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Bucharest, Sept 29 /Agerpres/ - Linguist Rodica Zafiu says, in an interview for AGERPRES, that her passion for Bucharest is mostly a very subjective search, of the time past and lost.
"A search of my own childhood, but by association, also of the life of the people close to me: my parents youth, grandparents strolls and parties, neighbours stories. The desire to relive and live also what I have not lived in fact. Perhaps it is a lack of imagination as well: It is easier for me to imagine alternative lives in homes with windows to the street and tiny gardens in the old streets of Bucharest than in igloos or huts on tropical islands," says the teacher, in the interview given within the project MY CITY, BUCHAREST.
AGERPRES: You were born in Bucharest. What does Bucharest mean to you?
Rodica Zafiu: For a long time it did not mean much. With time, it became a passion, even an obsession. Probably this has to do with time and age. I think that my passion for Bucharest is mostly a very subjective search of the time past and lost. Of my own childhood, but by association, also of the life of the people close to me: my parents youth, grandparents strolls and parties, neighbours stories. The desire to relive and live also what I have not lived in fact. Perhaps it is a lack of imagination as well: It is easier for me to imagine alternative lives in homes with windows to the street and tiny gardens in the old streets of Bucharest than in igloos or huts on tropical islands. Anyway, in Bucharest I have already lived several times through literature (from Filimon and Caragiale to Mircea Cartarescu and Ioana Parvulescu). When I read, in Jeni Acterians diary about the ritual of readings and meetings with colleagues at the Foundation - which later became the University Central Library, and has remained so until today - it seemed unbelievable that the time changed so few things in the pace of a Bucharest students life.
In my childhood and in adolescence I hardly saw any houses; I was not looking up and I had no idea if they had floors and roofs. Back then it seemed to me that only gardens and especially the pure nature and in perfect wilderness deserve attention, and the houses and streets are just a necessary evil. I think the interest in Bucharest began, in my case, with Gheorghe Crutzescus book, The Mogosoaiei Bridge, read through 1986, and that aroused my curiosity through the stories devoted to each street segment, often to each home. Then I started walking on Victoriei Boulevard, trying to see what was left of the places I read about. In that period, to discover, beyond the gray corridor where the boys with blue eyes were placed when the motorcade was going to the Central Committee (the building in front of the Royal Palace, with its front sidewalk being off-limits for pedestrians), a phantom-like Victoriei Boulevard and chockfull of history meant also to feel, with a survivors acerbic nostalgia the normalcy of the past.
Now I walk looking at the houses, sometimes downright indiscreetly, taking photos from the car, when I wait at the traffic lights or when circulation is blocked because of the heavy traffic. I take from the Internet photos of old Bucharest - I already have files with thousands of photos, gathered from websites I visit regularly. Unfortunately, the same things have always been photographed: I cannot find a floored building, yellowish, from the inter-war period, which the no. 81 trolley passed by in Victoriei Square. And I have no chance to come across photos - that would support my lazy memory - of my street from the time when it had homes and gardens, and not blocks of flats.
AGERPRES: What was the city like during your childhood and how do you think it looks today?
Rodica Zafiu: In my childhood I hardly knew the city. I did not go very often to the centre from the Baneasa neighborhood - a former suburban village during the time of my grandmother - where my parents home and garden were and - at the end of the road - the school. In the immediate vicinity began Herastrau Park, of which I have the most memories: the Ferris Wheel, which has just gone; the deforming mirrors on the walls of a circular buildings housing "the magic carpet"; the maze made of bushes cut to the height of a child, a little disappointing, because you could not really get lost in it; the shooting stall, the area with slides and stone bears (which still exist, even if the games are more colorful and with edges softened), the tiny slope, the small ship and the boats. In my street there was the cemetery - it still is, and it seems to be even "the smallest one in Bucharest," says and internet page - where I often went with her grandmother in my early childhood, because we the flowers on our family graves had to be watered and attended. It was full of grass, flowers, lily bushes and small fir trees. Now, it is like every other cemeteries, crammed, full of ugly marble plates, without alleys; Then I started visiting cemeteries in each city I go to, I spend some time there and their atmosphere seems familiar, soothing and comforting.
The rest of my images are vague: Miorita and Minovici Villa, the Exhibition, summer cinemas - I bitterly envied those who, from the balconies of their houses could watch for free movies every night - a few shops in the centre, some bookshops, the Roman Square.
When in high school, in the 1970s, I started walking over the city more, I had no desire to discover it. It was a period when the public space was an official one, "theirs", an indifferent and hostile shell, through which you had to go as fast as you could to get into homes, in the interiors where there were friends, sometimes in cinemas or theatres. I felt what happened in 1989 and in the months that followed as a taking possession of the city.
Therefore, it is hard for me to say how Bucharest was really like in my childhood (the 1960s); now seen in pictures and movies of the era, it seems to have been clean but a little desolate, cold, official and strange. Now it is more alive, colorful, even if not always in good taste, it is filled with new contrasts, but which are somewhat in the spirit of the place.
AGERPRES: What do you like most about this city?
Rodica Zafiu: The mixture, the homes of different sizes and styles and even oriented differently (after the twists of old lanes), the chestnuts, the linden trees, the lily bushes, the ivy covering homes, the gardens overgrown with grass and flowers. The album The Discreet Charm of Bucharest, published a few years ago, with photos by Dan Dinescu, it is a wonderful collection of such places, with their walls, windows, arches, porches and awnings, with railings in a soft light of autumn afternoon.
AGERPRES: Have you ever thought of leaving Bucharest and settle in another city?
