A few weeks ago, I visited Craiova for the first time in 6 years. The last time I was there, my daughter was just as tall as my hips, I finally saw my best friend from primary school that I haven’t seen in 19 years and my granny was on her dying bed.
She didn’t recognize me, my granny. She thought I was my mother, spoke to me lovingly, reassuring me she always knew I was so nice. Ironically, they hated their guts, my mum and her mother-in-law. But then again, my granny thought she was 9, and she was waiting for her parents to come and pick her up and bring her to guitar lessons. Walking the streets of the city of Bălți. The disarming devastation of Alzheimer. Her hallow eyes and grey cheeks. Death was so near. My daughter could feel it, I saw it in her mimic and the distance she kept. She held the future, my granny was almost gone.
A few days after we left she died. I didn’t feel the need to go back. My childhood friend and I had no magic to share anymore. And my other friends all lived in Bucharest now. Craiova became the stranger I called friend almost 20 years ago back then, and we only shared sweet memories of distant past. But then it came knocking at my door last April, in the form of an exchange student who stayed with us for two month. Alexandra lives and studies in Craiova, and her stories made me feel that vibe again. She was enthusiastic about all the renovation works, the festivals, the terraces. So this summer, while on our holiday in Romania, we went just for one day to visit her, and the city.
It was bloody hot. And I mean, boiling. You couldn’t walk the streets without fainting, and as we arrived we stopped for a few hours at the first swimming pool entering the city. The sticky sweat and so familiar accent everyone around me was talking threw me back in time. When I was my daughter’s age now, spending almost my entire summer break at the swimming pool with my friends, just going home to hide from the heat, read something and then hit the streets again to play with the same friends. Gosh, that was such a different era. The communistic scarceness, the imposed water shortage that kept the pool water to long unfiltered that usually turned green, hardly any use of sunscreen. And the fun we had though and didn’t get sick, the summer that never seemed to end and in the last weeks I couldn’t wait to start school again. And now I looked at all the kids playing, talking, laughing. The same fun, but in crystal clear water. I looked at my daughter playing in the pool with her dad. This was her reality of summer in Craiova.
As we later entered the city center, after so many years I didn’t, I couldn’t help recalling the first time I visited Craiova after I left for The Netherlands. It was 1997 and back for the first time in Romania since 1990. It was another me visiting, it was another city I found. I was 20, completely evolved form the skinny 13-year-old, all Dutch-ed up and talking with a funny accent my friends would laugh about. Reconnecting. Searching. My grandparents would look at me in disbelief that was me, still talking to me like I was 12. Me looking around ecstatically, finding pieces of my identity.
But I remember I cried. After the first few days of talking, remembering, hugging and laughing, I remember clinging onto my boyfriend’s neck and crying my eyes out. I cried because in the city I didn’t find the romantic picture I painted in my mind all these years. Romania was struggling in the 90’s with breaking from the past, tearing all the walls down and trying to build it all up. And it was a mess. Literally it was. After the perfectly manicured surroundings I grew up in Holland, the devastation after the communistic fall was horrible to see. The old buildings were ruinous, the streets broken, the communistic flats depressing. “Mercur”, the old shopping mall in the center, was more of a messy market place. And they didn’t even bother to take down the Christmas decoration, in September they were still half hanging from the ceilings. The people were moody, the streets were dirty, the services were bad, the mindset was down. I cried, just to process all those emotions. It was a mixed of seeing loved ones and seeing the decay of the city.
And now, entering Craiova, I had a little deja-vu. Gosh, it was still a mess. They are working on the mail street as you enter the city from Bucharest, and we had to maneuver around the wholes in the pavement and the building machines. But this mess was a good one. They are working, they are active, they rebuild and renovate. Some argue that this and that is bad taste. Maybe it is. Maybe here and there it is too much. But who cares, when there are so many nice things to look at. Old, historical building renovated, parks rearranged, flowers everywhere, the old city center almost completely redone and car free. Terraces and pubs and restaurants and people wandering around, enjoying the fresh air of the evening….
Together with Alexandra we visited a few places. The English park in the center, where I would cycle round and round on my bicycle while my other grandmother would sit on a bench and chat. And where years later we celebrated wintertime with one of my best friends Alina, while our kids were holding hands and ran around. An old church that was completely renovated and looked stunning in the sunset. The museum of arts where we could almost touch the Brancusi sculptures and where I saw myself walking around in my school uniform when I was as tall as my daughter. Alexandra managed to get us in a building that was already closed, the “University house”, mainly used for weddings and receptions, but where I could marvel at the amazing beautiful old-fashioned fireplaces, and so many of them. We had dinner on a nice terrace where the service was good and the food delicious. And then later on we strolled around in the newly rebuild old city center. Where the southern liveliness kept everyone out and about enjoying the cooler summer evening.
There is still lots to be done, believe me. But it is getting done. Slowly but surely. I love the vibe, the youth, the new perspective. I am sick and tired of all the people who keep staring of all the wholes that are not yet fixed and all the things that are still wrong over there. Of course they still are. It takes time. And a change of mindset and mentality. 25 years after the “revolution” and a new vibe is almost palpable. I love witnessing it. Not only in Craiova. But hey, even in Craiova. I am secretly planning on going back just by myself, on a less hot day. And walk the walks I used to walk. And visit some graveyards….
P.S. “Mercur” was closed for renovation. It’s as old an I am, it was about time…
P.P.S. There was of course a big downside. On the place where our house used to be before they knocked it down, after years of just an empty plot of land in the middle of the city, now a hideous very modern all glass building has risen. Surrounded by old architecture. Very odd. Well….some taste ….
P.P.P.S. It was really too hot to even take pictures. So I didn’t have many to choose from. But take a look here: https://www.facebook.com/burileanu.horiaalin/media_set?set=a.10153218344879755.1073741922.759044754&type=3