Bucharest And Its Paradoxes

"O Moft! Thou art the watchword and motto of our times. Vast syllable of unbounded content, in thee there is such comfortable room for countless meanings: joys and misfortunes, merit and infamy, guilt and misadventure, right, duty, sentiments, interests, convictions, politics, plague, typhoid, diphtheria, destructive vices, suffering, poverty, talent and imbecility, lunar and mental eclipses, past, present, future – all of them, all these do we modern Romanians name in a single, short word: MOFT."Ion Luca Caragiale (1852-1912)

Winter 1999Three enthusiastic editors, yours truly together with Erwin Kessler and Adrian Solomon, had the opportunity to set off into the world as messengers of the most remarkable texts and illustrations to represent Romanian culture, not only in its particularity but also its universal aspect. It was thus that the PLURAL project took shape, a quarterly magazine of culture and civilisation, published in English, in the form of thematic anthologies, accompanied by illustrations and colour plates suitable or complementary to the theme.Autumn 2005With the twenty-fifth issue, a new half-yearly series began, continuing to tackle topics of primary importance in the history of Romanian culture while preserving the same principles, selectivity, and structure and adopting a modern design.Not possessing an academic formula or painstaking bibliographies, PLURAL does not intend to be an elite magazine, but rather one that respects the criterion of value as well as representative selection, in order to promote a cultural policy aimed at bringing intellectuals from abroad into contact with the Romanian culture of today and yesterday.Autumn 2008We now find ourselves embarking upon the electronic issue of the magazine: PLURAL can be accessed at www.plural-magazine.com where it arrives with a well-structured body of Romanian cultural texts, seeking elevated partnerships throughout the world and challenging Romanian culture to enter a dialogue with other civilisations. A few explanations at the beginning of this journey: we are getting under way with a subject dear to our hearts – Bucharest, ever a controversial capital, and all the more so nowadays, from its traditions and boasts to manners, scents, perfumes, fashions, conflicts, aromas, achievements, defects, religions, competitions, sounds, harmonies, calques, decisions…Without making any exception, Bucharest is one of the European capitals that has always believed in its own worth, proudly trying to keep up with not just anybody but with Paris itself, the centre of European culture and modernism – pretentious Paris, a city with which Bucharest has always regarded itself as fraternally linked.
Many Bucharest inhabitants delude themselves about former times; many of them even like to carry the burden of those times, constantly comparing them to the present. It was from their perspective that we published, eight years ago, Bucharest – A Sentimental Guide, which can be accessed on the website. It presents charming literary texts, remarkable archival documents written by philosophers, historians and novelists, Romanian and foreign, who look back to or gaze from the past with an indulgent or a critical eye.
Judging from the attitude of the foreigners who have had occasion to cross our threshold, analysing their diaries, journals, albums, drawings, photographs and correspondence, we gain an understanding of how many opportunities have bound them to this city, and we are surprised by the warmth they feel for the Romanian capital. Can it be that Bucharest is a hospitable city? Do the people of Bucharest have that winning I don't know what and I don't know how?
We read the illustrious pages of this city's civilised history, we pore over documents and records, we note the social events that have taken place over the course of time, we endeavour to understand the laws according to which Bucharest life flows, we preserve significant dates, we weigh up what has been good or bad, we live here a lifetime and nevertheless we are still surprised! What is a newcomer to make of it, you will say?
An interesting and attractive city from many points of view, Bucharest ought to enjoy much more respect on the part of its inhabitants, in the first place, but also on the part of its aediles. Without doubt, the people of Bucharest do not excel in environmental protection or in providing a good example of scrupulous, excessive cleanliness. Categorically, it will be a long time before Romanians become good ecologists.
I regard sincerity, meticulousness and good faith as primary criteria in putting together a volume dedicated to the presentation of a city and its life, of the mentality rooted here. These are obligatory requirements that will have to stand alongside a good knowledge, a critical spirit, a feeling of belonging, but also detachment and, not least, good taste.
With these considerations in mind, we get the current issue under way. Even today, the capital of Romania is astonishing for its unique amalgam of western and eastern influences, which we must accept, take responsibility for, in fact, while at the same time fighting hard for our own identity. But to a large extent we share the fate of all capitals.
We set forth a sweeping current panorama, with the good and the not so good: romanticism and lordliness of spirit juxtaposed with technological abuses, a city with splendid, enduring buildings and historic monuments juxtaposed with the hideous structures that have brutally made their appearance in recent decades. We offer readers a city brimming with rituals and cultural traditions of great nobility, which peacefully dwell in close proximity to flagrant corruption. We are concerned, even worried, when closely observing today's so-called modern Bucharest.
Forever connected to western European civilisation, situated at the border with the Orient, borrowing from anywhere and everywhere whenever it seemed appropriate, or even when it wasn't, Bucharest civilisation is surprising precisely because of these spectacular interferences, because of its atmosphere, its connexions, its rhythm, and the bustle we encounter here, an atmosphere in the midst of which unfold lives marked by nerves, hubbub and more rarely harmony, a city where grandiose projects take shape, as well as dramas of every kind. You will appreciate the huge contrasts between texts and images.
Full of defects, anxious, weary in many respects, enjoying a capricious climate, and even wholly unstable weather, overwhelmed by the plaints of its inhabitants above all else, Bucharest was and remains paradoxically a city that is loved!
In many respects we continue – it seems to be an invitation to tourists – a place where stable partnerships can be established, a place that presents all the parameters the exigencies of our times presuppose – something that is not at all to be overlooked. At the same time, we figure in the current statistics with troubling data as regards the negative effects of civilisation, among which pollution is perhaps the most grave.
What is the reality? How does Bucharest take shape on the map of Europe? How does the image of our capital look when viewed from afar, from greater or lesser distances? What are we doing today in order for tomorrow to be better for all of us? How do we judge the behaviour of citizens who have settled here or of those who are passing through? What architectural and city-planning projects can salvage and rectify the mistakes of the last few decades?
We enlist the opinions of historians, architects, sociologists and other specialists from various fields, as well as writers and journalists, who have been taking the pulse and analysing the quality of Bucharest life for a long time, observing how the old habits, the customs of the natives of former times have gradually been forgotten in favour of the brisk rhythm of everyday life, replaced more often than not by an avalanche of counterfeit, dubious cultural information. It is hard to verify how much of what is now considered valuable derives from kitsch. The capital of Romania pleasantly surprises the world with festivals, galas, prestigious cultural events, performances, exhibitions, and impeccable scientific symposia; an authentic school of theatre and of film has been created here, esteemed throughout the world, the university has given the world prestigious savants, while the everyday life of Bucharest becomes more and more devoid of satisfaction, more hurried, often more ashen.
It will be up to you, the visitors to this site, to determine how much in this corner of the world is authentic and how much is kitsch, in this Bucharest, which, like any large city, has accumulated a sum of modern influences. Not only the native of Bucharest can be a slave to mofturi, to kitsch. Life everywhere offers new temptations of this kind. It remains for us to sift discerningly, perceptively, culturally, tastefully. What are mofturi if not Romanian kitsch? But kitsch in its turn can be considered to be a universal moft, for a quicker understanding of the matter.
The site remains open to lovers and connoisseurs of our metropolis, for additions that serve history and its progress.  
Moft, plural mofturi, derives from a Turkish word meaning free of charge, cheap. In Romanian, the word has acquired the meaning lacking in value, content or importance, a trifle, a lie, a swindle, empty words, palaver.H. Tiktin, Rumänische-deutsches Wörterbuch, Bukarest, 1906
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth

by Aurora Fabritius