Chorographies of Memory: Everyday Sites and Practices of Remembrance Work in Post-socialist, EU Accession-era Bucharest

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This thesis explores processes of remembrance work in contemporary Bucharest, while considering memory’s relationships to cognitive, discursive, sensory, material, and visual realms. Through writing …

This thesis explores processes of remembrance work in contemporary Bucharest, while considering memory’s relationships to cognitive, discursive, sensory, material, and visual realms. Through writing and film, it draws attention to memory’s social, political, corporeal, and immaterial trajectories. This thesis posits memory as both entity and activity, continually constituted through physical and mental processes, in material objects and spaces of the imagination.
Focusing on the current EU accession-era context, I address how changes in Romania’s global framework intersect with remembrance practices at local, individual levels. By analysing Bucharest residents’ lived experiences, recollections of the past, and anticipations of the future, I seek to unravel complex dynamics of contemporary post-socialist “transition.”
I explore the active, contingent ways that personal memories weave in and out of social and ideological rhetoric, often taking on unexpected, idiosyncratic forms. Rather than viewing the boundaries between individual and collective memory and between official and unofficial commemoration as exclusive barriers, I interpret them as sites for engagement and interaction. I follow memory’s presence through objects, discourses, and spaces, and trace its movements between overtly commemorative and inadvertently memorial realms. My attention to arenas where memory is less obvious or visible— ordinary city landscapes, disregarded personal storage spaces, and commonplace interactions around money and food—sets my thesis apart from literature that disregards remembrance work outside explicitly commemorative contexts.
My film Lumina amintirii (In the Light of Memory) problematises notions that memory is a straightforwardly visual phenomenon, and that it may be represented literally through visual means. The film incorporates creative shooting and editing techniques to reflect fragmentary, haptic, multi-layered experiences of recollection. Transcending film’s representational capacities, I mobilise its affective, evocative modes of operation, to draw viewers into more emotionally intimate and analytically complex understandings of memory.
Central to my work are imaginative experiments I devised to provoke “felt” memories in my collaborators and to enable me to grasp their sensory and corporeal implications. These methodological innovations define my fieldwork, my film-work, and my writing as dynamic, relational processes shaping—rather than merely reflecting—my research.

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  • 1. Chorographies of Memory: Everyday Sites and Practices of Remembrance Work in Post-socialist, EU Accession-era Bucharest A thesis submitted to the University of Manchester for the degree of Ph.D. in the Faculty of Humanities 2010 Alyssa R. Grossman School of Social Sciences
  • 2. Contents List of Figures....................................................................................................3 Abstract..............................................................................................................5 Declaration.........................................................................................................6 Copyright statement..........................................................................................7 Acknowledgements............................................................................................8 Chapter 1: Introduction....................................................................................10 Chapter 2: Urban Landscapes..........................................................................47 Chapter 3: Forgotten Interiors.........................................................................78 Chapter 4: Money Events..............................................................................110 Chapter 5: Affective Tastes...........................................................................144 Chapter 6A: Lumina amintirii (In the Light of Memory) [Film, 40’]............168 Chapter 6B: Memory and the Visual.............................................................169 Chapter 7: Concluding Remarks....................................................................193 Bibliography...................................................................................................203 Filmography...................................................................................................232 Appendix A: Memory Objects.......................................................................233 Appendix B: Memory Meal Invitation (Romanian).......................................239 Appendix B1: Memory Meal Invitation (English).........................................240 Appendix C: Memory Meal Responses.........................................................241 Final word count: 61,041 2
  • 3. List of Figures Fig. 2.1 Scaffolding on Victoria Street...........................................................55 Fig. 2.2 Skyscraper on Mihalache Boulevard.................................................55 Fig. 2.3 New thermopane in old house............................................................56 Fig. 2.4 Shop window, Luterana Street...........................................................57 Fig. 2.5 Neon advertisements in Victoria Square............................................59 Fig. 2.6 “New home. New habits”..................................................................60 Fig. 2.7 “Living in a block isn’t what it used to be”.......................................60 Fig. 2.8 Armenian Street: “The street where I banged up Dad’s car”….........61 Fig. 2.9 Hyacinths in Dan’s courtyard, Berceni district..............................63 Fig. 2.10 Replacing the cobblestones..............................................................64 Fig. 2.11 National Theatre (1930s).................................................................71 Fig. 2.12 Novotel with reconstructed National Theatre façade.......................71 Fig. 2.13 Hunger Circus, Rahova district........................................................73 Fig. 2.14 Hunger Circus-turned-mall, Vitan district.......................................73 Fig. 3.1 Advertisement in Tabu Magazine………..........................................84 Fig. 3.2 Tania and Marius in their living room..............................................88 Fig. 3.3 Inside the bench/storage space...........................................................89 Fig. 3.4 Tania’s collection of knitting needles............................................92 Fig. 3.5 Zoltán in his basement storage room...........................................95 Fig. 3.6 Chamber of Horrors, Peasant Museum basement..............................99 Fig. 3.7 Marx/Engels/Lenin statue, Peasant Museum courtyard...................102 Fig. 3.8 Busts of Lenin, Chamber of Horrors................................................104 Fig. 3.9 Transporting Lenin from the Chamber of Horrors..........................105 3
  • 4. Fig. 4.1 10,000 lei, post-communist paper banknote from 1994..................112 Fig. 4.2 1 leu (RON), post-communist plastic banknote from 2005.............112 Fig. 4.3 50 lei, communist banknote from 1966...........................................118 Fig. 4.4 1,000 lei, post-communist paper banknote from 1991....................121 Fig. 4.5 2,000 lei, post-communist plastic banknote from 1999...................122 Fig. 5.1 “Super sensations from 1964. In a bigger bar” billboard.................156 Fig. 5.2 “Surf DERO. The fragrance from the best years” advert................157 The images in this thesis are mine, unless otherwise specified. 4
  • 5. Abstract Chorographies of Memory: Everyday Sites and Practices of Remembrance Work in Post-socialist, EU Accession-era Bucharest. Alyssa R. Grossman Ph.D. thesis, University of Manchester This thesis explores processes of remembrance work in contemporary Bucharest, while considering memory’s relationships to cognitive, discursive, sensory, material, and visual realms. Through writing and film, it draws attention to memory’s social, political, corporeal, and immaterial trajectories. This thesis posits memory as both entity and activity, continually constituted through physical and mental processes, in material objects and spaces of the imagination. Focusing on the current EU accession-era context, I address how changes in Romania’s global framework intersect with remembrance practices at local, individual levels. By analysing Bucharest residents’ lived experiences, recollections of the past, and anticipations of the future, I seek to unravel complex dynamics of contemporary post-socialist “transition.” I explore the active, contingent ways that personal memories weave in and out of social and ideological rhetoric, often taking on unexpected, idiosyncratic forms. Rather than viewing the boundaries between individual and collective memory and between official and unofficial commemoration as exclusive barriers, I interpret them as sites for engagement and interaction. I follow memory’s presence through objects, discourses, and spaces, and trace its movements between overtly commemorative and inadvertently memorial realms. My attention to arenas where memory is less obvious or visible— ordinary city landscapes, disregarded personal storage spaces, and commonplace interactions around money and food—sets my thesis apart from literature that disregards remembrance work outside explicitly commemorative contexts. My film Lumina amintirii (In the Light of Memory) problematises notions that memory is a straightforwardly visual phenomenon, and that it may be represented literally through visual means. The film incorporates creative shooting and editing techniques to reflect fragmentary, haptic, multi-layered experiences of recollection. Transcending film’s representational capacities, I mobilise its affective, evocative modes of operation, to draw viewers into more emotionally intimate and analytically complex understandings of memory. Central to my work are imaginative experiments I devised to provoke “felt” memories in my collaborators and to enable me to grasp their sensory and corporeal implications. These methodological innovations define my fieldwork, my film-work, and my writing as dynamic, relational processes shaping—rather than merely reflecting—my research. 5
  • 6. Declaration No portion of the work referred to in the thesis has been submitted in support of an application for another degree or qualification of this or any other university or other institute of learning. 6
  • 7. Copyright statement i. The author of this thesis (including any appendices and/or schedules to this thesis) owns any copyright in it (the “Copyright”) and she has given the University of Manchester the right to use such Copyright for any administrative, promotional, educational, and/or teaching purposes. ii. Copies of this thesis, either in full or in extracts, may be made only in accordance with the regulations of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester. Details of these regulations may be obtained from the Librarian. This page must form part of any copies made. iii. The ownership of any patents, designs, trade marks and any and all other intellectual property rights except for the Copyright (the “Intellectual Property Rights”) and any reproductions of copyright works, for example graphs and tables (“Reproductions”), which may be described in this thesis, may not be owned by the author and may be owned by third parties. Such Intellectual Property Rights and Reproductions cannot and must not be made available for use without prior written permission of the owner(s) of the relevant Intellectual Property Rights and/or Reproductions. iv. Further information on the conditions under which disclosure, publication and exploitation of this thesis, the Copyright and any Intellectual Property Rights and/or Reproductions described in it may take place is available from the Head of School of Social Sciences (or the Vice-President) and the Dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences, for Faculty of Life Sciences, for Faculty of Life Sciences’ candidates. 7
  • 8. Acknowledgements My doctoral research was funded by a School of Social Sciences Studentship, an Overseas Research Student Award, and a North American Foundation Award from the University of Manchester. During my fieldwork, I received additional financial assistance from the Romanian Cultural Institute in Bucharest. A Europa Fellowship from the New Europe College in Bucharest helped me complete this thesis. I wish to thank my supervisor Sarah Green for her invaluable insights and constant support, and for encouraging my work from the very beginning. Many thanks to Andrew Irving, my co-supervisor, for his useful suggestions and for continually pushing me to grapple with new ideas. Stef Jansen offered constructive research guidance, and filled in as supervisor while Sarah was on sabbatical. Weekly research seminars at Manchester and the New Europe College in Bucharest provided stimulating environments in which to develop and discuss my writing. I appreciate Paul Henley’s and Sue Brook’s expert editorial advice on my film and their steadfast help throughout the filmmaking process. Gary Kildea offered wise counsel and unwavering encouragement as I struggled to find my way through my film. Ileana St!nculescu and Artchil Khetagouri provided much moral and technical support; their documentaries and our conversations were an inspiration. I am especially thankful to Selena Kimball for our many years of artistic and intellectual collaboration, for creatively challenging disciplinary conventions, and for engaging me on so many levels. In Bucharest, Alina Ciob!nel made time when I sought her professional and personal advice, and has been a true friend. My kitchen table discussions with Zoltán Rostá" were always so enjoyable, and taught me much about everything. Ioana Vlasiu, Nicu"or and Fotinica Gliga, Marius and Tania Gomoiu, Cristina Crinteanu, Adrian Vasilescu, Irina B!descu, Elena R!dulescu, Paul Drogeanu, and Ruxandra Catinca R!dulescu offered much kindness and greatly assisted my research. With Eugenia Brenda, Sorina Chiper, C!t!lin D. Constantin, Dan Diojdescu, Diana Georgescu, Domnica Macri, Claudia Popescu, and Lucian Stratulat I shared many thought-provoking conversations. I am extremely grateful to the Fulbright Commission of Bucharest for granting me a fellowship in 1999-2000; this helped set my research in motion. Ioana Iieronim, Mihai Miroiu, Barbara Nelson, and Corina Danaila-Guidea were particularly generous with their resources and time, and have continued to involve me in Fulbright-related activities in Romania. Friendships made at, and through the Museum of the Romanian Peasant enriched my fieldwork in imaginative and inventive ways—thanks to #erban Anghelescu, Ana Birta, Adina Br!deanu, Ioana Daia, Daniela Gherghina, Ruxandra Grigorescu, Gabriel Hanganu, Kazimir Kovács, Cosmin Manolache, Maria Mateoniu, Vintila Mih!ilescu, Roxana Moro"anu, Lila Passima, Monika 8
  • 9. P!dure$, Ioana Popescu, Dorel Rusti, #tefan Sîrbu, C!lin Torsan, George Turliu, and Ciprian Voicila …and to the memory of Horia Bernea and Irina Nicolau, for cultivating the spaces for these connections to grow. I wish to thank my parents, Mary MacArthur and Richard Grossman, for their love and support, and for copy-editing the final version of my thesis with fine-tooth combs. I am especially grateful to Mark Bingley for seeing me through the ups and downs of all of it, and for cooking all those delicious meals, especially during the final stages of writing. 9
  • 10. CHAPTER 1: Introduction Opening In October 2007, during the final stretch of my fieldwork, I attended the premiere of “Amalia Takes a Deep Breath,” a one-woman play at a small, independent theatre in Bucharest. The play consisted of monologues by the fictional character Amalia, spanning her life from when the Romanian communist regime was instituted in 1947, through the 1989 Revolution,1 to the contemporary post-socialist “transition” era. It was followed by an open debate entitled “Romanian communism: between living memory and cultural memory.” The play’s references to the past were similar in tone and subject matter to stereotypical discourses of recollection in the local media and other public spheres. Yet the post-performance discussion revealed a more intricate, multifaceted picture of memory and its operations. As I consider below, the performance and debate together provide a framework for many of the issues explored in this thesis. They offer a lens for ethnographically examining how commemorative activities in present-day Bucharest both conform to and challenge broader theoretical classifications. They demonstrate how individual and collective memories, as well as “official” and “unofficial” practices, are often deeply intertwined. Amalia’s story included commonplace narratives about youth, education, work, family, relationships, and death, with her personal experiences positioned against the backdrop of broader and more exceptional social, historical, and political forces. Born into a bourgeois family, Amalia had a carefree childhood until the state nationalised and confiscated her house. 1 There is much debate about whether the events that took place in Romania in December 1989 constituted a spontaneous, popular revolt against Ceau"escu’s communist dictatorship, or a preengineered coup organised by officials from international states. Although the latter theory has strong evidence to confirm it, to call it a “so-called” or “stolen Revolution” (as it is often labelled) fails to acknowledge the very real and courageous participation of many ordinary citizens in these momentous events. While I keep this controversial history in mind, I use the term Revolution (without quotation marks) throughout my thesis. 10
  • 11. She spent the rest of her life in a working-class block of flats in Bucharest, with a series of proletarian jobs. Her monologues conjured up what it was like to be a young communist Pioneer, to wait in long queues for food, to maintain a household in the midst of controlled shortages of heat, water, and electricity, and to hunger constantly for greater access to the “outside” world. Descriptions of everyday events were coloured by references to politics and propaganda, such as in this ironic comment by Amalia at the age of twenty: Thank you for teaching me what to speak and how to speak—beautiful words such as “division of labour,” “multilaterally developed socialist society,” “agricultural co-operative,” “class struggle,” “monolith,” “five-year plan,” “industrialisation,” […] “three-day queue,” “censorship,” “Chernobyl,” “edible chicken claws,” “Dacia 1300,” “eight square meter luxury studio with toilet and shower,” “evening TV news” – and to forget ugly words such as “passport,” “Cocacola,” “chocolate,” “King,” “psychoanalysis,” “Greek Catholics,” “Mercedes,” “oranges,” “Europe,” “freedom,” “me,” “God” (Nelega 2005: 22-24).2 The play presented post-Revolutionary Romania as an unmanageable ruin: chaotic, impoverished, and desperate, with people struggling to repair the “damage” from 45 years of communism. In the early ‘90s, at the age of 55, Amalia found employment as a janitor at Otopeni airport. While scrubbing the toilets, she observed, “Sometimes it’s hard to take a deep breath, because now that we have liberty, and the borders have opened, lots of foreigners come and go, but shit still smells like shit” (Nelega 2005: 39). The story ended in the early 2000s, with Amalia on the verge of death in a retirement home, babbling incoherently about a past that now seemed to her like a “dream.” Amalia’s narratives of the past resembled those I had encountered time and again during my visits to Romania over the last decade. Such repetitive and recognisable discursive patterns, as Green describes in her own fieldwork on the Greek-Albanian border (2009: 1), may be interpreted as performances of certain stereotypes and ideologies, indexing particular social and political positions. As she notes (ibid 4), they serve as a counterpart to Herzfeld’s notion 2 Some of these references are, in fact, anachronisms, presumably unnoticed by the playwright. Amalia would have been twenty in the early 1960s, which would place this statement long before the Chernobyl disaster, the prevalence of chicken claws in Romanian butcher shops during meat shortages, or the production of the Dacia 1300 line of cars (all commonlyreferenced features of the communist 1980s). Yet the anachronism significantly reveals how individuals’ memories (those of the playwright, in this case) do not always follow “unidirectional movement[s] from past to present to future” (Schwarz 2003: 141), as many institutionalised discourses often attempt to do. 11
