• CONTACT US if you have any problems registering for the forums.

Romania Tempus Fugit - A Return to Bucharest, 48 years later...


100+ Posts
By Doru from Canada, Fall 2009. September 12-27, 2009; October 4-9, 2009. A return to our city of birth during the 2009 George Enescu Festival: roots, memories, friends, music.

Prologue: the why, the why now, the how...
Dedicated to my good friend and colleague V. who caused this trip to happen by the force of his insistence; to his wife, AP, who brightened our stay with her lively and sunny presence; to Mrs. A., who has embraced us and has shared with us the apartment in which she was born and in which her mother was born...

It is also dedicated to a childhood and youth whose background was erased.

In January 2009 I have decided: after 48 years, I will return as a visitor to my country of birth, Romania. For Josette it will be a return after 25 years. Alea iacta est- the die is cast!

It was the time of the year when we usually plan our autumn trips and the conjunction of the musical festival George Enescu, which takes place in Bucharest, (our native city) throughout September 2009, some nostalgia (well, more than some...), and timely, friendly but stubborn insistence from V., a friend and former university and professional colleague, conspired to push us to finally go ahead and commit after a similar effort of his, two years earlier, was trumped by the competition of a trip to Italy.

So the plan was to fly to Bucharest on September 11, stay there about two weeks, with day trips, till the end of the Enescu Festival and then to tour the country for a week or so.

It took me a long time to come to terms with when I left, why I left, how I left. It is a different country now, and I am much different too, alas...

But change happens, not all is bad, and we will face a different reality. It would be a mistake, I think, to wish to return to what was, as it was; this is a formula for disappointment.

There will be much to return to, and yet much we knew is gone. For example, we know that our neighbourhoods, Josette's and mine, have been erased. Demolished, to make room for a grandiose “Palace of the People”, from pictures another, the largest yet, iteration of Stalinist-era architecture.

I have to deal with old impressions of the place, with memories of profoundly unhappy faces, a life of colour grey. That is true for the whole period from 1946 to the 1989 uprising and, we’ve heard and read, for a good time thereafter. But, although the country may still have a long way to go, all reports point now to a much different atmosphere, colourful, very lively, in which young people claim their place with disdain for politicians and with happy ignorance of the difficult years their parents and grandparents went through.

Regarding the 1989 events, Romania’s bloody revolution, the only one among the East European countries which ended with heavy losses of life: we will be staying in an apartment right at the edge of the former Royal Palace Square area, near the Athenée Palace Hotel, where bullets from snipers were then very real and immediate.

Now I look forward to sitting in the Ateneul Român, the great old concert hall of Bucharest, and maybe, well, not maybe but for sure, to finding the seats Josette and I had as every Sunday morning subscription between 1954, a few months after we met, till July 1961 when we left.

Maybe visit the newspaper where I worked. The Radio Broadcast Centre where I worked later. The University. The high school, with the statue of the famous Matei Basarab Voivod (Slavic version of Dominus, Ruler) whose name it carries, and the memories of the many stupid things we used to do as young boys. The University field, where I played handball.

Meeting colleagues, though if they remained as dedicated to drinking as we all were those many years ago, this may make searching for them a bit trying. Childhood friends I am unlikely to find. Josette may do better in this field, because musicians live cleaner and longer lives and their brains are forever stimulated, while journalists of that era died young, on duty or of cirrhosis...

Walking the streets; remembering friends and girlfriends; tasting the local food in the restaurants we remember and that (if) are still standing up, or discovering new ones; visiting some of the beautiful gardens which must still freshen up the city; listening to the midnight concerts; taking a walk with Josette along the river (good part of it now covered, I hear) to retrace other walks, from so many years ago.

And that's just a quick, so pathetically superficial list. I didn't mention the mountains, and the sea, and the lakes and the rivers.

I am curious about hearing the language 24/7 after living in at least two other languages for 47-48 years. When I left I was 25, with university studies completed. I was a young journalist, broadcaster and aspiring writer, so I think the level at which I used the language then was quite high. (Note: In preparation for the trip Josette and I went through documents we were then able to sneak out with us, among them those attesting to our professional records, studies, etc. Strange feeling.)

Josette and I never stopped speaking Romanian among us: it is the language in which we knew each other, and I would die before I would call her "honey", baby", "sweetheart", "love", and other endearments in English, or in any other language. So English is our official language and Romanian our private one. Our sons know what they had picked up from us, and it's funny to hear them sometimes...

The reports I have on the language today allow for changes, modernisation of terminology but also for an extent of vulgarisation, that I don't think is unique to this country. I had been looking up lately the websites of the main newspapers there, and it felt (I am looking here for a really adequate description) like swimming in thick oil... It is daunting to go back after so much time, and this is why I kept delaying it.


Bucharest: The New Perspective (from the Parliament Palace)

Chasing for an apartment was more difficult than expected. I had found a very good selection of listings on a website called www.inapartment.ro and a similarly reasonably good list from another, www.in-bucharest.com. The prices were well, well below what we were used to when renting apartments in Western European large cities, and the amenities included, at least on paper, appeared equal or superior, i.e. what are definitely good apartments sleeping 2-3 (double bed and sofa in separate rooms, high speed Internet, DVD player, TV with international channels, cleaning, linen and towels changed twice weekly, initial comfort grocery supply, etc.) at between €60-70/night.

The problem I created for myself was that I had a prioritised list based on location, and I asked about them one by one instead of asking for the, say, highest three on my list from the beginning. The result was that I found drip by drip that those I was pursuing were already booked. No wonder, since they were all within walking proximity to the two most important venues for the concerts of the George Enescu Festival: Ateneul Român and the Palace Concert Hall (Sala Palatului).

To the rescue jumped my friend V. and, Deus ex machina!, overnight he arranged for an accommodation with two bedrooms, bath, kitchen and even included (which we don't require) breakfast and some meals preparation, with us paying for the groceries. And at even a lower cost than the Internet listings. But the main attraction in taking the apartment: from its windows one can see Ateneul Român, the concert hall I wrote about above. This means we will be able to go to many midnight concerts (start at 22:30) as we will be just next door.

We bought Air Canada/Lufthansa tickets through the travel affiliate of the Visa card we use and this saved us (all prices in Canadian dollars) circa $115/ticket from the lowest price available from Air Canada's direct website booking. We will also get a cash-back 5% after we return. Our Visa does not cover trip cancellation and interruption insurance for young people over 65 so we bought it, again through an affiliate, for a total of $185.

With all arrangements seemingly settled, it was then time to go over our initial Festival ticket purchase plans and add a few more night concerts. The tickets are really very inexpensive by Western European and North American standards, so we will be able to splurge.

When the festival will be over, the plans laid out by V. include a trip in the country with him and with his wife, AP, for a week or so, then returning for a few days to the apartment till the flight home, to Toronto, on October 9th.

In August my friend in Bucharest interrupted a long vacation in the countryside to come to the city and pick up the tickets for the Enescu Festival concerts. So we had the tickets covered. Then he rushed back to the hilly countryside North of Bucharest, where temperatures are more sufferable and the air cleaner.

Speaking of heat, it seems that this summer of 2009 Bucharest went through the hottest spell in its history, with temperatures hovering at and staying around 40 Celsius (104F) and forecast to go even higher, bringing terrible pollution and exodus to the countryside for those who can afford it. Summer is always pretty oppressive there and one of my childhood memories is how I used to leave imprints in the street’s asphalt when crossing from one sidewalk to the other.

The ironic thing is that, I read, Romanian authorities have asked for assistance in planning for these hot conditions from the... French authorities! If people remember, the French away on vacation forgot behind them a few years ago all their elderly with the known sad results. Chilling to think about it, I must say...

Well, we will be there in mid-September so being a bit warmer than usual may turn out to be an advantage.

I had debated with myself whether I really need to spend CAD200 to update my Garmin 670 with the latest Romania maps. I had to decide quickly because it would take time for the CD to arrive from a Romanian Garmin partner. On the other hand, we will spend most of the time in "our city" and we do not plan to rent a car since we will travel in the country together with our friends. One less device to take with us, with all related accessories? And if we rent a car, we can make sure we get one with GPS.

I wrote to my former high school and I received a beautiful invitation from the Director to come and visit the school, maybe go through the records of those four years I have studied there, names of professors, lists of colleagues. It will be pretty moving.

The University is too big to even consider a more personalised visit but we will go, both Josette and I, to our respective campuses, no doubt.

We started googling names of colleagues and persons we knew. Josette, with the connection to the arts, has found a lot more than me. I started collecting names, addresses, telephone numbers. None of my former colleagues became a famous writer, only one published a book as far as I know, and he and all the others must by now be retired journalists...

Next debate: two suitcases, as usual, or three? When we travel anywhere else we're kind of incognito; here it will be different. Should I cave in and take a blazer, just in case? (N.B.: In the end, I did not!). The rest of my travel "wardrobe" is always almost formal, from dress shirts (folded sleeves if it is too hot), dark Tilley dress pants or travel long pants, to the Mephisto shoes. Oh, yes, a couple of ties.

One morning we were scouring old photo albums and boxes with extra copies, the target being photos with all school and university colleagues and friends, and colleagues from work, good topic of conversation if we will meet them. These are old black and white photos, 3 1/2"x2 1/4" dated from circa 1950 to 1960 and my job was to carefully take them out of albums, scan them on my Kodak ESP-9, save them, and print them on 4x6 paper, whether from file or directly from the scanner. This took me a good part of a whole day, but it was done.

Then, we had a call from Bucharest, from the acquaintances whose apartment we will use (they have a second house in the small city of Breaza, a bit North of Bucharest, in a charming region of rolling hills where many people who can afford it, or inherited it, maintain a second residence. It is very handy during this canicular summer). Our prospective host called to say "Ce se mai aude?", (loose translation: “What's new?”) and escaped the same day back to the hills. "The streets are melting!", she said.

One day I was watching a DVD, “Primo Levi’s Journey”, which follows the steps of Primo Levi and other Italian inmates freed from Auschwitz, trying to get back to Italy, a trek of one thousand miles that took more than nine months from Auschwitz to Torino. These were refugees; Europe at the time was flooded with these moving masses of people, seemingly aimless, but all determined to return where their life journeys were brutally interrupted many years before.

One of the stages of this migration for Primo Levi and his comrades, who went first east and then turned south and west, was Basarabia (a.k.a. Bessarabia), and then Romania (Basarabia remained under Russian control and is now the major part of the Republic of Moldova). As they crossed into Basarabia, Levi is quoted: “And suddenly I hear a speech familiar in its music.” He was referring to the softer Romanian, spoken in Moldavia on both sides of the border.

Then a shock for me: as the filming crew arrives in Bucharest, an old man, seemingly a local Romanian-Italian, is interviewed and he speaks Italian, an Italian weighted with the burden of the Romanian accent, and with the subtitles on the screen appears a name: Modesto Ferrarini. This Modesto Ferrarini was a person I knew very well, sports reporter at the same newspaper where I worked. He was older than me by 8-10 years, but we were close enough to consider him a friend despite the difference in age. He was a charming man, not very tall but strong, and when I last saw him he was probably 35, heavier by a good 10-15 kg. than the Modesto that now appeared on the screen. He talked about his family (his grandparents came from Gaio in Friuli to work as mosaic layers; I never knew!) and then I just hit the "pause" button and looked for a long time at Modesto at maybe 80 years old (the documentary was filmed in 2005).

In 1989, after the Ceausescu regime was taken down, I wrote a letter to Modesto and to another former colleague; they were both working at the national sports newspaper then. I never received a reply. I don't know if the letter was ever received. I did not follow up. I must look for Modesto and for P.H. the day after I arrive. And it is so that Primo Levi had now become a part of my trip to Romania.

Packing; it seems that in the post-Enescu Festival car trip we will include the famous monasteries in the Northern Bucovina so we have more stuff to take with us to cover possible mud and cold conditions. We spoke again with the lady at whose apartment we will stay in Bucharest, and she said that there was snow in the Carpathian mountains (6000 ft. or so...). We will be safe from snow in September but if we end up getting to elevations of 1400-2000 m. (multiply by three, for feet) at night we will need sweaters and related accessories.
There are two of me; a strange sensation...

Saturday, September 12, 2009 It is a very strange sensation: I am here, walking the streets that I knew so well, and yet I don’t; looking at beautiful buildings and yet seeing on some of them neglect and desolation; passing by luxurious stores and the next door store window is covered from the inside with enormous sheets of paper and on the outside by graffiti; seeing the University Library, which suffered severe fire damage in 1989 (the Christmas time that all name here the “so called revolution”) and is now beautifully restored and yet, at street level there's a bank owned by the country’s richest tennis player; walking up the steps of Ateneul Român, with its classic exterior cleaned and refreshed, but around it cars are parked half way on sidewalks forcing pedestrians to put themselves in harm’s way; seeing the streets once placid and maybe intimidated and almost always deserted, being now full of cafés and restaurants; seeing within one block three supermarkets full with a wealth of products and produce where we had to line up for hours in the bitterness of winter for a bread, and I see more. And it has been only 24 hours.

