This morning, I wandered into the so-far-unbeknownst-to-me Biserica Adormirea Maicii Domnului (Mosilor/Sf Gheorghe Nou), also called Razvani by locals in memory of its founder, ruling prince of Moldova, Stefan I Razvan. According to the plaque for historic monuments, it was originally constructed in 1597, rebuilt in 1705-6 and underwent repair in 1857-9 following serious damage by fire. Restored to its present state in 1970 (architect E. Chefneaux), it has been undergoing further work to strengthen its foundations since 2012.
In the shaded coolness of the porch, a priest and several parisioners were having coffee and covrigi. Invited to join them, I had to decline (tho' the coffee smelled marvellous) as I was on a mission, not to mention a diet.
"Then take these," said the priest, giving me a handful of mini covrigi. "You look like a busy lady and being busy is hungry work." How nice. Thank you.
"And just a moment!" he added, rooting about to the elbow in a large bag. "Here. Take this too. Im sure you'll like it." He handed me a CD/DVD entitled 'Parintele Cleopa'. I shall indeed watch it a little later on this evening.
:)It was a morning filled with the kindness of strangers at every step. Smiles, greetings, small talk with/from all sorts of people from all walks of life.
"1898," he said (well, he wasn't far off). "Isnt it splendid!" I wholeheartedly agreed. It really was. He presented his card with a gentlemanly flourish which rather brought Dick Van Dyke (Burt) in Mary Poppins to mind, and said, "you never know when you'll be needing a good plumber!" Indeed you don't!
Everyone was glowing with good humour this morning from the cobbler behind Coltea Hospital, the trolley bus drivers (actually two) and the kebab seller ("No? Not even a cup of coffee?? You've broken my heart!") to the man in the corner shop who gave me a free bottle of water ("such heat - hard for ME to bear so for an English lady it must be awful!") and a sweetheart feeding birds in the gardens of Sf Gheorghe Nou who said she could recognise each and every one of them and had given them all names, bless her.
Had I really forgotten how incredibly warm people are here in my beloved city (present summer temperatures aside!), or was there something in the water today?
Perhaps a little of both :):)I kid you not. EVeryone, without exception, had
(Image source) When I woke up this morning I realised, rather surprised, that I'd never done a post on Rusalii. Excellent timing then, seeing as how I'm in the mood for some magic.
Rusalii is Romanian Pentecost/Whitsuntide and falls 50 days after Easter. We had our Pentecost ages ago (May 15th), but since Orthodox Easter was five weeks after ours this year, they're still catching up. Whit Sunday and Monday are national holidays here, so a longer weekend lies ahead for many - more than welcome considering the heatwave that has hit Romania over the last few days.
(Photo source) There are plenty of stories attached to Rusalii as you would expect in a country so rich in folklore. Rusaliile are magical creatures - fairies, actually - found in forests, mountains, near water and in the sky itself who visit this crazy world of ours over the course of this week (or for three weeks depending on the region). Legend has it they are the souls of dead girls who, having left their tombs on Maundy Thursday and spent Easter amongst the living, have flatly refused to return to the underworld preferring instead to hang around a while and torment those who disrespect the rituals of Pentecost. According to tradition, people once avoided calling them Rusalii to appease them, giving them different names instead: Iele (rather like the veela in Harry Potter) and Zane (fairy) and Frumoasele ('beauties'). They must, says folklore, be chased away at all costs.
One way to do this a little in advance is by giving generously to charity on Mosii de Vara (yesterday), a summer commemoration for the dead. Once Pentecost is upon us, however, wearing garlic and wormwood around one's waist is advisable.
(Photo source) In the countryside, keeping the fairies at bay is done by way of dances - Calusarii - a ritual of healing and protection. Here are two from 1974 and 2004 performed by three generations of dancers. Do take a look for they are amongst the oldest traditional dances in Romania.
Back in days of yore, Calusarii, which date back to the Dacians, were danced uniquely by men bound to the group for 3, 5 or 9 years and forbidden any sexual activity during the ritual dance period. The ancient meanings have been lost over time, but folklorists and historians believe that the dance was either a fertility ritual or indeed an exorcism performed to cure the delirium and hypnotic trances caused by fairy possession which would eventually drive a person out of their mind. Such a disease, known as luat de Rusalii (taken by the fairies) can be triggered either by seeing them dancing naked in the moonlight or by inadvertently stepping on a spot where a dance has taken place. One can recognise these spots with a trained eye, for the grass is left burned following fairy presence, and once it grows back it is a darker green, left untouched by cattle and covered by a particular kind of mushroom known as Lingurita Zanei (Fairy Spoon). So now you know. Keep eyes peeled should you be in the countryside this weekend...
- - Some say the word comes from Latin “collosium” meaning a dance group and a secret society.
- - Others relate the Romanian word “calus” which means a small piece of wood placed in the mouth to prevent talking.
- - The word calus could be also seen as a diminutive of the Romanian word “cal” (horse) from the Latin caballus.
- - Last but not least, it’s sometimes said that “calusar” is derived from “Salii Collini” – Roman priests of Mars whose duty was to keep Rome safe in battle. There are of course similarities between “calusarii” and “Salii Collini”, but the number of differences almost excludes the possibility that they are related.
The dance spread to Serbia and Bulgaria and also has similarities to our British Morris Dancing, suggesting that the Celts rather liked it, borrowed it from the Dacians and took it home westwards. Originating in the south (Oltenia), other variants may be found in Moldova, Maramures and Transylvania.
(Photo source) Apart from Calusarii there are other superstitions linked to this festival, says Romania Journal. Knowing them will help you take some precautions to protect yourself from fairies up to no good:
- - Refrain from working in the fields for Ielele will catch and punish you;
- - On the day of Pentecost, you must not enter a vineyard, a wilderness, a forest or stand next to a fountain - there lurk the evil spirits;
- - Anyone working on the day of Pentecost (ie. today) will be punished by the Fairies for not properly honouring and cherishing the day;
- - 9 weeks from Rusalii one should not pick medicinal herbs;
- - You must not quarrel on Rusalii;
- - Doors must be brushed with garlic to protect homes from evil and bad luck all year long;
- - Evil spirits are banished through noisy rituals and cracking lime branches.
I have to work tomorrow, Whit Monday, so I hope that won't upset any fairies. If you do too, we'd better stuff our belts and/or pockets with garlic and wormwood just in case.
In the meantime, Bucharest is heaving with events for Pentecost from open air jazz and classical music concerts to exhibitions, picnics and fairs, see HERE.
Enjoy the weekend!
IMPORTANT POST SCRIPT: Anyone concerned by the prospect of possible altercations between Rusaliile and Sanzienele on Thursday night (Noaptea de Sanziene) due to a collision of these two mystic festivals, fear not. It seems they met three years ago when the very same thing happened and signed a peace treaty which still holds today. Thank you to Rocky's Dad for the comforting info - it was rather a worrying prospect.
(Photo source) It's been a shameful week of cheap circuses, manipulative drivel and, worst of all, profound deception. ANAF's five-day notice to evict Dan Voiculescu's Antena TV from its premises has rocked Romania on far more levels than one.
In 2014, the state institution confiscated Antena TV (part of Intact Group) premises following a court ruling to recover damages from a money-laundering case involving its former owner Dan Voiculescu jailed that August for 10 years for the fraudulent privatisation of the Agriculture Research Institute (the ICA). His dealings cost the state a 60 million euro loss - an amount that the court ruled would be recuperated through confiscation of Voiculescu's properties and assets. Since that time, Antena TV has been 'living' there on borrowed time. They would eventually have to find alternative arrangements, as the state would be selling the property to capitalise.
It took the tax authority ANAF almost two years to hand over the eviction order enforcing the court decision of 2014, but it finally came on Monday when Antena TV was served with a five-day notice. Antena 3 journalists accused the government (along with several politicians) of attempting to silence them thus abusing freedom of speech, and undermining democracy.
Politicians from all parties wasted no time condemning ANAF's actions. Tariceanu held 'court' in the Senate, demanding (via vote) that Prime Minister Ciolas appear to explain what was going on, as ANAF is subordinate to the finance ministry. ANAF's actions, he said, "were a deliberate plan to suspend democracy and annihilate the press." Liviu Dragnea (leader of PSD) also described ANAF's decision as "undemocratic", Mihai Fifor called it "nothing but abuse" and Verestoy Attila termed it as "unwelcome, does not serve democracy nor the interests of Romanian media." With backing vocals from harpy Cristiana Anghel whose constant demented screeching eventually got her thrown out, the speeches continued, all against proceedings carried out by ANAF and in favour of Voiculescu's Antena TV. One after the other they waxed lyrical on abuse of freedom of speech when there had been NO question of silencing the networks. ANAF wanted the premises vacated, NOT an end to the channels (much to the disappointment of many!).
Reports soon began to buzz (on Antena 3) of ANAF abuse: tax inspectors descending on the premises en masse threatening to turn off water and electricity supplies if the location wasn't empty by D-Day; inspectors demanding ID from Antena staff. ANAF publicised clarifications: the "10 cars" reported by A3 were in fact only 4, see HERE, and just 4 people were asked for ID in order to be 'served'. Nuff said.
(Photo source: Hotnews) Antena 3's Radu Tudor promised there'd be protests in the streets in answer to such abuse (and there was, see photos and maybe this article HERE just to clarify what was really going on. According to reports, the protesting majority was over 60 with a couple of exceptions - one younger guy showed up with an I love ANAF banner which got ripped up by a bunch of pro-Antenites right in front of police). They had a right to be there in the state-owned headquarters if they paid rent, he said. Wrong. The state has no right to charge a rent for the property, and has not done so. Antena TV have been using the location for the last two years rent-free. Mihai Badea blamed Basescu (if Mrs Popescu's washing machine blows up, it's Basescu's fault), adding that it was impossible to vacate in five days. The latter is probably true, but since Antena TV has a) known about the risk since 2014 so had time to find another property, and b) filed an appeal, there's now no question of a five-day deadline in any case.
A compassionate Rares Bogdan voiced empathy for the channel's decent journalists - for there are many:
"I’ve seen that some were happy on the internet; this piece of news saddens me. They are my colleagues, colleagues who have tried, despite their backsliding, to tell Romanians the truth. Sometimes they did it right, sometimes less so, sometimes with vested interests, sometimes completely selflessly. In such moments, I prefer remembering the positive things, the revelations these people made," he said, calmly asking for a solution to be found.
It should be mentioned here that ANAF's eviction order did not ONLY concern Antena TV but ALL companies located in the building confiscated from Voiculescu whether part of INTACT Media group or otherwise.
Prime Minister Ciolos stated that he had known nothing about the decision notice signed on 8th February only three days after he had fired Gelu Diaconu, ANAF's head, but would accept Tariceanu's invitation. On Wednesday, he did indeed appear at the Senate to 'clarify' things. Perhaps he shouldn't have. He could have refused and not interfered with a court decision - ANAF doesn't need government approval to carry out decisions, but go he did. Once on the rostrum he declared that the Romanian government "obeys the laws and implicitly observes court rulings. ANAF started implementing a court ruling that was final and acted according to its legal powers as an enforcing authority - actions that aimed at asset recovery."
He condemned abusive behaviour on the part of ANAF inspectors, as reported by Antena TV: "Freedom of speech shall be firmly defended – and I want to be very clear here: I requested the new ANAF leadership to re-analyse how they carried out their activity. ANAF activity substance is important to the state as they have a duty to collect revenues to state budget, but their attitude should be one of respect towards citizens and taxpayers whoever they are."
On the five-day deadline, he said: "Regarding control and evolution for the future, the deadline is one stipulated by the civil procedure Code, and is not established by ANAF. This is a five-day deadline according to law, and applies to all legal persons in case of eviction. Therefore, it is not given on purpose by ANAF, in this case. There are no different deadlines for tv stations or other types of activities."
His message was clear: while he stood by the court ruling and ANAF's eviction order up to a point, adding that Antena TV had no leasing contract with ANAF and the state had to capitalise on its assets, he condemned the tax authority's actions (with only Antena 3's word for it but no specifications yet received from ANAF) whilst on site. See PM Ciolos's speech HERE.
Ruxandra Jipa, Daniel Barbu, Cristiana Anghel, Varujan Vosganian and a host of others were unimpressed, perhaps hoping for a condamnation of the eviction notice and its cause too. Despite the PM's explanation of the five-day rule, they continued to argue it and 'abuse of free speech' came up again and again.
The real disappointment of the day came from President Iohannis. A man who says little as a general rule, he should have exercised the habit of a lifetime and kept quiet this time too. What does a legal eviction order ruled on by a Romanian court in the name of asset collection originating from an unthinkably massive sum of money nicked from the state have to do with him? Nothing at all is what.
In a speech on Thursday, he said:
"I believe that freedom of expression in the media should not be suppressed for banal, trivia administrative reasons."
Say what? People all over the country fell off their chairs in shock. First, there has been NO attempt to suppress freedom of expression (how many more times?!), and second, 60 million euros stolen from the country's taxpayers was considered by the president as "banal" and "trivial"? It was beyond belief. What an insult to the Rule of Law and those applying it. What an insult to those who had crossed countries, slept out and stood for hours and hours in rain and cold to vote for him, had fought for him, defended him, BELIEVED in him. A court decision was certainly NOT a trivial administrative reason to exercise an eviction.
The president went on to berate ANAF's "overzealous approach" during the delivery of eviction notices which he found "inappropriate if not questionable".
In a nutshell, he sided with Antena TV, ie. Voiculescu - with corruption against the Rule of Law.
Mr Iohannis's FB page was immediately overwhelmed with messages stating betrayal, disappointment and deep dismay while others simply 'unliked', losing the president thousands of FB 'friends' in a matter of hours. From 1,732,600 Wednesday afternoon to 1,722,342 Thursday at noon, the president's number of fans today stands at 1,692,578 and continues to drop...
"Today you slapped all those who, despite Antena 3’s denigrating campaign against you, mobilised to put you at the country’s helm. Today you slapped the rule of law and have interfered with the enforcement of a court order. Today is the day you definitively lost the respect of those who believed you are the president of a common-sense Romania!" one user wrote.
"How can you say that the action to evict the Antena Group is 'overzealous' when the court sentence against Voiculescu was ruled in 2014 and only 1% of the damage has been recovered so far?" another wrote.
