Romania: "Vertiginous, absolute, and merciless"? Not really

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Not that much to narrate about my last few days here this trip, but here's the wrap-up.

Weather has been back and forth between just plain beautiful and warm but rainy. I've been walking around town a bit in the evenings, but that doesn't really make for much to narrate.

Plevna diorama
Plevna diorama

A power failure gave me some unexpected free time on Wednesday: workmen in the Romarm Building next door did something wrong while repairing an elevator and apparently blew out two massive fuses, one of the 900 amperes and the other 600. So I got to go out to Obor market and I finally did get Annitas his photos of the diorama of the Battle of Plevna (not much of a diorama: lifesize scene of a few soldiers in close combat, rather than a scaled-down overview of the battle and terrain. Unfortunately, I got to the Military Museum almost as it was closing; it looks worth more of a visit some time in the future.

Obor market is crowded, noisy, boisterous, the city's biggest public marketplace and, among other things, the best place to track down local music, it effectively overflows into the adjacent Magazin Universal ("universal store"), a collection of individual booths that almost lives up to its name. The place was much as it was four years ago, except that some of what had been space for outdoor market stalls had been turned into parking and, ominously, that there were no live birds for sale.

I'm guessing that by now you have all heard that there have been outbreaks of bird flu in Braşov and Ploieşti. There are calls for the minister of agriculture to resign, though it is hard to see what he could be doing much differently: the government seem open and responsive once anything is known. But of course people are worried and scared. They are also very angry at the farmer near Braşov who clearly knew his birds were getting sick and chose not to tell the authorities: I've heard people say he should be shot.

Hooked up again with Dorin: went to La Motoare (the famous rooftop terasa at the National Theater), had an excellent Turkish feast at the Golden Falcon (yes, a Turkish restaurant in Romania with an English-language name), wandered through the city and through Cismigiu afterwards.

The insta-ruin: Hunger circus in Rahova
The insta-ruin: Hunger circus in Rahova

Took my lunch break Thursday to explore a little; I went by the once decayed, now recovering Rahova 🔗 neighborhood and got some photos of one of the relatively few of the unfinished "hunger circuses" 🔗 that has not yet been turned into something useful.

Thursday evening I went to the ballet with she-who-is-not-to-be-named. Although the dancing was excellent (especially Bianca Fota, another name I will keep an eye out for), the piece, choreographed to Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique" was a bit pretentious for my tastes: a mix of dance, mime, poetry (Moliere, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rostand, Shakespeare) in French and in Romanian translation, built around the figure of The Artist and his elusive and protean Beloved, according to the program abstracted from Berlioz himself and Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson. A phrase from the program gives the tone nicely: "Singuratatea vertiginoasă, totală şi fară mila a creatorului": "Vertiginous, absolute, and merciless creator's loneliness." I'm obviously just not Latin enough for this sort of thing.

I will be flying out at the hideous hour of 06:15 on Saturday, less than a day from now. You can imagine when I'll have to wake up (if, indeed, I sleep at all). About 20 hours later, I'll be in Seattle.

Thoughts in summary? Changes here in four years have been big and seem to me to be mostly positive; most people I've talked to are optimistic; certainly my co-workers are, with few exceptions. One thing is unambiguously better: the air, still not perfect, but distinctly cleaner. Still, there is a sense that even though (for example) the leu has pretty nearly held its own against the euro (which is to say, it's done a lot better than the dollar), a lot of people seem convinced that prices are going up faster than salaries, and that accession to Europe (the EU's decision was postponed this week, but it's still generally seen as a foregone conclusion) may accelerate that tendency. Also, no question that some areas of Bucharest are seeing a loss of some useful or interestingly quirky retail businesses in favor of far too many banks and real estate agencies: gentrification has set in.

From a tourist's or business traveler's point of view, Bucharest has become an easier city to visit: more options on places to stay, more restaurants and retail stores, more of them of a high quality and more or less in the places where one would expect to find them; the police have cracked down on the street scams (not one person tried to run a maradona on me this visit), and there are fewer pimps hustling in the hotel districts; at the same time, the city retains a character very much its own. It will probably never (or not in a long time) be as much of a tourist destination as some of the Transylvanian cities, several of which are gems, but it is probably a more interesting place to spend time upwards of a week, because there is a lot more going on here. I'll certainly be back, probably soon.

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Originally written: May 19, 2006

Last modified: 25 February 2021

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