Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 22, No. 41, Ed. 1 Friday, February 24, 2006 Page: 44 of 100
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3926 Cedar Springs
□alias, TX 75219
MARCH 11, 2006
CARUTH AUDITORIUM, SMU
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Postcard from a
Benderson chronicles Budapest
trip, tryst with hot male sex worker
By J.S.Hall Contributing Writer
"The Romanian: Story of an Obsession," by Bruce
Benderson. (Tarcher/Penguin, 2006) 416 pages,
writing career is all about
chronicling his walks on
the wild side — an increas-
ingly endangered land-
scape these days. His new
memoir, "The Romanian,"
is no exception. Whereas
once he could hang out in
Times Square with hus-
tlers, junkies and other
assorted children of the night, this self-styled
"old-fashioned, pre-Stonewall homosexual" had
to go to Eastern Europe to find "new worlds to
mirror my loneliness and isolation."
A chance writing assignment — to cover the
gay brothels and bathhouses of Budapest for an
online magazine — took Benderson to the capi-
tal of Hungary. In front of the Intercontinental
Hotel, he encountered a 24-year-old Romanian
hustler named Romulus. Thus begins a torrid,
wrenching, nine-month relationship between a
"blatantly underclass hustler with sharp, cheap
clothes and this pudgy, bourgeois American."
While some might roll their eyes at the
thought of one more book devoted to an impos-
sible fantasy about a hustler, "The Romanian"
manages to be much more than its apparent
premise. Yes, it concerns the sexual relationship
of two very disparate men — a queer Jewish-
American intellectual and his gay-for-pay object
of desire — but it also chronicles Benderson's
Byzantine feelings about the relationship.
Additionally, the book serves as an improba-
ble yet engrossing travelogue of Romania and its
more notable historic personages, as well as a
codeine-fueled meditation on love and the
messed-up things people do while in love (and to
sustain that feeling).
Enchanted by this slim, chain-smoking man,
Benderson engineers things so that he can spend
more and more time in Romulus' native
Romania, a resource-rich land conquered many
times over the centuries, the place where East
meets West and concrete Communist architec-
ture abuts decaying grandeur. Packs of wild dogs
roam the streets, nearly everyone is ready to "put
one over" on a seemingly naive American tourist,
and homosexuality, at the time of Benderson's
stay, is still a crime. (The nation rescinded its
sodomy law in 2002 as a condition of joining the
Through a jaundiced eye, Benderson makes
this ravaged country and its hard-done-by people
come to vivid, ragged life, like the denizens of a
fevered bad dream.
Somewhat egotistically, he draws parallels in
his relationship with Romulus to that of the for-
bidden romance between Carol II (Romania's
last king) and Lupescu, a Jewish commoner.
Although history has branded her an opportunis-
WILD BOY: On assignment to cover the gay brothels of
Budapest for an online magazine, Benderson, pictured,
met a 24-year-old Romanian hustler.
tic gold-digger, Lupescu has a special place in
Benderson's heart. He also finds similarities in
Carol II's near-oedipal relationship with his
British-born mother, Queen Marie, to
Benderson's difficult relationship with his own
96-year-old mother, who still manages to criti-
cize and domineer despite her increasingly frail
Although "The Romanian" is forthright in its
bleakness and unsparing in its fascination with
such grim details as mildewed walls, rooms filled
with cigarette smoke and the televised din of soc-
cer games, the book has occasional flashes of
humor and charm. In one absurd moment,
Benderson agrees to translate Celine Dion's
syrupy memoirs in three weeks' time to finance
his stay in Romania. Meanwhile, a tour of the
country's rural areas evokes some awe-inspiring
moments of pastoral beauty.
Anyone who's ever nursed an obsession, or
done things that he or she later regretted while
pursuing an obsession, will read "The
Romanian" with many rueful nods of recogni-
tion. Benderson achieves the difficult task of
remaining sympathetic while exhibiting dreadful
behavior and even worse judgment. His lacerat-
ing self-awareness, especially as his relationship
with Romulus sours, is a wonder to behold.
However, if nothing else, his experiences
have been ultimately rewarding. The original
French publication of this book won the 2004
Prix de Flore — making him its first American
recipient. Romulus may remain an enigma, an
undeserving beneficiary of Benderson's largesse,
but as the author reflects with sardonic relish:
"History follows a trail of sputtering desire, often
calling upon the delusions of lovers to generate
the sparks.," he writes. "If it weren't for us, the
world would suffer from a dismal lack of sto-
MAYA AT UTA
In honor of Black
History Month, one of
the greatest voices of
ture visits North Texas.
Maya Angelou, pictured,
author of "I Know Why
the Caged Bird Sings,"
visits to The University
of Texas at Arlington on
"An Evening with
Maya Angelou," Texas
Hall, 701 W. Nedderman Dr. Feb. 25, at 8 p.m.
$12-$53. 817-272-2963 or www.uta.edu/excel
44 I dallasvoice.com I 02.24.06
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Vercher, Dennis. Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 22, No. 41, Ed. 1 Friday, February 24, 2006, newspaper, February 24, 2006; Dallas, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth238897/m1/44/: accessed October 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.