Peter Hurley Interview
After the story of Maria that we’ve talked about in our last article comes the story of Peter Hurley. He has an interesting story, like the journey on foot taken from Sapanta, Maramures to Village Museum Bucharest. A journey of 754 km which lasted 26 days.
Born in Dublin, Ireland, Peter Hurley is living in Romania for 21 years, almost half of his life. For the last 6 years is a self-appointed project promoting Romania. He’s living in Balta Alba, his favorite part of Bucuresti.
Peter Hurley Interview:
1. When and how was your first visit to Romania?
I’m still on my first visit to Romania. It started on 9th April 1994. I came on a one-way ticket with 2.000 borrowed US dollars. From the first moment, I was fascinated by it.
2. What made you stay in Romania? / Why Romania?
In August 1993 I backpacked to Prague. I was there a week. I went home firmly convinced that the first chance I get to emigrate to anywhere in Eastern Europe, I’d take it. Something completely different had happened here. Like suddenly I realized there had been two sides to this iron curtain. I felt ashamed of myself, that I’d lived all my life in a Western bubble, that I’d never put myself any questions. I didn’t know then what it was, what was the source of this difference. All I knew was that I had to come back. Three months later, the phone rang, and a former work colleague said: „Come with us to Romania!”. And I jumped!
3. Did you come alone or with someone?
David and Barry had come here at the end of 1992. David hadn’t stayed long, he got really ill and almost died in a hotel room in Oradea. Barry was here all the time, and when David returned, I came out with him, so for a while, we were like three musketeers, three young Irish guys living together in Bucharest. There was a tight expat community then, and it was funny because being 3 of us, we were the biggest expat employer! Every night was a social event, to be honest. It was a lot of fun for a 26-year-old.
4. How was your experience in Romania so far? / Tell us about a little about your experience in Romania.
Well, that’s a tough one to squeeze into a short space. 21 years is almost half my life. I spent the first 15 years promoting foreign stuff to Romanians, and I got richer doing that than I ever thought I could be. The last 6 years I’ve spent my time promoting the best thing I’ve discovered since I came here: Romania itself. And doing that’s made me poorer than I ever imagined. I’ve met incredible people, mountains of men and women. I don’t think I’ve been bored once.
This place doesn’t really leave you alone. By living here you’re learning every day, mostly things about yourself, your limits of patience. One minute you laugh, then you cry, then you laugh again. God loves Romania. He’s here, present. Absolutely, totally. It’s like living on an erupting volcano. I still haven’t learned to completely trust God unconditionally. That’s the lesson I need to learn. One of them. Romania is an extraordinary creation. It’s not just unique in the way that we are all unique. I believe it is extra-ordinary. And I feel I begin to understand in these last years why and how so.
5. I assume it was challenging to move to another country. Have you given up to something?
My family in Ireland. I missed all my 16 nephews and nieces growing up, all my 9 brothers and sisters birthdays, most of my parents birthdays. When I go home, that’s when I miss Ireland. I feel like Oisin returning from the Land of Eternal Youth, suddenly realizing how much time has passed. But you can’t have everything.
6. What was the hardest thing to do after you came here?
Looking back, I think in the early days, we worked really hard to grow the business. We were young, everything was built by improvising, from organic growth, making mistakes, trying to find solutions, mapping out plans, getting new business, training new staff, trying to keep staff, managing growth. It was crazy. We did a great job really. We built a 25 million Euros business in 15 years with 250 full-time employees in advertising and market research and we never paid a penny to anyone for that. I remember in August 1997 we registered 1.200 temporary work contracts. For years, people would say: „Oh, you’re in Mercury! I used to work for you as a student! You gave me my first job! That really helped me. Thanks a lot!” That was hard work, at least the first 10 years. We worked hard, and we played hard.
