt coffee spiked with foul creamer, and stare at a computer screen until your eyes hurt, know this: Somewhere in a beautiful medieval town in eastern Europe, it’s already quitting time for Nate Gendreau. It was quitting time years ago. Right now, while you steal a game of Minesweeper, Nate’s probably sitting down with a pair of cute female backpackers, tipping back a golden pilsner, and laughing at you. Nate’s lived your life. He gave it up. He never looked back.

“By the time I was twenty-six, I’d worked at Circuit City for eight years, and I was completely burned out,” he said amiably, with that belt-sander accent people from the Boston area have. Nate’s a Lowell, Massachusetts, boy, but he had become a highly paid executive in a corporate office in New York City.

“I had the half-million dollar four bedroom out in Westchester with the white picket fence, a mortgage that was trying to bury me, and a sports car I could never get out of second gear because I was always stuck in traffic,” he said. He was good with money, and his job paid him very well. But it was becoming a trap.

“It was quite a dilemma. Do you work until you’re forty-five and take an early retirement when you’re old and gray and fighting three or four ulcers?” At twenty-six, he decided to take a decade off and travel.

“People at the office were telling me, ‘You’re stupid. You’re crazy. Most people work thirty years to get where you’ve gotten, and you’re going to throw it away?’

“But I was getting up at 5:30 and working until nine at night.” Nate was spending all his time at the job or driving to and from his expensive home so he could crash for a few hours and do it all over again.

“Sunday was my day off, but I’d be on call. I’d have a beeper, a mobile phone—you could get me anywhere in the world. That’s not a life.”

Nate Gendreau liquidated everything he owned, gave his father power of attorney, and stashed the money into checking and e-trade accounts. And in 2001, he set out with a backpack and an ATM card for London. By August, he’d hitchhiked to central Romania. Unlike the southern region, razed by massive Communist building projects, the country’s interior was still beautiful and pristine. Nate eventually found his way to Sighi¸soara. The site of a trading center that had existed since the Bronze Age, Sighi¸soara was founded in the twelfth century by Saxon merchant-knights to protect Europe’s eastern flank from Turkish invasion. Its nine-hundred-year-old architecture with gilded steeples, tiled roofs, cobblestone streets, and an old clock tower had somehow weathered two world wars and a brutal dictator who made a point of flattening everything in sight. It was dominated by a massive church fortress with extensive catacombs—designed so the whole town could wall themselves inside it in the event of a raid.

Sighi¸soara was magnificent. It was just the place to escape a tough job and a bad time—because of the terrorist attacks of September 11, Nate had decided he’d duck out of large American cities for a while. But he needed a legal reason to stay out in the country. He needed a job, or something like it.

“The country has no hostels,” he said. “So I figured what better way to stay here than having a youth hostel where I could meet fellow travelers and help people out?” Within two weeks he’d bought a place. Soon he was kicking back with hikers and enjoying his eastern European version of the good life. And that’s when he ran into the environmental nuts.

There were four of them, Americans, and Nate Gendreau knew they could easily get themselves killed in Transylvania.

“They were really bad tree huggers,” he said with a laugh. Back in 2002, they’d arrived in Sighi¸soara to protest the destruction of a grove of ancient oak trees. The kids were bragging they would chain themselves to the trees in protest. Gendreau listened politely, but he knew they were fools.

“I asked them, ‘You realize that the police will go there and beat the shit out of you and not even think twice?’ ” Gendreau said. They sat there, mouths open, while Gendreau continued:

“This is Romania. They will drill a hole into the tree, put a lit stick of dynamite in there, and say, ‘You’ve got about two minutes to unchain yourselves.’ ”

The next day, the Americans left without any tree-chaining. But it wasn’t long before Prince Charles showed up as well.

“I saw Chucky with the big ears,” he said. “He couldn’t keep his ears in his own business. Gotta put ’em in everybody else’s.” Ears in his own business? Was this some New England thing, like “wicked”? Gendreau didn’t say. He continued, talking about how beautiful the trees were.

“Gorgeous,” he said. “They were ancient white oak trees—some of them three yards across and one of them dated to eight hundred years old.” Everyone wanted to protect them, he added, most of all the Romanians. They didn’t need outside help.

