Souls For Sale

Unlike Poles, Czechs or Hungarians, most Romanians were left with something after communism: a home in an apartment building or a house with a front yard, a villa if your father worked for the Securitate (the Romanian secret services), a piece of land or just some land in the countryside. A nation of landlords, Romanians continue to compete with each other in a race to get more and more studio apartments and flats, and their fierceness in doing so proves the agrarian stage of our collective psychological development. Only the car rush might match the house rush. In any case, both obsessions lead to the appearance of a terribly crammed and awfully crowded city – Bucharest – because of indecently high property prices and the overpopulation of BMWs and Audi A4s. And there are thousands of side effects. One of them, for instance, is the incompetence of car dealers who would undoubtedly lose their jobs were they in any other country. When cars sell themselves, the boys dressed in costumes and working in million-euro showrooms look down at you and say: "Ohhh, bright red…. if you want it in red, you'll have to wait until March. I only have one car on stock, and that one is black. Will you take it?" But let's get back to real estate, I don't want to let myself get carried away. That little piece of yard from before the revolution is worth tens, even hundreds of thousands of euro today. Thousands of young families agree to become the banks' slaves just to be able to become the owners of a studio apartment in a grey block of flats on the outskirts of town. Serious people wearing costumes like the ones on the bus taking me to the airport in Warsaw the other day confess to each other: "I already got an apartment, and I want to sign up for a loan to get another one. I'll give it up for lease, and then I can relax…." Of course he won't relax. Afterwards he'll want to change his car, then think of getting an apartment for his son, and a scooter. Relaxation will kick in when he's 70, and it'll be for good. When a national obsession coincides with the feeling of fulfillment, the contractors hired to build housing complexes and car importers are happy. They sell us the keys to paradise. Land is so expensive in our aberrant country that the new neighborhoods with ridiculous names (take, for instance, the "Monaco Towers" built somewhere in Berceni) are rising all crammed into one another. You can change the channels on your neighbor's TV from your own house, you can count the holes in his underwear hung out to dry, or you can be the witness of domestic arguments. There is no privacy, which makes another obsession of Romanians very useful: curtains. If I take a cab in a few years, instead of telling the driver to "take me to Titan", I'll get lost among the hundreds of fancy names, all ending in "residence" or "plaza". The lack of parks and green spots in a city chocked with smoke and full of dust will make every developer of superimposed paradises brag about a tree, or at least a bush, or a puddle. Each of them claims to have an opening on the lake, the woods or at least on the sky! That's because no matter how much they liked concrete, Romanians maintained in their innocent soul a special connection to Mother Nature. The view is very important. It's what made the price of top-floor apartments rise, forgetting that they are not actually penthouses, they do not have terraces and there's nothing to see from their windows! They're just apartments form where you can see how far the grey city stretches in the distance, and the blocks that people appreciate so much are made of prefabricated panels whose joints are visible. I go through all the CVs (and I get about 10 every week from young and some not so young people) and I realize Romanians have no passions or dreams. In the "hobbies" section, they all write "literature, music and computers". That is, nothing. If asked what they'd do if they had a lot of money, they all say "I'd travel". And when they have the money they build themselves a villa in Pipera. Go inside anybody's villa. You'll see the man did what he could: he built several communist apartments under one roof and called them a villa. We are a nation that spent too much time in a prison cell. Our private space is standardized. We all live in blocks of flats, including the ones who got rich and moved into houses on the ground. We only know how to build using petty windows, white or brown thermopanes, and cheap facades with no imagination, full of disdain for everything around us. Altitudini, October 2007 Translated by Daniela Oancea

by Cristian Munteanu