I can't think of any famous hellholes.
October 8, 2009 11:58 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine is writing a memoir about traveling to every country in Europe at the age of 23. He wants to compare being stuck in a crappy part of Romania to a well known literary or film hellhole. We can't think of any.

In the book he's talking about being stuck in a crappy part of Romania for 20 hours, instead of the short layover he expected. He used the placeholder of Amity Island (Jaws). This obviously doesn't fit as it's a pleasant place with the exception of the killer shark in the water.

We can't seem to think of anything that most everyone (of the US literary audience) would be able to recognize. We're thinking of things like Silent Hill, Sleepy Hollow (in the story, not the real life place). I feel like we're both missing something super obvious. It can be from any pop culture reference, as long as most people will get it.

Would a suitable solution be something like "East Germany, circa 1960"?
posted by Jason Land to Writing & Language (23 answers total)
Mordor? He might compare the gates of Mordor to those of security at the airport, beyond which there's nothing but despair.
posted by smorange at 12:16 AM on October 9, 2009

Sounds just like Ray in Bruges.
posted by carsonb at 12:17 AM on October 9, 2009

Best answer: For the metaphor to connect for me, the referenced hellhole would have to have specific similarities to the crappy part of Romania your friend experienced. How was it crappy, and what facets of the crappiness do you want to highlight? Once that's answered, a fitting hellhole can be selected.

If you want to communicate that it's filled with silent, distrustful people who want to poison you, that's one hellhole. If you want to communicate that it's a broken society, a beaten down, dangerous, every-man-for-himself affair, that's a different hellhole. If it's full of rude, stuffy people, who make confusing signs and have no public bathrooms and hate tourists, that's a different hellhole entirely.

More information?
posted by kprincehouse at 12:27 AM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

The idea of being stuck in Romania in itself is enough to give my shivers. No metaphor or parallel can be stronger than that.

Why doesn't he go on another route? The history of the country is enough, Herta Müller just got a Nobel prize for writing about how it was.
I got stuck in a dreary place in Romania so backward, it wouldn't surprise to learn the people there hadn't heard their dictator Ceauşescu was dead.
posted by ijsbrand at 12:28 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

The privy in Schindler's list where several people decided to hide.
posted by brujita at 12:31 AM on October 9, 2009

Best answer: Are we talking an urban area or a rural area? There are all sorts of stories about being trapped in a horrible rural setting, or horrible things happening there: Deliverance, The Shining, Misery, Amityville (maybe your friend was thinking of this?) ... sadly I'm coming up short on actual towns for you. Frankenstein and especially Dracula (Romanian connection!) cover similar ground and, for me at least, conjure moody, grim, unfriendly rural settings.

For urban settings: maybe it no longer qualifies as pop culture, but a moderately educated audience would get references to Dickensian London (Oliver Twist, etc) as a polluted, poverty-wracked hellhole (at least in part). Engels' industrial revolution Manchester (along with Blake's "dark Satanic mills") is a common touchstone, too. You've got Emile Zola and Victor Hugo on French urban poverty (probably others, but I'm no expert).

Slum settings? Tsotsi? City of God?

War references? Stalingrad, 1942, might do the trick for you.

Re: carsonb's suggestion: Bruges is really rather lovely (even, or especially, in that movie), so I'm not sure that would work.

I also think a lot of people would have some idea of Romania--a kind of generic conception of socialist/postsocialist decay--which you could spice up by talking about "East Germany, circa 1960." You could refer to a smaller/more obscure Eastern European city: Gdansk, Krakow, Bratislava...throw in a reference to Brezhnev, Prague Spring, bread lines, ice-cold winters and I think most people have enough ideas (erroneous or not) about life in the Soviet bloc that they could fill in the details.

There is also Borat's real-life Romanian hellhole, a stand-in for his hometown in Kazakhstan, which is fairly well-known (if unfortunate, given the treatment the Romanians received from him.)
posted by col_pogo at 12:51 AM on October 9, 2009

Guantanamo Bay?
posted by goshling at 12:54 AM on October 9, 2009

What about the scene with the trolls from the hobbit?

It lasts so long that day breaks and the trolls turn to stone!
posted by schmichael at 1:27 AM on October 9, 2009

Jonathan Harker was stuck in Dracula's castle after Dracula went off to England.
posted by Brainy at 2:13 AM on October 9, 2009

Best answer: Ceauşescu did a pretty good job of making Romania an actual hellhole, so I'm not sure how much metaphor is required.
posted by molecicco at 2:22 AM on October 9, 2009

Actually, let me be a bit more clear... what I mean to say is that, yes, to a general audience East Germany circa 1960's might be more well known, but Romania under Ceauşescu was far worse and this is pretty common knowledge in Europe. So I am not sure how much you are looking for, but just a few snippets of information about the guy, about Romania under him, and saying how it makes East Germany look like a wonderland where everyone runs around naked having fun could make the point.
posted by molecicco at 3:37 AM on October 9, 2009

I sort of remember this Jack Nicholson movie the Traveller and I believe it had something to do with being stuck in Africa. At the end, a bad thing happens. But I don't remember it well.
posted by sully75 at 4:37 AM on October 9, 2009

Going with Borat's Kazakhstan or like Detroit - now.
posted by wackybrit at 4:51 AM on October 9, 2009

Romania - The Flint, Michigan of Europe.
posted by wackybrit at 4:52 AM on October 9, 2009

Well, I like being in Romania. I'll be there again in two weeks. The worst parts remind me of being in Ohio.

Where and when in Romania was your friend? Some of the most depressing areas ten years ago (which in my opinion included the cities of Giurgiu, Focsani, Huneodora and Deva) are almost entirely transformed today. 1990-2000 was a difficult period which left a lot of regional towns poor and out of the developement loop. The EU membership and remittances sent home by Romanian workers abroad have changed everything. Ceaucescu rationed light bulbs, trashed villages, and cut food production. Anything remembered between 1975 and 1990 tends to be depressing to a foreigner or a Romanian.
posted by zaelic at 6:42 AM on October 9, 2009

The sewer in Shawshank Redemption.
posted by smackfu at 7:41 AM on October 9, 2009

Yeah, I sorta think that if you're trying this hard for an off-the-shelf pop culture reference, the best thing to do to say that being stuck in [that part of] Romania for 20 hours was so bad it can only be compared to being stuck in [that part of] Romania for 20 hours.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:42 AM on October 9, 2009

posted by yeti at 10:43 AM on October 9, 2009

Surely the right reference would be Hostel?
posted by b.an.dekker at 10:48 AM on October 9, 2009

Out of left field: Waiting for Godot captures that feeling of an interminable experience of being trapped in limbo.
See also Kafka's The Castle, which has the added bonus of an Eastern European author/feel.
posted by Shepherd at 11:04 AM on October 9, 2009

What about Personville from Red Harvest? A corrupt town caught between several gangs. I guess this would also include the towns in Yojimbo, and Fistful of Dollars which are both based on Red Harvest.

What about the city in Dark City? A sense of dread pervades that city, and you certainly can't get out.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 12:08 PM on October 9, 2009

Dante's Inferno? Alcatraz?
posted by alon at 8:02 PM on October 9, 2009

The Black Hole of Calcutta?
posted by timepiece at 8:08 AM on October 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

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