There are two of me here: one walks the streets and handles the camera, the other watches what I do and tries to figure out what I see and how I fit it all in the old frames.

It’s good. Josette expressed this best today. We were walking by Strada Simu, where there was a tiny, beautiful Greek temple-style museum which, we are told, was torched and instead there is now a nondescript tall office building. Across from the museum was the School for Music and Ballet, where I met Josette 56 years ago, at a school dance. I went to court a young ballerina student and I found a young pianist. Josette said: “You know, it’s different from all other trips; I feel at home!”

We arrived yesterday, after very uneventful flights and connections (Bravo! To Air Canada for the service!). Our friend V. was waiting for us; I recognised right away the crown of rather artistically wild hair, once reddish, now white. I hugged him with all the warmth I was able to make him physically feel, and then we picked it up right where we left it almost 50 years ago. With him was his son, whom I have never met but Josette has seen when she was here about 25 years ago. C. was then four years old; he said he doesn’t remember, the tone carrying the same dry humour that runs in the family.

V. knew exactly how to take me from the airport into town, and so the first significant building he asked his son to drive by was “Casa Scânteii” (“The House of the Spark”, and the “Spark” was the equivalent of “Pravda” in Romania), where all media of then Bucharest, and Romania, except the Radio, used to be concentrated for better to be supervised and controlled. There, on the fourth floor of the left wing, I worked at the still existent newspaper România Liberă. Then we drove down the beautiful avenue Şoseaua Kiseleff, by the stadium Stadionul Tineretului (The Youth Stadium) where I deployed my pathetic and pretty short middle-distance running career; around the Arcul de Triumf (yes, a copy of the Paris Arc de Triomphe); by the lake Herăstrău and its huge park, and then down centre town towards our apartment.

What I totally forgot, in the grey fog of memory, is the incredible presence of green spaces in this city: large parks and many, the older, wide, leafy avenues.

We stopped in front of the building where we will stay, but not before pointing to the Ateneul Român, Bucharest’s charming old concert hall.

A few minutes later, from the windows of the apartment, I could see the main steps of the Ateneu, two kids shooting the ball right in front of the wide stairs.

V. left quickly: they had a concert at 5pm. We were taken over and immediately adopted by Doamna (Mrs.) A. and her husband, Domnul (Mr.) M.

Our routine on arrivals is to unpack. But in the house of Doamna A. things are not so simple: we must first eat. This would be the sixth meal in over 30 sleepless hours: breakfast and lunch at home, three airline meals (I never take beef on a flight but this time I did and, Oh!, Air Canada, the beef was excellent!) and now a table covered with all goodies “from home”: eggplant salad, a vegetarian “zakuska” (don’t ask; think ratatouille), an assortment of village produced cheeses, chicken cordon bleu, jambon de Paris, tiramisu, and a demi-sec local wine, of which I have actually half a dozen bottles in the wine fridge at home, courtesy of the Ontario monopoly of liquor and wine imports, but I don’t have the heart to say it.

And we have the pleasure of meeting Domnul (Mr.) M., who turns out not only to be a charming man (four days exactly older than me, I will discover) but also an amazing raconteur.

We meet, we eat, we drink, and finally start turning the chaos of three suitcases into a semblance of order. I worry most about my cameras, and everything seems to be in place. Domnul M. proposed during dinner to give me a tour of the facilities within the two or three blocks of buildings in the area, and so we go to discover: the homeless dogs of Bucharest!

There aren’t as many as there used to be before Brigitte Bardot initiated a campaign of neutering, but they still are, just about everywhere, a strange sight of homeless and yet, somehow domesticated street dogs. People are taking care of them in the same way in which cats are taken care of in Rome, but there is no Foundation here, just people who take with them wherever they go some food for the local dogs. Because the dogs, a parking attendant tells me, know where people will come, where they park, and then descend with bags of food and the dogs just wait there: they have a date! And so I find what is in the package Mr. M. carries. He stops at an imposing mid-19th century building and the dogs greet us from under the steps, tails wagging with enthusiasm, licking Mr. M.’s proffered back of the hand. From the building emerges a security guard, and the food passes on so that the guard will give it to the dogs and we will pick up the pots on the way back. As we go, there is a cat looking with some doubt at the food, but there is apparently enough: the guard tells us the cat will have its share.

On we go on human business, and I find where are the three supermarkets, which look much like the Coops in Italy, and the four banks with their ATMs, and the private stands with fruits and vegetables and the one with village cheeses where I notice but leave for another day that they have “urdă dulce de Sibiu”, and all I can say is that I don’t how to translate it but I didn’t have “urdă dulce de Sibiu” (a kind of ricotta) since I was a kid because it was not available: the farmers had to give all their quota of milk to the state and some bureaucrat used to decide what will be made from that milk in some centralized facility and where will the product be exported for hard cash to be deposited into the planned economy’s central bank (or in some private accounts elsewhere…). Now we have “urdă dulce de Sibiu” literally on the street. Well, this IS change!

And there are NO lines, no lines for anything now except at the cashier, to pay, or (as we will find out later) to buy tickets for concerts and theatres.

I also notice restaurants and cafés equipped with Italian espresso machines everywhere, and all lit “a giorno”, and this is in a country where people still lined up for food until late 1989-early 1990, and where, before 1989, people were not allowed to use more than one 40 watt bulb per room.

This is astonishing, but my friend V., when I later asked him the question, told me that only one day after the “so called revolution”, literally the next day, there was enough of everything; as soon as private enterprise took hold, suddenly there was just about everything to buy, including food “like in the good old times.” Money was another question; this took more time. And he told us, in answer to our question, that changing from dark to light happened just overnight: the electricity supply was always there but it was never channeled to homes and stores.


Ateneul Român, Bucharest's venerable concert hall

Mr. M and I do some light shopping and return, picking up on the way the food containers for another trip, to feed another day the wild-domestic dogs, a unique local compromise, all quiet doggies, all well behaved and still... street dogs. Tough to pass by them, but people care and take care. Still, for one that loves animals, and dogs in particular, it is a painful encounter, with no happy ending possible.

While we were out, Josette was practically done with the baggage and maybe exasperated with it, and this is a great time to take our first tour in the neighbourhood: the Royal Palace, now an art museum, that we used to visit from time to time; the edifices of the older regime: the Securitate, the Party’s central location and its wide terrace where The Dictator stood trying to give his last speech; the University Library, now renovated and set as a foundation in the name of the penultimate King of Romania, Carol II, but housing also an elegant branch of Uni Credit Ion Ţiriac Bank (Ţiriac was a good tennis player, who trained and managed Boris Becker, and became, I believe, the first post-communist multimillionaire of Romania); and, well, and then the Restaurant “Cina”, where we had our wedding dinner party over 51 years ago, now called Il Calcio (“soccer” in Italian), still there, and still showing off the beautiful, elegant garden.

We leave the best for last and take the time to go around the building of the concert hall Ateneul Român.

Back to the apartment, where we have a last chat with our hosts. Mr. M. will leave tomorrow morning to their second house in the sub-Carpathian Hills, then Mrs. A. says she will also leave after we’re settled (and very likely fed again and again).

We have to try to sleep. Tomorrow will be another day. That was Day 1.
A mixture of past and present, or where memory lane starts

Sunday, September 13, 2009 We are getting into a routine. We found most of the stuff that we thought we had left home. We found again that we took way too much clothing with a view to late September and early October. So far, the weather was incredible: 25-26 degrees Celsius each day, full sun, short sleeve days, long sleeve evenings and nights. Perfect. We were told that last winter hardly brought more than a dusting of snow. This is the place that the Crivăţ, a wild wind coming in from the plains of the Bărăgan, used to dump on meters of snow every winter. In early 1954 I definitely recall snow higher than street signs, and using cross-country skis to get to work at the other end of the city, meeting similarly on skis on Şoseaua Kiseleff, in the “nomenclature” neighbourhood, the then Prime Minister, Petru Groza, with his personal guard in front and behind him, on skis too. We said “Buna ziua” (Good day) like the polite people we were, and the PM stopped to ask me where I go and why. I told him I was on the way to write about the workers of the municipal transportation system, who were trying desperately to defrost the electric motors of the buses, trams and trolley buses that criss-cross the city in normal time. He said something like “good work”; and I didn’t get any medal for it, but the article made it to the coveted first page.

But I digress.

This is about September 2009, the 13th of this month more precisely.

We have breakfast with our hostess; Mr. M. is already off to Breaza. We ask and find out that during the revolution this building was under fire, particularly the upper floors, the third and the fifth. Mr. M. was on the street with the demonstrators but returned home before the shooting started. It is hard to imagine what went on here, but questions linger, doubts worm their way till this day, almost 20 years later. We are just trying to listen.

But this is Sunday, a day in which the infernal automotive traffic of Bucharest slows down, the streets are pretty empty, because “everybody” is out of town. My friend V. and his wife, AP, come to pick us up for another quick tour of the town by car, a gift from them to us, where we will get to see many of the places we knew and we will get to imagine some that have disappeared. We will not get off the car because V. wants to be practical in using the time: at five they go to a concert at the Enescu Festival. So off we go at above legal speed (normal in Bucharest, this driving above legal speed...), to take a look at the famous “Casa Poporului” (“The House of the People”), which was built in the last years of the old regime and was not completely finished. It was described as a monstrosity, it is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon, but whoever was used to the Stalinist architecture, and has seen it in Moscow, Leningrad, Warsaw, etc., is already conditioned to the pomposity and features exaggeration of the style. Still, even a critical eye, like mine and Josette’s, might say: “Hey, it isn’t too bad for a monument.” Hard to see what use will be found for this enormity, but around it were built wide boulevards, with eight lanes of traffic separated in two by rows of water fountains (all actually functional, to our surprise!), and the sides of these boulevards are lined in turn with high rise buildings after high rise which, we are told, were actually built at a pretty high level of quality and with good materials. A new city.


Here was where we've met...

On we go, by my University, on to the Opera, around and around and we arrive at a mall. It is a nice and modern building, with beautiful stores, good espresso found in a café, but I am not allowed to take pictures by a security guard who addresses me in English; obviously, only a tourist would take pictures here (or an industrial spy? A reminder of the paranoia of old times, or just some over-zealous administration?)

The point for me is that this mall was built over what used to be Strada Vitan and Piaţa Vitan, street and open air market that played a huge role in my childhood. And V. well knew. Here is where I used to come early in the morning, before going to school, to ask the peasants who brought produce to the market and were arranging their stalls, to give me some greens for my pet rabbit. And here rest some of the coldest days and nights in my memory because here, in this very spot, was during the war years (WWII) a centre for distribution of petrol to the population. My father was gone for five years in a labour camp, taken there straight from the army, and my Mom and I lined up every week, sometimes more often, rain or shine or freeze to the heart inside, to get our ration of petrol. I started at age five with a “bidon” of five litres, and by the end of the war I was nine and could carry 20 litres. My Mom carried her share. As I write this, I remember the cutting wind, the freezing cold, and the darkness, and my mother trying to warm my hands, and the overpowering smell of petrol and gasoline, and I want to cry.

We went then by the Post Office Vitan, where we used to use the public phones (no private phones for the ordinary people till the late 60s, I believe), and nothing is left of our little streets. It’s tough to imagine that you were born and grew up in a fantasy, but at least I still remember with my mind’s eye the streets, and the stores, and the “Troiţa” church whose priest knew Hebrew because he had studied in Jerusalem and who allowed us to play in the backyard and sneak an apple from the trees, and the ”maidan” (Turkish, for "open field") where we played soccer (“fotbal”) with balls made from stuffed old socks, and the restaurant where I would go with my mother, with bread from home, and get two “mititei”, a traditional Romanian delight made of ground meet and spices, sausage-shaped and barbequed (“grătar”) as you wait. We go by the place where the old stadium was, the home field of the Jewish soccer team Maccabi, which later took the name of the next door Trade School “Ciocanul” (“The Hammer”) and by the Trade School itself, and I recognize the dépôt of street cars (Depoul”) and this is just one street away from where we lived for a while (we were always renters). But we can’t stop and look for the street; maybe another time.

The truth and nothing but the truth: I had here a happy childhood, and adolescence, and youth: we didn’t know better, we didn’t know another possible way of life, and there is no bitterness now; just some sadness and envy for those who can still find their places. There will be no need or case for closure, because this is a different reality.