A pity neither PM Ciolos nor President Iohannis had taken the time to get clarifications from ANAF on the so-called 'abuse' either before publically spouting criticism. Presuming Antena 3 (from whence the accusations had come) couldn't possibly exaggerate is naïve at best.
Never did I think that Klaus Iohannis could be manipulated to the point where he would turn his back on the law. Never did I imagine he could disrespect it. Never did I think he would side with corruption against the Romanian people's right to justice. Never.
From Brussels, he has tried to make amends, but it's too little too late. The damage is done. Belief in him has been snuffed out. Grupul pentru Dialog Social, Expert Forum, Freedom House România and Centrul Roman de Politici Europene have openly expressed their indignation for the positions taken by politicians, certain institutions and President Iohannis.
This is far from over, for such a huge rock hurled into such an infested swamp can only result in a putrid backwash of muck. More news as it comes...
For more, please see THIS by Sabina Fati, THIS by Andrei Cornea for Revista 22, Contributors, Romania Curata, Dan Tapalaga for Hotnews, Deutsche Welle, Kamikaze on yesterday's protest supporting A3 at Pta Constitutiei ("average age was around 60.5, average IQ 50..."), this one HERE on the same subject, Ramona Ursu for Adevarul and Bucharest Life.
(Photo: Sarah In Romania) The steps of the Romanian Athenaeum concert hall in the centre of Bucharest have long been a favourite vantage point for watching the world go by while concert (and sometimes conference) nights in this beautifully ornate, circular, domed main hall leave you entirely at one with both surroundings and history as the music ebbs to its sublime close. Ateneul Roman is very much part of home to Bucharest's music-lovers.
Today, it is residence to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra and choir, along with the George Enescu International Music Festival. Take a look at this marvellous virtual tour if you've never had the pleasure to put a foot beyond its doors.
In 1865, cultural and scientific personalities Constantin Esarcu, V. A. Urechia, and Nicolae Creţulescu founded the Romanian Atheneum Cultural Society. To serve its purposes, the Romanian Athenaeum, a building dedicated to art and science, was erected in Bucharest, says Wikipedia.
(Photo: Sarah In Romania) Designed by French architect Albert Galleron on a property that had belonged to the Văcărescu family, it was inaugurated on 14th February, 1888, although work continued until 1897. Built with funds collected publicly following a national lottery - 500,000 tickets were issued at one leu each. The scientist Constantin Esarcu (1836-1898) addressed an appeal to the people of Romania: "Give one leu for the Ateneu'!" - a lesson in unity and an awakening of national conscience. The slogan is still remembered affectionately today.
In addition to being a great symbol of culture, Ateneul Roman is also a historical site, for, on December 29, 1919, a conference of leading Romanians voted there to ratify the unification of Bessarabia, Transylvania, and Bukovina with the Romanian Old Kingdom to constitute Greater Romania.
The graceful, circular-form of the building is owed to an already existing foundation in the Diocese Garden (Grădina Episcopiei), once destined for ... a circus. Its facade, inspired by the architecture of ancient Greek temples with its majestic row of columns, is supported by a triangular pediment. At the time, its placement was much criticised, but today, Ateneul Roman is an oasis close to the bustle of Calea Victoriei and a nearby carpark - one can't imagine Bucharest without it.
When I lived here back in 2008, I was treated to a tour (my first) of this exceptional gem by one of the pianists hired to accompany the George Enescu choir. Back-stage we went, full of what had been scenery and all kinds of bits and pieces, the room where the choir members could change, eat, etc. In the main hall, I stood there like a goldfish, opening and closing my mouth in wonder, as she explained the fresco encircling the walls depicting the history of the Romanian people in 25 'chapters'. Of course, I had sat in the audience many times and gazed at it, but hadn't known who was who nor what chapters referred to which parts of history.
(Photo: Sarah In Romania) There, all the stories I'd been told unfolded before me - Emperor Traian entering Dacia; Stefan cel Mare (who was actually not so 'mare' but rather short!); Mihai Viteazu and the unification of the three principalities; Horea, Closca and Crisan the three heroes of the Peasants' Revolt; Carol I; King Ferdinand and Queen Marie of Romania and many more.
Here too, I was told, on 1st March 1898, the chords of George Enescu's divine symphonic suite "Poema Romana" rang out for the first time. Holding the baton was George Enescu himself, aged just seventeen. Other great names who had performed on that very stage flashed before me: Celibidache, Lipatti, Arthur Rubinstein, Pablo Casals, Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Bartok, Ravel....
Moving closer to the present, my marvellous guide explained that by some miracle, Ateneul Roman had survived the bombardments of World War II while many buildings surrounding it had succumbed. The beautiful fresco had been covered up during the communist era so people would not be able to see their history of Emperors and Kings - King Carol II and King Mihai were erased completely. Extensive reconstruction and restoration work was carried out by a Romanian construction company and the restoration painter, Silviu Petrescu, in 1992.
(Photo: Silvia Colfescu) A friend from the US and writer of the blog, Tom's Place, visited Bucharest that summer. He had never been inside Ateneul Roman, so we popped into the little office round the corner and begged the caretaker to let us in since the main door was closed. He accompanied us to the main hall, the "Mouse Hole" (the little hall downstairs) and once again, I swooned at the majestic marble staircases, the graceful lines and architectural beauty. We stayed for a couple of hours photographing everything we could like a pair of things possessed until our (or rather, my) camera batteries went flat. Since then, there have been countless visits with friends to this wonderful culture-capsule of sheer elegance - both for tours (I can't get enough of them) and concerts.
Memories of this incredibly romantic place are always swamped with great affection. Imagination is overwhelmed with enchanting, magical snap-shots in rapid succession of a Bucuresti de alta data back in a time when one dressed up for concerts (actually, there, they still do), when top-hatted gentlemen helped ladies in elegant gowns clutching tiny, beaded bags and opera glasses out of carriages or motor-cars and when there was a real and admirable inteligentia alive and well in Romania's capital. Ateneul Roman is a major part of 'my' Bucharest and my heart longs to be sitting on those steps once again waiting for friends or lost in my book. It longs for the lovely circular concert hall, the stunning fresco and the first lulling notes of Fauré's Requiem or Schumann's "Carnaval" to envelope it.
La Multi Ani, dear Ateneul Roman - and many, many more!
"Într-o zi de noiembrie a anului 2002, o zi însemnată pentru România, deasupra cerului întunecat al Bucureştilor s-a arătat un curcubeu. Eu cred în curcubee..."
~ Silvia Kerim, 'Vedere din Parfumerie'
Silvia Kerim, Romanian journalist and author of the poignantly beautiful book 'Vedere din Parfumerie', passed away last night here in Bucharest. She was 84.
A passionate publicist of theatre and film, she was also an immensely talented prose writer of children's literature.
Born in Bucharest on 21st October 1931, Ms Kerim graduated from the Faculty of Languages and French Literature and started out as a journalist for Contemporarul. She went on to write for Romania Liberă, then for Cinema and Secolul 20. For eighteen years, she was editor at Formula AS which published weekly articles on cultural events. She also worked for Radio Romania's Teatru la microfon pentru copii and adapted many wonderful books to radio, such as A Christmas Carol.
As producer delegate at Casele de Filme, Ms Kerim worked with directors Sergiu Nicolaescu, Mircea Veroiu and Mircea Daneliuc amongst others, and as editor in chief at Animafilm, penned many wonderful musicals for children - see Mary Poppins. Writer and director of a series for children on TVR, Casută cu poveşti, broadcast in 1995-6, she wrote over twenty-five works, many of which were children's musicals.
Married (and later divorced) to Mircea Veroiu who died in 1997, her Ultima vară a tinereţii (2009) was dedicated to him.
For me, more than film and theatre, she was an incomparable portrayer of tender memories, giving voices to those who could no longer bear witness themselves: 'Ponica, o legenda' on Hortensia Georgescu, 'Fereastră de la Venetia', Amintirea că un Parfum and of course, my beloved 'Vedere din Parfumerie' (translated most beautifully into English by Brenda Walker - see extract HERE). See others HERE. The American Biographical Institute declared her Woman of the Year in 2004 and other well-deserved honours and titles were bestowed upon her by Romania's president, the Writers' Union and UNITER.
When I lived here for the first time back in 2008, I carried my English translation of 'Vedere din Parfumerie' around with me all over the place for months, highlighting places on my map of Bucharest that I couldn't possibly leave without visiting; paying tribute to the streets I could find (for names had changed) that had once housed family mansions of elegance, opulence, taste and love destroyed by the madness and megalomania of Ceausescu, and mourning in front of the homes today going to wreck and ruin. Thank you, Ms Kerim, for your witnessing of such tragedy, such massacre, such heartless brutality, such a searing scar on history - the history of individuals and that of bricks and mortar. The history of patrimony and heritage, of beauty and soul.
Countless times I walked along str Parfumului passing her lovely house, and countless times I paused in front of her gate. Several of those times, she was in her garden with her dog or one of her cats and we talked about 'those' days. It will be a long while before I can walk along str Parfumului again...
Odihnească-se în pace!
Silvia Kerim's funeral is tomorrow at 13h at the Calvin Cemetery, Calea Giuleşti, nr.101.
Silvia Kerim - source
UPDATE: Silvia Kerim's beloved cats and dogs are now up for adoption having lost their adored mistress. PLEASE if anyone can give them a loving home akin to what they have been used (Ms Kerim considered them her children and would be appalled to know they were living on the edge of a precipice), there is a preference they be adopted in PAIRS so as not to be alone - there are 6 cats and 2 dogs.
Please see this FB post from Formula AS for photos and more information, or call 021/320.33.26, 0722/38.31.37 or 0723/19.55.04 for the pusscats and 0745/60.60.50 for the doggies (a Ciobanesc mioritic and a cocker spaniel).
Last week, one of my closest friends (S.) came to Bucharest for New Year. It was her first visit so I really wanted her to feel the charm of this marvellous, vibrant city. We sped about all over the place taking in museums, galleries, churches, monasteries and two wonderful days in Brasov.
Towards the end of a lovely busy week, S. decided she'd like to go on a tour of Casa Poporului ("well, you've got to haven't you. Can't be in Bucharest and not see that."), so having found nothing helpful on the site (bravo) we called to enquire about times, reserve a place on a tour and thus done, set off that same morning. According to the voice on the phone, S. needed her ID, the tour in English would begin at 10h45 and last 90 minutes and there'd be a visit to the underground nuclear bunker. "Ooooh!" said S.
The night before it had snowed hard, and Bucharest was something of an icerink in the making. The taxi dropped us off at the Izvor entrance a good way from the building itself - taxis can't get any closer. We crunched and slid along to the front of the hugely imposing eyesore gingerly negotiating the stone slabs that run alongside to the entrance doors. No sand, no salt, just a load of people-friendly ice. A nice tourist (Italian?) saw the two of us clinging to each other like a pair of old dears and helped us along. Thank you, kind tourist, whoever you were.
Once inside (God, what a foreboding place it is), we went to an info centre to the right where a lady sat behind a white cardboard-like counter similar to those you find at fairs. She checked the list for S's name and ticked her off. I didn't join the tour due to my overwhelmingly deep aversion to the place. Just one ticket please. The info lady filled in a slip of paper which involved ticking several boxes whilst looking important, and then waved us to a small dusty shop the other side of the hall evidently stuck in a 70s time warp. "What now?" I wondered. "We pay there, I spose," said S, who having lived two years in Moscow seemed more with it than I was. The bored girl at the counter took the slip of paper with the ticked boxes and said "60 lei" in a none too friendly tone. Jobs worth. 60 lei exchanged hands. No "thank you", no "enjoy your tour". Happy New Year to you too.
Unsurprising for the first week of the year, people were still on holiday and tourism was booming. Around us, UK/US English, French, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew. Visitors queued in droves on that freezing, snowed up morning. An American nearby was flicking through Rick Steves for some pre-tour input on life in Romania under communism. What better place to come, you'd think.
A young guy (Scandinavian?) was at the info counter asking if he could pay by credit card. No. Cash only. "But I have no local money. Can I pay in foreign currency?" No. "Is there an ATM here?" Vague shrug translating roughly into 'not my problem'. Excellent customer service. Later, S. said there was an ATM but on the other side of the barrier and up the stairs. Useless if you need cash to pay the entrance fee since without your ticket, you can't get through the barrier. Here we are in 2016 and credit cards cannot be used in the famous House of the People ("second largest building in the world next to the Pentagon, you know"). In what decade are we exactly?
10h45 came and went. At 11h, a voice called for those wanting the English tour. Stampede. Once S. had gone through the barrier (xray security and tralala) and waited a further 20 minutes on the steps beyond for everyone else to be checked, I went back to the info lady to see if the modern art museum was open. Nope. Neither was the café above it and no, there were no exhibitions currently running. If I wanted the contemporary art wing, I'd have to go around the outside of the building to the front. On the unsalted icerink. No thanks. An excellent example of optimising Bucharest during the holiday season. Well done, authorities.
The entrance hall had a commie-style make-do bar (no seats, just the bar see above left) where I got a coffee and then took root in a bright green chair by the door to people-watch the 90 minutes away. No wifi. Don't be daft. At least there were chairs.
After a while, I decided to explore any books to be had in the gloomy shop. With no room to swing so much as a flea in there, I squeezed my way past four people (German) getting tickets for a later tour, and browsed a little to kill time. Didn't take long. Mugs of Dracula, wooden masks, Romanian blouses at 521 (yes, ONE!) lei a shot, plastic dolls in national costumes that needed a wash, calendars (2016 - well done), magnets, keyrings. Books? Another stupid idea. Some on Romania (a few quite dog-eared), two illustrated books of Casa Poporului that analysed the "impressive architecture" but nothing much else, and a bunch of guidebooks from publications I'd never heard of. Nothing historical, no novels. No effort to cater to an interested or curious public.
Back to my seat. People queueing, wondering where to pay, a traffic jam for those trying to get into the cramped shop while others waited for friends and family already on tours. Half an hour later, I just happened to turn to my left and... there was S. sitting on an identical green chair trying to text me. "Hey! How come you're out so soon? Didn't you like it?" She shrugged. "It started late and finished early." A 50 minute tour for the price of 90 minutes.
"Did you take lots of photos?" I asked. "Yes, and so did everyone else whether they'd paid the photo tax or not. I had to wear an extra sticker to say I'd paid mine but there were people snapping away who hadn't. What a rip off."
