Romanians Share Lunar Love

Romanian lovers have gone lunatic. For Valentine's Day, sweethearts are giving each other plots of land on the moon.

"Chocolates get eaten. Flowers wilt in three days. The crystal glass gets dusty and then breaks. But the moon is forever," said Adi Dragan, who's pitching the plots as the ultimate romantic gift -- and donating the proceeds to his wife's foundation for the physically disabled.

Dragan, 31, a former advertising executive, is authorized by the U.S.-based Lunar Embassy to sell a plot of 177 acres for $49, half the average monthly salary in Romania.

The lunar real estate business began to really take off in 1996, when Lunar Embassy -- founded by Dennis Hope, a Nevada entrepreneur -- claimed to have found a loophole in the 1967 U.N. Outer Space Treaty that lets him legally sell pieces of the moon.

Lunar plots have sold well in Europe, even though few if any buyers can hope to see their land in their lifetimes.

Dragan said he's been swamped by phone calls to his Bucharest apartment, which doubles as his office. So far, he says, he's sold several dozen plots to buyers from the capital and other cities.

"People have been asking me if their property is next to an American star's, like Madonna," said Dragan, who began selling the lots in December. "Romanians are worried that someone else may already have bought the rights to their property."

Armando Dima, a 30-year-old Bucharest businessman, bought a lunar lot for his fiancee.

"There is a saying in Romania that says, 'I would give you the moon in heaven,' and I wanted to do this literally," he said.

"When we marry, it's good to have property," he whispered, stepping out of earshot of his girlfriend to preserve the Valentine Day's surprise.

Land on the moon captures Romanians' imaginations because they're romantic by nature, and because many yearn to own real property and be original after decades of communism.

More poignant is the reason Dragan decided to go into the lunar business: to help his wife's foundation, Audaces Dominus Juvat ("God helps the Brave.")

On the road to recovery after physical therapy, Eleonora Dragan, 34, was paralyzed from the waist down eight years ago after a ladder fell at her workplace, crushing one of her vertebrae.

"Romanian women have a hard life," she said. "So when they receive a flower or a lot of land on the moon, they are happy to be compared to a beautiful object."

Though he's aiming for the stars, Dragan's troubles are purely terrestrial.

He can't yet afford a proper office or even advertising. But the lunar business has made a splash in the Romanian media, and as a gesture of goodwill, Hope gave Dragan larger plots of land to sell.

"When we went to register the foundation, they thought I was crazy. The clerks crossed themselves," he said.