I just got back from the second part of the EU portrait trip, this time from Bucharest, Romania. Given the usual Tory immigration bollocks and xenophobic hysteria about Romanian immigrants that’s been pouring out of the media, I thought it’d be an interesting time to visit.
Sitting in Luton airport (which incidentally is not submerged in Eastern Europeans) I was thinking about everything I know about Romanians, and bar the fact that our newspapers seem to think they are peasants, and want-in on our welfare-state bitty, I decided that I didn’t know very much at all.
So I wasn’t so much surprised as pleased to find the people I met there to be nice, welcoming, contemporary, interesting, hard working and creative people. Most of the young people I met were freelancers like me (working in the arts, film and design) and had little interest in moving to the UK, least of all to “live it up” on £56.80 pw.
Bucharest, like most big cities is a world of contrast. It’s got a picturesque old town, a modern center, and it sprawls out with wide avenues lined with trees and communist-era architecture. Thanks to my hosts (writers from Bucharest’s best graffiti crew-) I got a chauffeur driven tour , starting with the more upmarket landmarks like the People’s Palace ( a monstrously big civic center built by the communists), and ending with an abandoned chemical plant to do some painting.
The large communist blocks can look kind of imposing at the best of times, but pushed out to the edge of the city and left to crumble they take on a special kind of creepy that is spectacularly
photogenic and makes for a great spot to paint. On the walls there I saw some of the most interesting graffiti I’ve seen in a while, much of it by friends from SDC.
Amongst the ruins we bumped into some guys rocking army fatigues and wielding submachine guns. I was half way into the nearest bush before my guides explained they were not paramilitarys, but enthusiasts, who get dressed up and shoot ball bearings at each-other. Oh well, in that case…! Turns out they were a cheery bunch and seemed harmless enough, although they warned us to give them a wide birth next time lest we get a BB to the eyeball.
My subject for Romania was an old man, so I set to finding a candidate in-between my various excursions. I quickly discovered that most people over the age of 30 didn’t speak much (if any ) English. After completely baffling half the population of the outdoor chess club, I moved on and confused old people outside the People’s Palace. It became clear that I’d have to change tack before I got arrested for being a public nuisance! Once again my hosts came to the rescue and Andrei took me to meet his Grandfather, an 88 year old man about town with such a nice manor he instantly made you smile. He’d lived on his street for 60 years, and with his help the residents there were some of the first people in the area to get electricity and running water into their homes. Andrie’s car wouldn’t start on the way back, and my jaw nearly fell off when I saw this 88year old man shuffle over and push the car down the road. Hero!
My hosts were in the middle of setting up a new graff shop, so they spent most of their spare evenings after work fitting it out and preparing to open. It was a nice atmosphere with their whole group coming by to help out and show support, it reminded me of setting up the Limited Press shop with the gang some years ago. They had a bit of a balls-up during the fit out, and got the slots for the new paint rack lazer-cut about 2mm too narrow, so the things wouldn’t slot together. We spent the best part of the night jigsawing the 1000 odd cuts wider and then banging it all together with considerable effort and frustration. I’ve found that being good at carpentry rarely fails to come in handy, and this time round it gave me a good opportunity to pay my hosts back a bit for all their kindness.
And that was Bucharest, somehow all of that fitted into two and a half days ( with little room for sleeping!). Thanks again to my new Romanian friends, Florin, Andrei ,Daniel and the rest of the gang.
And when it comes to Romania; in the words of Public Enemy- don’t believe the hype!