7. What made you fall in love with Romania?
Oh, lots of things. As Bob Dylan said: „There was music in the cafes at night and Revolution in the air!” But I think the best memory now if I think about it, the best early memory, that really blew me away, was during that first summer of 1994. It was a scorcher. And Romania was in the World Cup! When they beat Argentina, and then the USA, wow! I’ll never forget those games, Argentina especially. Afterward on the streets, late at night, it really was overwhelming, cars, buses, trucks, horns blowing, police cars, all parading up and down Magheru, covered in people, everyone hugging and drinking and waving flags with the hole cut out of them. People would help you up onto truck tops and give you a flag to wave and it was just awesome. I’d never seen the likes of it. That’s when you fall in love with a place.
8. What is the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Romania?
9. If you’d had to leave Romania, what you would miss the most?
Patrick. Speaking Romanian. Summer.
10. Some people say Romania is ”different”. Why is that?
It is different. I believe it’s because a few things coincided here that don’t (or didn’t) coincide anywhere else. And each of those things would be significant on its own. And so the combination of them all together makes for a very powerful cocktail.
The Romanian language: this island of Latin in the sea of Slav.
This deep „Credinta”/Faith in God. It’s the only Latin Orthodox country. This is unique and relevant, increasingly relevant I would say, going forward. The Latin West has lost its moral compass. There’s no „true north” anymore. The Christianity that came to Ireland, for example, was Orthodoxy, or at least, the closest thing today to what Christianised Ireland, is Orthodoxy. When you see your first icon of Saint Patrick, well, it’s a surprise, let’s say. You start to ask some questions.
The Carpathians. Romania is the Carpathians. 85% of their volume is in Romania. They played a defining role throughout its history. It’s the backbone of the country. The Hungarians and Saxons saw the Carpathians as a defensive wall to hide behind, to protect them from the Ottoman. Not so the Romanians. They were on both sides. I sometimes refer to Romanians as „the Children of the Carpathians”. In tough times, the Carpathians were the tree they climbed. But they never abandoned the field. They stood in the firing line every time and usually got caught in a crossfire. They bridged this spiritual San-Andreas-fault-line between the West and the Orient. And this led them to articulate a very advanced existential perspective, the Mioritza complex.
It’s ancient. It’s been monotheistic for a very long time. Ancient Cucuteni ritual pottery, seven thousand years old carries symbols that craftsmen in Maramures are carving into the eves of houses today; and it’s not decorative art; it’s concealed; in other words, it’s for energetic purposes.
„Jertfa” / Sacrifice: An almost inconceivable silent sacrifice. Western Europe has no idea. This forges something in people. Romania’s history, to this day, is peppered with some incredible characters, heroes, like Constantin Brancoveanu. Absolutely extraordinary people.
And of course, it has „the greatest number of positive energy centers anywhere in the world!”, as a very interesting man told me on Friday….
11. Romania would be a better place if…
…the political class wouldn’t treat it as their own private enterprise.
12. I think many people said to you ”why would you go to Romania” or ”where is Romania” and so on and so forth… If someone would like to come to Romania what would you say to them?
Good on ya!
I think Romania is the greatest. Don’t get me wrong, there is a catastrophe taking place here. But that’s because it’s the greatest. There’s too much to explain here. The point is, Do it!
13. If not Romania, then where?
Well, that’s also hard to say. The nicest people in the world I met were in Syria. But there’s no going back there now, I’m afraid.
14. Do you have any funny travel stories?
Like when the bomb disposal team tried to blow up my Trabant?… a few….
15. What is the place that makes is THE one and why?
I have a soft spot for Maramures.
Recently discovered Ceahlau Mountain, one of the sacred mountains. That made a big impression. Last December, I did an awesome two-week pilgrimage on foot from Cernauti in Ukraine to the top of Ceahlau, without a penny in my pocket. 270 km of which 160kms through the forest, from monastery to monastery across Bucovina. Absolutely medieval. Magical. Extreme tourism. Stuff like that…
16. What’s next?
I’m trying to help the formation of the agricultural cooperative movement.
Peter Hurley, May 20 2015, Balta Alba