(Photo source: Reptilianul / Hasnas from Radu Miclescu's Archive)
My thanks to the dedication of Florina and the work by passionate bloggers for the following historic information of what used to be the very beautiful Casa Miclescu on bdul Kiseleff - Bucharest's most beautiful avenue. Today, Casa Miclescu looks as if it has been hit by an unimaginably vicious tornado. The roof is no more, allowing for snow to pile up in the once stunning ballroom where the painter Mirea lived and decorated the ceilings himself, doors hang off their hinges, windows smashed and frames splintered. It is hard to imagine how gorgeous, how luxurious it was and that anyone could have lived a life of class and elegance within its walls. But they did. Every Thursday, an elegant ball was thrown, attended by personalities of Romania's interbellum period - Cantacuzino, Brancoveanu, Sturdza, Greceanu... It was one of THE places to be and be seen during that Golden Era, now long gone.
This is the story of the Miclescu family, in particular, Colonel Radu Miclescu. And once you've heard it, your heart will weep all the harder for the lamentable state in which the house finds itself today, having known all that went on under its roof. Casa Miclescu is not one of the houses that 'cries'. Casa Miclescu literally screams in agony...
Jean Miclescu (1857-1920), descendant of a noble Moldavian family, and his wife Alina Cantacuzino (1868-1915) bought the house built by Ion Mincu from the painter, George Demetrescu Mirea
in 1902 whose budget had run dry before it was finished.
Their son, a colonel, Radu Miclescu married Elsa Florescu, a talented sculptress and daughter of a prominent Romanian diplomat. Casa Florescu
, incidentally, is on str. Henry Coanda nr.22, and was designed by Ion Berindey. But I digress...
Because Colonel Miclescu could not pay the high property taxes demanded under the communist regime in an act of vengeance against intellectuals and the 'bourgeoisie' (dixit "of unhealthy origin
"), they were told to vacate the premises and relocate to an apartment on the outskirts of Bucharest. Colonel Miclescu was, in fact, thrown into prison for three days 'to think about things' when he refused categorically to leave the house. When he returned home, he found that he and his wife had been ostracised to one room (some say it was a bathroom
, others refute this, reporting that it was simply a room of minuscule proportions - either way, it is appalling) and a pantry. The house was 'given' (not 'nationalised') to the local ICRAL, a state organisation in charge of the management of nationalised properties. ICRAL divided the villa distributing the space according to the weight of the applicants (to be discussed further on).
Lodgings were given to seven families at Casa Miclescu,
amongst them, a painter by the name of Stefan Szonyi
, his wife Mery and their daughter Anca (who lives in Paris today). As per 'Iony Mar
', a commenter on Reptilianu's blog
, other tenants included members of the Rosetti family, a Mrs Rallet, a Mrs Filip and two German women who later emigrated to Germany. Gypsies lived in the windowless basement. Iony adds that, as a child, he and his family also lived in Casa Miclescu - and they were the dearest years of his life. He recalls the walks on Kiseleff with fond memories. During this time, the land on which the house was built was still property of the Miclescus. Elsa Miclescu continued to grow her own vegetables for a while.
Being just a child then, however, Iony was blissfully unaware
of the suffrance and hardships of those living in the house, particularly the Miclescus, who kept themselves very much to themselves.
By the mid '60s, the house had been invaded by gypsies under whom the Miclescus suffered greatly. Colonel Miclescu was even beaten up badly at one point, ending up in hospital for some time. One of the most saddening considerations is how, for those long and what must have seemed endless 40 years, the Miclescus tried so very hard to make themselves invisible to others, lest they be victims of yet further attacks or, perhaps, worse still, dispossessed of their abode, however meagre it may have been. They were scared of their intruders, afraid of being thrown out of their home and strove to be forgotten, to blend into the paintwork as it were.... The image in one's mind of these good, decent people holding on to their little room for all they were worth despite the constant aggressions from the residents in the basement and the persecution from the authorities is unimaginable. Only those who have ever battled for invisibility due to sheer fear can possibly know, or relate to, this feeling - it is, sadly, in no way unique. Any persecuted people struggles to remain inconspicuous for as long as possible - the enemies of the people
, the jews... "undesirables". The example of Victor Klemperer in Dresden in the early 40s comes immediately to mind (see his Dresden Diaries
). His wife had to be the one to go out shopping to the market looking for a few potatoes or a handful of turnips, for she was arian and, having risked so many beatings and humiliations because he was a jew, Klemperer was far too terrified of a repetition or the bigger threat of deportation to leave the house, even when they were starving and desperate and his wife could barely walk due to an untreated twisted ankle. Constant, grinding, ice-cold fear. When one thinks of Victor Klemperer, one can run a parallel to the Miclescus who made themselves so imperceptible in their own house. They hid themselves away, purely and simply. Oh yes - the constant, grinding, ice-cold fear of being noticed, singled out, persecuted.... One could say perhaps that to make such a parallel is unthinkable. Victor Klemperer risked Auschwitz, the most unthinkable of horrors. What did Colonel Miclescu risk? I'll tell you. He risked Jilava, Aiud
penitentiaries where he would be beaten, frozen, tortured or starved to death like so many "undesirables" of his time. He risked deportation to Baragan
(a death camp in itself) and he risked the Canal
from which he would be unlikely to ever return. Romania, too, had its death camps. It would be a huge error as well as a massive insult to minimise exactly what Colonel Miclescu did indeed risk.