  • 12. of “structural nostalgia” (1991, 1997), where reminiscence patterns draw upon structured and romanticised ideals of social solidarity. The more conventional recitations of cultural memory I encountered in my fieldwork tended to follow similar lines, at times assessing the communist past as a period of stability and security, when the state provided its citizens with education, jobs, and housing, and people bonded together in times of hardship. At other times the past was cast in a moralistic light, pathologised as unhealthy and damaging, judged as an “aberrant” interruption of “normal” community life, its political and social impacts positioned within frameworks of victimisation.3 Yet as Green observes (2009: 14), such predictable, public recitations necessarily co-exist with idiosyncratic, personal recollections. In the debate following the play, the spectators’ remarks confirmed but also contradicted Amalia’s narratives. The commentary was lively, sometimes contentious, and by no means consistent or unified. Particularly noticeable were the rifts between generations, sparked when an older audience member pointed out the irony that Amalia was played by a young actress who undoubtedly shared very few memories with the very character she was supposed to embody. Another spectator asked whether anyone under the age of thirty could have understood the play at all, without having been a “victim” of the recalled events. A student in his early twenties interjected, saying he considered himself a victim of capitalism, not communism. There were audible sniggers of disbelief throughout the room. “Things like censorship may have gone on before,” the young man insisted, “but they still happen now, only in different ways.” Not just the younger generations expressed a need for more nuanced critiques of the past. As one spectator stated, “Some of us suffered from communism. Others benefited from it. Naturally the past will be remembered differently by different people.” One middle aged woman commented how communism should not be viewed as a homogenous historical experience, as Romania’s communist leaders had followed different agendas, and even Ceau"escu’s own policies had been inconsistent over his four decades of rule. As the evening came to a close, an elderly man observed that the discussion 3 The 1950s and the 1980s in particular tend to be categorised as periods of intense political repression and hardship (Kligman 1998; Verdery 1991a, 1996). I often heard about the “three F’s” of communism: frica, frig, !i foame, or “fear, cold, and hunger.” 12
  • 13. had provoked him to reach beyond the clichés depicted in the play, and instead of judging the past, or declaring whether communism was good or evil, to reflect about more fundamental, existential human experiences such as “life, death, and salvation.” As this conversation indicates, the audience members demonstrated a highly reflexive awareness of the dynamics of remembrance work in Romania’s public sphere. Even the debate’s bifurcated title, “Romanian communism: between living memory and cultural memory,” points to growing local concern not just for discussing a particular past, but also for examining the ways in which this past currently is being discussed. While this audience consisted primarily of urban intellectuals and artistic elites, who undoubtedly had a more heightened consciousness of public memory work than other segments of the population, their contributions brought the evening closer to incorporating the multiple, conflicting, and reflexive remembrance activities I had been encountering in the messy, informal processes of my fieldwork. Dichotomisations of Memory (1): Individual vs. Collective My research seeks to soften two major dichotomisations perpetuated by much of the related literature: individual vs. collective, and official vs. unofficial, forms of memory. Most 19th century investigations of memory, focusing on its biological and psychological properties, neglected the role of social relations in processes of remembrance. When Halbwachs (1992 [1925]) introduced the concept of collective memory in the 1920s, he was one of the first to suggest that remembering was not just an individual, intellectual means of retrieving information, but a socialised activity, consisting of constructions and revisions of the past adhering to the “totality of thoughts” of larger groups or the “predominant” ideas of society. According to Halbwachs, networks such as families, religious orders, social classes, and generational cohorts all utilise shared sets of logic to recall and reproduce the past (Lowenthal 1985). Subsequent research has drawn upon this concept of “collective” or “social” memory to analyse the ways in which remembrance work functions in the 13
  • 14. interests of certain power structures and operates within particular groups— from peasant settlements to women’s movements to national communities— contributing to constructions of personal and political identity (Fentress and Wickham 1992). This definition of the “collective,” however, seems too simplistic and all-encompassing for contemporary analyses. Even when referring to a specific association of people, a group does not necessarily comprise a fixed or enduring entity. Neither are individuals limited to mutually exclusive collectivities; they may be members of multiple groups simultaneously, or possess marginal, atypical, or dissenting positions within a group. Nor does a “group mentality,” no matter how powerful, automatically eclipse individual agents’ understandings and expressions of their own experiences. It is more effective to identify the influences of the collective as shared or social “frames” of memory (Goffman 1986, cited in Misztal 2003: 91; Gross 2000: 81; Irwin-Zarecka 1994), implying that recollections may be simultaneously individualised and coloured by the “prevailing customs, conventions, and institutions of one’s time and place” (Gross 2000: 83). The majority of participants in the post-performance discussion, for example, could identify with the topics in the play, whether they had lived through these events or learned of them second-hand; these feelings enveloped us all into a provisional yet discrete space of collective memory. At the same time, the varied comments reflected diverse generational, social, cultural, and national experiences, but also different personalities and temperaments. Any commonly held recollections circulating in the theatre undoubtedly carried distinct connotations for each individual. In this thesis, I contest Halbwach’s portrayals of social memory as allpervasive and determinative, and individual memory as subservient to the interests of a larger group. I interpret “social memory” or “collective memory” as societal frameworks that provide certain “structures of recall” giving us “memory cues” (Gross 2000: 133), but do not completely control the contents or operations of these memories. They may enable certain groups to feel a “unity and particularity” of identity (Assmann 1995: 132). But this identity must be seen as plural, involving numerous intersecting and competing systems 14
  • 15. (Foucault 1977: 161). It is necessarily transient and contingent (Canefe 2004; Delich 2004; Neyzi 2004; Todorova 2004), involving paradoxes and ambiguities, with any broader consensus accepted for the sake of “convenience and solidarity” (MacDougall 1994: 268-9). Such a shared body of knowledge, representations, and commemorations of the past is never settled. Rather, it is continually updated, depending on the shifting values and goals of individual citizens and the state. Dichotomisations of Memory (2): Official vs. Unofficial Just as memories are intricately bound up with social dynamics, they are also often deeply entangled in political and institutionalised contexts. While many discussions of memory tend to treat “official” and “unofficial” remembrance practices as separate realms, the combination of formalised performance and impromptu discussion in the Bucharest theatre pointed to the enmeshed nature of these arenas (also see Jansen 2002: 77). The production was professionally staged and formally organised by a cultural institution, but the spontaneity of the debate gave it a less “scripted” air. Yet even though Amalia’s memories and the spectators’ recollections were grounded in separate discursive registers, it was impossible to cleanly divide the recited monologues from the spontaneous commentaries. By agreeing with certain narratives, and questioning others, the theatre-goers simultaneously engaged with stereotypical, “dominant” accounts, considered each others’ more idiosyncratic, individualised recollections, and generated alternative ones of their own. Taken in its entirety, the evening illustrated the complex ways in which memories filter in and out of ideological rhetoric and personal narrative. In this sense I position my own work against studies of the politics of memorialisation which focus exclusively on formal, public discourses, underlining state and institutionalised roles in inventing and sustaining traditions linked to social and national identities (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983). Such analyses evaluate how official commemorations demonstrate hierarchies of power, class, race, or gender (Davis 1994; Zerubavel 1994), reinforce 15
  • 16. hegemonic notions of cultural heritage (Koonz 1994; Sherman 1994), or commodify and commercialise memory (Gillis 1994; Nora 1989; Wieseltier 1993). Others point to “anti-monument” movements that counter institutionalised memories through alternative interventions (Boym 2001; Young 2000), or through the “re-appropriation” of state authorised spaces or landmarks (Barris 2001; Rozentals 2008; Stratford 2001; Verdery 1999). Many such investigations regard institutionalised and state-directed memorialisations as spaces of resistance, with individuals challenging standardised interpretations and attributing new significance to old commemorative forms (Crapanzano 2004; Edkins 2003; Wanner 1998; Werbner 1998). While such approaches may contribute towards broader understandings of the power relations integral to any memorial practice, they tend to perpetuate black-andwhite models of “true” and “false” traditions (Mizstal 2003: 61), or simplify the act of official commemoration as a mere “cheat, something which ruling elites impose on the subaltern classes” (Samuel 1994: 17). Such enquiries also raise key issues connected to ongoing debates about the distinctions between “history” and “memory.” For centuries, both processes were regarded as equivalent and interchangeable routes to “truth.” In the preliteracy age, the oral transmission of memory was the sole means for storing and accessing knowledge about individual identities and cultural traditions (Gross 2000: 1-2). Ancient Greek theorisations of memory (Casey 1987: 14) cast it as a scientific avenue into “empirical” reality (Aristotle), as a secular “faculty of knowing” (Plato). Such positivistic models prevailed in much subsequent research. The bourgeoning presence of documents, archives, and museums in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries secured the positions of memory and history within modernist paradigms of realism and objectivity (Misztal 2003: 42).4 However, the recent fixation with memory in the social sciences and humanities, often referred to as the “memory boom” (Berliner 2005: 197; Boym 2001: 61; Cattell and Climo 2002: 6; Radstone 2000: 8), 4 Notable exceptions to this trend include Walter Benjamin’s and the French surrealists’ understandings of memory, which I will explore in greater detail below. 16
  • 17. signalled a fundamental shift in the “late-modern” age 5 from viewing recollections as transparent, objective, and dispassionate records of the past, to regarding them as more subjective phenomena (Misztal 2003: 46), unstable and unreliable (Gross 2000: 4). These approaches highlight memory’s “equivocations and ambivalences concerning truth” (Radstone 2000: 7-9), its “contestatory […] and subversive qualities” (Fabian 2007: 77), its lack of critical distance and analytical rigour (LeGoff 1992: xii), its “personal” and “emotional” elements (Archibald 2002: 80), along with its ties to fantasy, subjectivity, and the imagination (Johnson 1991: 76; Pardo 1991: 53). Although I support the ways in which such perspectives embrace the contingencies, indeterminacies, and particularities of the processes of memory, I take issue with their tendency to separate “true” memories from those “manufactured” in the interests of political ideology or national identity. LeGoff, for example (1992: xi), views memory as the “raw material” of history, more “dangerously subject to manipulation” than history because it functions in the realm of the “unconscious.” In his monumental study of symbolic constructions of the French past, Nora (1989: 12) claims that society’s obsessions with archiving has transformed “living” memory, or unspoken and unselfconscious traditions, reflexes, and habits, into a “reconstituted object beneath the gaze of critical history.” In Nora’s eyes, these contrived “sites of memory” are the result of positivist and nationalist reconstructions, detached from reference points in living reality. Such positions rely on extremely restricted definitions of history and memory. On one hand, they simplify the idea of an “historical reality” (Nora 1996: xvii), overlooking evidence that the “historical imagination” incorporates numerous subjective and phenomenological influences more akin to the realms of memory than many academics would care to admit (see critiques by Assmann, in Alloa and Goppelsröder n.d.; Papailias 2005: 5; Samuel 1994: 339; Schwarz 2003: 141). They also tend to describe memory discourses as symptoms of a monolithic “modernity” where increasing instabilities of time and space under the alienating effects of late capitalism generate new 5 Gross (2000: 155) defines this term as referring “roughly to the period since 1950 […] in the West, in which most of the ideals, values, and aspirations of the last three centuries have been exhausted without being transcended.” 17
  • 18. “obsessions with the past” (Huyssen 2003: 6), accompanied by the “historical emotion” of nostalgia (Boym 2001: xvi), the “effacement” of memory (Connerton 2009: 87), “cultures of forgetting” (Gross 2000: 109), and structural amnesia (Huyssen 2003: 21). These perspectives undervalue the potential for memory (and forgetting) to diverge from nationalist or political agendas, and to be just as strongly influenced by local, generational, popular, linguistic, or individual factors. They additionally underrate the presence of uncalculated (and sometimes even inadvertent) remembrance sites and practices occurring in unofficial, private, or transient spaces. I am concerned with how “telling the past” may be a “highly political” and contested activity (Natzmer 2002: 161), a “site for struggle over meaning” (Hodgkin and Radstone 2003: 5) where people strive to meet certain needs of the present (Cattell and Climo 2002: 16). But polarising the private and the political on a large scale may only wind up preserving structures of power and domination, and neglecting the ways in which people often challenge and transform those relations in everyday ways (Ludtke 1982: 47). As Fabian argues (2007: 96), the “politics of memory does not begin when memories are being used and contested but when presenting memory as collective makes it usable and contestable.” I move away from reproducing the stark dichotomies of history and memory, from viewing modes of remembrance as either dominant or subordinate. My work gravitates towards a more processual and interactive investigation of the dynamic and contingent ways that ordinary people are interpreting, perceiving, remembering, communicating, and questioning elements of their daily lives. Although I subscribe to the “collapsing of personal and public” domains (Hodgkin and Radstone 2003: 8), and view the line between official and unofficial realms as blurred and ambiguous (Ballinger 2003: 21), I still acknowledge distinctions between them. Such boundaries need not be seen as barriers, but rather sites for their engagement and interaction. I use the term “cultural memory” to refer to realms of institutionalised or public remembrance work (Assmann 1995), including both first-hand and indirect experiences (Misztal 2003). These memories materialise primarily in institutions such as libraries, museums, schools, archives, and monuments, and permeate 18
  • 19. discourses in politics, religion, mass media, academia, and the arts. This designation, however, does not assume a loss of personal agency or a subordination of individual, private recollections to collective, authoritative ones, but rather an overlapping and permeability of these dimensions (Canefe 2004: 78; Fentress and Wickham 1992: ix). In this vein, I employ the phrase “sites of memory” not as Nora (1989) defines “lieux de mémoire,” or formalised spaces of memorial heritage that have replaced “living” memory, but rather as a broad range of locations where official and unofficial forms of remembrance work may occur. I regard the interchangeable terms “communicative memory” (Assmann 1995), “non-commemorative memory,” (Misztal 2003: 69), “oppositional memory” (Gross 2000: 134), and “counter-memory” (Boym 2001; Fabian 2007; Foucault 1977) as distinct from cultural memory. According to Assmann (1995), communicative memories are not always deliberately commemorative; they tend to occur in non-specialised, spontaneous contexts, through jokes or gossip, in waiting rooms, at the dinner table, in passing conversations. In Foucauldian terms (1977: 146), counter-memories challenge the search for origins, teleologies, and fundamental truths about the past. They dispute perceptions of time as an “unbroken continuity that operates beyond the dispersion of forgotten things,” revealing instead the “unstable assemblage of faults, fissures […] accidents, and deviations” that make up people’s lives. They are identifiable through approaches resembling Benjamin’s notion of “historical materialism,” reading the intersections of past and present as dialectical, non-progressive “constellations,” legible only at certain moments, and detectable not through authoritative master-narratives, but by sifting through overlooked cultural forms and devalued fragments of ordinary life (Pensky 2004: 77-83). The Everyday Unremarkable settings and incidental happenings of day-to-day life were key focal points of my fieldwork in Bucharest. I did encounter cultural 19
  • 20. memories mobilised in political discourses, commercialised as commodities and brands, materialised in public monuments and museum exhibitions, and exploited in literary, artistic, and academic works. I preferred, however, to delve into the less obvious communicative memories residing in casual exchanges, informal narratives, household objects, and unremarkable landscapes outside of official or institutionalised spheres. These remembrances wove in and out of banal conversations that I participated in and overheard; they materialised in the regular paths I traversed throughout the city. Often inadvertently invoked, sometimes only fleetingly acknowledged or recognised as memory, they nonetheless formed a perceptible backdrop to my daily routines. By focusing on ordinary spaces such as city landscapes (Chapters 2 and 6), domestic interiors (Chapter 3), and interactions around commonplace artefacts such as food (Chapter 5) and money (Chapter 4), I investigate realms where the political is inextricable from everyday settings and activities. I regard politics as more than the mere imposition of impersonal superstructures onto people’s personal lives (see Gardiner 2000: 9). My attention towards everyday aspects of remembrance work pursues a “micropolitics” of daily life (Burawoy and Verdery 1999: 14; Koshar 1994: 215), revealing how Bucharest residents are currently negotiating and redefining the structures in which they live. Investigating the relationship between individual experience and larger social forces may show how Foucauldian apparatuses of governance and power operate at ground level, but it can also highlight people’s roles as creative agents taking charge of and influencing such processes (see de Certeau 1984; Gardiner 2000; Mirzoeff 1998). As Gardiner writes (2000: 16), it is the very “‘messiness’ of daily life, its unsystematized and unpredictable quality, that helps it escape the reifying grip of nomotheitic social sciences and technocratic planning.” According to De Certeau (1984: 34), subjects do not unconsciously or passively absorb the habitus of their culture, or “cohere with the constructed, written, and pre-fabricated space through which they move.” On the contrary, they often are highly aware of the “infinitesimal procedures” and “tactics” they can use to transform, invert, and manipulate ordinary activities such as “dwelling, moving about, speaking, 20
  • 21. reading, shopping, and cooking,” giving them subversive or alternative meanings (ibid 40). The everyday has, of course, been the primary focus of anthropological attention from the discipline’s beginnings. Many contemporary ethnographic accounts, however, tend to regard the everyday as a means to an end, as an avenue for understanding deeper structures, principles, and belief systems. My research challenges such a perspective. I borrow from the work of sociologists such as Benjamin and Simmel, philosophers such as Lefebvre and De Certeau, and artists/ethnographers such as the French surrealists and the British mass observationists, all of whom focus less on such a-temporal generalisations and more on the textures, qualities, and particularities of everyday life itself. Such alternative strategies of research and interpretation have proven more conducive to capturing the sensory, fragmented, and impressionistic qualities of the mundane than most conventional anthropological approaches (Highmore 2002). Though my own practices varied widely, I utilised particular procedures and techniques from the above sources, to inspire my fieldwork processes as well as the written and visual articulations of my findings. Chorography “Chorography” refers to a process of regional mapping (Casey 2004: 261). First coined by Pomponius Mela in 44 C.E., it became known as a narrative genre of human and cultural geography (Glick, et al. 2005: 186). In the 17th century, a group of British scholars revived the practices of chorography, re-establishing it as a short-lived yet significant school of “antiquarian-historical” study (Mendyk 1986: 480). Their works describe not just cities and towns, but also characteristics of the land, its flora and fauna, and its human inhabitants. Their preferred methodology was “perambulation,” wandering around and visiting places (both in person and through documents), gathering impressions of architectural forms, landscape features, artefacts, and historical events, as well as collecting regional anecdotes, poetry, legends, customs, even etymologies of local words (ibid 468). They focused on the 21