On we go by the big soccer stadium of my youth, where the big soccer games were played, and then we turn back towards the totally preserved and still the most beautiful part of this city: the big boulevards, framed by huge, leafy old trees; the lake and the parks and the little streets with wonderful houses, late 19th and early 20th century houses, built for the rich of the time; and then the place where the nomenclature lived, and V. can point to us each house and tell us who used to live in it, or does now.

We end on one of the most beautiful of these boulevards, Şoseaua Aviatorilor, and stop to take in the open air antiques market, a riot of colours and of the dizzying variety of things one finds in these markets everywhere. I stop at one of the kiosks, where 20” high busts of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, are on display. I ask how much they cost. The answer amounts to about $1,200. Each! Then the person at the stall laughs and says: “No, they are not for sale really. I keep them here because they attract buyers, and those may buy something else.” (Laughs:...) “No, they are not for sale…!” We spend some time here, and we are taken back home, then V. and AP return to theirs to change for their concert.

We rest for a short time, have a light dinner, and walk to our concert at the Palace Hall, a large and still beautiful concert hall despite its carpets and seats looking quite tired, where the orchestra Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, conducted by Roberto Abbado, plays Enescu and Mahler. We have excellent seats bought for us by V., and from my seat in the box I can see the two where Josette and I sat in the late 50s when I managed to get tickets to one of the most sensational shows of those times, the amazing singer Ima Sumak, who could sing at an unbelievable voice range, and the Peruvian Folk Ensemble. I am told it was an extraordinary event, but I wouldn’t remember because on that evening I had the most terrible toothache one can imagine, and all I saw throughout the show was a white veil of pain, each of Ima Sumak’s trills a drill. The tooth went next day; the dentists of that time worried about the present, not the future.

To return to our apartment, we cross the lively Calea Victoriei, one of the longest and most diverse streets of Bucharest. The car traffic is non-stop, people are out by the thousands, somewhere to our right the Enescu al fresco stage hosts an orchestra whose sounds we can make out over the din of people and cars. My parents may have seen Bucharest as lively in their youth. Not me. This is now a city whose heart pulses strongly; in our time it suffered of congestive heart failure...
Last edited:
Along the big avenues

Monday, September 14, 2009 Per pedes apostolorum, walking (like the Apostles), the best way to see any city, but here we have catch-up to do. Camera in hand, we need no maps, just the two of us, we spend the morning hours retracing familiar streets in the centre town. The former Royal Palace on the right as we walk towards the river Dâmboviţa, doesn’t seem affected by years. It still shows well its wide open façades but nothing imposing, a classical, honest palace, as it was befitting a Balkan King with good, Hohenzollern pedigree.

On the left, the former University Library, founded at the end of the 19th century, reconstructed after severe fire damage during the 1989 bloody revolution, reborn now as the “Foundation King Carol I.” Romania has a great appetite for its relatively short regal tradition, which was totally suppressed between 1947 and 1989. There is no serious intent to reinstate the monarchy; the King lives quietly, part-time in Switzerland and part-time in Romania. When he visits, he is received with great affection. Many of the former regal domains and properties were returned to his family. He was the last of the Eastern European Kings to be shoved aside by the Soviet domination.

At the other corner of Calea Victoriei is what used to be the famous building of the Central Committee of the Communist party, where Ceauşescu tried to give his fateful speech in December 1989, only to be booed away by tens of thousands of people. There are many stories and speculations about what happened on that terrace from which he was whisked away by helicopter only to meet his fate about 70 km. north of Bucharest a few days later. It was all on TV. ‘Nough said.

Not far, a smaller building, which was burned down during the revolution; the popular rumour says that the archives of the Securitate were kept there. Anyone we would talk to would have a theory about what was really there. ‘Nough said here too.

We go by what used to be Bucharest’s tallest building, Palatul Telefoanelor (no translation necessary here). Josette remembers the clockmaker whose store was at the lower level; I do remember him too and also remember that this was the way I used to walk to the Radio Broadcasting Corporation in the late 50s.

On the other side of the street is the Children’s Theatre “Ţăndărică”; “Ţăndărică” is the Romanian version of Pinocchio. Across the street is the great Musical Revue Theatre, Bucharest’s equivalent of Broadway, now in renovation. A few meters further is the Street Sărindar where, before World War II and a few years after, all major newspapers were having their offices and printing presses. My father worked here in the late 30s and then again in the late 40s and early 50s, after surviving five years of labour camp. Here I have also started in 1951 my journalistic apprenticeship and development, still a gawky youngster awed by the great names around me.

By the Casa Armatei (the edifice of the military regardless of regime, but way before my time it was the first grand café and ballroom of the modernizing city), and on the other side of the street is the literary café Capsa, a big tradition in the city, and still there, and enriched with a hotel right above.

Slowly we come across the Prefectura, the one-time feared Police Central, where one’s life and chance for a passport hung in balance at the whim of whoever had to deal with your file.

But right across used to be the jeweler who made our wedding rings. There is nothing there but empty, dark windows; maybe someday somebody will buy the place and renovate it.

Again across Magazinul Victoria, called before communism Galeries Lafayette, the first grand department store of Bucharest.

On to Strada Lipscani, where used to be the Music Conservatory. To how many student concerts I have listened there with Josette, all ages of students, all instruments, all composers? We step in. I ask permission from a guard to photograph the cupola of the gorgeous Art Deco atrium and I am told that it is not permitted (there is a bank now there; maybe it makes sense...) but I should come back when the Administrator is present and most likely I will be allowed. But not now; the Administrator has left the building...

On Lipscani my mother and two of her sisters were sales clerks in their youth. And an uncle worked as a technician in the Philips store. And we find the place where used to be Librairie Hachette, famous for being the first store after the war where one could obtain rarely available, precious, rough, brown packages of sheets of toilet paper. Rough, brown, but it was superior to quartered sheets of inky newspaper.

There are public works all over the street, so we need to take a shortcut, give up on checking whether my barber is still there (this was a store with 20 barber chairs till late into the 50s; a gentleman got a shave every day at the hands of his barber!).

We take the new Passage under the crazy traffic of Piata Universităţii. At the other end there used to be a clock and this was the best place to meet your girl: “La ceasul de la Universitate" (“At the clock near the University.”) If you were not there on time, you might have lost your girl to another, more punctual suitor...


The National Theatre (right) and The Intercontinental Hotel (left), at Piata Universitatii

We stop for a coffee and walk slowly back along the grand Boulevards Bălcescu and Magheru, by the big movie theatres of the times, and back to our apartment.

After dinner, on to the concert: a great Romanian conductor, Cristian Mandeal. We have heard about him but nothing with him. An exceptional evening, conducting Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, crowned with “So Sprach Zaratustra” by Richard Strauss. Day 3.
Slowing down in a frenetic city

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 Today we severed the invisible cord: Josette went to meet a former Conservatory colleague for lunch and reminiscing at the nearby restaurant “La Mama” and I am free to roam. I propose to go through four bookstores in the segment of Boulevardul Magheru to Piaţa Romană, the target being books which would cover personal and historical interpretations of the events between 1941 to date. I was too little to fully understand the early 40s, and the take on the entire period while I was a student needs, I am sure, major revisions, since so much new material has come to light in the last 20 years.

Boulevardul Magheru is a six-lane major thoroughfare and the building stock along the boulevard doesn’t look very good. While Rome carries dilapidation with the dignity of an Imperial Matron, the peeling façades of some buildings here don’t have even the virtue of antiquity. It is mostly neglect, lack of funds, and 42 years of “collective” ownership and suffocation of private enterprise.

To the credit of the new government, I will see many buildings covered with fabric on which it is mentioned that this building or the other are being renovated and modernized at public cost. Of course, signed by the local municipal politician. It will take some time, but this city will get there, because one can see everywhere the buds of private enterprise, new energies. Not always successful, but these are big steps forward and reasons for much optimism. This is a very creative and hard working people, so results will show.

Back to my book search, I am disappointed: the stock is pretty thin, and I can find only a couple of titles that may be what I want, both memoirs. I will consult my friend V., who knows well this topic. Till retirement he was chief editor of a cultural weekly here, and he already gave me two books to look up, one about the last 14 days (December 17-31, 1947) of the reign of then young and still apparently loved King Mihai I, and another of memoirs of a journalist who seemed to have followed me, first at the same high school and also in the media, although we worked for different newspapers. I am sure I will find in this book many known names, above all similar experiences, at the practically same age. Should be bittersweet to read, if I only find the time, as I am every night writing my notes at Mrs. A.’s “calculator” (Romanian for computer and for calculator...) or “ordinator” until 1 or 2am. It is the only time I have, and I fall behind more and more. (Note: today I heard in the intermission of a concert the PC being referred to as ‘The Robot”!).

With only a couple of titles on my list and also having scouted for Josette the classical music CD stands, I am heading back to the apartment, not before looking to find the location of the first supermarket in the history of Bucharest, “Leonida.” The building is still there, but other stores have taken its place. I am happy to see everywhere cafés and restaurants full of people, tables outside (Romanians are great fans of eating, smoking and chatting outdoors) and notice again the green lines of trees and grass bordering the boulevard, pretty well taken care of, the street clean and being cleaned. Walking requires some concentration as potholes pop up here and there.


Flowers for sale, near Piaţa Universitatii

Music: This is special, since it is the first concert we will hear at Ateneul Român after 48 years. We are both pretty emotional about it. We remember so well the beautiful entrance hall, and we are happy to see restored the frescoes surrounding the higher part of the concert hall below the splendid cupola. These frescoes depict all around the hall moments from the history of the country and its people. The concert hall appears to be smaller than we remembered, the seats a bit more cramped: we were much, much thinner in our early 20s than we are now.

We turn towards the second category loge seats where we used to have our season subscription, Sunday mornings at 11, practically till we left in 1961. V. and AP sit right now in a loge adjacent to “ours.” Coincidences. We wave and arrange how to meet in the intermission. We also notice that our host, Mrs. A., sits just behind them; she wasn’t sure whether she will get a ticket till the last moment.

Murray Perahia conducts Saint Martin in the Fields and plays piano concerts by Bach and Mozart. It’s beautiful. The public applauds enthusiastically.

In the evening, we go to the outdoor stage erected in the space between Ateneul Român and Biblioteca Universităţii, where the Philharmonic Orchestra of the city of Piteşti plays an operetta and opera program. We sit at a garden table, on garden chairs, under the clear night skies of Bucharest’s sweet September, the best time of the year here. I nurse a beer, Josette has a bottle of water. We are very happy.

Day 4.
Duties of love and a walk in Parcul Carol

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 Big, long day today. Like all walks back in time, there is a story of times, changes and destiny behind this special day.

Today we meet L and N., a younger Romanian couple, whom Josette met in her last visit here, about 25 years ago. At the time she was visiting her aunt, her last immediate relative still living in Romania. L. and N. were her aunt’s neighbours, next apartment door and were extremely helpful to her, as she was handicapped by health issues. When Josette left, they promised her that they would take care of Josette’s aunt and indeed they fulfilled this promise beyond the call of any obligation other than through the generosity and goodness of their characters.

I have never met them before. After the initial telephone contact we arranged to meet today, and because it is an easy spot to locate we, chose the steps of Ateneul Român. And so it was: we met them at 10 o’clock, and there was a lot of emotion, attenuated somewhat by the pretty desperate situation with the parking in centre of Bucharest; we had to cut on hugs and kisses in order to get to the temporarily double parked Jetta. And so, the plans for the day were set in the moving car!

We started with a duty of love: we went to place some flowers and a few thoughts at the tombs of Josette’s aunt and of her uncle. They didn’t have children of their own and so they poured all their love in Josette, and later included me too in their affection. In fact, Josette’s aunt was instrumental in convincing Josette’s father to listen to that young guy that I was when I asked him for her hand. Serious! She also chose the moment, as the six of us were walking towards a garden movie theatre to see ”Le Rouge et Le Noir” with Gérard Philipe. She probably thought the long walk alongside Josette’s father may bring his guard down a bit and accept my plea. All went well, obviously and I hope that from where he is now he is happy of what went on with the two of us...

The drive to the Cimitirul Spaniol (The cemetery of the Sefard Jewish community of Bucharest), took us along streets and boulevards that I should have known but were not the streets and boulevards I had in my memory. Bucharest was tortured, taken apart and put again together and most of the results are remarkable, in the positive sense of the word.

After a short while we turned into streets I knew: “11 Iunie” was a street on which relatives of mine lived. Their daughter was a remote cousin. One day, while visiting them with my Mom, my cousin had there a friend of hers, a beautiful girl, and I immediately fell in love. She wore a whiff of perfume I was told it was ”Je reviens” and for many years it was my preferred perfume scent. I was lost in love forever, and I was all of eight or nine years old...

