What we were especially curious about, even more than the king’s opinion, was his daughter’s. After all, Ana-Maria is now a young woman of 19 or 20, married nearly seven years. (With one son, aged 4.) What does she think today about teen marriage? About her own marriage? And what about pressure on her community, from both Bucharest and Brussels, to change this tradition?
Our team – Romani journalist Petru Zoltan, our spirited Romanian interpreter, Lavinia Gliga, and I, the journalism trainer – dropped in on the king without warning. This was Petru’s idea, as he assumes the role of guru of all things related to the so-called “Gypsy mentality.”
Petru had interviewed Cioaba once before, as an investigative reporter for Romanian newspaper National Journal. He predicted that if we pre-arranged a meeting, the king would dodge us somehow. I trusted Petru’s take, so we drove four hours to historic Sibiu, banking on this gamble that he would for sure be home when we came a-knockin’. Then, talk to us.
Yet this is exactly what happened … We walked through his open driveway gate, into his home compound. The king saw us from inside a large, glass-enclosed dining area, his wife chopping vegetables nearby. He shook hands with Petru, then ambivalently led us into a gilded hall, complete with two large portraits of himself. (Or were they of his father? I ran out of time to ask.) In one portrait, like a museum piece, he sat nobly atop a white mare, in 17th-century garb.
Toward the end of the interview, we asked to speak with Ana-Maria. No, the king said, she’s out of town. Back tomorrow morning for the Sunday church service, which he himself would officiate as a pentacostal minister.
Eventually, he shooed us away. In the courtyard outside, I briefly glanced at his main house. One room glowed yellow in the twilight. Inside, two women carried out a domestic chore, maybe cooking. As we turned to walk onward, Petru said, “Ana-Maria is in there. I saw her.”
When we returned the next day around 1, fully expecting to speak with her, we found the church closed and empty. King Cioaba’s gate was also closed – a sure sign he and the family weren’t home, said Petru.
“I knew he would do something like this,” he added with a grin, pleased to be proven right.
We waited a bit longer, as I shot a few more photos of his abode. I also kicked myself that I’d let him convince me that I could photograph him “tomorrow, tomorrow.” Next time, produce like it’s my only chance.
When an unknown young man crossed the courtyard, Petru called out to ask when the king and his family would be home. “Maybe 8 o’clock,” came the answer.
We gave up, then hurried to begin our five-hour drive back to Bucharest … half a mission accomplished.