E-Antropolog

Periphery and picturesque outskirts in the Bucharest of modern times

24 august 2012 Adrian Majuru Science and Culture

Purlieu and picturesque – here are two terms Bucharest has combined in an original manner,
during the modern epoch, from the point of view of the urban environment, and
also in respect of the private and public life,involving the people, with their
daily concerns, with their often unfullfilled strivings, their feelings’
frustrations, ambitions, with their small failures a.s.o. What did Bucharest look like,
within its normal discrepancies generated by too hasty an imitation of the
Western urban patterns? The town was developing as an “enraged, picturesque
chaos”. The contrast between the village-looking purlieus with the
decaying  Lipscani area, on one hand, and
the luxury of the superrefined part, the axis of wich was Calea Mogoşoaiei (called Calea Victoriei, after the 1877
Independence war) was, by the middle of the last century, the most charming
peculiarly to the passers-by.

In the central residential area of the town, one could find European-style shops, with summer
gardens and coaches; the Theatre, the Opera and the high life in the Cişmigiu gardens; Italian and Parisian
restaurants, with their foreign entrepreneurs; Viennese coffe houses like the
one called “zum Mohren”, owned by Schedwitz, and occidental cafes, like the one
belonging to Gh.Dertmann; great western/style hotels such as “Hotel de France”,
or “Hotel yur Stadt Wien”; elegant barber’s like those owned by Mme de Wagner
“aus Wien”; very sollicited Viennese modistes, like Amalia Eckerbach or
“demoasela Maria, directriţă de marşanderie” (mademoiselle Marie, directrice de
marchanderie); new houses built by French architects, German bath thouses
opened at St.Elefterie, by dr.Turner and, finally, the Şosea (boulevard) with its hundreds of coaches with brilliant
coachmen and “gold-dipped “Albanian drivers, or the footmen all dressed up in
red, with their long white beards grown down to their belts.

According to Eugene Poujade (British consul from the midle last century), Bucharest was a town of
contrasts where, near the Viennese or Parisian-style palaces, or near the
beautiful dwellings of the high-life, one could see numerous “terrible hovels”;
alongside of elegant women wearing western-fashion clothes one could often meet
peasants dressed like the Dacians used to, two thousand years ago, or Albanians
in dirty clothes, monks smoking their pipes in pubs or sitting on graves, Gipsy
musicians, with their long large robes, wearing their violin, reed pipe or
kobsa at their belt.

The outskirtes offered an especially pictoresque sight, mostly due to the characters who formed the most
“special” cathegories, namely beggars and paupers in general; vagabonds and
thieves; whores (“podărese”) renowned for their fleshly generosity and recalled
even by the occasional foreign visitors a.s.o.

The low life tried to cope with the Occidental social standard imposed by the elite, by the
social and cultural “centre”, s standard the high-life had adopted and claimed
to serve, by  a refinement of Western
inspiration. Great part of the low-life had dificulties integrating this
process. An important part of the suburbanites, of the marginal bourgeoisie and
of ordinary Bucharestan population were to create – beyond their will –
“mangled words, approximative terms, wrong expressions, a funny language” that
was to be bantered by Alecsandri even since the end of the XIXth century,
before offering “the cutting verve of Caragiale, the gibberish talk of his
comedy characters”.

Excepting the semi-bourgeoisie that tended to get integrated into a modern middle class,
there were the “marginals”, partly recalled here-above. Beggars, tramps, the
blind, the thunderstruck, the crippled, prostitutes, impoverished tradesmen,
squit functionaries and servants whose miserable situation often brought them
to dispair-were, all, the more or less picturesque characters of the
Bucharestan modern purlieu.

Who were those marginals?
During the Bucharestan Middle Ages, the word “mişei” defined the crippled, the
blind, the incapable, the thunderstruck, the cracked, the deformed, the
wry-mouthed – that is the “unfortunate”, those plunged into dire poverty, in
one word, the wretched of all kinds. A second term – the “calic” – was
synonymous to “mişel”.

