INTERVIEW Dan Grigore: Bucharest's history, a living book; it was Little Paris with Oriental scent

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In an interview to AGERPRES under the 'MY CITY, BUCHAREST' project, pianist Dan Grigore says he would pick today's Bucharest with the old memories, adding that the history of the city is a living book that has to be read and understood.

Photo credit: (c) Simion MECHNO / AGERPRES PHOTO

'The history of Bucharest is a living book that has to be read and understood. It is a city that would stir the interest of architecture professionals who would come to see the city, because the city was like an open work of archaeology that could be studied alive. There were various strata of coexisting civilisation and architectural fashions. (...) It was not called Little Paris for nothing. The moniker was no invention of anyone's propaganda. That was what foreigners would feel when coming to Bucharest. It was a little Paris with an Oriental scent, which made it savoury,' says Dan Grigore.

AGERPRES: Maestro Dan Grigore, you were born in Bucharest. What does Bucharest mean to you?
Dan Grigore: I was born in Bucharest and at the time, in 1943, the new administrative units [they called them "raion" in Romanian], were created. I was born at the Brancovenesc Hospital, which no longer exists, that was in the Lenin raion. The area where the Brancovenesc Hospital was was called the V. I. Lenin raion. You can imagine the orderly chaos over the identity of Bucharest! Thanks God, in my childhood I still witnessed some of the old Bucharest. I remember the current Palace Square back then, with the terminus of a tram that would travel in a big circle there, a very picturesque area full of old buildings located in some sort of a valley for the city. Then I remember the terminus of tram 9, somewhere on the eastern edges of the city, where we would go to visit some family friends. That was an unending trip by tram. Then, there were the uphill trips of tram 8, up the Uranus Hill, when the tram conductor would move to the fourth gear because the uphill trip was hard, would push his elbow to the gearbox and the tram would puff slowly up the hill. We would all get in the tram and see the tram conductor pushing hardly into the gear lever housed in a small case with a brass lid and the name Thomas Huston written on it. An American company had manufactured the trams.

I remember all these happenings and the quarters I would travel through: Arsenal, Piata Puisor, 13 Septembrie, Drumul Sarii. The quarter where I was born was in fact Drumul Sarii, with streets bearing aviators' names: Aviator Negev, the street with the family house, Aviator Caranda, a street parallel to ours where now there is a museum to the memory of great painter Alexandru Tipoia, our neighbour whose son, painter Jorj [George] Tzipoia, was my playmate when we were kids. Then there is the bus stop where I would wait for bus 47 — at the time 147 that later on 137 — that would bring me to the other old quarter, on the other side of Bucharest, the Spatarului — Armeneasca — Otetari — Franzelari — Silvestru quarter, where my music teachers lived: Jeni Ionescu, a piano teacher who was living on Spatarului Street, while composer Mihail Jora was living on Silvestru Street, near the homonymous church at number 16. These bus trips of mine were in old Renault buses with an engine hood that would spring out from the front mask of the bus, looking like a truck out of which a bus body would come. The buses were already old when I was a kid, but they were very good, very durable. I could see even today how I would travel the city. I remember the Radu stop on Calea Victoriei. Probably there had been a store called Radu's there and that is why the crossroad was named so. On today's Stirbei Voda, formerly known as Berthelot, than as Alexandru Popov and now again as Berthelot, there was a bus stop at the intersection with Calea Victoriei called 'La Radu' (Radu's). Then, I remember that these French buses vanished to be replaced by Soviet Zis buses, which were in fact manufactured under an American licence. But we did not know that then. Paradoxically, Mum was talking in French to a very distinguished ticket lady — back then the tickets would be purchased in the tram — in the Soviet bus and the lady answered in French, and I asked 'How come the ticket lady speaks French?' to which Mum answered: 'Because she is a lady and she has no option because she has been evicted from her house and she decided to become a ticket lady at the Bucharest Transport Enterprise.' That lady was highly elegant. I can still remember her face and the wonderful French she was speaking. And we would travel in a so-called Soviet bus that was overcrowded and that had oval, rectangular and oval small windows above the big windows. Just like in the pictures of yesteryear's New York. But that was a bus of the Soviet industry, of the world's most advanced industry. We were told in school that all that was most advanced in the world was Soviet made.

