Walking With A Cane In Bucharest

 Bucharest Again It is hard to explain the emergence of a language and the birth of a nation – they seem to be part of a mystery. All of a sudden, history records, in some part of the world, an unknown nation and a new language, probably derived and related, but new. Why? When and how did the phenomenon occur, science may make suppositions, but it does not know. Here, around the Carpathian Mountains, one day, people spoke Romanian. Why? Did people not communicate adequately enough in Dacian, Old Slavic, or Latin? Where does the need for a new language come from at a time of ignorance, which has no ability to choose and to prefer? Without anything artificial, a new tongues was born, which everybody within these borders took up fast. It seems that the foundation of a city is also presided over by mystery. Why is it situated on a certain area, rather than 100 kilometers away, or more to the right, or more to the left, in a more comfortable, more airy landscape? The economic argument does not appear to be sufficient in a region where not even the strategic element was taken into consideration. This is the case of Bucharest, placed in the worst possible position for the capital city of a large enough country and with regions that are infinitely more adequate, more pleasant, and more picturesque for a population of approximately 2 million. It is still a secret in Europe, which requires asphalt highways for the rapid access of characteristic landscapes, that Romania may be considered, if not absolutely the most beautiful, then one of the few very beautiful realms of the continent. The variety of the soil, of views, and of climates is amazing, and even the population, although homogenous in substance and race, aspect and intelligence, shows an unexpected variety of tastes and costumes. An indescribably beautiful nation resides in this beautiful country: this is obvious everywhere, as soon as you enter Romania, either through the Iron Gates, or through Careii Mari, Dobrudja, or Bukovina. Legend has it that a shepherd named Bucur was the founder of the capital city – this is a nice, but certainly fictitious legend! Why would a nomad shepherd with his sheep found a locality and choose such an unsuitable place for a productive settlement? In fact, the name could be more interesting than the origin. Bucharest could come from Bucur. Indeed, even today, there is a little church on one of the DâmboviţaRiver's banks, a primitive church, improvised rather than built, covered with clapboard, with only one tower in the form of a mushroom, which is unusual for Eastern Orthodox places of worship, and bearing the name of the legendary shepherd. Of course, in order not to contradict the legend, the capital city's urban service, exclusively preoccupied with the beautification and comfort of the city, carefully keeps the relics of this old church, which is out of style and without any certain historical significance. We must not go here into the study of history and remember the successive changes of the capital, in connection with the country's administrative division. Romania has experienced many forms of adventure, as it is placed, to use the words of an old chronicler "in the way of all evils." Câmpulung was at a certain point a capital placed more logically, if we consider the uninterrupted foreign invasions that forced the population to run away to the forests an hide in the mountains. It is in a region of luxuriant vegetation, where the most lively and beautiful flowers grow. Since ancient times Bucharest has been Wallachia's most vulnerable point, at hand for the Turkish invader, who looked for something to break his monotony, so he often crossed the Danube and attacked Bucharest for robbery. From the Danube north, the Vlăsia Woods stretched. As wood and fuel were needed, the woods were felled, leaving behind an arid, dry, and hostile territory, crossed by a little river that carried more mud than water most of the year. We should repeat this question: why did a southern commercial, cultural, and political center have to be established in the worst possible conditions, destined to become the hearth of a 20 million-inhabitant nation? There had to be a secret, unexplainable charm, which really attracted foreigners, and makes them stick to this city. Songs are meaningful. And Bucharest has its own song about "sweet Dâmboviţa." When the song emerged, this sweet river was very muddy. Today, the river crossing the capital, widened and engineered, is the place where all sewage flows. The "sweet" water is produced with monumental pumps out of the far depths of the earth. Good or bad, that was what happened, things can no longer change. The capital is definitively settled here, and what nature and destiny did not give it of their own accord, intelligence does, which forces them to collaborate. In fact, common sense requires that you use the materials at hand, like the sparrow using feathers and grass to build its nest. The attempts to leave the city that hundreds of years have built, to move the capital to a more adequate position have remained mere archive projects. No elixir makes an old man young again. City planners without an adventure spirit have understood that the issue is to look for more harmonized artifices in order to defeat the hostile resistance of the conditions where the city was built. The album dedicated to our capital [Bucharest, E.S.P.L.A. Publishing House, 1957] shows the victory of man, fully determined not to be defeated by the dryness and dust gnawing and burying successive civilizations for tens and hundreds of thousands of years. So far, only the Pyramids and the Sphinx have managed to escape the milling through which a hundredth of a milligram of dust proves to man that this is what he is and where he is headed to. Bucharest is today a garden, a big garden, with an approximate diameter of 25 kilometers. All a root requires is that you move and multiply it, in order to make a forest out of a tree. The inhabitants were careful and had all the patience needed to charm the dry land and fertilize it. Sixty years ago or so, there were vegetation embryos here and there – scattered green islands. Surrounded by hills, on which monasteries rise here and there, the slopes were an uninterrupted vineyard belt. The most delicate raisins, which could compete with Malaga, Madera, and Chios, came down in torrents. Unexpectedly and suddenly, the phylloxera showed up, and it ruined a hundred years of viticulture, leaving the slopes empty. Here and there an old cellar, which used to teem with people and activity, still hangs, filled with holes, on a collapsed slope. The tallest and the most picturesque has recently collapsed in a steep bank. The image of today's monumental capital, more beautiful each day, owing to the tireless action of the current city planers, is varied and rich. They no longer tolerate any forgotten corner, and they made a cool park out of every ugly empty plot; parks, stretching dozens of square kilometers, just built, seem to have been here for hundreds of years. The lakes in the new forests, crossed by boats and made curly by oars, ascribe character to the city. For its beauty, nature cooperates with architects, engineers, and forestry experts. Where they do not form mirrors, waters spring merrily out of the earth and out of basins. Bucharest is not a standardized city, and it was not build in a series, from one end to the other. There are several cities and towns, each with its own characteristic trait, gathered in Bucharest. The variety, due to the absence of an initial systematizing plan, to the personal inspiration of each builder, and to the need each of those builders conceived of – to adjust his building to a fantasy situation, without considering ordered aesthetics, which gives to dense crowdings a geometrical countenance and faultless form – is the result of chance. Urbanism, which regulated contrasts, symmetries, and alternations between developed surfaces and the so-called green areas all over Europe, was surprised to find, when it emerged here, a city in a garden, ready-made, and it felt stunned enough by the municipal scientific organization. Tradition has it that each dwelling, no matter how insignificant, with a verandah and pillars, should have a few storksbills, carnations, and morning glories, plus a vineyard and a few trees; the lady of the house would wet them in the morning. From high-above, the city looks like a vast orchard, built for the tranquillity of a middle-class population, dominated by bell-towers and domes. An almost monastery-atmosphere has endured in many neighborhoods – it is about contemplation. And some streets look as if they were leading toward monks' cells even today. Most of the old churches used to be monasteries, and of them, only three have remained whole: Antim, the Metropolitan church, and Icoana, plus the character shared by all old, aristocratic buildings, still around in some remnants of time. It has influenced the new architecture as well, searching for a style in tune with the past. Until yesterday, the civilian life was tightly closed to monastic religious life.

by Tudor Arghezi (1880-1967)