Diana is my model in life. She is an amazing writer, a passionate traveler, a very smart and beautiful woman, she is a gifted journalist (editor-in-chief at Forbes), she is well-grounded, sensible and altruistic, and she makes every dream possible. When I read her words, I have one predominant feeling: "now it's time to fly". And I make you a promise: you'll never forget her!
1. You've traveled the world, you saw a lot of beautiful places and you could live anywhere. Why did you choose to live and work in Romania?
For me, the whole magic of traveling resides in being constantly on the move, while having a cozy place to call home. I lived and studied in London, Geneva, Vienna, Leiden (close to Amsterdam) and I travelled for interviews or personal pleasure in over 50 countries, but I need a foothold for my adventures. After getting my Masters degree 7 years ago I decided to come back home, to work and live in Romania, because it just felt right. I tend to listen to my inspired hunches and gut feelings, they're the best life compass in my case.
If you're good at what you do and you're a hard worker, I truly believe you can adapt and become valuable in any company, on any continent, but you should settle down in the place where your feel you belong. I belong in Romania. I am often asked why I don't write a book or make a blog in English, with a global scope, and maybe one day I will find the time for that, it's on my list, but my priority at this time is writing for my people, offering them my stories, my take on life. The day is too short to do both international and local and at this point it just makes sense to do more local content.
I believe in profound and durable change that stems from information, from shaping one's outlook on life, from educating one's expectations and tastes. That is my goal for now, with my current projects. And, in a way, I think i'm like Antaeus from the Greek Mythology, one of my favorite characters ever: he was the son of Gaia, goddess of the earth, so he got stronger when he touched the earth, it replenished his powers. Even though I'm a globetrotter at heart, my strength comes from always coming back to my one place, touching "my earth". Each of us has to find whatever works for him or her. Whatever floats your boat.
2. Tell me more, please, about the differences and similarities between writing books, an online project and Forbes Magazine.
I'm lucky to be in a somewhat ideal situation for anyone who loves writing. With "Povestile unei inimi" ("Stories of a Heart"), I have the satisfaction of seeing how a book evolves over time, how it picks up speed and gets a life of its own. It's been 4 years since it came out and I still have people discovering it and sending me messages about it. I still write autographs on pristine copies, which is overwhelming. A story never dies as long as there are people still discovering it, so every new reader of my book is a new encounter for me, a clean slate, and I am truly grateful for this gift.
With the two magazines that I am editor-in-chief of - "ForbesLife", monthly and "Up by Forbes", quarterly - I've learn to build my entire existence around a deadline. For over 7 years now, I've been doing a total of 15 magazines every year. In this field, we work in the present tense - the current issue is always where 90% of the energy goes - but at the same time we have to be on the lookout for the next good story and the next best thing. It never ever stops, not when you go home, not when you meet your friends for dinner, not when you leave on holiday, not when you switch the light off and go to sleep at night. The ideas can come at any time, triggered by any image, encounter or minor detail you notice. You learn to embrace the process and to love it. It's not a job, it's a way of life.
And, if the magazines keep me grounded in the "now", with my new online project I can now understand the incredible adrenalin of the "right now". Seeing how people share your work in real time, how they make it their own by commenting, by acknowledging you, that is amazing. It's still me in every project, but it's a nuanced me for each of the three different channels: books, magazines & website.
This mix has shown me that I can write in three different ways and think in three totally different ways. If, for instance, I get an inspired idea for an article right now, I know precisely where I will develop it, in which section of the magazines or in what part of the website and how it's going to unfold. I know it right away. Being a journalist nowadays may be challenging and harder than before, but it gets you thinking real fast and I love that. I sometimes "write" entire articles in my head, while walking to work (I walk a lot every day, it fuels my energy and creativity) or when I'm going home at night. Passion doesn't take days off for holidays, weekends or vacations, my imagination is like a creative shop where the lights are always on. All the time.