Photo credit: (c) Simion MECHNO / AGERPRES PHOTO

That was a time when old forms of our lives were coexisting with the clichés, customs or rules forced on us by the occupier. We were in fact a quasi-occupied country. And that is what you could feel with every step you would take. But in that atmosphere, somehow confusing, but very clearly steered toward collective fear, olden Bucharest was alive. There were well supplied stores. Mum used to tell me 'We are going to buy steak,' and I do not know what else. 'We are going to Rocus'.' The store would no longer be called that, probably it had been renamed, but people would know it by its old name and would say 'Let us go to Rocus.' 'We are going to Dragomir Niculescu's'. 'We are going to Torcadero's.' 'We are going to the Armenians on Bulevardul Elisabeta,' renamed 6 Martie — where Armenians would sell coffee. Back then, the bologna sausage and salami would be bought by 50 or 100 grams. More of them was not needed because they were aplenty. People would by them in 50g or 100-g bags; the same with the coffee. People would buy it in 50-g or 100-g sachets so that it stayed fresh and people would savour it. Coffee would be prepared after a Turkish recipe. Armenians of 6 Martie, formerly known as Regina Elisabeta, were still in business. Tram 16 would travel Bulevardul 6 Martie to the old quarters of Plantelor, Obor, Traian, Hala Traian, Bulevardul Pache, Strada Mantuleasa. They were all on tram 14 route, which would also travel the 6 Martie Avenue.

When I was in Budapest on a tour I noticed that there were streets with their current name to which the old name was written in brackets and the initial name in another pair of brackets if there were such names. That would make their history clear, but such does not exist in Bucharest. Quite rarely will people know that a street had a different name under the communist regime and then another name and previously it would be called differently. And that is a pity. The history of Bucharest is a living book that has to be read and understood. It is a city that would stir the interest of architecture professionals who would come to see the city, because the city was like an open work of archaeology that could be studied alive. There were various strata of coexisting civilisation and architectural fashions that would impart some charm to the city. Let us not forget that in the inter-war Bucharest, for instance, there used to be hundreds of cabarets. It was not called Little Paris for nothing. The moniker was no invention of anyone's propaganda. That was what foreigners would feel when coming to Bucharest. It was a little Paris with an Oriental scent, which made it savoury.

The Bucharest of cakes is another affective side of the Bucharest of my childhood. There were still private cake makers that would make unimaginable treats that no longer exist today. My maternal grandfather, whom we would call affectionately Mosu [Old Man] and who found me my first piano teacher Eugenia Ionescu, of Spatarului Street, a friend and workmate of Jora's in Leipzig, brought me to introduce me to maestro Jora for an assessment and for lessons — he would end up teaching me harmony and composition. Mosu also found Eugenia Ionescu; he recommended her to me and then he put me in touch with her. I would go to perform and Mosu, the survivor of two prison sentences in the communist jails, would be very pleased. In between the two sentences, he would bring me to Mrs Jeni and he would be very pleased any time I would learn my lessons well and perform very well. At the time, he had not had his public pension cut and to show me his gratitude he would say 'You, grandson, let me bring you to Guguianu's for a cake!' And we would go to Guguianu's, a privately owned confectionery on Mihai Eminescu Street, close to the junction with Vasile Lascar Street. The shop was small but full of unimaginable treats: there was the so-called Bibescu cake, which recipe is extinct but which shape lives on under the name Boema or Tosca. At the time, the cake was named Bibescu. That taste no longer exists. But I would be torn between Bibescu and Guguianu's Mascot, which is totally different from today's mascot cake. Its shape back then was more libertine, more fantasist. When I would not know what cake to eat in the end I would order the opposite cake: now it was Mascot, now it was Bibescu, until I could not eat any more and I would be left with the last cake uneaten because there was no more room left for it in my stomach. Mosu would be very pleased and fall for my temptation because I had performed well. And then we would take bus 67 to home. The trip would be very long and it would take the bus half an hour to reach the other side of the city on Drumul Sarii.