A rip off indeed. 50 minutes instead of 90 and an unnecessary photo tax that's a con anyway. A nice way to fleece tourists.
What had she learned from the tour? Anything interesting? Not much except for the number of lightbulbs in the chandeliers and the weights of the afore-mentioned, the height of the windows, the length of the curtains and when they'd last been washed, the number of artisans from all over the country who worked on the site and how BIG, how EXPENSIVE, how IMPRESSIVE and how GLORIOUS it all was. Seriously? How about Ceaușima? The destruction of an entire third of the city? 7km to be exact. The 27 orthodox and 3 protestant churches, 6 synagogues, Vacaresti monastery, the entire district of Uranus, the tens of thousands of homes? The suffering of the population who went cold and hungry for such madness? The terror of so many working there that the Ceausescus would be displeased with results? The appalling working conditions? Nope. Oh wait, yes. Demolition was mentioned in passing, but the only statistics were concerning the nit-picking details leading to the 'greatness' of the building, not the heinous suffrance it wrought. Hallucinating. Disgusting.
So, to recap: A 90 minute tour that took 50 minutes; a photo tax that was nothing more than a way to squeeze yet more money out of foreigners; the famous bunker visit that didn't happen and an agitprop guide.
Did anyone ask questions, I wanted to know. "Yes," said S. "Some. They wanted to know the weight of this and that, the materials used, etc." I almost regretted not going on the tour too so I could at least have yelled about one of the largest peacetime urban destructions at the hands of humans in recorded history. The bombings on Bucharest and the 1977 earthquake together caused only 18% of the damage produced by Ceausescu's demolition frenzy campaign in the 1980s.
How a serious tour guide of a monument symbolic of mutilation and misery could possibly brush these facts under the carpet and wax lyrical on the glorious size, the dazzling chandeliers, luxurious carpets, number of bloody lightbulbs, etc is deplorable. Pure nauseating propaganda blurb. A MISguided tour from beginning to end.
In addition, S. had her passport WITHHELD until she'd finished the tour. Of course it's normal to demand ID on entering such a place. Tourists would of course show their passports. But to confiscate them? No entering of name, address, passport number into a computer like anywhere else, and then returning it to its owner? In 2016? Too much effort, too sensible or is it just to intimidate further, adding to the general coldness and oppression already reigning in that sinister place? It is a breach of international law and is simply outrageous that they get away with it. No one has the right to confiscate such a document, except for the government who issued it or if a crime has been committed.
For S. it was a disappointing waste of money. Friends of mine here apologised profusely for the lousy experience although it wasn't their fault. "Yes," contradicted one. "It is entirely our fault that after 26 years this STILL goes on." She has a point.
Shame, shame and shame again. If authorities in Bucharest want tourists (or rather, tourists' MONEY), they're going to have to respect them, treat them properly, abide by international laws and clean up their act. After such blatant lack of consideration (and this is not an isolated case) along with the scandalous abuse of truth on what should have been an educative tour, who would ever want to return? It seems that after 26 years, along with the make-shift coffee bar, the sulky 'nu se poate' staff and the dingy little shop in the unappealing entrance hall, mentality indeed hasn't changed a jot.
Photos by Sarah in Romania and SH.
(Photo source) At 14h this afternoon, Dacian Ciolos (former EU commissioner), Romania's Prime Minister Elect, announced the awaited official list of proposed ministers to form his new government - and pretty damn good it looks on the whole. This is the first time in 23 years (1991-2) that Romania has had a government of technocrats.
Ciolos said he had chosen experienced and competent people in their fields both internationally and in EU administration who were open to dialogue; people with vision and professionalism from private sectors and experts from civil society, and those skilled in management; young people with solid education and training, people with integrity. He has also favoured gender balance (very rare for Romania), giving one third of positions to women.
Here is the newly proposed government (with my various sacks of salt) as it stands this evening:
(Photo source) Costin Borc - Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Economy - Great choice! Borc was Corneliu Coposu's righthand man, and sent by the aforementioned to the University of Stanford. He was brought back by the anti-communists in a bit of a hurry to advise Radu Vasile (PM 1999-2000) when the miners returned to wreak mayhem in Bucharest. He's an excellent trouble-shooter in a crisis.
Vasile Sebastian Dâncu - Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Regional Development and Public Administration - Sociologist and university professor with 25 years in academia, he is president of the IRES. A PSD member (and Minister of Propaganda in the Nastase government), he has apparently distanced himself from the party and says he is a technocrat. He was proposed by Dragnea and perhaps accepted by Ciolos so PSD would not throw any spanners in the works. Technocrat? Hmmm...
Lazar Comanescu - Minister of Foreign Affairs - Foreign Affairs advisor to President Iohannis, he was Foreign Minister from April to December 2008, and named Romania's ambassador to Germany in 2009.
(Photo source) Mihnea Motoc - Minister of Defence - Mega-like for this choice. Member of the United Nations since 2003, he spent five years there as Romania's Permanent Representative. In 2008 he left the UN to become his country's Permanent Representative to the European Union. Today, he is Ambassador to Romania in the UK.
Petre Toba - Minister of the Interior - Inspector General of the Romanian Police. He was Deputy of the Romanian Police in 2007-2009. and held senior positions between 2003-7 in the Capital Police Directorate. There's a bit of scandal hanging round his ears, so I have my reservations...
Anca Paliu Dragu - Minister of Finance - An economic analyst in the European Commission, Anca Dragu has also worked for Central Bank and the IMF.
(Photo source) Cristina Guseth - Minister of Justice - Whoop! Whoop! Another excellent choice. Cristina Guseth is director of the pro-democracy Freedom House Foundation, one of the very few NGOs with admirable credibility in the field of integrity and anti-corruption. Ms Guseth works with Brussels on projects for justice reform and the rule of law in Romania, and organises workshops and seminars for judges and prosecutors on public procurement, extended confiscation, media relations and integrity and anti-corruption policies throughout the country. A stickler for fairness and transparency, she is also an exceptional communicator and skilled in PR. Those who say she doesn't have the criteria for Minister of Justice need to think again.
Marian Costescu - Minister of Transport - currently the CEO of Căile Ferate Române (CFR) - Romanian National Railway.
Adrian Curaj - Minister of Education and Research - Mr Curaj is professor of cybernetics at Politehnica here in Bucharest. When consultant for World Bank, UNESCO, UNIDO, ETF (European Training, Foundation) and the European Commission for tertiary education, policies in science and innovation and foresight, he coordinated numerous research projects and published scientific articles and books. Two of the inventions, of which he is co-author, received gold medals at the International Salon of Inventions in Geneva in 2009 and 2013. He is currently General Director of UEFISCDI but, impressive as all that may sound, he is currently under investigation for corruption. Fail....
Claudia Ana Moarcăs - Minister of Labour - Graduate in Law (University of Bucharest), Claudia Moarcăs went on to study labour law and social security in Geneva, Switzerland, then international relations at the Foreign Ministry. She obtained her doctorate (on unions) in 1996. Since 2012, she has taught Law at the University of Bucharest.
Dr. Patriciu Achimaş-Cadariu - Minister of Health - Dr Cadariu is a gynaecology, obstetrics and surgical oncology specialist with an MA in Advanced Oncology (University of Ulm, Germany) and a doctorate in Medical Sciences. After specialising both at home and abroad, he has been head of the Oncology Institute 'Prof Dr Ion Chiricuta' of Cluj for the last three years. Dr Cadariu replaces original proposal, Andrei Baciu, who appears all over FB posing in his undies and looking pretty good I'd say. Cough. Sorry. Of coooourse that's not the image one wants for a Minister of Health (and health managers who know him said he wasn't capable of such responsibility in any case), so Baciu OUT, Cadariu IN. Much better choice (but without the six-pack?). Ciolos reacted quickly so extra points to him.
Achim Irimescu - Minister of Agriculture - Secretary of State in the Ministry of Agriculture from 2012-4, Irimescu currently occupies the posts of Advice Minister at the Permanent Mission of Romania to the European Union, agriculture department chief and is Romania's representative on the Special Committee on Agriculture. A busy chap with a great deal of experience.
Aura Răducu - Minister of European Funds - expert in European and international financing of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), she has also worked as a manager of programmes and EU policies in DG Regional Policy (DG Regio) within the European Commission. During a seminar organised by Freedom House in 2014, she suggested a bottom-up administrative reform to increase the absorption of European funds. Smart lady.
(Photo source) Cristiana Paşca Palmer - Minister of the Environment, Water and Forests- Brits would LOVE this lady. EuropAid's Head of Unit in the European Commission for climate change, environment, natural resources and water (see a talk she gives HERE), Ms Pasca Palmer got her MA in Public Administration at Harvard - Kennedy School of Government.
Raul Marius Bostan - Minister of Communication and Information - Implementing programmes for the US Agency of International Development (USAID), World Bank, the European Commission and local government, Raul Bostan organised the first International Conference on Fiscal Decentralisation in Romania. Trained in England and Italy, he studied administrative systems in both Germany and the Netherlands. Raul Marius Bostan VMB Partners is founder and member of Telekom CA.
(Photo source) Vlad Alexandrescu - Minister of Culture - Graduate of the University of Bucharest in Languages and Literature (French and German), Alexandrescu obtained his doctorate in philosophy of language at L'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, under Prof. Oswald Ducrot. Romanian Ambassador to Luxembourg from 2006-11, he has been a member of the Group of Social Dialogue since 2002. In addition, Vlad Alexandrescu is an impressively prolific author, see HERE. (Tudor Vianu's grandson, incidentally - bonus point!)
Elisabeta Lipa - Minister of Youth and Sport - Elisabeta Lipa is the most decorated rower in the history of the Olympics with five gold medals, two silver and one bronze. She was awarded the 2008 Thomas Keller Medal at the Rowing World Cup in Lucerne. No further blurb needed.
(Photo source) Violeta Alexandru - Minister of Public Consultation and Social Dialogue - Currently director of one of the most active NGOs campaigning to increase the quality of public policy-making processes in Romania, the Institute for Public Policy (IPP). IPP conducts research, advocacy and promotion in areas such as public administration reform, transparent institutions and the integrity of elected representatives and officials. Sounds like she'll be wonderful for this new and much-needed ministry.
In addition, there is also Ion Dragos Tudorache (head of the Prime Minister's Chancellery), Dan Stoenescu (the diaspora delegate) and Ciprian Bucur (delegate for parliamentary relations).
So what happens now? Well, each individual proposed will get a grilling by the relevant parliamentary commission. If they pass and are approved, it goes to a session in plenum for a confidence vote. If it fails the vote, Ciolos will have to go back to the drawing board. Should his second government proposal not meet with approval, there will be early elections.
With the hearings in parliament hopefully tomorrow, a vote on Tuesday and oaths taken in the afternoon, I do so hope it passes, for it looks like a bloody good government (with personal thumbs down for Dâncu, Toba and Adrian Curaj). Chalk and cheese, night and day. There are many out there NOT wanting reform who are digging in their heels with all their might to scupper any progress towards decency that may be had. Well, I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
(Photo source) It has been an incredible week so far here in Romania and it isn't over yet.
On Tuesday night, some 20,000 protesters took to the streets in a peaceful but very angry demonstration after a fire at a nightclub over the weekend caused by corruption, incompetence and greed claimed the lives of 32 young people and injured almost 200. Calls for the resignations of PM Ponta, Minister of the Interior Oprea, and Piedone (mayor of sector 4 where the tragedy occurred) filled the air laced with 'Corruption Kills!' 'Shame on you!' 'Assassins!' The ambiance was one of complete solidarity. Crowds walking from Piata Universitatii to Piata Victoriei were joined in their calls by the supportive honking of horns in rhythm with the slogans all along Bd Catargiu. A fire engine stopped to flash its gyrophares and sound its sirens, at one with the voices on the street. It was an incredibly moving march. Emotional. Indignant. One voice with one demand. CHANGE. An END to this corrupt and elitist political class. Enough.
(Photo source) The very next day, PM Ponta resigned taking his government with him. Piedone followed shortly afterwards, his dreams of ever replacing mayor of Bucharest Sorin Oprescu (on house arrest under investigation for corruption) well and truly shattered. Having previously said he felt no responsibility for the Colectiv nightclub disaster, his tune changed as he left office to one of contrition admitting moral responsibility. Too little much too late, for Colectiv could only have been in business without basic safety measures if the three owners, currently under arrest on suspicion of manslaughter and involuntary bodily harm, had bribed the authorities.
(Photo source) President Iohannis expressed his support for those on the streets via his Facebook page the same day. He was "impressed" by the civility, he said. "The next step has to come from the politicians who cannot ignore the sentiment of revolt expressed by the people." Having repeatedly called for Ponta to resign after the PM was indicted in September for forgery, money laundering and tax evasion, the president said he regretted that it had taken dozens to die before the government finally gave in to the pressure from the streets.
(Photo source) Last night, with their Prime Minister and government gone at last, protesters were out once more. Stronger than the previous night though equally peaceful and non-violent, the media reported numbers reaching 70,000 across the entire country and 35,000 in Bucharest. The Romanian diaspora in London, Paris, Rome, Munich and Barcelona showed solidarity in their hundreds. Ponta's resignation was not enough. It had to be the beginning of new political reform. From Piata Universitatii, the historically symbolic site for anti-government protests, they called for early elections and better governance. They later made their way to Parliament.
Tonight for the third night running, the streets are full once again and there now seems to be a real sense of organised mobilisation and civic movement emerging. As I write at 20h30, sources report around 7,000 people at Piata Universitatii.
- - an end to privileges, ie. immunity for parliamentarians and government members
- - a parliament of 300 rather than 600
- - the confiscation of wealth three months from conviction for criminals of corruption
- - the appointing of a Prime Minister who is NOT amongst the current Romanian political class
Protesters are also demanding the law of lustration, ie. the banning of convicted criminals standing for election.
(Photo source) On Facebook, the main social network here in Romania, the protest organisers are looking to appoint spokespeople. Proposals include Tudor Chirila, an actor, musician and symbol of social conscience to today's young Romanians. Vlad Mixich and Sabina Fati have both declined calls to be protester representatives, for what Romania needs, they say, is good, honest, decent journalists writing informative, accurate reports of what's going on. Please see recent articles by both Vlad and Sabina HERE and HERE.