  • 22. commonplace features and happenings of local regions, preferring to analyse ordinary people rather than elite or royal lines of descent (Helgerson 1992, cited in Samuel 1994: 46). Just as important as the physical proportions of landscapes are the ways they are lived in and perceived by their inhabitants. As opposed to charting a topographic site, which by Cartesian, metric dimensions may be interpreted as empty or “vacuous,” a chorography encompasses an inhabited region, where “the body imports its own implaced past into its present experience” (Casey 1987: 194). My thesis similarly endeavours to chart diverse emotional and imagined geographies. As my analyses of Bucharest’s public and private landscapes demonstrate (Chapters 2, 3, and 6), I am concerned with people’s embodied experiences of local realms, and the relationships between place and perceptions of the present, memories of the past, and projections of the future. In my discussions about literal and perceptual constructions of the city (Chapter 2), and interpersonal interactions around money (Chapter 4), I explore the impacts of the passage of time upon space, which other “topographical” studies of the past tend to neglect.6 I also embrace the artistic sensibilities of the early chorographers, employing my own experimental and innovative research methods to access the sensory dimensions of remembrance work (Chapters 3 and 5). Field Methods Although each of my chapters details its own methodologies, I provide here an overview of the theoretical frameworks underlying my varied practices. My doctoral fieldwork occurred during the fifteen months between August 2006 and December 2007, the primary time frame informing the writing in this thesis. My experiences in Romania, however, date back to 1997, when I first travelled there for a month as a tourist. This experience and my subsequent visits over the next decade shaped my own repertoire of memories of the country’s post-Revolution history. Particularly significant were the fifteen 6 For example, see Fabian’s (2007) critique of Zerubavel’s Time Maps (2003). 22
  • 23. months between October 1999 and December 2000 when I had a Fulbright grant to research Romanian ethnographic museums, and was based at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant in Bucharest. I went back in 2004 and 2005 to make two short ethnographic films as part of my MA at the University of Manchester’s Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology. I also returned to Bucharest after my fieldwork, with a Europa fellowship from the New Europe College, where for six months I attended weekly seminars and continued writing-up my thesis. When I arrived in Bucharest in 2006 for my doctoral fieldwork, I was fluent in Romanian, and enjoyed an extensive network of social and professional contacts, which helped connect me to a wider sphere of individuals and institutions. This personal history greatly facilitated my ability to settle into the daily rhythms and routines of fieldwork. While my perceptions inevitably filtered through my outsider’s perspective, my own memories of Romania’s previous decade amplified my understanding of my collaborators’ recollections, and deepened my appreciation of the complexities of the phenomenon of memory itself. Although I had not experienced Romania under Ceau"escu, my presence there in the late ‘90s and early 2000s gave me a closer acquaintance with people’s descriptions of the communist past, as many people agreed that it was not until 2003 or 2004 that Bucharest began to undergo drastic and more distinctly “post-socialist” transformations. As its literal and symbolic contours continued to rapidly change, I was also faced with the challenges of unlearning what I thought I already knew about the city, and was constantly revising many of my expectations about living there. Because of my previous experience collaborating with the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, I took as my fieldwork “base” one particular office at this museum, shared by about a dozen staff members in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. This setting was a hub of social, literary, artistic, and anthropological activity, with food, drink, and music often stemming from the big, round table in the middle of the room. Everyone divided their time between the office’s three computers; nobody seemed to have a fixed schedule; outsiders were constantly stopping by to chat. While the bulk of my present research does not connect to the museum’s official policies or practices, having such regular and close 23
  • 24. interactions with this group (mainly anthropologists who were also writers, artists, and musicians) became an important part of my programme, helping me to meet other Bucharest residents of all ages from a wide array of professional backgrounds. Other people I had known over the years, such as my former landlady and her relatives, parents of friends, and colleagues’ acquaintances, expanded my contacts beyond predominantly intellectual spheres. Rather than targeting specific groups or categories of people to observe or follow, I let my daily activities and personal connections drive my fieldwork. As I describe in Chapter 6, for example, my decision to film in Ci"migiu Gardens was inspired by the fact that I lived just a few minutes away from the park. This proximity had led me to consider it a familiar extension of my own living space, with the park taking an affective place in my own repertoire of memories about the city. As with studies of everyday life, researching the topic of memory requires a departure from traditional fieldwork practices. Many of my activities involved a material and corporeal engagement with field sites and collaborators going beyond the scope of participant observation. In order to supplement my intellectual understandings of a past that I had not experienced, I had to facilitate my own visceral and emotional recollections “by proxy,” or “knowing through someone else’s accounts” (Casey 1987: 81). I improvised certain experiments, actively provoking my own and other people’s memorial capacities using sensory stimuli such as food (the “memory meal,” described in Chapter 5), material artefacts (Chapters 3 and 4), and interactions with my surrounding landscapes (Chapters 2 and 6). These activities led me to treat such objects and places not as records or reminders of the past, but as “inducers of reminiscence” (Casey 1987: 110), to set further processes of recollection in motion. Exploring remembrance work through filmmaking additionally gave me access to ideas and emotions (as well as methods for communicating them) that I otherwise would not have encountered. As my own memory was simultaneously triggered through these activities, I gained a more embodied knowledge of my collaborators’ recollections, which enhanced my empathic understanding of the objects and narratives that were meaningful to them. 24
  • 25. As I explain in Chapters 2 and 3, my investigations of Bucharest’s urban landscapes and household interiors were influenced by the surrealist custom of flânerie, which could be interpreted as a specifically urban version of the “perambulations” of the British chorographers. The French surrealists considered their home city of Paris a “complex, unstable organism” with marvellous and banal qualities, a “mysterious, unsettling, and intriguing place” to explore as flâneurs (Walker 2002: 114). They often roamed its neglected corners, searching for connections between “architectural form, psychic charge, and social mythology” (Foster 1993: 170). Benjamin (1999) was also an advocate for using flânerie to interpret the historical and psychological significance of city streets, shopping arcades, and interiors of dwelling spaces (Rice 2004: 278). As flâneurs typically engage in the deliberate act of undirected wandering, absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells of “metropolitan modernity, with its myriad cross-cutting interactions, its momentary shocks, and its fleeting impressions” (Frisby 1984: 100), it is logical to liken such behaviour to that of an anthropologist in the field. As Frisby notes (ibid 97), the flâneur’s practices of “reading, recording, extracting, ordering, reconstituting, deciphering and the like” are comparable to ethnographic activities. While my own adoption of flânerie involved a higher level of emotional involvement than the term customarily implies, my explorations of Bucharest similarly veered towards its disregarded, undervalued spaces as I scoured the “cultural detritus” of the city (Foster 1993: 159) for “wish images” (Benjamin 1999), social histories, and communicative memories. Rather than regarding such a practice as a form of “salvage ethnography,” or part of an anthropological, imperialistic longing to hoard and dissect decontextualised fragments of “disappearing” objects, memories, and cultural traditions, I maintain that piecing together such traces of the past may also be a holistic, constructive process of interpretation. The surrealists themselves were less concerned with salvaging society’s ruins than with awakening a “revolutionary desire” to recover and reclaim what capitalist culture had deemed oldfashioned, irrelevant, or useless (Foster 1993: 165). Valuing such trivial phenomena as flea market trinkets, outmoded architectural structures, and 25
  • 26. marginal urban spaces highlighted their function as “little disruptions” in the current social order (Foster 1993: 161). As Benjamin observed (1999: 205), gathering these remains and reconstructing them through new, creative forms may contribute to deeper understandings of the “epoch, the landscape, the industry, and the owner” from which they have come. My fieldwork practices also drew upon certain information-gathering techniques of the mass observation movement, a British sociological association formed in the 1930s. This movement’s founders—an anthropologist, a journalist, and a poet—employed paid and amateur researchers alike to collaborate with the “man in the street” in order to compile information about everyday habits and social behaviours (Madge and Harrison 1939: 10). Combining artistic and scientific sensibilities, they used experimental methods of data collection they called “continuous observation” (echoing the surrealists’ “automatic writing” techniques), and kept diaries of “dominant images” from day-to-day life, such as gestures, symbols, and daydreams. In addition to my anthropological field notes, I kept mass observationstyle personal diaries, recording impressionistic descriptions of people, images, thoughts, and experiences. I also kept collections of news clippings, photographs, copies of letters I had written from the field, and random scraps that had accumulated in my pockets at the end of each day. My fieldwork extended beyond more conventional activities of semistructured interviews and participant observation to encompass seemingly trivial or inconsequential situations, such as waiting for the bus, buying stamps at the post office, listening to the radio, or walking through the park. This approach led to the unsettling but curious feeling that I was constantly doing fieldwork at every moment, yet at the same time never really “doing fieldwork.” I remained open to memories wherever and whenever they might surface, rather than anticipating them in particular contexts. Whenever I organised activities to provoke people’s memories and discussions about the past, I asked my interlocutors to write brief statements reflecting on these events (see Appendices A and C). This practice evoked the mass observationist penchant for using questionnaires and written self-evaluations to stimulate people to reflexively articulate elements of their lives they normally took for 26
  • 27. granted. The written statements I received often contained subtler, more contemplative accounts and reminiscences than verbal elicitations alone. “Imageric” Writing Depicting the everyday through writing “in a way that doesn’t destroy it” (Highmore 2002: 39) is no easy task, particularly when one is situated within traditional academic paradigms that privilege and reward detached, jargon-filled analyses. In the wake of the “writing culture” debates from the ‘80s and ‘90s, anthropologists concerned with producing engaging and innovative texts still struggle to find alternative models that nonetheless fulfil disciplinary requirements and conventions. Stewart offers an inspiring example of “narrativizing a local cultural real” (1996: 3) in her ethnography of an Appalachian coal-mining region. Using ethnopoetic notation, narrative interruptions, and lyrical descriptions, she constructs a written account that serves as an “allegory of the cultural processes it is trying to re-present” (ibid 7). DeSilvey (2007: 404) writes about processes of recollection using associative leaps and poetic descriptions, what she calls “writing through the grain of things.” Similarly, Pesmen’s ethnography of the Russian “soul” (2000a: 16) incorporates textual layering, evocative language, and shifts in narrative direction as alternatives to typically Western academic tactics of calculation and precision, echoing the transcendental, elusive, contradictory, and surrealistic qualities of her subject matter. The surrealists themselves were notorious for appropriating scientific discourses for their own ends in their writing, paintings, and films (Kelly 2007). Their subversive manipulations of ethnographic and documentary modes of realism aimed to “shake up settled ways of thinking” (Breton 1969 [1930]: 152) by simultaneously utilising and destabilising claims to academic and scientific authority.7 They had a particularly charged relationship with the discipline of anthropology, producing their own controversial versions of ethnographic 7 See Bate (2004); Cardinal (1986); Kelly (2007); Stoller (1992); Walker (2002); and Williams (1981) for discussions of the surrealists’ subversions of scientific paradigms. 27
  • 28. journals8 and museum exhibitions after field expeditions to “exotic” places.9 Although I do not reproduce their blatantly “audacious”10 antics in my own texts, their playful and irreverent questioning of conventional representations of reality has influenced my research, informing the spirit with which I approached my fieldwork, film-work and the writing-up process. The actual writing in my thesis does not directly incorporate the radical games of the surrealists, or even the more subtle experimentations with language found in the work of Stewart, DeSilvey, and Pesmen. It rather seeks to emulate the early British chorographers’ vivid and expressive prose, gravitating towards a cultivation of language’s “imageric and sensate” qualities (Taussig 1992: 8). Following Benjamin, I employ language to engage and transcend the intellect, conjuring up not only ideas, but also mental and figurative pictures (Weigel 1996: 148). Through such evocative language, I wish to “[hail] the body of the reader” (Farquhar 2002: 290) to empathically relate to the material in ways that my own body was “hailed” during my fieldwork. I have endeavoured to develop a language of ekphrasis, using the “thought-images” of my prose not only to provoke the vivid, sensory experiences of fieldwork, but also to connect to the visual and corporeal “bodyspaces” of recollection. I combine storytelling techniques with analytical processes in order to construct my arguments and assemble the contextualising fabric of my thesis. As Jackson argues (2002), building upon the ideas of Arendt and Benjamin, stories often serve as a form of social critique, fusing external and internal worlds as well as private and public narratives, reshaping the past as they are reinvented and retold. I consider such alternative approaches to academic writing conducive to generating imaginative, sensory, and affective insights into the processes and products of my ethnographic investigations. They also seem especially appropriate tactics when dealing with the subject of memory. 8 For example, Documents (edited by the surrealist/anthropologist Michel Leiris), and Minotaure. 9 See Mileaf (2001) for descriptions of two surrealist “counter-colonial” exhibitions in Paris, which criticised anthropological practices by ironically juxtaposing and comparing “tribal” and “European” objects. 10 “Audacity, audacity, and still more audacity!” was Andre Breton’s motto (Rosemont 1978: 122). 28
  • 29. Vicissitudes of Memory Memory studies cover an enormous field; in anthropology alone, the concept of remembrance work is mobilised in multiple and often contradictory ways.11 As Fabian notes, memory is an “omnivorous, insatiable concept” (2007: 139) so ubiquitous, it seems impossible to pin down. In the face of such semantic elusiveness and ambiguity, I find it more interesting and productive to explore what memory does, rather than determine what it is. I investigate how memories actively move between places, people, and artefacts, rather than studying their existence as passive, stored impressions (Casey 1987: 272). Although memories themselves have no palpable existence, their presence tends to involve the bodily senses and provoke visceral, emotional responses (ibid 310; Misztal 2003: 16). They are often realised in discourse, both in spoken language and in written texts (Casey 1987: 116), but they may also manifest in physical gestures, activities, and rituals; in inanimate objects, edifices, and landscapes; or in the detritus of material ruins and remains. While Teski and Climo maintain that memory is a “territory of ethnographic investigation that lies beyond space and time” (1995: 1), I would argue that memory lies at the heart of space and time. Casey notes that there are few occasions in which we are not “steeped in memory” (1987: ix); yet at particular places and at certain moments, the past comes more sharply into relief against the present (Benjamin 1999: 462). Remembrance work often escalates in the extended aftermath of crisis or social instability, or as a reaction to spatial and temporal dislocation (Cattell and Climo 2002; Connerton 2009; Edkins 2003; Huyssen 2003). But despite its situated relationship to time, space, and materiality, memory still remains an invisible product of the imagination (Fentress and Wickham 1992; Gourgouris 2002: 324). 11 Berliner aptly observes (2005) that anthropological literature ought to employ more precise, responsible, and “matured” uses of the notion of memory. 29
  • 30. How, then, does one go about analysing memory? As Fentress and Wickham ask (1992: 2), “Do we hunt it with a questionnaire or are we supposed to use a butterfly net?” Its very presence paradoxically implies an absence of what is being recalled. Different individuals often possess very different recollections of the same past. Some memories might seem fixed and clear, while others have vague and hazy overtones; yet they all inevitably undergo revisions and transformations over time. Memories may be deliberately summoned, or they may unexpectedly surface, triggered by particular odours or tastes or sounds. People, places, and situations are conjured up in fleeting and fragmented mental constellations. Even if the proper equipment did exist, and memories could somehow be captured, how would an anthropologist manage to evaluate something so invisible, immaterial, and intangible? As Pesmen argues, the Russian concept of dusha or soul (2000a: 9) both “is and is not a thing.” I propose that memory has similar propensities, though it will never serve as a substitute for a material object itself. It may manifest in physical entities, but it is also a “shifting focus of beliefs, practices, discourses,” a way of “being in the world” (ibid 9). My thesis attempts to account for such alternating and inconsistent qualities and behaviours: intertwining substance and process, the objectified and the imagined, the aesthetic and the ideological, the poetic and the political. Observing its relationships to visual, material, and sensory realms provides a means to locate and analyse the phenomenon of memory, and particularly to investigate the (often overlooked) remembrance work occurring within everyday, less explicitly commemorative contexts. Memory and Visuality The relationship between memory and the visual is far from straightforward. The ancient Greek concept of “ars memoria,” or the art of memory, originally attributed to the poet Simonides in 500 BCE, defines 30
