Chronicles Of An Optimist

excerpts NOISES OF THE CAPITAL For reasons I cannot exactly explain, the flow of ideas circulated by the independent press has strikingly dwindled to a mere trickle. One can only put it down to the times of fatigued irritation we are living through as we wait for the much desired final peace treaty. And whenever a shortage of fresh subjects occurs, old ones are quick to resurface. Sure enough, it was not long ago that I read in a daily a vehement protest against the noise in Bucharest. That, I said to myself, was indeed a subject fit for times of normalcy since, for as long as I can remember, newspapers have been complaining, on behalf of the capital's citizens against the clamor. Yet on second thoughts, one does wonder: what noise? A citizen of any European city, not necessarily one of the largest, would be utterly perplexed. Bucharest is the most peaceful city on earth, nay, in the whole universe, for were there any cities on the moon, they would be surely full of din for there, at least, the music of the spheres can be heard, the whirr, that is, made by the planets as they spin. The Victory Promenade, for instance, I do not mean the stretch between the Ministry of Finance and the Bridge End, but the area around the Palace, is as tranquil as a country road. When a police commissioner once insisted on having large-headed nails driven all the way into the tarmac, outside the Officers' Club, I was intrigued for a spell. What aim, if any, were those medals meant to serve? I assumed the commissioner intended to have the tarmac decorated with medal ornaments. It was only later that it dawned upon me that his purpose was to regulate traffic with a view to keeping pedestrians from being run over by vehicles. Such things were to be seen in London and Paris. The nails were duly driven in, yet automobiles persisted in shunning the said thoroughfare, while apparently partial to other streets, and thus traffic wardens were left to perform an empty ritual, devoid of any clear awareness of a purpose, the same way as, at the Princely Court, the memorial service was held in a certain area of the chapel, without anyone knowing that it was actually there that the former princes had been entombed. It was sheer delight to see the traffic warden stop you with no car in sight, and kept you waiting, for a minute while he indulged in the gratuitous act of changing the traffic lights. It all ended up with a timetable allowing the occasional pedestrians to cross at fixed intervals, with the accuracy of a clock rigorously rotating its hands. Being unaccustomed to such schedules, I chose to avoid that particular corner of the Victory Promenade with the Boulevard, and for years I refrained from treading those pavements, adopting, poet-like, a devious route. Ah, the noises of the Capital! There are, indeed, noises inherent to nature. Thus, as one walks past the Vernescu house, whose façade was concocted by the late architect Mincu, one hears in the morning the song of sundry birds, not only sparrows. At dusk one can clearly discern the flute of a frog inebriated with the dewy grass in some old courtyard. One day, around noon, as I was on my way back from the Academy, a cock was trumpeting its hymn to the sun out in the street. Some years ago, when there was a serious shortage of meat, in about the same area, I saw a little girl herding a singular goat with a bulging udder, as it nibbled at the weeds flanking the pavement. A propos weeds. Former mayors would urge the citizens to pluck out the weeds springing up between the wall of the house and the pavement. That alone is sufficient proof that in Bucharest the ratio of crowd per unit of surface area is so low that the pedestrian's feet are insufficient to tread down the roots of the said weeds. Now, what other noises can one hear in Bucharest? An "antediluvian waggoner cracking his whip, an archaeological automobile hooting from a decrepit klaxon, a few crickets stridulating from a crack in the wall, a little boy calling out the names of the newspapers he is selling, an Oltenian street vendor reciting the list of the merchandise in his panniers. A monotonous sound akin to the stillness of a graveyard for those dwelling, say, in Moscow or in London. There's a much greater clamor in villages. Whence, then, this noise phobia? For a while, I thought to myself it was because most of the Capital's citizens are of rural extraction, which today I find far from satisfactory, since in the countryside, people are, on the contrary, used to screams rending the air. The explanation lies elsewhere. Our citizen is still holding on to a fair share of the former Oriental and anti-social indolence, and conceives of life as an infinite siesta. In the afternoon, in broad daylight, the individual wants to take his nap, thus killing some precious time. And as the body is, during the day, excited by the radiation of the sun forcing a different rhythm upon the circulation of blood, the citizen, suffering from false insomnia, blames a few noises of no consequence which he augments by dint of his fantasy. Noise does not kill, unless, of course, it is cyclonic. Were it truly obnoxious, the din of hammers and engines would endanger the lives of workers, yet it is known for a fact that, quite the opposite, its effect is rather tonic. The thirst for silence is, with certain Rumanians, a reactionary attitude. GREAT ARCHITECTURE The recent campaign