A Quick Trip in Bucharest


It was raining. And it was windy like I've seldom seen in a city. The rain slapped down on the curve of the driveway, and came scudding in shimmering sheets up to the portico of the hotel. The Intercontinental, Bucharest. It wasn't possible to stand there, for the portico offered no shelter in spite of its considerable spread, gave no protection to my business suit from getting wet. The doorman, when he could pause from skittering about, stood by the swing-door left of the revolving door, which was leeward to the rain. I stood there also, and waited for my host. He was late, and I could see why--the traffic ahead on the Boulevard Nicolae Balcescu was thick and stagnant.

It was also so cold.

My meeting was thirty minutes away, in a large industrial campus along the Dâmbovița. We were closeted in a room that had no view of the river, and I felt cold and damp in spite of the heating and the bright lights in the communist-era building that now houses a fine private enterprise run by incredibly qualified technocrats.

The meeting ended past dinner-time and we drove through a drizzle to a Lebanese restaurant ten minutes from my hotel where my hosts suffered a vegetarian meal to accommodate me. As for me, I ate twice beyond my normal and would've helped myself to more, but my business with the folks being new and not yet firm, I needed to behave. They were gracious men I was dining with. It made good behavior that much of a challenge. I hope I did all right; they were warm when one of them said good-bye before the restaurant, and the other waved cheerily when I got off his car at my hotel. They're nice guys, and I'm dying for our business to go through. We'll see what happens. There's always prayer.

It was my shortest trip abroad. I spent just one more day in the city, during which I walked up and down the Calea Victoriei, savoring the ambience of inchoate capitalism that has taken possession of sordid once-grand buildings. I went into the sprawling art museum that has taken over the palace of pre-communist-era royalty. I lingered before the statue of equestrian King Carlos, a pleasing, black, monumental piece, so commanding of love and respect. It answered a question I've harbored regarding my Romanian hosts whom I've visited thrice now. Why do they love the monarchy as they do, when they should cherish their hard-won democracy?

King Carol hasn't the taints of the post-communist governments of Romania. The statue says that loudly, in a deep, dependable voice. I liked King Carol very much myself, so much so that I stood and gaped at him in the drizzle, wearing merely a porous denim cap on my head.

Bucharest was readying for Christmas. On the medians in the boulevards trellises had been set up, bare when I saw them, and by now perhaps they have streamer lights on them, bringing color to dour December. On the University Street a fera had sprung up, with music promised for the evening, and wine and such. It was noon when I passed it by, and sundown when I came by it a second time, after a conducted tour of the city that I took in the afternoon.

The most part of the conducted tour we spent in the Village Museum. I hadn't looked forward to going there, because I don't like mock ups of anything, but this one is a nicely done affair in Bucharest, with village homes and churches brought whole from the country and reassembled in the capital city. They were rough houses, home to hardy people for sure. I was shivering in the cold and the wind in spite of the layers of warm stuff I wore, and I shuddered, imagining the prospect of spending a lifetime in a home like that in Romanian weather.

I flew back the following day, glad to be returning to my grungy hometown. The Romanians are an undisputedly friendly people, easy to speak with, but this time around they couldn't cheer my heart enough against incipient winter. I send my love to them.