Iony Mar left the house
at one point with his mother when his parents divorced, but when he returned in 1967 to visit Anca, he found the beautiful trees all chopped down: firs, plum, quince and poplar. Hanging from the bushes were metal wires from which clothes were hanging out to dry. In less than a decade, the house had become unrecognisable...
As Florina was researching all this, she fell upon an extraordinary and moving article
regarding the colonel, written by his nephew through marriage, the historian and Professor Emeritus at Boston College, Radu Florescu
, today aged 86. The Florescu family left Romania in 1941 for the UK where Professor Florescu studied for both his BA and MA at Christ Church, Oxford and then moved
to the US where he completed his PhD at the University of Indiana. Knowing how much his uncle and aunt were suffering, the Florescus begged them several times to let them organise their departure from Romania, but Colonel Radu and Elsa refused.
In this article, we discover that the house was indeed divided, as mentioned above, into seven lots and occupied by different families along with gypsies living in the basement who fought constantly with the Miclescus. One day, after an argument, the 'basement residents' found a valuable old portrait of one of the colonel's descendants and completely destroyed it. Colonel Miclescu was greatly disturbed by these constants rows which hindered their existence, already well beyond miserable.
The largest part of the house was assigned to the painter Stefan Szonyi, previously noted and a favourite of the communist regime. When Stefan died in 1967, his wife and beautiful daughter, Anca (who also had an older step-sister Julieta Szonyi Ghiga, actress today at Teatrul Mic), befriended, developed a sincere admiration for and helped the Miclescu family during the worst period of their lives. It was the Szonyis who stood by the fact that the Miclescus were the true owners of the house. The Miclescus were indeed assigned the tiniest room in the house, formerly occupied by servants.
As for the Rosettis, who were assigned a part of the house too, they had been dispossessed. Their home was probably given to party protegés... Today, one can understand why the whole sosea area is now populated by the 'mai-bai', as I call them: they are the offspring of those who received lodgings in houses whose rightful owners were given 24 hours to pack and leave. Just look at it: Rabat, Paris, Sofia, Roma, Londra, Zambaccian, etc. There must have been over 1,000 dispossessed families, the Rosettis amongst them...
In Professor Florescu's article
, he mentions that the Thai ambassador's wife bought some of the heirlooms the Miclescus managed to bury in the garden and that the house had a tennis court, stables, a garage and a green house. The Miclescus certainly have to be admired for their tenacity to remain where they felt they belonged and for surviving as they did.
Colonel Miclescu was a graduate of Saint Cyr, the famous French military school, and a valiant war veteran awarded with the Légion d'Honneur. He fought in Oituz most bravely, was very badly injured and was left with a limp for the rest of his life. He had a war pension that was so miserable he couldn't possibly have survived on it and during this most terrible of times, gave French lessons to students of the 'new class' to get by, one of them Anca Szonyi, daughter of the painter living in the house, too, with whom he and his wife formed a close friendship. Shameful, heartbreaking, that a man who had fought so hard for his country and had been left disabled as a result should be treated in such a brutal manner by the ruling authorities and made to put up with such humiliating conditions. His wife also gave lessons (English?) to help scrape a living.
The 1977 earthquake made the house uninhabitable and it is not clear whether the building was consolidated - it is unthinkable to imagine the Miclescus and other residents living amongst the damage and rubble.
In 1984, Elsa Miclescu died during a terribly harsh winter. There was no difference in temperature outside the house in the winter of 1984 than in. So many were condemned to the cold that year. Elsa caught a chill and there wasn't a doctor who could get to her. She died during the night, admiring Mirea's painting on the salon ceiling. For the colonel, it was an immense loss. He loved her for so many reasons, amongst them, her artistic talent, courage and patriotism.
It is important to mention here that Professor Florescu managed to intercede on his family's behalf. For the last four years of his life, although very thin, weak, his clothing in tatters and increasingly more immobile due to his war-wound and subsequent limp, Colonel Miclescu had food on his table. Through Professor Florescu, the American embassy personnel provided the old colonel, who lived just around the corner, with food and any necessary medicines he may have needed.
