(Photo source: Cotidianul) Passing these two striking buildings joined by a passerelle whilst out for a walk with a friend on Friday afternoon, I wondered, not for the first time, what tales lay behind them. Somebody had told me a long time ago that the larger one on the right had been a synagogue, and this medieval-looking edifice in the middle of the city certainly does have something synagogue-ish about it, with its imposing neo-gothic architecture.
A security guard in a yellow plastic jacket (he must have been boiling in 35°) was behind the gate in the courtyard. Seeing us standing there, he and a woman he was chatting to came over to see what we were up to.
"Sorry to bother you. Could you tell me anything about these incredible buildings?" I asked him.
He looked at me as if I must have been hit on the head by a flying bag of spanners, and shrugged.
"Was this one ever a synagogue?" I indicated to the right-hand building.
"No. Never," he replied.
"So, what was it?" I persisted.
(Photo source: Sarah in Romania) Of course he wanted to know where I was from and why I was so interested, so I explained that I had passed it many times and was simply curious to learn the history of such a majestic pair of buildings.
Satisfied that I wasn't related to anyone out to claim back a heritage or with some other hidden motive apart from admiration of the touristic sort, he explained that it had been a factory in the times of Regele Mihai, but didn't know what kind. Now, he told me, it was used to store archives.
Pleasantly surprised to find a guard who actually knew something about the buildings he was taking care of, we thanked him very much, lingered in front of the larger building a while longer as my imagination went bonkers and then continued our walk. I was determined to find out more as soon as I got home.
We did rather doubt the security guard's explanation, though. How on earth could such a stunning building have been a factory? And archives, I thought as we walked. Really? With grimey windows and such an unoccupied air? Could it house something as important as a part of the country's archives? And what about the ornate house next door?
When I got home, I put out a message to friends asking for info.
Mara Popa replied almost at once with THIS article written by Dan Ghelase in Cotidianul featuring some splendid photos of the interior plus THIS video, and confirmation that the larger building had indeed been a factory. For carriages.
A monument of industrial architecture, it is registered on the LMI as a category B, reference B-II-m-B-19597.
Radu Oltean then answered with the same info, adding that the first building, more residential-looking but in the same sort of architectural style, had been home to the factory's owner.
(Photo source: Sarah in Romania) Next came a very informative reply from Silvia Colfescu who said that the richly decorated predominantly neo-gothic house with Art Nouveau detail dated pre-1899 and, due to its style, could possibly have been the work of architect Ziegfried Kofszinsky also responsible for Carul cu Bere, whilst the newer factory with its eclectic façade and decorative Byzantine-Moorish elements was built between 1911-1927 by German architect H.I. Rieber. The Carriage Factory, she explained, became a car service (garage?) for German cars during the interbellic period until it was nationalised.
Today, she wrote, the Carriage Factory (or Rieber Factory, as it was known) building is owned by the state and does indeed house a section of Romania's National Archives, whilst the house, says Dan Ghelase's article (dated 2014), is in the throes of a restitution battle.
So now we know. And the security guard wasn't far off after all.
For more information, see Metropotam and Hai la Bord.
My thanks to Mara Popa, Radu Oltean and Silvia Colfescu for all their wonderful information so promptly shared.
In the middle of the Old Town, the inconspicuous entrance to str Covaci 6 and its several flights of wooden stairs will lead you away from the hustle and bustle of cobbled streets, shops and restaurants up into a seeing-is-believing world of pure, unadulterated Kitsch. Yes. The Romanian Kitsch Museum opened its doors yesterday, and well worth a visit it is, too.
Garden gnomes accompany your climb up the old stairs, and as you round a corner, you're confronted by a sublimely cheesy mural of Christ in Superman robes with colourful giftbags of stuffed toys at his feet.
The museum's 215 exhibits are divided into several categories ranging from religious kitsch to communist, modern and gypsy. There's even an area for making your own kitsch. Everything has you doing double takes as you make your way around, not knowing quite whether to laugh or cry. But you'll cringe. Ohhhhh, how you'll cringe.
Flashing crosses reminiscent of a '70's discothèque, pitzipoance and cocalari in all their tasteless glory, images of screamingly awful gypsy palaces, tacky gold jewellery, flames of a mock fireplace on a flat TV screen, Count Dracula (perhaps Romania's ultimate kitsch), plastic fruit on doilies, bad copies of the Mona Lisa, moth-eaten taxidermy, lurid tapestries, gaudy ornaments... Aaaaagh!!!
