Arnon Grunberg
Words Without Borders

Summer Jobs in Europe

Since 2007, I have been doing "summer jobs" every year. The purpose of a summer job is to earn money, obviously, but the purpose of my summer jobs has been to write about my experiences. I worked as chambermaid in Bavaria and then I was a steward in the dining car of a Swiss train. The logical next step for me was to become a masseur.
Cleaning rooms and waiting tables doesn't require much experience. I don't want to offend professional waiters -- all I'm saying is that laymen can wait tables reasonably successfully, whereas waiting tables on a moving train requires skill. But massaging people is a different story.
I have been to a few masseurs myself, and I have noticed that not all people who call themselves masseurs are professionals. In this industry there seemed to be hope for the layman as well.
So I found a job as masseur in a resort in Romania, Baile Herculane, in the hills not far from Serbian border. To prepare myself, I took a crash course in massage. I must admit that my crash course lasted all of four hours.
The reason that I ended up in Romania is that I wanted to work in Eastern Europe this summer. Eastern Europe is one of the more interesting regions in the world, from a tourist's point of view and from a writer's point of view above all.
Baile Herculane is a rather beautiful but neglected resort, known for its hot springs with sulfur in them.
Most of my co-workers and a quite a few of the guests who I massaged complained about their country. Remarkably few of them said that it was better "under Ceauşescu". I never responded to these utterings. For one thing, massaging them took too much energy.
My more inventive colleagues didn't complain so much. The most inventive of all was undoubtedly Mitica, or Master Mitica as I called him, because he became my teacher.
Mitica used to be a miner and he still has the body of a miner. The mines closed, and Mitica was laid off. According to his own story, which I could not verify, he then went to several "massage schools."
Whether he did or didn't is not so important. The fact is that Mitica reinvented himself as a masseur. Two miles outside the village, there is the sulfur bath which isn't connected to a hotel or a clinic.
Mitica sits in the hot water from 10 in the morning till 6 in the afternoon and he massages people. The water is so hot that people come there even during wintertime. Mitica only takes two days off each year, December 31 and January 1.
Mitica doesn't live in the US and he doesn't speak a word of English, but with his successful and unlikely reinvention he is to me the embodiment of the American dream.