Wednesday, December 10, 2014

In Bucharest

Writing takes you to some odd places - a warrant sweep in a fleabag hotel in Portland, Oregon, for instance, or one of the store houses of the British Museum. And then there are conventions and literary festivals, like the one in Romania from which I've just returned.

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.

Chestburster architecture - the National Architects Union Headquarters.

Kretzulescu Church, built in the Romanian Brâncovenesc style, 1720-1722.

The OTT French Baroque of Cantacuzino Palace.

Belle Epoque shopping arcade in Bucharest's Old Town.

Pleasing miscellany of vernacular buildings in the old town.

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.

North Korean Brutalism.

Straightforward Brutalism.

Detail, cast-concrete lamp post.

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.

The Memorial of Rebirth, Revolution Square.

Home made memorial to anti-communist fighters. The neo-Romanian University of Architecture is in the background.


Blogger Michael Haulică said...

Thank you Paul. It was a great pleasure to meet you.

December 10, 2014 4:23 pm  
Blogger Sorin Camner said...

Thank you very much, Paul, for your books, and for your kind words. It was a great pleasure to meet you at British Council. And, maybe, someday, you'll come again for a longer time.

December 10, 2014 6:53 pm  
Blogger SoriM said...

I appreciate the kind words and the photos. So glad I met you along Richard Morgan. Who knows, maybe you'll find inspiration next time you visit this place.

December 10, 2014 10:02 pm  
Anonymous Ellen Datlow said...

I was in Bucharest with my sister and brother in law a few years ago-and I saw Michael H there and some other lovely people.
Was at the arcade, saw that little church.

December 10, 2014 10:54 pm  
Anonymous Sergey said...

You are comin' closer and closer to Moscow :)

December 11, 2014 8:28 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, Paul McAuley,

I realize you have been to Bucharest, Romania to be able to say some things about architecture in this city, but can you post 1 picture of the same style of "brutalism" of genuine North Korea buildings? Have you ever seen such buildings in North Korea?

I know this architectural current is much more seen in GB (such as Hollings Building also known as the Toast Rack, Manchester) then the few examples from Bucharest and even for this kind of architecture there are enthusiasts, but I will tell you latter what style are the buildings you posted as "North Korean Brutalism".


October 19, 2015 4:28 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, Paul McAuley

I realize you have been to Bucharest, Romania, but can you post a picture or a link with the kind of the "brutalism" buildings you have seen as "north korean" style in a genuine North Korea urban landscape photo? Have you been to North Korea to be able to make a correct comparison?

I know that brutalism architecture is common in GB (such as Hollings Building, also known as the Toast Rack, Manchester) but I also know that there are enthusiasts of this kind of architecture which is common also in Romania as architecture has evolved or, if one will want, regress starting 1990.


October 19, 2015 4:40 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Hi Bobby Keys,

My Romanian guide told me about the North Korean influence as she drove me through the city, past several similar apartment blocks. And the connection is well known - Ceaușescu sent a large number of architects to North Korea, to get inspiration for his systematisation project. You seem to know something about it, so if the apartment building I photographed isn't a good example of that I'll be delighted to learn why not.

No, I haven't been to North Korea, but there are plenty of images of N. Korean apartment blocks on the web - here, for instance.

Yes, there's lots of Brutalist architecture in the UK. I watched *Stalker* in a cinema in one of the underground levels of the Barbican Centre just the other week.

October 24, 2015 5:32 pm  

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