“There was a proposal in the mayor’s office,” he said. “They had a scale model of what they were going to build. They were going to put all the trees inside without cutting down a single one. Prince Charles didn’t like that. He said it was going to destroy the ambiance of the trees. He kept arguing against it, and with all the negative press, the project was nixed.”

The project Gendreau was talking about was DraculaLand. Proposed in April 2001 by Romanian tourist minister Dan Matei Agathon, it was going to cost $32 million and take a year to build—and it would put a massive development with an amusement park, a disco, an imitation Gothic castle, and even an amphitheater in the middle of one of the wildest and least developed sections of Europe.

But that’s not all. The park would have imitation medieval courtrooms, alchemy laboratories, torture rooms, and a vampire den, along with something called the “Institute of Vampirology,” with “Dracula’s secret library” and workshops for teeth sharpening, armor- making, and even an “Eccentric Vampire fashion house,” where you could shop for . . . eccentric vampire fashions. Promoters also promised theme restaurants offering “blood pudding, dish of brains and fright-jellied meat.” They hoped it would create 3,000 jobs and bring in $21 million a year to the economically depressed area.

It will “propel Romania to stardom,” Agathon declared. “It will bring tourists and be a solution to all problems.” Its detractors said it would bring congestion, pollution, and a legion of Satan-worshipping tourists to trample over the only town Ceausescu forgot to bulldoze.

By 2003, the detractors had won; they’d chased the project out of Sighi¸soara. Soon it appeared in another location: Romanian authorities announced they would build the project at Snagov, the traditional site of Vlad the Impaler’s grave in Wallachia. Newspaper headlines appeared announcing DraculaLand had “risen from the grave.” But had it? The new project was much closer to the capital city, and it was going to cost three times as much. But authorities were vague on the details.

“They have the location, and they are discussing about the project,” said Simion Alb at the Romanian National Tourist Office in 2004. “However the construction has not started yet.” He couldn’t say when it would begin.

“I’m not sure that they have the financing they need,” Alb added. “They’ve got some money but I don’t think they’ve got enough to start.”

DraculaLand might have risen for a moment, but it had clearly gone back to sleep. A year after it had stalled for the second time, I was researching the story of how this potentially lucrative project got trashed. Maybe it was the money-grubbing Yank in me, but I couldn’t understand why a struggling country like Romania would let this opportunity slip away from them. I had the same questions that had dogged me since blowing my honeymoon. After that episode, my wife for some reason hadn’t left me or put strychnine in my coffee. In fact, while hunting down the details of how this park failed, I alternated between pounding Red Bull, making frantic, expensive phone calls to Romania, Germany, and Canada . . . and racing back to the bedroom to help with burping, diaper-changing, and chin-smooching duties. Our new son napped when he wanted and woke when he felt like it, and the rest of us had to work around his schedule. No one in the house was sleeping for longer than four hours at a stretch, and I was never talking to anyone who wasn’t five hours ahead of me. And the story I uncovered was so absolutely off-the-scale strange, I was never quite sure I wasn’t hallucinating from exhaustion, caffeine overdose, or the absolute terror that comes from being a new dad.

Anyway, here’s what I found:

As of 2000 almost half of Romania’s population lived in poverty, with millions more scraping by as illegal laborers throughout Europe just to send $200 a month home to their starving families. It was one of the only countries in Europe that actually had a growing population of farmers—because people were fleeing the cities and moving back to hovels where they could raise crops and live off the land...

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By KMRIA on October 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
I've always been fascinated with Stoker's Dracula novel, but never with any of the movies, books, or countless manifestations of the character he created. I've never understood how the Dracula figure has grown into a pop-culture juggernaut over the last century on the strength of terrible movies, lousy novels, and breakfast cereals. This book addresses all of those issues.

I've never thought of the spread of the Dracula phenomenon as inherently vampiric until I read Sundays with Vlad. Paul Bibeau chronicles the transformation of a fictional character, based loosely upon a vague historical figure from a remote region, created in a novel that was not even mentioned in its author's obituary, into an unrivalled marketing powerhouse that has penetrated global culture with the same viral potency that gave Stoker's figure its true terror. The Dracula persona has been escalated by wave after wave of fans, freaks, and economic opportunists to the point where legend, history, literature, and pop-culture are permanently, and irrevocably intertwined. Sundays with Vlad untangles the mess.

