Once upon a time there was a place in Europe, in a country named Romania. There was a class of wealthy inhabitants who aspired to leave, only to come back with heads full of magnificient ideas. Ideas to make that place as elegant and cosmopolitan as Paris, where they had just come from. They brought the classical and baroque to the streets, the latest fashions to the shops, the intellectual ideas discussed in cafes. They succeeded. That place was called Bucharest, but known by many as Little Paris.
But then, darker times arrived. Communist era was upon them, and all that mattered was to make sure there was enough room for workers to live in. Parts of the city were demolished and replaced by plain apartment blocks. Churches also destroyed because religion is something not seen with good eyes by any communist regime. The few remnants of that golden era were in what is now the old town of Bucharest. But delivered to the hands of physical elements, the hands of chance, earthquakes and poverty, vandals and acidic rains.
Fortunately for the people of Romania, communist is part of a past. Yet a past that is still very recent. Strolling around Bucharest I couldn’t stop wondering how the city would be like if untouched by communist. If still built by and for dreamers, still aspiring to be as elegant and beautiful as Paris. Would it be unequal? Perhaps just another Paris. A democratic one. Hopefully humbler.
But Romania is still a very poor country. And that is why its heritage is falling apart. There is no budget to move towards the restoration of the buildings. And probably no willingness either. Why caring about the past, about pretty things, with so many still struggle to have a present and a future? How often are we made to put our dreams aside to focus on surviving?
I don’t want to dwell in the dark side of Bucharest, mostly because I feel this is part of what makes it so special. I spent my time photographing the streets, the buildings, reflecting on the antagonism of seeing such elegance violated. Trying to understand how did I feel about that. Or even how romanians see it.
But that’s the consistent insatisfaction of any traveller. We can only see it, live it, experience it through the eyes of an outside.
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