As a few of you may or may not know, two weekends ago a magazine called Decat O Revista was quietly launched to the world.
It’s not your standard magazine. Very much a one-off (hence the name) it will only appear again if a brave entrepeneur picks up the idea (to create a genuinely independent, readable magazine that looks as good as it reads and reads as good as it looks) and runs with it. Should that not happen the story behind it will nevertheless remain an important footnote in Romanian publishing history.
Anyway, we were asked to be a part of Decat O Revista, contributing a short piece simply titled Why Bucharest? in which we answer that eternal question.
Below we publish an English translation.
As you will see if you perservere to the end, it reads as (almost) a defence of Bucharest. Quite how that happened is beyond us! We are the last people to usually defend the city.
Maybe we are mellowing with age. Or maybe the city is losing its edge?
Either way, we are very proud of the first sentence of the last paragraph, and are thinking of trademarking it before selling it back to the city…
For a foreigner newly arrived in Bucharest, be it a visitor in town for a few days or a newly-arrived expat, Why? is a question that will often be asked. Why Bucharest?
By Craig Turp
Romanians call their country ‘tara tuturor posibilitatilor‘ (the country where anything is possible), yet do so mostly in a pejorative sense. To us, that’s a little pessimistic. As eternal ‘the glass is half full’ type people we see Romania – its capital at least – as a place where anyone can become anything (and anything can become anyone). It’s the new home of the American Dream.
Having said that, the night I arrived in Bucharest, in 1998, it was more nightmare than dream: it was the night a Dan Petrescu goal beat England in the 1998 World Cup. I was alone, then, an outsider drawn to Bucharest for what I saw as a year of adventure before I settled down. I was drawn to Bucharest because – having studied Romanian at university – I wanted to put in to practice what I had learnt, to see how far it would take me. I had no intention of sticking around Bucharest though: the original plan was to head for the provinces. But almost immediately off the plane I saw a chance to shine here. There were opportunities everywhere. Bucharest got under my skin, as it does, and I stuck around. More than eleven years, a wedding to a girl from Fagaras and two children later, I am glad I did.
For of all Europe’s capitals none keeps its charms as hidden as Bucharest. Few cities in Europe have the go-ahead, can-do attitude of Bucharest at the moment; but you barely notice that at first glance. Imagine, if you will, a city where old women sell parsnips on street corners, and regularly get drenched tyros driving expensive cars for their troubles. It is a city of extremes, but one which can at times appear to go out of its way to highlight those extremes. Cities around Europe have a habit of showing off what they do best. Bucharest eschews such nonsense. It’s as though the city revels in its reputation as the kind of place you wouldn’t send your mother-in-law. And it is exactly this devil-may-care attitude that makes it so vital, so real. And it’s why Bucharest is a city worth persevering with.
The nepotism, the cronyism and the corruption get the headlines, but they are not unique to Romania; they are not unique to Bucharest. Everybody gets a fair shake in this city, you just have to have your wits about you. It is not a city for the faint-hearted: you need nerves of steel simply to tackle Bucharest’s streets, either at the wheel of a car or as a pedestrian crossing the road. But such a place breeds winners. We have a son at school in Bucharest (and not, I might add, an expensive expatriate school). No, our boy is at a standard Romanian state school. What will he learn there? To read, write, add up and take-away. And hopefully, how to compete. How to win.
Bucharest remains a magnet for Romanians who get drawn here from the provinces every year. People who want to get on, and get on fast. There might well be better universities than the University of Bucharest (we are well aware of the academic credentials of both Cluj’s Babes-Bolyai and Iasi’s A.I. Cuza), but which Romanian university tops the admission applications chart every year? Bucharest. There might well be great jobs in other cities, but where does everyone want to work? Bucharest. It might be overcrowded, bursting at the seems with new arrivals. But what does that signify? To us, it signifies success. Cities that are empty die. Any successful urban conurbation needs a constant renewal of people bringing new hunger to succeed, new ideas, creating new opportunities. Bucharest might appear to be a human swamp at times, but swamps are brilliant breeding grounds for all sorts of new and strange things. Not all will thrive. But some will blossom.
Bucharest is a Darwinian city in a God-fearing country. It’s where people have faith in the survival of the fittest. It’s a never-ending incubator of paradoxes. Work out quite why that is so and you might just have an answer to your question…