President Iohannis has appointed ex-Minister of Education Sorin Cîmpeanu as interim Prime Minister who must now form a new government which needs to be approved by parliament. The aforementioned gets two opportunities to formally accept it and failure to do so will lead to early elections. The president had to choose someone from PSD, no matter how unpopular, due to its majority in parliament. Cîmpeanu does seem to be one of the less repugnant in a bunch of otherwise utter foulness.
Today, the president met with a PSD delegation that did not include Victor Ponta. PSD, still with the UNPR's support, has the largest number of seats in parliament although this is not reflected whatsoever in opinion polls. Liviu Dragnea, PSD party leader, has stated that PSD wants control of the interim government. President Iohannis, however, has said he wants to meet with ALL parties in parliament today and tomorrow. He ALSO wants to talk to both civil society and protester representatives. How strikingly different from 1990 when Iliescu labelled demonstrators golani (hooligans) and brought in the coalminers to crush the student uprising.
(Photo source) People from the grass roots are organising themselves too, sick and tired of disfunctional civic society. Young professionals have founded Initiativa Romania. From all walks of life and all political persuasions, members have one common link: to unite Bucharest's citizens and civil society in the search for those who can represent an alternative to the present political class in local and national public administration on both the long and medium term. They are calling firstly for the resignation of ALL political party representatives in the local council of Sector 4. Piedone has gone, but the rest must follow suit.
HERE is Initiativa Romania's manifesto. Members include Claudia Postelnicescu (jurist), Edward Dumitrache (economist) and Mircea Serdin (software engineer). The group - see FB page HERE - has written to President Iohannis explaining who they are, what they want and how they can be useful. Cotroceni are yet to give a time for the civil society and protester representative meeting tomorrow, which will include Initiativa Romania. See more about the group in Hotnews and Revista 22.
Expert Forum (including names such as Sorin Ionita and Laura Stefan) has sent an open letter to the president and parliament also in advance of tomorrow.
(Photo source) What is the atmosphere in Bucharest, friends abroad have asked me. There is hope. For the first time in 25 years. People are hopeful that the moment really has come for possible change. A taxi driver told a friend of mine today, "if we miss this train, it'll be the last one." The voices from Piata Universitatii echoed all around Romania know what they want and their demands are clearer with each rally. The amplitude of protesters seen is proof that the end of tethers has been reached. The terrible tragedy at Colectiv was the straw that broke the camel's back. Iohannis's openness towards civil society and those in the streets has been welcomed. This is the first time that a Romanian president, much less a politician, has cared two hoots about their views and wanted to actually spend time listening to what they have to say.
"I have a message for protesters. I saw you, I heard you, I will take your demands into account," Iohannis noted in a statement. "I will meet a group which represents civil society and the street. It is important. I want to hear their wishes and opinions," he added.
(Photo source) But it isn't enough. There's a new slogan on the streets tonight: "Klaus, we're not rushing. We're here and we're thinking." It's a rhyme in Romanian and sounds a lot better in VO, see left. The president who never seems to hurry anything has been far too quick in choosing his interim PM. Cîmpeanu, they say, is a mistake, for he comes from the very same pack of rats that has been toppled. Although Cîmpeanu isn't expected to be there long, this is not a good sign for the change so desired.
Calls tonight also include Ombudsman Victor Ciorbea's resignation, and for the president's presence at Piata Universitatii.
Protests will continue until all demands are met, says word from the square.
Please be wise, President Iohannis.
(Image source) One simply cannot comprehend (or stomach) reactions of insensitivity in the face of last night's appalling tragedy here in Bucharest - a nightclub fire that killed 27 and injured over 180.
Ana-Maria Roman, a so-called 'journalist' for Antena 3, posted the status you see left on her FB page today, deleting it a while later but not before it had been grabbed and shared agogo by disgusted readers and published by Adevarul.
It reads: "Since Gigi Becali's arrest when I spent 24 hours on assignment, I never thought I'd get another working day like that one. Yesterday, I began with Udrea and ended at 8 o'clock in the morning with the fire. My colleagues are at the scene of the tragedy. Although I'm tired, I cannot help smiling at the thought that I have the coolest job in the world."
She should be removed from the list of Romanian journalists for such an unbelievable lack of sensitivity. What an egocentric jerk. Shame on her.
Hundreds of medical staff were mobilised on Friday night in frantic efforts to save as many lives as possible, prompting Bogdan Oprita, a spokesman for the Floreasca Urgenta, to comment that it was the worst bloodshed since the 1989 anti-Communist revolution.
"It was like a war," he said. "Dozens of surgeons were called from home and asked to operate."
Meanwhile today, a surge of people queued at the various blood transfusion centres here in the centre of the capital to donate blood urgently needed for the disaster victims. The hospitals were not prepared in any way for such a catastrophe. Friends and families of the injured had to go to local pharmacies to BUY the necessary treatment for burns and other wounds, for the hospitals didn't have any. They didn't have enough available beds either, leading to the injured being sent to ten different institutions throughout the capital and wasting valuable time. This has shone a spotlight on the government's massively dangerous failure to provide a decent healthcare system for its people - the one we all pay a great deal of money for but pray we will never have to use. Abyssmal for an EU member state in 2015.
A shocked President Iohannis visited Floreasca Urgenta today and spoke to some of the casualties' relatives. Most of the injured were unconscious, their condition critical, he told the press. He has demanded that investigations be carried out swiftly and carefully, adding that regulations at the nightclub seemed to have been ignored. According to various press sources, the club didn't have ISU authorisation to host an event featuring pyrotechnics nor any other activity for that matter. Furthermore, pillars in the club were covered with sound-proofing foam (toxic) that caught light almost immediately, engulfing the walls and ceiling in a matter of seconds. In a confined space packed with around 400 people, there were only two exits - and one of them was locked. Desperate survivors had to break it down to get out. Horrific.
PM Ponta cut his Mexico visit short and declared a three-day mourning period for the victims effective immediately. That's a bit like dropping a bomb on a village and then distributing elastoplast. Clamping down on the ISU, stamping out officials on the take and resuscitating a necrotic health system long before now would have been ultimately more helpful.
There are hoards of clubs in Bucharest working without authorisation and/or little to no safety measures: knackered electrical systems, flammable materials and decor, inadequate exits, no fire alarms or water sprinklers... If nothing else, perhaps this appalling loss will be the wake up call to incompetent, corrupt authorities required to act and TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILTY instead of constantly passing the buck. This was nothing short of an act of criminal negligence.
Bucharest has been covered by what can only be described as a blanket of stunned silence today. Families continue to search for their children, their spouses, their siblings on hospital lists or via Facebook and Twitter; many of the victims were underage and had no ID on them. Several of the deceased were so badly burned it will take some time to identify them. The terror of Friday night will haunt us for months to come. May families and friends grieving tonight find the strength to get through what lies ahead, may they be spared heartless, self obsessed comments from 'journalists' such as those cited above and may those who died so young and so needlessly as a result of incompetence and indifference rest in peace.
I'll close with a quote from an excellent article by Ronnie Smith published today in Romania Insider:
"Everyone knows about the extraordinary levels of corruption that exist amongst those known as the ‘political class’ and their friends and partners in business. The long-suffering population’s collective shaking of heads is no longer a viable reaction because good people are being killed doing perfectly normal every-day things like going out at night to have fun and driving along the road. They are being killed by the greed and carelessness of those who continually ask the people to vote for them.
Seriously, this corrupt culture of deadly chaos cannot be allowed to continue in Romania."
UPDATE 1 November:
The death toll has now risen to 30. Of the 184 injured, 140 are reported to be serious to critical and 10 are 'unconscious' (by which I guess they mean in a coma whether it be induced or otherwise). Terrible...
There has been an enormous outpouring of generosity from residents, institutions and companies in Bucharest in support and solidarity for the victims of Friday's tragedy and their families. People have come forward to open their homes (primary and secondary) to those stranded in the city; psychologists and psychotherapists are giving free treatment as are several medical centres; hotel and hostel owners are offering free rooms; Uber and Black Cab companies will drive blood donors to their destinations without payment and there's even an undertakers who will offer emotional support as well as organise and carry out funerals for the victims free of charge. It is truly wonderful to see so much selfless coming together in the name of compassion and humanity.
(Photo source - flowers and candles at Colectiv) President Iohannis visited the scene today stating that the disaster was a result of corruption and must be dealt with through compassion and admission of responsibility. He was followed by the American Ambassador Hans Klemm, and then French Ambassador François Saint Paul, who lay flowers and gave a speech in Romanian promising that France would be sending medics to assist Romanian surgeons, among them top specialists Vincent de Broucker (Burns Unit, CHRU, Lille) and Professor Marc Chaouat (Burns Unit, Hôpital St Louis, Paris). A team of plastic surgeons from the Israeli Tel HaShomer Hospital have already arrived. Also present to pay their respects were Princess Margareta and Radu Duda. Prime Minister Ponta was notably absent.
(Photo source) Meanwhile, 8,000 people made their way through Bucharest this afternoon in a Silent March from Piata Universitatii via Piata Unirii to Club Colectiv in memory and hommage to the 30 lives lost. The leader of the group organising the march was amongst the injured but did not require hospitalisation. Thousands left flowers and candles at the scene of the tragedy. A second march is programmed for 17h30 this evening.
A photography exhibition showing the works of journalist Teodora Maftei (ProTV), seriously injured in the blaze, will take place on Monday at The London Street Atelier here in Bucharest from 7pm. Teodora remains in intensive care in critical condition at Spitalul Clinic de Urgenţă Chirurgie Plastică, Reparatorie şi Arsuri.
A game of indecent Blame-Ping-Pong has broken out between the ISU (which depends on the Ministry of the Interior - today Oprea) who say they didn't know Colectiv existed as there isn't a single document in their possession relating to it so how could they have carried out regulation checks or given/refused any authorisations, and Cristian Popescu Piedone, mayor of Sector 4, who claims it's all down to ISU, the club owners and nothing to do with him.
The investigation is well and truly underway. The Prosecutor's office has stated that those responsible for the tragedy are looking at 25 years to life behind bars. An in rem jurisdiction is being exercised for manslaughter, and the main hypothesis is fire, not explosion.
A representative of the company who worked on soundproofing the walls of Club Colectiv reported that the club owners refused to buy decent quality fireproof material because it was too expensive.
George Gaman, director of the National Research and Development Institute for Mining Safety and Explosion-proof Protection investigating the cause of the fire, has so far confirmed a great deal of what we already knew: the club had only one exit (an 80cm-wide door); the walls and ceiling were coated with an extremely flammable sound-proofing material; no sprinklers; no system to cut electricity; a single fire extinguisher, too small to deal with such a blaze.
Bearing such findings in mind, it seems preposterous to just about everyone that George-Alin Anastasescu, Paul-Cătălin Gancea and Costin Mincu (the club owners) are still at large and that Piedone hasn't resigned. Nope. Instead, the owners are busy avoiding the press and getting their stories straight whilst the incompetent, corrupt officials chuck blame anywhere they can except at their own front doors. It feels like the Giulesti Tragedy all over again. Let's just hope this will not be pinned on some scapegoat (an electrician? A doorman?) letting the true scumbags walk away scot free. It wouldn't be the first time...
Intent on visiting my very favourite bookstore in all Bucharest this afternoon, you can imagine the shock to find it gone. Libraria Ioan Dalles, yesterday's gloriously dusty bookworm's paradise is now nothing more than a mousehole (a tiny one) of mostly second-hand books. I couldn't believe my eyes. What had once been a fabulous labyrynth of books old and new, cultural events, venue for fairs and festivals, book signings, antique gems and language classes is but a fond memory. What on earth happened? I truly can't believe it.
Once home, I dashed to Goagal and entered 'Ioan Dalles s-a inchis'. When? What? How?! Seems as though the news passed vastly unreported which seems impossible for a space that was such a symbol of the capital.
'Dalles bookshop, one of the oldest in Bucharest, has closed after 23 years of cultural and editorial projects important to the capital and beyond.
'We say ,, Goodbye'' with regret after almost a quarter of a century of bringing together a thirst for both reading and culture. We wish to remain unchanged,' bookshop representatives wrote on the Facebook page [no longer in service - Sarah's note].
Evidently, there were immediate comments. The Dalles team returned with additional information.
"The decision is not ours. We were forced to leave. However, we can assure you an opportunity to relocate has been found as a legal entity with the same team. The new space will be opened in Piata Romana."
Soon afterwards, a notice appeared on the door with the new address: Cladirea Bastiliei, Piata Romana nr. 5. The space will be opened in May, though the exact date is not yet known.'
There are other short articles to be found online, but none are particularly informative, see Radio Romania BucurestiFM (copied/pasted from Metropotam) for example.
(Photo source - The Ioan Dalles Foundation) Wealthy heiress Elena Anastasescu Dalles, daughter of a well-established family of grain merchants in Wallachia for generations and married to land-owner Ioan G. Dalles (Romanian of Greek origin), bequeathed her immense fortune then estimated at 20 million to the Eforiei Hospital in Bucharest, the Romanian Academy and the Ministries of Culture and Public Education. In her will, she left clear instructions that the Romanian Academy establish the "Ioan Dalles Foundation" as a place of culture in memory of her youngest son.
(Photo source) The "Ioan I. Dalles" Foundation building owned by the Romanian Academy was constructed by Emil Prager, designed by architect Horia Teodoru and inaugurated on 27th February 1932 according to Wikipedia, with exhibitions of fine art by George Oprescu and Jean Alexander Steriadi. As her will stipulated, The People's University was founded to form Romanian citizens through 'nurturing and education of the mind'.
In 1958, the Communists built a block known today as blocul Dalles in front of Sala Dalles.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania) For seven long years more recently, Sala Dalles was the subject of a legal battle between the Academy, the PMB, MNAC (Muzeul National de Arta Contemporana) and the People's University "Ioan I. Dalles". In 2000, the Romanian Academy demanded restitution of Sala Dalles, thus suing the aforementioned institutions, claiming it had been arbitrarily stripped of the building in 1948. Many of its properties were turned over to state institutions, said the Academy's General Secretary Ioan Paun Otiman, amongst them Sala Dalles. The case was suspended since no one could decide whether the property belonged to the PMB or the Ministry of Culture. The MNAC owned 40% at the time, including both the hall and the bookshop. The case was reopened in 2007. Gabriela Stanescu, lawyer for The People's University "Ioan I. Dalles", stated the Academy's demand unjustified, insisting it was not subject to Law 10/2001 concerning buildings taken abusively between 6 March 1945 and 22 December 1989. Read more about that HERE. I don't know what the outcome was athough it appears MNAC still owns B-dul Balcescu 18.
