Late last December I flew to Berlin with a friend. It was an impulse – I wanted to see the Wall while it was still standing – and for the first time in some years, maybe in my life, I was free to act on an impulse of that sort. My wish was to spend the week between Christmas and the New Year in Berlin, and in return I promised my friend that we would spend the next week in Italy, all of which we did: New Year’s Eve at the Brandenburg Gate, a week overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice, then a few days in Florence and Rome. She returned to New York, and I went back briefly to the luxury of Venice, intending to go on to Budapest and Prague, return to Berlin once more and so to home. Pan Am offered a special rate.
But plans have a way of changing. The images of the Romanian revolution – I had seen it on television in Berlin – were still vivid in my mind. I had a few extra days, after all. The country was not far away. I got a copy of a map of Timișoara and secured a visa to Romania. I rented a car and loaded it with bananas, oranges and chocolate. A friend supplied me with some telephone numbers in case of an emergency, a couple of cartons of Kents – for purposes of bribery only; at the time I was not smoking – and two bottles of Johnny Walker Red should the Kents prove insufficient. And then, on 22 January, one month to the day after Ceaușescu had fled by helicopter from the roof of the Central Committee Building in Bucharest, I set off in my newly rented Volkswagen Golf, equipped even with an extra can of diesel fuel: just enough, I was told, to get me through Romania without having to pay the prices the government was charging foreigners for poor quality motorină.
I arrived at the Romanian border at four-thirty in the afternoon, darkness already fast approaching. It was very cold. Customs was taking a long time inspecting the Italian aid convoy ahead of me. Finally after half an hour it was my turn.