Fortunately, parts of these quarters have been left standing. It is true that as far as the Drumul Sarii quarter is concerned, a high amount of blocks of flats were built that made it virtually unrecognisable. At the time, given the affective coloratura of me the kid, I would feel as it was a huge quarter where I could get lost. In fact, it was a quarter bordering on a military camp, that is why it was called Drumnul Taberei, which means the camp's road, near which there was a huge vacant lot where we would use our bicycles, fending away the huge potholes. We would slalom our way, improving our bicycling techniques. That lot would end very far away, at Ciorogarla. At the time, the entire area where the Drumul Taberei quarter was built was a huge vacant lot where we, the kids, would travel by bicycles and go on expeditions between the military barracks and Cirogarla commune.

This memory of my Bucharest of yesteryear is also stratified in several layers of memory, to say so: The Bucharest of confectionery or the Bucharest of cinemas — entering with a flashlight between the beginning and end of a film. You could see the ending of a film and stay there, to see the film from the beginning, on the same ticket. And I did this very often, because I liked seeing it again and understanding more of the action. I remember how I had a terrible headache coming on at the movie made after the novel 'Mitrea Cocor'. It was a first contact with a cinema that would dominate our cultural life and that provoked in me physical illness. I couldn't explain it then, but, probably, it was something to do with an empathy towards my parents with which I had gone to the cinema and who were very sad without ostentatiously showing me this, but... they were watching and saying nothing. But there was a tension in the air that simply made me ill. So we left. I asked for us to leave. We couldn't watch it until the end. This was on Queen Elisabeta Boulevard, it was called 6 March back then and the cinemas were no longer called Trianon ... By the way, my first time at Trianon, I saw Mircea Crisan in the intermission. Films had, in some cinemas, intermissions and all sort of artists would come and entertain the public with what they called sketches. And Mircea Crisan showed up, who was an employee of the Army's [Artistic] Ensemble. Mircea Crisan showed up in an officer's uniform and said some jokes that made the auditorium laugh loudly. He was very talented, extraordinarily talented. And then we saw him first at the Trianon Cinema. After that the cinemas were rechristened. They became 'Elena Pavel', 'I.C. Frimu' and one of them 'Bucharest'. On the other side there was another cinema that was called 'Victoria', after the war, in the Stalinist and Dejist (e.n. — referring to the period of Romania's history marked by the leadership of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej) period.

Slowly but surely, Bucharest started changing. On one hand it was a modernisation process that was natural, modernisation is a rhythm which is, generally, livable, in Europe and the world, but with us this modernisation had its own traits. The stereotypical blocks of flats started appearing. Then we found out, in a tour of the USSR that these block of flats were called the 'bedrooms of the city'. The Russians called them as such. 'Here is our neighborhood of blocks of flats, the so-called bedrooms of the city', my Russian-language interpreter told me on tour. 'For this neighborhood of bedrooms of the city, the architect received the Lenin Award'. (e.n. — he laughs) So they would let out information like this too.

Sure that one of the biggest traumas of Bucharest was when one fifth of the city was razed. I protected my professor, Calla Delavrancea, from seeing the area that was being replaced with a sort of ?bedrooms' that were more sumptuous, in the area of the Victory of Socialism Boulevard, as the 'victory of socialism over the entire people' was called, subversively. That is what we called it. Subversively. (e.n. — he laughs) I protected. I went many times by cab through Bucharest and I would tell the driver to drive in such a way as to avoid that area, because I was afraid that, seeing the catastrophe that happened with those neighborhoods there... There were neighborhoods of extraordinary beauty, of exquisite taste. There was an atmosphere typical of Mateiu Caragiale there that has disappeared totally. There were boyar houses, craftsmen houses, there were Venetian-style villas done there, by some rich men with fantasies of having something of Venice's charm in their home. The neighborhood (e.n. — Uranus) had maybe one of the few, rare level differences between streets, that made a street with a hairpin turn to have a portion going up and a portion going down — extremely picturesque; I am speaking of the Putul cu apa rece Street — and which was used in several movies. Most of them not very good, but, fortunately, at least these frames keep something of the charm of those streets. It was there, in that neighborhood — I even lived there, renting — and actually on that street, near the former Gaghel Bakery, owned by a German, where further up the road there was the ANEF stadium, later called Republic Stadium that is now the garage for the Palace of the Parliament.