Diverta took Dalles over in 2008 and the bookstore changed from the oldy-worldy universe it was to a sharper, trendier hub of books, music, film, toys, video games, IT and stationery. Still lovely, but it lost its Alice in Wonderland air. Once upon a time, you could sit on the floor with piles of books for hours and no one would bother you. After 2008, it seemed somewhat misplaced to find a corner and spend time crosslegged with a hand-and-heart-chosen folley of books hiding you from the rest of the world.
(Photo source) ZDF reported Libraria Dalles was closed in April after the MNAC notified the team they had to vacate. They moved to a new Diverta space at Piata Romana in May as a result of the mounting rent. "The lease expired in April and we were simply let go," said Amalia Buliga, Diverta's CEO. THIS blog reports on the opening of the new Diverta store at Piata Romana 5, Bastilia Bookshop's former home.
How terribly sad. Yet another little bit of this dear city that mattered gone, and it didn't even cause a ripple. Bookshops don't seem to be a priority anywhere much these days.
(Photo source) Woke up to the vertiginous news that Bucharest's mayor Sorin Oprescu was taken into custody by the DNA in the early hours (see video here) on suspicion of taking bribes between 2013-15. He was filmed receiving a nice fat back-hander last night, basically caught en flagrant delit. Had to pinch myself several times to believe it.
AP report: 'The anti-corruption prosecutors' office said in a statement that from 2013-2015, firms which had contracts with Bucharest city hall were obliged to pay up to 70% of their profits from work they did for the city hall to high-ranking officials. Of that, 10% allegedly went directly to mayor Sorin Oprescu.'
According to the DNA whose investigations are supported by the SRI, Oprescu is part of a well-established and equally well-organised group in public administration 'that asked companies to pay bribes to get public contracts from various authorities subordinated to Bucharest’s City Hall.' Why doesn't anyone just call it a 'state criminal organisation'? That's what it is. Far worse than the mafia who at least 'helps' others soit-disant, this kind of 'organisation' exists only in the name of pure self-interest.
Despite a large number of city hall officials (including his personal advisor Solomon Wigler) done for bribe snaffling over the last few months, Oprescu has kept going, seemingly convinced he is beyond the law. Greed obviously knows no bounds. Little by little, the DNA are battling to clean up the quagmire in place for so long. Vanghelie and Mazare are just two mayors now in the slammer, but they are small fry compared to the almighty Oprescu.
(Photo source) Oprescu 'allegedly' took a 25,000 euro bribe (part of a total of 60,000 euros) from four people yesterday who denounced him to DNA prosecutors. The mayor was questioned last night and then taken into custody for 24 hours.
Arrested early this morning and carted off in handcuffs, some of the bribe amount was found on him whilst the rest was unearthed at his home. DNA prosecutors also swooped on 13 other locations belonging to or connected with people involved in the case including the PMB itself, the Cemetery Administration, the Cultural Centre for Brancovian Palaces at the Gates of Bucharest, the HQ of certain companies and homes of other city hall employees today.
One of Oprescu's lawyers, Alexandru Chiciu, has denied his client ever "asked for money from anybody, directly or indirectly" - wasted breath since this particular transaction was captured on film for all the world to see making the evidence somewhat overwhelming.
A further preventive arrest warrant of 30 days has been requested. If approved, Oprescu's mandate will be suspended. Deputy Mayor Cornel Pieptea has stated that, as far as he is concerned, Mayor Oprescu 'no longer has the legitimacy to occupy the position of Bucharest General Mayor.'
See more opinions of Oprescu's arrest here.
With a bit of luck, he'll also be stripped of his outlandish Légion d'Honneur along with the Order of the Crown bestowed by Romania's Princess Margareta and the ‘Dr. Alexandru Safran’ medal from the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania. All these honorable distinctions (and many more) awarded for what? Undying dedication to the destruction of Bucharest perhaps? Or his exceptional displays of lying, cheating, illegal construction, demolition and eviction? Today's corruption case is just the tip of the iceberg.
The 30-day warrant should also mean he cannot be candidate again as Mayor of Bucharest. Enough is enough. Oprescu has been an unholy catastrophe for Bucharest in terms of both the economy and urbanism.
President Iohannis has stated that if the court approves the warrant for Oprescu's arrest, then it's clear his resignation from office is mandatory. PNL will call for him to resign today out of honour in any case. Unfortunately for Bucharest, he said, the position has been compromised. He added that although it was a sad case of affairs, it was a strong sign that the fight against corruption was going from strength to strength. The way forward was with a new administration. "We must look ahead," he said, "and to do that we must ask the Mayor of Bucharest not to taint the image of the institution he has lead for so long any further." Nicely said, Mr President.
(Photo source) The news of Oprescu's detention has been greeted with unbridled joy here in Bucharest. This afternoon, several dozens of Bucharest cyclists met to celebrate. Announced on a FB event page entitled Alături de primarul nostru hosted by Comunitatea Bicicliştilor din Bucureşti, they started in Piata Universitatii and rode to the DNA headquarters to sing the Romanian traditional birthday song with slightly changed lyrics. "May he live many years" (Multi Ani treasca!) was beautifully transformed into "May he live many years in jail!" (Multi Ani primeasca!) You've gotta love it.
Awaiting news of the much-desired 30-day arrest warrant, I sit glued to the TV as more and more of Oprescu's dirty deals get plastered all over the screen. Out they leak, one by one. One of the informers admitted he'd given Oprescu 1mn euro in bribes over the last two years (news at 20h). 80% of the sums given in 2013 had come from bribes collected from businessmen for contracts concluded for the paving of alleys in the Brancovian Palaces Cultural Centre, he stated, whilst those of 2014 had come from "water and sewerage" work carried out at the Administration of Cemeteries and Human Crematories. Looks like Oprescu has well and truly cooked his goose. With champagne ready in the fridge I'm hoping against hope that Bucharest will soon be free of this bully, which can only mean brighter days ahead for patrimony, heritage and true, realistic urbanism. Go DNA!!!
UPDATE 00h16: YES!! The judges of the Bucharest Tribunal have approved preventive arrest for a further 30 days. The decision, taken just before midnight, may be contested at the Bucharest Court of Appeal. At once, Viorel Mocanu (another of his gaggle of lawyers) announced the decision duly contested, insisting on his client's innocence see here.
Meanwhile, Mircea Octavian Constantinescu (Economy Director at the PMB), Ruxandra Petroi Avasiloae (General Director of Brancovian Palaces Cultural Centre) and her partner Florin Șupeală were hauled in on preventive arrest accused of taking bribes this evening, along with Oprescu's chauffeur Cristian Stanca (known as Grenadă) who is accused of aiding and abetting the taking and giving of bribes and influence peddling, and businessman Claudiu Bengalici accused of money laundering. It's getting pretty crowded isn't it. Bogdan Popa, director of Cemetery Administration, and Romeo Albu were put on house arrest. Read more about what these crooks (particularly Grenada - what a colourful character he is) got up to HERE (in Romanian). It's truly mind-boggling.
Basescu had to have his say of course, and did so with a surprised "in 10 years at Cotroceni, I don't remember a single example of illegality committed by Oprescu." His memory must be dreadful... He couldn't believe, he said, that either Oprescu or Chiliman (suspended mayor of Sector 1) could possibly be involved in taking bribes.
Earlier this evening, Mr Mocanu, who seems to have become the spokes-lawyer, said that Oprescu was physically very tired after the 19h marathon he had undergone. Poor thing. He had been at the authorities' disposition all day long, except when driven to the DNA, from 00h30 this morning. His client hadn't had time, he said, to rest. You can almost hear the violins...
(Photo source) UPDATE 14th September: Oprescu's appeal for release fell on deaf ears at the Court of Appeal this evening. Judge Camelia Bogdan (I love this woman) denied the request, meaning he'll remain in custody for the full 30 days (and beyond, we hope), suspended from office within the next 48h. The decision is final and cannot be reappealed. His duties will be taken over by one of his deputies. The PMB General Council must now choose between Cornel Pieptea (PNL) and Dan Darabont (PSD). Five days ago, Hotnews reported that Pieptea didn't want the position of interim mayor for personal reasons, so the most likely outcome will be Dan Darabont.
Following the decision tonight, Alexandru Chiciu (one of Oprescu's lawyers) insisted that his client had nothing to hide and thus took no precautions, had done everything out in the open and corruption had nothing to do with anything.
According to sources, Oprescu is sharing his cell with 6 others, amongst them Mohammad Munaf who's doing ten years for the kidnapping of journalists in Iraq. The ex-mayor's roomies are not considered dangerous criminals (what a pity), most of them arrested for crimes relating to money...
I'm sure a doctor pal will soon show up to state Oprescu's insulin-dependent diabetes is all messed up due to the hard prison regime, lousy porridge and dreadful stress, recommending that he be released on health grounds at once.
More news as it happens.
(Photo source - Litera) Bucharesteans are getting terribly good at coming up with strategies to promote reading.
Romania Insider published THIS article this morning on a recent project between Meridian Taxi and Editura Litera, The Mobile Library (Biblioteca Mobila), where clients can browse through books as they're driven to their destinations. Published by Litera, Alice Munro, AP Cehov, Sinclair Lewis, Frantz Kafka and Mihail Bulgakov are just a few of the authors you'll find in a Meridian taxi - and they'll be changed on a monthly basis. The project aims to 'encourage reading, turning every moment into an opportunity to get stuck into a book' says a post on Editura Litera's Facebook page. What a fiendishly excellent idea!
(Photo source - Litera) Picture the scene: you've flagged a Meridian taxi - my favourite cab company incidentally - to get you to heaven knows where, are stuck in a traffic jam and spy a book title on the front seat you rather fancy. You get stuck in (if you don't get carsick like me) and become utterly engrossed in chapter 1. I guess they'll choose to put works that capture attention immediately otherwise what would be the point. Once at your destination you're going to have one thought in mind: "Ohhhhh!! But I'm just getting to a good bit!" or "But I don't wanna stop..." Off you'll go to the nearest bookshop to buy a copy. Brilliant marketing strategy by Editura Litera (even if you could probably get the same title by other publishing houses depending on the bookshop you go to). Well done!
In almost every metrou station, you'll find book vending machines much like the ones you feed money into for snacks and drinks. YES! I said BOOK VENDING MACHINES. How great is that? They too are changed regularly and have a wide range of choice from I.L Caragiale and Nichita Stanescu to Octavian Paler, Marin Preda and Neagu Djuvara.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania) Not long ago in Grădina Cismigiu, I fell upon a wonder. A book tree! Sounds magical doesn't it. There it was, a silver vision stretching out its book-ladened branches up, up, up towards a hazy sky. The trunk had all kinds of hidey holes equally stuffed full of books and magazines. Around the tree beanbags, seats and hammocks beckoned at passers-by to fall into for a rest and a read. A café had been set up too where you could grab a coffee or a soda to accompany you on your literary journey. There were plenty of people all lost between pages in peaceful surroundings. What a gift on a hot day.
The Metropolitan Library (strada Tache Ionescu nr.4). was another to create a Reading Garden this summer, see HERE.
(Photo source) And that's not all. Asociaţia Team Work in partnership with Grădina Botanică "Dimitrie Brândză" launched "Grădina din Cărţi" ("Book Garden") at the Botanical Gardens last month dedicated to students needing a place to study for exams and working together on projects. Workshops and photography competitions have been just two of the possible events found there this year.
(Photo source) There are several cafés that have strived to make reading a part of their ambiance. Take Green Tea (see left) at str. Dr. Burghelea nr.24 near Piata Traian for example, a cosy hub where the owner puts her library at your disposition should you not have your own reading matter with you. Curled up in a comfy chair under a sloping roof, book in hand and a mug of coffee or tea by your side you can while away the hours surrounded by soft jazz and golden oldies. The Hobby Café on strada Sfântu Stefan (Parcul Popa Soare - map HERE) is another haven rich in the literary word along with board games, Nintendo, chess, card tables, table football and anything else you can possibly think of to pass the time in the establishment's Hobby Room, Salon du Thé or Coffee Room. There's a nice terrace too. Mustn't forget the multicultural Readers Café (photo left) at the Metropolis Business Centre on Iancu de Hunedoara either. Cristina and Dan opened an English bookshop as a result of partnerships with publishers in the US and the UK and there, you can read to your heart's content accompanied by regular live music and exceptionally good food should you get peckish.
See THIS link for other reader-friendly cafés.
(Photo source) Bucharest isn't a city alone in its quest to encourage reading. Back in June, bus-rides were free for a week in Cluj for anyone armed with a book. Bookworm and founder of the "Cărţile pe faţă" campaign Victor Miron went to Emil Boc (the city mayor) with his proposal who put the suggestion on his Facebook page with an overwhelmingly positive response. Set up as part of several other initiatives aimed to promote reading in the city, free public transport is certainly an incentive to open a book!
Also thanks to Victor Miron, 3rd June last year saw people able to take taxis between 11h-15h totally free of charge here in Bucharest, providing they had a book with them and read for the majority of the fare.
(Photo source) Every Thursday in August 2014, an area in Parcul Izvor was transformed into an open-air reading room between 16h-21h complete with comfy places to sit and shelves for book swaps, whilst the Sky Tower organised a very nice space on one of their large terraces wih benches, colourful sofas, a fountain and play area for children for anyone needing a break. They didn't provide books - you brought your own - but it was a lovely spot to sit and read awhile not to mention the additional bonus of a superb view over the city.
So, all those who bemoan that Bucharest has nothing to offer, it does. Jos palaria to all those creative, imaginative people whose love and respect for reading, education and knowledge keep books alive and well in this beloved city of mine.
The book is not dead! Long live the book!!
(Image source) We were so looking forward to being at Sala Palatului last Tuesday night for the Israel Philharmonic (Enescu and Mahler) conducted by Zubin Mehta. Since the George Enescu Festival is the country's greatest classical music (and cultural) event of the year, getting hold of tickets has become more and more difficult.
All around me I could hear a whir of English, Italian, German, American, Spanish, Czech, French, Russian. Everyone who spoke to me (apart from the friend I was with) did so in (mostly accented) English. Tuesday's audience had a very large percentage of foreign tourists/businessmen. This blogpost is therefore 'dedicated' to them rather than Romanian members of the public who, I'm sure, are generally better schooled in concert etiquette.
