When Martin Amis decided to put together a collection of his literary reviews, his choice of the title The War Against Cliche was primarily to make it clear how difficult it is to review anything without reverting to stock phrases.
Travel writers face a similar battle.
For reasons mainly to do with protecting our copyrighted material, we monitor the word ‘Bucharest‘ very closely on the internet, making use of all the tools available to us from Google and Twitter to Facebook and the dreadful Foursquare. It is shocking and depressing how often we come across our copyrighted material on other websites, in travel articles or on blogs: hardly ever is the source credited.
(The latest culprits are a German airline, some of whose texts on Bucharest might be – we need to be careful here, as they can afford far better lawyers than we can – inspired by those first published in Bucharest In Your Pocket).
One phrase, however, which appears in every travel guide and travel article about Bucharest that definitely did not get pinched from us is the old myth that ‘in the 1920s and 1930s Bucharest was known as the Paris of the East.‘
We have lost count of how many times we have read this entirely useless piece of information. We have never used it. Even if true, it is irrelevant. The campaign to have it outlawed begins here.
Besides, if contemporary Bucharest is to be compared with other cities (and to be honest, we think the whole idea of comparing any one city with another is both a futile and stupid excercise) then the city Bucharest most resembles these days is Pyongyang, capital of workers’ paradise North Korea.
Few would argue that much of Bucharest’s architecture is not Pyongyang-inspired, from the monumental apartment blocks to the grandiose avenues of the Centru Civic, the only difference sometimes appearing to be the absence of outdoor advertising and traffic.
Yet the primary reason Bucharest increasingly resembles Pyongyang is the crappy electricity supply. (A subject we have only recently discussed on these very pages).
On Friday night the lights went out at 9pm, right in the middle of the first episode of Romania’s Got Talent. (Yes, we know we should get out more. By the way, people should stop congratulating Pro TV for this show. All it did was buy a format and follow the instructions that came with it. If you want to congratulate Pro TV for something, make it Romania Te Iubesc, an often outstanding programme that even features that most unusual of Romanian television phenomena: real journalism).
Anyway, our electricity was not restored on Friday until we had long since put out the candles and gone to bed. Though by far the longest power outage we have had to deal with of late, it was certainly not the first: it was in fact the third power cut of the week. Two a week is now the minimum we can expect.
Vitan, the part of Bucharest in which we live, appears to be particularly susceptible to these Pyongyang moments, and are a constant reminder of how much we rely on electricity.
So the solution is to reduce our reliance on electricity? No. We simply need to invest in and improve Bucharest’s electricity distribution system. For Enel, which supplies Bucharest’s consumers with their electricity, it should be a priority.
As things stand, however, the likeliness of us (being forced into) taking part in the dreaded Earth Hour on March 24th have increased dramatically. We usually greet Earth Hour by turning on all the lights and all our electrical appliances in a celebration of electricity: that wondrous invention that makes modern life possible and which we see as a a good thing, not a curse. After all, do we really want to emulate North Korea, which holds Earth Hour every night…
No. So get your finger out Enel.
Meantime, welcome to the Pyongyang of the West.