So these neighbourhoods — Uranus, Arsenal, Puisor — all had changes in level with steps, of incredible charm. An old vegetation... Corners of Bucharest nearly devoid of history, in which history was already amnesiac, forgotten. It wasn't known when and where they come from, when they joined the city or the city joined them. It's a Bucharest that moves me and to which I was very bound.

Photo credit: (c) Simion MECHNO / AGERPRES PHOTO

AGERPRES: You've told me of the old Bucharest, of the city of your childhood. How do you think it looks today?
Dan Grigore: The one today, thankfully, has not lost all its old neighborhoods. There's something left of them. It's true, filled in, here and there, with things not of the best quality, not of the best taste. For it's true that there's a lot of bad taste in Bucharest. And also, unfortunately, the city is very dirty. I've been recently to some areas in Bulgaria. I was surprised of how clean it is. At home the cities and the wild areas of nature are full of trash. I was looking now at a stadium — the biggest and most beautiful stadium in the country — how it ended up after a manifestation of sorts, a rally. The trash that people left there. This mentality that the public space belongs to no one comes from the doctrine that everything belongs to the people. Meaning nobody. And there hasn't been enough done for people to regain their sense of ownership and collective ownership: 'The city is ours!'. Ours means of people with identity, it doesn't mean of the people, who have no identity. For now the Romanian people have no identity. It hasn't regained it. We are a population, for the moment. And when we talk of the people it's demagogy. So, to me it seems that what kept me bound to Romania was, beyond my feelings, my family and friends, my affectionate bond with Bucharest.

AGERPRES: What do you like most about this city?
Dan Grigore: There are things that can be explained and things that I cannot explain, less rational, that bind me to Bucharest. When I was abroad and in longer tours, I would miss some street corners that I wasn't paying attention to when I was here. And that's how I discovered that the definition according to which patriotism is discovered best when you're away from you're motherland has some truth in it. Many Romanians, even Romanian-born Jews in Israel, are far more patriotic than many of our fellow citizens. I felt it on my own, when I was in the ?90's, for the first time, in Israel, and then, every time I was there — that if I entered a store and discovered that the owner spoke Romanian and he knew a Romanian came there, all of a sudden he'd say 'We Romanians ...'. They were more authentic than many of our fellow citizens, I'll say it again. Furthermore, many of the good things in our culture come from the sensibilities of some minority members. Let's not forget that Eminescu was a Ruthenian-origin Romanian. Let's not forget that there are Albanians, Armenians in Romanian culture, there are Saxons, Germans in our culture. I'm not saying that all Romanian culture is made by ?allogenes', as it is said pejoratively, but an extremely precious contribution is made by the fresh eyes that a person a little more detached from a certain culture, that does not have the safety and sufficiency of that who believes the direct beneficiary of it; he can bring it exactly through the detachment, the attention and the respect granted to it. Many times I've discovered that in the Parliament Romanian is spoken far better by some minority members. And furthermore, Chopin is played, in this world, far better not by the Poles, who are too confident he's one of them and make many errors in interpretation.

AGERPRES: Does Bucharest keep anything of this way of being of our culture?
Dan Grigore: Too little, too little. The attempts to revive some cultural reflexes of Bucharest are laudable, but I don't know how much of that atmosphere we can recuperated. Very little down to nothing I guess. Since a large part of the people who made that atmosphere possible are no longer alive. And there are things that were lost. We must be aware that with things working this way we must value, keep and treasure this kind of cultural metabolism, understanding through this the way of life, both material and spiritual, of the city. We should keep them, because otherwise we lose something irreplaceable.