The communist style of political speech known as limba de lemn (wooden language) is featured too, encouraging you to pick texts and see them transformed into the hollow, meaningless phrases so many Romanians will remember right before your very eyes. That had my attention for quite some time. Fascinating.
With a great deal of gypsy kitsch to be seen, it's hard to imagine the gypsy community won't be just a bit put out. However, one of the information texts explains, 'Cultural differences are a rich source of kitsch. When a minority culture subsists beside a majority culture, many of its features are labelled as authentic kitsch. The important gypsy minority in Romania comes into prominence through its contribution to the Romanian landscape.' Included in the 'gypsy' category: manele, gypsy culture, gold accessories, fortune tellers and gypsy architecture. Whether offensive or not, the kitsch is undeniable. Like it? Don't like it? It's kitsch either way.
I expect the BOR will complain a lot louder than the gypsy community. Religious kitsch is widespread and plentiful across the entire country in varying degrees of splendiferous tackiness, so it's hardly surprising it is found here in rather generous doses. The corresponding introductory information board reads: 'When religion stops being spiritual and becomes materialistic, it turns into kitsch.' Couldn't agree more.
Museum founder Cristian Lica told us that everything in the museum had come from his own personal collection and all images had been taken from the public domain. He'd used nothing that wasn't already out there, in other words. A friendly man and perfectly happy to stop for a chat, it had not been his intention to upset anyone, though he was aware that it might.
So, is Romanian kitsch any different to that from elsewhere? I've been googling to find out, and really, it appears not. Perhaps French kitsch is a little more oppulent (HERE's a mind-bogglingly exaggerated example), whilst English kitsch finds its culminating points in the Eurovision Song Contest (!!), Brit seaside holidays and the kind of tat you'd expect to find in souvenir shops these days, but apart from that, one pile of kitsch is much like another: 'Definition - KITSCH (noun): showy art or cheap, decorative objects that are attractive to people who are thought to lack any appreciation of style or beauty (Cambridge Dictionary)'. The only difference is that Romania has a great deal more of it (and shows it off in spectacular fashion) than anywhere else I've ever known.
Bucharest is certainly plagued with a massive scourge of kitsch (more prevalent since 1989) which invades our streets, parks, taxis and churches along with our homes. It is impossible to make it through the day without having it shoved in our faces at some point or another. See HERE for a perfect example. For this reason, tourists pay a 30 lei entrance fee whilst Romanians pay 20. They have to put up with so much bloody kitsch that they deserve the discount! :D
Kitsch is as annoying as it is omnipresent, but seeing so much of it here in this space dedicated to (sub)culture seems to make the bling and artlessness a little less nauseating, strange though that may sound. Let's hope the future of Cristian Lica's museum will not be marred by controversy and a sudden demand for political correctness, for it really does deserve to be seen - both by foreigners and Romanians alike. In addition, any artist is welcome to exhibit on the upper floor dedicated to Art, just as long as their work is kitschy, Mr Lica says.
For more, see THIS excellent article by Alison Mutler, THIS from Vice, and THIS one by Hotnews complete with videos.
The Romanian Kitsch Museum
Strada Covaci 6, București 030167
Phone:+40 723 794 989
Open every day from 12h-23h
[Photos by Sarah in Romania - please don't nick without asking]
I tumbled into R.G. Waldeck's Athene Palace yesterday and boy, is it a trove of history, first-hand gossip and addictive scandal in fabulous detail. I was no stranger to King Carol II's disastrous ruling nor the shameless disgrace of Elena Lupescu, but the career of unscrupulous leach Ernest Urdareanu (1897-1985), the true meteoric ascendance of an eminence grise, came as a staggering revelation.
Pour yourself a nice festive drink, then sit back for a story that will whisk you back to late 1930s Bucharest - another world, or so I thought. Turns out it wasn't that different from today's Bucharest after all, for opportunists and Rasputin-type power-snafflers have existed since time immemorial, all out to rob Romania and her population for their own self-enrichment. Because they can.
Astonishing really. Almost out of nowhere, Ernest Urdareanu became King Carol II's minister of the court, chamberlain, closest advisor and the third branch of Romania's ruling Trinity with the King and Lupescu. After King Carol II himself, Urdareanu emerged as the most powerful AND the most hated man in all Romania. And with cause.