On, to the corner street where my uncle had his hairdressing salon. And immediately to the right from that very same corner was Strada Principatele Unite. The name celebrates the union of Walachia and Moldova, and the date of that union coincides with my birthday, thankfully mine being about 60 years later, so the street have many meanings for me, not the least being that Josette’s school was moved on that same street after we have already met and so I was pretty frequently in that neighbourhood, as one would easily imagine.

At the cemetery, L. and N., who are Christian, knew all that was needed and the locations, and took us first to Josette aunt’s place, then to her uncle’s. The cemetery suffers of neglect but the headstones were washed with water thoughtfully brought by L. and N., our hosts for the day, and we said a silent prayer and took some moments to remember them both.

The cemetery had quite a few dog residents, of the semi-domesticated variety, very harmless, following our every step as if missing that human contact. They are left on their own, although it seems they are fed by people everywhere in the city.

On the way out, looking at the names carved on tombstones, I stopped suddenly and took a step back, surprised to find the tomb of my absolutely ever best teacher, a man whose image I have carried with me since high school, where he taught us history: antiquity, medieval, modern and contemporary, one topic each full year, from Grade 8 to 11. He was an inspired teacher and my fondest memory of him is that of a lesson on medieval history when Prof. G. started with us the period of the Robber Barons. We had a huge, end to end blackboard. He started with the dynasties of the Robber Barons (“Roubritter”) at the top left corner of the board and worked his way, chalk dust flying all over his shiny bold head, criss-crossing here and there and everywhere to link all those families and baronies, dancing along the blackboard while talking to us till he finished, now I think totally exhausted but then I didn’t know any better, finishing as I said, at the bottom right corner. He turned to us triumphantly and then... the bell rang and we all scooted out of the classroom. I loved him, I never forgot him, and now I met him again, next to him resting his wife who was an very well known violinist. A few more familiar names: musicians, artists. They all passed away after we left, but we knew their names, we met some. There was also a monument in the memory of those who perished in the earthquake of March 4, 1977. It was the way the dice fell that one of the buildings that was completely destroyed then, The Carlton Building, housed many artists, poets and writers. Some of them, or their memorials, were here.


In Parcul Carol (Bucharest is a city of parks and green spaces)

From here we went to a much happier place, Parcul Carol (a park that regained its old name, after one of Romania’s Kings). We walked in the park, which again brought back memories since Josette and I were here quite often, walking hand in hand. It was told that in some of the dense bushes much more serious stuff went on as the evening fell, but we were good kids, just walked or came to shows at the Arena Romană, an amphitheatre with the capacity of a few thousand people. Today we stop in the park for a coffee and water, and to finally sit and chat. The park is beautiful, well maintained and clean. The only grinding note is the mausoleum of Gheorghe Gheorgiu-Dej, the first communist leader of Romania. We couldn’t ignore its presence, crowned by huge, elongated marble arches. If one is of a forgiving mood one can think of a similarity with the St. Louis, Missouri Gateway Arch; in a less forgiving mood the viewer may be reminded of the McDonald Arches...
The unwanted Palace

Still Wednesday, September 16, 2009 From Parcul Carol, as if to remain with the theme of the past, we went to the famous “Palatul Poporului” (“The Palace of the People”), the huge megalomaniac edifice that dominates Bucharest and that was built in Ceauşescu’s time over a good part of the city that I knew.

It is hard to have black and white opinions about this place. Yes, the architecture is Stalinist Extreme Overdone. Yes, a huge part of Bucharest’s past was erased without even attempting to retain some of it. Yes, Dealul Arsenalului (The Arsenal Hill), which was the tallest of Bucharest’s three hills at about 250 feet, was excavated to make room for 11 stories outside and about 6 below ground. But around it, huge straight boulevards were cut, with kilometres of living water fountains separating the 3 or 4 lanes in each direction, kilometres of high-rises were built, and with good materials and care, we are told. The goal of the self-anointed “Father of the People” was to have all and everyone under his immediate control. The end result is that he is gone and that this part of Bucharest is now vibrant, modernised, and pretty well built.

The problem is the price that was paid, the energies and wealth sucked out of a people to produce this strange but unique place.


Ceauşescu's Palace, now The Parliament Palace

“Palatul Parlamentului” (“The Palace of the Parliament”), formerly “Casa Poporului” (“The House of the People”), is a colossal edifice, practically blocking the horizon atop what used to be one of Bucharest’s modest hills. It dominates its surroundings as its intention was to be, and its frontage dominates a huge wide boulevard, Boulevardul Unirii (Unity Boulevard), straight as an arrow, 6 or 8 traffic lanes wide. It is an attempt very similar to Mussolini’s Via dela Conciliazione, just much longer and much wider, its middle island lined with water fountains. Going through my notes I see that it carries 12 floors above ground, not 11 as I initially wrote, and 8 underground, rather than 6.

It is said that one of the disappointments of the “Leader” was to discover that the terrace of the Palace was much too far to carry his voice to the masses that were expected to be assembled here to listen to his frequent public appearances and speeches. With regret, he had to give up this dream and return to the stage of his very last speech, at the building of the Central Committee, across from the old Royal Palace.

The building of the Palace is not done yet. Its completion proceeds at a much less demonic pace, and the Romanian humour mentions the completion time span of this construction in the same breath with La Sagrada Familia…

Mr. L. had arranged for us to visit the Palace with a tour guided in Romanian. There are also tours in English, French, and maybe other languages. We had the pleasure to meet the guide, a young man who was likely born very close to the end of the old regime; he could not be older than 25.

At the entrance we had to leave our passports, something I didn’t do with ease, but there was no choice: passports for tourists, identity cards for locals. Photography is permitted, at a small extra cost.

The Palace has over 330,000 sq. meters, which makes it the second largest administrative building in the world, following the Pentagon. Its volume is slightly bigger than that of the Pyramid of Cheops, and the comparison is not purely symbolic....

The young guide commented with bitterness on the enormous effort which mobilised and thus immobilised the resources of a people. The Leader wanted all materials used for this structure to be local, and the numbers are astounding: 1 million tonnes of marble, all Romanian marble, 900,000 cubic meters of wood, almost 3,000 candelabra using thousands of tonnes of crystal, more than 200,000 square meters of carpets, all weaved in the country. Halls the size of football fields, all fully carpeted. At least two public halls, one for concerts and the other for meetings. The place defies imagination, and logic, and sense. It is not even an easy place to convert to other uses, although it now houses the Romanian Parliament, and there are congresses and exhibitions held here. For Canadians a matter of curiosity: the only material known to have been imported was oak wood from Canada, used for the giant carved doors that can be seen everywhere.

The guide also explained to us that the stairs of the Palace had to be all torn down and completely redone at a smaller scale since the Giant of the People was rather short in stature… Romanians have the natural talent of finding a bit of humour in the most difficult situations. (Note: After this visit, Josette and I have taken to classify all the stairs we have to manage and climb up or down into “Ceauşescu stairs” , the low and easy ones, and “Non-Ceauşescu stairs” for higher ones …)

Beneath this Palace and around it an entire sector of Bucharest was demolished to make room for it. Here there was an older part of the city, cartierul (neighbourhood) Uranus, all small houses, low-rise buildings. This is the source of the vagabond dogs of Bucharest: people were literally forced to leave their small houses with gardens and backyards, and were forcibly moved overnight into crammed high-rises, built without much consideration for the needs of their residents, in new suburbs which popped up everywhere in the suburbs for the purpose of receiving these masses of displaced people. They had to leave their cats and dogs, and other animals behind, since there was no room, nor permission to bring them into the allocated apartments. So the house pets and guard dogs had to be left behind, without care, without supervision and they were too many to be taken care off in an organized manner. Over the years, many efforts were made, sporadically, to deal with the problem through neutering and spaying and, for a while, in much more forceful ways. There is now a sort of armistice between the dogs of Bucharest and its residents. But wherever one sees these errant dogs, one can not help but notice that the dogs still seek the proximity, and maybe the affection of humans, even those dogs born in the wild, without anything but their atavistic instincts.

The visit went on for 45 minutes, very interesting, very imposing in dimensions and context, but one can already see that this building is too much, too big, to be maintainable over time. The marble will last, no doubt, but there is already discreet decay everywhere, most visible with the carpets, but also with some huge windows that wait repair, cupolas and candelabra waiting for cleaning.

What impressed me most was the passion of the young guide, the heir of this thing that nobody wanted, nobody needed, and his bitterness at this waste of resources and labour that could have been better used to benefit the entire country. Time will pass. Passions will level off. Maybe the Palace will find some existential use, the old narrow streets will be forgotten and the new boulevards may still be admired sometime ahead.

I felt as if I have passed another bridge and I could understand the young guide, who has to deal with this issue two generations after mine.

After the visit we drove to the apartment of L. and N., where we were treated to another of those generous Romanian dinners “ca la mama acasă” (“like in Mother’s home”).

We spent a few more hours together with the friendly couple, who were preserving for us a folder full with photos and documents left from Josette’s aunt, some of them new for us.

Mr. L. drove us back to our apartment, which is more like a bed and breakfast since Mrs. A., who is about ten years younger than us, has adopted us and treats us like her children. Wonderful to be taken in and cared for with such love.

Music: Philarmonia Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazi, who was decorated, on the stage, by the Romanian State for his contributions to arts and culture. It was a very special moment, followed a Schumann piano concerto played by the Romanian pianist Dan Grigore, who used to be a few classes younger than Josette at the Conservatory; he was then a boy in short pants, and is now a giant of a, well, middle aged man… Then one of my favourite composers, Shostakovich, and the huge “Stalingrad” symphony.

It was tough to go to sleep after this symphony, so I went to Mrs. A.'s PC, keyed away for an hour or so, and thus closed Day 5.
Lake Snagov, Pipera, and Lebanese food

Thursday, September 17, 2009 Our hosts for the day are again L. and N. The plan is to leave the capital and drive out to a resort area around the Lake Snagov.

In our time there were few people who owned private cars, and there wasn’t much regular public transportation to this beautiful region. By default, this was a region for privileged few: rich landowners and industrialists before WWII, the Communist Party nomenclature after the war. As it were, Josette came here 25 years ago, with the very same L. and N, when the access to the lake was blocked by armed military guards prohibiting any approach, by road or water, to the villas of the fathers of the proletariat. L. and N. were here again about 15 years ago, and again met barriers interdicting public access just about everywhere. I was here first and last over 50 years ago, to cover the European rowing championships that took place on this calm, beautiful lake.

So it was all new for the four of us. With one exception, where the road out of town is being improved by the addition of an underpass still under construction, driving out wasn’t too bad; it surely did not live up to the suspense we were prepared for.

And so we were soon moving at high speed on a very good highway, which took us past the International Airport “Henry Coandă” (Otopeni), where we had arrived five days ago, and soon we were in the former little village of Snagov, now a metropolis of villas hidden behind long, treed, gated entrance ways, the residences themselves all but invisible from the road. It seems the more things change, the more they remain the same: there is a new type of nomenclature that has claimed the villas of the old. This was facilitated by the fact that all property under the old regime was owned by the State and, theoretically, continues to be owned by the State, although many properties were reclaimed by their initial owners of two nationalisations ago. Complicate stuff, I tell you. So today, when they say, the Minister of Health loses his job, the new Minister of Health gets the villa. Simple.


Lake Snagov

We try to see if now access is permitted to the villa of the Ceauşescu family. Sure enough, military guard is still there, and very pleasantly and politely, shoes us away. Who is now here? We can’t tell you. Is there anyway we could drive past the barrier? We can’t tell you. Is there a part of the village of villas open to public traffic? We can’t tell you.

So we give up and drive to some clubs L. remembers in the region. We find the first one, with a well maintained public beach and a beautiful building for visitors, but all empty except for a gardener who is a bit more talkative than the military guard. Turns out that this is also a public property, that of the Administration of the Romanian Railways Workers’ Union, but it is open to the public. Apparently people come here only during weekends. Yes, we can visit to our hearts’ content.

As we move around and take photos we are followed everywhere by nine or 10 dogs of all sizes, ages and varieties, all very peacefully walking with us. They don’t bark, until what seems to be a dog from another territory tries an infiltration, and then the intruder, running away, the local dogs return to us and follow our every step. It is eerie.