AGERPRES: Have you ever thought of leaving Bucharest and moving to another town?
Dan Grigore: I wanted many times to leave Romania. I saw that some things are impossible to accomplish here. At one point I saw how my career seemed like an absolute waste, had no echo, my performance that I achieved seemed to be of no use to anyone, even more so it annoyed some ?high stewards' of culture, that had interests in this area, and reaching a certain type of desperation I had thoughts of remaining abroad. And I had the chance too. I even had solutions, but I couldn't detach myself, among other things — surely, I couldn't detach myself from my family, first of all — but among other things, I couldn't detach myself, in my profound, sentimental, aspects from the old Bucharest, the Bucharest that I kept in my memory.

AGERPRES: Your profession has carried you to many cities of the world. Which is the city that has stuck with you most and why?
Dan Grigore: I liked Viena, I liked Paris. One of the cities in which I discovered you could live very well was Montreal. When I was at the competition I discovered that it was a city in which you could live, without the American rhythm, which is suffocating. It was a city with wealth, with a science, with an art of life that was very tempting, very pleasant and without that agitated rhythm that, for example, New York has, together with other cities in America, Chicago ... or a city like Philadelphia that has a very precious European heritage, beside the history it has provided to America, see the Declaration of Independence and all these things. Furthermore, I discovered that Philadelphia has a museum with a special hall, enormous, with a formidably great Brancusi collection. We can't even dream of something similar. Brancusi may be ours, but you know the words of Sir Iancu in I.L. Caragiale (e.n. he is referring to Caragiale's play O scrisoare pierduta — A lost letter), 'our industry is sublime, but it is thoroughly missing'. (e.n. — he laughs). That's the way it is with Brancusi. We've pulled his Infinity Column with a tractor to pull it down. We failed, thank God, because it was well done by Brancusi and his friend who drew up things.

Prague is an extremely beautiful city. I like Budapest very much and, when I was invited by my regretted friend Erich Bergen, who was the Director of the Philharmonic there, to perform concerts and he took me sightseeing and showed me very many things, I discovered a lot of things that I liked.

We get lost in the horizontal lines of some cultural ramifications that could also be part of Bucharest's memory heritage, if we think about places such as Capsa or the former Fialkowski, the big coffee shop near the Kretzulescu area, where there was also an extraordinary cultural effervescence. Then, more recent, there are places such as Rosetti Square, with Singapore pub, where Tudor George's poet friends gathered, the great versifier and sonnet author, one of the greatest rhyme technicians of the Romanian language. 'Baladele singaporene' (the Ballads of Singapore) (Tudor George poetry tome, Tritonic Publishing House, 1970 — e.n.) witness this effervescence that was there.

I have also lived fantastic moments in the neighbourhood that got demolished for they needed to build there the People's House (Casa Poporului, in Romanian — e.n.), on Apolodor Street, at the junction with Brutus Street, where there was a restaurant called 'Columbina,' where I used to go, when I was an assistant with the Conservatory and I gave private lessons. I had no time to eat, to cook for myself. And I went to the restaurant, I ate a sour soup very quickly and then I took the taxi and went to give lessons, to teach in various neighbourhoods of Bucharest, or to study. At 'Columbina' I used to meet Nichita Stanescu, accompanied by his troop, by his apprentices, who were writing. He used to come up with a verse. They kept writing there. There was a bohemian spirit, which I do not know if it still exists today. I am afraid not.

