The Bucharest International Literary Festival, small but lively and terrifically hospitable, was held in an arts club that, because smoking isn't banned in public places in Romania, had the authentic haze and tang of a bohemian intellectual gathering. Science fiction and fantasy are growing in popularity: a new publishing house, Paladin, run by Michael Haulica (who's also an author) is bringing out more than a dozen titles a year (The Quiet War was published this year). The SFF panel, the first in the festival's history, featuring Romanian authors Michael Haulica and Sebastian A. Corn, Richard Morgan and myself, attracted a pleasing large and attentive audience. There was also a fun evening at the British Council's library - you can find the video here.
Bucharest is a bustling, cosmopolitan city, and its fantastically eclectic architecture mixes Neo-Classical with Art Deco, Baroque, and much else. So it's a great city to wander through, with unexpected encounters with odd and lovely buildings.
Spiked amongst the older buildings are steel and glass boxes in the bland international commercial style, many built immediately after the 1989 revolution, as well as huge Brutalist apartment blocks, some in a style inspired by Ceaușescu's visit to North Korea.
Although outwardly prosperous, parts of the city are crumbling because of lack of public and private investment. The bright plate glass windows displaying luxury goods along the Calea Victoriei are overhung by the decrepit balconies of private flats; there are empty shops and derelict buildings in the city centre; on one main thoroughfare the pavement had been ripped up and work seemingly abandoned. Still, there's a definite buzz in the air. It's almost exactly twenty-five years after the revolution that toppled Nicolae Ceaușescu's Communist regime, and just a few weeks ago, in a hotly contested presidential election, the incumbent prime minister was defeated by an opposition candidate running on an anti-corruption ticket. Many Romanians are hoping this will be a hinge-point, a move away from a political system that has strong links with the country's old regime. I'd love to visit again, to see how things are changing and to take in much more of its deep and eclectic history.