against typhoid fever, opening with a de visu census of all the flats in Bucharest, revealed a reality which our paper did expose before, though careful observers could hardly ignore it. In this oversized village known as Bucharest, with pompous high-rise buildings simulating in lath and plaster genuine skyscrapers, there are an extremely large number of mud huts with dirt floors, blatantly unhygienic, utterly devoid of plumbing and electricity. And we don't have to look too far for them. The Polonă Street, where I frequently walk, posing as a distinguished street, more or less, with consulates and a few private hotels, as they would be called in Paris, is rife with insalubrious shacks. All in all, the Polonă Street is repulsive, and a foreigner abruptly arriving in Bucharest would find it hard to believe he is in a Saint-Germain quarter of sorts… What has caused this state of affairs? Definitely not the Rumanians' lack of concern for a comfortable dwelling place. Houses elsewhere in the country, and also in the Capital do speak for the desire of our citizens to live decently and esthetically, though not necessarily luxuriously. The true cause is the lack, in this so-called capitalist age, of Capital itself. Wherever I traveled abroad, I never saw the like of the shabby contractors in our country. Everywhere else, either in the Soviet Union or in the West, building a house means building something solid and impressive which will be there for quite a while. The building of a house is a matter of general municipal interest, since any city is the result of the harmonic coming together of its edifices. How can it then be explained that, having men of great wealth, building societies, and in spite of the waste former regimes indulged in, the citizens of the Capital were in no position to build houses in accordance with all the rules of science, hygiene and art? Lack of funds. An average clerk with no supplementary income, would have needed about one million lei to have a moderate house built. Generally, there was no place he could get that money from. Regardless of his paying the yearly interest rates or not, the outcome would have been positive. The house once built stays either with the debtor or the creditor that is, it is ultimately in the possession of the human community! The lack of funds for urban construction, unanimously acknowledged, is a reality pleading guilty on behalf of our capitalists. They were unable to do anything about it in the past, and, consequently, they wouldn't be able to do anything about it in the future, since a nationalization of the construction initiative can only be expected with any degree of effectiveness from the State. Banks did indulge in a variety of transactions, their only omission being a blatant failure to support the very people building the foundations of this country – farmers, workers and intellectuals. Our fellow – countrymen running large-scale business did not invest their profit into the building of monuments. They availed themselves of the opportunity to have them said profit converted into jewelry or hard currency, or splurge it on the Côte d'Azur. On examining the existence of latifundiaries from the past, some of them distinguished personalities, one is appalled at their selfishness. While at home, they would live either in a hut they styled manor or in a ramshackle structure styled palace, they would wait in the country till the harvest was converted into gold, and then, bearing checks made out to Western banks, they would embark upon peregrinations. It was at Vichy, Royat, Aix-les-Bains that the whole of our capitalist society converged, and there simply squandered its capital, or – at any rate – the profit made from the sweat of the Rumanian farmer, while leaving nothing in the country. If, during the years following the first war, our Capital underwent a certain improvement, that was partly due to ventures frequently verging on swindling, initiated by adventurers lacking all capital, who, boldly collecting down payments and evoking the mirage of high-rise buildings, prevailed upon many to abandon the idea, once precious to the dweller of Bucharest, of living in a separate house in a courtyard, and sign in for the collective regime. Regardless of the direction construction takes in the Capital, we have no reason whatsoever to be grateful to the past, but we do have all the arguments for repeating that under the auspices of the new democracy we are entitled to envisage great architectural development. THE LETTER OF AN AMERICAN TRAVELING TO ROMANIA Dear Sir, I would like to send you a few impressions from this highly original country, where I have been living for a few days. At the time, I'm in its Capital, known as "Bucureşti", which means, or so I'm told, the city of joy. Well, the population do have a highly original notion of joy. Needless to say, the city is in actual fact a village. The highest building, it does sound incredible, but I hope you regard me as a trustworthy person, is no higher than 12 floors. I said twelve. I wanted to live in such a building, but was told it was the Telephone Palace (sic). Under the circumstances, the elevator is, of course, an object serving decorative rather than practical purposes. But what I find most surprising is that the city seems to be deserted. At first I thought some dramatic events had occurred, like an earthquake or an outbreak of the plague, but I was positively