Apologies for radio silence – the last few days I have had the joy of a brief return to lovely Romania, where I was speaking at a conference in Bucharest. This is the first time I’ve been back since my PhD fieldwork 5 years ago, so I was really happy to be there (even though Bucharest is far from my favourite place in Romania). I was pleased that my language seemed to hold up and I could understand and be understood, and I think it is the first time that I have ever been to Bucharest where I haven’t felt on edge or like I need to be looking over my shoulder (it’s not helped by the fact that I usually stayed somewhere else in the country, and whenever I mentioned I’d be going there absolutely everyone would go “ooh, you really don’t want to go there” and be full of tales of ne’er-do-wells, muggers and thieves). This time I was relaxed, and wandered round more than I ever had before.
The conference went well I thought, and it was great to revisit my PhD material, particularly now that I’m not working on anything related to central/eastern Europe in my new job. I was a bit nervous about speaking, I had run through my paper in the hotel the night before and it went way over the allotted time, so I had to chop out quite a bit of it and I was worried it wouldn’t make sense, but people seemed to like it and asked interesting questions. I also chaired and acted as discussant for another panel the following day, I’d never been a discussant before (it involves summing up and generally making intelligent comments about the presented papers, and asking questions, pointing out areas for development etc) so was a bit nervous about that, but it seemed to go OK too.
The day before the conference I had a free day so as well as picking up some Romanian books from the university bookshop that I’d really struggle to get hold of over here, I did what I’ve been meaning to do but never had the time before, and went on the tour of the Palace of Parliament (known more colloquially as the House of the People – Casa Poporului) which is the massive building that Ceausescu had built in the 1980s, razing thousands of homes and churches in the process, and which is probably the most famous building in Romania, most likely to appear on pictures from Bucharest. I’m really glad I did it, though it was also pretty sobering, remembering all those who had suffered for its construction, and the megalomania that was behind it. The tour took the best part of 2 hours, at the end our guide told us we’d only seen about 5% of the building and had probably walked about 3km.
Here are various photos, firstly the Arcul de Triumf and Herastrau Park, near where I was staying:
Then various photos from inside and outside Casa Poporului (including me on the balcony – apparently Ceausescu intended it to be the place where he and visiting dignitories could wave to the people; this ambition was thwarted by the revolution and the only person who has actually waved to the people from it was Michael Jackson). The first chandelier is apparently the largest chandelier in Europe, and requires 4 people to change a lightbulb – I must admit I couldn’t help but think of *that* Only Fools and Horses scene:
Finally the logo of the Academy where we had the conference. We were given a tour of the building and talk about its history, where it has to be said women were noticeably lacking. In fact amongst all the portraits and photos of distinguished members, this was the only woman we found!