  • 31. recollection as the act of picturing of images in one’s mind.12 This metaphor has remained in present-day conceptualisations of remembering. The popular notion of “flash-bulb” memories as photographs capturing frozen moments in time is reinforced by frequent media usage of images to evoke and “re-enact” episodes from the historical past. Particularly in the current technological era, when computerised and electronic images expose us to visual phenomena we might not otherwise encounter, our memories are increasingly “supplemented, shaped, structured, and recomposed” by such imagery (Cooke, et al. 1992: 23). Nora has observed (cited in Gillis 1994: 15) that modern memory “relies entirely on the materiality of the trace, the immediacy of the recording, the visibility of the image.” Even as recently as the 1990s, LeGoff (1992: 89) insisted that imagistic technologies have “revolutionised” memory, giving it a “precision,” a “truth,” and an ability to “preserve time” like never before. Contemporary visual theorists have problematised such assumptions on several grounds, which I discuss in Chapter 6. In my film, Lumina amintirii (In the Light of Memory), my efforts to visually address memory through motion and time conform to a Bergsonian “non-archival” understanding of memory (Burton 2008) as a “moving continuity” of simultaneous permanence and change, as opposed to a static essence lodged in matter (Guerlac 2006: 161). For Bergson, the past manifests in the present through bodily movements and actions, but its visual representations exist only in the imagination (ibid 125). My decision to incorporate film as an analytical instrument and interpretive medium in my thesis similarly draws less upon film’s powers of representation and more upon its abilities to transcend its own visual properties and operate in emotional, sensory, evocative realms (Crawford 1992; MacDougall 1994; Schneider and Wright 2006). In Chapter 6, I build upon arguments that the eye is a conduit for the rest of the body, and that mimesis is not just a visual experience but a physical one as well. I suggest that the camera’s mechanical “eye” can transcend sight and sound to offer a uniquely “tactile and habitual” consciousness, not only of the external world (Taussig 1992: 11), but also of the internal, visceral 12 Casey (1987); Fentress and Wickham (1992); LeGoff (1992: 66); Misztal (2003: 30); Weigel (1996: 148); Yates (1966). 31
  • 32. experiences of memory and the imagination. Using this medium to approach the affective dimensions of social experience, rather than considering it a mere “pictorial” means of illustrating ethnographic information (see Ruby 2000), has led me to introduce new kinds of knowledge practices into my research. Memory and Sensoriality Investigating memory’s sensory properties is an integral aspect of my thesis. Memories make us feel as well as think (Watson 1994: 8), provoking a synaesthesia of sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound (Casey 1987: 31). Fentress and Wickham (1992: 47) divide memory into two categories: “semantic” and “episodic.” While semantic memory is theoretical and abstract, recalling its object through symbols and words, independent of personal experience, episodic memory is more subjective and concrete, recognising its object through movements, images, and sounds. According to these authors, episodic recollection, which is personal, sensory, and connected to the body, underlies all other forms of memory; it is an active and dynamic force, rather than a passive storage system or a repository of information. Connerton argues that “personal,” “cognitive,” and “habit” memories similarly may become “sedimented” in individuals and communities through bodily practices and rituals (1989: 72). Table manners, facial expressions, and talking with one’s hands are all examples of embodied cultural attitudes and behaviours that convey and sustain memories through physical means by drawing upon a “currency” of remembered gestures (ibid 3). This concept brings to mind Bourdieu’s notion of habitus, or culturally internalised and “embodied dispositions of social order… progressively inscribed in people’s minds” (1984: 471). As habitus operates “below the level of consciousness and language” (ibid 466), I found myself accordingly searching outside the realms of discourse and narrative in order to locate, identify, and analyse remembrance practices. By investigating the interface between the physical world of ordinary objects, interior spaces, exterior landscapes, and everyday behaviours, demeanours, and performances, I have 32
  • 33. attempted to merge a Foucauldian concept of the body as “imprinted by history” (1977: 148) with a Benjaminian idea of memory as tangible “bodyspace” (Weigel 1996: 153). Rather than interpreting “habit” memories as direct expressions of a larger community’s “master-narratives” (Connerton 1989: 70), or Bergsonian “habitual” memories as consisting merely of passive, automatic motor mechanisms (Gross 2000: 42), I examine the ways in which commemorative practices, discourses, sites, and objects are constantly produced and creatively revised, taking on unexpected, idiosyncratic forms. Such a perspective attributes more innovative and unstable capacities to memory than both Connerton and Bergson imply. Instead of reducing the act of remembering to a mere “cerebral process,” a “mental operation” (Halbwachs 1992 [1925], cited in Gross 2000: 82), or even a social, political, or historical construct, I explore its embodied, cognitive qualities, and how these sensory and social elements may or may not interrelate. In a phenomenological line of inquiry, remembering operates as a fundamental form of existing, a sensing of physical movement and space, a Heideggerian being-in-the-world (Casey 1987: 259). If we accept the proposition that physical and corporeal modes of perception precede mental and intellectual ones (Casey 1987; MacDougall 2006), then the body becomes of “centralmost concern in any adequate assessment” of memory (Casey 1987: 147). In seeking to acknowledge these embodied experiences of memory, I also wish to move beyond a phenomenological approach by tracing the ways in which visceral qualities of recollection play themselves out through personal associations, social relationships, and historical and political configurations. By looking at communicative memories within specific contexts, and at a particular period of time, I hope to add my own insights into the corporeal and cognitive capacities of memory, and contribute to discussions about people’s lived experiences, perceptions of the past, and expectations of the future during Bucharest’s current moment of post-socialist “transition.” 33
  • 34. CONTEXTS: Post-socialism / Post-communism13 As Gross observes (2000: 11), it is impossible to analyse the significance of memory as an abstract concept; its full meaning is always dependent upon the “what” that is remembered. It was not my original intention to confine my research solely to memories of Romania’s communist period; in fact, I deliberately remained open to other personal and political recollections. Yet in a country that until two decades ago endured over 40 years of communist-authoritarian regimes, it is not surprising that much of the current remembrance work is heavily weighted towards this element of the past. As the material traces and ideological remains of communism wear away, the era becomes more distant in people’s minds (Crowley and Reid 2000: 18), inspiring the desire to prevent this experience from passing into oblivion. In Romania’s current climate, when new “European” regulations are coming into effect and impacting people’s daily lives, the activation and deployment of memory (including its offshoots of nostalgia, forgetting, and projections of the future), take on additional socio-cultural meanings and forms. Provisionally demarcating this temporal terrain as “post-communism” may serve as an effective tool for examining how such large-scale events are played out in small-scale, on-the-ground ways. As one friend noted to me after I returned from the field, Romanians tend to use December 1989 as a reference point, distinguishing the “communist” and “post-communist” eras, and dividing historical time into periods “before” and “after” the Revolution. The fact that this turning point is lodged in the minds of those who lived through it and of those who now live in its wake points to the significant and enduring impacts of these processes on people’s everyday lives. On January 1, 2007, I witnessed another key turning 13 The period between 1947 and 1989 in Romania is often categorised as “socialist” in Western academic texts, and “communist” in local popular and academic discourses. After coming into power in 1965, Ceau"escu distanced his own policies from broader Soviet agendas, developing his own arbitrary, authoritarian, quasi-Marxist style of rule. Because this era is described as both “socialist” and “communist,” I use the terms loosely and interchangeably. However, I favour the term “socialist” when engaging with broader theoretical discussions, and “communist” when referring to Romanians’ particular evaluations of their own past. 34
  • 35. point: Romania’s acceptance into the European Union. As my research spanned the months immediately before, during, and after this occasion, I was able to gauge how this broader cultural moment served as a conceptual springboard towards anticipations of change in the country’s future, again seen against the backdrop of this “before” and “after” history. With hindsight, the two decades following the 1989 Revolution may be conceptualised as a discrete phase of post-socialist, pre-EU flux marked by distinct political, cultural, economic, social, and material transformations. As was the case in many other Eastern European countries, postrevolutionary Romania was characterised by a rapid collapse of certain social and economic institutions and a withdrawal of particular state surveillance mechanisms (Humphrey and Mandel 2002: 3). Yet some scholars have critiqued the sweeping label “post-socialist” for its connotations that the socialist or post-socialist periods could be uniform across national boundaries or constant over time (Berdahl 2000a: 3). Others have rejected the category altogether, claiming it describes societies as what they are not, rather than as what they actually are (Kideckel 2002: 115). Sampson (2002: 298) has suggested the phrase “post post-socialism” to express the point when the “shock of the new” has worn off, and people have begun adapting to largescale political and cultural changes, such as the appearance of technocratic and cultural elites, or the integration of communities into new global frameworks. However, there is still a significant body of current literature that continues to use the term “post-socialism,” with the understanding that the broad transformations in social institutions, political organisation, and systems of meaning may play out in multiple and contradictory ways, and that the word itself may even develop other implications over time. As Verdery argues (Hann et al. 2002: 16), preserving the concept within academia may engender new critical perspectives similar to those emerging in post-colonial studies, such as turning people’s attention towards how socialism helped shape certain images of the West. By describing Romania as “post-socialist,” I do not wish to reduce its current identity to one that is simply trying to “shake off” the legacy of its former political regime. Contemporary Romania is the product of numerous 35
  • 36. legacies—the post-socialist period could also just as legitimately be called a post “pre-socialist” period, or a post “Ottoman” period, and so on, back into ancient history. In my own experience, the post-socialism of twelve years ago when I first visited Romania was distinct from the post-socialism during my Fulbright grant two years later, which was radically different from the various post-socialisms of my subsequent visits between 2003 and 2009. While I have reservations about the term, I nevertheless view it as a critical marker of Romania’s contemporary social and political configurations that are deeply connected to its current productions of memory. It may be an artificial construct that does not capture the nuances of people’s experiences across time and space, but I consider it an academically justifiable one. Socialist and communist systems have existed in both ideology and practice; they have had very real impacts upon individuals and communities; and they have not been entirely eradicated or replaced (Hann, et al. 2002: 12). I have deliberately qualified this term with the supplementary words “EU accession-era” in my title. Situating this particular moment of postsocialism within the period of Romania’s accession into the European Union highlights the role that new, evolving dynamics play in eliciting and shaping people’s memories, and calls attention to future realms of possibility, rather than using the past as the sole reference point. It also situates the current phase of post-socialism within a concrete, historical context, encouraging more precise definitions of the related concept of “transition.” “Transition” I wish to avoid interpreting Romania’s “transition” as an undifferentiated, twenty-year block of time following the 1989 Revolution. Over the course of my fieldwork, I noticed a marked change in people’s assessments about the state of Romania’s supposed transition. In 2006, when I explained to people that I was researching constructions of memory in the contemporary period of transition, nobody questioned my use of this phrase. In 2007, many people began to respond with comments such as, “Really, don’t 36
  • 37. you think the transition is over by now?” Several people noted that Romania seemed to be in a different sort of transition from before, one that was more related to EU accession than to the end of Ceau"escu’s regime. Were such perceptual shifts triggered by Romania’s actual entry into the EU, or by the accumulation of many smaller changes over the last two decades? Did people’s different responses to my research explanation over time provide evidence of the transition’s transition? While in theory it is feasible to discuss the implications of a cultural or historical revolution, in practice it is impossible to isolate discrete social processes, or delineate concrete boundaries around a particular era. Such frames become arbitrary, artificial forces having little to do with people’s dayto-day experiences. Lampland notes (2000: 210) that “drawing a sharp line between socialism and the post-socialist period violates the complex flow of memory, continuity, family, politics, and culture in which people live their lives”; the same could be said for the shift between the late post-socialist and EU-membership eras in Romania. At the same time, the concept of transition still translates into palpable feelings and experiences that are recognised by those who are living in its midst. As Pelkmans observes (2003: 121), “transition ideology” has been so ingrained in contemporary post-socialist discourses, ideals, and behaviours that people’s own invocations of transition sometimes belie existing evidence that little in their lives has actually changed. The idea of transition, he argues, must therefore be analysed as the constantly reconfigured space existing between real and imagined processes of change (ibid 132). Transitology theorists have tended to evaluate the shifts from socialist to capitalist systems as evolutionary, teleological progressions. 14 Many anthropologists have warned against interpreting the recent transformations in Eastern Europe as the inevitable collapse of monolithic, totalitarian models leading to a “free” neo-liberal future, or the “magic” solutions of development 14 The Romanian sociologist C!t!lin Zamfir (2004: 18) distinguishes such upheavals from “normal” processes of social change, defining Romania’s current transition as the deliberate act of “returning” to a condition that had been “interrupted by the communist experiment.” The American political scientist Michael Mandelbaum (1996: 9) describes transition as a “westward” process, describing the free market as a “natural” development that springs from “what is basic, almost biological, human nature.” 37
  • 38. and democracy (see Berdahl 2000a; Hahn 2002; Kideckel 2002; Verdery 1999). As Verdery argues (1996: 16), the “fall” of socialist regimes was less due to inherent deficiencies in their organisation, and more about the dynamics of their historical encounters with a particular type of capitalism. Though the new market economy has benefited certain classes, it also has brought poverty and exclusion to others (ibid 16). As people are faced with incorporating postsocialist reforms into their lives, evidence of preserving or returning to “old” socialist practices should be recognised as deliberate and strategic negotiations of the present-day context, rather than as chaotic or confused inabilities to let go of an outdated past (see Burawoy and Verdery 1999; Creed 1999; Dunn 1999; Hann 2002; Humphrey 2002). In this vein, I analyse Romania’s “transitions” as less connected to the abrupt end of large-scale structures and institutions, and more about smallscale “evolutions, hybrid societies, [and] adaptations” (Verdery 1999: 1) within the “incremental acts” of daily life occurring among individuals and local communities (Hann 2002: xi; Lampland 2000: 209; Humphrey and Mandel 2002: 1; Watson 1994: 4). Such a perspective allows for alternative interpretations of the operations of time, forsaking attention to the “high points” in historical development in favour of the “actual intensities and creations of life” (Foucault 1977: 161). Transition is a ubiquitous process existing at every moment in every society, and only “after the fact” can we begin to examine what exactly has been transitioned from and to. Yet even when using hindsight to reconstruct what has already happened, refusing a “certainty of absolutes” about historical development challenges the dangerous assumption that anyone can be sovereign over the past (Foucault 1977: 153), thereby opening up the possibility for alternative power dynamics and unexpected patterns to emerge in the future. The EU Accession-era Romania officially became the 26th member state of the European Union on January 1, 2007, an event widely touted as a crucial step in the 38
  • 39. country’s supposed Eastern/Balkan/communist move away identity, from and a towards predominantly a more Western/European/capitalist one. The accession “event” in and of itself served as an impetus for widespread reflexive evaluations of Romania’s current status in the world, a kind of “commemoration of the present” which generated a ripple-effect of reflections about the past, and both hopeful and cynical speculations about the future. Rather than being an overnight transformation, however, it has consisted of an ongoing, subtle set of shifts in mentality and incremental day-to-day reforms. With the twentieth anniversary of the Revolution in December 2009, evocations of the past became increasingly commonplace, routine, and sometimes even obligatory in certain contexts. Against these broader backdrops, I was curious how such changes in Romania’s global framework intersected with remembrance practices at local, individual levels. In the months leading up to the accession, debates in everyday conversations and in the media drew upon people’s memories of recent history, and postulated about what EU membership might mean. For example, many of my friends worried that urban open-air markets would be forced to close for “sanitary” reasons, or that peasants would be prohibited from slaughtering their pigs the “traditional” way with a knife, and be required to use more “modern” and “humane” methods such as lethal injection. While some people expressed reservations about losing their “cultural identity” and local “customs” to a larger, anonymous Europe, most were enthusiastic about the prospect of integration, as they hoped it would allow them to leave behind difficult times and attain superior standards of living coupled with a higher international status. The prospect of EU membership also stimulated public dialogue (locally and internationally) about Romania’s need to “reform” its justice system, its public administration, and its broader “culture of corruption.” People often attributed bureaucratic inefficiency, incompetency, and dishonesty to the “communist illness,” advocating a return to the moral standards of Romania’s pre-war, “properly European” heritage. In the autumn of 2006, I came across a fair bit of political propaganda on EU membership that overtly drew upon nationalist sentiments and 39
