In A City Which Used To Be European

Well, then, Dilema Veche intends to host a series of comments on the state of the city in which we live, to which some of us are bound, by birth, others by a life experience that is getting longer and longer, and which we want to defend against the aggressive attempts to mutilate and tart it up, made by the ignorance around or above us. For this is all about: an ignorance of the past which used to confer an identity upon Bucharest, carelessness about history, which leads to the servile imitation of foreign models, when it is not only the whim of the gross upstart who has sometimes unrightfully become the master of a number of square meters of land.With this gesture of civic responsibility, the magazine parts with the traditional ambiguity it has been scrupulously cultivating out of respect for its neighbor. There is nothing dilemmatic in what you are about to read: the mockery or the destruction to which entire buildings or streets are subjected no longer allow the attempt to keep a horizontal balance between two urban conceptions, equally within in their rights. The reaction against the assault of greed and bad taste has tarried too much. In fact, we had examples which should have warned us against this danger. In Greece, in the 50s and 60s, estate profiteering destroyed the (very numerous) traces of the Byzantine and Ottoman past, of which only churches were spared (but not mosques, of course). German architects regret the excesses made not a long time ago in the process of modernization of their cities (it is true that bombardments had left many open wounds in the urban tapestry). In Brussels, even though it had remained untouched by the war, modern constructions replaced completely the sublime Gothic or baroque work of the ancestors, so nowadays tourists crowd into the only square spared by the demolishers. On the contrary, Warsaw, which had been completely destroyed by enemies, was rebuilt with admirable care and takes pride in the palaces that once were to be seen only in Canaletto's paintings. The paradox is that the destruction has begun in Romania, which has so few historical monuments left, spared only due to poverty, not because their value was understood. We curse Ceausescu because in his megalomaniac delirium he tore down a half or a third of the historical center of Bucharest, but we entered his legacy, the House of the People, a place of a bad augury for the beginning of a democracy, while nowadays we copy his stubborn strife to demolish old houses and churches to make the utopia come true: a new city for a new race of human beings. At least he, in his hallucination, had a system in mind, although one with social and economic structures that turned out completely wrong, while nowadays there is nothing but the pride of the newly-enriched and the calculations of those who, impatient to catch up with the latter, buy and demolish, to erect human depositories rented at a high price. After all, this is the same disease whose symptoms can be seen in Bellu cemetery, where old graves disappear, headstones with historical names are broken, for the newcomer who could not bear to be eaten by worms somewhere else to have a cool vault built for himself. Another dishonor for the city: huge advertising billboards that cover a building completely, condemning its dwellers to dark (in exchange, the latter get money to pay their overheads) and disfiguring a street which had been projected differently. In the center of Bucharest, the number of the houses hidden under this ugly and useless ornamentation keeps growing continuously. There is also the question of the old houses that disappeared, boyars' houses that still bore their old blazon, merchants' houses with a closed balcony or a veranda, both low types of buildings, since in the old days no one measured their reputation by the numbers of floors they had above their heads; they either fell into ruin or the interest of their new master turned them into the "headquarters" of their business, covered them in concrete and thermopanes. This is how an old bystreet becomes lined with restaurants (as if Romanians only eat out), with pubs and bars (allegedly too few for the crowd of thirsty clients).To which I feel like answering the fierce way the beggar I saw yesterday did to the well-dressed gentleman, who had the airs of a superior clerk and who had ignored his plea: "And you say you want to join the European Union!" There are so many other things to be said. We will say them all in due time. I have already got my list of endangered places. But I am asking those readers who care about the past of the city to signal me all the situations they run into: Dilema veche, 11-17 August 2006 Translated by Fabiola Popa

by Andrei Pippidi