Irishman Kevin Liam O’Donnell: Romania is a beautiful country! He never misses an occasion to mention the beauty of his adoptive country
Irishman Kevin Liam O’Donnell lives in Chiojdu, a village in the Buzau Mountains (northeast of Bucharest), not far of Lacul Vulturilor (Eagles’ Lake) and from the ancient forests of the Carpathians. His home is a villa with red heart pattern shutters, surrounded by a garden with flowers, fruit trees and a lot of wild trees making a dreamlike landscape; a miniature botanical garden on the bank of a crystal-clear creek.
We take a path pave with river stone, and the youngest O’Donnell, 12-year old Leon, meets us at the entrance. He goes to the local secondary school. ‘Leo is the fondest of the nature in Chiojdu in our family. He wants to be a biologist and a messenger of Romanian culture and civilization,’ discloses our host Cornelia O’Donnell, a Romanian woman born in Bucharest.
She invites us into an entrance hall plated with red bricks and full of geraniums and mountain flowers. A picture of the 10 lei note with the image of a Chiojdu house in the Village Museum hangs on the wall. ‘Architecture in Chiojdu is one of the most beautiful in the country. It’s not by case the house in Chiojdu is on the same note with the greatest [Romanian] painter, Nicolae Grigorescu,’ Cornelia says.
Liam explains the secrets of the house like a true architect. ‘Houses were built on a river stone foundation of smooth boulders forming a high ground floor with a generous cave for old brandy and with a pantry. The walls are supported by round beams, and the high roof is made of overlapping shingles. Access to the house is through a lateral stair of massive stone steps sheltered by the pavilion’s eaves,’ shows the Irishman, obviously in love with the beauty of this place. ‘The portico is very useful in summer, during the dog days, when everybody sleeps outdoors,’ his wife adds.
Liam recalls how he exchanged the frenzy of the Capital for the quiet in Chiojdu; he admits that for him, this place meant love at first sight.
‘Nearly 12 years ago, I left the frantic capital of Romania with my wife; we used to have a business there, and came to rest in an anonymous boarding house in Buzau Mountains. We did not take the Prahova Valley [north of Bucharest]; we randomly chose a boarding house we found on the Internet, ‘Tata Lice’ [nota bene: nothing to do with the louse] of Chiojdu. We spent three days of fairy tale in absolute quiet. Crossing a walking bridge we saw a wonderful cottage on a hill, with green shutters and red hearts, neat and surrounded by lots of trees. Love at first sight: we decided to buy it to spend here a couple of days each year. After we visited the surroundings and made friends among local people, however, we decided to restore the cottage and move here. I must confess that our son had a major role; he goes to the local school and after a couple of vacation days in Bucharest, he begs to get back home in Chiojdu,‘ Liam relates.
He did not forget his birthplace; he mentions its special beauty, but nevertheless finds a new meaning of life in Chiojdu. ‘I was born in a town on the northeastern coast of Ireland where lots of fishermen and farmers live. Big forests, where only foxes and hares survive; no more magical boars, lynxes or bears like in the Carpathian Mountains. The climate is harsher, and I mostly miss the crickets, my favourite’ Liam adds.
When it comes to business, he has some objections. ‘There are small success odds for small enterprises in Romania. Taxes are high and the bureaucracy is mushrooming. In Ireland, one gets help when trying to open a small company; they’d give grants and tax exemptions for 1-2 years, in the beginning. The government encourages the small investors and provides them more substantial support,’ he asserts.
He thinks Romania is a beautiful country, because it has all the relief forms and resources in the world; therefore, he does not regret moving here. ‘Such a country of a rare beauty should make tourism a priority sector, as it has lakes, rivers and sea, hills and mountains. Unfortunately, especially in the area we live, in Chiojdu, the infrastructure and the lack of funds keep tourism near to zero,‘ Liam says.
Nevertheless, this is the ideal place for the Irishman; he wouldn’t leave it; and he never misses an occasion to mention the beauty of his adoptive country.
‘Landscape is special and people are wonderful. Chiojdu locals are very welcoming, friendly and open; they would help you with anything, you just have to ask. They won’t extend a hand, but five. In one word, they’re extraordinary — but they need help, too. Romania has everything necessary for high-class tourism; right next to our house there are forests where one could actually stray, with lakes and waterfalls; but to get there, one has to wreck their car on impracticable roads,’ Liam says.