told things always follow that pattern. In the main streets one can hardly see a few thousand persons. There are always seats to spare on the street cars. People seem to suffer from malfunctioning wills. I saw persons who, instead of getting on a slightly crowded street car by simply shoving aside a bunch of women clinging to the stairs, waited till another street car came. Everything moves at an extremely slow pace. I saw, I give you my word of honor, horse-drawn carriages. Let me explain this contraption to you. They are like cars without engines, pulled by horses. That's highly historical in character. Almost no individuals own cars. Only a few of the very rich can afford this luxury. Yet it is not so much poverty as such that prevents the citizens from purchasing automobiles, since all appear to be quite prosperous, as a lack of any motivation to move. The clerks of this country, as far as I have found out, are under no obligation to go to their offices. I for one found no institution open. I was told on Monday they celebrate Tues-Eve, on Tuesday, Wednes-Eve, etc. They sound like very important holidays. Law and order are extreme in this country, and virtue for virtue's sake is the order of the day. For instance, I wanted to cross from one sidewalk to the other in an absolutely deserted street, but the traffic warden pointed to some nails driven into the tarmac and stopped me with the words: "Where you think you're going, ?" (is a highly polite form of address very frequently used). In order to be allowed to cross the street, you are supposed to go searching for a companion throughout the city, so as to constitute an agglomeration. Although the city is as quiet as a grave, measures have been recently taken to eradicate noise. Cars are not allowed to hoot, street vendors make not a sound. The city center is a remarkable place for calming down nerves. I reckon it is highly advisable for you to purchase at least the center of this city, where the buildings are, in a way, acceptable, in order to start a sanatorium for fatigued Americans… (the rest of the letter is missing). ARCHITECTURAL NATIONALISM Architectural tradition? Now, let's see what that means, and, more to the point, how far it can go. Such a thing as traditional Rumanian style can only be found in small churches, at the porched houses in the foot hills, at the fortified manors of Oltenia. Were we to build a cathedral, a palace, a modern high-rise building, traditional elements are inapplicable. Twisted columns and ornamental wreaths only occur in a limited number of boyar residences of unpretentious proportions, aesthetically ranging from the beautiful to the appalling. Why? Because architecture means proportions, whereas the "traditional" architect resorts to applied ornaments in the attempt to cajole some local color into his building. Mincu, who before the war was exalted to the rank of genius supreme, left no valid achievement, and even his own students, Mr. P. Antonescu, to name but one, were critical of him. His Buffet on the Avenue (La Şosea) still blots the landscape with its bombastic colorfulness, reminiscent of the erroneous way in which some Slaves attempted a personal treatment of Western architecture. Yet, one wonders, is there ultimately such a thing as absolute originality in architecture? The Rumanian style is an extension of the Byzantine-Adriatic one, French architecture is an extension of the Italian baroque, Spanish one likewise, albeit along different lines, and so on, and so forth. It is only the local interpretation and adaptation that can be original, though not exempt from evolution. The Italians stood their grounds for quite a while, entrenched in the baroque and detesting Americanism, until they were finally convinced they had come to a standstill. Now the post in Naples, some hotel or other in Milan, the station in Florence are breaking away from tradition. And yet Italians do abide in tradition in spite of themselves, since their sky, their materials and their eyes can not possibly engender an absolutely identical rendition of the model they are imitating. Now, back to Bucharest! Does our Capital possess by any chance an illustrious heritage in danger of betrayal? Nonsense. The Capital used to be an oversized village with improvised little houses, devoid, of course of any appearance of style since they were entirely the works of brick layers. Some of the larger buildings, like the Post, the Bank, displayed a sorrowful semblance of French provincial style, as their architects were of French extraction. Obviously, that's why some French nationals are pining for the "little Paris" (?!) of yore while turning their nose up at the Rumanian New York. It is only now that Rumania has finally started building, and what she needs is grandeur, monumentality, comfort. If Japan, the prototype of traditionalism is building skyscrapers, why, what prevents us from building some ourselves? The whole of Europe has turned modern in construction, because always a style is of necessity universal. The most meager feast of modernity is immediately recorded in the art history books abroad, while we're being told off for any such attempts. Modern Rumanian architecture has a style of its own, and does not even remotely resemble, with a few exceptions, western modernism. It is candid, limey, in keeping with the local sky and the Danubian dust, and the little centuries-old churches are admirably silhouetted