Just like the Oriental or Occidental communities in towns and boroughs, Bucharestans have always tried to
live apart from these miserable creatures that inspired them a superstitious
fear, often quite a sort of “holy fear”. So, the “mişei” and the “calici” were
isolated in a purlieu outside the town – beyond the Dambovitza river where the
pre-modern Bucharest
had its limits,- being isolated even from other outskirts. The fact is stressed
by the almost malefic presence of this fear – first lived individually, then
extended at a collective level – in the medieval (and even modern!) Bucharestan
collective imagination. Even today, remains still exist of this imaginative
dread inspired by the ill-famed areas Ferentari
and Calea Rahovei – the old space of
the ragamuffins (the “calici”).

It seems all towns and
market-towns had their own ill-famed outskirts inhabited by “calici” and that
these were situated in the neighbourhood of – when they were not quite part of
– the so-called Gipsy quartiers. The paupers had a leader – the “staroste” –
chosen from physical or psycological handicap: Simion Ciungul (the Crippled),
Grigore Fulgeratul (the Thunderstruck), Radu Orbul (the Blind), Lisandru Ologul
(the One-legged), Atinia Surdu (the Deaf), Nikita Guşatul
(the Goitrous), Tudor Gură-Stricată (the Ill-mouthed), Gavrilă Gură-puţintea
(the Small-mouthed), or Grigore “ce are cea nevoită” (“who has-the-bound-one”).

The leader of the paupers
was called “staroste de mişei” or “staroste de calici” and had recognition
documents from the ruler; he was authorized to judge the disagreements between
the “calici”. Because his authority was great, order was kept in the purlieu.
There was a kind of tradition, in the pauper’s
quarter, that had in view even the slightest details. For instance, the
beggar who stole the things from another beggar, or those of a deceded one, was
whipped with rods in front of the whole community and bannished for ever.
Unfortunately, we do not have a scientific study dedicated to these marginals,
but a remake of their kind of life possible with the aid of two interesting
references: the novel entitled “The Mysteries of Paris” – that deals with the
peripheral society of Paris, a society somehow similar to the one described
above – and the movie “Francois Villon” which, in the turn, grasps sequences of
the same marginal world of Paris, only dating from the Middle Ages.

Al the streets and paths
in this paupers’ outskirts brought to the road Târgovişte and, because this road was paved (“podit”) with wooden
beams, il was called “Podul Calicilor” (the paupers’ beam-paved road). “It was
by that road – wrote Neagu Djuvara – that, “day and night, long rows of
cadgers, blind, crippled, crawled pitifully, towards the fairs, the churches or
the great crossroads of the Capital. One should not think, though, that this
whole army of beggars was left on its own, lacking order; it had its laws, its
hierarchy, its leaders…”

The “calici” guild was
under the direct sway of the Walachian Metropolitan Bishop, and the principles
of this sway gathered in set of regulations establishing the moral norms of
begging; thus, a beggar was not allowed “to stretch out the hand twice, because
this would near theft”.

Instead, after having
received the alms, the beggar was to leave tha place to somebody else. Paupers
“were not irritate their wounds, for this would mean cheat”. Those who
quarreled in front of the churches “were to be wiped from the list of true
beggars “kept up-to-date by the leader, for the distribution of funds in the
aims box of the Metropolitan
Church.

The rullers seem to have
held an important part in protecting these marginals from others who were not
“calici” but tried to enter the hut or house of a dying beggar. On the other
hand, it was the beggars’ leader alone who had the authority to confer a
new-comer the title of beggar (“calic”) and allow him to settle in the purlieu.

The healthy were not
permitted to settle there. The only problem that occurred, in time, was the
apparition of the Gipsies who, “multiplying like hot ashes, invaded the
paupers’ places”. Quarrels and fights started, according to the “gipsy
justice”, litigations that were appeased by the town judge, by the Orthodox
Church authorities or the voivodal Police.