[Câine maidanez: The time has come to explain the term “câine maidanez”. There is a Turkish word, “maidan”, which in translation means literally “open field.” It had taken hold in the Romanian language to mean “abandoned field”, neglected empty open space. The homeless dogs of Bucharest, and from other areas of the country, are now called “câine maidanez”, almost as if “câine maidanez” were an “official” breed. And so it happened that, during our trip in Northern Moldova, when we stopped overnight at a pension in the town of Tuşnad-Băi and Josette met a dog at the door of the pension, and Josette has never yet met a dog she didn’t love, she asked the pension’s caretaker what breed the dog is. The caretaker answered totally matter of fact: “Păi e un câine maidanez, Doamna!” (“Well, it is a câine maidanez, lady!”]

From here we drive to the club Snagov, a gorgeous property, recently renovated and used by locals, but also for conventions and conferences. No errant dogs here. The beauty of the vegetation, the sparkling cleanliness, the peace, the quiet waters of the lake, are all worth the drive. We speculate for a moment whether to stop here for lunch but then L. has another idea, and we leave.

L. wants to show us Pipera, a totally new neighbourhood, formerly sheep pastureland. One of the locals seized the opportunity after the 1989 revolution and bought huge tracts of land for practically nothing. Then, the land was parceled and sold; the individual became one of the first Romanian billionaires, became involved in politics, owns one of the most successful “fotbal” clubs of the country and is a member of the European Parliament! And this is private enterprise! No matter that a new, small city sprouted here without any infrastructure. Somehow we get into a wrong way turn and then we try to maneuver through a kilometre of huge potholes, L. visibly strained with worry for the suspension of his Jetta.

After seeing modern capitalism in action, we return to the city and have a delightful lunch at Piccolo Mondo, a restaurant which, despite its Italian name, is actually a Lebanese restaurant, and a very good one too. One of the attractions is that we eat in the garden, under the shade of trees and vines. Another is the huge pitas, a signature item of this restaurant, huge as in being bigger than one of our extra large 16” pizzas, freshly baked and topped with sesame and roasted cumin seeds, and served inflated (I think with a pump!) with hot air like a balloon. Amazing just to tear chunks of it, still warm from the oven. We accompany this with lamb chops (the men) and delicate chicken skewers (the ladies), bracingly fresh green salads, and I have a bottle of the renowned Romanian beer Ursus. Turkish coffees to all. Excellent restaurant.

Our hosts will leave the city for a few days to visit friends so we are safely returned to our apartment, where we spend some time giving Mrs. A. the full report of the day. We also find out that she managed to get the cell phone number of a former colleague of Josette’s, a violinist who is now a known conductor, whom we had missed when he was in Toronto, and who in his youth was a riot of a guy. We are quite sure he did not change! We brought with us some photos from our wedding, when the now Maestro towered with a full head of hair over the group of friends and colleagues in the photograph. We have also seen him on You Tube, with substantially less hair and with more roundness, playing with his son, himself now a successful violin soloist. It gets to be really fun, because I also manage to find a colleague of mine from university, and I also have photos for him, from his own wedding, where we were invited. Oh, my!

Music: At Sala Palatului, Helène Grimaud plays a wonderful second piano concerto by Rachmaninov and then Yuri Temirkanov and the Sankt Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra treat us to a Russian like no other “Pathétique” by Tchaikovsky. What a treat!

This was Day 6.
About newspapers, Grădina (Garden) Cişmigiu and some stories

Friday, September 18, 2009 Today we are on our own. We take again via Calea Victoriei, along the same route described in Part IV of this report, but we turn to the right as soon we meet Casa Armatei, and enter Strada Constantin Mille, previously Strada Sărindar. Sărindar used to be the street where many of Bucharest’s newspapers were located both before, and also for some years, after WWII.

There are two strikingly different memories linking me to this street, one funny (at least for me), and the other pretty serious.

The funny one relates to the times when movie theatres lined Boulevardul Elisabeta, a major street that crosses here Calea Victoriei. At that time all movie theatres had lots of attendants; labour was cheap. Ushers and usherettes would lead everybody to their seats, flashlight at hand in case of late arrival. At the end of the main movie all doors would open on the opposite side of the theatres and, blinded by the sudden light, spectators needed to be directed. Thus was born the famous call “Ieşirea prin Sărindar!” (“Exit to the Sărindar Street!”) which became part of the Bucharest folklore, used in all cases in which lots of people had to exit at the same time through some narrow doors. I know that this may make no sense to many who read these lines, but those from the Bucharest of my time “get it” and crack up with laughter.

The serious memory is linked to the fact that my father started working on this street as an apprentice typographer in the late 1920s, and so did I, about 30 years later, as an apprentice journalist who collaborated on the weekly publication of a supplemental magazine for children. I was sent for, through my father, by a former teacher of mine from primary school who remembered that I “used to write well in Grade 3” and wanted to give me a shot at representing the side of the intended young audience of that supplement. For the next seven years I combined school, and later university, with work at this newspaper where I received lots of love, guidance and was indoctrinated with exigency in style, grammar, syntax and, above all, punctuation. The newspaper Romania Liberă, at the time the official daily of the Romanian government and municipalities, was considered more moderate than the newspapers controlled directly by the Communist Party.

The supplemental magazine for children did not last long, and my eyes were set on “the real newspaper.” After much supplications, I found myself in the sports department, a kid in short pants, surrounded by some of the most famous figures of Romania’s sport of the time: first and foremost the now passed away but then still the glorious Angelica Rozeanu, I believe nine times world champion at tennis table singles (and I have lost the count of her world titles in doubles, her European champion titles and the titles won in national team competitions); S.D., then the middle distance running champion of Romania, C.R., the fastest woman in the country, champion of track for short distances of 100 and 200 meters, etc. All these people were legends in their time and there I was, asked to pick up some information from the wire service and prepare a short note for the Sunday edition on the "fotbal" (aka soccer, calcio, football, fussbal, etc, etc.) games at Stadionul Unirea Tricolor!

Over time, I got to know them all quite well. I was received first with some amusement, I am sure, but it was never displayed; I was taken and treated seriously. Over time this became affection, support, mentoring. My evolution went from sports writing to writing on economy topics and finally, in the Walhalla of the journalism of the time, the literary reportage, wide epic topics which covered usually a number of the inner pages of the newspaper and required frequent and pretty extensive travel around the country.

At some time, I believe in 1956, despite the fact that the building of Casa Scânteii (named after the Romanian equivalent of Pravda) was not even finished, all newspapers were ordered to move to the new location, a controlled media factory, another example of “glorious” edifices of the time, and Strada Sărindar, now named Constantin Mille in the memory of a pre-war journalist who was editor-in-chief of the newspaper where my father worked, was left almost deserted. After the media exodus, the street died. Now, as we pass the side of Casa Armatei, all buildings are literally ruined. The façade of the building in which I worked is presently covered with sheets of canvas but I couldn’t guess whether it is because it falls apart or because some renovation of the building is going on. The smaller building across the street, where the economics department was located for a while, is still being used and the sign indicates that the building remained “in the profession” since it now hosts a publishing house. At the end of Constantin Mille we meet Strada Ion Brezoianu, where was then located another newspaper, “Informaţia Bucureştiului”, where I wrote as an extern sometimes. I spoke last with its editor-in-chief only a few days before leaving Toronto; he is now living in New Jersey.

Thus the wheel of the world turns...

We turn as well, towards Bulevardul Elisabeta, the street of movie theatres, ministries and of the famous Patiseria “Spicul” (“spic” means “wheat ear”) where the cheese patties used to be baked in wheels of 1 1/2 meters diameter. Triangular portions would be cut and presented from hand to hand on sheets of old newspaper; nobody worried about bacterial transmission at the time. Alas, “Spicul” is gone, some other eatery took its place, and I am too disappointed to even check it out.

Instead we enter Grădina Cişmigiu, one of the jewels of Bucharest, a gorgeous garden in the heart of town. With long, treed alleys, rows and rows of old style benches with iron work frames and the same sturdy wooden seats more than half a century old, a meandering lake on which young, romantic couples still row around the shore and under bridges where kisses are shyly stolen, swans floating peacefully, kids playing, alleys with romantic names like “Aleia Rozelor” (“Rose Alley”), “Aleia Indrăgostiţilor” (“Lovers’ Alley”)...

Here nothing has changed.

We know each alley. The flowers may be different, the trees older and the vines thicker, but it is the same Cişmigiu, whose name has an interesting etymology. Since the Principates of Wallachia and Moldova were for many years under the domination of the Ottoman Empire, many Turkish words have made their way into the Romanian language. In this case, Ceşme (pronounced “chesh-mé”) is a public fountain and a cişmigiu (or cişmegiu)” was the man who provided and controlled the water (In Turkish many trades carry the suffix “giu", pronounced like the Italian “giù”.)


View from Grădina Cişmigiu

One enters Cişmigiu and immediately everything slows down, voices change to murmurs, flowers replace cars and buses, benches are occupied by people reading, or opening their food brown bags, or keeping a watchful eye on the children running around. Even walking here downshifts to “au ralenti.”

In this garden, sometime in 1958, on my way to the building of Radio Bucharest, I met sitting lonely on a bench, shoulders tightly covered with a heavy brown jacket despite the sunny day, one of the tragic figures of the Romanian communist history: Ana Pauker, former member of the Central Committee of the Communist party, former Minister of External Affairs, probably at one time the second most powerful person in the country. She was purged from the party in 1952, at a time when similar purges took place in all communist countries at the instigation of the Soviet regime. She was imprisoned, then placed under house arrest, finally let free after Stalin’s death, never reinstated (or “rehabilitated” as the word was then). She died a few years later, in 1960, still a figure of a mysterious destiny, a controversial historical character.

On the day I saw her in Cişmigiu I didn’t know what to do: to just walk on turning my eyes away, to stop and talk to her? I chose to just nod, I said “Buna ziua, Tavarăşa Pauker!” (Good day, Comrade Pauker!”) She nodded back, and I went on to my business, never forgetting this figure symbolising the shortness of the road from the peaks of power to the anonymity of garden benches. But others had worse fates.

That was then. Today, Josette and I enjoy every moment of this walk, sit for a while in a café by the lake and have excellent espresso (the espresso has usurped the reign of the Turkish coffee here. If I want to have Turkish coffee I may have to find a way of making it myself...) and, after some reflective time, we go back towards our apartment, but not before passing by the building of the Academy of Music where Josette studied, a classical late 19th century mansion of sober lines.

Music: A second evening with the Sankt Petersburg Philharmonic. A beautiful Suite by George Enescu, followed by the Tchaikovsky violin concerto played by Nikolaj Znaider, a musician we have not heard before. Fragments from “Romeo and Juliet” suite by Prokofiev close an excellent concert.

We sit for the third time next to a person who seems to have the respect of many who come by to salute him, using the appellation “Father”, which here is used to address priests. This is a very imposing gentleman, who has an unusual habit: he always stays for the first part of any concert and leaves at the intermission. Josette always take his place and the entire row in this Loge 2 advances by one seat following her. We will find out that this gentleman was once the head of the Armenian Orthodox Church here. Years ago, it was decided to build a tall office building next to, and practically adjacent, to the Church. There were protests that this new building would tower over one of the great churches of the city, to no avail. There were protests when cracks started to appear in the foundation of the church because of the work next door, to no avail. As result of the protests, the Father was “liberated” of his position. Only a few months ago a fire broke in the “Blocul Milenium" (“The Millenium Business Centre”) which caused the roof of the church to also catch fire. Repairs are under way. The Father and his community were right to be concerned, but the “Business Center” towers and will continue to tower over the Church. Such is when “progress” meets, and clashes with, tradition.

These stories close Day 7.
An old friend visits, and more music...

Saturday, September 19, 2009 My friend and former colleague P.H. calls and asks if this would be a good day to meet. We had nothing planned and so we agree to meet at 11am in front of Ateneul Român which, due to the uncertainties of recognition after such of a long time, becomes a very convenient point for us to meet people. P.H. had asked if Josette will come too, and I said “Of course!” We didn’t think otherwise anyway.

P.H. was a dashing young man half a century ago. I brought with me photos from his wedding, to prove it. The elderly gentleman that rises from one of the benches, visibly still pretty fit, with a wide grin all over his face, doesn’t look like my P.H. except for a small physical detail which has remained unchanged. We look at each other, laugh, say to each other “Ce mai faci, măi, Relule, măi!; “Ce mai faci, măi, P., măi!”, popular greeting between friends who haven’t seen each other for some time, practically a more emotional, very personal version of “How do you do...” or “Come sta.” We hug, laugh again, look at each other with some disbelief, slap shoulders, agree that if we would have passed by on a street we wouldn’t have recognized each other for sure, but all is well, obviously neither of us is yet decrepit, so this is a relief...

