Snoop Dogg and the Hemp Fields of Bogata
Known from coast to coast in the US, rap artist Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr., also known as Snoop Dogg, Snoop Rock, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Snoop Lion, DJ Snoopadelic, Snoopzilla or Bigg Snoop Dogg, put the small village of Bogata (Mureș county) on the world map with a simple check-in on Instagram.
While in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, the American rapper announced to his followers that he was getting ready for a show in a small village found between Luduș and Iernut in Central Romania. It was a regrettable error, and the netizens didn't let it slip.
Since we all know how it happened, we thought it would be more interesting to investigate where it happened. So we drove straight to Bogata, a mere 75 km away from Cluj-Napoca.
We missed the sign guiding us away from the main road – and we still doubt it exists at all – but on our second try, we veered towards Bogota, the village where Doctor Iuliu Moldovan (1882-1966, no connection to Dr. Dre), the founder of Cluj's Hygiene and Public Health School, was born.
The weather was friendly, as were the people. We would later find out that they used to grow hemp in Bogata. Maybe Snoop knew something about the village after all…
At the village entrance, on a small hill, a man looks towards the road with his arms resting on a wooden staff. A herd of 25 sheep enjoy the fresh grass. We’re separated by some sort of bog.
With typical urban swag, we choose the shortest route. We then walk back when the water reaches our ankles. We're from the city.
We panic and call out towards the man, standing about 50 meters away from us.
"We're with the press!"
"I'm not giving interviews today," comes the answer.
"For God's sake, man!"
He finally shows us the best path around the swamp. We jump a ditch and finally come face to face. The sheep follow him as though they’re remote-controlled. A small, black dog wags his tail at us. His name is Șobo (Ratty). He can’t herd a sheep if his dog-life depends on it, but he'll sure find a rat anywhere.
"Why don't you call him Snoop Dogg?"
"This is Șobo, my son, not Snupi, Snopi. We brought the sheep here, they won't eat inside anymore. I walked them out, tomorrow I'm going back to work. On May 1st I'm bringing them here again, then we'll herd them and give them to someone who can walk them," Florin answers.
The sheep look up to him, admiringly.
Florin Maier has lived in Bogata for the past 24 years. He married here, but he's from another village. He says life is beautiful, and lands are bountiful.
"Yeah, big yields, you get 7-8,000 kilos on the hectare; corn, whatever you want. There's also wheat, alfalfa, tobacco. Why would you smoke weed when you've got 20 hectares of tobacco on this piece of land?"
He has a point.
Florin tells us there's another Bogata near Turda, and another near Predeal. He doesn't understand how "that singer, the tanned one, I noticed he’s a bit tanned, you know,” has chosen his village. It's turns out it’s really hard to explain what a check-in is to a villager.
He worked for the Fire Department, as a local cop, and now he's a security guard in Târgu Mureș. He's got a train to catch at 4 AM, works until 7 AM the following day, and then he's free for 48 hours.
"A man has to work if he is in good health. You asked what life is like in Bogata. We work to make ends meet; Hungarians, Romanians, Gypsies, we don't look at the differences between people. It's like going to any job. Such is life!" The 46-year-old tells us.
We part company.
"What program are you from?"
"PressOne, on the internet."
"Is it on TV, too?"
"Can't help you there."
"Well, do you actually work for a living or are you just journalists?"
Those words hurt.
We go back around the swamp and walk on the road. Old man Vasile (75) says hello, as he slowly rides by on his buggy.
Mircea, a very obedient horse, stops long enough for us to get in the back. It's like riding in a Lowrider with hydraulics, just like in Snoop’s rap videos.
So what we get drunk
So what we smoke weed
We're just having fun
We don't care who sees
So what we go out
That's how it's supposed to be
Living young and wild and free.
Vasile laughs at Snoop Dogg. He says folk singers are missing from weddings nowadays, "everything's on tape now." He doesn't understand the connection between the rapper and their 2,000-strong village.
He's lived in Bogata all his life but he hardly remembers the last live show he's seen here. The local Community Centre was recently renovated after languishing in disrepair for 10 years.
Snoop Dogg la Bogata
Vasile drops us off in front of the train station, next to the smallest tunnel bridge in Europe, as people in Bogata like to call it. The building looks abandoned among the frolicking fowl.
A Sioux-crested turkey is aggressively circling us. He ruffles his feathers as if he swallowed an accordion. We move away and bid him to become a roast.
On the decaying walls there are all sorts of scribbled notes; Rembo, Ioska, Titi... It's like a monument in memory of all the travelers who ever dared synchronize their trip to the station with the unpredictable timetable.
Then, a prosaic bottle of Neumarkt beer stops our reverie.
After our short stay we head back to the main road, on the virtual heels of Snoop Dogg or Snupidu, as Costică, a 42-year-old bricklayer from Bogata calls him.
