Yes, as the title says this is part 2 of the series. Yes, there was a part 1, not that anyone remembers… I blame excessive alcohol consumption round these parts. No, reading part 1 is not required, the content is independent, being mostly a picture thing. Originally it was just one post, but it seemed a bit big, so I decided to split it. So let’s get to it.
Bucharest can be a city of contrasts, like every other large city to be fair. New and old, rich and poor, pretty and ugly – mostly ugly, all mingle. The jumble can be more pronounced than in other places as the development was a bit haphazard, although I am not one who likes uniformity and dreams of streets where all buildings are almost identical. I like a bit of mishmash, or eclectic as I like to say.
Bucharest is split in 6 sectors, some better than others. I live in Sector 1, aka the best sector. It has most of the older and nicer areas of the city, has by far the most parks and green spaces and fewest brutalist apartment buildings. Plus the most tax money per capita in the budget, which meant a lot was stolen as it was easy to make the sector look better than the others and still have plenty left over for the old Swiss bank account.
You can see a good part of the history of the city if you know where to look. But it is not always easy, it was so thoroughly changed during the glorious years of communism that not much remain. You do not get the same sense of age like in other old cities, like Rome or Paris. Of course, being from the 1500s it is overall a lot younger. Just not that young.
Back in the day, the day being 1900, some people called it Little Paris, and some locals still do. I mean… whatever you need to tell yourself to sleep at night I guess. This, of course, was not due necessarily to significant resemblance between the cities, although we have an Arc de Triumph and late 19th century architecture was French inspired. It had more to do with the local economically successful crowd being great fans of French culture. This started after the revolution of 1848, when a bunch went to Paris into exile, and continued, to the point that French was the default language in polite society. Romanian was for the hoi polloi. Romania considered itself a “francophone country”. While the local higher education was burgeoning, a lot of people still went abroad for education, Germany for technical stuff and France for the liberal arts. But most of the old Bucharest is gone or rundown and swallowed by the ugly new.
Many of the Paris educated gentry often came back after a few years having conveniently forgot the Romanian language. The satirists of the day called it going to Paris an ox and returning a cow. Some of the uneducated tried to emulate the French speakers, but ended up altering Romanian words to what they though sounded French – a phrase was coined for this in Romanian – furculision – based on the Romanian word for table fork – furculița, frenchiefied.
This was somewhat paralleled in post-communist Romania by people who left to work – often menial jobs – abroad and returned with similar language amnesia. As many early leavers went to Italy – it was easier for them there, as Romanians did not have work permits for EU countries, but Italians can be a bit… flexible in the application of the law and there was plenty of work to be found “under the table”, cash money no taxes. The language was easy to pick up for Romanians, who before that only spoke bad Romanian. So after a few years of back breaking work in old Italy, people came back with some cash – by local standards – and a degree of snobbishness which led to similar forgetfulness of Romanian words, to the point in which the Italian phrase “come si dice” entered Romanian vernacular as irony and/or sarcasm.
The turning the words French bit was transformed in turning words English, the new lingua franca if you will. The most famous example of this was a former president who tried to say in English that the Dacians were a branch of the Thracians. In order to pluralize the Romanian words for Dacian, dac and Thracian, trac he simply added an s to the end and said “the dacs come from the tracs”, which came out as “the ducks come from the trucks” and much hilarity ensued, mainly due to the fact that he was the worst thing that could happen to post-communist Romania and people had little else to do than laugh.
Bucharest was rapidly industrialized and populated with the worker necessary to build to socialist multi-laterally developed utopia during communism. The building took the form of hideous brutalist architecture, in endless apartment blocks, crowded, badly insulated, and overall quite unpleasant. There are boulevards where there is a wall of buildings without any gaps between, probably made to channel crowds in controllable fashion. These were the houses of the factory workers. The communist apparatchiks, of course, did not live there. They took over the villas of the previously wealthy or middle class. It is hard work building equality, they deserved a better living standard then the masses. Some animals more equal than others, you see.
The previous rich and middle class were unceremoniously kicked out of their homes, along with many of the poor. Because, besides the party bigwig homes, there needed to be space for the shitty apartment buildings. The proles needed abodes as well. And to do that you needed to tear down the old buildings. Quite indiscriminately.
The neighborhood I live in is what I like to call liminal, because it is on the border between two different areas and also I like using the word liminal. Liminal… It does not even matter if I am using it correctly, so don’t bother commenting. If you were to build a triangle around my building, on one side is the beginning of an old wealthy area. This was one of the wealthiest since before communism, where the well off lived in nice and quite large houses on leafy streets. A lot of these were preserved to this day.
On the second side of the triangle is a front of communist apartment blocks, rising like a huge wall. Since communism, they had some polystyrene insulation added and a usually bad paint job.
On the third there are the old style, not too fancy houses that the pre-communist lower middle class lived in. These are generally single story or at most a couple of levels. Some still have the look of rural Romanian houses. These were the ones that were to be torn down should the communist dream have continued.
Now I have the chance to see what modern society alters. The expensive old villas and the communist blocks will not change any time soon, although every piece of land in those neighborhoods is being built with deluxe apartments.
What is changing is the area of the old not-so-fancy houses that escaped communist building schemes. They are, one by one, bit by bit, torn down and rebuilt. I assume it would also be accurate to say funeral by funeral, as many inhabitants are elderly who do not want to sell the house, or tear it down to rebuild, as they lived their entire life in it. So, mostly after they die, the heirs do something about it. Sell or rebuild or whatever.
The result of the modern building spurt is, to be diplomatic about it, quite eclectic. A lot of houses and building were built in Bucharest in the last 10-15 years, for people who became wealthy enough to escape the communist apartments. The plots of land were generally small and everyone built whatever they felt like, so there is no coherent model. This is good and bad, depending on whether you like uniformity.
Haphazard building led to a great contrast. Old houses, some up kept some not, with a random new house or small apartment building, stuck in the tiny spaces. The future … it remains to be seen. Or not, depending on the breaks. Also for some reason there seem to be a lot of magnolias in this city… And on that note