General Charles de Gaulle was a school friend of Colonel Miclescu from their days together at Saint Cyr. When he visited Bucharest, he produced a list of all the people he wanted to meet. Colonel Miclescu was on it
. For his meeting with Charles de Gaulle, Colonel Miclescu dressed himself in his army uniform. Can one imagine the huge emotion of this man, renegated to that tiny room and a pantry in his own house, made to live such humiliations and virtually penniless, as he polished his buttons, smoothed out his uniform and prepared to meet with his old school friend, Charles de Gaulle. Of course, the authorities made sure he was spruced up as far as possible, too, to give a good impression. For sure, their conversations (Colonel Miclescu spoke superb French) were overhead and it must have been a very disagreeable moment which should have been such a joyous reunion. It certainly brings a lump to the throat.
Colonel Miclescu's regret that De Gaulle had to resign following the 1968 riots in France must have been overwhelming. Had he stayed in power, perhaps the fate of this family would have been quite different.
This beautiful blogpost from Hasnas.com written in April 2009 captures Casa Miclescu as it once was - here, one can visit the Miclescu family - Elsa and Radu, their friends, the interior of the house from 1902-1948/9 (see photos above for just a few). It is a journey into another world - a world of beautiful dresses, dinners and elegance - now, sadly, gone forever. When one compares how it was with how it is, one can only cry with grief, indignance and rage. How could this have happened? How could such beauty have been so wilfully destroyed? How could the lives of such people have ended so miserably? The history of Casa Miclescu is almost a symbolic parallel of so much of Romania's own history - decency, intellectualism, beauty reduced to dust by the ignorant, the greedy and the indecent.
In January 1990, Colonel Miclescu filled out the documents to reclaim his house. He died in March 1990 at the age of 97 in the tiny room where he had been forced to live for 40 years. The great satisfaction was that he had survived Ceausescu and communism. Despite so much hardship, persecution, humiliation and suffering, he had lived long enough to see the end of both.
The surviving Radu Miclescu
, who sold Casa Miclescu to Titi Dumitriu, the 'mai-bai
coach, in 1994 is the colonel's nephew, son of his brother, Gheorghe. He is married to Miona, née Flondor
(an old aristocratic family from Bucovina with documentation stretching back to the XVIc) and lives in the restored cottage/mansion in Calinesti
where he spent the first eleven years of his life. Once in Bucharest, he went to school at what is today I.L Caragiale on calea Dorobantilor. Arrested in the 'rafle' that took place at the high school along with Marioana Cantacuzino and others in 1951/52, he was thrown into prison on trumped-up charges. His mother was approached by the Securitate to collaborate following her son's release. So appalled at the thought of spying for these detested communists and so terrified of what would happen to her and her family if she refused, young Radu Miclescu's mother committed suicide.
(Photo: Casa Miclescu - willful neglect, 2012. Source: Reptilianul)
Regarding the selling of Casa Miclescu to Titi Dumitriu, the author of the very informative blog Hasnas.com went to see Radu Miclescu at his home in Moldova. Here is what she told me: "Radu Miclescu was actually forced to sell the house. Both the house and the mansion in Moldova were still in "litige"/trial - and he was told that, if he insists on regaining this one, he will lose both. He was advised to sell the Kiseleff house, in trial as it was. So, the next day some deputy of the footballer appeared out of nowhere - and bought the house for less then 1/10th of the land's value... He also told me that the beautiful stables of the mansion were demolished just the day before he arrived, when he had already won back the property, just out of pure spite." What can one add. This is a lesser-known fact. I myself wondered why he had sold the villa to such an individual. Now we know and there's nothing left to say that is even vaguely printable.
(Photo: Beyond words - 2012 Source: Radulescu Victor Photography with thanks)
This letter was sent to the Minister of Culture on February 16th, 2011 regarding the demolition and destruction of Romanian patrimony, but nothing happened. Just look at all the buildings that are mentioned... Other letters addressed to Kelemen Hunor have since followed but with the same result: nothing.
There is news, however, but I am not sure how believable it is. A very surprising comment on Reptilianul's blog appeared on February 23rd, 2012 from a Herr 'Herbert'. A German citizen, he stated that he himself bought the house in January of this year, and was waiting for the spring to assess the damage and decide whether or not it can be renovated.... He says, "Intentia mea este sa o pastrez si s-o renovez!" Looking at the photos of the terrible destruction on Reptilianu's blog, along with those of Victor Radulescu, I pray there is something left to salvage so that renovation may indeed begin if Herr Herbert is indeed the new owner. However, the fact that the supposed 'sale' of this house just two months ago did not make the news and absolutely NOBODY was aware of it makes me doubt that it ever happened. Which thus leaves me wondering why Herr Herbert would have wasted time leaving comments and lying. Curious...
(Photo: Casa Miclescu 2012. Source: Radulescu Victor Photography with thanks)
Spring has arrived in Bucharest. May Easter, only a few weeks away, bring not only the light of the resurrection to every Romanian heart - but also to the very soul of Casa Miclescu and the spirits of all those who lived within its walls.
My thanks to Florina for her passionate research and to Reptilianul, Dorothee Hasnas and Radu Miclescu, Case care plang and Victor Radulescu for their photographs. Great thanks also to Professor Radu Florescu for all his time and energy spent on the telephone with me, sharing his memories.