against the bulk of modern buildings which are, nevertheless a far cry from being skyscrapers. Are, therefore, the Dalles foundation and the ten-story building next to it lacking in style? Free from local color and embellishments, yet excelling in artistic quality, the Rumanian Academy Library is one of the best looking modern buildings in Europe, due to its candor, simplicity, and accuracy. Actually, at the moment it is one of the most up to date installations of its kind in Europe (cf. the National Library in Paris or Vittorio Emannuele in Rome). Some foreigners would probably go for the "classic" damp juggernaut next door. Let them give us a break then, these moralizing foreigners incited by fake nationalists. TRAFFIC The denizen of Bucharest who has never traveled abroad might not know what prompted those nails to be driven into the Victory Avenue tarmac for the purpose of regulating traffic. Well, it's an invention straight from Paris. Whoever traveled to Paris was allowed an insight into the true purpose the said nails serve over there and the way we interpret everything we feel we have a duty to imitate. Barbarians, Dacians included, unless I'm much mistaken, would imitate, not to say forge, Greek coins. They could see the coin displayed some sort of inscriptions all around its rim, but being unable to understand them, they had them replaced by random notches. It was not much different from what we are doing today. In Paris, on every street corner, and not infrequently, even at other locations along the streets, the tarmac is transversed by two parallel rows of nails supposed to guide crossing pedestrians. They are free to cross at whichever point they feel inclined to, yet it is only there that they are under the protection of authority. When several individuals have gathered on the pavement, they signal their intention to cross by appropriate gestures and cars have then to stop. Where traffic happens to be on the heavy side, it is the traffic warden himself that regulates the passage, finding the right time to urge on either the pedestrians or the drivers. Still, it is but rarely that the blasé traffic wardens of Paris do interfere. People gather and cross naturally, and drivers also stop naturally whenever they see a group of pedestrians eager to cross. Some cross on their own if in a hurry. They assume full responsibility. Neither does the traffic warden prevent them. And that's why things work smoothly. This method has also been borrowed by other countries. The nails, or simply stripes of white paint are to be seen in most of Italy's larger cities. Oh, how the race shines through! As haughty as they are ostentatious, the Italians have masses of pompously uniformed, white-gloved metropolitanos manning the crossroads from the height of wooden rostrums. Italians were always elegantly theatrical. Traffic wardens are hardly needed in Italian cities. Their performance has long since slid into pure parade with ridiculous yet sometimes graceful overtones. The traffic warden raises his arms, crosses them, rotates and twists them each and every way, spreads his fingers, extracts the approaching vehicle from the air, urges it on with reverential capers, sets it in motion with conjuror passes. Quite a spectacular display, as a matter of a fact. Whenever a car looms at the horizon, the traffic warden experiences a bout of panic akin to an actor's stage fright, moves his arm in position, flexes his muscles, then plunges into the resplendent performance described above. But still traffic is unhindered; just like in Paris, essentially, in Rome, too, the qualities of the race are immediately revealed. All over the streets of Bucharest, particularly there, where traffic is at its most congested, pedestrians' crossing proceeds without protection. One hundred individuals may come together waiting to cross over, yet the driver speeds by mouthing mother-related oaths. In one place only, and the easiest to cross, too, on the Victory Avenue, where it crosses the Boulevard, such a cordon sprang up for the protection of… cars. Up and down the street there's no vehicle in sight. You resolve to cross and suddenly buzzz, a bell goes off, a seedy civilian with a pathetic traffic warden in tow, shoves you back: no crossing! Then once again, buzz, and you may cross, and again buzz, and no crossing. Thus, traffic is systematically interrupted, when there is no actual need to, and a pickpocket who just happened to steal your wallet before the buzz can get safely across the street while the traffic wardens make sure you don't budge. But, at long last, we did nail our colors to the mast, didn't we? ARCHITECTURE The holidays provided me with the leisure to roam the streets, thus reinforcing certain notions that had been sitting up my consciousness. The trees are now leafless, and streets are exposed in all their nudity. I do believe, and always have done, that arts are without exception restricted by their very means and ends. As far as architecture is concerned, I do not hesitate to claim that utility is essential. Yet utility itself is determined by geographic and social considerations, thus excluding the idea of an abstract art of building unrelated to space. Admittedly, more than a fair share of modernist houses have been built in Bucharest, in a style both remarkably elegant and – in certain instances – not entirely unhygienic, considering climatic relativity. The outcome