  • 40. discourses of modernisation. One November day as I walked through Bucharest’s University Square, I was handed a brochure entitled, “Romania in Europe,” featuring a message from Prime Minister C!lin Popescu-T!riceanu. His text compared the upcoming EU integration of 2007 to the unification of Greater Romania in 1918, 15 describing this event as the country’s “first modernisation,” when Romania regained its “national dignity,” and EU accession as a “second modernisation,” another “fundamental national project” (Popescu-T!riceanu 2007). The Prime Minister urged Romanians to start thinking and behaving as “European citizens,” and promised that there would be a “rapid increase” in local standards of well-being (ibid). Another leaflet explained that membership would provide billions of Euros in funding opportunities, and grant Romanians the same rights as other EU citizens for travelling and residency within the member states (Romanian Foundation for the Promotion of Community Development 2006). “To be European,” it stated, “does not mean the uniformisation of customs and culture, but rather to believe that what unites the European people is more important than what divides them” (ibid). Considerable rifts flared up, however, during the period immediately prior to accession, particularly among Romanian politicians. While it was widely acknowledged that most current government officials were either excommunists themselves, 16 or had close ties to the former nomenclature or secret police, Tr!ian B!sescu’s election to the Presidency in 2004 represented a symbolic break from such a legacy. Many people regarded B!sescu’s background as a Merchant Navy captain as a confirmation of his personal and political distance from the communist regime (though this of course is debatable), and they were drawn to his charismatic, down-to-earth personality. He was also the first post-communist leader to open up the country to foreign 15 At the end of WWI, the territories of Transylvania, Bukovina, and Bessarabia were annexed to the Romanian Old Kingdom (Wallachia and Moldavia). This unified region was referred to as “Greater Romania” until 1940, when some of these territories were lost to the Soviet Union, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Romanian nationalists often evoke this inter-war period as a glorious era when the country possessed its “rightful” dimensions. 16 The National Democratic Salvation Front, headed by Ion Iliescu, was the first party to take a major leadership role after the Revolution, though it consisted primarily of former communist bureaucrats. These individuals were often referred to as “communist dinosaurs,” or as I was told many times over the years, “They’re the same guys, now just wearing different hats.” 40
  • 41. investors, giving Romanians some hope over the next few years as their economy skyrocketed to one of the fastest-growing in Eastern Europe (Ben Rockwell, personal communication, 1 February 2007). B!sescu’s decision to deliver a public condemnation of Romania’s communist past just weeks before the accession, however, had serious repercussions, both for his personal and professional reputation, and for the broader dynamics of remembrance work in Romania’s public sphere. Drawing upon findings from the Final Report of the Commission for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania,17 B!sescu denounced the regime to the Romanian Parliament as “illegitimate and criminal,” and introduced a set of proposals for state-funded projects to officially commemorate the “victims of communist terror and repression”18 (B!sescu 2007: 6; Smith 2006). Amidst a cacophony of boos, whistles, and applause filling the Parliamentary chamber, his speech concluded, “I thought that we would be able to forget about communism, but it didn’t want to forget about us. As such, the condemnation of this past is a priority of the present… All I want is to pave the way for democracy in Romania and our national identity with a clean slate” (B!sescu 2007: 6). The President’s statement proved to be highly controversial. Many Romanians expressed appreciation that an elected official finally had made a formal, public apology, and had called for atonement for past grievances. A significant number of Romanian politicians, however, were outraged at B!sescu’s gall to question their present-day credibility by “naming names” and publicising their connections to the previous regime. They reacted with their 17 In March 2006, B!sescu appointed Vladimir Tism!neanu, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, to direct a team of interdisciplinary researchers for this Report. According to one of the members of this Commission, they were given seven months to produce a coherent synthesis of the “methods and institutions of totalitarian communism,” documenting particular individuals’ roles in the “crimes and abuses” perpetuated during that period (Cristian Vasilescu, personal communication, 19 June 2009). 18 These plans included raising a new monument in Bucharest to honour these “victims”; setting aside a national day of commemoration; founding a new museum (a “place of memory”) containing archival documents essential to understanding communism; preparing a series of university conferences to present the contents of the “Final Report” detailing the former government and Securitate members’ “crimes against humanity”; creating an Encyclopaedia of Romanian Communism; awarding twelve grants per year to young scholars interested in studying aspects of the communist dictatorship; and developing the first textbook on Romania’s communist past to be taught in schools throughout the country (B!sescu 2007: 6). 41
  • 42. own televised political offensives, which according to many public figures confirmed that contemporary Romanian society was “even more loaded with residual communism” than it previously had seemed (Blandiana 2007: 6). The response among intellectual circles was divided. Democracypromoting institutions defended B!sescu’s actions, praising the Final Report’s “well-researched” and “scientific” foundations. In February 2007 the Group for Social Dialogue (GDS) published an appeal signed by 65 scholars who blamed the growing “political crisis” on the defensive reactions of politicians who felt threatened by the President’s recent initiatives. They urged Romanian citizens to stop allowing “political rubbish accumulated during the transition years” to be “shoved under the rug of history” (GDS 2007). Others lamented that the chaos in Romania’s Parliament was particularly shameful when legislators should have been adhering to the more “civilised” codes of the European Union (Ciucu 2007: 5; #imonca 2007: 4; Vasilescu 2007: 3). Still other critiques emerged, blaming the President for focusing too much on the repressions and injustices committed under communism, and for not conveying a more balanced picture of the past (Cristian Vasilescu, personal communication, 19 June 2009). Existing rivalries between B!sescu and Prime Minister T!riceanu intensified, and in April 2007, the Romanian Parliament voted to suspend the President, on the pretext of violating the Constitution for an unrelated reason. A public referendum for his impeachment was held in May 2007, but nearly 75% of the electorate voted to keep him in office. The longer-term political repercussions of these events are complex, and extend beyond the scope of my thesis, but I describe these dynamics in order to outline the political context of Romania’s flourishing culture of recollection in 2007. As I already have mentioned, such political discourses may influence those existing in everyday realms, but they are also challenged by them. Together, they formed a dense and complicated web of remembrance work in Romania’s public sphere that may be traced back through the past two decades. As Georgescu has observed (2009), the 1990s were dominated by a “first memorial wave,” documenting the injustices of the past and confronting them in a “morally responsible” manner. This earlier period featured 42
  • 43. mobilisations of memory to identify the perpetrators of communist crimes and seek retribution, or to educate future generations on avoiding similar “traumas” in the future (see Blandiana 1999: 311, Constantinescu, et al. 2000). The subsequent decade evidenced a “second memorial wave,” hosting more diverse and “polyphonic” forms of public recollection (Georgescu 2009), involving “reflective” forms of nostalgia (Boym 2001) and memoiristic essays exploring individuals’ personal experiences of the past. Literature,19 films,20 plays,21 and museum exhibits22 demonstrated slightly more individualised and multifaceted responses to everyday life under totalitarianism, supplementing the clichéd references to the past already flooding Romanian newspapers, cultural journals, research projects, 23 scholarly publications,24 television shows, websites, 25 and commercial arenas.26 Yet as Georgescu has suggested (2009), the majority of these cultural and intellectual discourses still contained moralistic overtones, subscribing to and perpetuating public frameworks of cultural memory emphasising the need to overcome Romania’s “damaging” and “unhealthy” past. 19 Cernat, et al (2004, 2005); Ernu (2006); Istodor (2007); Manolache, et al (2007); Manolescu (2008). 20 A fost sau n-a fost [12:08 east of Bucharest] (2006); Amintiri din Epoca de Aur [Tales from the Golden Age] (2009); California dreamin’ (nesfâr!it) [California dreamin’ (endless)] (2007); Cum mi-am petrecut sfâr!itul lumii [How I celebrated the end of the world] (2006); Hârtia va fi albastr" [The paper will be blue] (2006); and 4 luni, 3 s"pt"mâni !i 2 zile [4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days] (2007). 21 Dinulescu (2005); Mihailov (2008); Nelega (2005). 22 „Metamorfoza unei metropole: ‚Micul Paris’” [“Metamorphosis of a Metropolis: ‘Little Paris’”] exhibition at the “Sala Dalles” art gallery in Bucharest (2006); „Epoca de aur: între propagand" !i realitate” [“The Golden Age: Between Propaganda and Reality”] exhibition at the National History Museum in Bucharest (2007); Dacia 1300: my generation (2003), a video installation by #tefan Constantinescu at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest (2007). 23 “Remembering Communism,” a three-year research project involving academics from Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria, headed by Maria Todorova and Stefan Troebst (2006); the “Urban Remembrance and Memory of Europe” (URME) project, involving collaborators from seven Central and East European cities, initiated in Bucharest (2006); “Regimes of Representation: Art and Politics beyond the House of People [sic]” conference at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest (2007); „Comunismul a fost condemnat: ce urmeaz"?” [“Communism Has Been Condemned: What’s Next?”], a colloquium organised by the Civic Alliance in Bucharest (2007); a call for papers on the “Politics of Memory in Postcommunist Europe,” for the Fifth Yearbook of the Bucharest Institute for Communist Crimes and the Memory of Romanian Exile (2010). 24 Anghelescu, et al., eds. (2003, 2005); Câmpeanu (1994); Constantinescu, et al., eds. (2000); Mih!ilescu (2006); Neculau (2004); Sandqvist and Zahariade (2003). 25; and are two of the more popular ones currently in operation [accessed 01 February 2010]. 26 I observed images of Ceau"escu on billboards and in television advertisements, used to market products from chocolate to mobile phones to laundry detergent. 43
  • 44. This observation reinforces the notion that most discussions of remembrance work are inevitably value-laden activities. Romanian assessments about how the past should or should not be addressed intersect with wider debates about whether the act of remembering may have positive, regenerative qualities, or unhealthy, dysfunctional ones. As Gross observes (2000: 32), after the rise of “modernity” in the 17th century, historians and philosophers began to view the act of remembering as an inability to live fully in the present, rather than as a grounding or creative force. Yet Gross falls into similar patterns of weighing out the “value of memory” in relation to the “value of forgetting” in contemporary society, asking, “Should we late moderns be advised to remember our past or forget it?” (ibid 137). While I refrain from asking such questions in my own thesis, identifying and delineating current discussions about memory work in the context of postsocialist, EU accession-era Bucharest illuminates dynamics that are specific to a particular framework, leading to deeper understandings of the social and political configurations of one small segment of the world’s “late-modern” population. Summaries and Conclusions Rather than concentrating on the norms of recall perpetuated through official, cultural memories, my thesis leans more towards evaluating the substance and significance of unofficial, communicative memories. While the performance and debate of “Amalia Takes a Deep Breath” illustrates that official and unofficial modes of remembrance work are often inextricable, my thesis is less concerned with institutionalised, state-directed practices. Although it is important to acknowledge that remembrance work does fall along dividing-lines of social class, generational cohort, and national and political affiliation, or may be commodified, politically mobilised, or exploited in artistic, literary, and academic discourses, I have chosen to highlight memory’s appearances within ordinary objects, spaces, and landscapes, and the 44
  • 45. ways in which it may move between inadvertent and deliberate evocations, and take on commemorative and non-commemorative functions. My attention to mundane realms points to the importance of everyday material practices in and of themselves, rather than viewing them as a means to access underlying social structures and processes. Such a perspective is less about making moral pronouncements or uncovering fundamental “truths” about the past, and more about delving into its varied interpretations, into its nebulous, sometimes disjointed, and often contradictory qualities. It posits memory not as a mere enduring trace, but as a dynamic and active social force. It also takes into account that this topic often involves a reflexive attention towards the practice of memory research within mnemonic communities themselves, as Romanians are increasingly attentive to how memories are continuing to surface in their own lives. While memory may be interpreted both as a cultural process and an historical artefact (Cattell and Climo 2002: 12), it is essential to consider its corporeal properties as well. My thesis draws attention to the particular and concrete operations of memory itself: its methods of appearing and disappearing; its relationships to the visceral and the visual; its sensory aspects and incarnations; its varied materialisations in everyday life. My approach is not a purely phenomenological one, however, for I view these embodied experiences as part of memory’s broader trajectories through varied social, political, and historical contexts. By addressing such experiences through writing and film, I explore these processes on individual, corporeal, and sociocultural levels. By instigating situations in the field that provoked and generated “felt” memories in my collaborators and in myself, I treat my fieldwork as an active and contingent space, which instead of being dictated by pre-established hypotheses, as in most other anthropological projects, itself plays a key role in shaping the textures and dimensions of my research. Chapter 2 explores urban, exterior landscapes of Bucharest and the ways in which people have constructed and reconstructed the city over time. Chapter 3 analyses neglected and forgotten collections of objects within domestic and private interiors. Chapter 4 investigates Romanian money as a material object and as an element of everyday practice invoking strong 45
  • 46. emotions and memories connected to the communist and post-communist eras. Chapter 5 examines the relationship between food and memory, describing my experiment of “gustatory elicitation” to stimulate sensory, embodied experiences of the past both for myself and for my collaborators. Chapter 6 involves a viewing of my film, Lumina amintirii, followed by a written analysis of memory’s relationship to visual and filmic realms. Chapter 7 offers some conclusions, additional thoughts, and coordinates for taking my research in potentially new directions. My thesis combines investigations of the multifaceted nature of remembrance work, and analyses of present-day Bucharest. In simultaneously studying this setting to inform my knowledge of the elusive qualities and operations of memory, and exploring memory to contribute to understandings about this particular time and place (rather than prioritising one element over the other), my work ideally will add new layers of insight to existing anthropological studies of memory and of Romania’s contemporary, postsocialist context. 46
  • 47. CHAPTER 2: Urban Landscapes Introduction This chapter investigates how Bucharest’s exterior landscapes, as well as discourses and narratives about them, reflect, evoke, and redefine contemporary perceptions of the city’s past and future. As its physical structures and collective imaginaries sediment over time, a city may be read as a palimpsest, interpreted “historically, intertextually, constructively, and deconstructively” (Huyssen 2003: 7). As urban renewals envisage the future by building upon and reacting against the past (Boym 2001: 75), they pave the way for memorialised spaces, discourses and practices. Bucharest’s intensified projects of demolition and reconstruction over the past three decades have created what Benjamin calls a “porous” city (Boym 2001: 76); its ruins, renovations, and transitional spaces have provoked people to recollect the old and imagine the new in unique ways. Rather than focusing on how Bucharest’s political history might be deterministically mirrored in its topographical features, I investigate how people literally and conceptually are experiencing and re-creating this city. I examine memories as they have woven in and out of official and unofficial spheres and shifted over time. I borrow Riegl’s (1998 [1903]) notions of “intentional” and “unintentional” memorials, along with Boym’s (2001) concepts of “restorative” and “reflective” nostalgia, to differentiate between formalised, institutionalised acts of recollection and more everyday, inadvertent memories. My research explores the tensions between these different realms of remembrance work, which I view as distinct yet intertwined. Against the backdrop of deliberately planned or institutionally organised commemorations, “suddenly emergent” moments of recollection (Benjamin 1999: 462) may leap out, triggered by new perspectives on the past, or fleeting observations of disintegration and decay. Such realisations produce a dialectical form of memory that Benjamin (1999: 462) identifies as 47
  • 48. “constellations” of the “has been” and the “now.” Consciousness of such moments may lead to a more critical and incisive understanding of memory than conventional historicist approaches, which construe memory as recapturing fixed elements from an unchanging past. Lynch (1960) identifies five key arenas of urban space that often serve as reference points for collective memory: paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks. These elements, he argues, influence a city’s “imageability” (ibid 10), its capacity to provoke strong visual sensations and memories in its observers. I use such features as reference points, but I pay more attention to the ambiguous corners and crevices that fall between them. As Ingold writes (2007: 103), most people perceive their surrounding environment as consisting less of “bounded places,” and more of “zones” where multiple pathways are “thoroughly entangled.” I examine zones that are not typically identified as sites of memory, such as shop windows, scaffoldings, road works, restorations, and street signs. I treat such overlooked cultural forms as more than mere objects of the past, allowing their more nuanced “fore-histories” and “afterhistories” to simultaneously appear (Benjamin 1999: 476). Because marginal urban spaces provoke richer sensory experiences than those in mainstream urban realms (Edensor 2007: 227), such sites are more intricately connected to visceral experiences of recollection. Boym notes (2001: 77) that the word “topos” is linked to space and to language, implying that urban topography spans materials, bodies, and minds. But these elements are not always easily distinguishable in our everyday, affective experiences (Sennett 1994: 22). Picking apart the interwoven and often dissonant mixture of memory sites, practices, and discourses offers a more complex picture of how Bucharest is currently being remembered and dismembered, revised and recreated. This chapter analyses such processes within the contexts of an art exhibition, a collaborative literary project, and individual encounters with architectural features of the city. While it may be assumed at first glance that Bucharest’s inhabitants share a collective drive to erase the city’s recent communist past and “return” to its pre-communist, “European” roots, such sentiments are not so unanimous (Alexander, et al. 2007: 32). In other words, Bucharest is not simply a “post-transition” city 48
  • 49. being unreservedly “re-Europeanised.” It is a complex metropolis whose residents reveal ambivalent and often conflicting opinions about its past, present, and future transformations. Monuments and Memorials Public landmarks, monuments, and memorials are standard sites for investigating urban memory. One obvious landmark in Bucharest’s commemorative urban landscape is the Palace of the People, the second largest building in the world. Now the House of Parliament, it nonetheless stands as a monstrous reminder of Ceau"escu’s megalomaniacal plans to reshape the topography of Bucharest and leave behind a colossal monument to his rule. He destroyed a district the size of Venice and displaced over 40,000 people to build it and its surrounding complex of boulevards and buildings called the Civic Centre (Cantacuzino 2001: 25). Other well-known parts of Bucharest, such as University Square and Revolutionary Square, are important “nodes” of collective urban memory, hosting popular, improvised memorials and graffiti honouring those who died in the protests of 1989 and 1990.27 The city also features state-authorised public monuments to the Revolution, and a “Cemetery for the Heroes of the Revolution.” Instead of focusing on such obvious lieux de mémoire in the postsocialist context, my discussion addresses less celebrated sites of Bucharest. I wish to reveal the blurred boundaries between formalised, overtly political sites of memory and ordinary, personal ones. I will show how Bucharest residents sometimes do and sometimes do not characterise certain remembered structures and spaces as “memorials.” Because cities contain an intertwining of continually negotiated and fluctuating meanings, official and unofficial spaces are not easily separable. As Bastea notes (2000: 3), any city is a contradictory 27 In Bucharest, the Revolution of December 1989 occurred in Palace Square (now known as Revolutionary Square) and University Square. In May 1990, students continued to protest in University Square, outraged that the government had remained in the hands of many former communist bureaucrats. Then-president Iliescu (one of these bureaucrats) controversially called in troops of coal miners from Târgu Jiu to put an end to their “hooliganism.” Many students died or were injured in the resulting violence, referred to as the mineriada, or “the mineriad” (an allusion to the Iliad). 49