Photo credit: (c) Simion MECHNO / AGERPRES PHOTO

AGERPRES: What would you like to be changed in Bucharest over the next few years?
Dan Grigore: I would like Bucharest to have a greater inclination towards cleanness. I would also like the Bucharest streets to be less promiscuous for promiscuity is not an exotic note added to the city's life, but the business card of a forced coexistence of some completely incongruent, completely incompatible contraries. I haven't seen so many luxury cars in other important cities in Europe, I haven't seen so many luxury cars in Warsaw, at such a defiance level and in such quantity as in Bucharest, Bucharest being, in fact, very strangled, very strangulated in its traffic. It is a paradox that us, Romanians, are not practical to get smaller cars with which to travel more easily in the city. But we have this thing: 'Let's make our neighbour green with envy!,' 'If I go down, I'll take you with me!,' things like that. (he laughs — e.n.) This is our nature. I would like these things to tone down and Bucharest to become more decent, nobler, in the tolerant sense of the word. Namely, we should live together, instead of defying one another, and live in each other's company, as we are contemporary. It is pointless to make life impossible to one another. It is better to live our lives beautifully together, with respect, with politeness, things that I think existed in Bucharest of former times.

AGERPRES: Do you have a favourite place in Bucharest, maestro?
Dan Grigore: I have several. Of course, first of all there is the neighbourhood where I went a few times a week between the age of 9 and 16 to take piano, harmony, composition lessons — in the area of the Armenian Church — Spatarului Street — Silvestru Street and the streets with guilds names — Franzelari, Otetari, and so on. There is a sort of cradle of my spiritual matrix, so to say, speaking highly and maybe with a lack of modesty. But this is how I feel. I sometimes still go there, to take a peek at the houses. Fortunately, they haven't changed. My parents' house (from Drumul Sarii Road — e.n.) cannot be recognised, it has been modernised, it has changed, it has been transformed. Most of the houses of my childhood's neighbourhood have changed. Therefore, my neighbourhood seems to me a bit foreign to me, much smaller, much darker, and much more confined. I don't include it among my favourite places, although I am connected to it by a geographic nostalgia of Bucharest. But, sentimentally, I am more connected to these neighbourhoods. The, of course, I worked on one of the most formidable spiritual experiences of my activities, the translation of the Hamlet version, which I completed with Alexandru Tocilescu's team, may his name never be forgotten, a good friend of mine, in the house of Nina Cassian and under her supervision, as a poet, as a literature expert. We managed to make a version, which seems to me very successful, of this play. We worked very much in it. Although in a period when communism did not let you be profitable — there was this obsession and the profitability demagogy. There were the three Rs. I shall not mention them. I worked for about two years on this version almost day by day, in one team... In that house there was also a piano. Down the street, a few (house — e.n.) numbers away there had been the sanatorium where poor Eminescu passed away. It was an area where I was also invited on certain evenings. It is there where the scene Mircea Raceanu tells about in his memory book took place, when I complained that our ruling did not allow me to accept an invitation made by some Americans. This happened also on Plantelor Street. It was an area where many things of my life happened and not necessarily storming victories or things that I could brag about. But I lived there profound things that influenced my life and I say for the better, as even through failures sometimes life can get unsuspected riches and forces.

AGERPRES: Over the recent years we have been seeing increasingly more groups of foreign tourists visiting the Capital. Why would foreigners love Bucharest?
Dan Grigore: Some find it a welcoming city. And this is a tradition, it can be a spirit that has not died. In older times, the US soldiers of the Second World War, who were stranded here, who had been prisoners at some point or were deployed with their units, used to write home that they lingered a little in Bucharest, because there was an incredibly good life here. And they told about the nightlife of Bucharest, the beautiful women, the great cuisine, the extraordinary cakes. All these existed in the correspondence of some young military to their families of America. In '45, '46, '47. Therefore these things were happening. Of course it would have been much better if these US young party lovers stayed a little more here and were not replaced by the Soviet young party lovers. Those were a little less tight to Bucharest. (He cackles — e.n.). Now I am not a fan of Moscow, I am a fan of Petrograd, of Petersburg (Sankt Petersburg — e.n.). That is a city that I believe I should include on the list of the cities I love very much and I have lots of memories of Sankt Petersburg, cultural, musical and human, which are extremely precious, extremely enriching, worthy of a true memory heritage.

