Born and raised in a small town in the heart of Transylvania, I grew up trying to understand why people love to hate Bucharest. Described as an über-crowded city, hostile and miserable even in its most central areas, Bucharest sounded like a landfill. Bucharesters were running close, perceived as arrogant, belligerent, shallow people, being very aggressive in traffic. Really?! So much drama (and we’re not even) on Broadway.
My affair with the capital-city started in early adolescence. It was Bucharest who approached me first – slyly, through an ally called … dad. My father used to visit the city every once in a while and he would bring souvenirs from an aunt he had there. I remember I was 15 when I met the city. A slight encounter, occasioned by a short stopover on my way back home from a family seashore holiday. Not much wow. It wasn’t love at first sight, but it did fuel my desire to be back some day. And so I did.
I later on moved to Bucharest with the comforting feeling that I belong here. After pressing Alt-Shift-Del to all the drama I had previously paid attention to, I showed up completely bare skin - no misconceptions, no expectations, give things a chance and see how it goes. 5 years later, I am part of him and he’s a part of me. We cannot be separated. It may be the Bucharest of all of its residents, but sometimes I like to imagine that it’s MY Bucharest – outlined, shaped, molded and envisioned from a personal perspective.
The city is organic, dynamic and full of vitality, thriving on a rich cultural background. Its beauty lies in the imperfections, in the myriad of contrasts between old and new, between this’n’that. An ever-changing Bucharest, from one day to another. Suppose you are now on Calea Victoriei, no.21. Today, you’ll find Venus there. Go on Google Maps and you will acknowledge a typical communist display of a well-known fashion house, dating back to the socialist era. 1960s, times of glory. Tomorrow you may find a café there, an office building or, who knows, maybe a casino.
I love Bucharest for its pretentiousness of a Western city, inhabited by people with such Balkan lifestyles. You see people rushing, pushing, crowding and desperately trying to squeeze in the elevator, on the escalator, at the metro or at the opening event of a new supermarket. You go to an indie music festival and next morning you wake up hearing a lousy manele mix from the neighbour next door. Or if it’s not the neighbour, then it is probably a guy with his jackhammer, doing some early-morning asphalt work for just another shopping mall right in the centre of the city.
I love Bucharest for its florists and pretzel shops at every corner of the street. For the stray dogs, for the “bișnițari” in Obor, selling everything from Band-Aid strips and handkerchiefs to smartphones, cigarettes or underwear. For all the grey, impersonal apartment buildings built in the middle of an eclectic, heritage neighbourhood. For the vehicle horns and traffic jams at rush hour. It’s a divine chaos in here – a city where you will find whatever you can think of. Full or empty side of the glass – it’s your choice. Count your blessings.
To some extent, I find public transport kind of tiring so I often take the city on foot and venture out of the noisy boulevards, in search for more secluded, narrow streets and alleys to wander around. It grants me a totally different feel of the city, which I find more appealing. With every little street, no matter how faraway it may be from the centre, I come across a sample of architecture, a fragment of history, a hint of yesteryear scattered behind the walls of a 19th century villa.
At night, after an evening spent with friends, I may want to put my thoughts in order so I take the long way home. I could ramble the same street dozens of times – things are constantly different. Be it midnight or mid-summer weekends, Bucharest can be really silent at times. So silent that one can actually be aware of his/her own footsteps or the song of crickets. And silence is, sometimes, the most beautiful sound.
Living here feels like being part of an urban puzzle, where every single detail is a separate endeavour, inspired by different things during different time frames in our existence. I have a soft spot for Bucharest, for the beautiful humans that it has brought into my life along the way. For the strangers that turned into pals, for the unknown places that became locales.
Dear Bucharest, I would not trade you for any other city in the world. And if we are apart for more than one hour, I want to miss you.
- Oana -