Two seats to my left a lady was sipping champagne (I asked her what she'd done with the rest of the bottle and she replied she'd had a bad day) and swiping the screen of her iphone. In front of us, a young couple with a child that can't have been much more than five squirming in her seat.
An announcement that, due to a recent knee operation and adamant refusal to miss the concert, Maestro Mehta would be sitting down to conduct brought forth thunderous applause from the audience. The conductor, supported by two walking sticks, was greeted with standing ovation. Most touching.
The first chords of "Vox Maris" transported an eager public into the world of Romania's national composer George Enescu. Not for long though in my case. Ten minutes in, a couple arrived and everyone in my row had to get to their feet to let them in. Two seats still free between me and the girl playing with her phone, my friend and I moved along a) to be more central and b) so we wouldn't have to move again should there be anymore stragglers who couldn't tell the time. The two people next to my friend moved up too so the empty seats were sensibly at the end of the row.
End of the first movement. Applause. Noooooooooooooo..... Maestro Mehta kept absolutely still, back to the audience (obviously) and waited for both applause and shushing to die down before he raisd his baton once more.
The child in front of us wriggles about bored to tears poor thing. Why bring a kid to hear works difficult enough for adults much less an ankle-biter. Someone to my left decides they need a sweet and opens one with a loud crackling of wrapper. Behind me to my right a phone rings. The Nokia tone. Then another further down to my left. My neighbour is sending an sms, blue screen glaring in the darkness. Someone two rows down is playing Minefield on his phone. I can see it plain as can be. Why come at all?
End of Enescu's symphonic poem and loud applause. Interval.
(Image source) Now for Mahler. A symphony. Four movements. Even if some know nothing about classical music, four movements to a symphony is basic general knowledge. Let's not have applause between each one again. The couple and child are still there, the latter waving to someone in a box. Someone else is eating a chocolate bar and another a packet of crisps.
Lights down and Mahler's 9th begins. Hustle bustle and whispering from behind us. The two 'empty seaters' have arrived and don't want to sit on the end which would save disturbing others in their row. No. they want THEIR seats. In the middle of the sodding row. Selfish gits. Late AND egocentric. Someone tries to whisper an explanation but they won't have it. We all stand and move across again liberating the two seats. No apology. They get settled with plenty of huffing and puffing and then the woman (now next to me) rustles in her bag. Cough sweets. Crackle crackle. Her husband adjusts his hearing aid with a whistle. Aoleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeu.
Another phone rings.
The Nokia tone rings again.
End of the first movement. Applause. Oh my God... why do these people come to concerts? Just to be seen? To take selfies for Facebook?
(Image source) End of second movement. Applause AGAIN. No way. There's a global sound of 'nuuuuu' mixed with 'shhhhhhh' echoing around the concert hall. Maestro Mehta remains seated with baton down, unmoving. Silence prevails except for the odd crackling of sweet wrappers, a few coughs, and the third movement of delicious schmultz oozes from beyond to envelope awaiting earsl - those interested enough, anyway.
Another phone. Good grief. Even during the interval people hadn't turned them off. Un-be-bloody-lievable.
Someone behind us decides they have better things to do and leaves. She is wearing mules and the 'flip-flop' sound of her shoes against her feet must have been heard for several rows. More sweet paper rustling and the child in front of me is really starting to lose it now. No surprise. Mahler's 9th is a long symphony. Very long. And it takes concentration. The parents decide to leave during a pianissimo. Simply incredible. Everyone to their right in their row stands to let them out while we in the row behind are equally disturbed.
End of the third movement. No applause this time. Thank God. But a phone rings as the final movement begins. It's the Nokia one again. Are people so dependent they can't live without them for two hours or at least so selfish they can't put them on silence? PLEASE bring the phone signal jammer to Bucharest - illegal in the US and most of Europe, they are used in India, France and Japan at cinemas, art galleries, concert halls and other public venues. WE NEED 'EM HERE!! A deafening wave of coughing takes hold.
About ten minutes before the end of the fourth movement, people actually start to leave. WTF? Scared of a stampede for the exit if they leave with everyone else? A plane to catch? Left the stove on? Tummy upset? No, but really... They missed the last part, the most beautiful part, when silence falls from the heavens and peace reigns. But even that didn't happen on Tuesday night. People started to clap too soon. Far too soon. The spell was broken and I felt as if my breath had been snatched away. That marvellous fluffy serenity that descends upon you in those final bars couldn't possibly exist in such absence of respect and etiquette.
Two days later I'm still fuming. We didn't pay the price of a ticket (not cheap by Romanian standards) to hear the Nokia theme tune over and over accompanied by the rustling of sweet wrappers and the whinging of bored kids, and nor did we pay to see multiple phone screens flashing on and off like a discothèque and people coming and going like flamin' Picadilly Circus. We paid to hear Enescu and Mahler and to see Maestro Mehta leading the Israel Philharmonic at a magnificent festival of which all Romanian should be proud.
Silvia Colfescu got equally annoyed two years ago - enough to write THIS wonderful post where she gave a list of 9 simple rules for anyone unaware of concert etiquette. Here's my translation below (I hope she'll forgive me for it):
- 1. DO NOT applaud between movements. If you don't know the piece, wait for the conductor to turn around to face the audience or wait until the whole hall applauds.
- DO NOT drink during the concert. Wait until the interval. It's hardly as if you've just come from the Sahara after three days without water.
- DO NOT eat in the concert hall: stuffing do-nuts, cakes etc. Maybe it's usual at a football match but it's totally inappropriate at a concert.
- DO NOT fidget in your seat. If you don't like classical music or you're bored, DO NOT come. If you want to become a classical concert-goer, listen to it on the radio (Radio Muzical or TV Mezzo) for a few months or get hold of some CDs until you have grown used to it and feel you can resist two hours of performance without distrubing your neighbour who will probably be a very civilised person and thus largely unsympathetic to any antsiness next to her/him.
- DO NOT talk, blow your nose, or cough during the performance. If you have an uncontrollable coughing fit, leave the hall discretely.
- DO NOT bring your mobile phone to the concert hall. Or at least, turn it off before entering. It is humiiating to disturb an entire audience with a blast of a phone ditty. And be aware that the conductor could make you look like a prize lemon too, as was the case at Ateneul when Fabio Biondi blew a gasket onstage (and Lawrence Foster two years ago) when some berk's telephone rang during a performance. And what did the berk do? I know because he was sitting beside me. He turned off the ring but during the performance wrote a long message and sent it, probably telling whoever called him that he was a great music fan and at a concert...
- DO NOT take photographs during the performance. A reminder - if you take any during the applause, turn off the flash. Musicians like everyone have eyes too and don't take kindly to being blinded by dozens of flashes in the face.
- DO NOT show up LATE and, if you ARE late, stay near the door until the end of the movement/piece. DO NOT disturb an entire row of people who'll have to get up while the orchestra is playing, distracting the musicians along with a large part of the rest of the audience too, to reach your seats.
- DO NOT leave before the orchestra has finished playing even if you aren't much enjoying it: be patient and don't fidget. Leaving early disturbs the musicians and annoys the public. If you really want to leave, do so during the interval.
If you've read this list more than five times and STILL don't know the rules in their entirety, PLEASE STAY HOME!!!
And with that, I wish you a Happy Festival.
(Photo source) Agitated speculation continues to surround the latest drama engulfing Romania's former royal family. On August 1st, King Mihai decided by royal decree that 30-year-old Nicolae was not up to royal standards and formally cut him out of the succession to which he was third in line, withdrawing his title of ‘Prince of Romania’ and the style ‘Royal Highness' effective immediately.
"[The King thinks] Romania will need a head of the family who is dignified, moral, thinks of others and is hardworking, respecting the principles of the family," said the royal family’s spokesman, advisor and lawyer, Ioan Luca Vlad. In other words, the popular and much-loved Nicolae is none of those things?
Everyone's still in shock - see this blogpost from Camelia Csiki and Roxana Iordache's Facebook wall. Known for his dedication to ecology, cycling and literacy, he has touched many hearts through his hard work with NGOs and efforts to learn Romanian. In April, he cycled 625 miles from Transylvania to Constanta in a charity bid to raise money for children in need. That sounds pretty dignified, moral, hard-working and respectful to me.
(Photo source) Prince Nicolae has not been the subject of any scandal unlike his aunt Irina (stripped of her title after apologising for being part of a cockfighting enterprise in the US and sentenced to 3 years probation for operating an illegal gambling business) and his great-grandfather Carol II (stripped of his for his affair with Elena - better known as Magda - Lupescu). Even the gutter press has been unable to find anything gossippy to write about. Just google him - the lists are full of admiring, complimentary articles. (Google his uncle Radu and watch your screen explode with the contrary)
Yet "[The king] believes it is best if Nicholas continues to follow his own dreams outside Romania, outside the line of succession and outside the royal family," said Vlad. Charming.
So what's the beef?
Observers of the Royal House (not sure who they are exactly, but critics anyway) have remarked that Prince Nicolae 'failed to create a well-defined public profile', and had 'real deficiencies in speaking and writing Romanian'. That's pretty mean when you consider he was only given the title 'Prince of Romania' in 2010, had a life elsewhere before that and has been trying to get to grips with the language, the people and the country (none of it easy!) ever since. His only Romanian-speaking relatives are his grandfather and Duda both Romanian by birth. Even Crown Princess Margareta's Romanian is heavily accented and not particularly accurate. None of the others in the line of succession speak Romanian at all. The only other 'royal member' to speak Romanian is Paul Lambrino (she shudders). Would the so-called 'observers' prefer him instead?
In various articles yesterday as the news broke, one read that the decision was taken due to Nicolae's 'attitude' and was a 'preventative' measure to 'avoid future scandals'.
"It is a preventive move, that stops this distinction between what he [Nicholas] wants and what the royal family is, from blowing up into something that would be irreparable,” Vlad said. Say what? More info required, please.
Vlad also commented on the prince's business activities in an interview with Noel S. McFerran posted on The European Royals message board, stating that a member of the royal family cannot be involved in business due to a potential conflict of interest. If one wants to engage in business, one cannot be a member of the royal family too. So then, tell us about this possible business venture. Business activities are nothing to do with 'attitude'. And we don't discover this from the Royal House statement but from a site online.
(Photo source - Radu Duda and Nicolae) One pretty prominent opinion is that this is the dirty work of an ambitious and jealous relative. It has long been suspected that the unpopular Radu Duda (Prince Consort) was planted into the royal family by Ion Iliescu and had connections with the Securitate. Has the young prince's popularity cast a shadow over a third-rate-actor-transformed-to-colonel's ambitions? Rumour has it that Duda (who was rumbled with a faked CV) runs the helm these days. He is the Royal House's 'omul-orchestră', as Sabina Fati beautifully puts it, who has marginalised the king and made his wife write a cookbook. There have been mind-boggling decorations of PSD members just lately too that one cannot imagine being at King Mihai's behest. Oh, and the relationship between Duda and Nicolae has always been a notoriously chilly one.
So again, what is the prince meant to have done, exactly? Why the intrigue? Ten days on no one knows, and that in itself is outrageous. Is he a new up-and-coming entrepreneur, then? Dating a lapdancer maybe? Or has a thing for goats????? Seriously,what?? We have been told that he isn't being stripped of his title 'as a punishment', but because he 'doesn't fit the bill'.
Today saw a press conference from Nicolae. Respecting his grandfather and the Royal House as much as we know he does, he obviously did and said as he was told with the elegance and decency of a Prince. No such elegance from those responsible for this humiliation, who took 10 days to come up with a moth-eaten official statement that holds no water and basically explains nimic. Constantin Balaceanu-Stolnici has said that the withdrawal of royal status is a very serious matter, and cannot be justified by the reasons officially published so far.
(Photo source) Who was involved in the decision-making anyway? According to Hotnews, four of the eight members of the Royal Council were present for a meeting in Switzerland (see photo left): Radu Duda, Mihnea Constantinescu (advisor to four of Romania's PMs - Theodor Stolojan, Adrian Năstase, Călin Popescu Tăriceanu and Victor Ponta along with being Petre Roman's spokesman in 1991), Ioan Luca Vlad and the king himself. Others were apparently consulted by phone and Princess Margarita (who can select a new heir when she becomes head of the family - an interesting point to bear in mind) was apparently present for the meeting though not photographed.
Strange (or not) also that this should have all happened in August. People are less available and the news would make less of an impact. Or was that the point?
The Royal Family of Romania's website say that Princess Margareta and Radu Duda went to visit King Mihai and Queen Ana between 29th July and 3rd August. There are some very nice photos of get-togethers and lunches - but the photo later published by Hotnews seen above is there too. Same post. To let it appear online amongst lunch time snaps is rather crass.
THIS royal forum reports: 'According to the statement, the decision was made as King Michael feels it is best for the future of Romania that the Royal Family comes to an end following the 'life and reign' of his eldest daughter, Crown Princess Margarita.' I haven't read that anywhere else, but if that's true then there's no need to withdraw Nicolae's title - unless everyone else gets theirs whacked too. Absolutely NO need WHATSOEVER to give the humiliating impression that Nicolae is 'not up to royal standards' either. In any case, one can strike that as a possibility since Diana Mandache states on her blog that Vlad told her the king had no intention of putting an end to the line of succession. Position number 3 now belongs to Nicolae's sister, Elisabeta-Karina.
(Photo source: Nicolae and King Mihai) In the end, people say, the opinions of Radu Duda, Vlad and Constantinescu do not matter, for it is the king who decides. He signs the decrees. But I cannot believe he would do this to his own grandson. I simply cannot.
I can't find a list of Royal Council members (we know of five, mentioned above), but Ponta's name keeps cropping up.
Blowing up this bridge to a new generation of young monarchy is a huge mistake. It has been done with the elegance of a dead parrot, communicated appallingly, backed up with nothing but fluff and turned the royal family into figures of a tragicomedy. If this WAS orchestrated by a third rate actor who fancied himself as a candidate for the presidency (rather a conflict of interest when one is supposed to support the monarchy) in the last elections, then it won't end well.
As a friend of mine just commented: "What a weird story. Why would the king strip a title from the only hope for continuity?"