  • 50. “amalgam of official rhetoric, politics, and personal history… often at odds with each other.” I will concentrate on how memories provoked by Bucharest’s landscapes cross these spaces, and how memories are institutionalised and individualised, coherent and divergent, produced deliberately and inadvertently, and experienced through a range of sensory registers. Methodology The entire city of Bucharest served as my field site. It is now widely accepted that culture is not necessarily delimited to a discrete, physical territory (Deleuze and Guattari 1987; Gupta and Ferguson 1997), and that fieldwork may cross spatial, temporal, and even virtual borders (Fabian 2007: 9). Instead of viewing the field as a fixed space or a bounded group of people, it may be a “loosely connected set of relations, sites, events, actors, agents and experiences from which, and onto which, anthropologists try to impose some kind of conceptual order” (Shore 1999: 44). My work was less “multi-sited” (Marcus 1998) than diffused over a broad and varied urban landscape. Because I was less interested in looking for memory in predetermined places than in letting these places reveal themselves to me over time, I chose not to restrict my research to a certain district or neighbourhood population. Rather than collecting the life-histories of particular people, families or social groups, I remained open to a constellation of different experiences and recollections. While such an approach might have left gaps in my knowledge of Bucharest, I found it more suitable for reading the city’s subjective layers, and for pursuing memories that were particularly fragmentary and elusive. I originally planned to utilise flânerie as my methodology for investigating the city’s landscapes. This was more or less the approach I had used in 1999 to 2000, when Bucharest was new to me. I learned my way around the city not by following maps or guidebooks, but through what De Certeau (1984: 96) describes as the “act of passing by,” or what Schama (1996: 24) calls using the “archive of the feet.” I spent many hours walking around side streets, riding buses and trams to unknown neighbourhoods, and 50
  • 51. photographing unfamiliar places. Although I had formal contacts with many people and institutions, it was my chance encounters—times I got lost, snippets of overheard conversations, and mundane happenings—that led me to viscerally appreciate the spirit of Bucharest. Over time, I came to consider my fieldwork throughout the city as taking place in an extended backyard. Just as Engels used a “peripatetic method” of wandering the city of Manchester to report on its industrial horrors in the 1840s (LeGates and Stout 2000: 46), and as Yalouri traversed different parts of Athens for her ethnography of presentday memories of the Acropolis (2001: 20), many of my observations stemmed from my daily trajectories and routines. While I adopted flânerie as a general approach for exploring Bucharest, my encounters were more emotionally engaged and interactive than those of the typically detached, voyeuristic flâneur. Through my affective experiences, I hoped to approximate the range of feelings that the city’s inhabitants themselves possessed. My curiosity about Bucharest was sparked by continuous reminders of its contradictions and extremes. My appreciation of the city developed further through navigating it with friends, visiting people in different districts, finding my way to their flats, and linking these places to shared relationships, meals, and conversations. I could not separate my intellectual knowledge about the place from my personal and subjective associations. As Raban notes (1974: 161), the city as it is experienced in life is not the “hard” one found on maps, statistics, and monographs, but rather a “soft” one we imprint with our own “personal grid of reference points.” Perceptions of Bucharest Yesterday I was talking to S. [an American PhD student doing research in Bucharest] about her husband’s recent visit here. She told me it was his first time travelling outside the States. “What did he think of Bucharest?” I asked her. “Oh, he was horrified,” she told me. “He thought it was horrible. I think we forget, after being here for so long, what a crazy, chaotic, unfriendly place this city is. He just kept saying to me, ‘How can you live here?’ I finally took him around to some of the ‘nicer’ neighbourhoods, and he admitted that there were a few decent things. But overall, he wasn’t impressed. We ended up visiting other cities like Vienna and Budapest, and that was really nice…” (Field notes, March 2007). 51
  • 52. A few months into my fieldwork, an article appeared in The New York Times, entitled “Going to Bucharest” (Rail 2006). It described the city as an ideal alternative tourist destination, “far cheaper than Prague or Budapest,” with a “quirky” and “gritty” feel. However, the article warned, to experience Bucharest’s quaint and crumbling charm, it should be visited soon, because the current wave of foreign investment was rapidly “shifting” its old cityscapes. Bucharest was “cleaning up” and “catching up” with the rest of Europe. While the article reduced the city to a commodity to be consumed at competitive global rates, it reflected a clear trend that I had been observing over the past decade: not only was the city itself changing, but so were public discourses about it. In the late ‘90s, a French scholar visiting Bucharest wrote about its “depressing” atmosphere of “dizzy sadness” (Durandin 2006 [2000]: 30, 41). A anthology of essays published in 2001 contained similarly dire accounts, with a visit to the capital described not as a relaxing holiday affair, but as a “countertourist” experience, a “dystopic” adventure more suitable for anthropologists (!) than vacationers (Kessler 2001: 253). Although many foreigners still find it a difficult, tourist-unfriendly city, its edginess now has a certain appeal, probably due to the fact that its “dystopic” qualities are quickly disappearing. Indeed, some are turning into sources of nostalgia. In 2006, foreigners seemed to react more positively to Bucharest, and locals were attentive to the city’s local characterisations and global reputation. 28 In museums, academic institutions, politics, and the media, as well as in ordinary conversations and everyday situations, I encountered reworkings of Bucharest. The literal surfaces of the city were also changing, sometimes from one day to the next. In November 2006, for example, I noted that the bullet holes on the side of the Humanitas bookstore in Revolutionary Square had been filled in and painted over. They surely had been visible the week before. Ever since 1999, when a friend who had participated in the 28 As Vasilescu writes (2006b), “We have, certainly, an excessive sensitivity about what foreigners say about us, we live with the fear that any trifle will irremediably spoil Romania’s image in the world, we’re marked by our obsessive inferiority in comparison to ‘others,’ we therefore construct a public discourse where we cry out of shame for all sorts of reasons…” 52
  • 53. Revolution had pointed them out to me, I always looked up at them whenever I passed by. I found them familiar and oddly reassuring. Who had covered them up? Why now? In a few more years, those bullet holes might have attained the status of an historic landmark. Did it have to do with time, and perceptions of distance between the “befores” and “afters” of Romanian history? Particularly in the months before, during, and after EU accession, I detected a heightened urgency to revamp Bucharest’s image, accompanied by clashes between the “old” and the “new.” I heard people lamenting the city’s “backwardness,” questioning the long-term benefits of its cosmetic transformations, worrying about its ability to live up to its anticipated role as a “European” capital. 29 I also sensed an ambivalent admiration for the city’s rapid “modernisations”—its new tramlines, its avalanche of construction, the growing presence of expensive foreign goods, and rapidly rising real estate prices. Porous Landscapes Historically, Bucharest has displayed extreme contrasts and inconsistencies, with strains of provincialism and cosmopolitanism, wealth and poverty. In 1849, Saint-Mark Girardin wrote, “…you walk out of a building that may remind you of the best hotels in Paris or Vienna and stumble upon a dingy wood cabin, then walk along badly-planked streets, sinking into dust or mud up to your ankles” (2001: 113). In 1945, Ilya Ehrenburg observed “a skyscraper […] next to […] a hovel, luxurious motor cars and oxen, a lady with a Parisian hat and a barefooted peasant woman in a cotton frock” (Dunham 2001: 105). Such scenes were not unfamiliar to me sixty years later. Bucharest began as a cluster of villages. It currently covers 88 square miles, and contains roughly two million inhabitants. Like any landscape, a city can be viewed as a “terrain of memory,” physically shaped by cultural processes over time (Ballinger 2003: 15). Because Bucharest’s early edifices 29 “[I]n a desperate attempt to re-find the occident,” writes Popescu-Criveanu, Romanians are too caught up with superficial restorations, as they try to cover up the “crowded, dusty, disorganised Danubian capital that we cannot love” (2006: 9). 53
  • 54. were made of wood, periodic damage from natural disasters and human interventions meant that none of its architecture from before 1800 has remained intact (Andrei Pippidi, personal communication, 21 February 2007). In the 17th and 18th centuries, the region underwent occupations by the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy, and Imperial Russia. Bucharest carries physical and architectural traces of all of these influences, including those of the Soviet takeover after World War II, the subsequent 42 years of local communist rule, and its Revolution, transition, and EU accession eras. Because the atmosphere of one street differs so radically from the next, Romanians often told me that Bucharest was too eclectic to have any overarching, coherent visual identity (see Gauri" 1997: 78). A newcomer might see rows of communist-style blocks on the boulevards, with their stained and crumbling concrete, and easily think that this was all the city had to offer. These residential districts, built after the 1950s throughout the city, all look remarkably similar. Yet many sectors and neighbourhoods of Bucharest still look and feel very distinct from one another.30 There is a remarkable range of architectural variation throughout the city. As Dorel (originally from Transylvania but a Bucharest resident for 35 years), explained to me, If you go around the city, you see a big mixture of things. You could film or photograph four different parts of Bucharest, and you’d give four totally different messages. An amazing city. Or a city you’d never want to see. Radically different structures are often juxtaposed in illogical or irrational ways. Tall, shiny glass buildings tower over older, dirty concrete blocks. Kiosks and rickety vending stalls stand next to well-groomed walkways and gardens. Scaffolding and covered walkways extend the lengths of entire streets. Old, crumbling houses sit beside villas that have been redecorated and garishly painted, their wrought-iron gates covered and transformed into opaque walls of privacy. Byzantine-style churches and monasteries, 19th century influences from Paris and Vienna, and 20th century modernist, Stalinist, and Ceau"escu-styled architecture, all share the city, competing with 21st century 30 According to Mircea Eliade, not only did separate areas of Bucharest have different physical features, but they were also charged with unique atmospheric currents. See Harhoiu (1997, cited in Barris 2001: 237) for further discussion of Eliade’s theory. 54
  • 55. skyscrapers. Curiously, many parts of Bucharest have been preserved simply because they had been neglected or forgotten for so long. Such places have become ruins that at any moment could blast the epoch out of the “continuity of history,” illustrating in a palpable, material way how the past may “intersperse” with the present (Benjamin 1999: 474). Fig. 2.1 Scaffolding on Victoria Street Fig. 2.2 Skyscraper on Mihalache Blvd. Photos from Dilema Veche (2006) These superimpositions of old and new, of ruin and reconstruction, speak to Bucharest’s porosity. This city holds on to its various pasts, while reaching towards still undefined futures. Huyssen (2003: 8) interprets similar characteristics of “urban reorganisation” in post-transition Berlin, with its visible juxtapositions of preservation, restoration, and erasure reflecting a “complex web of historical markers that point to the continuous heterogeneous life of a vital city that is as ambivalent of its built past as it is of its urban future.” 55
  • 56. Poetics and Politics of Windows Old windows in Bucharest, poignant examples of neglected architecture from the past, are now rupturing certain spaces of the present. In people’s ongoing efforts to “remake the urban fabric” of Bucharest (Beldiman 1997: 279), they have made double-glazed “thermopane” windows the material of choice for renovating blocks and houses throughout the city. The increasingly common sight of bright, white, shiny, plastic frames fitted into elegant, if crumbling, houses always struck me as comically tragic. It was not unusual for me to hear the crashing sounds of breaking glass echoing in my block’s courtyard as old windows were removed. I often saw discarded wooden frames leaning against building walls, looking like stacks of unmarked gravestones. Fig. 2.3 New thermopane in old house (2007) Even though some of my friends agreed the plastic was ugly, they would explain to me that replacing their old windows with insulated ones was the “practical” thing to do. But the double-glazed symbol of progress had become a true craze, turning old-fashioned, wooden-framed glass windows into elements of the city’s memorial landscape. One Bucharest journalist (Vasilescu 56
  • 57. 2006a: 3) even wrote that thermopane offered Romanians a chance to forget the past associated with Ceau"escu, and to prove that Bucharest was regaining its identity as a “European capital,” finally “caught up with the times.” Old-fashioned shop window displays were also giving way to “modern” conventions. In 1999-2000, one of my personal side-projects in Bucharest was photographing old-style vitrines—even back then it was clear to me they would soon be gone. 31 Compared to the new, fashionable boutiques, these old windows appeared humble and unassuming. They often featured lace-curtain backdrops, encasing eclectic arrays of objects sometimes only tangentially related to the nature of the shop. Their collections of plants, clocks, shoes, photographs, mirrors, and other trinkets reminded me of puppet theatres, or museum dioramas. When I began asking about them, people responded with vivid associations and memories. Fig. 2.4 Shop window, Luterana Street (2007) Many of my friends connected these old-style arrangements to the long queues for food during the worst years of Ceau"escu’s rule. They also recalled 31 This project resulted in a collaborative exhibition, Fragments of the Ordinary (2000), containing my texts and interviews, and paintings by Selena Kimball, shown at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant in Bucharest, the Romanian Cultural Centre in New York City, and the Hudson Museum of Anthropology in Orono, Maine. 57
  • 58. how many establishments had been dedicated to the repair of old shoes, clocks, and clothes, but that with the arrival of capitalist, “disposable” mentalities, such craftsmanship seemed to be dying out, in tandem with the window displays. They told me that specialists were assigned to decorate vitrines according to the specifications of the regime. These displays were a matter of national pride, with the state even sponsoring competitions among the shops. Clearly, the shop-windows were more than just advertisements for commercial artefacts. The objects and their arrangements animated positive and negative associations with a different way of life. They recalled values, relationships, and daily routines existing under the previous political regime. In 2006-7, I often found stores closed for renovations. I would encounter hand-written signs posted on their windows such as: “Dear Clients! The Casandra pastry shop will be closed between 08/01/2007 and 05/02/2007 for modernisation.” These renovations informed consumers that such establishments were not “stuck” in the communist past, but rather aspired to a more “modern” and “civilised” capitalist future. In 2007, the single “authentic” communist-style pastry shop remaining in Bucharest, I was told, was near the Metro station in University Square. It had lace curtains hanging from the front windows, marble tiled floors, and surly counter-staff standing guard over the glass display cases and their arrangements of delicate, multi-layered, icingcovered cakes. While some of my friends referred to this pastry shop nostalgically, telling me it reminded them of the ones they frequented in their student days, it still was not as popular as the “Nostalgija Snack Bar” in Ljubljana that Boym describes (2001: 51). Indeed, most Bucharest residents seemed to prefer the “modern” atmospheres found at fast-food restaurants, kebab stands, coffee-shop chains, or hip new tea-houses serving expensive, exotic infusions in porcelain pots. I noticed that as more and more shops in Bucharest underwent renovations, the “outdated” establishments inadvertently gained a heightened significance, indirectly commemorating, rather than explicitly memorialising, individual, cultural, and political narratives about the past. Their increasing scarcity intensified their affiliations with the “cultural detritus” which Benjamin and the surrealists plumbed in the “spatially marginal” arenas of the 58
  • 59. present (Foster 1993: 159). They stood out against the newer shop-fronts, destroying illusions that the present may be seamlessly continuous with the past. According to Benjamin, when old-fashioned forms are thus seen anew, they reveal a “double exposure” of epochs which stimulates an awakening of revolutionary energy or political consciousness (Buck-Morss 2005: 161). While Benjamin viewed the Paris arcades as the “romantic ruins of one era of capitalism” (Foster 1993: 172), I came to see old Bucharest shop windows as “romantic ruins” of Romania’s accession era, speaking to the multiple materialities and memories co-existing in the city’s contemporary landscape. Memory Screens Fig. 2.5 Neon advertisements in Victoria Square Photo from Dilema Veche (2006) Mass media and corporate power have become increasingly visible in Bucharest’s public spaces (see Zukin 2000: 137). By feeding on the past and shaping collective expectations about the future, such forces appropriate and “spectacularise” the city (Huyssen 2003: 18). By the mid 1990s, large neon signs had been placed over buildings in Romana, Unity, and Victoria Squares. In 2006, huge advertising banners covering entire sides of apartment buildings had become a standard yet surreal feature of Bucharest’s transition era. When I asked residents if they minded these giant screens covering their windows, they told me they did not have a choice, because the advertising companies often paid the entire block’s utility and maintenance bills in compensation. 59
  • 60. Construction companies placed similar banners over buildings intended for repairs, depicting projected renderings of the renovated façades. Other enormous posters, hung across the cracked and dingy sides of communist-style blocks, advertised brand-new apartment complexes with relaxed, smiling people. These images provided an immediate and easy way for corporations to leave their imprints upon the city, even though the restorations would actually take many years to complete. Fig. 2.6 “New home. New habits” (2007) Fig. 2.7 “Living in a block isn’t what it used to be” (2007) 60
  • 61. In September 2007, Bucharest’s water and sewage utility Apa Nova initiated a “Why we love Bucharest” campaign by posting placards resembling ordinary street signs around the city. Under the official street names would be phrases such as “Here I kissed Ana,” or “The street where my grandmother lived.” The company even set up a website and a blog32 where people could contribute personal stories and anecdotes about the city. Fig. 2.8 Armenian Street: “The street where I banged up Dad’s car” These ads, as well as the banners and billboards described above, prompted a diversity of public reactions. Pippidi (2007b: 8) likened the huge banners to their “diseased” communist counterparts from twenty years ago hung on the roofs above Romana Square. Messages such as “Read Scînteia!” (Romania’s communist newspaper), “No meal without ocean fish!” and “The Ileana sewing machine!” he argued, were not so different from those of the present day. The Apa Nova street placards were better received; their appeals to nostalgic ideas of youth and home evoked a flood of positive responses and contributions to the website. I was not so surprised, then, that 70 year-old Gabriela—whom I interviewed before the start of the Apa Nova campaigns— had used almost exactly the same language when describing her feelings about Bucharest to me: I love [Bucharest] because it signified my childhood… It signified my son’s childhood. If I pass along a street, I can say, “My child studied here... I lived here… I used to walk here when I was younger.” [Laughs] It gives me pleasure to go back. To say, “Ah, I used to come here to buy food.” Or, “I used to go there…” Yes, it has a charm. Yes. And you know, I love Bucharest… For me, it represents my life. 32 [accessed 15 February 2010]. 61
