Weeds

 

A writer lived here once.

Once there was a house standing over here and people living in it. Laughter was heard and there was the swish of dresses and steps scurrying over the stairs; someone would open a window and call the children to the table, in winter it smelled of log fire and in summer of stew. They were all thrown out into the street one spring day without prior notice and scattered away.

The next inhabitants moved into the house. They were many, glum and more savage. These new people wore boots and didn’t draw the entrance door nicely behind themselves anymore: slamming would latch it shut anyways. Strangers to one another and leery, they’d share the bathroom and the kitchen. The eggs and the flour were only for some and did not suffice for all. The house seemed to have more locks and latches now than ever before. A small dog in the yard, some chickens behind the house, and by the end of the summer the cabbage barrel was overturned, so the neighbors would get its smell floating in the air for three days. Crossing old Costache’s yard, rats would pay visits to the hen-coop. They’d quickly steal something from there and run back past the fir tree on their scrawny little feet. Like the new man, they didn’t seem to draw doors closed after themselves anymore: they didn’t need to.

As times changed, these inhabitants disappeared as well. New owners put guards at the gate, so nobody would trespass. They raised the fence higher. Behind it, the house could no longer see into the street. But it didn’t play any role now, all the new owners cared about was its land. The empty house grew more and more sad. Sometimes, a poor man would come hide and sleep upstairs on a mattress, guarded by a shaggy dog. Pigeons had started to nest in the attic.

One night, while everybody was busy with their Christmas baking, the house was set alight. Although you could smell the smoke through the closed windows of the police station on the corner, the firemen took their time to get there and only arrived the next morning… They hosed so much water on the house that its roof came crashing down, taking with it the floor were there once were the children’s rooms and the master bedroom, and bringing it one floor down to the large living room where the Ionescus lived until the 1977 earthquake.

The following winter, people came with machines and razed down what was left. In spring, ashamed, plants struggled to cover the remnants of the house: first a few timid weeds gathered, then the foul smelling ailanthus came with his sisters, the acacias. Together they slowly crawled over the charred pile. Now they’re all hiding behind an even higher fence. Everything is defined by its fence in these times.

The House


Once upon a time, I passed this house on a central street in Bucharest with my grandma. It must have been around 1986 and we were on our way to visit grandma’s friend, Olga, who lived in the old town.

The house was one-storeyed, with several rooms aligning in an L-shape on the corner of a busy street with a narrow pavement. The street windows started at a low height, as if its residents were leaning on the passersby’ shoulders from inside their rooms. A crest placed between two windows adorned the main facade.

In the back, a derelict garden with a cherry tree and some junk gathered in the corners showed that several inhabitants shared the space and that they were probably not living well together.

‘There used to be a piano in the round room once’ grandma suddenly uttered, without any introduction.

‘How would you know? You were in the house once?’

‘They used to play the piano in the room on the left, when you walked in, sometimes when they had guests. Then they danced through the rooms, through the large double doors, from one room to the next…It was a long time ago. Now different people live here.’

Then I forgot all about it. Years passed, the regime pretended to change and brought along decade long trials for recuperation and ownership. Grandma was getting old and tired, but decided to fight for the house that once belonged to her aunt who had run away and never returned.

So we got the house, but only partially. In the middle section, according to law no. 112, an old inhabitant was allowed to go on staying there, without paying any rent, occupying the bathroom and living room. In order to go from the kitchen area in the back of the house to the front rooms, one had to pass through the garden. Just before the old guy died, he brought in his daughter, an alcoholic who kept living there for a few years, still without paying rent to anyone, neither to the state, nor to us. That was not according to the law, but every trial phase she was supported by a rich investor who wanted to build a hotel over a few lots there and had planned the entrance to the parking garage on the place of our house.

By now all our funds were depleted by the trials and maintenance costs and we had but one solution for dealing with the house, besides selling it: let someone live in it for the effort of taking care of it, fixing its leaking roof and draughty windows. So, a young couple moved into the non-linked rooms. They had to cross the garden to go to the loo in the back every time, even in wintertime.

More years passed. One day, the tenants called and told us there was a strange odour coming from under the drunkard’s door. The woman had passed away days ago, without anybody checking on her.

