My acquaintance with the city of Bucharest was rather tardy and when it finally happened, my first impression was already shaped by what I knew, more or less accurately, about its history from my readings. Proportions preserved, I was a sort of Tarzan, knowing how to read, yet unable to speak, the language of the town. I knew from my readings that the Romanian Liberal Party had been born in one of the houses on Enei Street, around 1875. I knew that Tudor Vladimirescu, the revolutionist of the early nineteenth century, had settled his camp at Cotroceni, which at that time was on the outskirts of the city, in March 1821. I also knew a few things about the hopeless, yet chivalric, struggle of the firefighters on Dealul Spirii against the Turks who invaded the city in September 1848. However, I would have had a hard time in trying to say which was where.
For years on end, Bucharest had meant to me the North Station, which I knew only as a stop on my way to other diverse destinations. After my first actual stay in Bucharest, when I applied for the University towards the end of the ?80s, I took the way home with a splitting headache. I even wondered why, around 1761, the Prince (Ban*) of Oltenia came to Bucharest, leaving somebody else in Craiova to rule over his county. Back home, under the utterly patriarchal vine vault, everybody readily comforted me, in a pitying tone: your headache is only natural, Bucharest is an infernal city, and to live there is a killer. (The truth actually lied elsewhere, and now I can tell it: at the close of my stay in Bucharest I had had two pints of beer and three rancid meat balls (mititei) in a small bar by the University building, on the Izvor Bridge, and then I had rushed to the railway station. That is the true story of my headache.)
Once settled in Bucharest, with a student?s residence visa, I was now faced with a city gone mad with the passion of transformations. In fact, it was not the city that had gone mad, but a petty frowning fellow I once or twice saw on Splaiul Independentei, while he was giving directions on what the Museum of the Communist Party History should look like. They started raising it on the left bank of the Dimbovita river, and the building still awaits completion, although in the meantime it became the Radio House. That fellow was, obviously, Nicolae Ceausescu. To my wonder, I only ran into Ceausescu?s processions on Saturdays. That is probably one of the reasons why the successors of the above-mentioned leader hastened to declare, in the aftermath of December 1989, that Saturday should be a holiday. Thus it should have become less likely for the citizen of Bucharest to run unawares into the chief of the state.