  • 62. Even though Gabriela had seen her house demolished by Ceau"escu in the 1980s, and was forced to relocate to a smaller apartment without sufficient compensation, her personal connections to the city still resonated with the sentiments capitalised on by the advertisements described above. As Zukin states (2000: 138), it is important to question the extent to which private economic forces redesign and reclassify cities through their use of “symbolic languages of exclusion and entitlement.” Throughout Bucharest, projected ideas of the city are literally layered over the existing ones, hiding the deteriorating surfaces underneath, offering desirable models for the future, along with “consumable visions of civility” (ibid 141). The excess of commercialised images, panels, and slogans layered upon physical structures in various states of repair often provoked people to want to solidify images from the past in their minds. As #erban, who had lived in the same Bucharest block for sixty years, remarked, Things in this city are disappearing at an enormous speed. It is a serious mental exercise to try and recover images of buildings, streets, neighbourhoods that no longer exist. What annoys me is that I am starting to forget what they were like before, because my memory has fewer and fewer forms of external support. This dynamic often led people to formulate memories of Bucharest as stable and coherent, even when their recollections were (like most memories) vague and fuzzy. Such a phenomenon points towards the importance of external, material elements in both forming and maintaining memories, and the influence of tangible surroundings on shaping perceptions of reality. It underlines Huyssen’s claim that the turn toward memory is rooted in a “desire to anchor ourselves in a world characterized by an increasing instability of time and the fracturing of lived space” (2003: 18). But it also points to Bucharest’s instability, pushing people at particular moments to care about the city’s past, because threats of demolition and construction provoke concern for whatever might “disappear” next. The current forces of change, connected to trends brought about by wider, transnational economic processes, threaten to substitute alternate images for people’s own memories. At other times, 62
  • 63. however, these forces stimulate efforts to secure private, alternative recollections—counter-memories of the city. As my friend Dan explained, he had returned to Bucharest in 2003, after five years of living in France, and temporarily stayed with his parents in their neighbourhood of Berceni before finding a place of his own. This peripheral district was built by Ceau"escu in the late 1960s to house the industrial working class. Dan showed me around the neighbourhood, with its grey, monotone streets lined with massive blocks on either side. “Coming home was like stepping back in time,” he told me. “Into a war zone… But my mother loves it. She says it’s greener and quieter than the city centre, and she wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.” He pointed out the little park behind his parents’ block where he spent much of his childhood playing. There were clusters of trees and winding alleyways off the main streets. In a corner of the building’s interior courtyard, there were two little hyacinths, one pink and one blue, which had been appearing there every spring since before Dan was born, for more than 33 years. “They’re wild,” he told me. “Nobody planted them. They just keep reappearing every year, always in the same place.” Fig. 2.9 Hyacinths in Dan’s courtyard, Berceni district Photo by Drago" Diojdescu (2007) These two flowers, hidden from public view yet familiar to the building’s residents, were somehow more resilient and enduring than many of the city’s large-scale structures and edifices. They contributed to a powerful sense of continuity and community in the neighbourhood, stemming from a 63
  • 64. source perhaps too subtle for many urban theorists to acknowledge. Their existence defies Simmel’s alienating characterisation of metropolitan inhabitants as lacking “spirituality, delicacy, and idealism” (2000 [1903]: 126), or Wirth’s arguments that cities foster “impersonal, transitory, and superficial interactions” (2000 [1938]: 100), or Buck-Morss’s observations of the “numbing” effects of urban distractions and overstimulation (1992: 22). The hyacinths may have seemed marginal in relation to the city as a whole, but they were meaningful to the families who had made this space their home. They symbolised and triggered an alternative repertoire of memories connected to family, belonging, and growing up that standard political and historical accounts of the past fail to acknowledge. City as Worksite Fig. 2.10 Replacing the cobblestones Photo from Dilema Veche (2006) People often complained about the inconvenience of Bucharest’s extensive, incessant renovations. “Under the pretext of accelerated development,” wrote one columnist, “there are non-stop demolitions and constructions of various proportions. The real estate boom has transformed our world into a construction site” (Turcescu 2007). My friends tended to view the construction work as a disconcerting yet necessary upheaval: the city-asworksite vaguely promised modernisation and progress, but was also an impediment to Bucharest’s “properly European” urban identity. Local 64
  • 65. newspapers covered debates about emerging skyscrapers, particularly ones situated in areas now considered historic. Many people viewed the new buildings as inappropriate, contrasting too much with the surrounding architecture, “suffocating” the space and “destroying” its charm. Others joined protest groups, signed petitions, and put signs around construction sites calling attention to the “damage” they were doing to the neighbourhood. Some blamed the local city planning bodies, urging them to take a more active role in monitoring such projects. Some discourses have criticised such opinions as “extreme.” 33 But passionate reactions about the current demolition and construction boom likely stem from traumatic memories about the city’s history of parallel activities under Ceau"escu. In the early 2000s, when high-rises started appearing next to historical churches, these infringements reminded people about the fate of Bucharest’s churches in the 1980s. Ceau"escu had bulldozed more than a dozen of them, and moved many others behind tower blocks to hide them from public view.34 His drastic destructions during that decade (sometimes compared to the “Haussmannisation” of Paris) also obliterated several of Bucharest’s oldest residential districts, replacing them with the Palace of the People and the Civic Centre complex that stood in stark contrast to what had existed there before (Cantacuzino 2001: 22). The current building frenzy also reminded Dan of his childhood during the 1980s, when the endless demolitions seemed to turn the city into a “battlefield.” There used to be a tram, Number 34, which went by my parents’ house, through the centre of the city, passing houses with green gardens, trees, churches. Gradually it became scarier and scarier as the houses were demolished. People said it was far worse than the American bombings during the Second World War. You looked around and all you saw were ruins. Bucharest additionally had experienced extensive demolitions a century earlier, inspired by the urban planning techniques of Baron Haussmann in 1850s Paris (Ignat 2007; Ioan 2007). Like medieval Paris, Bucharest had 33 See T. Popescu (2006) for his argument that those with “BANANA” attitudes (Build Almost Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) are overreacting. Popescu suggests that cities should be seen as a “perpetual project,” that new and old architecture do not have to be incompatible, and that different styles of buildings should be allowed to peacefully co-exist . 34 One newspaper headline in 2007 proclaimed, “The Golden Age returns: churches will be demolished under the weight of orange skyscrapers” (E. Popescu 2007). 65
  • 66. consisted mainly of narrow, twisted streets in the “oriental” style, with asymmetrically situated houses. In the 1880s, King Carol I and Mayor Protopopescu tore down old neighbourhoods in the city centre, building wide, straight boulevards in their place, and creating the most “occidental” network of arteries Bucharest had seen (Ignat 2007). At the time, these new straight lines, promenades, and open spaces had prompted outrage, with people comparing the sad fate of their own city to that of Haussmann’s Paris. Ironically, however, many Romanians now incorrectly attribute Bucharest’s nickname of “Little Paris” to the interwar period, when there was a flourishing of “occidental” culture, prosperity, and civilisation. Contemporary allusions to Bucharest’s “Parisian” identity curiously skip over the cities’ common background of medieval, “oriental” streets and radical demolitions. They instead emphasise how both Bucharest and Paris contain Western, European, and highly cultured histories, pushing the more “shameful” elements of their shared past to the peripheries of collective memory. In the past, Ceau"escu was the easiest and most obvious culprit to blame for Bucharest’s urban problems. Today, pinpointing the source of harm is more difficult. People can now only vaguely blame governmental “corruption,” or the neo-liberal atmosphere that allows investors the freedom to implement anything as long as they have the money. There is currently no systematic urbanisation policy in Bucharest, and urban planning committees are considered ineffective and “corrupt.” The transformations of the city’s landscapes happen “in silence,” through private, anonymous initiatives (Pippidi 2007a). The few urban planning laws that do exist, according to my friend Domnica, are “simply not applied.” As she explained to me, After decades of accelerated destruction, a new series of equally serious destructions is happening now. Just because of a lack of scruples. Corruption! In the end, it’s the same lack of scruples that accompanies the nouveau riche in all domains, not just in construction. But it’s a dementia that’s equivalent to the time of Ceau"escu… Memories of Ceau"escu’s demolitions also seemed to spark a discourse that until the past decade had been largely absent from the public sphere: the need to restore and preserve the value of Bucharest’s neglected “historic” areas. 66
  • 67. For the first time, I began hearing the Lipscani neighbourhood described as the city’s “historic centre.” In 1999-2000, people had referred to it merely as a neglected and rundown area. I had spent much time wandering its cobblestone streets, photographing abandoned buildings and peeking into antique and junk stores, watch-repair places, and haberdashery shops. A few years later, debates began to surface about “revitalising” the area, regulating its business development, and assessing its commercial value. There was also public concern that during its years of neglect, the neighbourhood had become inhabited largely by Roma families, contributing to discourses about the need to “clean it up.” The Association of Investors in the Historic Centre became very active in publicising this cause (see Frolu 2006). Investments increased, and during my fieldwork, many new expensive bars, cafés, and clothing boutiques opened there. In 2007, Lipscani’s old, broken cobblestones were replaced with new ones. Official commemorative plaques with descriptions of the area’s architectural history (in Romanian and English) appeared on its street-corners. Projecting a particular (Roma-free and poverty-free) national history in Bucharest’s landscape was not just perpetuated by the state, but by local business, cultural, and intellectual sectors as well. As Huyssen writes (2003: 15), “No doubt, the world is being musealized, and we all play our parts in it.” “Little Paris” and URME In November 2006, I attended an exhibition that explicitly addressed the past, present, and future of Bucharest’s built environment. Entitled “Metamorphosis of a Metropolis: Little Paris,” it was funded by the French and Goethe Institutes of Bucharest, and curated by Romanian architects and urban planners. “This is the beginning of a period of renewal, protection, and restoration,” one wall-panel proclaimed. The space featured archival photographs of city scenes; computer-generated blueprints of some of its most impressive historic buildings; and a video and text-based installation proposing ways to renovate the Lipscani neighbourhood. The pictures and wall texts 67
  • 68. called attention to the city’s French neo-classical architecture from the 19th century, and its German modernist Bauhaus constructions from the inter-war period (note the connections to the funding bodies). This exhibition, not so coincidentally organised a few months before Romania’s entry into the EU, sent an important signal. It created new cultural connections between Bucharest and the West in the contemporary public consciousness, portraying nostalgic notions about the city’s pre-communist past as its natural and legitimate identity. The exhibit depicted Bucharest as a victim of misdirected urban policies during communism (a “city of wounded architecture”), and stressed its need to regain its “European” reputation. The wall-texts repeatedly referred to Paris as a model for Bucharest’s “modern identity,” citing Georges Oudard’s observation in 1953: Bucharest is the most radiant, lively, elegant, and at the same time most Western, though it lies the furthest east, of all of the Balkan capitals […] A Frenchman would also agree, re-experiencing the agreeable feeling of almost being at home here. Mihai Oroveanu, the director of the National Museum of Contemporary Art, gave a short speech at the opening. He confirmed how Bucharest was trying to “regain its rhythm and its sense of normality,” as it was “still misunderstood by the civilised world” after having been the “most demolished city in times of peace.” He concluded, Now is the moment… This exhibition was made with the hope that the Romanian political world, the mass media, and the general population will visit it… Now that we want to enter into Europe, we have to show that we also have valuable things to offer. The current need to reclaim and reaffirm Bucharest’s importance to Romania and the rest of the world was echoed in another project I encountered in 2006. In November, the Museum of Literature launched a year-long program called URME (Urban Remembrance and Memory of Europe).35 Financed by grants from the “Culture 2000” programme of the European Union, this was a “multidisciplinary study” engaging in the “reactivation of urban memory,” in collaboration with teams from Athens, Budapest, Potenza, Saragossa, Arles, 35 The Romanian word urme means “traces” or “tracks.” 68
  • 69. and Lodz. I attended the first local meeting in December, met the Bucharest participants, and observed their activities throughout the year. Their monthly meetings took place in a small office at the Literature Museum. A brightly coloured poster on the wall announced URME’s slogan in English: “Traces to remember; places to inspire.” Aside from the main coordinator, there were six volunteers in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, with backgrounds in anthropology, art history, literature, philology, and urban studies. In the upcoming months, a representative from each of the participating countries would spend nine days visiting one of the targeted cities; then everyone would write up his or her impressions for publication at the end of 2007. Local members were also in charge of getting to know particular “routes” in their home city so that they could guide the foreign teams when it was their turn as hosts. While all of the local participants seemed passionate about Bucharest, their ideas about the project’s goals varied, and did not necessarily reflect the rhetoric put forth in URME’s official posters and brochures. Ruxandra (mid 30s) recounted to me how she viewed Bucharest “through the prism of history,” with an emotional attachment to its 19th century architecture, and particularly to the places her parents had told her about when she was growing up. She felt that communism had destroyed Bucharest’s “architectural patrimony,” and commented that constructions after the 1950s were “lacking in identity.” On the other hand, Ana-Maria (mid 30s) did not view URME as about the “recovery of history.” To her, it was a provocation to articulate her own personal and subjective “rapport” with Bucharest, which she found “pretty, even though it was ugly, because it was a part of my childhood.” C!t!lin (late 20s) explained that participating in URME gave him an extra incentive to document the “rapid but discrete” changes he had been noticing in Bucharest, changes which all too often passed unnoticed. Despite these differences, all appeared to share the desire to put Bucharest “on the map”36 so that foreigners would take notice of its positive qualities. On the whole, they seemed 36 The Romanian team also published an actual map entitled “Urban literary routes in Bucharest,” pointing out historic buildings, cemeteries, parks, and other landmarks relevant to the city’s cultural and literary history. Text on the map explained its inspiration from Joyce’s Ulysses, which had transformed Dublin into a place of pilgrimage by creating its own set of urban memories, thereby giving that city new cultural significance. 69
  • 70. enthusiastic as new texts about Bucharest were published (in newspapers, journals, and books) by the month; 37 indeed, some of the team members themselves were responsible for the appearance of such books. The published URME anthology has beautiful photographs and descriptive texts, but it sometimes reads like a contrived, romanticised touristguide. The local volunteers, who shared certain frameworks of memories and narratives about Bucharest, offered personal and idiosyncratic histories, experiences, and accounts of the city. The contributions of the foreign visitors to Bucharest, however, tended towards broad generalisations and clichés. One, for example, idealised the city’s “invaluable cultural heritage,” describing its distinctly French character as “the most beautiful accomplishment of cultural influence recorded in the modern world” (Tountas 2007: 134-5). Boym (2001: 41) links such phenomena to acts of “restorative” nostalgia, desires to reconstruct a lost past by evoking certain national symbols and myths. Appadurai (1996: 78) calls it “armchair” or “ersatz” nostalgia—a wistful remembering of something not personally experienced in one’s own living or collective memory. He interprets such impulses as marketing strategies, symptoms of global post-modernity. In this instance, because the URME anthology was free, the aim was not to sell more books, but rather to sell a particular image of Bucharest within Romania and abroad. While many of the essays in the anthology celebrate the fact that Bucharest is still relatively free of souvenir shops and tourist traps, they paradoxically contribute to the “souvenirisation” of the city’s past (Boym 2001: 38). “Restorative” Architecture A similar example of “restorative” architecture may be found in the four-star Novotel hotel in downtown Bucharest, which opened in September 2006. The hotel sits on the site of the former National Theatre, which was built in 1852, bombed during the Second World War, and torn down completely in 1960. The body of the new hotel is boxlike, with a wall of mirrored windows 37 Istodor (2007); Majuru (2006); Ofrim (2007); Sitaru (2006). 70
  • 71. facing Victoria Street. Its façade is an exact replica of the front of the original theatre, with the hotel’s driveway running through its distinctive archway of marble columns. Many of my friends found the effect ugly and kitschy, a ridiculous way to give the hotel a bit of quick prestige. But some considered it a noteworthy (though not altogether successful) attempt to link Bucharest’s modern architecture to its pre-communist past. As Ruxandra observed, When the façade was built, it was like seeing an old friend. Even though the theatre was already gone before I was born. But I had seen pictures, heard stories from my grandparents. The building itself isn’t really that nice, and the hotel has nothing to do with the theatre, but however unprofessionally it was done, at least they built something to evoke the memory of what used to be in its place… At night you can pretend that the glass walls of the building aren’t there, and you can just look at the façade as if the theatre were still behind it. Fig. 2.11 National Theatre (1930s) Fig. 2.12 Novotel with reconstructed National Theatre façade (2008) 71
