I visited Bucharest, Vienna and London the week before last on a round trip by plane, tugging along my little suitcase. What is it that permits air travel to be so unpleasant? Why don’t train companies stuff their carriages with tiny seats? Why don’t the operators of stations force you to walk, on a winding and inefficient route, through a shop full of shiny tat, if you want to get to the platform? Why don’t providers of city transport charge more if you’re going to or from the railway station? (€4,50 in Brussels, 9 lei in Bucharest, €12 in Vienna, £22 in London)
But I’m getting off the subject.
I hadn’t been to Bucharest before. I believe that in the 90s it was used as the set of a British TV series of Maigret stories, pre-war Paris no longer being present in Paris itself. I liked the warm colours and inventive balconies of the older buildings that remain:
and the 70s buildings too:
(This is where our conference was. A colleague’s parents were married there.)
The many street and park trees in the city centre were part of this warmth. I visited a shady churchyard. Out of open church doors came Orthodox singing. There was a bell dated 1856 inscribed in German and Greek, and two wide plane trees in good leaf.
The notices in front of the trees tells us, in Romanian, that this tree is protected, it is resistant to pollution (which explains their popularity as city trees) and can reach a diameter of 2 metres and an age of 300 years. I wonder how old these two are.
I also saw quite a few silver birch, with half or so their leaves gone, and silver birch and oaks as park trees. But no hollyhocks or horse chestnuts (not a single one, except the one that overhangs our garden, in all this set of investigations).
Cars parked freely on pavements. Street design seemed to favour the car. I saw no bus lanes.
I had a haircut in Mr Blade the Barbershop. It cost 40 lei = €9. I ate fried pressed cheese and garlicky mashed beans in a restaurant where late Johnny Cash played on a loop. In the suburbs, electricity cables were slung between telegraph poles. Sometimes they were hung about with ivy.
I flew on to Vienna. The city centre buildings felt heftier, portlier, while street trees were half hearted. The leaves of the plane trees that I saw were drying.
Out of sight, though, behind the 18thcentury “Palais” which was the venue for the event I attended, was a calm garden with grass and gravel paths and big trees. A rose still bloomed.
(There were two plane trees and two silver birch in the garden, but this picture gives the idea of the place best.)
In the early mornings there was a taste of autumn in the air. In a city with more trees I think I would have smelled it too.
At a book reading I met a Romanian student whose parents are Hungarian-speaking. She went to a German school in which the language of the playground was Romanian. She didn’t know how to answer the question, What is your mother tongue? To help her someone had said, In what language would you keep a journal? Reflecting on this, for a few days I tried keeping my journal in French, the foreign language I speak least badly. I can write most of the things in French that I would write in English, but I don’t like it when I do. Even though I add in some twiddly bits (il semble que l’on, for example, rather than il sombre qu’on), the sentences still come across as too short. And it takes me twice as long. I’ve reverted to English.
A week or two ago, two city electric scooter clubs launched in Vienna. I saw the scooters everywhere. You leave it where you want; people come at night to put them back where they live.
Respecting local culture, I would wait at the kerb until the green pedestrian light showed, even if it was safe to cross on red. It irked me. The lights themselves made me laugh, though.
I know London better than Bucharest and Vienna. The city centre was busy the first day I was there, so there wasn’t much chance to think about trees.
The next day, Sunday, I visited suburbs in north London. I can confirm that, as in the cliché, they are leafy:
In East Finchley we visited Cherry Tree Park. I didn’t find the cherry trees but liked this oak:
It was only in Bucharest that I had a chance to play a game – Pax Renaissance, by Phil Eklund.
It is about trade, government and religion at the end of the 15th century. London and Vienna both feature on the map, as does a city on the Black Sea called “Bielograd” which I decided could be considered to be in Romania.
In my last blog I wrote about the names of trees in different languages. I said that”
In French a horse chestnut… is a “marronier”; but a non-horse chestnut tree is a “châtaigne”, though its fruits are “marrons”.
Marie P. says, however, that it is more complicated than this:
Marronnier is effectively the word for the tree which produces non-edible fruits which we call marrons (non-edible but so shiny and pretty! I always pick a big nice one on the first day they fall down and keep it all winter in my bag!).
The other one is called Chataigner and that’s where the subtlety is. Its fruits are called “marrons” when they are sold on the streets – in winter you can hear “maaarcho” (actually “marrons chauds”) yelled by the guys who sell them – when they are sweet – as in marrons glaces or crème de marrons – but if you order a dish of meat… the thing will then probably be called “châtaignes” (which is a bit more posh). Don’t ask me the rule – I have no clue, because you will say un gâteau aux châtaignes but un Mont-blanc aux marrons…
Sorry for being so complicated and making life hard to non-French!!
No need to apologise, Marie, this brings me only joy. Now, does anyone know, is the plural of silver birch silver birch?