Bucharest – A Collection Of Smells

Photos by Dan Hayon
My first adventure in the capital city, sometime in my early adolescence. Confusion and ecstasy, fear and the excitement of the unknown, as though in a foreign country where, strangely, everyone speaks my own language. A dizzying cocktail of odors: of trams and trolley-buses, crowds swarming in bus stops, the effluvia of peasants carrying baskets and sacks of vegetables and fruit to the market, the aromas of the museums and monuments you learn about in school, the perfume of display windows and fashionable shops, the musk of elegant women and important men. It was only later that I discovered the narrow, peaceful streets in the old districts, with their dusty-musty smell, dampish like the smell of an aged body, spreading in almost tangible waves from the low houses once painted in pastel colors and overdecorated, their stucco flaking, pathetic and endearing like a beauty past her prime. From the rundown interior yards and the crooked wrought-iron balconies with scrolls and sophisticated garlanded borders, with doors left wide open, the smells of heated cooking oil and borsch waft into the street, mixing with the stench of baby urine and stray dogs. You are a city composed of several cities, urban pieces that are not superimposed but fitted together as in a gaudy eclectic puzzle, a huge pie, an enormous pizza with a patriarchal crust, drowned in Balkanism and greenery, with nourishing Neo-Classical portions and crunchy modernist sectors, with pungent post-Byzantine islets and Phanariot spice, and also with much crude, tasteless, insipid dough, risen inadequately among delicacies. Romanian Cultural Institute Publishing House, 2007

Translated by Adam S. Sorkin and Alina Cârâc

by Magda Cârneci