Police came, the forensics came, the neighbours came, but nobody wanted to be the one to open the door. Mom had to do it in the end, like so many other things that nobody else wants to do.

A few days passed by and suddenly some unknown relatives of the deceased showed up and claimed the tile stoves. Dad chased them away.

By the time the couple moved out, their daughter had already started school. Their living there had saved the house from being burned down: on several occasions, especially on public holidays, someone had put fire to the house from three different sides.

Now the house looked battered, but was finally ours to use. After some more renovations, I lived and exhibited in it for a few months, and then it was rented out.

On some mornings I wake up under the impression I’m still living there, in the old house that always welcomed guests so generously. 

It’s all gone. Palmyra

There are no words to describe the absurd horror of blowing something up that was built with such delicacy and skill as the temples of Palmyra.

Temple of Bel. 2004No situation describes the actual times better: a bunch of uneducated fanatics runs around blowing up in a matter of minutes what has been put up more than 2’000 years ago with more skill and craft than we can deliver today with modern machinery.

Great Colonnade at Palmyra, 2004.

Actually, it’s all about looking for hidden treasures to fund warfare and making it look like religious zeal.
The powerful nations keep away, it’s about antiques and therefore not their (democracy-spreading) business. The residents, intimidated and destabilised, begin fleeing towards those very democratic countries, whose governments are then taken aback and don’t know how to react.

A July morning in 2004, 6am

Memories of walking down those majestic streets 22 m wide ten years ago and passing the imposing walls and columns 12m high almost choke me now. I had hoped to come back one day in a month other than July.

Until May 2015, all people passing had respected the work of the ancients. 

The sands would have taken better care of the ruins, had they never been retrieved from it.

The amphiteatre, 2004. 20 people were shot here in May 2015. Ten times more were killed until August, at least one third were civilians..

There is nothing to go back to. Gone are the marvels now. Their guardian died trying to save them from looting and destruction. The valiant head of Antiquities Department in Palymra for 50 years, Khaled al-Asaad, 82, was captured, interogated about hidden treasures for one month and then, for his refusal to cooperate, beheaded last August in front of the very ancient stones he was trying to protect.
Do stop using the word ‘execution’ for similar acts: there is no ‚lawful penalty’ or ‚state’ or ‚trial’ linked with this kind of attrocity. It is murder.

Altar. Temple of Baalshamin, built in 131AD. 2004.

What happened since last August? The loathed bunch of freaks finances its existence by selling loot. I wonder who’s buying. And who keeps selling dynamite to creatures which ruin in one day what took years to accomplish and stood there for 2’000 years.

A lizard hiding in the altar wall, 2004

Once, under Queen Zenobia, this was a place of both power and tolerance, where different eastern and western cultures interacted. Not even the Mongolian Timurids dared to destroy what survived from the Neolithic times and what the Romans had built under Diocletian.

Destruction in 2015. ©REUTERS/Social Media

Meanwhile, there are 60’000 people trying to flee from this madness – and Europe keeps debating and discussing, trying to sit it out, make it go away.

While everybody sits around yapping and bawling on overpriced devices designed in California and made in China about the rights of borderline cases in countries whose people don’t give a flying fart about what happens here.

 Jordan, Za’atari, Syrian refugee camp, 2013. 122’700 people and 5’000 coming in every day. From Wiklipedia

Places are being pillaged and there are more people on the run than after WWII – but nobody seems to care about what Syria is going through or see the great efforts Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon are making right now.

Jordan, Za’atari refugee camp, opened 2012, fourth largest in the world. Photo: Brian Sokol / UNHCR

So many lies everywhere. These are dark times and the end is nowhere near in sight. Let us please at least stop lying to ourselves.

The way in. ©The Economist from August 29th

Later edit, November 12th, 2015. The refugees are in Europe. Almost everywhere. Not in Romania, where there’s nothing much for them to be found except animosity and poverty.

In generous Germany’s harbours there are 80’000 people waiting for something. And winter’s coming.

The Pharmacy

‘Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind’

Long time ago, before the World Wars, there were two German pharmacies in Bucharest. One was Thüringer’s, on 43, Elisabeta blvd. the other one was ‚La Ochiul lui Dumnezeu’ (‚At God’s Eye’), opposite to Stirbei Palace, on Calea Victoriei 138.