We take P.H. to “La Mama”, which appears to have become our headquarters for meeting old friends. We sit for about four hours, over coffees, and then lunch and beer, and again coffees, and we talk non-stop. P.H. is one of those friends who also listens, so both our stories of the last 50 years are told and heard. Throughout, P.H. smokes non-stop, unusual thing for us, and remembering how I used to burn through three packs a day I just can’t believe it now.

In his time P.H. was a boxing commentator and writer of books on the boxing arts in the country, and obviously he has lots of stories from the field of sports. He sustains that a friend, M.F., whom I have thought passed away, is still alive. I tell P.H. that I have not been able to track M.F. and he promises to call some people and inquire. It is mid-afternoon by the time we’ve exhausted the stories. At the end, we commit to meeting again before we leave, we hug again and say our goodbyes. Outside falls a light rain, the first time we have no blue skies since we arrived.

Josette and I use the time before this evening’s concert to get a bit better organized: one of our favourite pastimes in the last few days was to ask each other where we have put that thing or the other.

Music: tonight we hear the most extraordinary concert so far: the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons, playing Weber, Haydn and Dvorak. The ovations go on for a long time, and the public is rewarded with three orchestral encores. Everybody is also very proud that the first violinist of this great orchestra ("concert maestru" here) is a Romanian.


Evening, on the steps of Sala Palatului

This is an exceptionally successful festival. Just today, for example, play here, at different venues, such great artists as the pianist Maria Joao Pires, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma with the Silk Road Ensemble, the Ballet Theatre of Monte Carlo, the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, of course the Concertgebouw, and Angela Gheorghiu sings at the outdoor venue of the Parliament Palace. And more. This is just one day!

For us, a walk in the neighbourhood ends Day 8.
Our past, zooming in, fading out...

Sunday, September 20, 2009 Our impressions of Bucharest were influenced so far by the deep emotions of meeting friends, by being driven to various locations and given explanations, all veiled with a layer of jet lag.

We feel we are now ready to meet some of the past on our own. It is a long walk, but with the added safety of a guidebook of the streets of Bucharest, which lists streets with both old and new names, we take the challenge and start walking towards Piaţa Universităţii. Our final target is farther away but, on the way, we have a few points of interest to stop by.

At one point we pass the former Anglican Church, now locked, and face a memorial dedicated to two young women who were shot there during the 1989 upheavals. Candles, fresh flowers, a large cross, mark the point which, 20 years later, is still lovingly cared for. People pass and cross themselves.

The next stop results in a terrible disappointment. In our time, one of the most elegant recital halls was the intimate Sala Dalles. V. warned us not to be surprised: the recital hall is not visible from the street anymore, its modernistic façade was torn down, and the hall was incorporated into a high rise building. Indeed, we can’t find the entrance till we ask, and then walk through a small used books store and into an entrance hall we don’t recognise. Lots of kids with their parents come and go. It becomes quickly clear that a children’s fair takes place here and we gently enter the former recital hall, now in a pretty bad state of disrepair, colours faded, seats needing replacement. And it is so small! Here, years ago, Josette played too, in a national competition. And many others of our generation. Sad, but life goes on, and kids are chirping all around us, and they are the future. Maybe one of them will return the hall to its former beauty.

We cross Piaţa Universităţii via the modern, functional underpass, stop for a moment at the front yard of the Museum of History, where an antiques market takes place, and walk towards Sfântul Gheorghe, the place named after the local church, one of the biggest in town; as we walk by, we can hear the Sunday morning service...

We find the street on which one of our friends lived, then the completely unrecognizable former major shopping street, Strada Lipscani, now a collection of buildings falling apart, with only a few timid signs of some sort of attempt to reconstruction. Since it is Sunday, there is no work being carried on.

From here we use another underpass (underpasses are necessary here because the main thoroughfares are very wide), and start pressing towards the older town, in the hope of recognising some of the streets, maybe even houses. And indeed, after some confusion because our entire orientation context is completely scrambled by the many demolitions and the presence of new buildings, we start to meet familiar names. One street takes us to one of the nice synagogues of the city, which was turned in the meantime into a museum of the Jewish community of Bucharest. We missed the closing by just a few minutes, but the place would have probably been closed to the public anyway because of the Jewish High Holidays. The museum carries the name of a former Chief Rabbi of Romania, a controversial figure in the eyes of some because he was close to the regime, praised by others for the protection he obtained for houses of cult and for the ever aging local Jewish population. The young version of Rabbi Moses Rosen also had the obvious distinction of being for two years my teacher of Religion and I, in turn, had the unusual distinction of being the frequent target of his rather unorthodox (pun unintended!) disciplinary methods. I was then 9-10 years old, and quite lively in class...

There were over 400,000 Jews in Romania before the war, 800,000 if one includes Basarabia and Bucovina, the latter now parts of the Republic of Moldova and of Ukraine. There are now circa 8,000 Jews in Romania, most in Bucharest, mostly old people. Some institutions still exist, and there is support for renovations of synagogues, and some were left standing when even churches were taken down. There is an active community: it even has a representative in the country’s Parliament, like all other religions and ethnic groups, an old tradition in this country.

We try to find another place of worship, the renowned Templul Coral (Choral Temple), the largest and the most beautiful of the city’s synagogues, but cannot locate it.

Slowly we move between demolished houses side by side with still standing ones. The decay is visible everywhere, and although our memories tend to embellish the sites of our childhood and imagine them bigger and more beautiful than they really were, I know inside that this was already in my time a region of much poverty and neglect and that sooner or later it had to be discarded, and built over because, with some exceptions, it was not really salvageable. So The Leader, in a way, facilitated advancement with the dictatorial powers of his disposal.

As a general observation, what was done to the city should work well in the long run. Much like the reorganization of Paris by Baron Haussmann, and by Julian II with the new St. Peter, cutting these huge boulevards, lining them with kilometres of reasonably liveable modern buildings, trees and green lanes, and adding the accompanying infrastructure, were necessary measures. So we can sigh nostalgic, but the city we see having sprouted from the demolitions is surely a much more liveable one than our city of times gone.

What was terrible was the human toll: people were forced to leave ancestral homes for temporary or permanent accommodations, uprooted, separated. There were suicides, and a huge human tragedy, all the unfathomable price of this change.

As we look at street signs and try to figure things out, Josette identifies the street where my high school was, and still is. Liceul Matei Basarab (Matei Basarab was a ruler of Walachia, among his achievements being the introduction of the printing press in the early part of the 17th century), now Colegiul National de Informatică “Matei Basarab” (high school with special curriculum for informatics sciences) is still a handsome building, but the statue of the Prince still in front is somehow much lower, and smaller, than I remembered. We walk up and down the front of the building, peek into the still very large playground, take photos, then I remember that across the street used to be a military recruitment centre which now seems to have been pacified into a private residence, further down I recognize the big and unused now building of a home for the aged that I used to pass by daily on the way to school, and more and more.


My old high school: Liceul Matei Basarab

We try to find the city hall where we were married and ask directions from a young policeman, who looks at us with some wonder as we inform him that we were married there over 50 years ago. He gives us directions, we get to the street but at one turn we find ourselves heading towards a wide boulevard which I recognise as Bulevardul Unirii, and indeed, to our right is “The Palace.” We feel we're done for the day, we stop a taxi and for the equivalent of less than three dollars we are driven back to the apartment by a very polite driver with whom we chat amiably.

Some things are still incredibly inexpensive here because of, or thanks to, subsidies. We stopped today to buy a bread and paid for it 1 leu, the equivalent of 30 cents. When the euro will replace the RON (the new leu was valued 1 for 10,000 old ones, and people still price things here in millions, like in Italy) they will have a terrible shock. I don’t know how they will cope, with the small pensions and the subsidised cost of just about everything, from food to utilities. It will be tough.

It will be also interesting to see how the new, democratically elected governments, will find the political will and the courage to complete this change in a more humane way.

On the way home, we stop next door for “mititei” and fries, baked and pickled red peppers, a beer for me, and coffees, at (where else?) “La Mama.” Josette informs me grinning that my accent has returned to its roots after only a few days spent here!

Music: A “midnight” concert at Ateneul Român, starting at 22:30 p.m.! The Wiener Kammerorchester conducted by Heinrich Schiff plays two Schubert symphonies, the 3rd and the 9th, “The Big One”! Outstanding! It is almost 1am as we walk out of the concert hall together with our friends, V. and AP, and our host, Mrs. A. Not too far, just across the street, we are home.

Day 9, edging into Day 10.
The last of the past, fading out, fading out...

"Memory is as powerful as it is inaccurate" - approximate quotation from Proust via my friend N.L.

Monday, September 21, 2009 Yesterday, at the concert, V. was not very happy hearing about our wandering around the old neighbourhood and finding only a few of the places we were looking for. So this morning he calls to tell us that he will come to pick us up, to try tracing back some of the places together.

But we first go to the ticket booth of Sala Palatului to buy tickets for two more concerts, for evenings in which we didn’t have anything specific planned. We find out that the Festival’s ticket office is not automated and that we must pay in cash. A bank with an ATM is across the street, so we get the requisite cash, easy, just like at home... With the added concerts we fill the two evenings, and then we pay a visit to the “Muzica” store, nearby on Calea Victoriei, specialised in anything related to music, and Josette enriches her collection of DVDs with four more DVDs, excellently priced, but not before I verify that they can be viewed on our DVD players, because North America and Europe use different DVD protocols. Josette’s choices indicate “0 Worldwide” on the back of packages, which makes them compatible with our players.

Back to the apartment, I call V. and he arrives 15 minutes later with his “city” car, which is the car that he doesn’t care if it gets dented.

Here a few words about the traffic in this very large city. The main arteries were freed from most public transport, the metro links all parts of the city, supplemented by buses, street cars and trolley buses everywhere except on the central arteries, which are dedicated to the car and one line of public transportation. Most of these central arteries are three to four lanes in each direction, many of them one-way, with pedestrian crossings from one side to the other very far spaced. The car is king on these boulevards and the traffic in these parts of the city moves with dizzying speed. Sidewalks are very narrow in many parts, further aggravated by the parking on sidewalks, so pedestrians are always conscious of opportunities for crossing. On the other hand, crossings not marked by stoplights are generally respected and pedestrians get the right of way. Sort of. It is best not to count on respect and to use caution. Where the entire system fails somewhat is on the old, narrow streets, which bottleneck the side traffic and which pedestrians navigate with peril between the idled cars.

So through this kind of traffic V. takes us back, “à la recherche du quartier perdu”, searching for the old neighbourhood.

First stop takes us to the Templul Coral (“The Choral Temple”), once the most beautiful and largest synagogue in town. No wonder we couldn’t find it yesterday: we passed by it at least twice, but didn’t pay it any attention because its presence is not marked in any way and the façade is presently covered with tarp while the Temple undergoes major renovations. It is here that a Bucharest urban legend tells about the rabbi who officiated a wedding, and at the end of the service, seeking to impart to the young couple some wisdom and advise, the holy man took the hands of bride and groom in his hands and addressed them thus: “It is important that you have respect and tolerance for each other. You, (bride’s name) should tolerate your husband, and you (groom’s name) should tolerate your wife, and may yours be a house of tolerance!” The only problem was that “house of tolerance” is discreet Romanian for “brothel”, just like the French “maison de tolerance.” Untold thousands will tell you that they have heard that sermon in person, myself among them!

And another personal note related to this place: after the war, returned from labour camp, and before the status of newspapers began to clarify itself, my father had a small typography shop right across from the Temple. I used to spend lots of time in the shop, dizzy with the scent of ink and the heavier smell of lead, and turning now towards where the shop was, nothing looks the same as I thought I remember. I start counting the doors at street level to try to figure out which of them opened to the typography, and I decide it’s all gone. The street is the same, the building is the same, but 63 years later I feel lost...

As my friend N.L., in the virtual realm of the Internet, Proust said (approximately...): “Memory is as powerful as it is inaccurate.”

Next stop is the city hall where we got married. Bucharest is divided in administrative units and each had, and still has, a city hall, where civil weddings took place. Our “religious” wedding was discretely performed in Josette parents' home because such ceremonies were severely frowned upon at the time. We don’t even have a classical bride and groom wedding photo; just Josette has photographs taken in bridal dress at the home of a well known photographer whose son was Josette’s student. All very hush-hush. So our "official" wedding photo is totally civilian, protocol unidentifiable.


Here we got married! (51 years ago...)

On the other hand, we had a wonderful civil ceremony, in a large hall full with flowers and people: family, friends, Conservatory and, respectively, University colleagues, Radio co-workers. At the end of the ceremony we all went outside and photographs were taken. These are the only photographs we were able to smuggle out (a no-no at the time), when we left, and these are the photographs I enlarged from their old small format and brought with us to show to friends and colleagues we will meet. Some are already given away; some of the faces we will never meet again...