Nobody seems to know much about Urdareanu's early years, but Wikipedia says he had two brothers and came from a military family. In 1931, he arrived at the Palace as an aide recommended by Nicolae Titulescu, and became head of the Palace garage (he had a great passion for cars and was a former racing driver) where he was a regular chauffeur for Lupescu. Appointed private secretary in 1933 and vice-marshal in 1936, the star was truly launched a year later when he became head of the royal household.
Photo source: Urdareanu (fifth person from left to right) in the company of King Carol II and Jockey Club President Constantin Argetoianu (1939)
Urdareanu was not promoted on merit, experience or qualification but on the boundless trust bestowed upon him by Carol II and Lupescu. The power he gleaned was hallucinating, and how it could possibly have happened had many a Bucharestean scratching his head from 1936 onwards.
According to Waldeck in Athene Palace (University Chicago Press, 2013, p24/5), many 'fantastic stories' buzzed frenetically around the capital. The most fantastic perhaps was that the King had married Lupescu off to Urdareanu. Many say the two were lovers and it has never been disproved. Whatever, impossible though it was to ascertain how this man's career had soared so extraordinarily, one thing was sure and certain: It was Lupescu who had taken him from the garage and popped him into the Palace.
(Photo source - Ernest Urdareanu) Carol II was a blabbermouth. He talked too much, too freely and to everybody. On more than one occasion, he even talked about Lupescu and she was most displeased. It seems that she put Urdareanu in his valuable, powerful position to keep a gossipy king in check and thus cover the throne in some wondrous veil of secrecy that would emanate an air of mystery befitting royalty as well as minimising further chitchat focusing on her.
The upshot was that Urdareanu became the singular most important influence over Carol II's reign.
Urdareanu lorded it over the camarilla (circle of shady but powerful favourites including wealthy industrialists Auschnitt and Malaxa, Aristide Blank, Mihail Manoilescu around the King all of whom loathed Urdareanu) too, along with Lupescu. Although Carol II may have created his lavish personality cult which grew more extreme as his reign progressed, Urdareanu controlled it - and everything else:
(Waldeck, p25) 'Prime Ministers and cabinets came and went often, but Ernest Urdareanu was always there, firmly between the King and the outside world. No letters or telephone calls reached the King unless approved by Urdareanu. The King received in audience only persons whom Urdareanu approved, and even these were received in Urdareanu's presence. Even His British Majesty's minister, ponderous Sir Reginald Hoare, and the Fuhrer's stiff and polite envoy, Dr Fabrizius, had to count heavily on the good will of the all-powerful court minister.'
Rumour had it (and it's not hard to believe) that anyone who wanted to see the King had to grease Urdareanu's palm first. He is quoted to have boasted, "Madame Lupescu controls the King, but I control Madame Lupescu so I control Romania." (Moats, 1955)
Photo source: Ernest Urdareanu and Elena Lupescu, Bermuda, 1941
As the King's right-hand man, Urdareanu had seats on the boards of a myriad of companies in which Carol II had financial interests. It is generally believed that Urdareanu helped the King transfer large sums of money out of the country into foreign banks, and did not neglect his own financial benefit in the process.
Waldeck describes (p25) Urdareanu as a swarthy little man of 'flashy elegance with a silver plate in his skull who was said to use powder and rouge.' Every day he had lunch at Lupescu's house - they were neighbours. Young Prince Michael detested him and 'behind his father's back called him Murdareanu which was Romanian for dirt.' Astute child.
Everyone knew he was corrupt to the very bones, and the huge wealth he amassed in only a few years was proof of the pudding. Waldeck writes (p25/6), 'Rumour had it that the great European powers, including Germany and England, paid large sums to the King's favourite. All this if true, would be in the best tradition of the Balkans.
But even Urdareanu's bitterest enemies admitted that he adored the King and was completely loyal. They even admitted that Urdareanu advised Carol according to the best of his knowledge as to what was best for the King. What his enemies resented was that this 'best knowledge' was a primitive kind of unscrupulous shrewdness, and that what Urdareanu thought was the best interest of Carol was rarely the best interest of Romania.'
