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Report 1792: Tempus Fugit - A Return to Bucharest, 48 years later...
By Doru from Canada, Fall 2009
Page 5 of 18: Slowing down in a frenetic city
Flowers for sale, near Piaţa Universitatii
(Tuesday, September 15, 2009)
Today we severed the invisible cord: Josette went to meet a former Conservatory colleague for lunch and reminiscing at the nearby restaurant “La Mama” and I am free to roam. I propose to go through four bookstores in the segment of Boulevardul Magheru to Piaţa Romană, the target being books which would cover personal and historical interpretations of the events between 1941 to date. I was too little to fully understand the early 40s, and the take on the entire period while I was a student needs, I am sure, major revisions, since so much new material has come to light in the last 20 years.
Boulevardul Magheru is a six-lane major thoroughfare and the building stock along the boulevard doesn’t look very good. While Rome carries dilapidation with the dignity of an Imperial Matron, the peeling façades of some buildings here don’t have even the virtue of antiquity. It is mostly neglect, lack of funds, and 42 years of “collective” ownership and suffocation of private enterprise.
To the credit of the new government, I will see many buildings covered with fabric on which it is mentioned that this building or the other are being renovated and modernized at public cost. Of course, signed by the local municipal politician. It will take some time, but this city will get there, because one can see everywhere the buds of private enterprise, new energies. Not always successful, but these are big steps forward and reasons for much optimism. This is a very creative and hard working people, so results will show.
Back to my book search, I am disappointed: the stock is pretty thin, and I can find only a couple of titles that may be what I want, both memoirs. I will consult my friend V., who knows well this topic. Till retirement he was chief editor of a cultural weekly here, and he already gave me two books to look up, one about the last 14 days (December 17-31, 1947) of the reign of then young and still apparently loved King Mihai I, and another of memoirs of a journalist who seemed to have followed me, first at the same high school and also in the media, although we worked for different newspapers. I am sure I will find in this book many known names, above all similar experiences, at the practically same age. Should be bittersweet to read, if I only find the time, as I am every night writing my notes at Mrs. A.’s “calculator” (Romanian for computer and for calculator...) or “ordinator” until 1 or 2am. It is the only time I have, and I fall behind more and more. (Note: today I heard in the intermission of a concert the PC being referred to as ‘The Robot”!).
With only a couple of titles on my list and also having scouted for Josette the classical music CD stands, I am heading back to the apartment, not before looking to find the location of the first supermarket in the history of Bucharest, “Leonida.” The building is still there, but other stores have taken its place. I am happy to see everywhere cafés and restaurants full of people, tables outside (Romanians are great fans of eating, smoking and chatting outdoors) and notice again the green lines of trees and grass bordering the boulevard, pretty well taken care of, the street clean and being cleaned. Walking requires some concentration as potholes pop up here and there.
Music: This is special, since it is the first concert we will hear at Ateneul Român after 48 years. We are both pretty emotional about it. We remember so well the beautiful entrance hall, and we are happy to see restored the frescoes surrounding the higher part of the concert hall below the splendid cupola. These frescoes depict all around the hall moments from the history of the country and its people. The concert hall appears to be smaller than we remembered, the seats a bit more cramped: we were much, much thinner in our early 20s than we are now.
We turn towards the second category loge seats where we used to have our season subscription, Sunday mornings at 11, practically till we left in 1961. V. and AP sit right now in a loge adjacent to “ours.” Coincidences. We wave and arrange how to meet in the intermission. We also notice that our host, Mrs. A., sits just behind them; she wasn’t sure whether she will get a ticket till the last moment.
Murray Perahia conducts Saint Martin in the Fields and plays piano concerts by Bach and Mozart. It’s beautiful. The public applauds enthusiastically.
In the evening, we go to the outdoor stage erected in the space between Ateneul Român and Biblioteca Universităţii, where the Philharmonic Orchestra of the city of Piteşti plays an operetta and opera program. We sit at a garden table, on garden chairs, under the clear night skies of Bucharest’s sweet September, the best time of the year here. I nurse a beer, Josette has a bottle of water. We are very happy.
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