In 1939, on the occasion of the latter’s centennial anniversary at that location, a collection of ancient pharmaceutical devices was exhibited in the windows of the corner house: jars, tin pots and delicate scales, graters, mortar and pestle sets of various materials, to grind powders from which lozenges and ointments were made.

Behind the house, in a herb garden, various plants were cultivated for their specific uses:
thyme, for cough drops, sage, for disinfecting tinctures, several species of mint, for the stomach troubles, valerian, for treating insomnia, marjoram and lavender, against pain and unrest, rosemary, against migraines and blood pressure, dill and fennel for tummy teas, chervil for the eye bath.
Celandine (rostopasca), said to cure infections and even tumors. Centaury and artichoke thistle, as antioxidants, for liver, rein and blood problems. Horsetail, hemostatic and similar in effect with today’s aspirine. Yarrow (‚soldier’s woundwort’, or ‚coada soricelului’), that would stop bleedings.

This phial contains a few age-old grains of juniper, called ‘Wachholder’ in German. It was probably taken to the household for the kitchen cupboard and thus escaped the pharmacy’s fate.

Mr. Carl Schuster, the owner, had come from Transylvania in 1829 and opened a pharmacy in Bucharest. His brother Gerhard had also opened one in Vienna, on 18, Währinger Strasse, under the name of ‘Zum Auge Gottes’ (which means the same in German).

Gerhard and his sons all died in the First World War. Today the Viennese pharmacy moved to 79, Nussdorferstrasse.

Carl Schuster married in 1840 in Brasov and brought his wife to live with him in Bucharest. Their granddaughter Friederike married in 1920. Her husband, Albert Prall, was a 2m-tall officer freshly out of the Theresian Military Academy in Vienna. He left the army to study and become a pharmacist as well, in order to be able take over ‘God’s Eye’ one day. His story here.
When the Second World War started, Martin Schuster, Carl’s son, was already too old to be enrolled. He spent most of his time at the pharmacy, trying to offer help to whomever needed it.

The tides had turned: Romania switched from neutral at first, to the side of the Axis Powers after the Soviet invasion in Bessarabia and Bucovina. On the 23rd of August 1944, King Michael I removed marshal Ion Antonescu and Romania joined the Allied Forces.
In a tempestuous withdrawal, during three days, the Luftwaffe covered Bucharest with a carpet of bombs.  (This, after the Allies had severely bombed the city on Easter that year.)

On August 25th an infantry platoon in company of two tank destroyers rounded up Legatia Germana at 174, Calea Victoriei (opened in 1880, became later Cazino Victoria). Not accepting the defeat, German Embassador Manfred von Killinger shot his secretary first – and then killed himself.

When the sirens started howling again the following night, Mr. Schuster refused to go to take shelter in the Stirbei Palace cellars, claiming that he had to be at the pharmacy, in case somebody would have needed help.
In an attempt to hit the 52.5m high building of the Telephone Palace, the National Theatre on Calea Victoriei was put to ashes. The whole neighbourhood was set ablaze, as the bombs also hit the gas pipes on the main streets.

Eventually, as people from the palace returned and insisted again, Martin Schuster joined them, but left the pharmacy unlocked: he pulled the door shut by its handle, saying that someone might still need bandages, disinfectant or pain killers.

One of the last bombs fell into the pharmacy’s ventilation shaft that night. It landed in the basement and detonated the building together with its herb garden.

Coming out of the shelter the next day, he found the door handle on the pavement.
That – and a bundle of papers that had been locked in a safe – were the only remains of ‘God’s Eye’.

Eventually, with the help of his son in law, he put together a new pharmacy, which was nationalized in 1948. While returning from work one night in March of 1952, Albert Prall was killed by drunken soldiers, together with his Turkish colleague, whom he was trying to protect from being bullied in the street.

But this is a different story.
Albert Prall’s daughter is my grandma.
My mother was born in 1948.

Update on 2017-01-12 12:23 by Doro

Today I helped grandma out with the Christmas tree. I climbed up the ladder and got the box with the decorations down from the top shelf. The box!… one more piece that survived from the pharmacy!

May you have a peaceful and happy Christmas with your loved ones! May we never know hardship and duress.