is, nonetheless, deplorable. The cubic, flat roofed house, almost lacking a door, might be a reasonable dwelling in the East, where the sun is hot, and in the evening you can go out on the rooftop like going out on the deck of a ship. Oversized windows are, by the same token, salutary in northern countries, where light has to be extracted from the mists. The cozy little room is appropriate for a timber house in some Alpine area, as it doesn't take long to heat. Yet Rumania is a land subject to rain and snowfall. Just have a look at those pathetic modernist houses. Disfigured by a livid lick of leper, pockmarked by the rain, plagued by the elements, they are now threatened, if small, by imminent collapse under the looming snow banks. The cold seeps in through the cracks in the window-frames like a thousand tongues of ice, and the small rooms turn to glaciers as soon as the fire goes out in the stove. Our climate calls for steep roofs draining rain and snow, and protecting from sunshine, thick walls and sensible windows, rooms with plenty of air to keep the temperature constant. Where have we got this importunate modernism from? Not from the West, let me assure you. Or, at any rate, it comes from there utterly degenerate. A country of significant cultural tradition is unlikely to break away so abruptly from the enduring patterns summing up its life experience. Italy, the home of architecture, has indeed a modernism of its own: a simplification of the imperial style, on the one hand, and of the romantic one, on the other, a combination of red brick and white spaces, round and straight surfaces, all aimed at accommodating the new standards of hygiene, yet without violating tradition. German modernism simplifies the Gothic, doing away with the ogee arch and the column, and promoting the massive gray bulwark. Our own modernism is, by comparison, inimitably ridiculous, as well as perfectly unreasonable. I have seen today houses on a sort of columns cum stilts, with soles on their rooftops, or with a window violating the whole interior. Had the interior offered a view of the Pacific Ocean, it would have indeed been interesting. Yet my intuition revealed a cook purchasing three pots of yogurt from a dairyman. THE LAND OF LET IT BE The cold blood running through the veins of cold-blooded Rumanians must be very cold indeed to render them as indolently stagnant as the waters of a swamp. Have you noticed a typical feature? Like the most primitive of Asiatic races, Rumanians are loath to interfere with the course of nature. Civic awareness is anti-nature. Therefore, Rumanians are anti-civic. Agriculture, gardening, now these are arts that can be pursued in full cooperation with nature. Rumanians do live from agriculture, yet are not of necessity agriculturally minded. Is it raining? Fine. Is the rain long overdue? Just as well. One year the apple harvest is abundant, the next – it goes all to the caterpillars, or the cucumbers rot away, or the vegetables dry out. All these are natural phenomena, and no one dreams of interfering with their inexorable unfolding. The fowls of the air cannot be possibly happier than the Rumanians. In winter, when it is snowing in the city, nothing can beat the subsequent show for sociological interest. For instance, in this oversized village that goes by the name of Bucharest, there was a heavy snowfall the other day. On attempting to exit from my courtyard, I found myself engulfed by massive snow banks. Although it was late in the day and quite a few people had walked by, it hadn't occurred to any one to get hold of a shovel and clear the snow before their houses. And that's how it stayed till it thawed. It was then that a neighbor told me, quite satisfied with the wisdom of nature: "Such a relief the sun is out again! One could barely pass by for all that snow…" Now we're being confronted with an extreme case of black ice. For days the Capital has been glazed all over with a slippery layer rendering walking insecure, oscillating and nerve-wrecking. Well, no one, but absolutely no one deigns to spread even the token handful of ashes in front of their houses. Everyone pirouettes by slips, tumbles down, laughs at everyone else and waits on the decision of nature. Rumanians are, indeed, great nature admirers. I happened to walk past a shop whose owner is an acquaintance of mine. I attempted to have a look at the shop window, but couldn't get anywhere near it on account of the black ice. The owner was just emerging from his shop to have a look at his shop window from the outside. "Good man", I hailed him, "can't you see no one can get a closer look because of that ice?" Ignoring my question, the merchant declared: "Freezing bloody cold! Now, that's what I call winter…". He was obviously venting his admiration of nature. He skidded by this way and that, when suddenly, losing his balance on the ice, he fell. "You see," I admonished him, "it's all because you've spread no ashes." He got back to his feet in irritation, and after brushing off the snow clinging to him, he calmly uttered these memorable words: "Ashes my foot! Just let it be: the sun will be coming out tomorrow and melt it all away." CONCERNING THE TRAM People seem to believe the tram is a means of transport, meant to convey the greatest number of passengers to the greatest number of convenient locations. Far from it. The purpose served by the tram is not the transport of citizens, but rather constant