There were cases –
attested by documents – when land-owners rose from among the beggars
(“calici”), like Oprea Speriatul (the Frightened) who had a vineyard towards
the Licura estate, not far from Cozia.

In the XVIII-th century,
because of their increased number, many “calici” were sent to monasteries, by
princely order, mostly after the year 1795. Their number had increased so much,
by the beginnings of the XIX-th century, that they managed to take advantage of
the anarchy established in Bucharest,
when the ruler Mihai Şuţu and the great boyars fled the Capital, for fear of a
Turkish invasion. The events happened towards May 1802, when “Bucharest had remained a prey to the bald
vagabonds” – those saunterers “kings” or the Old Voivodal Court”, as they were called
because, after the old palace was deserted in 1790, its ruins had become a
refuge of loiterers.

While the poor frightened
bucharestans locked themselves in their houses, the dregs appeared in the
streets, “from everywhere, like rats on a leeway ship”, forming gangs that
started robbing, breaking barrels in taverns, giving in to debauche. Led by
“Malanos bozangiul” – the millet beer seller – the vagabonds took possession of
Bucharest
ravaging the princely court where the “calici” found the symbols of power: the
banners, the sceptre, the voivodal cap, the white horse tails, tokens of the
voivodes.

“And soon – Neagu Djuvara
recounts,- one could see the most amazing cortege passing by the streets of the
town: a madman ahead, wearing the voivodal cap, riding a donkey, dressed in an
expensive mantle, holding the sceptre in his hand, and with the voivodal tokens
tied at the  donkey’s tail and dragged
through the mud. Behind him, a mob howling, monkeying, gesturing”. We should
not be astonished at the saying “as with us, with no one”, the sense of which
is lost in time. The beggars established their grotesque government by a
“carnival of derision”, in the deserted streets where the dogs – and those
frightened, too – were the only ones to show up”, howling day and hight and
thrilling everyone”.

The anarchy was stopped
by a Turkish “Beşleagă” from the Cotroceni palace; the thieves were “risen in
the galows”, and Malanos, the “one-day-ruler”, was hanged in a higher gallows”,
as the “voivode of the calici”, in front of the great gate of the Palace.

The collective memory
preserved a long time their image, by the ironical saying “Greatest among the
small, Staroste of the “calici” beggars’ leader. The beggars’ purlieu was
“driven” outside the town, up the Calea
Rahovei
, towards the nowadays area Zeţari
and Ferentari. Their organization under
the authority of a “staroste”(leader) was to be lost, by the beginning of the
modern era; these “marginals”, these strange people now become an inseparable
part of the social Bucharestan community.

Orders of the Divan are
dated from the beginning of the XIXth century, requesting the “Agha”, the
Spatar and the Police Chief to take charge of these who died in the streets of
hunger, disease, misery or cold – those were to be “buried at once, by the
parochial priest” and the three “were obliged to ensure the expenses,
imediately”.

During the modern epoch,
the last refuge of all kind of vagabonds was the “empire of underground Bucharest”. The
underground Bucharest
was an imposing asylum for the “loafers hiding under the arches of its
bridges”. A world existed in the underground, that “suffered and smiled, lived
and died under the heavy asphalt of destiny”, by the side of the narrow
Dambovitza river “locked in the depths”. What a resamblance between the
“underground Bucharest”
of yore and the one of today!

Often, the destiny of the
thieves was not very happy, most of those were caught being hanged. A
“picturesque” place of the Middle Ages Bucharest and of the pre-modern one was
“the conviction place” where tha gallows were installed. Of course, executions
were public.

The prison was not far
from the Old Voivodal Court,
up the Şepcarilor road. The “guns”
were preserved there, as they called the cannons, in charge of a local
garrison. The common culprits were imprisoned there, strongly guarded; the
noble prisoners were enjailed in the “tower above the gate”. Death penalties
were also executed in the same prison; gallows and pales installed there. On June 25, 1847, the
“Curierul Românesc” newspaper recalled in verses images still present in the
Bucharestans’ memory: “What’s happening at the prison?… Women, men, old and
young/ A crowd gathered, laughs, rumours, noise/ People staring at a convicted
woman/ Who stays sheavy-hearted in the sun, with ther hair shaven”. Since 1840,
the death penalty has disappeared from the criminal code. Other punishments,
such as cutting one arm, torture, seizing of the wealth, were abolished,
“because they were not in the spirit on the local tradition and customs”.