To resume, certainly there are very many things for which Bucharest can be pleasant, same as there are many things for it becomes annoying: the traffic, the filth, the rudeness. Why shouldn't we admit it? Rudeness is a thing that foreigners may not like. If I go to a European or American city and I look for a longer period of time at a person, they smile and salute immediately. The fact that I paid them attention for a while longer makes them show me a sign of friendship. 'You looked at me. I look at you. Hello. We are contemporary. We live together on this planet.' Yes. This is it. There is no need for anything more. While in Romania, if I go out or I go to a place, I see some faces... Gloomy, who want to show disdain at any rate. I don't know why, they suffer from various complexes, they think that if they show disdain they are more important, they seem more important. They do not want to show how shy they are, how scared of the world they are or that they don't know that things are possible. They do not want to show these things. Or some purely want to show disdain or some despise themselves. And then, disdain bursts outside. It has no room (He laughs — e.n.) The place is too tight... (He laughs again — n.r.)

Photo credit: (c) Simion MECHNO / AGERPRES PHOTO

AGERPRES: Although it seems rather redundant now, I still want to ask you: Between the old Bucharest and the Bucharest that we can see today, which one would you choose?
Dan Grigore: You will find it amusing or surprising maybe, but I would choose the Bucharest today with the memories about the old one.

AGERPRES: Do you have a special memory about Bucharest that you want to share with us? Which is you dearest memory about Bucharest?
Dan Grigorescu: I have many. I have a lot of memories. For instance, I remember about the Dalles Hall which façade used to be visible from the boulevard. It had a small courtyard and a perron. Especially since it was there where I played for the first time in front of an audience, in an official concert, back in 1957. The Dalles Hall was still very much visible and not hidden in the back like today. And, of course, I have memories about the painful changes the city went through. For instance, they demolished a segment of the Berthelot Street and several of the other streets it was linked to — Temisana and others too — to build there the new headquarter of the National Radio Company, which today looks old, but back then, in the 1950s-1960s, it was still under construction. As I was passing by the area looking at the new building starting to gain shape, with its hall and all, I started thinking: 'Would I ever be able to sing in this hall?' I even went to a concert there and I saw the new piano, a very big and beautiful Steinway that sounded amazing. And I told to myself: 'God, when I will have the chance to play at that piano myself!' And I had that chance no later than the next year. I made my debut along with the orchestra, in 1962. And, of course, this is a very precious memory to me. And of course that I remember something fun about that time too, for the director who accompanied me in that concert was someone who had a quite privileged position in the eyes of the power back then, a so-called official talent of the era, which official talent, however, didn't help him to accompany me. He did it very badly. It's something that one can notice from hearing the recording. For professionals do notice that, in fact, I was the one that accompanied him. In order to save face I did the accompaniment for him, for he didn't' have the necessary instruments ... [he shrieks with laughter — e.n.] to do it for me.

But I have other very pleasant memories about the intersectation between the Precupetii Vechi and Eminescu streets, for instance, where Cella Delavrancea used to live and where I used to go very often — I even studied there — and where some of the most amazing things in my whole life happened. And I'm talking now about the most fresh friendship I ever had that I shared with this old lady who, ever since I was 9 years old, she was already old. When I played the piano for the first time at Jeni Ionescu's home on Spatarului Street, Mrs Delevanrancea was already an old lady. And after that she became my youngest friend until she turned 100 and after that. Not long before she died we were still playing the piano together at her home — on the junction of Mihai Eminescu and Precupetii Vechi streets, right next to the Precupetii Vechi Church. We were playing four hands and improvising. She couldn't talk anymore, but she could play the piano. Late in the night, we were playing the piano together. And a few days later she died. So I have very, very dear memories to me, very special and alive.

AGERPRES: If you were supposed to send a message to the city, what would you think that would be the best wish for Bucharest at its 555th anniversary?
Dan Grigore: I wish it to be a civilised city, full of people who would be pleased with their lives and who would know how to respect others, I wish it that politeness to be a common good and contempt and rudeness to be rare, as it happens in some of the big cities. This is what I wish for Bucharest. AGERPRES

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