Smells Of Bucharest

from left: rundown houses on Lipscani and Mosilor, Dimbovitza river from Hasdeu bridge, street in Cotroceni
Bucharest smells exquisitely during the time of lindens and rain. Vigorously soaked for a half hour, the city heals even from the stenches that make you ill. Under the flood even the emanations from Glina dumpsite lose their punch. However, molten by the heat, the Capital immerses in fragrances, but especially in miasmas, and even the lime perfume (when it is present) is brought down by pestilential stench. The subwayThe cool of the stations, the smell of tracks and of tunnel mold are OK. The danger starts in the hidden places. The unwritten law says: do not come near the walls at the end of the platform. Unwashed, they wear the vapors of the urine deposited during the week. At morning time, in the trains there is perfume. The women are beautiful and dressy. People smell good, the view is really European. The nightmare begins in the afternoon. In the old trains you choke. Sweat flows down you and you instinctively search for the draught from the open window. The perspiration (varying from one individual to another) kills the popular deodorants, sweetish and inefficient. At this hour, there appear machos in sneakers, who bounce their muscles under their biceps-accenting T-shirts, leaving tracks of perspiration. LipscaniIn the 1930’s, an important Romanian architect agreed with a demand to demolish the merchants’ street. At that time, the tram passed through the narrow street, and systematization proposals were to be welcomed. Someone else, a famous mayor, wanted to cover it, to make a sort of promenade with lots of shops and beautiful women. It would have been the pioneer of malls, as invented by us instead of the Americans. But, it remained what we have today: a street with a picturesque past and a dull present. Buildings that crumbled and self-demolished became a vacant lot, and where buildings are demolished with a license, the new ones have no connection whatsoever with the area’s characteristics. Towards the National Bank, archeological diggings unearth old cellars. If the projects were completed, Lipscani Street would regain some of its old perfume. At the height of the heat it reeks of unwashed street, of the dampness of old shops, the mold of the cellars, the excavated soil and the garbage. Decked about halfway with the smell of “mici” grilled in a dubious tavern. CotroceniA Spanish architect who recently visited our country confessed: “I like to smell cities. A city must be felt without a guide or maps…” He did not get to smell Bucharest, because he was in a hurry. Without any doubt he would have been taken to the Cotroceni district. The Botanic Garden, the Presidential Palace Park, the Medicine Park, the Eroilor Park… the cobbled streets, from Carol Davila to Dr. Lister. The Cotroceni air is similar to that of Kiseleff and Herăstrău. In the Botanical Garden you pay 5 lei, but you sure know what you breathe: Dobrujan olive, sumacs, which used to be smoked by Amerindians, the tulip poplar (cardiac stimulant, official tree of the American states of Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana), fresh mown grass. On that particular day, the Botanical Garden’s champion of fragrances was Iris Alley. However, I must say the Garden never had such burnt grass and such high shrubs as there are at the cascade. Besides, all the 17 interdictions posted at the ticket booth are constantly trespassed. The sidewalk next to the Presidential Palace smells fusty and dusty. Almost no one walks on it, probably because of some sort of excessive respect towards the institution. And, honestly, why the hell would you be walking next to a barb-wired wall adjacent to a narrow patch of asphalt that discourages even stray dogs? But then again, the conifers of the Palace lean towards the exterior sometimes, near the block where the poet Minulescu lived, refreshing the air. The streetThoroughly washed, the street comes to life and the stone and asphalt are refreshed. Sprinkled with the can or the pan by employees of the boutiques, the street starts to smell like rain. The embedded odors are now alive. The dirt sprinkled at 30 degrees C smells slurry. The sidewalks smell in a similar manner, even if “generally,” the inhabitants of the green neighborhoods, from Drumul Taberei and Militari to Titan and from Berceni to Tei, Pantelimon or Colentina, are happy. A deadly mix of dust, exhaust gases, shaorma, motor oil, dog excrements, urine (behind the blocks, in the alleyways and in the public transport stops), leavened garbage, randomly mixed breezes, such as the lime flower perfume and the stench from Protan waste disposal company. These are the smells of the Capital. A plain Capital. Between 7 and 9 tons of dustOn the old and narrow streets of Ferentari, Bazilescu and Fundulea, housewives sprinkle and sweep as they have learned since their ancestors moved into the mahala (slum or outskirts). On the same type of streets, towards Şcoala Herăstrău, the old houses have been demolished and blocks of flats, villas and office buildings have been built. The landscape has changed, the square meter of land costs a fortune but no one sweeps the streets anymore. The cleaning trucks barely make it through the narrow streets. We got used, from one generation to another, to incredible olfactory mixes, fetid and flowery, suave and pestilential. Obor: sausages and cinnamonMihai Bravu Street close to Bucur Obor Square. Plenty of shops, cramped on the ground floor of apartment buildings, more or less prosperous store or bank windows, air conditioning. On the entry, the damaged sidewalk, dust from excavations, dust from the plains, dust from everywhere, dog excrements. Deep odors in the heat of the day, like heavy metals. Even if you want to wash the sidewalk, there is no way, since no one has invented a machinery to wash craters and cracks. A hallucinating show: in the stench-laden heat, an oasis – the “Bucuresci” candy store. “Masters of ceremony” – two middle-aged gentlemen, in impeccable white overalls, with university professors’ faces. Merchants from the time of Little Paris, illustrated in a sepia album, combined with patisserie flavors that work miracles. Very close, a bunch of road workers satisfy their appetite. Smells of sausages and cinnamon. The alleywaysIf we tried to make an analogy with earthquakes, the abandoned buildings (see Hanul Solacolu on Moşilor Street or the Militari bus terminal), the alleyways and the area behind the apartment buildings would be categorized as First Degree Danger. Risk of olfactory disturbance, from hyposmia (the reducing of the ability to smell and to detect odors) to anosmia (the total absence of the ability to smell). There is no alleyway in Bucharest that could leave uninterested the drunkards, the homeless and the stray dogs. There is, however, an exception, at Lizeanu, because the walls of the alleyway, next to a supermarket, are part of the interest of a shopkeeper who loves cleanliness. The alleyways contribute to some extent to the pestilential concentration. DâmboviţaLime trees, empty sidewalks, foul water. Dâmboviţa is neither way: neither an entertainment place, nor a promenade place because of its narrow sidewalks, nor a canal like in Amsterdam, where the water is “green space." The only entertainment is feeding the ducks on the Opera Bridge. The piers have cracked because of the time and the weather, and the water is of a blurry green and smells accordingly. On the Splai, towards Haşdeu, yards with mould or garbage, dust and burnt gas. The lime trees and the river water can’t cover the miasma.Speaking of the Opera! What is happening in the Opera Park is a reason for national embarrassment. In the park, the grass is burnt, on the space in front of the institution the shrubs are almost a meter high, the benches are cracked off and their wood is diseased. Militari: carps at 30 degreesGorjului Marketplace is next to the subway station. Under a pine tree – God knows how it got there – someone sells carps wrapped in plastic at 7.50 lei a kilo. There are about 30 degrees in the shade, and business is slow. Next to the fish, a woman aggressively sells trinkets, shoelaces and barrettes. Like money, the barrettes have no smell; the fish, though, reminds of a stinky pond. Towards the highway, the traffic is insufferable. Gases, truck smoke. Across the marketplace, a breeze of kebab, and lime trees again. […] Jurnalul naţional, July 5, 2008 Translated by Max Gavrilciuc

by Răzvan Bărbulescu