Hard labour was still
maintained, meaning work in salt mines. The most frequently aplied penalties
were corporal, like the famous “falanga”, consisting of shiping one’s toes with
rods. Punishments were administrated in public places Adulterous women were
driven by the streets tied on donkeys, set back to front, and obliged to shout
as loud as they could: “what happens to me shall happen to any one who shall do
what I did”. Also, in the old days, the death executions by hanging took place
on market days. The habit existed, that a convicted could be saved from
hanging, if a free woman asked to marry him. Another image is that of the
orphan tramps who wondered about the roads roaming, and whom the Divan was
sending to various churches that were to raise them. Documents mantion a
certain orphan Alexandru Racoviţă, sent by the Divan to the Snagov monastery
“unitll a decision was reached regarding him”.

Another picturesque
detail of the XIXth century Bucharest
were the dogs who were on the tramp, in the streets. The traveller Stanislas
Bellanger mentioned the great number of dogs that, “being abandoned, have
filled the country and are destroying it. The big towns, they were roaming
fearlessly, in the streets, and, as they were hungry, they were dashing at the
passers-by. According to some statistics, they were in number 30.000”. These
words written at the middle of the last century. Many foreign tradesmen passing
by Bucharest
could notice that the waste gathering was left in charge of the packs of
vagabond dogs who roved through the town undisturbed. This extraordinary and
original co-habitation between man and dog, in an urban environment seems to
have outlived to the present day!

The modernization of the
Bucharestan society had a strong impact upon family life. The customs of the
traditional family – according to which all members were subdued to the father
– gradually disappeared, under the influence of the miss-understood Occidental
ones. With the coming of Russian and Austrian troops, “two calamities emerged,
two diseases that, from then on, were to become endemical” for the Bucharestan
society, and for the urban society in general: card games and adultery.

The Walachian noblewomen
(and townswomen as well), finding out that, in civilized countries, “it was fit
for a woman to have a sweetheart” took two at once, “to be more in fashion”.

By 1840 an old boyar
told, amusingly, to Saint Marc-Girardin, that “with us, the family has no
stability, because it is very easy to get a divorce. (…) Children, who have
their mother in one family, their father in another family, knownot whom to
respect and love, have no centre, no connecting point; women who, at a party,
may meet their first two or three husbands, are arm in arm with their fourth
and smile while a fifth goes round. (…) You can be sure that adultery, as it is
with your country, would be a progress with ours, and that which with you is a
disease, with us would be the beginning of a healing. In our society, adultery
is impossible, because it is just the prelude of another marriage”. (Neagu
Djuvara, Între Orient si Occident. Ţările
Române la începutul epocii moderne,
Humanitas, Bucureşti, 1995).

The models of
co-habitance, and intimate assertion of he private space that the high-life
were following, were assumed by the purlieu population. The number of women who
“offered themselves” increased so much, that their image was described as
typical, by Dapontes in 1736. “Vlaho-Bogdania is beautiful – Dapontes wrote. At
first, Aphrodite has had her reign in Cyprus, exclusively, according to
history; now, she has thrones and kingdoms everywhere, but I guess mostly in
Vlaho-Bogdania, because of the beauty and the indecency of the women there”.

According to Ionescu-Gion, Romanian women were renowed “for their
beauty”, and the Turks coming to Bucharest, only saw those whom the chronicles
called “leliţe”, “talience”, “podane”, as the virtuous ones crept even in
nooks. “So, among the first denominations of women who “offered” themselves
were those of “leliţe”, “talience”, but the most spread term was that of
“podărese” because they were choosing their clients from various wood-paved
(podite) streets called “poduri”. With the new technique of paving the streets
with cubic stone, another syntagm appeared, concerning their activity – women
who “fac trotuarul” (who waylay).

