Love, Hate and Steamy Pastry
The crowd grabs me as soon as I step off the subway train at Piața Romană and carries me away, no left, right or turning back allowed. Past a couple of colorful florists, I soon find myself on the sidewalk, caught between the same crowd a good share of which crosses the street on the red light and a road where unwritten traffic rules seem to prevail, with flashes, horns and the odd curse being sine qua non elements of communication. I could have gone straight to work and I could have left home at least an hour later. Yet I could not give up making a detour through the city centre, to see what classical music concert is on this week in the elegant, domed hall of the Athenaeum. And to have a cup of tea at Bernschutz’s colourful Grădina Icoanei venue hosted in a period house; one of the many picturesque period houses of the extensive, peaceful district stretching East of the main, busy drag. Then, passing through the Piața Romană, there is no chance in hell I would have missed getting some steamy walnut cookies from the pastry shop opposite Yeshua Tova Synagogue. For, without hiding itself behind cardboard politeness, this city has its not at all advertised places that could not make it for stronger a contrast from the apparently chaotic world along its streets.
Other than the districts raised during the second half of the 20th century, there is hardly a street in this city where all houses are set in the same style. Instead, it is here that Art Deco designs stand next to Neoclassical buildings, Byzantine churches and Oriental caravanserais, not to mention Brâncoveanu’s take on the blend between Eastern shapes and the Western baroque glitz. That the wide, tree-lined avenues gravitating around the local Triumph Arch, respectively the extensive Herăstrău Park with its open air Village Museum contrast with the leafy gardens and small picturesque parks in the city centre. Objectivity has it a good share of the city was demolished to be replaced with grey, plain ugly (at best) or straight kitschy (at worst) apartment and administrative buildings during the last decade of Communist rule; and then yes, there is that House of the People, Fool’s Pyramid, Palace of the Parliament or you name it what you may. Common sense cannot deny that, yet – for a city that was mutilated in such a way – Bucharest is not doing that badly and the very heterogeneous beat here makes it for one of the main features of the place.
One can curse the city and its inhabitants, turn his back and get on the first train heading North, one can spend long hours in the buzzing Old Town, get fat on oily pastry and the very best vegetable in the world, a.k.a. pork, one can get blisters while walking between Macovei, Melik, Storck and Minovici houses talking of captivating, so different faces of this city. One can fall in for the enormous, blueberry jam and sour cream topped papanași at the Capșa, the fish borscht at the Nicorești, one can despise the very idea of a tripe soup or, well, of fried brains. One can love cute pets and hate those omnipresent stray dogs. One can stop and stare at that man passing down the street and shouting out ‘Sweeps! Sweeps! Selling sweeps!’ or at the mid-aged woman riding her horse-pulled cart and going ‘Metal scraps! Collecting metal scraps!’. One can wonder what the hell they are going to top or fill those pretzels called ‘covrigi’ with the next time, as they already have them with salt, poppy, sesame, cheese, raisins, olives, walnuts, ham, honey and even chocolate. Whether they will ever pass and enforce a law to keep smokers out of restaurants and other public places. Whether he has seen all of Marcel Iancu designed houses around and all of those monasteries set on lakes around the city. But one can hardly ignore it all. Love or hate, it is. While embracing the former and not denying one’s right to do so with the latter, I appreciate the city for what it is: heterogeneous to the bone, not advertising its heritage and, not the least, kicking.
Because it hell does.
Back in the crowd, a pack of Rohini green, a bag of walnut cookies and that over one kilo camera in the backpack, I involuntarily listen to fellow passengers’ talking while on the subway train on to work. Laughter, complaints, last night’s account and curses, all merge in to tell one more than all newspapers in the world. Usually in a loud voice that is. Bucharestians never hide their emotions, defying whatever privacy and comme il faut common sense stand for. There is no pride they take in their town, their country, themselves or their future, while laughing and crying out loud is the de rigueur, bottom line, and living Lucian Blaga’s ‘fast moment’ as if it were a life’s climax is the main point. Ignore them and walk past? An option, of course, yet that would mean missing one of the city’s main features: the people here.
About the author:
Shortly after getting his degree in tourism, Alex started traveling across Eastern Europe. He then went farther on, Eastwards, riding trains, bicycles or overloaded trucks, as well as trekking through the Middle East, Central Asia, the Subcontinent he never gets tired of and, more recently, Central Africa. When at home, he spends his spare time hiking, cycling and camping in the Carpathians, respectively researching and exploring Bucharest. His passion towards these places can be read about in the guidebooks on Romania he worked for, or in his websites, bucharestian.com or notrails.info