He unpeels an orange and he's not willing to make too many concessions. He talks to us with an air of superiority:
"Scubidoo, Snupidoo, I heard, but I don't listen to this type of music. Manele? Who do you think I am? The 80s! That was the real deal: Muddar Tocking, Bed Biz Blu, the 80's; and then Romanian music, Daminescu, Cotabiță."
There's a small glass factory in Bogata, a cereal drying plant built with EU funds, two B&B's and six stores.
At City Hall, we talk to Marian Moscaliuc. He's a cook and a licensed butcher, builder, lathe operator, fisherman, hunter, folk singer, ex-hippy, ex-athlete, with a diploma in Law and, also, an advisor to Mayor Barta.
He worked for four years in Finocchio, near Rome, for 80 dollars a day. He says he flipped the foreigners' advice on its head.
"They said it was good to know one thing and to do it well - if you're an electrician, you should be a very good electrician, and let the builder build so he can also earn his bread. I told them it's good to know a little of everything, because you never know when you'll need it."
He won the past two editions of Slană (Bacon) Fest, held in Cluj. His recipe could win over the most militant of Vegans.
At 62 years of age, he's thinking about the day when he eventually leaves the world behind. He won't take the secret recipe along. "I'd like to live out my life in full, to be normal, healthy, and happy. But this bacon will survive me."
During Ceaușescu's regime, Marian Moscaliuc wore long hair and listened to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. When he was 16, he wanted to defect to Greece with a friend on a Turkish vessel from the port of Constanta. He changed his mind at the last minute.
He made his own pair of pants from military canvas: "I ordered a 42 cm trapezoid from a tailor. He said I was nuts. I didn't take no for an answer. 42 centimeters! When they were ready, I wore them for a week straight until I turned them into a backpack. Yeah, I'm a rocker, but, a Manea every once in while is okay, dammit, when you get wasted on homemade cognac."
Bogata is like a peninsula, almost surrounded by the Mureș river. Back in the day, you could fish here better than in the Delta. Locals say the fish have since become shrewd and don't allow themselves to be caught so easily.
Still, on nights with a full moon, you can stick two leeches on the hook and make a killing, legends say. Apparently, someone caught a 60 kg catfish using this technique.
Actually, people don't really feel like fishing. Moscaliuc, a self-proclaimed great fisherman, admits that the people in Bogata don't really have any reasons to be happy.
"We survive, really, and people are under a lot of stress. Winter comes along with 700 lei a month utility bills (135 euros). The sewage system exists, but they have to switch it on, and then you have more bills. I don't see anyone smiling on the street, it's pretty clear that things aren't really going our way," the Mayor's advisor tells us.
We go looking for Golden Voice Neluțu, a local bard with a less than clean arrest record, just like Snoop Dogg.
We hear the man gets angry when he's visited by the police. "Do you know who I am? Do you know what record label I work with?"
Neluțu isn't home, and the neighbors haven't seen him in over a week. Maybe he's out on tour. A passerby warns us, "You won't find a single musician in this village. There's one, but he's missing a leg and an ear. The latter's more important, the musical ear. There's a problem with music here, nobody’s sung anything in ages."
Next to the store belonging to László Sepsi's parents (one of the many fullbacks comprising Romania's Euro 2016 football dreams) two citizens are having a heated debate: Varga Béla and Ioan Doda; former colleagues, both 61 years old.
Ioan takes the stage first, throwing a mild reprimand. "How could you confuse the two? I thought that a minimum of general knowledge is enough to tell the difference between Bogota, capital of Colombia and Bogata from Mureș, which is something completely different. What’s he want here anyway?"
We're listening to Drop it Like It's Hot. Our two interviewees make up their mind quickly.
"Yessir, it's settled! You can see the class, the world renown, the music is excellent, gentlemen, nothing more to discuss," Doda continues.
We even find the first hemp smoker in Bogata: "Sure, people smoked hemp around these parts. When we were kids, that's what we started with. Over there, on the other side of the Mureș River."
"But we didn't smoke it, man," intervenes Béla.
"Oh shut up. There were hectares of industrial hemp. The old timers taught us. We used to put the leaves in rolled up newspapers, we got a little dizzy, but that's all."
"Wasn’t that dried up corn husks, Ioan?"
"Sure, we smoked that too, but also hemp."
Ana works in front of her house, gathering hay for animals. Her face is creased with wrinkles, as if life recorded every single disappointment. She doesn't care about Snoop.
"Oh be serious! If people around here saw him, they'd run scared. They'd say he was from ISIS. For most of us here the world starts in Bogata and ends in Luduș, just down the down the road," Ana told us.
She worked in the Cluj steelworks before settling down in Bogata. She's got two girls, one of them in France, the other studying Medicine in Târgu Mureș.
She gives us an overview of the situation: "We'd like to have an easier life. The village has gotten older, the youth are gone, and they won't be coming back. We're growing old and we need a helping hand."
Until the next celebrity confuses Bogotá with Bogata, nobody will be talking about this place. But Snoop could still pay a visit and maybe even get a ride with Mr. Vasile and Mircea the horse.