3. Can you tell us a surprising story about your new project, Fine Society? What is behind the image?
Essentially, it's me. Just me. I wanted a place of my own, to store all my thoughts, experiences and view of the world, because deep down I'm a sharer. When I find out something interesting, hear a good story, read an insightful book or get a meaningful revelation, my first impulse is to tell someone, to give someone a glimpse of that, to put it out there. I see so many wonderful things every day and not all of them are suitable subjects for Forbes. I needed a headquarters for the bits & pieces that touch my heart every day. And the most surprising and in a way "predestined" thing about it relates to the name: the word "fine" always rang special to me. In Transylvania, where I used to spend my summers as a child, there is a local word called "fain". It is pronounced exactly the same as "fine" and it's the Romanian equivalent of "cool". Also, as a kid I saw a movie that I liked very much and the main character had a shop called "Fine Things". That kind of stayed with me. So now, at this point in my life, it felt incredibly right to use "fine" as a name for my project.
Speaking of which, I remember interviewing a master-perfumer from Japan, 5 years ago, for Forbes. She was also a clairvoyant, so she would close her eyes and tell each one of us, journalists, what she "saw" in our aura. It was the first time we met, she didn't even know our names and I must admit I wasn't a big believer in this whole clairvoyance thing. However, in my case, she said that she could see a big old mountain, with an antenna on top, transmitting to the world. It makes me smile to think of that, because the image still lives in my mind. That's essentially what I do now, with "Fine Society": I write from a place of experience, from my own feelings, from the stuff I observe every day, from my own dilemmas and interests. That's my "old mountain", what I have gathered inside me, and I am always ,,broadcasting" something.
The tagline for Fine Society is - in loose translation - "About everything that's fine and refined", because I think people really need more fine things, more beauty in their lives. It looks like a full-blown website, not like a typical blog, even though for now it's just me coming up with the content. I wanted it this way, because a blog is essentially all about the blogger, while "Fine Society" is about the community of people that have been reading my stuff for the past 7 years. A society of people who love the beautiful things in life. Everything that goes in there is felt, imagined and "woven" by me. I'm sometimes happy, sometimes vulnerable, sometimes full of enthusiasm, sometimes doubtful. It's a very honest project. I'm not trying to "pose" in a certain way, quite the contrary, I'm really putting myself out there.
4. Why would you recommend a foreigner to visit Romania? What are the three special places that someone must see in our country?
It may sound clichéd, but there are hundreds of beautiful places to visit, many of them very remote, wild and gorgeous. However, when you go to a new country, you also want to see the "staples", not just the unbeaten road, so I would first recommend three places that are not so difficult to reach and, in my view, should be explored before wandering off into the more unknown and mysterious ones. First: the royal city of Sinaia, with its Peles Castle, repeatedly selected by famous publications worldwide among the most beautiful castles in the world. It's relatively easy to reach from Bucharest and shouldn't be missed.
Then, my favorite city in Romania, Brașov, where I would suggest spending one day walking around the old city centre, eating a delicious traditional dish, then going up to see the panorama of the city, from our very own „Hollywood-sign" - the letters that make the name „Brașov" - up on Mount Tâmpa. And, thirdly, I would recommend Cheile Bicazului, a gorge excised by the Bicaz river, with kilometers and kilometers of ravines, steep cliffs and a landscape that simply takes your breath away. It's the kind of place that you never forget, no matter what other breathtaking scenery you get to see in this lifetime.
5. What is your best memory from a trip through Romania?
Although I was born and raised in Bucharest, my dad's family is from Transylvania and my mum's side is from Northern Bucovina, so, growing up, I've spent my summers in both places. The closest to my heart is a little village in Transylvania, called "Poiana Ilvei" ("Ilva's Glade", Ilva being the river that flows through the region). My grandfather was born there, the old house he built still stands and when I was a kid we used to go there every August, for a few weeks.
