Who’s Left In Bucharest

The house painter. He has a cigarette in the corner of his mouth and his appetite for work is equal to nothing. His torn t-shirt doesn't give you any clue on the fee he will demand at the end of the day after slothfully varnishing a wall which can neither resist nor run away. His ideas are the ideas he picks up from beer commercials. His needs are all the natural ones, and many of them involve a tree, just like in the case of dogs. His whole life is like a commercial for modern day society which somehow managed to eliminate natural selection. Thirty thousand years ago, the painter would have been killed on the spot after the first deer painted askew on the wall of the cave in Lascaux.The urban hag. Unlike her village relative, the urban hag has seen a lot and knows everything. She hates, in this particular order, her daughter-in-law, her neighbors, the building superintendent, her neighborhood, her town. Paradoxically, she loves her country, even if she cannot find any other qualities than those she learnt from the Romanian language textbook in 1955. The urban hag presumes that everyone around her is trying to rip her off: the building superintendent, the gas company, the foreigner who just entered the hall and looks at the mail boxes very suspiciously. Of course, the hag is right, but this doesn't make her life any better. Her destiny is to die and she embraces this completely and stops doing anything else. We totally lack American old ladies who volunteer for non-governmental organizations, or French ones who go to protest meetings when they don't read left-wing literature. Our hags only go to vote.The manele*-listening driver. He is fast, because he cannot be anything else, besides a drug dealer or a petty land mediator. The best thing in his life in the engine, made by a German guy a lot smarter than him, but our driver doesn't seem to grasp the irony of it all. He likes to hand out: punches, music, opinions. He knows about you that you are stupid. He knows that he is smart and life thus becomes so simple. That is why the manele listening driver is the most relaxed of all the Romanians who remained at home. When you ask yourself why mayor Mazare planted palm trees in Constanta, the answer is clear, right on the road: because the monkeys were already there. And they didn't even have any natural enemies. The engineer. At one moment in time he worked in research. The 1989 Revolution caught him at the drawing board, designing ugly buildings and hoping that one day he will be allowed to be brilliant. When he was allowed to be brilliant, he continued to be himself, following a strict schedule. 8 am work, 5 pm home, 8 pm the second bottle of wine. He holds inside him plenty of unpacked suitcases, left aside, lacking a new destination: science fiction literature, eighties poets, two or three old flames, necessarily consummated in Costinesti with Radiovacanta humming somewhere on the background. He can hardly move between them and that is why he is depressed. He hopes for better days, and even when better days dawn on the horizon he still hopes that someone will come knocking on his door to take him by the hand to Germany where someone certainly knows about his diploma dissertation, quite a revolution for its times. The rich man. Despite the optimist foresights of soap operas rich men don't cry. They have no reasons to cry, nor time, or their secretaries didn't remind them to. Most of them don't even know they are rich – because they don't compare themselves to you, but to other rich men. This aspect brings about a situation that even a psychologist paid with 200 an hour cannot solve: there are rich men owning a Mercedes who suffer that they don't have a Bugatti. The Romanian rich man also has another problem as well: he is rich only here in Romania. When he leaves the country he is merely flashy.The clubber boy. He is generally the son of the man on the top. His work day starts at night, his fear is dying of boredom. The strongest specimens can survive a week without food and up to two days without paparazzi. His ideas are simple: old man, go to school if you don't have enough money to have fun! His days are numbered: numbered by the tabloids and at the same time by the people when taking out some cheese from the fridge to eat with a tomato salad hastily prepared, before Magda appears on OTV.All these who remained in the country. The rest have left, and not on vacation. Maybe there are some others left too, I don't know, it's the institutes' job to tell us. What I want to say is something else: look at them and then try to imagine that we have to make a nation out of this fabric.Kogalniceanu, hey you, King Carol, you intellectuals, what the heck, is really nobody going to step up?  * Manea (pl. manele) – a Balkan musical style mainly interpreted by Roma people, the lyrics having their origin in Turkish love stories. Many people consider manele as a form of subculture. The main themes in these songs are money, love (sex), hate, friends and enemies and the lyrics are very explicit. In Romania many people enjoy this type of music, especially in rural areas and poor urban neighborhoods.Dilema veche, 21-27 August 2008Translated by Anca Dumitriu

by Lucian Mîndruţă