Fast forward to 1940 (see HERE for more on Carol II's abdication): When King Carol II fled Romania with Elena Lupescu and hundreds of pieces of luggage, among them priceless paintings such as several El Grecos which some say actually belonged to the state, along with other treasures, Urdareanu was right there with them. Naturally. It sounds rather like a madcap adventure for teens off inter-railing for the summer. Wikipedia explains: 'When King Carol and Madame Lupescu were forced to leave the country after the King's abdication on 6 September 1940, Urdareanu accompanied them on their adventurous flight from the country, when the royal train was hounded and shot at by members of the Fascist Iron Guard. First they went to Switzerland and afterwards to Spain, where they stayed in Barcelona, Madrid and Seville. Due to constant pressure from the German and Romanian government for the extradition of Lupescu and Urdareanu on account of their suspected crimes and corruption, in March 1941 Urdareanu organised their flight to Portugal.'
They weren't in Portugal long. Fearing German occupation would spill in to Portugal, the three preferred to seek asylum in Cuba, Mexico and Brazil. In Mexico, Urdareanu married 18-year-old Monique Cook (happy to give many an interview on her marriage, adventures and opinions of Carol II and Lupescu over the following years, see HERE for example) and, in 1947, organised Carol II's and Lupescu's marriage in Brazil.
'In 1949 all four returned to Portugal, where they set up a household in Estoril, with Urdareanu still as secretary and chamberlain of the King. After the unexpected death of King Carol in 1953, Urdareanu organized the funeral in Lisbon, which was not attended by ex King Michael, partly because the latter didn’t want to meet Lupescu and Urdareanu [how perfectly understandable - Sarah's note]. Michael detested Urdareanu.
After King Carol II's death [untimely at 59 years old - Sarah's note], Urdareanu and his wife stayed with Madame Lupescu until her death in 1977. Urdareanu later died in Portugal in 1985, at the age of 88, never returning to Romania.' Of course he didn't return to Romania. He'd have been immediately arrested and thrown in jail.
So that's that. That's the story. Except it isn't a story. This slippery, sly and pretty darn ruthless bloodsucker from seemingly nowhere swung from royal chauffeur to perhaps the lover of the King's mistress (Downton Abbey much?) and became the most powerful man in Romania besides the King himself. At the moment of abdication, this (by now wondrously rich) freeloader ran off with King and Vamp for a wild extended holiday in Europe and Latin America on money nicked from the Romanian population, and went on to live out his days bine mersi in lovely Estoril finally snuffing it at the ripe old age of 88 having never answered for a single crime.
80 years on, any sign of evolution?
For more, please see Romania Libera and BZI.ro.
Other books in English on this period in Bucharest: Foreign Correspondent by Robert St John; The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning
For 16 centuries, tradition has it that Saint Nicholas crosses the globe tonight, leaving presents for all those who have done good deeds throughout the year. Children (young and old, big and small!) polish their boots on the evening of December 5th, so that he will stop by and drop his gifts inside them. Over 811,000 Romanians mark their name day on December 6th.
Saint Nicholas (Greek: Άγιος Νικόλαος , Agios ["saint"] Nikolaos ["victory of the people"]) (270 - 6 December 346) is the common name for Nicholas of Myra, a saint and Bishop of Myra (Demre, in Lycia, part of modern-day Turkey). Because of the many miracles attributed to him, he is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus whose English name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as is common for early Christian saints. (Wikipedia)
St. Nicolas is surrounded by a rich myriad of tales and legends. One story is that of a poor man who had three daughters. In those days, a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands a dowry. The larger it was, the better chance she had of finding a good husband and without it, she was unlikely to marry at all. The poor man's daughters had no such dowries and were therefore destined for slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home providing the much-needed riches. The bags, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left in front of the fire to dry, leading to the custom of children hanging up their stockings or putting out shoes. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags, hence why three gold balls - today's symbols for pawn brokers, sometimes represented as oranges - are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas.
One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete arrived in the district. They plundered the Church of Saint Nicholas and made off with the booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, for slavery. The emir selected him as his personal cup-bearer, as Basilios didn't speak Arabic and thus would not understand what the king said to those around him. So, for the next year, Basilios served the king bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios' parents devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly and was filled with grief. As the next feast day of St Nicholas approached, Basilios' mother refused to join the festivities for it was now a day of pain although she agreed to keep a simple observance at home - quiet prayers said for Basilios' safekeeping. Meanwhile, many miles away, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks St. Nicholas suddenly appeared to him, blessed him, whisked him up and set him down again at his home back in Myra still holding the king's golden cup. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas as protector of children which became his primary role in the West.
