The Houses

I have only inhabited three houses in Romania. The old country house in Transylvania, my mother’s apartment in Bucharest and, later, after selling the old house, in my grandparents’ apartment, two blocks away. In spite of that we felt like having many houses.

Most prestigious was the marble placked 3 stores block that my grandpa called “Lucretzia’s house” right across the street from my parent’s one. It wasn’t Lucretzia’s for many years, there were rich people living there now and each store was inhabited by a different family. The block was nationalized twenty years ago. The original owners, my grandma’s sister and her husband, built three stores in the hope they will be able to keep their three sons close to them even after marriage. It wasn’t meant to happen.

Then there was that villa in a mountain location about an hour drive from Bucharest. During winter and spring, almost every Sunday my mother and me wake up early to take a train to Predeal. For some six hours we were free to wander the woods and the mountain trails around it. We would take the same trail towards the “Cioplea” little mountain and pass this villa. There invariably my mom was saying: “This is Aunt’s villa”. I could never see much of it as there was a tall fir tree wall between the building and the street but she had always some story about her spending time there as a child.

How the “Marechal Antonescu” came to visit and they were “doing politics” for hours. His villa was just a street away and for a time he lived there as house arrest. How her aunt never enjoyed this altitude because of her asthma. How she built the house believing it would cure her youngest son of TB. One particular story always seemed more dramatic than others.

Mom was talking about a little girl she had met and played with. By her intonation I would say it felt like the motherly relation girls develop when in contact with a toddler. She never said it but I would guess that she must have been about eight while the little girl was around five. If I hadn’t dream about it then we also had a photo somewhere depicting this girl very focused on a toy bucket full of dirt in the courtyard there. She was the daughter of a German officer who, for a short time, was visiting Predeal with his family. Later, when the Russian troops were advancing upon Berlin, they poisoned their daughter then both committed suicide. You could tell my mom still felt an overwhelming sadness about the girl.

Then there was the house that my grandparents bought for her as newlywed. That one just disappeared a few years ago. It was a small building situated in  Cantacuzino Plaza, not far from where we lived. It was a particular good area to live in as the plaza had a park on both extremes: to the West the park where we took most of our walks, Ioanid Park (today renamed after a famous violinist) and on the North-East side, Icoanei park. The building wasn’t such a mansion like many in the area, still it had a benefic belle époque atmosphere. While being a corner building its architect refused this condition and the house was square with generous tall windows in the French tradition, the façade cutting through the corner as to leave a miniature triangle garden right in front of it. What made it special was the tiny colonnade on the top that might have delimited a nice intimate but still outdoors space. Around the year of my parents’ marriage the house was for sale because the owners were divorcing.

My grandparents bought it, had the contract done and signed when the owners came in a rush to them. “We decided to give it one more chance, we are not divorcing anymore. Please, please can we drop the sale?” My grandpa tore the contract to pieces and let them keep the house.

Then there were several houses they inhabited as tenants in the times when they were refugees to Bucharest. In 1940 Germany and Italy attributed a large part of Transylvania to Hungary. Romania couldn’t oppose any serious military or political resistance and with that the city where my grandpa was a judge went under Hungarian administration. The Romanian state offered to all state high employees the opportunity to leave the region. That was how they landed in Bucharest in 1940.

First they were allocated this cute tiny house on Praporgescu street, a quiet lane that sneaked behind and around the church with the same name, not far from Icoanei Park. They were four when they reached the place, my mom who was 9 at the time, her parents and her grandmother. Exhausted by the long trip they met the most unexpected scene.

As they were arriving a Jew family was leaving the house. They were expropriated by the Romanian state who in its turn was distributing these houses to the refugees coming from Transylvania. The two families were like in a mirror. They too had their grandma with them and a kid. The two elder ladies embraced each other crying for a long time. I am still amazed that nobody considered refusing the house, though…