Accordin to Derblich, Bucharest
tended to become an arena of the “hetaire”, that is courtesans, and their
parties often “degenerated in real orgies”. The German traveller recalls that
the “podarese” and all sorts of courtesans “are abundant in the town and
multiply daily, like mushrooms”; one could meet them” in every street,
restaurants, bathing-house or hotel”. Comparing the town of Hamburg, “with its thousand of bayaderes
enlisted”, to Bucharest,
the German traveller considered the German town as being a real Sparthan
village compared to “Hilariopolis, the town of joy,Bucharest”. Was Derblich exagerating?

The British reverend, Robert Walsh, quoted by Neagu Djuvara, whote, by
1825, extremely indignated, about the town “full of taverns that, to allure the
clients, held a certain number of women always ready to dance at the slightest
sign of the customers. Boyars leave their houses, to come here, and spend their
eves with the most shameless women that can bring the disgrace over their
cathegory.

Another British, Wilkinson, was surprised at the great number of these
women in Bucharest,
so that “the former Agha, that is the Police chief, gave the ruler the idea to
set a tax on each of these women, fact that would have brought incomes of
several hundered thousand piastres”. The astonishment of the British was big to
find out the adivce was not followed, even when “it might have met no
objections”.

Ionescu-Gion recalls the names of some old Gipsy women in charge with
placing the young girls – in other words, they played the panders’ part.   The local beauties, and those coming from
Constantinopole, were “delighting, by true oriental refinements”, the senses of
young boyars, after each party. The young girls were in charge of “old wise, obliging
women, like kera Anastasia, like Pitulicea the Gipsy woman, slave of the
Văcăreşti family, like Rădovanca mentioned by Ion Ghica”, women “who knew to
find each of them the rightful and adequate place”.

In time, the state took over the numerous such “activities”, regulating
this type of relationships in “the Guide of the Police Agent like the one
dating from 1895. I quote here – probably for the first time – a fragment of
this document that regulated prostitution:

“(…) E) Prostitution

Art.92 – Whoever will wish to open a bawdry house, shall address the
request to the Sanitary Service, indicating precisely the house where she
intends to install it – the Sanitary Service will agree with the Police
Prefecture and will check ui if the house in view by the petitioner is in
according with the prescriptions in the regulations, and will solve the
petition in maximum 8 days since its recieval. (Art.18 Reg. Regarding the
control of prostitution, pag.1565, cod.com)

Art.93 – Men are not allowed to open or direct bawdry houses (Art.19 idem)

Art.94 – Bawdry houses and the houses of isolated prostitute women (I and
IIIrd class/ women) are not tolerated:

A)
in
the neighbourhood of churches, school, borading schools;

B)  in close vivinity of public gardens

C)  in hotels, bars, taverns, cafes, gardens, restaurants (Art.20 idem)

Art.95 – Prostitute women are forbidden to stay by their open windows;
Curtains at the windows of prostitute dwellings shall always be left down
(Art.53 idem, pag.1572 idem)

Art.96 – Prostitute women are not allowed to stay in front of their houses
(Art.54 idem)

Art.97 – Prostitutes are not forbidden to walk the street indecently
dressed (Art.55 idem)

Art.98 – Prostitutes are forbidden to walk the University boulevard, the
Calea Victoriei street, from the Lipscani St. till the Umbrei St., nor by the
Sfantul Gheorghe garden, by the Episcopiei square garden, by the Cismigiu
garden,  or the Kiseleff road, at hours
when these places are usually frecquented by the public (Art.56 idem)

Art.99 – Public women are not allowed to stay in public halls, restaurants,
cafes and coffe houses”. (“the Guide of the Police Agent, Bucharest, 1895). The
article no.100 – the last one – is torn off the quoted document, so I could not
cite it “ad integrum”. This oficial clearly shows that the modern Bucharestan
society officially tolerated this practice, in certain conditions.