Another story tells of three theological students en route to Athens to study. A wicked innkeeper robbed and murdered them, then hid their remains in a large pickling tub. Nice! It so happened that Bishop Nicholas, travelling along the same route, stopped at that very inn. That night, he dreamed of the crime, got up, and summoned the innkeeper. As Nicholas prayed earnestly, the three boys were restored to life. In France, the variation is that of three small children who, wandering in their play, get lost. Lured by an evil butcher, they are captured. St. Nicholas appears and appeals to God to return them to life and to their families.
And then there is St. Nicholas and the sea. When he was young, he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There as he walked where Jesus had walked, he sought to experience the Lord's life, passion, and resurrection through meditation. Returning by sea, a mighty storm threatened to wreck the ship. Nicholas calmly prayed. The terrified sailors were amazed when the wind and waves suddenly calmed, sparing them all. No surprise that St. Nicholas is also the patron of sailors and voyagers.
(Image source: Artist: Michele Damiani; Postcard: Magicatera, Bari, Italy 2007: St Nicholas Center Collection
There are plenty of other stories full of how Nicholas saved his people from famine, spared the lives of those innocently accused and many more. He carried out kind and generous deeds in secret expecting nothing in return. Within a century of his death, he was celebrated as a saint. Today he is venerated in the East as a wonder or miracle worker and in the West as patron of a great variety of people - children, sailors, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travellers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, students, children, victims of judicial errors, captives, perfumers, even thieves and murderers. Bref, he is the friend and protector of all in trouble or need.
Sailors claiming St. Nicholas as patron carried stories of his favour and protection far and wide leading to chapels built in many seaports. As his popularity spread throughout the Middle Ages, he became the patron saint of Apulia (Italy), Sicily, Greece, and Lorraine (France), and many cities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Following his baptism in Constantinople, Vladimir I of Russia brought St. Nicholas' stories and devotion to his homeland where Nicholas became the most beloved of saints. He was so widely revered that more than 2,000 churches were named for him including three hundred in Belgium, thirty-four in Rome, twenty-three in the Netherlands and more than four hundred in England.
Nicholas' tomb in Myra became a popular place of pilgrimage. Due to the many wars and attacks in the region, some were concerned that access to the tomb might be hampered. For both the religious and commercial advantages of a major pilgrimage site, the Italian cities of Venice and Bari vied for the saint's relics. In the spring of 1087, sailors from Bari managed to spirit away the bones bringing them to Bari, a seaport on the southeast coast. An impressive church was built over St. Nicholas' crypt and many faithful journeyed to honour the saint who had rescued children, prisoners, sailors, famine victims, and many others through his compassion, generosity, and the countless miracles attributed to his intercession. The Nicholas shrine in Bari was one of medieval Europe's great pilgrimage centers and Nicholas became known as "Saint in Bari." To this day, pilgrims and tourists visit Bari's great Basilica di San Nicola.
In Romania and beyond, children typically leave their boots on the window-sill the evening of December 5th. By next morning, Moş Nicolae (Sfântul Nicolae) has left sweets and gifts if they have been good, or a rod (Romanian: nuieluşǎ) if they have not (most children end up getting small gifts but also a small rod).
So, now you know. Happy Feast day to all Nicoles, Nicolettes, Nicoletas, Nicolas's, Nicus, Nikys and Nicks and to all children, both big and small, everywhere!
[Gheorghe Leahu: Popa Nan, source]
In 1459, 557 years ago today, Bucharest first appeared in a written document. 557 years....
Bucharest became Romania's capital in 1862. This, from Wikipedia: "Its eclectic architecture is a mix of historical (neo-classical), interbellum (Bauhaus and Art Deco), Communist-era and modern. In the period between the two World Wars, the city's elegant architecture and the sophistication of its elite earned Bucharest the nickname of "Little Paris" (Micul Paris). Although many buildings and districts in the historic centre were damaged or destroyed by war, earthquakes and Nicolae Ceaușescu's program of systematisation, many survived."
Of course one can still find beauty in Bucharest - that reticent grace and charm that brings a lump to one's throat every time one is confronted with it, concealed under a veil of dust, grime or graffiti or in a crumbling courtyard. Perhaps, for visitors as well as for many Bucharest residents, one must be told where to look - the splendid streets around Dorobanti, the hidden villas behind Unirii, the sleepy oldy-worldiness of Armeneasca, the charm of what's left around Cismigiu on all sides, the dignity of Cotroceni and Icoanei - and that's just for starters. Bucharest demands to be loved. Few of us actually oblige. Indeed, there IS beauty for willing eyes and hearts.
