29 June 2013

Romania: 5 Reasons

On my recent trip to Bucharest for the meeting of our international coalition, I was challenged by a local person to write a letter outlining five reasons one should want to go there. This is my answer to that challenge.

One: Beauty (natural)

It might be odd that I am illustrating my point about natural beauty with a paved bicycle path and sidewalk, but what can I say? I’m a city boy. My impression of Bucharest as green was probably helped by my having stayed in a hotel that was adjacent to a large green space. There are plenty of parts of the city, like any other, that seem to be wanting for trees, but there were some remarkable examples of urban greenery that I really appreciated. If you can have a large boulevard and succeed in integrating several strips of grass and trees, not to mention lovely shaded bicycle lanes and sidewalks on both sides, you have succeeded in making your city more pleasant. And if you can add a touch of whimsy by detouring your bicycle path around a phone booth, even better!

Two: Beauty (architectural)

There are some truly magnificent buildings in Bucharest that deserve a visit, even if only to see them from the outside. I illustrate this point with a photo I took that I like to call “Faded Beauty” — an obviously beautiful little home with lovely architectural details that could use a little work. Many buildings have had that work done, and many are waiting for that to start. Like many cities, there are some very utilitarian buildings (apartment blocks, for example) that date from a time where function trumped form, but I see even these as moving toward improvement and beautification.

I found it funny that our host organization described the building in which it is housed as being “Communist Architecture” (read grandiose and stern). I didn’t find it cold, but actually rather interesting, in that way that a bit of work would also improve it. I’ve been in much worse spaces in community organizations at home.

With more time, I would also have ventured forth to see Bran Castle (former home of Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula) and other such historical delights that are distant from the city itself. Next time.

Three: Creativity

I asked about this podium for a statue out front of the press building and I loved the answer I got. The statue that had been pulled down was of Lenin, shortly after the end of the regime, I would imagine. The podium now receives a new sculpture each month from a group of artists, and I couldn’t have been more amused by the installation for the time that we were there. There’s more art, too: outside important buildings, in major squares, but also in front of some apartment blocks or seemingly just along the street. I love sculpture in public places, and there really is no shortage of it in Bucharest, and no shortage of variety in styles and content. Bravo!

Four: Language

I haven’t done a lot of travelling to places where most people don’t seem to speak either English or French, the ones in which I can get by. It was kind of a fun experience for me, and would have been more so if I hadn’t felt pressed for time in my various personal missions. I hear that Romanian is closer to Latin than is modern Italian, and perhaps closest to Portuguese among the modern Romance languages. I felt I could make out significant portions of the Romanian-only menu when we went to a restaurant, but the spoken language sounds to my inexpert ears like it has an overlay of Russian that isn’t as familiar to me.

As an aside, it was interesting to compare some notes with one of my sisters, recently back from a trip to China. When we lack to vocabulary to express ourselves, we often resort to gesture and pantomime, not realizing just how culturally specific some of those gestures can be. We each had a good chuckle about our respective incapacities to convey the image of tea or of an alcohol one might drink in shots, both of our efforts eliciting puzzled looks from the people on the receiving end of our efforts.

Five: Attitude

We happened to be in Bucharest for the gay pride march, although I was personally too tired to go participate (worst nap choice I ever made). Yes, there were people from a number of embassies present, an action that serves to help protect the participants from official or unofficial hostility, but it seems that the counter-demonstration of religious bigots was quite small and benign.

If you look at a map of how different countries stack up on this issue, you cannot help but notice that Romania seems to be a bit of an island of tolerance in its neighbourhood. Some countries nearby are passing actively anti-gay laws, and others are witness to violent counter-demonstrations that are either tolerated or encouraged by authorities. It doesn’t seem to be the case with this European Union member. I’m sure there are some very backward attitudes in some segments of the population, particularly on this issue, but I didn’t see those and I’m glad that the march didn’t see much of those either.

Bonus: Men

Okay, I was warned not to use this one (and have no original photo, but I’m slipping in Marian Dragelescu, gymnast, to make my point), and I consider it an accomplishment to have held off until the bonus reason to bring it up. No apologies here, though. I’m a proud gay man and I will always find the men of any place to which I travel to be interesting. Romania being in the general vicinity of what I like to call “The Great Olive Ellipse” (that area all around the Mediterranean that is home to various versions of olive-skinned people I cannot help but find attractive), it not only houses a population of such attractive people, but also draws them from the surrounding countries. So, exceptionally attractive to the point of outshining all the other countries? Not necessarily, but certainly worth investigating! ;-)

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