August 6. Once I awoke (I never really slept) I moved into the room with A/C. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck and ended up spending most of the day in the room, writing my blog and hiding from the heat. In the evening I took the tram to the metro to Universitat district, only to find out that rather than a 40 minute trip it could have been an 8 minute bus trip direct from my door. The joys of not knowing anything in a new city. I caught the end of a walking tour, and decided to walk to the oldest park in Bucharest. It was still incredibly hot, but I enjoyed looking at the pond and trees. Suddenly I saw a woman with puppets and the likes of Louis Armstrong on the horn. Ana and I ended up becoming friends, and I waited for her to finish her performance so we could talk. She kindly accompanied me to the grocery store and told me to take care of myself. We said we would get together another night when I was better.
August 7. To add insult to injury, I ended up getting really sick that night from a pita sandwich and some soup. Violently sick, coming out both ends. Yuck. Lots of cleaning. I didn’t really sleep that night because every time I lay down, more came out. I soiled everything, and had to shamefacedly let the host know that I was trying to clean the sheets and towels and wasn’t sure how. I slept a bit, then headed back to the town center. I walked around the old town, which is tiny, as Ciuciescu, the Mao Tse Tung want-to-be, ended up tearing down most of the old districts and having ugly utilitarian worker block housing built. The ugliest of all was the People’s Palace, which still stands in all its abomination to this day. What an ugly administrative building!
I got back to my apartment and decided to explore the neighborhood. It turned out to be the old Armenian section of town, and I stumbled upon the lovely house of Casa Melik, originally belonging to the rich Armenian merchant Hagi Kevork Nazaretoglu. The house dates back to the 18th century and is a beautiful example of vernacular architecture, with glazed veranda, wooden staircase and nicely restored original ornaments. It is apparently the oldest private lodging in Bucharest and now hosts the small museum Theodor Pallady and the collection of paintings originally belonging to Serafina and Gheorghe Răut. The museum features paintings and drawings of this well-known Romanian painter (a good friend of Henry Matisse), and other French and Dutch paintings, sculptures and art objects. I thought it was a shame that the horrible Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had destroyed almost all the historical parts of Bucharest, and a miracle that Casa Melik had avoided destruction.
August 8. I was feeling a bit better, thanks in part to the pharmacy that carried oscillococcinum, a homeopathic flu remedy, as well as some Vitamin C. I started slamming high doses of C and the Boiron flu remedy, and the results were miraculous. Within an hour I felt markedly better. I decided to go to the museum in the old Armenian neighborhood I’d discovered the day before. It was awesome, and I marveled at the residential villa that housed it. Then I discovered the Zen Garden, a lovely Chinese restaurant with a terrace that had just opened. As I ate my hot and sour soup, I had a nice conversation with a girl, boy, and their dad, about life in Bucharest. From there I headed to the park where I’d met Ana the first night and watched her show, filming a couple of numbers, and then we went to a lovely cafe and sat in the back terrace. She told me more about her time studying as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Connecticut. She so appreciated the kindness of the people there, who helped her tremendously during the 3 years she studied there.
We talked for hours about her time in the US and how doors had opened in Bucharest when she’d returned. She is now working on several children’s puppet shows, as well as an artist in residence at the local schools. What a lovely person! She asked if I’d be in town much longer, but I only had one more day in Bucharest, and she wasn’t available the following night. I felt like I’d met a soul mate, and we resolved to stay in touch. Since we met, I have forwarded her any information I get about puppetry in other countries. I figure it could help. We stayed up till 11 or so, then I headed back on the bus, reluctantly. I was still weak and needed to take care. Something I’m not very good at.
August 9. My last day. I really hadn’t liked Bucharest on arrival, especially all the noise (people honk to communicate), but after meeting Ana and the nice family at the Zen Garden, and discovering the Armenian neighborhood and other hidden gems, I was warming to it. The locals are very kind. A woman came up me on the street and asked me if I needed help, and told me that she ran a tourist travel agency and that I could come by anytime. It seems that Romanians are remarkably similar to Italians not only in language but also in temperament. I went downtown and walked around the old town again, this time heading to the People’s Palace and parliament building as well as the huge parks that had been created. What a piece of work Ceausescu had been. He was shot by a Romanian in 1989.