Rodica Zafiu: It simply has not happened to me. And now I think that could not have happened to me. In communist time, living in Bucharest seemed to me - and even it was, in many ways - an advantage. The towns in Transylvania and Banat that I saw before 1989 seemed very different and very beautiful and I felt in them almost like in a veritable trip to the West, but I had no thought of moving, God forbid! I spent afterwards several years in Italy as a lecturer of the Romanian language, and then I realized that I had developed Bucharest reflexes: I was terribly missing the agitation from home, where I came back only in holidays, after I had seen cities full of history, art and monuments. I came to feel in Bucharest like a tourist, being stubborn to see the city with an outsiders eye: I used to go often to exhibitions, I enjoyed the novelties at the Museum of Romanian Peasant, I was visiting. I think that this experience was very useful to me. Anyway, I have never understood how one could want suddenly to live elsewhere.
AGERPRES: Your profession took you to many other cities of the world. What is the city that has remained in your heart and why?
Rodica Zafiu: I liked enormously several cities: Rome, Paris, Berlin, Venice, Naples, Brussels, Prague, Zurich and Athens. If I were to establish a certain rule (post factum) in such an inhomogeneous enumeration, it is about cities that meet at least one of the following conditions: to be alive, diverse, with many people, crossed by a big river, possibly situated on the seashore and beaten by a wind of freedom. Unfortunately, I have not gone to Istanbul, but I am sure I will like it.
AGERPRES: What would you like to be changed in Bucharest in the coming years?
Rodica Zafiu: I wish, firstly, the existence and observance of rigorous municipal laws that would prohibit demolition in certain areas and impose restoration and maintenance of old buildings. I am glad a lot about the revival of the Lipscani area - I suffered for each of the buildings abandoned and collapsed there - but I do not understand why something similar could not have been done in the Buzesti Grivitei Boulevard and North Station area, all old commercial venues, with beautiful houses. I would like to see the colors on the rehabilitated blocks of flats, fade away faster, with provisional aspect, theatrical decor and construction games for pre-schoolers. I wish that Bucharesters liked white and gray that fit best with many of the old buildings. Architectural and artistic education should be taught in schools, showing that Bauhaus style should not necessarily be painted in pink, that old does not mean ugly and dilapidated. I have a few fantasies: I would like to see the Parliament House covered in ivy (as many Bucharest villas are) and (more modest, even feasible) to replant grass and flowers around the statue of Michael the Brave, abandoned on a depressing concrete board.
I would also like that Bucharesters have as reflex the use of their formulas such as "please," "thank you," "with pleasure," keeping- door open for the person behind you, apologies after an involuntary contact and smiling to everyone. However, something has already changed, our gloom is lower.
Finally, I wish Bucharest had more museums and many fine art exhibitions, not only rare and fragile. These should be at the level of the Enescu Festival - thank God, at least in this respect we are in a good place - and these should enjoy smart advertising enough, so that visiting them should be fashionable among young people. Sometimes, the closeness to art is done through fashion, snobbery, imitation, but it becomes a habit and an inner need.
AGERPRES: What is your favorite place in Bucharest?
Rodica Zafiu: There is no one place, rather it is about areas, primarily the predictable ones, the "centers:" Stavropoleos, Lipscanii, St. New George, Metropolitan Church Hill, the two boulevards and their intersection at the University. Then the Ioanid Park, Schitu Darvari, Arthur Verona Street with Carturesti Bookstore and the North Station.
AGERPRES: Why would foreigners love Bucharest?
Rodica Zafiu: For variety, freedom, diversity, ability to offer surprises. Because, although it is sometimes shabby and ugly, grumbled by locals and those passing for rudeness - always of other people - agitation and crowding, it is very much alive, young, inventive. And for the people here: in addition to the rude and quarreling people there are also kind, intelligent, bright and non-conforming people.
AGERPRES: Bucharest of yesteryear and todays Bucharest. What would you choose and why?
Rodica Zafiu: I do not know for sure who I would have been in Bucharest of yesteryear. So, realistically, I choose todays Bucharest, where I hope that the presence of the old city will be felt more and more. I still have time travel daydreams when I look at pictures of houses from the old city. It is particularly one from 1864, by Szathmari, in which appear, very close to the University and the Sutu Palace, through places I pass by almost every day, a few modest homes, placed oppositely: one as an inn on the outskirts of the village, but with the Hotel Kiesch sign, and other with a wooden porch.
AGERPRES: What is your fondest memory linked to Bucharest?
Rodica Zafiu: It is not a memory in itself, there are fragments of images. The fondest one, because it is very old, but impossible to put in time, is one linked to Cartarescu: the city seen from above, in an incredible reddish light and with surreal glow, through the narrow window of the Bucharest Shop. Otherwise, images with Herastrau Park in the autumn or Sutu Palace, Victoriei Boulevard or North Station in late winter evenings, under the first snow that has not yet started to turn into dirty piles.
Another image, rather uncomforting, is from one end of Belu Cemetery, from where the Wailing Valley could be seen, an enormous ravine lost in some fogs of remoteness or memory. I was with my grandmother, who explained to me the name of the place by a legend which I found out later, was circulating also about other places: that there was a lake when an entire wedding party people, with the groom and the rest of people, drowned. Enough to set the image well in your mind, isnt it?
AGERPRES: If you were to send something to the city for his birthday, which would be the wish that he would best fit Bucharest at its 555th anniversary?
Rodica Zafiu: To resist. To have increasingly more cultivated citizens, draconian city laws and nostalgic and refined architects. And not to shake too hard. AGERPRES