The image of the street woman appears in many
novels written during the interwar period, by authors such as Octav Şuluţiu (Ambigen), N.D.Cocea (Pentr-un petec de negreaţă), Cezar
Petrescu (Calea Victoriei), Petru
Dumitriu (Cronică de familie), in the
plays written by I.L.Caragiale a.s.o.

Regarding sexual minorities, we have no published historical sources to
confirm one reality or another.   Yet,
the historian Neagu Djuvara noted an “amazing story” happened on October 7,
1801, when the Agha Constantin Caragea and another high official notofied the
ruler about a special case. The case was pointed out about a woman who,
“pretending to be a man, got married to another woman, with documents in
order!” The punishment was promt: the said Maria, who became Marin, was lashed
with rods, as well as her godmother. Maria was ther sent to the Viforâta small
convent, by voivodal order, on October 20, 1801. Nothing in mentioned about the
bride. Could this be a case of lesbianism, that the epoch documents have
recorded as an “amazing” happening, or a simple comedy? In beggars’ purlieu –
in its promiscuity – there must have been sexual minorities, hinding there,
from the society, but this can only be a supposition.

Bucharest continued to feel the effects of modernization, including
prostitution, adultery, and the accessories they imply promiscuity, flirt,
sexual perversion a.s.o. continued to exist progressively, during the first
half of our century, but in the same urban marginal social space.

The Gipsy community appeared in the Bucharestan medieval purlieu – they
were slaves from monasteries (mainly those of the Metropolitan Church, whose
dwellings were to be found on the 11 June St. of today, in close proximity to
the beggars’ purlieu) and from the boyars. The rulers also had quarters of
their own Gipsies.

Gipsies were sold, like an ordinary marchandise, offered as gifts,
exchanged, branded, enlisted on dowery inventaries, or used as a pay for
various services.

Thus, Smaranda Văcărescu received from Vienna a new coach valuing 160 gold
ducats that she payed with 30 Gipsies. Even debts were payable in Gipsies. The
Minister Emanoil Grădişteanu payed doctor Constantin Darvari two young gipsies.
Examples may go on.

Voivodal Gipsies were divided in four classes: “rudari”, “lingurari”,
“ursari” and “lăieţi”. The first had the privilege to search for gold; the
“lingurari” were the only stable ones, manufacturers, closer to the population;
the “ursari” payed their special taxes, and the “lăieţi” were nomad, had more
freedom, by their kind of life, but were different from the others.

By their handicrafts, gipsies were divided as follows:

a)   artisans,musicians, smiths…, who were slaves at the boyars’ abode

b)  copper-smiths,tinsmiths, metal searchers, among whom many were Mohammedanists,

c)   vagabond Gipsies, who had robbery and theft as their handicraft.

As a pay for their work, Gipsies received food, lodgings and clothes from
their masters. A special cathegory among Gipsies were the musicians, who
enjoyed facilities other gipsies were not allowed to.

Gipsy fiddlers were organized in a guild, had a leader, and were present
only in voivodal towns, free and more tolerant. The boyars allowed them to sing
at weddings, dances, and other parties of the community. The domestic Gipsies –
women were more numerous – bustled about kitchens, pantries, gardens, under the
attention and supervision of their bailiff who “wore a whip in his shoulder,
ready to lash the lasy and the talkative, at the slightest sign of the kitchen
major”.

The domestic Gipsies of the boyars were treated badly, dispised, slapped or
beaten at the slightest mistake. The principle had taken shape, in the
collective Romanian mentality, that “one can get nothing out of a Gipsy without
a whip”.

The Divans decided the abolishment of the Gipsy slavery, in 1874 in
Walachia and, respectively, in 1855 in Moldavia. The document was afterwards
promulgated by the voivode.