All elderly ladies deserve kindness and respect. Bucharest is no exception.
Happy birthday, my dear beloved city. May what remains of your quiet and timid loveliness be preserved and treasured yet a while...
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.
As I stood admiring a particularly gorgeous facade (see left, architect L. Negrescu, 1899) somewhere behind Magazin Cocor, a guy leapt out of his van and came rushing over.
"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...
(Photo source) It’s hard to say what calusar actually means, says RoUnite, although you may be interested to take a look at a few definitions derived from other beliefs:
- - 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!
For more on Rusalii, please see HERE in English and HERE in Romanian.
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: 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.
Căsuţa cu poveşti
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.
Amintirea că un parfum
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.
What about the nuclear bunker? "Oh, that," she said. "If you mean a few pipes in the basement... Didn't see a bunker."
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: Sarah in Romania) After a quarter of a century, the Libraria Ioan Dalles (Diverta for the last seven years) is no more.
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.
(Photo source) The only site I can find to have given the closure decent coverage, albeit brief, was Metropotam (translated by yours truly):
'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 - 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!
There are plenty of other creative examples here in Bucharest for luring noses into a good tome.
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 - 1936, 2nd edition) The cookery book, in an advanced stage of tatters (though cunningly held together with wrapping paper, paper clips and willpower), 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 Sanda Marin is needed to be sure nothing has been left 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.'
The 'Woven Wheel' (left) indicates the passing of time, the cycle of the 4 seasons caused by the 4 winds which pull the world into different directions
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.
(La blouse roumaine by Matisse - source) The XXIc has seen a huge revival of the ie, and perhaps Henri Matisse should take a bow for the part he played in that. THIS post describes how it happened:
'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)
Every country in the world is labeled with the disease that caused the most deaths within the nation - See more at: http://truthalerts.com/this-map-shows-the-most-deadly-disease-in-every-nation/#sthash.TtbsnPvE.dpuf
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.
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
ascribes 2 per cent of the Romanian Lottery’s earnings to cultural activities supervised by the Ministry of Culture. - See more at: http://www.balkaneu.com/romania-ascribe-culture-2-lotterys-revenue/#sthash.9WUVvZlk.dpuf
(Image source) At noon today, Klaus Iohannis was sworn in as President of Romania replacing Traian Basescu, almost twenty five years to the day the communist regime fell. The ceremony was attended by MPs; former presidents Ion Iliescu and Emil Constantinescu; Patriarch Daniel; Roman-Catholic Archbishop Ioan Robu; Prince Radu and a host of others.
The role of the President in Romania is for the most part ceremonial, but he has the power to appoint the PM, oversee foreign policies and veto draft laws.
"Today I stand here before you aware of the importance of this moment for the future of Romania. I am honoured by the confidence Romanian citizens have bestowed upon me," Iohannis said in his address after the swearing-in ceremony. The new head of state said he was "deeply moved by the love of the country - the driving force for voter turnout - and by the peoples’ aspiration for freedom and prosperity." 25 years after the fall of communism, they had once again made democracy and involvement triumph.
"There is a need for the whole political class to understand there is no way forward for Romania except that of a country rid of corruption," Iohannis continued. "I want people to see we have made durable laws and solid institutions by the end of my term," he said. "Things are not going to happen over night. We must face traps at every turn. I am glad there is the good will to begin talks for a revision of the Constitution. We all want deep change for Romania. Mentalities need to alter. I want a Romania where there is no time for show. I want a strong nation."
"I want corruption gone from the public agenda", he went on. "Public institutions should work for the citizens and the political class should understand once and for all that they are working for the public rather than individual or group interests."
"Romania cannot remain the country of great expectations and paltry results, the country of squandered time and lost opportunities," he told the session, adding that he wanted to leave behind him "a stronger and more united Romania" showing Romanians that "projects are being carried through."
(Photo source) President Iohannis (it still feels so good writing that!) promised to seek a political consensus with parties from the ruling coalition and the opposition on key initiatives to address education, health and the judiciary; a decision on permanent dialogue procedure and an action plan to leave talking to one side so work could begin.
Iohannis also vowed to present Romania’s national defense strategy in the first six months of his term, while framing a national consensus on the need to increase the defense budget to at least 2% of GDP.