In front of the city hall I ask V. to take some photographs with us on the same steps of long ago. There is a security guard at the entrance. We explain what we want to do and we are not only allowed, but even encouraged to go up the steps, while people entering or exiting the building are delayed in our honour and so, in a way, we renew vows...

From here we move on to Piaţa Vitan and its famous Central Post Office; the siren that used to urge us during the years of WWII to the relative safety of temporary shelters is still on the top of the building, now sharing the roof with satellite antennas and cell phone towers. Where I stand right now, was the pharmacy. A bit farther on the other (now non-existent) sidewalk, used to be the bakery, the movie theatre where I saw movies with Zorro and Tom X the son of Zorro, Laurel and Hardy, the French Pat et Patachon. And further down I imagine the restaurant where I used to get my weekly treat of “mititei la grătar” (let’s call them kebabs grilled on charcoal, for ease of reference.)

So if all this is gone, what has replaced it? The street, originally called Raion, then its name changed to Theodor Speranţa after the name of a writer and folklorist, is now lined with similarly looking 10 story apartment buildings on both sides, but a few of the old houses were somehow preserved. 50 years ago, on this very long street, one could count on the fingers of one hand the houses reaching two-stories.

Alas, No. 20 is not among the few left standing.

Our friend V. also makes a personal discovery: he finds the house of his grandparents, with whom, it turns out, we were almost neighbours back then. Small world, always!

V. and I imagine where the local soccer stadium used to be, and we discover the Trade School, and I think I find the building of my kindergarten. On the way to the kindergarten, one day, a German officer stopped my Mom and me. I was 5 years old and very, very blond, and my Mom had a typical darker Romanian complexion. The officer caressed my head and said to my Mom in German: "What a beautiful Arian child!" I imagine my Mom was happy to say "Danke schön!" and walk away, but somehow this memory is still alive in my mind, with unlimited glee! Arian child!

Satisfied with the day, the three of us decide to continue by car, and V. drives us along some of the most beautiful streets of the city, around Grădina Icoanei, Strada Polonă, Strada Dumbrava Roşie, Bulevardul Dacia. V. knows every corner, every house, points to where this or other of the artists and musicians or political figures lived, and where many still live. This is a region of embassies, huge private mansions, high security even today.

At the apartment Doamna A. prepared for us a surprise: she received from the country a huge chunk of homemade cheese and makes for us a “mămaligă”, the Romanian variant of polenta, with small homemade country sausages ("cârnaţi", known elsewhere as “karnatzeleh”". It is a real feast, lovely with the delicious semi-sweet Romanian white wine. It gets close to Heaven.

Music: A different kind of heaven will wait for us at today’s concert at Ateneul Român where the absolutely unequaled cellist Mischa Maiski takes us up there, as high as it gets, with Fauré’s Elégie, and the concerto by Saint-Saëns, and a bunch of encores. Did I already say “Heaven”?

Day 10 closes with a walk not far from where we stay, again areas we knew, but central. We talk about the last two days and we agree that we have reached some kind of closure with the past and have now a much better understanding of the present.

Overnight the outdoor stage where some of the Festival Enescu events took place was taken down. We are approaching the end of the Festival; only four days remain.
It is all about our history, and about history

An anachronism, a paradox:

I realise I forgot to mention an interesting story about one of our encounters the day before. This is the unusual story of the theatre called Teatrul Evreiesc de Stat (The Jewish State Theatre) of Bucharest. We made a stop there yesterday and, like with many other places since our arrival here, although we knew the building well, we couldn’t recognise it in its current, out of physical context presence. Years ago, it appeared as a smallish building, at a street corner, at the intersection of five similar streets, paved with cobblestones and populated by small, one or two-story houses.

Today, with everything around it demolished, the building stands on its own. It was spared the fate of its surrounding neighbourhood, and now presents itself as a rather substantial building.

This Theatre is possibly unique in the world, and it is both an anachronism and a paradox.

The Jewish Yiddish theatre in Romania has a long tradition, started in the late 1870s in Iaşi, the largest city in the region of Moldova (N.B: Not to be confused with the Republic of Moldova.). It was the first Jewish professional theatre in the world, with its own cast and financing.

In Bucharest, the present building, known as The Baraşeum (pronounced Barasheum), houses the theatre since the 1930s. Before the Second World War the city supported no less than four different Jewish theatre companies, of all styles: variety, musicals, and the dramatic pillar, The Baraşeum.

With the exception of a few months during the short reign of the fascist Iron Guard, the Baraşeum continued its existence uninterrupted, even after the German army practically took possession of the city, and of the country, and the theatre went on under communism as well.

With a Jewish community now almost extinct or on the way to old-age natural extinction, the Jewish theatre continues to function, with government subsidies and efforts of the modest community, and this commitment seems to be in place for the long term.

This would be the anachronism.

The paradox is that there are, with few exceptions such as the well known Maia Morgenstern, no more Jewish actors here. So ethnic Romanian actors find employment here and form the majority of the cast, and of the stage hands, and since all plays here, without exception, were and are presented in Yiddish, they learn the roles in Yiddish, by heart.

On the same note, the spectators (and the theatre is quite well attended) have no Yiddish knowledge whatsoever, and listen to the plays in Romanian translation, using headphones installed in the seats!

This is the paradox.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 Back to today. This announces itself as an interesting day because we will get together with a very well known Romanian conductor, Maestro I.-G.

I.-G. was a colleague of Josette’s at the Conservatory, a friend and one of the attendees to our civil wedding. So, of course, the then violin student I.-G., a tall, handsome guy, towers over everybody in our black and white wedding pictures. And we have a few copies of the photos for him, but what to expect? What happens over a period of 50 years to a violinist become conductor? How will he look, what will he say?

Remembering him, I know we will have a good time together, confirmed also by a few phone conversations between him and Josette when making arrangements for the meeting.

The Maestro will come all the way from his city of residency, Braşov, three hours away from Bucharest by car or train. Josette arranged to meet him right below our apartment, at the Ateneu Bistro (spelling intended), at noon.

The two of us descend to the Bistro and yes, it is him, still tall, but now somehow larger than life, both by girth and by disposition. Josette and he hug with much warmth and enthusiasm, and I embrace him too, and we sit down, and the concert/interview starts. It will go on for about two hours, a concert for a pianist and conductor, the leit-motives being “what happened to...”, “what do you know about...”, and it is also like a ping-pong match, as names of colleagues, and teachers, and musicians, and orchestras and cities, are tossed back and forth between the two. It is great fun for me: I have little to contribute but I watch, listen and am entertained. I know all the names, so I have a context to the verbal fireworks. Josette and I.-G. exchange gifts: she gives him copies of our wedding day photos, in which he appears at age 22, taller than everybody else; he presents Josette with two CDs and one DVD with his recordings, some in which he accompanies his own son who is now himself a violin soloist, and a book published at the 30 years jubilee of the chamber music festival which he founded in the city of Braşov and of which he is musical director. Now semi-retired, I.-G. is still full of life, energy and humour, jokes cascading, stories following one after the other, and it is easy to figure out why his public loves him so much.

Well, time passes too quickly and we separate with more hugs and kisses (here kisses are given on both cheeks) and a promise that, should we pass through Braşov when we return from our trip north, we will call him and get together again.

After an afternoon rest, we take a walk in the opposite direction of Calea Victoriei, towards Piaţa Victoriei, a major crossroads in town. We pass by the Church Sf. Vasile (N.B.: Sf. comes from the word Sfântul, which means Saint), by the beautiful and peaceful park Nicolae Iorga named after a prewar politician and academician murdered by the fascist Iron Guard, and by the Museum George Enescu.


Somewhere there, on the right, used to be my house...

We stop by the Museum and totally unplanned, unexpected, we have one of the most interesting hours since our arrival here. It all starts with me asking a security guard what are the days and hours when the museum is open, and if I may take some photographs of this beautiful and imposing building, the Palace Cantacuzino, built for a fabulously wealthy former Romanian Prime Minister. It was inherited by the widow of Cantacuzino’s son, and eventually the widow married George Enescu.

The court houses two structures: the palace and the house in which Enescu lived. At the time it also included a coach house, now separated from the two buildings by a stone fence.

The Palace itself has a rich history. Sometime before WWII it housed the Government Council of Romania. The Ministers’ meetings took place in Sala Mare (The Big Hall). But during the war the palace was requisitioned for the German Kommandatur and, as the wheel of history turned, it was later taken over by the Soviet military command in Romania. Ceauşescu wanted to turn it into his residence, but the palace was too small for him and the remodeling he required could not be supported structurally and so the palace was turned over to the Union of Composers of Romania, and eventually into the present use, as the Museum George Enescu.

We chatted quite a bit with the security guard who allowed me to take pictures and talked about our times past, him being much younger than us. At one point, to our surprise, he asked whether we would like to visit two halls which are usually not included in the visits of the palace. Almost without waiting for an answer he told us to follow, and he took us on to side stairs and from there to a door, which he opened. That turned out to be a side door to the huge conference hall where the Council of Ministers used to have its meetings before the war, and was subsequently the major meeting room for the various users of this palace heavy in history. The guard turned on the rich candelabra lights, pointed to the beautiful stained glass windows, and encouraged me to take pictures, then opened another door and took us to a small, round concert hall, all in marvelous pink marble, and to a stage. On the stage there was a Steinway piano and, since I had told him that Josette is a pianist, the guard insisted that Josette have a picture taken at the closed and covered piano, which was presumably used by George Enescu. Josette, who has a "history" with being invited to play the Steinways at the Steinway House in New York (this for another time...), acceded to the guard’s request and to mine, and had her picture taken with the (covered!) Enescu piano!

We then went back to the Conference Hall, where there was an upright Bechstein, and here Josette was allowed to open the piano and try it on.

We thanked the guard warmly, stayed a bit longer to talk about him and about some of his personal history, and ... discovered that we are almost late for tonight's concert.

Music: In the Palace Grand Hall Nelson Freire plays the second Brahms piano concerto with the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, conducted by Tugan Sokhiev. In the second part we are treated with a fantastic Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz, and three orchestral encores. The public stands on its feet applauding for a long time.

The highly emotional Day 11 is over.
Slowing down is good for us... And the music, what a joy!

Wednesday, September 23; Thursday, September 24, 2009 On Wednesday we took a very long walk from Piaţa Palatului to the river Dâmboviţa. The river has not changed; its waters are still brownish, its course lazy in the early autumn. From the Piaţa Natiunilor Unite (United Nations Plaza), one can look along Splaiul Independenţei (Independence Quai) both ways, and quite far away: at one end is the new Parliament Palace, at the other lies the direction in which we took, hand in hand, so many walks together in our youth. The river passes further down by the place where there used to be the house in which we lived after we got married. A traffic bypass tunnel was built over that segment of "our" Bulevardul Mărăşeşti. The proud two-story house was demolished in the process.

We feel that, after almost two weeks here, things are slowing down a bit for us and the respite is welcome. We are happy with having daily relatively inexpensive but tasty lunches of varying typical local food at "La Mama", almost next door; stopping at cafés for coffee and a cold beer (the coffee is excellent here, the espresso variety, since the Turkish coffee in "ibrik" seems to have almost disappeared); leisurely walks; the concerts in the evening.

The weather is absolutely glorious.

Josette had rediscovered the "covrigi", a local type of pretzels that are delicious when still hot from the oven but could devastate teeth if left to dry. If the covrigi get old, a bit of microwaving gives them back some limp life. Anyway, every morning Josette goes to get half a dozen of fresh ones for the two of us and for Mrs. A.

Mrs. A. continues to treat us like her children, although we are both older than her. Because she knows I like the local cold cuts, yesterday she placed on the table a chunk of headcheese, that we try together with the cabanos that I have bought, the latter known elsewhere as "kabanosa", thin sausages of varying degrees of spiciness, depending on the region. The Prague ham and the Jambon de Paris are also fresh and delicious here, and I had rediscovered a sweet sort of cheese called "urdă", made basically from whey (siero di latte, in Italian). It is delicious and I can have it any number of times a day, whether as meal or as dessert. Mrs. A. also received from the country a massive quantity of freshly picked apples from their house in Breaza, and now we roll in rather sourish apples.

Another pastime is visiting book stores, and trying to figure out changes that occurred here, both in writing and in publishing. Gone are the 50-tomes of Essential Works of the various Fathers of the People; the present variety in topics and publishing styles is astonishing. It is as if the world changed overnight from an oppressive, heavy, dirty gray to the lightness of rainbow colours. How many have paid with years of heavy forced labour, and prisons, for possessing or reading or talking about books such as these now freely available!