I have made this short description of the Gipsy community, because Gipsies
were involved in a series of crafts today disappeared and having their
picturesque note one to their content and their social significance. Till the
beginnings of the modern epoch, there was a craft of “masalagiu”, followed by the one of “Fanaragiu” both
performed by boyars’ Gipsies.

The “masalagiu” accompanied the boyar, while the latter had to go to
town. The Gipsy was wearing some iron grates, on which black oil rags were
stuck (the rags were called “masalale”). Hence the denomination of “masalagiu”.
One or several masalale bearers ran in front of the coaches, at night, to
lighten the way.

In time, the “masalale” were replaced by street lamps. By the middle of
the last century, a company of “fanaragii” was founded, whose task was not only
to watch the street lamps burn at night, but also to protect the inhabitans of
the town against thieves and tramps”.

These night guardians – who were later on called “caraule” – wore clubs
that they used, when notocing shadow creeping at night, by some street corner,
as they shouted “Stop! I’ve seen you!”

Another
disappeared professional cathegory is that of “telali” – sellers of second-hand
clothes. Initially, the  trade was
practiced by jews only, but later on, Gipsies joined in. The trade was
detrimental to the street Bucharestan commerce, as we can find out from the
“Circular of the Interior Departament” dated June 29 1841, addressed to the
subprefects and regardind the “telali”; in order to stop their activity, it was
decided that “no one, from now on, should practice the trade of telal unless
allowed by the ruler”. At 1895, street commerce was already organized according
to modern regulations.

We cannot end the description of the
complex picturesque landscape of the outskirts, without mentioning the usurer,
in fact a merchant who “exchanged Romanian money in foreign ones and foreign
ones into Romanian.” All those usurers opened the first pawn-shops. Their place
to be taken by bankers, later on, the exchange houses were to become famous in
Bucharest, mainly during the interwar period, an although usurers could still
be found at hidden street corners, such as the usurer on the  Calea
Moşilor
  crossing the Patriei St., by the years ’30 of our
centuty.

*

          Bucharestan outskirts preserved their
picturesque note, throughout the tormented course of the town history. Often
tragical, sometimes grotesque, very little peaceful or happy, but
self-sufficient, the picturesque life of the purlieu should be brought back to
light, from oblivion. The outskirts, were the predilect space of the marginals,
of those who tried to survive, going through misery and poverty, in a
tumultuous town called either “The Small Paris”, or “Hilariopolis, the town of
joy”, or “arena of the whores”.

The purlieu was a real crucible that
absorbed varied elements of rural or semi-urbanized population, a filter
through which the process of entering the town was feet from the point of view
of some long-lasting experiences of poverty and misery; a world careful at the
neighbour’s movements; a world where any inattention was a prelude for
explosive, dispising gossip that hardly ever ended; a complex space with an
homogenous, get allogeneous  population,
with good or less-good Christians, with virtous or vicious women; a very
dynamic universe where urbanism and urbanity, culture and civism had
difficulties in penetrating or were groping and often stumbling in the mud of
roads – slushy in Autumn, dusty in Summer.

Unfortunately, no unitary study was
ever dedicated to the marginal world in the Bucharestan purlieu. It was a world
that, for certain, has many things to show and there are many things to
discover corcerning it. Fragmentary images of the outskirts appear in published
sources such as the monographies dedicated to Bucharest by historians like
Ionescu Gion, Constantin C. Giurescu, or Dinu C. Giurescu. The more recent
publishing of the historian Neagu Djuvara’s book – quosed in the text – should
also be mentioned.

Studies and articles were written, –
more less specialized – about some streets in Bucharest, about buildings with
long histories,  but we know nothing of
the people that animated them, or who lived around them: nothing about the
dramas, fulfilments, frustrations, guests of these people – the Bucharestans of
yore – whom we find looking – attentive and dreamy – at old collection
photographs.

The present approach has intended to
gather – as possible – the people of this unexplored space of the purlieu, so
shortly presented in these lines.

Written by Adrian Majuru,

Translated from Romanian by Liana Ivan – Ghilia

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