(Photo source: Ion Iliescu) Since the childless Margareta gives no 'hope for continuity' and is purely transitional, why indeed? Is this King Mihai's second abdication of sorts, this time without the Soviets banging their fists? Whether it is or not, it is a failure to provide for the future of the Royal House, and there are plenty who'll be rubbing their hands in glee....
For more, please see Sabina Fati's excellent article for Romania Libera, Hotnews, a little Narcisa Iorga, Diana Mandache for Adevarul, Doinel Tronaru for Adevarul (some excellent photos in this one), Radio Monaco, Métro, The Guardian, and The Telegraph.
(Photo source - 1936, 2nd edition) The cookery book, in an advanced stage of tatters (though cunningly held together with wrapping paper, willpower and paper clips), sits on the work surface in the kitchen ready for action. Its discoloured pages have seen a lot of the world and witnessed much of life. Full of scrawled notes in the margins dating back decades, the countless jottings on bits of coloured paper pinned to corresponding recipes are a reminder of what to do and what not to do next time. Today, chiftele is on the menu and we need Sanda Marin to be sure we've left nothing to chance.
Anyone who knows their way even remotely around a Romanian kitchen will have heard of Sanda Marin, Romania's own interbellum version of our Mrs Beeton. She is an authority; indispensable, a national symbol of homeliness and since 1936, every Romanian household has had a copy of her Carte de Bucate in the kitchen, or at least on a shelf somewhere. In a word, Sanda Marin was and is the Romanian JOY of cooking.
"When I was a child," said Andrei Pleşu, "we thought Sanda Marin was one word - 'sandamarinul' - a useful tool with the answer to everything."
(Photo source) Sanda Marin, born Cecilia Maria Simionescu (1900-1961), grew up in Iasi amongst a family of prominent intellectuals. Her father Ion Simionescu, a reknowned paleontologist, was president of the Romanian Academy.
Cecilia went to the best schools and benefited from excellent professors, amongst them Florica Musicescu (Dinu Lipatti's teacher) with whom she studied piano in Paris. She spoke fluent German, French and English and rubbed shoulders with the intellectual elite of the interwar period who visited her home. Cecilia was an avid listener and adored their discussions which were usually full of passion and controversy given the time.
Following her marriage to doctor in chemistry Mihai Zapan, she transformed her home into a gastronomic nirvana in which she prepared mouth-watering, divine creations for her family and friends.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania) Uninspired by the Romanian cookery books available on the market at the time, Cecilia decided to share her talent and show that cooking could be an art. Unsure of her success, she took a pseudonym: Sanda Marin. Published in 1936 it quickly became a bestseller and the most comprehensive collection of traditional Romanian recipes in the country. Published by Cartea Românească, the preface was written by Păstorel Teodoreanu and contained 1000 recipes.
Sanda Marin's Carte de Bucate in its many editions is a history book in itself. A written testament to the changes communism brought the Romanian people in terms of food shortage, her recipes suffered due to censorship and rationing. After 1945, the 7th edition republished by Editura Tehnică showed vastly reduced ingredients often replaced with something else - what was required was no longer available, and Sanda Marin's introductions had far less charm for the reader.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania) In 1954, the volume was reprinted and much-shortened. What had become 1,300 recipes since the first publication in 1936 was slashed to 850. Anything considered too 'opulent', 'exotic' or 'cosmopolitan' was omitted: caviar (icre negre) salad, Chateaubriand and consommé all disappeared. Foreign names were changed. Tarte Napoléon became tortul marmorat (marble cake). Sauce hollandaise became sos cu unt (butter sauce), béchamel was modified to sos de faina (flour sauce), and béarnaise was given the boot completely along with anything that had a religious connotation or connection. Recipes for post (dishes for Orthodox Lent without meat/dairy) were removed but found in preparations considered 'economic'. One can actually follow the increased limitations for the pantry and the need to be very frugal through the ingredients of Sanda Marin's recipes.
Everything published after Sanda Marin's death in 1961 was done by Roda Vişinescu, a dietician, who updated and revised the author's recipes to reflect changing 'economic' conditions.
Ceausescu always said that Romanians ate too much. In the 70s, he planned huge soup kitchens for Bucharest to feed the population with meals to take home at low cost in superposed metal containers (sufertase) much like billycans. Remember the Circurile foamei? How ironic to construct such massive buildings for the selling of meals to the population of a sector when everything was so scarce - agricultural produce was all being exported to pay the country's external debt. There was only one choice of dish per day. Bucharest City Mall and Plaza Romania were all buildings initially destined for this project but unfinished at the time of the lovilutie. Another is now a university (D. Cantemir in Timpul Noi). Ceausescu was particularly interested in the one at Sf. Vineri, and followed its progress carefully. Built to accommodate thousands at a time in huge halls, he called it a 'fabrica de mancare', ie. food factory. Page 13 of our battered 1969 edition reminded me of this, although it was printed years earlier when things were a lot better. The text reads (translated from Romanian):
(Photo: Sarah in Romania) 'In our country, the diversity of products is becoming ever richer. The choice is so great that one faces a dilema as to what to cook for a balanced diet.' This was somewhat true in 1969 if not a little exaggerated. Such 'diversity' wouldn't last, though.
Page 13 continues: 'The daily ration should bring you at least the quantities indicated above (there's a chart - Sarah's note). For example, the amount of meat can be occasionally increased, but on that day, don't drink milk. If you don't have 100g of meat, you can do just as well with 50g of dried beans and 2 eggs.' In other words, 100g of meat can be substituted with 50g of dried beans and 2 eggs... If this could be suggested in a 'good' period like 1969, imagine how dire things got in the 80's.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania) Before 1945, one finds recipes that ask for 'a fat, plucked chicken'. Later, post-'45, the same recipe begins with 'take half a chicken', and there's no mention of 'fat'. Times reflected in a list of ingredients...
The recipe for Chiftele ca de piept de pasare (meatballs with chicken breast) is not prepared with piept de pasare at all. 5 eggs, 1 onion, 1 slice of bread, 1 potato, 1 tbsp flour, salt, pepper, parsley, 2tbsp lard and 1 tbsp breadcrumbs, but no chicken. In fact, no meat at all. The meat is substituted by the potato.
Names like icre imitate, pateu imitat and mititei altfel break your heart although I'm told by MP (thank you!) that such recipes were nothing new. In Sanda Marin's various editions from the fifties onwards, onions are a main ingredient for almost every savoury recipe. For Salata de icre imitate one requires: 1.5 cups of water, 4tbsp grits, 1tbsp fishpaste (like anchovy paste - Sarah's note), half tsp cayenne pepper, 100g olive oil, 1tsp vinegar or lemon if you have it, 1 medium onion. From icre to fishpaste...
(Photo: Sarah in Romania) In our 1969 edition, water features often as a substitute for unavailable ingredients: 'If you don't have cream, add water', 'if you don't have milk, add water'. Making do. One is asked to use a conopida frumoasa - vocabulary for a gospodina. There were no 'lovely' cauliflowers. At the market, most peasants wouldn't allow you to choose your vegetables ("nu-i la alegere, doamna!") and you got what you were given.
How about a slice of tort de fasole (string-bean cake)? Does it tempt you? Can anyone seriously imagine serving a string-bean cake at a birthday party? Portocale (oranges) are mentioned in our 1969 edition, but there were none available except for on New Year's Eve.
A complete and restored edition of Sanda Marin's cookbook was finally published by Humanitas in 2009, and it can also be found in English. I don't want a new edition though. Our yellowed pages, dog-eared and tired, recapture voices from around a table, chatter from a long-lost kitchen whereby, if you didn't have milk or eggs, you'd use water. The profound changes that took place in Romanian society as a result of food shortages particularly in the '50s, followed by relative abundance throughout the '60s and '70s are illustrated through the ingredients and commentaries of this culinary bible. Has anyone seen an edition published between 1980-1996? I haven't, but then again, who'd have needed a cookery book when there wasn't much to cook.
Indeed, so much more than a pile of traditional recipes...
1937 - source
1939 - source
1941 - source
1945 - source
1949 - source
1966 - source
1980 - source
1996 - source
2009 - source
(Photo source) Today, June 24th (the feast of St John as well as magical Sânzienele or Drăgaica), marks Ziua Universala a Iei - the Universal Day of the Romanian Blouse. As I walked down my nearby boulevard earlier this afternoon, almost every woman I passed was wearing one. Me too. We smiled at each other, stopped to comment on our blouses, where they'd come from, who'd made them. The short walk to the Post Office took me over an hour! But why is the ie (pronounced ee-eh) such an important national symbol?
Handed down from mother to daughter over many generations, every inch of the traditional ie from the material (cotton or linen of flax or hemp) to the beautiful embroidery is pure art painstakingly hand-sewn, and has remained unchanged for centuries. As well as being a statement of folklore and cultural belief, the decorative patterns on the ancient (and not so ancient) ie were a myriad of symbolic communication signalling gender and age, family ties, marital status, wealth and social position, occupation — and of course, style. Each unique piece had its own story to tell. The signs and symbols in geometrical and floral motifs all had their individual significance depending on region, seamstress and often the person for whom it was destined. When the Romanian peasant set about embroidering her blouse, she knew exactly what she wanted to express. The material was her easel upon which she 'painted' her future with needle and thread, using symbols for fertility, war, love, fragility, power and faith. Nothing can be taken at face value on an ie, for nothing is without underlying meaning. How can one not marvel at such a breath-taking masterpiece?
(Regina Maria and Principesa Ileana - source) Trees feature largely on the ie symbolising wisdom, life and rebirth. The fir tree is particularly popular especially in the countryside, representing eternal youth or immortality - a frequent element in Romanian mythology, ballads and poetry.
THIS post gives a little more insight: 'A circle or a sunflower signifies the sun, day or Divinity; since Romanians were traditionally an agricultural society, living off the boon of the land, the sun was of capital importance and was often associated with God and abundance. Likewise, depending on the region, more motives related to daily activities can be found: water (either as a river or as sea waves) and fish in the fishing villages along the rivers and sea coast, wheat or corn stems in agricultural villages, wheels or coin in crafting traders’ villages, and so on.'
Colours too have their own distinct meanings according to region, pattern and destination: greens and golds for the plains; red, grey and brown for the mountains; blue and silver for the rivers. Young girls tended to wear lighter hues, but the colours darkened as they grew older to reflect their social status.
'In April 1940, Henri Matisse finished 'La blouse roumaine,' having begun the painting in November 1939. Theodor Pallady, a Romanian painter, had given him a beautiful collection of traditional Romanian blouses as a gift which eventually inspired Matisse to create this painting along with others currently on show in Paris at the Pompidou Centre’s National Museum of Modern Art. Forty years later in 1981, these paintings were to inspire Yves Saint Laurent to dress his models for his autumn-winter collection presentation in Paris. And this is how the dusty streets of Romanian villages became a podium for the chic clothes worn by international top models.
That fashion collection was later exhibited worldwide in numerous museums. In 2009, a year after the death of Yves Saint Laurent, the collection arrived in Bucharest and stayed here for two months (28 May-26 July). Thus, the fashion designer succeeded to raise the Romanian blouse – the large sleeves, the open neck, the geometric figures embroidered on the chest – to a cult object. This was only the beginning, as after Saint Laurent, the Romanian blouse was also later used as a source of inspiration by other fashion designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, Oscar de la Renta and Tom Ford. For instance, Tom Ford reinterpreted the Transylvanian blouse with black embroidery specific to the region, which appeared in the American Vogue Magazine in March 2012 worn by the British singer, Adele.' Wonderful!
(Photo source) And so you see, the ie is so much more than just an item of clothing. It is a firmly preserved tradition and a very personal story rooted in an idyllic past. It is Romanian history itself and a wake-up call for its people to reconnect with heritage. Every Romanian woman should be immensely proud of her ie. I am not Romanian as you know, but mine are amongst my most treasured possessions. Whether I bought them myself or received them as gifts, they are stunning exemplifications of all that I love here in the country of my heart. Each is an enigma waiting to be solved. Just like Romania herself, one must have the love, curiosity and patience to explore beyond the superficial evidence for the meaning and richness that lies beneath.
When a woman wears the traditional clothes of her people, she wears the entire Cosmos.
– Pavel Panduru
For more, please see THIS wonderful post and enjoy!
(Photo source - Tudor Besleaga) The press are always quick to jump on stories about unsavoury Romanian ex-pats running amok and ripping off the UK's benefits system, but there are thousands of Romanians living abroad working hard, studying their pants off and making a success of their lives that we never hear about.
This post, therefore, is dedicated to one such success story with a future ahead of him that could potentially change the face of coronary patient care worldwide.
Tudor Besleaga is a UCL Mechanical Engineering graduate currently working on his PhD project in Medical Device Innovation at the UCL Institute of BioMedical Engineering in London and is one of two PhD students sponsored by Integrated Technologies (ITL). Together with his team of researchers, he is developing a wearable device that could potentially save the lives of thousands by detecting heart failure and alerting clinicians to patients at risk from imminent heart attacks. Sure, there is technology that gives an estimate today (smart watches, fitness devices etc), but that's all it is - an estimate. Tudor foresees turning that estimate into a diagnosis, leading to preventive medical action before the attack occurs. Watch the video HERE as he explains the project.
(Photo source: Highest cause of death per country, article Jan 2015)
Heart disease is singularly the UK's biggest killer, responsible for 82,000 deaths a year - that's an average of 224 people every day. The country spends 3.2 billion on healthcare costs for heart disease annually, so this device would not only save, literally, a great deal of heart ache, but also a heap load of money. Healthline lists the world's top 5 countries with the highest rates of heart disease-related deaths to be Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Argentina in that order. According to WHO data published in April 2011, heart disease was responsible for 56,727 deaths in Romania - 26.16% of the country's total mortality rate for that year. Such a preventive device would bring indescribable change to patients, doctors, international health systems and budgets all over the world. The potential is, frankly, mind-boggling.
The project team is led 'by consultant cardiologist Dr Pier Lambiase and cardiovascular research associate Michele Orini as well as two UCL professors specialising in biomedical electronics and optics', says ITL.
"It works as a pulse oximeter, with an LED lighting the skin, and a photodiode detecting how much light is absorbed by the blood in that region. The blood flow can be determined indirectly. The technology is cheap, but reliable," Tudor explained to EMDT
Currently perfecting the algorithms to be used for monitoring arrhythmia, his next stage is prototype development. By the time he completes his PhD project in 2018, he wants to have a usable product.