circulation along the tracks between certain hours. That is why it is a frequent occurrence for trams to speed by the stops in such a way that the crowds gathered there are in no position to get on. The reason for this is making up for lost time when running late. The driver's concerns are purely artistic. Thus, he would stop four meters before the probable point of stopping, or four meters past it, for that matter, inducing confusion in the passenger for the sole purpose of indulging in an inner ideal of accuracy. To put it briefly, the tramdriver practices pure circulation the same way Paul Valéry practices pure poetry. The driver's detachment as mere observer only yields to more primary instincts when the mudguard of a carriage happens to scrape against the flank of the vehicle. On such occasions, he applies the brakes dramatically, gets off, searches the car for damage, conducts inquiries, raises his voice, keeps tens of trams waiting, and only gets on again after elucidating the causes of the accident completely. The conductor is likewise given to reticence. He does not seem to regard the selling of tickets as even remotely commercial in nature, but rather as an act of authority. Were you to proffer the fare, he would deliberately ignore you, collecting the fare from all the other passengers, and keeping you waiting as a lesson in humility. Next, he would reach for your fare with an unwashed hand whose nails need badly to be clipped, accompanying the gesture with a rictus of intense displeasure. The board make him wear on purpose a soiled uniform and malodorous boots, in order to train the public in the exercise of patience. The slightest complaint to the conductor triggers off effects of the direst kind. The passenger will be severely and violently admonished, and threatened with imminent expulsion from the car. For once boarding the tram, the individual finds himself under a sort of military authority. If in a restaurant you are not satisfied with the service, or if a vehicle fails to please you, you simply avoid them. Not so with the tram. The Conductor is an authority. He issues warnings and penalties, and the remotest hint of civil disobedience can result in calling the police. His not commonly resorting to this means is, on the whole, due to the fact that the public is prudent and avoids generating conflicts, even when the car is packed full and the conductor fiercely elbows his way down the aisle, in keeping with his call to freedom of movement in the tram. ROADWORKS For months I've been watching out of my window a show guaranteed to drive to raving insanity any one whose composure does not measure up to mine. Roadworks are in progress. One fine day, a few cartloads of sand are dumped in the street to the accompaniment of whooping and cursing. The material is left there till it consumes away under the pedestrians' feet. A few weeks later the old tarmac is thoroughly uprooted. The street looks like an open grave that has disgorged its bones. All traffic is as a matter of course disrupted. Much later there comes a morning when the booming of a machine is heard. A sort of grinding device is crushing stone. The resulting material is instantly requisitioned by bands of children for ammunition. The odd rainy spell folds the remaining sand, stone debris and earth in a primordial soup. A whole month elapses in undisturbed quiet. Not one move. Then suddenly a whole platoon of derelict laborers appear on the site and engage hell for leather in the process of spreading around successive layers of sand and gravel. At least in theory, for in reality these operations are performed simultaneously. Finally, a roller having leveled this composition of sorts, the stone masons loosely distribute cubic stones on its surface, without much prior consideration. So far so good. The street is, to all intents and purposes, done you say to yourself. But no! after a period of absolute silence running into days, a new set of laborers appear on the scene. The street is dug up all over again, the mains are removed, the place is once again filled with debris and sand. All the underground installations that had to be planned from the very beginning are unearthed and reshuffled. The procedure is carried out on a daily basis. At a certain point I did believe everything would come to an end. True, I had noticed the manhole covers were protruding high above the level of the street. Yet I assumed that, in a major feat of engineering, the contractors had either reckoned with subsequent subsidence or with a major clogging of the drains. The street was nevertheless once again stripped. Everything was torn open, and the manhole covers ended up flush with the road surface. Ultimately, it should have been a cheering development. But as it happens, the street has been reconstructed in such a way as to remain bottle-necked at both ends. I had completely overlooked that aspect until yesterday, when I wanted to have a few cartloads of firewood brought in. The head of the workforce adamantly opposed me. "No way, sir!" "Why?" "Street's closed off." "How long is it going to stay like that?" "For as long as it takes, say, spring." "And what about me? How ever am I supposed to get my fire-wood in?" "That's your business. I have my orders." Ever since I've been waiting for the street either to be finished or abandoned, so that I can, perchance, escape death by cold this coming winter.

by George Călinescu