It was a wonderful speech in just about every way. Warm, confident and full of vibrant assurance of his determination to transform Romania into a country worthy of admiration, trust and respect. I don't recall the last time a long-term plan for the nation was envisaged (let alone vocalised) by her president. Seriously. The country seems, at last, to have fallen into good hands. How moving it is to know that, finally, she has a president who truly cares, loves her dearly, will fight for her and protect her - and is hellbent on sweeping her off her knees so that she may sit at the international table at eye-level with the best of them. Klaus Iohannis brings hope and decency to the Romanian people. I am not sure how much he will be able to achieve in five years (the President has a right to a maximum of 3 mandates ) and I pray that Romanians will be patient. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the rebuilding of Romania will be a long and rocky road that requires unwavering support and perseverence. Cohabiting with ponta will be thorny. Painful, even. Let's hope that state of affairs will come to an end before the Parliamentary elections. I honestly believe that Klaus Iohannis's emotional (and deliciously surprising) presidential win last month is the beginning of a very positive, exciting new chapter in Romania's history.
Awarded the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (2014), Knight of the National Order of Merit of Romania (2011), The "Friend of the Jewish Communities of Romania" Medal of Honour (2010), Knight of the Order of the Star of Romania (2007) and The Federal Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (2006) amongst other distinctions, his hard-working, precise and uncompromising reputation will stand him in good stead. May President Iohannis be blessed with success, wisdom and strength - he has a monumental task ahead. To coin the title of his book, "step by step"....
Merry Christmas, one and all!
For more in English please see The Guardian, Euronews, Agerpress, Nine o'Clock, Reuters, Deutsche Welle, Bloomberg and the BBC.
For Romanian, please see Hotnews, Ziare, Gândul, Mediafax, Adevarul and blog CARResCo.
(Image source: Sfantul Dumitru by Romanian painter Gheorghe Tattarescu) Today, Orthodox Christians observing the Gregorian calendar celebrate the feast day of St Demetrius (see HERE for procession in Thessaloniki). One of the most important military saints often paired with Saint George, Demetrius is regarded as a protector of the young, the patron saint of crusades, is invoked by those struggling with lustful temptations and is also known for an impressive number of miracles.
Our spelling of Demetrius (or less commonly Demetrios) is a romanisation of the ancient Greek pronunciation; in Romanian, he is Dumitru.
Demetrius of Thessaloniki is one of my personal favourites along with St Seraphim of Sarov, and anyone who has ever been to an Orthodox country will have heard of him. But who was he, and why is he so beloved?
THIS site gives the story of his life:
'The Great Martyr Demetrius the 'Myrrh-gusher' of Thessaloniki was born into one of the most noble and distinguished families in the province of Macedonia (Thessaloniki, Illyricum) in the year 270AD. Roman paganism, spiritually shattered and defeated by the multitude of martyrs and confessors of Christianity, was intensifying its persecutions. The parents of St Demetrius were secretly Christians, and he was baptised and raised in the Faith in a secret church in his father’s home.
(Image source: XIIc mosaic icon of St. Demetrius the Great Martyr, Xenophontos Monastery)
By the time Demetrius had reached maturity and his father had died, the emperor Galerius Maximian had ascended the throne (305). Maximian, confident in Demetrius’ education as well as his administrative and military abilities, appointed him to his father’s position as proconsul of the Thessaloniki district. The main tasks of this young commander were to defend the city from barbarians and to eradicate Christianity. The emperor’s policy regarding Christians was expressed simply: "Put to death anyone who calls on the name of Christ." The emperor did not suspect that by appointing Demetrius, he had provided a way for him to lead many people in the opposite direction.
On accepting the appointment, Demetrius immediately began to teach the Faith openly and overthrow pagan customs and idolatry.
When Maximian learned that the newly-appointed proconsul was not only a Christian, but had also converted many Roman subjects, his rage knew no bounds. Returning from a campaign in the Black Sea region, the emperor decided to lead his army through Thessaloniki, on a mission to massacre the Christians.
When the news of the emperor's plan reached Demetrius, he ordered his faithful servant Lupus to distribute his wealth to the poor and began to prepare himself for martyrdom through prayer and fasting.