If that isn't something to be proud of, I don't know what is. Fingers crossed for a marketable product and eventual regulatory approval.
For more, please see THIS detailed article with more from Tudor in EMDT by Thomas Klein.
(Photo source) I cannot believe my eyes. Mayor of Bucharest Sorin Oprescu is to be awarded France's highest honour by Jean-Marc Todeschini, French Minister of State for Veterans and Remembrance, in a ceremony in Bucharest this Thursday 12th March at La Résidence de France (str. biserica Amzei 13-15) with François Saint-Paul, France's Ambassador, in attendance.
What has Oprescu done to deserve such an honour? Is it his undying dedication to destroy Bucharest brick by brick perhaps? Or maybe it's his exceptional displays of lying, cheating, corruption, bullying, illegal construction, demolition and eviction? Add to that an extraordinary capacity for bad taste. Since his first mandate he has shown incredible flair for all the above and has excelled in all categories.
There is little mention of this auspicious event in the mainstream Romanian press, but there are reports (so far) from B365.ro and Radio Romania. I originally found it HERE in French completely by chance. Did City Hall want to keep it quiet until the last minute to avoid civic protest?
Well, there SHOULD be civic protest - and massively too. Street demonstrations, open letters from big names to the French government, petitions, articles condemning such a choice.
How on earth could this man receive such an accolade? True, Chevalier is the lowest degree of five distinctions, followed by Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer) and Grand Croix (Grand Cross), but it seems to be given out to the least deserving of folks just lately. Only last week, the Chairman of Romania's Senate Calin Popescu-Tariceanu was also decorated Chevalier at a ceremony attended by Princess Margareta, Prince Radu, Ion Iliescu and Emil Constantinescu. Did we hear about it? Was there any big-stuff media coverage? If there was, it completely passed me by. There wasn't the fanfare one would expect to accompany such an occasion in any case.
I truly cannot come up with anyone LESS deserving than Oprescu. He is a political puppet, a typical product of a national communist society and does not know the meaning of the word 'culture'. In addition to all that, he is an absolute disaster for intelligent urban development. His two great achievements to date (the National Arena and the Basarab overpass) cost more than twice as much as similar projects abroad.
If this serial killer of patrimony wants to build something and there happens to be a historic monument in his way, it gets whacked - usually in the dead of a winter's night when there are no journalists around to sound the alarm or activists to hamper his progress. We have seen it time and time again. No matter how many times Nicusor Dan drags him through the courts, no matter how often he is found guilty of abuse of power or illegal demolition, it's all much of a muchness. He has consistently ridden rough-shod over the law which is made for little people after all, not big-shots like him, and done the deed anyway, finishing off what Ceausescu began. Nothing and nobody seems able to stop him. He is a tyrant answerable to no one who should be prosecuted for the destruction he has wrought, not awarded for the mayhem, chaos and devastation he has reaped upon a city in the name of megalomania and greed.
(Photo source) Those who care and grieve these losses at his hands are a tragic, shameful minority seen as nutty eccentrics standing against progress and modernity. There is no appropriate adjective to express the heart-ache, the nausea, the revulsion that Oprescu's handywork causes the precious few still fighting tooth and nail to save the city they love from this mayor's psychopathic massacring. In the style of his original profession (cardiac surgeon), he keeps right on going, ripping the heart out of the city, hacking up its arteries, mangling its organs and bludgeoning the breath out of it in any way he deems fit.
And France figures he deserves to be honoured for that?
Please sign and share THIS open letter addressed to Jean-Marc Todeschini and Ambassador François Saint-Paul, and if you are free tomorrow at 18h, a demo will be taking place outside the French Embassy in Bucharest also showing opposition to the choice - check out the Facebook page entitled În numele onoarei Bucureștiului. Very apt. There, you will find a long and comprehensive list (by no means complete) of all the reasons why such a distinction for such a man is so scandalous.
I'm too disgusted to write any more...
As if Romanian culture and those that strive to preserve it haven't had their fair share of battles and insults over recent years, culture is now about to be further taxed. The draft law (to replace Law no. 35/1994), signed by 84 trans-party MPs, has caused massive outcry among Romanian intellectuals, and public opinion is equally revolted.
This new tax, says Nine O'Clock, is to be applied to any cultural 'product' in Romania, from books, theatre and films to exhibitions and concerts, and the income it makes will enrich 'creators’ unions and organisations.' It will be smacked on every book before it arrives on the shelves as if it were a packet of cigarettes or a bottle of plonk. The Romanian Editors' Federation (FER), the Association of Show Producers and Organisers (APOSR) and the Union of Romanian Phonogram Producers (UPFR) are challenging it for its negative impact on economic and cultural development. Quite right too. It is scandalous.
The current law (in situ since 1994) is set at 2% of the book value whereas the draft law puts the culture stamp for books at a fixed 1 leu (about 0.22 euros) for each copy, more than the 2% in many cases. For other literary categories (cinema, theatre, music, architecture, Beaux Arts), the new values vary from 2-5% of the price of a ticket (show, concert or exhibition) and between 1-2% of the price of copies of recordings or reproductions (audio-visual, cinema, theatre, music, etc).
Apparently, the whole point is to protect and preserve cultural patrimony, encourage contemporary creativity and promote values in various cultural fields. Yes, sure. But when a victim of corruption, indifference and neglect can barely walk as it is, why not steal its walking stick and bash it round the head with a new tax, alienating it yet further still. What a brilliant idea.
(Image source) Editors, producers and cultural product importers along with show/concert organisers and administrators must obtain the new culture stamps and bung them on the products concerned. They must also send a bi-annual report before 25th July and 25th January every year. Can you imagine the fun that'll be.
The creators' unions and associations wishing to benefit from the funds drummed up must register an official demand with the Minister of Culture. Ha! And they say this is a move to limit corruption in the world of culture. Promoted by Nicolae Manolescu (president of the USR Writer's union), Ion Caramitru (president of UNITER) and Adrian Iorgulescu (president of the Musicians' Union - the guy who wanted to tax the music taxi drivers play in their cars, as he considered taxis to be public spaces... One can guffaw but he was perfectly serious) - all of them ex-ministers, or, like Manolescu, UNESCO ambassador, that's highly unlikely. The sums from the tax can only be used for means conforming to objectives defined by the aforementioned creators' unions and organisations and are untaxable. Really, the greed leaves you speechless.
Anyone trying to circumnavigate this law will have a nice fine on their hands somewhere in the realms of 5,000 to 25,000 lei (1,115 to 5,580 euros).
Draft law 583/2014 was quietly approved under wraps (no surprise there) by the Senate on 8th December 2014, while the final decision rests in the hands of the Chamber of Deputies, Parliament's lower house. The bill has currently come to a halt in the cultural commitee after several cultural associations said they had never been consulted and were therefore contesting such a measure. During the debate, the head of the cultural commitee in the Chamber of Deputies, Gigel Stirbu (another name you'll remember, see HERE - what hope is there for Romanian culture with people like this making decisions on its future?), said MPs agreed to keep the culture tax at the previous 2% level.
"Over the past several years Romania has faced a market decline for books and music. Such legislation would worsen the situation that is currently far from normal. Introducing such a 'culture tax' would directly affect the retail price of cultural products and services (books, CDs, DVDs or concert tickets) which will inevitably alienate a large category of potential readers/listeners/spectators against a backdrop in which the public’s access to culture in Romania is already amongst the lowest in the European Union," FER representatives said, reported by Mediafax.
According to the FER, the low and medium income families will be the most affected by this taxation which, in their opinion, will increase book prices by 7-10% and such a supplementary tax, they warned, would be unique for an EU member state, putting Romania at risk of a procedure of infringement from the European Commission. It would appear that Manolescu, Caramitru and Iorgulescu aren't bothered by such nit-picking detail.
The FER have therefore asked that draft law 583/2014 be annulled, since it was established without consideration for commitments taken by Romania at EU level in terms of the 'intelligent regulation' strategy, where member states are advised that any new draft law be accompanied by arguments in favour of timeliness and an impact assessment to evaluate costs for economic operators.
(Photo source) A recent head to head (Realitatea) on the subject between Gabriel Liiceanu and Nicolae Manolescu ended with the head of Humanitas (Liiceanu) claiming uncontestable victory. Manolescu was publically pulverised when accused of wanting to take the place of the ANAF and pocket as much as he could for the USR in illegal taxation.
"De la 'daţi un leu pentru Atheneu' s-a ajuns la 'Vă iau un leu pentru USR-u,'” said the director of Humanitas. Yes. Well said, Mr Liiceanu.
Please sign THIS petition against the rise in book prices as a result of this new legislation. In a country where people have been distanced from their history, patrimony and collective memory via acts of disinformation, corruption, demolition and destruction, allowing culture to become even more inaccessible is nothing short of criminal. Ponta's recent declaration to earmark 2% of the country's lottery earnings for cultural activities supervised by the MC is not going to cut the corn. Robbing Peter to pay Paul? Absurd. Keep your lottery earnings and drop the draft law!!!
Read more in Romanian at Istorioare Bucurestene
(Photo source) Episode 2 of Channel 4's 'The Romanians are Coming' was aired last night. Watch it HERE if you missed it. If my Facebook newsfeed is anything to go by, the complaints of discrimination and misrepresentation from some of the UK's Romanian diaspora continue.
I still say that judgement should be reserved until ALL THREE of the installments have been aired, for without the full picture, one cannot have a thoroughly informed opinion. But that's just me.
This episode opens once again with a rather 'Borat'-like scene - a perfectly truthful one for anybody wondering. Seeing as how the narrator Alex is there in the midst of it all, I bet we're looking at the overwhelming horrors of Pata Rât on the outskirts of Cluj. For more on that, see my post yesterday and for more about Alex and how he became the documentary's narrator, see HERE.
(Photo source) This time, the focus is on Mihaela, a lovely lady who lives in a nice middle class house with her husband, daughter and mother in Constanta. A nurse by profession, she finds a job through an agency in a very posh-looking residential home in Cumbria. On-line, she and her daughter browse images of the Cumbrian countryside - drop-dead gorgeous mountains, rolling hills and meadows full of flowers. Mihaela's own garden is filled with flowers too. She agonises over leaving her family, particularly her elderly mother, but the residential home she is set to work at looks like a palace and those views will swathe her homesickness. Or so she believes.
When she arrives, it's obvious that she has been duped. No mountains and flowers for Mihaela. She is sent to a non-descript council house in Sheffield that she must share with two girls from Spain. Small bedroom, filthy carpet. At least there's WiFi. Mihaela gets busy cleaning to ease the shock. The residential home isn't the palace she saw on internet either.
(Photo source) She works hard and misses her family terribly even though she can visit home by skype. Her patients at work seem nice enough, but it saddens her that they're not cared for at home surrounded by their families (as is usual in Romania), and she worries about her own mother, nearly eighty, back in Constanta.
At the end of the month, there's another bombshell to add to the mounting pile of letdowns. She is paid less than promised (and less than anybody else). Why? Because of 'problems' with her papers. She had to send them off three times before she could touch a penny of her salary. Humiliated and appallingly treated by the agency (that I hope will be investigated and closed down), this wonderful caring nurse that frankly the Brits were lucky to have returns home to her family and her garden. Too bad for the UK.
We also meet Adi, an exceptionally courageous guy who has a full-time job but sends so much of his earnings back to his family in Lupeni that he cannot afford accommodation for himself. He lives under a bridge and is so deeply ashamed that he can't tell anyone back home how hard life is. Without the money he sends, his mum tells the narrator that they would 'starve'.
(Photo source) Alex (with the fluorescent vocabulary) is back again and still sleeping rough. He has left the multi-storey carpark and is now in a cardboard box on a heath somewhere. To celebrate (or rather commiserate) the one year anniversary since his divorce, he has a beer whilst at work, gets caught by his boss and is fired. Oops. Sick and tired of trying to do everything by the book which has lead to nothing but homelessness, cold and deprivation, he throws in the towel and sets off to make a living through other means... His two friends wash their hands of him.
Okay, so there's still no sign of the architects, doctors, professors and managers of UK's Romanian diaspora, but Mihaela is quite typical of her compatriots in terms of personality (kind, warm), outlook (sunny, filled with hope) and her hardworking attitude. A nurse is not some lowly, unskilled profession with no prospects (not in the UK anyway) but an admirable vocational career. She reminded me of a lot of friends of mine and her experience couldn't fail to provoke enormous empathy from anyone with half a heart.
Come to think of it, the Brits should be the ones complaining about misrepresentation following last night's episode rather than the Romanians, seeing as how those interviewed on the streets of Sheffield were such utter low-lives. We are portrayed as heartless, xenophobic, hardfaced chavs and the general image of Britain is one I do not recognise. It's worth mentioning, perhaps, that I haven't heard or read a single Brit up in arms about it. On the contrary, the feedback is very positive. See this article from Bucharest Life.
Perhaps it is not terribly 'representative' of the UK's entire Romanian diaspora so far. But it is representative of the hardships, the humiliation, the struggles lived by real immigrants in real time in the UK today. It is representative of a life change that takes incredible guts and gall. It is representative of commitment, determination - and love for those left back home. These immigrants could, in fact, be from anywhere in the world. They just happen to be Romanian. Mihaela captured my heart. If I could have adopted her on the spot and found her a decent agency to work for so that her time in my native country would have been other than it was, I'd have done so. Bless her. To treat an honest, decent, hard-working person like that is shameful. And poor Adi. To hold down a full-time job while sleeping under a bridge just so he can feed his family back home?! I don't know a single Brit who would survive such misery. There is a a great deal of dignity to be found in such torment and one feels admiration for him, not pity.
As far as I'm concerned, this has been a documentary focusing more on how the Brits see and treat immigrants who have left their homes, their families, made unthinkable sacrifices and how acutely unfair it all is than about Romanians themselves - and it gets my vote. It is NOT pro-Farage. On the contrary. It makes every Brit watching analyse their prejudices, feel a certain amount of shame - and it demands compassion.
Maybe the Romanians protesting in front of Channel 4's HQ should take their complaints back to their own government - for that is where the 'problem' originated and that is where it should be addressed. It's easy to keep blaming the nasty, intolerant foreigners instead of tidying up one's own back yard and admitting (and taking) a certain degree of responsibility.
Roll on March 3rd for the final installment. Maybe with an IT specialist who has made it or a doctoral student or two just to make things 'whole'.