But that sounds boring.

The true strength of Sundays with Vlad is Bibeau's humor.

This book is an impressively thorough examination of the Dracula phenomenon, that transitions smoothly between political, historical, literary, and pop-cultural issues - always with a brisk wit that keeps the matter interesting. Not only does Bibeau examine all angles of Dracula worship, he does it all personally.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By hutch on October 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
Not only is this book hysterical (Mr. Bibeau's use of imagery truly makes one laugh out loud at times), it's full of interesting and insightful historical facts about Dracula, Vlad the Impaler and Romanian history. For someone who thought vampires were only about garlic and avoiding the sun, this book was not only informative but a fun read too. Mr. Bibeau has a knack for educating the reader while keeping it light, funny and anything but boring. His humor is dark and weird but that just makes this book all the more perfect since the Dracula legend is dark and weird. A great read!!!!!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By S. Devereux on October 18, 2007
Format: Paperback
Paul Bibeau's articles were usually the only thing readable in Maxim magazine. They were great pieces of investigative journalism spiked with Bibeau's twisted sense of humor. Now he brings both to Dracula.
Sundays with Vlad is a great book. There are some wonderful laugh out loud moments, as well as a really thorough (and at times bizarre) look at the legend and pop-culture ramifications of Dracula.

Great, great book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ken on October 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
In each chapter Paul Bibeau's book has a beautiful way of delving into discrete histories while keeping to a captivating narrative style. Bibeau has a funny, self-deprecating personality, sometimes jokey, sometimes wistful and sincere that keeps you close to him while he chases his childhood fantasy. This is a fascinating look at Vlad-Dracula. It draws connections that I never knew before and illuminates the fictional and historical characters in a lively, effortless style. I flew through the book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. P. Anderson on May 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
Paul Bibeau is a very funny, very engaging writer. That's what saved this book from 2 stars - or even 1.

His problems come with the particular topics he chooses. Some - for example, the trips to Romania - are right on target. Others - like the defunct Dracula-themed amusement park in Wildwood, NJ - just leave the reader bored and hoping the next chapter covers something a little more a propos. And some of his digressions (like his diatribe against some guy at the Bucharest Business Week) just leave you scratching your head and wondering what happened to the editor.

Other failings include no overarching theme (he tries to tie globalism into it all, but fails miserably) and the lack of any real, concerted research (it reads more like he simply tied together a bunch of light magazine articles together).

All in all, I'd recommend The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula instead. Still, Bibeau is an excellent, very funny writer (think Bill Bryson). He just needs a better topic and a lot more structure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By rmp888 on July 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
I am a huge vampire/Dracula fan, so when I saw Bibeau's book at the library, I was quite excited to read a fellow vampire enthusiast's account of the modern day culture surrounding vampirism. What I did not expect to find in Sundays with Vlad is a pompous, belittling, and outright disgraceful testament to Romanians and the place they call home, or as Bibeau would say, "desolate post-communist backwater" (18). What is intended to be comical quickly becomes elitist and highly disrespectful.

On the second page of Sundays with Vlad, Bibeau claims that he would rather be on "one of those remote research facilities in Antarctica, where an alien lifeform has just killed one of the staff and mutated into a hideous parody of him, and now it's picking off the rest of the terrified scientists, one by one. That would be a Cancun sunrise compared to this godforsaken crapheap" (2). His writing is just as offensive as its content.

This coming conclusion about Romania is blatantly foreshadowed in his description of his thoughts on his flight to Bucharest, where he claims "I'm sure there was something in it [his travel guide] about stewardesses who shank you before you get off the plane. Anyway, I'd never traveled to any place as poor as Romania, so I wanted to be prepared. . .The guide told me how to bargain with the locals. . .Even though we had the money, I figured if I didn't bargain enough, they'd sense some weakness, and they'd be on me like lions on a gimpy gazelle. We spilled out of the plane. . .clutching my guide like a Bible to ward off evil as we looked for an exit" (15). Clearly, Bibeau reduces Romanians to murderous criminals before even leaving the plane.
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