(Image source: Fresco of St. Demetrius by M. Panselinos in the Church of Protaton on Mount Athos, circa 1290)
When the emperor arrived in the city, he summoned Demetrius who boldly confessed his faith and denounced the falsehood and futility of Roman polytheism. Maximian threw him in prison, where he was visited by an angel who comforted and encouraged him.
Meanwhile, the emperor was busy amusing himself with 'games' in the arena. His champion was a German named Lyaeos. He challenged Christians to wrestle with him on a platform built over the upturned spears of victorious soldiers. A brave Christian named Nestor went to see Demetrius and requested a blessing to fight the barbarian. Thus granted, Nestor prevailed over the fierce German and hurled him from the platform onto the awaiting spears. The enraged Maximian ordered the execution of the holy Martyr Nestor (October 27th) and sent a guard to the prison to kill Demetrius, too.
At dawn on October 26th, 306 soldiers appeared in the saint’s underground prison and ran him through with lances. His faithful servant, St Lupus, gathered up the blood-soaked garments, took the imperial ring from his finger (a symbol of high status) and dipped it in the blood. Once all had been sanctified by the saint's blood, St Lupus began to heal the infirm. The emperor ordered his subsequent arrest and death.
The body of St Demetrius was cast out for wild animals to devour, but the Christians took it and secretly buried it.
During the reign of St Constantine (306-337), a church was built over St Demetrius's grave. A century later, the relics of the holy martyr were discovered during the construction of a new church on this spot. Ever since the seventh century, a miraculous stream of fragrant myrrh is said to flow continually beneath the crypt from the sarcophagus, giving St Demetrius the name 'Myrrh-gusher.'
Followers of St Demetrius tried to bring his holy relics, or some of them, to Constantinople on numerous occasions. Invariably, the saint made it clear that he did not want them taken from Thessaloniki.'
(Photo source: The relics of St Demetrius at the temple in Thessaloniki)
The most ancient icons of St Demetrius may be found in the church of Thessaloniki of which he is patron saint. This is not just because he was born and died there, but because the people believe it was through his actions that the city was saved from the many attacks by Slavic nations, the Bulgarians, Arabs, Saracens and many others besides. Even the liberation of Thessaloniki during the Balkan wars of 1912 coincide with the feast day of St Demetrius on October 26th.
"The world has found in you a great champion in time of peril, as you emerged the victor in routing the barbarians. For as you brought to naught the boasts of Lyaios, imparting courage to Nestor in the stadium, in like manner, holy one, great Martyr Demetrios, invoke Christ God for us, that He may grant us His great mercy."
Apolytikion (Third Tone)
HERE is a recording of excerpts from an oratorio written for St Demetrius by the Romanian-born composer of Greek origin Nicolas Astrinidis (1921-2010) in 1962. Three parts premiered at the first Demetria Festival in Thessaloniki fifty-two years ago today, and the entire work was first heard in 1966 with subsequent performances in 1985 (Thessaloniki) and 1993 (Bucharest).
La multi ani frumosi cu sanatate si noroc tuturor care poarta numele de Dumitru!
This post is dedicated to Mitu with love.
[Gheorghe Leahu: Popa Nan, source]
In 1459, 555 years ago today, Bucharest first appeared in a written document. 555 years....
Bucharest became Romania's capital in 1862. This, from Wikipedia: "Its eclectic architecture is a mix of historical (neo-classical), interbellum (Bauhaus and Art Deco), Communist-era and modern. In the period between the two World Wars, the city's elegant architecture and the sophistication of its elite earned Bucharest the nickname of "Little Paris" (Micul Paris). Although many buildings and districts in the historic centre were damaged or destroyed by war, earthquakes and Nicolae Ceaușescu's program of systematisation, many survived."
Of course, one can still find beauty in Bucharest - that reticent grace and charm that brings a lump to one's throat every time one is confronted with it disguised under a veil of dust or graffiti or in a crumbling courtyard. Perhaps, for the visitors as well as for many Bucharest residents, one must be told where to look - the splendid streets around Dorobanti, the hidden villas behind Unirii, the oldy-worldiness of Tineretului, the charm of what's left around Cismigiu on all sides, the elegance of Cotroceni and Icoanei - and that's just for starters. Bucharest demands to be loved. Few of us actually oblige. Indeed, there IS beauty for willing eyes and hearts.
All elderly ladies deserve kindness and respect. Bucharest is no exception.
Happy birthday, my dear beloved city. May what is left of your quiet and timid loveliness be preserved and loved yet a while...