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New Europe

Day Sixty-three: Bucharest

Ilie Nastase 
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My last stop in Bucharest; at the home of Ilie Nastase, tennis legend and brand-new father.
Michael Palin - New EuropeI ask him about the Ceausescu years. He shrugs. They were not bad for him. As a successful sportsman he was granted privileges, both in travel and bringing in foreign goods, that were denied to the rest of the country. He was good friends with Ceausescu's children, but remembers once answering the President back at some official ceremony.

'He said I saw you swearing in Romanian, why are you like this? And I was stupid enough to answer him. I said I'm Romanian and I have a Romanian temperament.'

And the Prime Minister was next to me and he said, 'Careful, you might not be alive tomorrow.'

He doesn't paint a rosy picture of the country since Ceausescu's departure.

'I think people have more freedom, but they have less money. I'm talking about the general people, not the few of them that are very rich. Before they have money to travel and no passports. Now the freedom is there but they haven't the money.'

So angry was he at the state of his fellow Romanians that in 1996 he was persuaded to run for Mayor of Bucharest. He knows now he shouldn't have done it.

'I ran on behalf of the Socialist Party and they told me the only way to win is to promise a lot, and I didn't want to do that.'

He travels. To New York, London and Paris. A new biography is coming out. In it he claims to have made love to 2,500 women.

'Is it true?'

He grins wildly, clearly delighted to be asked the question, before finally opting for modesty.

'The writer, he asked me how many girls I sleep with? I said I don't know, I never count them. Thirty years, maybe three a month, four a month, five a month. He says that's almost 2,000. I said no, no 800, 900. He said it cannot be like this. First of all it doesn't look good for your reputation, it doesn't look good for my book. And then I said OK, 2,500.'

I don't know if he catches me glancing at the framed photo of his wife and child, but he adds rather sweetly, 'But you know for me the one who counts is the last one.'

He's playful to the end. I ask a rather stock question about what he thinks characterises a Romanian.

He grins mischievously.

'Cheating, lying... ' and he gets no further before dissolving in laughter.

As we leave the house a figure comes up the street towards us. It's Mrs Nastase, carrying two bags of shopping. She looks exhausted.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Sixty-three: Bucharest
  • Country/sea: Romania
  • Place: Bucharest
  • Book page no: 154

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