The trip from Bucharest to Poiana was the ultimate adventure of every summer. The train ride would take around 10 hours, by night, passing through major Transylvanian cities and to a 6-year-old that was better than New Year's Eve. We would leave Bucharest on a super-hot summer evening and arrive at 6:00 a.m the next morning at our destination, in the mountains, where it was freezing-cold. I was freezing but had a huge smile on my face and to this day I remember the inner joy I felt stepping down from the train into that incredibly tiny train-station. Those were moments of utter and unadulterated happiness.
To visit relatives in the neighboring village we would wake up really early in the morning and cross a hill, literally a three hours hike up and down the slope. You could only hear the sound of the wind, nothing else, just stillness. I still feel that fresh smell of the grass in my nostrils. If I could take one memory and close it in a glass box, to keep it intact forever and ever, that would be it. Now that I think of it, all my memories are about traveling, moving, voyaging. It's probably my DNA.
6. What is your biggest struggle right now?
Simplifying my life, streamlining everything. I think life should be like a seamless tuxedo jacket: perfectly crafted, just the right size, like a second skin, with no visible seams. That's my goal for the 2016. It's a process that has been ongoing for some time, but this year will be a game-changer because I think I've learned quite a few lessons along the way. By simplifying my life I'm referring to discipline, effectiveness in juggling my multiple activities, clear-cut choices and decisions.
I'm a minimalist at heart and, although I tend to pour my soul into everything that surrounds me - be it people, memories, objects I grow fond of - I also have a clear and sharp sense of who I am, of what's relevant and what's not. It was acquired painstakingly in years of practice and self-discovery, so I am ready to really put it to use in 2015. Lately, for example, it has been truly liberating letting go of stuff. If my life were, figuratively, a big white room, furnished with only what is valuable for me, I would say I am now redecorating and it's going just wonderful.
7. What is your biggest dream?
Visiting at least 100 countries in the world before I die and writing good stories from each and every one of them.
8. If you could have one thing in the whole world, what would you want most?
If I could make one preposterous and ardent wish, I would like to spend a month as a first officer for a Boeing 777 airliner. A co-pilot of dreams: always airborne, writing about it, exploring the world. My grandfather was an aviator and I think I get the flying gene from him. I love to fly, I could spend my entire life on an airplane. And, to let you in on a secret, last year I flew in the cockpit of an Airbus A320 for the approach and landing. It was amazing!
9. What is your greatest gift to the world?
I like to think it's the honesty that I put into every piece of writing. I personally value honesty a lot because I find it scarce nowadays. Also, when I first started blogging as a hobby, in college, it was about things that mattered to me and that I couldn't find answers to anywhere else. Very personal and profound stuff. Years on, I still try to do just that: tell true and meaningful stories that people can relate to and do it in a vivid and inspiring way. I've never censored myself because it felt awkward or because I wanted to "save face". An actress I once interviewed told me that any artist aspiring to greatness must have a "coefficient of vulnerability" in his work, turning the most fragile parts of his soul into strengths. I'd like to think this is what I do in my work as well.
10. Romania definitely has something special. What is it?
Romania is a mix of contrasts that work very well together, like a patchwork made of happy floral hues, muted colors, black and whites, lots of grey shades, all sewn together, sometimes with loose threads hanging out. It doesn't look like anything else, but you cannot take your eyes off the pattern.
Despite a tough past, Romania still holds a precious sense of purity that you can rarely find elsewhere. People have been through a lot, so they're hardly naive or exceedingly credulous, but they also have this endless capacity to hope for the best, while being able to handle the worst. We're great hopers. Also, what makes us special is the Romanian sense of humor, our way of laughing off the bad times. If a meteorite were to hit planet Earth tomorrow, there would certainly be one or two Romanians cracking a joke about it. We can laugh at everything: life, death, sorrow, sickness, happiness. There's never anything too delicate, dark or taboo to make fun of. I think it's our shock-absorber of life.