All Roads Lead To Bucharest

from left: buildings on Calea Victoriei and at Rosetti Sq., University of Bucharest, building in Unirii Sq.
According to the data from the latest statistical yearbook published in 2002, the average income per capita outside Bucharest is 82% of the average income of a person living in Bucharest. In the north-east region, the poorest one, the average income is only 72% of the Bucharester’s. But the costs differ accordingly. On the average, in the province, the expenses of one person are 83% of those of a Bucharester, and in the north-east only 73% of those of the people living in the capital. The latter pay more for services and taxes and don’t have their own food resources. However, the ratio is more favorable to them when it comes not to general earnings, but to the average income per the economy. Another difference would be that, for example, if in a county which is neither rich nor poor and close to the capital, such as Dimbovita, in the month of August two companies with subscribed foreign capital were registered with a total sum of 2,8 million lei, during the same period in Bucharest, 193 foreign companies with a total capital of over 44 billion lei were registered. The economy of the capital rose much more, which does not necessarily mean the living standard is proportionally higher. Especially not when it comes to the provincials who have come to Bucharest to seek a better life and who have no support whatsoever.
Life is not a movie The road to Bucharest: When we see suspended highways, smooth and lit like runways, in movies, and when the director does that trick with thousands of cars with their headlights on that speed up on the screen in fast forward mode, convention tells us we are in a big city, everything happens mechanically and rapidly, and we can afford to let our hearts beat madly. Not as madly as when we watch the news on traffic, filmed from one of those blocks in Bucharest, where the administrators have already befriended the teams of cameramen, whom they accompany proudly, listing the names of the other TV stations that have been there. Day by day, thousands of cars demonstrate their ability to turn one lane into two and two into four or five, or to avoid parallelism at the traffic sign and to stop on three different levels. Honks, taxi drivers chasing old women on the zebra crossing, drivers who won’t stop at the red sign and won’t give way, who perform acrobatic overtaking maneuvers merely to gain 50 more meters, fancy cars reaching 120 per hour in Calea Victoriei, make the more faint-hearted visitors from the provinces pull over before entering Bucharest. It is impossible to drive in this city of yours, I am scared to death when I see you in the traffic, many people say. Because life around here is more than rapid, it is chaotic. Cosmin came from Medias a few years ago. He was driving his father’s 1970 Dacia. “I was terrified when I saw how they drove. For one second I stopped thinking and then I dived into the stream of cars on the highway.” Now he has got his own business, with ten employees. People who took to the road to Bucharest Coming to Bucharest faintly resembles emigrating. A quiet emigration, from which students, for it is them I mainly have in mind, know what to expect. No El Dorado troubles the minds of those who came to wear out their blue jeans or skin-tight trousers against the universities benches. There is just the pre-conception that it is better this way, money and opportunities are to be found more easily around here, and first and foremost, the thought that back there in the small town you left behind, with its main street where on Sundays you can have (time and again) a count of all its dwellers, with a shabby cinema, and boozers and junk shops, all that awaits you is a teaching job in a secondary school or that of a supervisor in a computer game center. For the sake of opportunities many sacrifices are made, including trips to the Militari bus station where parents send money and food parcels weekly through drivers, and bribes for administrators for a better place in the dorm. As there is no great dream, there is no crushing disappointment. Disappointments are small and continuous. Survival problems are big. Small disappointments: Simina from Cimpulung has seen naked street children taking a bath in the fountains in the Unirii Square. She has also seen the new tube to the University, but she travels to Ferentari by bus 117, which looks worse than a countryside local bus. Alina has noticed that people wear ugly clothes around here: “Before coming here I used to think that all people living in Bucharest wore elegant clothes. I was embarrassed at the thought that I wouldn’t be doing the same. And then I saw how untidy they are and how messy their outfits are. People living in Brasov are much more careful about the way they look.” School principal. Born in Bucharest. Overweight.“Schools are understaffed because of these people coming from the provinces. They rush in as if to a land of milk and honey, they steal our jobs and then they find it very difficult to support themselves and go home in the middle of the school year, tail between their legs, because life is expensive.” Survival: More and more difficult after graduation, because parents expect you either to get hired and be on your own, or to come back home. Survival happens in dorm rooms, with a place bought at a price of 150 dollars a year, and overheads a little bit smaller than a rent. Many provincials live in the good areas of the capital, which any native would envy. Dorobanti, Arcul de Triumf, Rosetti, Mosilor put forth a generous offer of musty basement rooms, whose bathrooms are improvised in laundries. Alexandra from Pitesti lives in such a deluxe dwelling, a little bigger than a bathroom. The bed is a little larger than a bathtub. In the summer it is very humid, in the winter it is very humid and very cold. As you walk along a dark, narrow hall, you reach another small room, the bathroom, where you find the shower, in fact, a colorful hose coming out of a pipe. Back in the room, in a friendlier atmosphere, with bookshelves and old tea boxes, you dare to ask a veiled question, afraid you might be offensive: “Do you feel comfortable here?” “Is this how comfort looks like? It is OK, though, given the fact that I pay nine hundred a month. Less than some dorm overheads.” She graduated a year ago and found a job in a company. She feeds data into a computer for 5 million a month. She lives on her own and cannot go back home, her life is in Bucharest now. All her friends graduated from universities in Bucharest and live here. Some in better conditions, others in worse. “It is more difficult to succeed, but at a certain point you do. For those coming from the provinces it’s harder. At least you have a place to live in, acquaintances to turn to. You aren’t very successful either, but at least you have a home. While we, if we fail to manage somehow, we are lost.” Dilema veche, October 24-30, 2003 Translated by Fabiola Popa

by Raluca Ion