Elegance of shapes at The Ateneul Român

Music, Sept. 23: Orchestre Nationale du Capitole de Toulouse with conductor Tugan Zokhiev return with the excellent French violinist Renaud Capuçon in a concerto by Saint-Saëns, and then we hear a brilliant "Le Sacre du printemps" by Stravinsky, and the inevitable and welcome three more orchestral encores.

Music, Sept. 24: The fantastic Leton conductor Mariss Jansons returns too, this time with his other orchestra, Symphonieorchester des Bayerische Rundfunks, a mouthfull for the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Bavaria. The programme, including Beethoven's 7th symphony, Prelude and The Death of Isolde by Wagner and The Rosenkavalier Suite by Richard Strauss turns the public delirious. More orchestral encores.

Days 12 and 13 are crossed in the book.
A loon in Bucharest (It's not what you think!)

Friday, September 25, 2009 The Enescu Festival is coming to a close, and we start thinking about our upcoming trip, with V. and his wife, AP, in the northern part of the country.

We return to the Cişmigiu Garden, where we meet with L. and N. for coffee and ice cream, and to spend some more time together. The part of the garden towards the Strada Ştirbei Vodă features a small, charming lake, populated with swans, white and black (so both Odette and Odille are represented here), and a variety of species of ducks and geese, including our compatriots, the Canada geese. Suddenly, a trumpet-like sound breaks the peace and quiet, and it’s a loon!! It is by itself, parading up and down not far from the shore, its colours somewhat diffuse because of the play of light and shade, but it’s a loon for sure. Last I saw and heard one, it was on Farlain Lake, near Penetanguishene, Ontario, at my younger son’s cottage. This in itself makes the walk worthwhile!


The loon

We have lunch in the apartment, start preparing a sub-set of our luggage for the next week’s upcoming trip to the monasteries of Northern Bucovina and, after a short rest, go to close the Enescu Festival, with two concerts, both at Ateneul Român, one concert at 5pm and the other at 22:30pm. The first features the Romanian string quartet “Voces” and the Japanese pianist, Fumiko Shiraga, in quintets by Schumann and Brahms. In the hall we spy some of the greatest Romanian musicians, among them the conductor Cristian Mandeal and the venerable, but at 81 still terrific looking, pianist Valentin Gheorghiu.

The night concert feature is Mozart’s Missa in c minor, with Kammerphilarmonie Bremen and the Romanian National Choir “Madrigal”, one of the soloists being the great French opera singer Natalie Dessay.

Twelve consecutive days of concerts close. It is past 1am on Saturday, the 26th, and it was a memorable two weeks.
On, to the Blue Danube

Saturday, September 26, 2009 In the morning V. and AP come to pick us up and we drive for a "working lunch", about 130 km. out of Bucharest, on the shore of the Danube, near the city of Călăraşi. The very tiny tourist stop Chiciu features no less than two large restaurants, and both have also big outdoors terraces. It is placed near the docks of the ferryboats which cross over to Bulgaria and, down towards the Danube Delta, to the largest Romanian port, Constanţa.

After less than two hours of drive, because it is Saturday and the traffic is light, we stop in the city of Călăraşi for coffees and then go on to the shores of the Danube, five minutes away.


The Danube at Chiciu; Bulgaria is on the other side.

At Restaurant Monica in Chiciu we have what one would expect here: fish. We have ciorbă de peşte (a Romanian bouillabaisse), fish on the grill, warm pickled fish with mamaliguţă, a bottle of refreshing rosé Busuioaca de Bohotir, mineral water, coffees, and a good time watching over the slow action on the river. All this for 145 lei, or circa 50 dollars. Without a local friend to drive one here, it is unlikely that the tourist will find this place, but just in case: Restaurant Monica, Şoseaua Chiciului no. 1, Călăraşi, tel. 024 231 2447.

Between courses, we go over the trip plan for the coming week. We will drive over 450 km. to get close to Suceviţa, in Bucovina, a region on the north-eastern ranges of the Carpathian Mountains and of their lower plains, very close to the border with Ukraine. In that region, difficult to access and rich in history, there is a treasure trove of old painted monasteries, wooden churches and picturesque villages, and we will do slow travel there, exploring the region in concentric circles. Monday will be a long drive day, to get as close as possible to our target in Suceviţa, the pension Poiana de Vis ("The dream meadow"), which will become our base for 3-5 days, depending on the weather.

Today's drive from Bucharest to Chiciu and back brings me again in contact with the Romanian villages, and the changes are evident: houses are better maintained, new housing is prominent everywhere. Roads are excellent in the most part, most highways are better than ours in metropolitan Toronto and surrounding areas.
An end and a beginning

Sunday, September 27, 2009 Preparation day: we need to select the clothing for the road, keeping in mind that the temperatures with which Bucharest spoiled us, 24-27 degrees Celsius daily, will be substantially lower up north, particularly at night, when we can expect them going under 10 degrees centigrade. At least for Tuesday rain is expected so we have to be ready for that too. We will leave the rest of the luggage in the apartment, waiting for our return and the last four days, which will be days of farewells from the many friends we've met again, and the new ones we have made.

Lunch at “La Mama” (again): a really excellent and generous complete meal, with drinks and desserts for two, for only 60 lei (circa $25). Later, a light dinner in the apartment, between walks during the day and completing the packing.

A special moment after lunch: as we take the customary post-lunch walk, we pass by Biserica (Church) Boteanu, just as a small group of parishioners comes out with a baby in arms, and on the sidewalk another group waits for their turn. It is Sunday, a day for christenings. We enter the small Christian Orthodox church, so heavy in its Byzantine decorations and icons, and talk for a while with a young man, who deplores the decrease in the number of young people attending church these days. "Too many distractions!" He tells us about the church and its recent history, including the fact that a close counselor of Ceauşescu was for the last 50 years also a member of the church choir. Logistically at least, this looks pretty logical: the former building of the Party’s Central Committee is only a couple of hundred yards away. As to the metaphysical distance, one is left to ponder...

And it so that we assist together with her parents, her godparents, family and friends, to the christening of the baby Ana Maria. Our young interlocutor has disappeared a few minutes ago, but now we find him again, this time in officiating vestments, one of the three priests introducing Ana Maria into her faith.


Ateneul Român at night, after the last concert of the Festival

We will be picked up tomorrow at 7am, and then we will be on to Bucovina and its monasteries and natural beauty. It seems there is Internet access at Poiana de Vis, but we will see what can be done when we get there.

The first part of our trip is over.
Coda-Final notes

Monday, October 4, 2009 We returned to Bucharest two hours ago, full of wonderful experiences and encounters with good, warm people.

Our friend V. knows the country to a supreme level of detail and understanding. 40 years of traveling the country for a magazine dedicated to the country and its people would do this to anybody, but with him it has reached a level of communion, and he and his wife were wonderful companions and guides.

The Bucovina painted (exterior!) monasteries deserve their reputation among those few in the know and I dare compare them here with Giotto's Cappella degli Scrovegni, albeit in the Byzantine-Slavic tradition, and it is quite possible that Giotto's work was known here; the monasteries date mostly from the 15th century, therefore 100-150 years after Giotto.

We stayed everywhere in pensions, at about $30-40 per night, had wonderful lunches and dinners with three courses of local specialties, and wine and coffees, for less than $20 per person, and enjoyed coffee at the level we have been used to in Italy, France, Spain. The taste of spring water in the countryside is wonderful to behold; however, in Bucharest everybody drinks bottled water.

One casualty of progress, alas, and because I mentioned coffee, is the traditional “Turkish” coffee ("cafea la ibric") which was displaced by the comfort of pressing buttons on Italian espresso commercial machines. Not that I complain about it, because I am a dedicated espresso consumer, but the making of local, original coffee, is an endangered art.

The roads were in their majority excellent all the way to the northern border with Ukraine and back. The cleanliness was exemplary. I saw less homeless people and beggars in Bucharest and elsewhere than in Toronto. The personal safety is simply not a big issue; one doesn't have to watch pockets and personal belonging anymore than a visitor would have in any Canadian city, and less than elsewhere in Europe, and the honesty and politeness of the people providing services in pensions, restaurants, roadside stores, tourist sites, etc., are exemplary too.

I could rhapsodise about the variety and the beauty of the countryside, and after this week I dare say the potential of tourism here is limitless. Again, I would compare the regions we visited to areas of Tuscany and Switzerland. In some places we could swear we were somewhere around Pienza, with cypresses replaced by the local "plop" (black poplar).

As we traveled from south to north and back, I was also aware of the fact that, at least for the time being, tourism will be limited by the limited penetration of English, and that the touring-related literature and infrastructure need thought, work and investment. Only recently a Ministry of Tourism was created, and then, boom!, the government resigned a few days ago and the Minister of Tourism having been nominated by the party that caused the coalition to fall, she resigned too, so who knows who will pick up the portfolio now and how long will it take the new Minister to revive the effort. By the way, resigned had also the Minister of Culture and Cults, who presided over the successful Enescu Festival.


Monument in Central Bucharest dedicated to those who care for Bucharest's abandoned dogs

It will take some time, and much space, and only after we return home, to post the impressions of this week of travel. The monasteries and the beauty of the Bucovina countryside deserve their own trip report. For now, we have only three full days left, to meet all the people who received us with such warmth and to thank them (for this, we have pre-booked lunches at an excellent Lebanese-owned restaurant here, for three days in a row...).

We also have a long list of books to buy, and need to buy an additional suitcase to carry back all that we have accumulated: books, CDs, DVDs, artisan-made presents for the grandkids (who knows what impression these will make on them, but we try...), brochures, postcards, and we will also bring back 16 GB of photos and videos which will probably keep us busy through the long Canadian winter.

What we found here was by far good and above expectations. The country is in renewal. It will take time, but good change happens everywhere. The newer generation have no idea what it was like before, and don't care. And the rebuilding, and the renovating, and the development, will be their work. I am quite sure they will do it. These are not a city, and a country, in ruin; just in neglect. Bucharest has a most fantastic collection of Art Deco and Streamline Modern architecture, mostly two-three story houses, but public buildings as well.

Financial capital that moved this way already went mostly into the production of goods.

In language, what is special are the richness and variety of accents, and the exceptionally well-mannered people we met. Ladies' hands are kissed again, people are invariably addressed with Miss and Mrs. or Mister, and the formal plural is king, much more formal than the French "vous", almost like addressing the interlocutor at the formal third person plural, but a tad more direct. The "Merçi" and the "Mulţumesc" and the “Săru'mâna" ("Kiss'hand") flow with natural ease here.

As to my accent, I was given quite a few times in stores prices in the old currency units, such as 100,000 lei instead of the 10 lei now. But this is a double-edged “knife” because this is how prices are quoted here to elderly, those considered too "old" to have adapted to the new units of the devalued currency. I've noticed this frequently in Italy too. So the compliments for the preservation of my Romanian got crossed with reminders of my advanced age... And I thought that my clothes will turn me in, but western style clothing is just about everywhere here already. Since I don't wear jeans I am already an old-fashioned local!

All these thoughts and impressions need to settle, and emotions need to settle down too.

La revedere, pe curând! ('Be seeing you soon')!

The history of Bucharest: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Bucharest
Bucharest Architecture: bucharest.romaniaexplorer.com/page_10773.html
Places to visit in Bucharest: www.virtualromania.org/places/bucharest.vr/places.vr/
Ateneul Român concert hall: bucharest.romaniaexplorer.com/page_10870.html
The National Museum of Arts, Bucharest: www.mnar.arts.ro
The Parliament Palace (The House of the People): bucharest.romaniaexplorer.com/page_10777.html
The Museum of Jewish History, Bucharest: www.romanianjewish.org/en/fedrom_08_01.html
The George Enescu Festival (2009): www.festivalenescu.ro
Link to useful information on Bucharest: www.virtualromania.org/places/bucharest.vr/

Unknown Bucharest - Information and Tours
Bucharest & Romania Private Tours by Cris: unknownbucharest.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/UnknownBucharest/
Blog: bucharestunknown.blogspot.ca

How to Find Information

Search using the search button in the upper right. Search all forums or current forum by keyword or member. Advanced search gives you more options.

Filter forum threads using the filter pulldown above the threads. Filter by prefix, member, date. Or click on a thread title prefix to see all threads with that prefix.


Booking.com Hotels in Europe
AutoEurope.com Car Rentals

Recommended Guides, Apps and Books

52 Things to See and Do in Basilicata by Valerie Fortney
Italian Food & Life Rules by Ann Reavis
Italian Food Decoder App by Dana Facaros, Michael Pauls
French Food Decoder App by Dana Facaros, Michael Pauls
She Left No Note, Lake Iseo Italy Mystery 1 by J L Crellina

Share this page