Being Brave In Romania #3
The People’s Palace: Armed Men Don’t Like Cameras
Back in Bucharest, we went to see the People’s Palace, or the Parliament building as it’s known today. There were five of us – three Americans, one Serbian and an Australian. We walked for what seemed miles but you couldn’t go around the whole thing. It was too massive. We didn’t try to go in. The guards looked at us strangely.
It’s second largest-sized building after the Pentagon. One has to wonder what the communist dictator at the time—Ceausescu—was thinking. Sure, it’s impressive until you know the history. A hateful thing and nothing more than a glorified mausoleum now. It stands as a reminder of those bleak years when the secret police fired upon protestors, and huge areas of land were replaced with oversized concrete apartment buildings. Not to mention the Christmas execution of the leader himself, but that was a good day.
However, beyond the palace, there is beauty to be seen. I roamed through the streets of Bucharest, gazing at giant mansions with stone statues and carved pillars. Angels and demons alike adorned the window ledges, rafters, and doorways. The whole area is panoramic feast of Romantic, Neo-classical and French architecture.
But you have to be careful. Many houses are foreign embassies with armed guards lurking around the corner and beyond the gateways. You can feel their eyes as you pass by. With one arm resting casually on a semi-automatic, you can’t afford to make them mad. You walk lighter as if you could be invisible, floating across the sidewalk. Hands to your side and your camera hanging lifelessly. This was my strategy. But never try to fool a man with an Uzi.
One of our group starting taking pictures before she knew the danger. There was a flurry of activity. Some angry words we couldn’t understand, and a mad dash for the camera. I shamelessly hid behind a car, hoping they wouldn’t think we were together. It was soon over and we all laughed about it later.
Sitting at a café was the highlight of a long day. Time is different in Romania. You walked everywhere so at mealtimes no one wants to leave. We talked forever. I had to restrain myself from grabbing the bill and heading out right after dessert in true American fashion. Like a kid who fidgets during story time, it took a while to settle in and share my thoughts with those who would soon become my friends.
I can’t remember when I’d ever laughed before this. We had Ciorba (soup with or without intestines), and salad with tuna and tomatoes. Schnitzel or pig’s nape (I’m not sure where a pig’s nape is located but I passed on this one). And we had beer…lots of beer. Tuborg or Carlsberg. The meech was quite good. Small sausages made from a variety of meat piled high on a platter, along with olives, tomatoes, oil and vinegar.
I actually didn’t have anything bad except for a run in with some packaged herring that our hosts tried to pass off as snake. Sometimes those blonde jokes hit close to home. I also believed it when our Australian friend convinced me that in her country babies were started out on formula mixed with beer to get them used to a drinking lifestyle. It sounded right to me – especially on this side of the world.