First Days: Bucharest

16 October, 2005

I arrived the day before yesterday at the Bucharest airport, Otopeni, after
12 hours of transit, including a short layover in Zurich. I must be crazy for traveling in Romanian this year; waking up this morning in the home of my friends Mihai and Florenţa I hear the rain against the windows of this 9th floor communist era flat. The rain sounds like its been falling for months, and will persevere forever. Glad I brought galoshes.

Bucharest gives the impression of a fallen city. It aches under the weight of 50 years of communist oppression followed by 15 years of greedy profit-taking.. On my way from the Airport with Mihai and Florin (Mihai doesn't drive, and his friend's son Florin and he had picked me up) I witnessed the devastation myself. A building that had been the National Library sat gutted, its dark glassless windows gaping blindly out onto the road into town. Near the embassies were a few distressed mansions, their yards overgrown with bramble, their walls streaked from water leaking through decayed gutters. Downtown didn't look much better; one enormous building was covered with advertising posters 50 feet high. At first it gave the impression of being like Times Square in New York City, but on second view one could see the exterior of the building was destroyed, the windows boarded. Inside the building was the Bucharest Mall. Though I didn't visit this mall, I did visit another. (there are two large ones here) The contrast was stark. The inside of the mall was luxurious. Shiny advertising, slick store entrances, a starbucks-like café selling coffee at $3 a cup. People were sitting there drinking the coffee though salaries have not gone up even a third of how much prices have gone up. I compared it like this: When someone goes to the mall in the US and has a coffee they might spend one or two hundredths of their salary. Here it could be as much as ten times that.
Imagine paying $15-$20 for a cup of coffee at the Starbucks around the corner. Apparently here people do.

We stopped in a CD store to have a look around and I found one I had been wanting to buy for a while but wasn't available (reasonably) in the states.
Benone Damian, one of the great Lăutari of Romania. It cost the equivalent of 6 USD. Weird. Good for me I suppose, since I don't like to drink coffee in mall cafes, and do like to buy CDs.

More soon,

steve

next: More Impressions of Bucharest

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