Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Travel log

During the past three weeks I have done a bit of traveling, visiting three different locations, London, Paris and Bucharest. There is not a single thing I could add to Cara’s wonderful portraits of Paris provided weekly on the blog, nor to Dan’s regarding London. No one has to date however mentioned Bucharest so I thought I might share a little bit of what I saw during my time there.

First off I would like to mention that the people I met in Romania were all extremely warm and generous as well as entertaining. Most seem to have no problem conversing in English and all seemed fond of their country but tired of their politics - something that seems to be going around.

I did not see a single gypsy which was surprising. But maybe I did but did not realise it. I had a similar experience in Switzerland once, had spent some hours there without coming across a bank or chocolate.

The city of Bucharest has its share of beauty, apparent in the buildings erected during an economic boom in the beginning of the last century and varying even older structures. Many of these are presently under decay as not enough is done to maintain the integrity of the buildings and one can only hope for the city’s sake that this is addressed sooner rather than later. Further to this, it was maddening to hear that during the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu (1965 to 1989) a large chunk of the old historic center was demolished to make way for the horror of all architectural horrors – buildings of communist design.

No matter in which city one comes across these buildings they are always are so shockingly ugly and devoid of character, them that it boggles the mind to try and imagine what the communists were thinking. Did they dream about whole cities made up of these monstrosities? Did they really find them beautiful or was beauty something that appalled them? To me the seemingly endless prefabricated panel after prefabricated panel strain the eyes and I keep I trying to envision a childhood spent surrounded by the lifeless gray tone but cannot. A child’s mind developing under such circumstances would probably be missing a good chuck of its otherwise roaming imagination. Which might have been the master plan.

Ceausescu was probably crazy towards the end. Too much absolute power tends to do that to a guy – take Gadhafi for one. Ceausescu built a huge, huge structure he called the people’s palace, despite the people having no call to it or right of entrance. Occasionally the odd person or two were dragged inside for torturing but that does not entitle a building to be called the people’s palace. Outside it, on the boulevard leading up to the building Ceausescu had rows of fountains installed, only thing was that there was not enough water to keep them running. Being a horrid dictator, no one mentioned this to him, they just made sure to know when he would be passing by and turned them on for such occasions.

Ceausescu’s wife was also deranged via power. She was originally a textile worker but by the waving of a magic wand she suddenly became a PhD in chemistry. Many complex books on chemistry were published in her name in the country during her husband's regime. I was told in Bucharest that she was always addressed as “the most gifted and most accomplished scientist in Chemistry in the world”. Or something similar. To me this is amazing. Why chemistry? Rocket Scientist or Nuclear Physicist would have seemed the more obvious choice, evil dictator and all that. But this will never be known as she was executed by firing squad along with her husband on December 25th 1989 – about a fortnight later capital punishment was abolished in Romania. I would have given her life in prison in exchange for an explanation regarding the choice of Chemistry as a bogus degree.

One additional bit of information struck a chord in me. Ceausescu tried to get a handle on the gypsies during his time in power but failed miserably. I am no fan of the gypsy culture to say the least but this brought them up a notch in my book. Now they are on the “Do not understand, but might have something going” category.

Evil dictators remain in the very lowest category: “Hurry up and die you idiots”.

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. Perhaps I can offer an explanation about Madame Ceausescu's choice of a doctorate in chemistry as her crowning achievement. Based on personal experience, I can understand that to her there was noting more incomprehensible than chemistry. She could not master it, it tortured her. Those with whom she had attended school knew of her failure in the subject so she gave herself a doctorate to prove to the world that she had conquered it. In my opinion, conquering chemistry is a formidable accomplishment.

    Besides, how many rocket scientists and nuclear physicists was Romania turning out in those days? All of the countries wealth was going into the Ceausescu's bank accounts; nothing was being plowed into development for the country or its people.

    Communist architecture makes sense, as you say,if the purpose was to stifle creativity. The USSR plowed a huge amount of its money into science and mathematics so that it could dominate the world. The new architecture had to be utilitarian and ugly as a complement to the lives the party forced on the people.

    The world was saved from some of the worst architecture the world would have known when Hitler's plans didn't take over Berlin. They were without any sense of proportion. They were very bad imitations of what he imagined Rome had looked like during the empire.

    How is it that some of the worst monsters in history fancy themselves as artists of some kind or another? That might be an interesting dissertation topic for a Ph.D candidate.

    Unfortunately, it is no surprise that when one dictator dies there is another to take over.


  2. The one comment is that the Roma people (formerly known as "gypsies") have been persecuted throughout Europe for hundreds of years, and now are being persecuted in France, to the objection of much of the population of that country.

    The Nazis' genocidal program was aimed at Roma people, as well as Jewish people, ascribing to them characteristics of "racial inferiority," and marking them for extermination.

    Now in Eastern Europe, discriminatory laws and policies against them are being implemented, and as said above, so too in France and other Western European countries.

    Their lives are very hard.