Romanian National Opera: Season 2014-15

Photo courtesy Romanian National Opera

Photo courtesy Romanian National Opera

Wow.

When we first started Bucharest In Your Pocket back in 1999 one of the greatest challenges we faced was convincing the Romanian National Opera to handover information about upcoming performances. It was often impossible to get any advance notice, to the point where we began to think that opera listings were national secrets.

How things have changed.

Yesterday a lovely press kit turns up at the office telling us just about everything we might need to know about the new opera season, which begins next Thursday – October 30th – with a new production of Verdi’s La Traviata.

What’s more, you can now buy tickets online directly from the opera for every performance from now until the end of June next year: that’s right, the season’s entire programme is online. This represents serious, serious, progress.

And there’s more…

There is no waiting for tickets to turn up with a courier or (heaven forbid) the postman. You simply pay for them, and then download and print a PDF which you show at the door.

And then of course there is the price of the tickets, which remains cheap: from 6 – 160 lei depending on the performance. All very civilised. Opera for the people!

You couldn’t make it up (Episode 7,522)

It looks very much as though Romanian prime minister and presidential hopeful Victor Viorel Copy Paste Ponta’s much-lauded American campaign chiefs have done a runner: it is the only explanation we have for yesterday’s latest PSD catastrophe.

Already besieged by prosecutors, with more than half of the party’s leadership – including Ponta’s father-in-law – facing criminal charges for all sorts of offences ranging from misuse of public funds to bribery, the PSD yesterday welcomed a new member, Monica Iacob-Ridzi, until now an MP for Dan Diaconescu’s PPDD.

Leaving aside the fact that Ridzi – then a member of the PDL – was described by Ponta in 2010 as ‘a woman who carries out acts of corruption and makes herself rich with public money under the full protection of Traian Basescu’, we feel it is worth pointing out that Ridzi was earlier this year sentenced to five years in prison for abuse of office. She remains free pending an appeal. And yet Ponta welcomed her with open arms.

She will no doubt fit in perfectly at her new political home.

Uberexcited

Much excitement in the easily excitable world of the Romanian blogosphere this weekend at the news that Uber – an alternative to taxis which makes use of a mobile phone application to calculate the price of a trip – is set to open up shop in Bucharest. For the easily excitable digital-first crowd Uber ticks two very important boxes: it’s American and it’s online-only. Double whammy.

The excitement began on Friday when a local blogger who apparently calls himself Zoso (yes, really) reported that Uber was advertising for both a Romanian country and development manager.

That would certainly seem to suggest that Uber is preparing its entry into the Romanian market.

Now, for any of you unaware of Uber or how it works, this primer is well worth reading. In brief, Uber allows car owners to offer spare capacity in their vehicles to paying customers via a mobile application. The price is agreed before the journey commences, according to the distance to be travelled. No cash changes hands: each account holder pays via a registered debit or credit card. Uber takes a 20 per cent cut of every fare.

Recently valued at $18 billion, Uber has been phenomenonally successful in many towns and cities in the United States, as well as ruffling a few feathers in Europe. Uber does best in those cities where it disrupts the long-standing, expensive monopolies of licensed taxi drivers. And here’s the problem for Uber in Bucharest: the city already has what are amongst the cheapest taxis in the developed world (do your own gags). Taxis in Bucharest are also ubiquitous (usually: less so in the rain) and – for a good couple of years now – you have been able to order one using a highly efficient mobile app, Star Taxi.

We therefore fail to see how Uber fits in, unless there is a market for people who actually want to pay more for a taxi in order to travel in a little more comfort than a Dacia Logan offers (the vast majority of Bucharest’s taxi being Logans). (In which case, there is already Black Cab).

We have been told that Uber will solve one of the biggest gripes people currently have with Bucharest’s taxi drivers: their refusal to travel short distances. We doubt that will be the case. Given that Uber requires users to state both pick-up point and destination when ordering a car, Uber drivers are in fact less likely to answer a request for a car. And Ubers cannot be hailed in the street. The second argument, that they will bring an end to high-prices at New Year and such like is also null: Uber practices surge pricing at all busy times.

By the way, if you do ever want to take a taxi a short distance make it clear to the driver as you get in that will pay 10 lei even though the fair might only be four or five lei. (Indeed, as a general rule, never pay less than 10 lei: to do so is a little bit rusinica, as they say in these parts).

Anyway, we wish Uber well, and do at least hope that they will get the chance to fail: some cities (with powerful taxi lobbies, notably London and Berlin) have tried (and in the case of Berlin succeeded) to have Uber outlawed.

Bucharest’s taxi drivers will almost certainly try and do the same. We would advise them to simply keep their prices down: Uber will not be able to compete with taxis charging 1.39 lei per kilometre.

Romanian presidential candidates in disappearance mystery

Yet another campaign poster blocking the pavement.

Yet another campaign poster blocking the pavement.

We commented earlier in the week on the fact that campaign advertising in Bucharest ahead of Romania’s presidential election on November 2nd was being dominated by the two main candidates: prime minister Victor Ponta of the PSD and mayor of Sibiu Klaus Iohannis of the PNL.

Dominated, it would appear, was not string enough a word. For since then, we have been keeping a sharp eye out for any kind of campaign material – be it a billboard, a flyer, a tent – featuring any of the other 12 candidates.

As things stand, on Friday afternoon, we have to admit defeat: we have seen nothing, not a single sign that there are any other candidates running in this election. It’s all a bit bizarre.

Or is it…

After all, there are only two candidates with any real chance of winning – Ponta and Iohannis – so it is perhaps not all that surprising that the other candidates are not even trying. Yet that explanation begs another question, however: Why on earth are they bothering to run at all? Why bother to collect the 200,000 signatures (or at least pretend to collect 200,000 signatures)?

Meantime, any of you who thought the Ponta camp couldn’t go any lower than the Victor the Healer photo of last weekend were wrong.

This week, Ponta has used his Facebook page to wish a happy birthday to Gica Popescu, once a very good footballer but these days a convicted fraudster serving a long prison sentence. Ponta’s choice of words ‘he did many great things for his country and we hope he gets over this difficult period’ does little to suggest he would take a tough line on corruption if he were to be elected president.

Far worse, however, were the atrocious statements made on Wednesday by Ponta’s spokeswoman, Gabriela Vranceanu-Firea, who declared that Klaus Iohannis was unfit for the office of president because he didn’t have any children and was therefore ‘not a complete person.’ Firea, a former newsreader on – you guessed it – convicted fraudster Dan Voiculescu’s Antena channels, is currently a PSD senator. The best response to her remarks we have so far read (there have been a few) is this from Catalin Tolontan (Romanian).

Anyway, we end this post with a question:

If you are planning on voting for Victor Ponta, can you please explain why?

Do we not like this

IMG_20141002_115920

Yep, it’s a tent which doubles as an advertising hoarding which takes up three-quarters of the pavement.

It shows just what the people who expect you to vote for them actually think of ordinary folk: not a lot.

Fantastic.

PS Although this particular tent is of course prime minister Victor Ponta’s, the campaign team of the other main candidate Klaus Iohannis is equally guilty of making public space its own.