Decat o Revista; In defence of Bucharest

Decat-O-Revista

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.

Now that the whole print run has been distributed, the article is available on the magazine’s site, here (you will find my two-penneth on pages 16-17).

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…

Why Bucharest?

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…

  • adrian

    I have a question about the University of Bucharest, for those of you that may know and/or have an opinion. From an international ranking point of view, why is it never even anywhere near? (As a matter of fact, in most world rankings of universities—it doesn’t even make the list, at all! …not #500, but no where). I realize the subjectivity of such rankings, none the less one would think somewhere in the lower levels of the ranking this school would be recognized. So my question is, what do you all know/think of the university? What are the impressions of its academic integrity that are out there, not so much in Romania alone but rather in Europe?
    I ask because I am considering graduate study at the university in Comparative Government/Politics. Why Bucharest? Because I am most interested in the study of “semi-presidential political systems”, post-Communist transitions to democracy, and I speak Romanian.
    I’ve done my research, however, can’t quite put my finger on the reputation of the University. Any thoughts? Can anyone help with a reference guide which recognizes the academic reputation of this school on the international level?

    • Parmalat

      Because foreigners don’t want to include it among the list of the best universities so that it doesn’t attract students away from their own universities.

      There’s a big conspiracy going on, by foreigners against the Romanian people. They bribed state officials and took over the country’s resources and industry for low prices. Whatever factories they couldn’t take over – they ordered them destroyed so that there was no chance for them to compete with European factories in the future.

      Last summer foreigners opposed a decision of the Romanian people to oust Basescu from presidency. All these combined are the reasons for which the Romanian people voted against the foreigners in the elections that took place on Sunday.

      We voted for independence from the European oppressors and for closer relations with China, Russia and the Free World countries. So whatever you’re reading in that Top 500 universities does not apply to Romanian universities, they’ve been excluded from the top on purpose by the foreigners who make that top.

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  • Caroline

    So it’s like NY or London. Actually more like Sofia, a regional magnet without the sophistication or the welcome or the ease or the range of international expertise.

    Sorry, liked Bucharest in its raffish way, but found a LOT of ineptitude there, from pulling an espresso to traffic patterns to exhibits in the state museums. Bucharest is also overpriced for what offers. Much excuse-making and not much responsibility-taking by the people in charge, as BLife often posts. Is this article a kind of middle-aged, “whatever” justification of life choices?

    Guess you gotta live there with a relocated girl from the provinces to figure Bucharest out.

    • ‘Is this article a kind of middle-aged, “whatever” justification of life choices?’

      Ha! Aside from the middle-aged bit, you’re not far wrong.

      Of course there is still much ineptitude but there can be no doubt that the city is becoming a better place in which to live. And it will go on going better until one day it becomes just like anywhere else. At least that’s what we hope.

  • Adventure, adventure, adventure! I came to Bucharest myself because I wanted to be in a European city where globalization had yet to fully run its course. . .

    Interesting recent pieces:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-elsner/twenty-years-after-revolu_b_369883.html

    and

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/nov/26/herta-muller-psychosis-romanian-agent-spied

  • Geronimo

    @betty.fabric: you would have to ask the girls themselves – it’s a delusion a lot of expat men exploit.

    I do think that Romanians often have a nagging feeling that everything is better somehow eslewhere – whether that be another decade, another country, another town, another company etc. Just as true of poor people looking for material wealth as it is of the intellectuals feeling isolated in their own society

  • betty.fabric

    @geronimo: And where exactly is this “better life”?

  • Geronimo

    @thedrb they are easy not so much in the free love one night stand way but more in the give them a bit of attention that (without you actually intending) makes them start dreaming of a better life and they are all yours sort of way

  • @Andy H: The fact that he was playing for the Blues at the time certainly sweetened the blow…

  • Personally I think the first sentence of the third paragraph is the best one 🙂

    I’m actually tempted to rebut some of the things here from the perspective of provincial Romania. Especially the penultimate paragraph – the reason that people gravitate to Bucharest if they want to get on is that Romania is such a massively, appallingly, centralised country. It even makes France look like a paragon of regionalism.

    Still, thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading it, and while I still don’t understand the appeal of the place, it does give me an answer as to why someone might want to live there 🙂

  • Felt the urge to echo @Geronimo, a commanding and authoritative prose, extremely well written. I have often been asked ‘Why Bucharest?’ by my English friends and colleagues and so now have a provocative teaser, with which to uhh..tease them with.

    I have just become a big fan of the 3rd sentence in the last paragraph, sums everything up for me perfectly.

    I do still have issues with the common myth that the women here are easy (no argument about their fitness)….Maybe I would see things differently if I weren’t such a fuggle 🙂

  • Geronimo

    Nicely done and congrats on your sentence…

    I was often asked why bucharest/romania by romanian friends and colleagues. This piece goes a good way to articulate what I never quite managed. You failed to mention the easy, fit women though