I traveled by train through the velvety green hills of "Muntenia," Wallachia's mountainous northwest bordering Transylvania, to the town of Curtea de Arges, where there was a monastery.
A stern-faced nun guarded the church's entrance. On the right, as you walked into the church, were the white marble tombs of King Carol I, his wife, Elizabeth of Wied (Carmen Sylva), and Neagoe Bessarab, the sixteenth-century Wallachian prince whose family settled Bessarabia. On the left was the tomb of King Ferdinand. Ferdinand's tomb, like those of Carol I, Elizabeth, and Neagoe Bessarab, was ornately carved and marked with his name and royal insignia. But there was another tomb on the left side of the nave, next to Ferdinand's: unmarked, with only a simple cross engraved on it. Ordering that his mother's grave be unmarked was one of many slights that King Carol II committed against his mother, Queen Marie.
Atop that simple marble slab, the nuns had placed a sign: MARIA, REGINA ROMANIEI 1914-1938.
I watched as a group of schoolgirls picked some flowers from the garden. When the sister's back was turned, the girls sneaked under the rope and, in fearful silence—afraid to breathe almost—placed the flowers on the tomb of Neagoe Bessarab, a figure whom they had doubtlessly learned about in school.
Outside the church, I approached the girls and mentioned the name of Maria Regina. The girls shrugged. They did not seem to know who I was talking about. I kept imploring, using alternate wording. Definitely, they did not know who she was.
So ironic, I thought. Queen Marie, more than any other individual, secured the accession of Transylvania (as well as of Bessarabia and northern Bucovina) to Romania after World War I. She had slept on the battlefields of the Second Balkan War and World War I, right beside her soldiers, and had dressed like the pagan warrior goddesses of Dacia. By sheer force of will, this British-born princess had recast herself as a Romanian and had given her subjects a better sense of what it was to be Romanian than any of the native-born fascists and Communists who came after her.
I grabbed a yellow flower from the garden. Slightly embarrassed, I waited, like the girls, for the sister to avert her gaze. I then placed the yellow flower atop the marble, under which Romania's last good and decent ruler, Marie Windsor Hohenzollern, lay buried. Walking away, I looked back and saw the stern-faced sister smile.