Concrete canyons - Jimmy Carter thinks I'm a sinner - CycleBlaze

May 17, 2007

Concrete canyons

We are in Timisoara, the fourth largest city in Romania and the richest. Its place in history is that it is where a cleric called Tokes preached against the communist regime. When the church tried to fire him, crowds gathered outside his house and police moved in to dispel them. When the crowds fought back, the police lost heart and changed sides and so the Romanian Revolution began.

A few days later, Ceausescu was booed in Bucharest and, confused, he abandoned his speech and was in a short time given a minimalist trial and a public execution.

Timisoara is a place with money. It's not another Monte Carlo, obviously, but it's not another Arad. Arad was where circumstance forced us to ride a trans-European highway to cross a river that the map had promised us was bridged where it wasn't. And to ride into Arad was soul-sinking.

What did Romanians do that they're condemned to live in places like this?
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As a sketch of neglect, decay and the greyness that must have overtaken Romania in pre-revolution days, it was perfect. You enter from the west along a broad boulevard, a canyon, of tall, ugly, grey and peeling and crumbling blocks of flats, each sprouting obtrusive balconies that hint at the tiny apartments behind them. Each block is exactly like its neighbour, dozens at a time, each parallel to the road like a matchbox on its side, each a regulation small distance from the next.

On the planners' models, this region of no doubt inexpensive workers' accommodation must have looked good. In sketches, the blocks would have been white or a clean grey. Wide boulevards separated the flats from the road by grass and tram tracks which divided the road passed along still more verdant corridors to the city centre and factories. All along the boulevard would have been trees and bushes. I know that because some of the trees and bushes are still there. What is no longer there is any of the charm, beauty or softness. The grass is threadbare, the whole place neglected and almost menacing. The people have a weariness that suggests not only the drain of living but the knowledge that the chance of escape is less likely than the end of the communist era that had placed them there.

One, two, three of these places would be fine. There are poor neighbourhoods in all cities. There are places for rich people and places for the poor. But in Arad, there was so far as we could see, just poorness. Not necessarily poorness in wallets or what filled a plate at the end of the day but a worse poorness still - a poorness of life.

Romanians are such lovely people. What did they do to deserve all this and the buffoon

The picture is of Ceausescu addressing the Romanian parliament. You don't need to understand Romanian grammar to grasp the rest.
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whose control, or miscontrol, of the economy placed them in such circumstances?

Maybe Steph got it right.

'It's because they were too nice,' she suggested. 'Maybe they were just too warm, too easygoing to make a fuss before it was too late. The French would have taken to the streets. Romania's problem is that here, perhaps, they didn't.'

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