Visiting cities, a consumer tourist practice, is usually presented in the same image wrapping like shopping in a boutique, or attending to a show: one goes for the glossiest package, the funniest label, the wildest excitement vouched for. As a tourist product, a city is more than a dwelling, normal place – it is a Cubist-like, billboard assemblage of its most ingestible parts, an ephemeral Utopia-at-hand for a week (or weekend)-long usage. Abstract and ideal as it is, the sightseeing quintessence of a city configures a map parallel to the one familiar to its common dwellers, a map where leisure, enjoyment and appeal prevail over pragmatic use.The practical map of the tourist, idealized city is frequently shortening the distances or smoothening the discontinuities of the real city and, subsequently, packs together various sites and spots in some perfect, yet imaginary entities that one can hardly project and reconstitute on site. Ideal, tourist cities fabricated out of concrete, living ones, are generally bright, but poor, condensed and abridged, their particularities tending to comply with a given, current idea of specificity that sometimes succeeds in erasing the actual specifics of the real city. Thus the customary practice of identifying a certain city with a particular edifice or work of art, singled out like an emblem, is so widespread that it ceases to be a particularity. It is rather a general obligation, a necessity of the kind of a museum that a city must possess to be able to claim its cultural status and attractiveness.One may wonder if there is any connection between these matters and the city of Bucharest. Indeed, there is no connection at all. Until now, no ideal, tourist Bucharest was shaped out of the common, daily city. And here resides the interest of the issue. A conventional, standard tourist city will be, sooner or later, extracted from Bucharest too, there is no doubt about that. Monuments will be restored, museums will be refurbished, and itineraries will be concocted. Yet the particularity of the actual city of Bucharest lies precisely in its capacity as a counter-tourist spot. Contrary to typical tourist, idealized cities, Bucharest still exhibits its real, ordinary face as a possible tourist destination, and that face or figure is not uninteresting at all, although less so for cultural – or entertainment – tourism, but rather for an anthropological kind of tourist experience.Bucharest ranges among the very few big European cities (and capitals) where the smooth, charming cohabitation of past and present architectural styles and cultural spots (that constitute the current tourist dish) is largely surpassed by one imposing presence that transcends buildings and gardens, streets and shops, voices and odors. It is the phenomenal presence of a relic-like dwelling mode, combining urbanism and its opposite, a certain, uneven blend of edifices, markets, people, animals, things, dust and flowers that mix into a quaint, matchless kaleidoscope.The irreducible, unmistakable scent of enduring, bare life as such, of uncompromising but indeterminate, tenacious yet jumbled survival flows out unhindered of this rich, whipped mixture. No map is useful in tracking down the tasty city inside the ordinary agglomeration: one has to make one's own touching, smelling, hearing and seeing map. Bucharest is not showing big, blatant things, except for the loathed, imposed effigy of the ex-People's House, the second largest building in the world, but the least loved edifice in the city.Keen eyes may discern other, much smaller, though highly significant things, living debris of history like the ten or twenty years old journals used in the markets by peasants to wrap up the spices or herbs they sell. Crowded and vivacious, the markets themselves are spectacular indeed, with their noisy display of cheap abundance, and the helter-skelter of low-quality industrial products and the matchless, dainty output of peasants' tiny farm lots yielding a handful of produce only. Living, meaningful relics of the aborted, communist industrial landscape are everywhere, with crumbling factories surreptitiously abraded by the all-pervasive, ubiquitous dust. It is a peculiar species, a dilapidated-industry dust, insinuated in each fold of the streets, sheltered by every corner of the buildings, peacefully devouring installations and cranes, machines and equipment. Thus the infallible soil recovers, step by step, the estranged territories of a profoundly rural, earth-bound country. Another time is lived at the present tense, and this happens on the street too, and also in the huge department stores of yore, vacuous yet not desolate, selling goods with long-forgotten uses, like some ghost saloons in a dated western movie, inhabited by the wrecked spirit of adventure, in the same way in communism the ruined spirit of consumption was dwelling.The experience provided by the actual city of Bucharest is indeed unique, though not in the palatable sense of soft tourism standards, but rather in the strained sense of exotic, dystopic adventures. Moreover, the ordinary exoticism itself is effaced, that is the facile blend of digestible outlandishness. Instead, a puzzling combination of familiarity and irregularity, of routine and unpredictable disorder reigns, making the things apparently at hand look distant (and the other way round, sometimes), therefore giving a new, unexpected significance to the state of conceiving and living the usual. Normality as an alien condition is perhaps the odd proposal made by the city of Bucharest to the foreign mind.

by Erwin Kessler