  • 72. Yet when I would pass the hotel in the evenings, I would look up and not see “back in time,” but fashionable people with cocktails milling around on the marble balcony, playing the contemporary role of Bucharest’s exclusive nouveau riche. By recreating an image lodged in the collective memory of Bucharest residents, Novotel was literally cashing in on an important national symbol of the city’s pre-communist identity. The hotel represents an “intentional” monument, by claiming its place in “immortality and the eternal present” (Riegl 1998 [1903]: 638). The building could be seen as a classic lieu de mémoire, which according to Nora (1989: 12) occurs when actual, living memory is replaced by a “reconstituted object beneath the gaze of critical history.” However, as evidenced by Ruxandra’s perception of the edifice as fitting into her own personal repertoire of memories, such lieux de mémoire often have more flexible and varied meanings. Another variation of restorative architecture can be seen in the postrevolution transformations of communist canteens into capitalist shopping malls. In 1979, Ceau"escu introduced the first of a series of nationwide “nourishment” programs that substantially reduced the recommended nutritional intake (Anghelescu, et al. 2003: 30). In his efforts to save on resources, Ceau"escu began constructing large, circular halls, with the goal of replacing individualised family kitchens and serving daily meals to the entire population of Bucharest. People nicknamed them “hunger circuses” (circurile foamei), because of the preposterousness of this idea. Ceau"escu planned to build one in each of the six main districts of the city. While some of these structures were completed by 1989, the Revolution occurred before they could be put to their intended use. The first canteen-turned-mall opened in 2000. Since then, others have emerged to serve as islands of consumerism and comfort, offering shops, movie theatres, and fast food restaurants (perhaps post-communist versions of the hunger circus?). 72
  • 73. Fig. 2.13 Hunger circus, Rahova district (1994) Fig. 2.14 Hunger Circus-turned-mall, Vitan district (2004) Photos by Dan Mih!l$ianu (Auditorium, et al. 2007) These malls do not explicitly invoke their previous incarnations, and most of the teenagers who frequent them are probably not even aware of the buildings’ original purpose. The Vitan mall only features a mere hint towards its iron and concrete skeleton that was once such a familiar part of Bucharest’s landscape of the 1980s and ‘90s (see the pink sketch of a dome on its façade). Indeed, the new malls lead more to forgetting than remembering their past, supporting the notion that there is no straightforward relationship between the built environment and productions of memory. As Forty writes (1999: 14), we need to question the idea of buildings as analogues for memory, and instead examine how architecture can be an agent of collective forgetting. These renovated structures are geared towards the future, towards redefining their place in the urban landscape, and towards separating them from previous social, 73
  • 74. historical, and political referents. They function as “unintentional” monuments (Riegl 1998 [1903]: 623), their commemorative value determined not by their makers, but by those who happen to recognise it as such—in this case, anyone old enough or willing to remember the stories behind the malls’ existence. Memory and Distance Despite the highly visual nature of such sites of memory, they are not always apparent to people living in their midst. As my friend Cosmin once observed, “When you are always here in Bucharest, the changes can seem very slow. When you leave and come back, then you notice how different everything is, even after a short period of time.” Distance from what had come to feel natural or familiar seemed to be a common source of memoryawareness. Dorel told me a story about an elderly widower who lived alone and did not go out much at night. His life had become restricted to the area around his house, the library, and the neighbourhood shops. Ten years after the Revolution, some friends took him for a ride around Bucharest to see the Christmas lights. He was absolutely astounded. He couldn’t believe it was Bucharest. The place he had spent his entire life. Because he remembered the city as it used to be. Completely dark. They didn’t used to put up Christmas lights. The city used to be pitch black. It’s hard to imagine now. There are so many things that I remember, but even I can’t really believe that it was like that. Or I can’t really picture them very clearly. It’s foggy. And if you told a younger person about it, they’d say it wasn’t true. In this case, Dorel’s own memories of Bucharest’s darkness were unexpectedly brought back into focus through vicariously experiencing someone else’s distance from and reconnection to the city. Another woman I met told me how she left Romania in 1979 to move to Norway, and that her periods of physical separation from Bucharest made the changes stand out more strongly whenever she returned. The images of Bucharest she carried around with her simply did not fit with what she found when she came back to visit. “I can’t see eye to eye anymore with my friends here,” she said, “because 74
  • 75. they don’t realise how much they’ve forgotten. And I don’t realise how fixated I’ve become on the past.” In a moment of what Boym describes as “reflective nostalgia,” C!lin (in his mid 30s, born and raised in Bucharest) recounted to me how it was only in 2006, during a trip he took to the communist Moldovan city of Chi"in!u,38 when it hit him how much Romania had actually been changing. He was “transported” back to his own memories of Bucharest in the ‘80s and early ‘90s: As soon as I arrived at the Chi"in!u train station, things started reminding me of my childhood. The old cars and buildings. The way people would look at you when you walked down the street. Hunched over. Never smiling. The lack of colour in their clothing. The city was grey and ashen, like Bucharest used to be. The trash cans on the streets were curved; none of the sharp edges and clean lines like you see here now... And the hotel where I was staying, it was just like the Romanian hotels of my childhood. Luxury but kitsch. Hot water only at certain hours of the day. No heat—I had to sleep in my coat and hat. A radio made of plastic that was old and yellow, like false teeth. And news programs that started with a sound signal just like the one we used to have in Romania before the Revolution.39 Less about trying to recapture or reconstruct a fixed past, C!lin’s reflective memories were a “meditation on history and the passage of time,” ironic and fragmentary, combining individual and social experiences (Boym 2001: 49). Bucharest’s recent post-communist urban renewal projects had been transforming the city, but they did not trigger in C!lin the same kinds of recollections that had emerged during his trip to Chi"in!u. It took travelling to a place that had not undergone the same kinds of physical transformations for him to realise that his previous aesthetic and sensory perceptions of Bucharest were no longer part of his daily experiences there. The increasing accessibility of travel offered Romanians more opportunities to experience different urban environments, and to compare these other places with their own cities. Before 1990, ordinary citizens were rarely granted passports to leave the communist block. In the following decade, 38 The Republic of Moldova was part of Romania and then part of the Soviet Union until its independence in 1989. In 2001, the Communist Party won the majority in Parliament, and President Voronin, Europe’s first democratically elected communist head of state, remained in power until September 2009. 39 Many Romanians spoke about Moldova as “backwards” and “still in the past,” a distinction magnified by Romania’s entry into the EU. While C!lin’s description of Chi"in!u had ironic, rather than overtly disparaging overtones, it still implies gradations of otherness within the East (Bakic-Hayden’s concept of “nesting Balkanisms”) and a continued East/West dichotomy (see Bakic-Hayden 1995; Bjelic and Savic 2002; S. Green 2005). 75
  • 76. Romanians were free to have passports, but the paperwork and costs of travelling were prohibitive to a large part of the population. Legislation in 2002 made visas no longer necessary when visiting Schengen member states, and by 2006, 20% of Romania’s employable population was working outside the country (Wagstyl 2006). After EU accession, all travel restrictions were lifted, but local salaries were still 15% of the European average (Gallagher 2006), so for most Romanians, extensive travelling was still more likely in theory than in practice. During my fieldwork, there was much talk about Delta Airlines’ new direct flights between Bucharest and New York, and how Wizz Air and Blue Air offered low-cost tickets to many places around Europe. These openings (and discourse about such openings) can be viewed as fuelling increasing reflexivity about the transitions “back home.” They contributed to outbursts of memory work about Bucharest in the public sphere. Anticipation of Romania’s place in the EU may also have stimulated this sense of distance, as looking to the future often provides enough rupture with the present to “defamiliarise” it. As Huyssen notes of our contemporary era (2003: 1-2), when temporal and spatial distances are altered through modern transport and communication, and projections of the future are “in crisis,” the past becomes present in ways that previous generations never could have fathomed. The City in Motion The pasts discernable through and provoked by Bucharest’s structures and surfaces are not universally visible or constant. The city cannot be portrayed as a frozen photographic image; it must be captured in sound and motion, blurred and rolling like the frames of a film. As Hirsch argues (1995: 23), a landscape cannot be seen as an absolute or static picture, but rather as a “series of related, contradictory moments and perspectives,” based on common reference points and shared moments in the “flow of space.” Any space must be understood as “shot through with temporalities,” always socially produced, subjective, and open to transformation (Tilley 1994: 11). 76
  • 77. I have pointed to Bucharest’s inherent contradictions and multiplicities, and the impossibility of remembering or imagining it in a single way. The city is simultaneously monolithic, eclectic, ordered, chaotic, repulsive, attractive, impersonal, intimate, wealthy, poor, European, Balkan, old, new, communist, post-communist, and many other things in-between. These qualities of inconsistency and contrast seem to be the city’s only constants over time. The city refuses to be neatly packaged or categorised, echoing and contributing to the conflicting ways its residents are constructing and redefining it during the current phase of transition. A city’s landscapes comprise not just physical sites, but contingent arenas experienced by individual bodies and their corresponding emotions, recollections, and narratives (Casey 1987: 189; Tilley 1994: 33). Public rhetoric depicts contemporary Bucharest as a city “damaged” by communism, or as a reincarnation of the so-called interwar “Paris of the East.” Yet individual discourses, as well as material layers within the city itself, portray alternative stories. The overlapping and interweaving of these different modes of recollection point to memory’s unstable and indefinable qualities, which are embedded in the city’s overlooked forms. Schama observes (1996: 14) that myths and memories often remain “hidden beneath layers of the commonplace.” I would add that layers of the commonplace are themselves often the very carriers of memory. It is not what lies “beneath” them, but the commemorative echoes of their very textures and forms which must be taken into account. 77
  • 78. CHAPTER 3: Forgotten Interiors Every attic is an archive, every living room a museum (Gillis 1994: 14). Introduction There is a considerable body of literature exploring the material culture of dwelling spaces.40 According to Maleuvre (1999: 120), the domestic interior can be viewed as a “basic anthropological document,” telling us about the “ontological (and therefore sociological, psychological, historical) selfgrounding of a particular society at a particular historical juncture.” A home’s contents and its material arrangements may represent “small social landscapes” indexing certain relations, identities, and values (Pesmen 2000a: 214). Much recent ethnographic work has addressed these issues within post-socialist contexts, as well as in connection to discourses and practices of recollection.41 Yet as Bachelard (1994 [1958]: xxxvii) has observed, household interiors are not only carriers of memory, but also repositories for things that have been forgotten. Lofts, cupboards, closets, and spaces under the bed may contain artefacts that have accumulated over the course of many years, or gone unnoticed for long periods of time. During my fieldwork, I found such marginalised storage areas and their neglected contents to be rich avenues for accessing people’s memories of the past, feelings about the present, and expectations about the future. Like Benjamin and the surrealists, I was less concerned with intentionally collected mementos than with cast-aside objects and non-memorable household “clutter” (Leslie 1999: 73; Mackovicky 2007: 302). 40 See Miller (1995) for a comprehensive literature review. Also see Bourdieu (1977) and Carsten and Hugh-Jones (1995), for analyses of the relationship between the house and the body, and Chapman and Hockey (1999); Cieraad (1999); Madigan and Munro (1996); Miller (2001); Rice (2004); and Woodward (2001) for studies of the connections between domestic objects and social relations. 41 Boym (1994); Buchli (2000, 2002); Crowley (2000); Crowley and Reid (2000); Drazin (2001, 2002); Fujii (2005, 2008); Graves-Brown (2000); Hecht (2001); Humphrey (2002, 2005); Mackovicky (2007); Marcoux (2001); Pelkmans (2003); Pesmen (2000a, 2000b). 78
  • 79. This chapter discusses my practices of mining unintentionally commemorative interior spaces to provoke “revaluation[s] […] of the devalued material object,” towards exploring “dream worlds” of the past (Ferris 2004: 187) and the post-socialist present. I consider how accumulations of forgotten things may provoke what both Proust and Benjamin labelled “involuntary” or “true” memories (Leslie 1999: 68; Mackovicky 2007: 302)—haphazard yet meaningful recollections emerging at unexpected moments in time. I adopt Maleuvre’s idea of “bricabracologie” (1999: 125) to describe asking individuals to revisit their disused possessions and storage areas, and share with me their reminiscences. These narratives incorporated idiosyncratic and often conflicting perspectives, setting them apart from much of the official commemorative remembrance work currently dominating Romania’s public spheres. They reinforced the notion that memory is a processual and contingent phenomenon, constantly shifting in relation to ever-changing present-day circumstances. Reconnecting with forgotten spaces and objects also allowed people to recall their varied and strategic treatments of communist power structures. Instead of indicating either full complicity with or total resistance to the system, their memories revealed their capacity to work around it and challenge it, albeit in symbolic ways. As Yurchak argues (2006: 115), such alternative discourses may be more “deterritorialised” than “dissident,” revealing the “diversity and plurality and indeterminacy” of dominant ideologies (ibid 157). The multiplicity of memories I encountered through practices of bricabracologie signalled people’s abilities to infuse institutionalised, official structures with alternative meanings within the domestic spaces of their everyday lives. Politics of Space Literature about socialist and Soviet interiors tends to underline connections between materiality and ideology. While some studies analyse how Marxist materialist political philosophy cultivated socialist notions of taste, beauty, and artistic value in the home (Crowley 2000; Reid 1997), others 79
  • 80. investigate how Soviet citizens creatively re-appropriated their dwelling spaces (Boym 1994; Buchli 2000; Humphrey 2005). As people accumulated items other than those provided by the state, decorating a flat became an implicitly politicised activity, a symbolic gesture of resistance (Crowley and Reid 2000: 14). In communist Romania, acquiring foreign or hard-to-find goods afforded people a means of “constituting their selfhood” in the face of a “deeply unpopular regime” (Verdery 1996: 29). Many people told me that immediately after the Revolution, there was a mad rush to throw out any objects connected to communism. They tended to hold on to their heavy, wooden, communist-era furniture, however, as it still carried connotations of creating a “caring” and comfortable domestic atmosphere (Drazin 2001: 175). But by the early 2000s, in urban areas, individuals had begun to discard furniture, appliances, and other large household items that seemed to “belong” to the previous political regime (Drazin 2002). By 2006, people were still critical of decorative styles associated with the communist past, condemning their aesthetics and their political associations. Many of my friends and acquaintances were busy “modernising” their flats to “catch up” with other European cities. As I have noted in Chapter 1, the thermopane craze was in full swing. It was also considered fashionable to replace old wooden parquet floorboards with laminate flooring. People started shopping at Ikea, which had opened its Bucharest branch in January 2007. Many homes rapidly filled up with its brightly-coloured, lightweight tables, chairs, and accessories. When I asked about these purchases, most attributed their preferences to practical needs (thermopane insulated the house better; laminate floors were easier to clean; lightweight furniture took up less space). Yet there seemed to be a tacit understanding that the older things were, the more likely they were to carry traces of communism (unless they pre-dated the communist period, in which case they had a higher value). 80
  • 81. Poetics of Space Intentional displays within the home have been analysed as indexing dispositions attributed to individual or class-related values and consumption patterns (Bourdieu 1984), or as revealing objects’ conflicting “regimes of value” (Appadurai 1986).42 Artefacts that are not a part of people’s calculated décor leave room for other interpretations. My approach differs from traditional analyses of how people deliberately employ domestic objects to reflect and shape their own identities (Bourdieu 1984; Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981; Miller 2001), by exploring how disparaged or forgotten artefacts may betray ideas and associations not purposely cultivated by their owners. As Makovicky notes (2007: 304), household collections constitute practical, non-discursive remembrance work, as their accumulation involves not only explicitly constructed narratives, but also unspoken assumptions. Tucked-away “clutter” may carry shadowy, ambiguous, or inadvertent connections to individualised memories that do not straightforwardly adhere to established cultural, political, or historical narratives. Visionaries such as Benjamin, Bachelard, and the French surrealists offer particularly nuanced explorations of the relationships between politics, memory, and domestic space. Benjamin (1999) identifies not only political ideologies, but also poetic energies within the recesses of the interior. Bachelard writes about the home as a site for “topo-analysis,” containing not just objects and furniture, but also memories, dreams, and imaginations (1994 [1958]: 15). Similarly, the French surrealists describe bourgeois living spaces as embodying unconscious memories and desires, their material forms possessing psychological and emotional qualities. If a building’s architecture is understood as a metaphor for surfaces of the body (Bourdieu 1977), with its interior spaces evoking internal realms of consciousness (Buchli 2002: 209; 42 See Jackson and Moores (1995) and Miller (1995) for discussions of the political economies of household commodification and patterns of consumption. See Appadurai (1986), for analysis of the production of objects’ values through politically mediated processes; and Appadurai (1986); Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981); and Hoskins (1998) for studies of the cultural histories and biographies of “things” as they historically shift through time and space. 81
  • 82. Maleuvre 1999: 124), then objects in neglected storage areas may connect to similarly remote thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The surrealists observed that forgotten and “outmoded” things carry particularly powerful connotations and energies (Foster 1993: 158; Leslie 1999: 77). Neglected spaces and forgotten objects can rupture the surfaces of the present, sparking moments of Benjaminian “historical awakening” (1999: 389), and providing insights into contemporary understandings of previous eras. The “dialectical images” resulting from present encounters with abandoned, devalued, or obsolete objects allows us to not simply know the past as it “once was,” but rather to more fully understand the current context where the “past is read” (Buck-Morss 2005: 155), and to see where “tokens of the future are hidden” (Szondi 2005: 146). Encounters with non-deliberately-commemorative objects and interiors represent intersections between the constantly emerging present and the continually re-defined past, rather than sites for uncovering mere remnants left-over from a bygone era. Below, I explore forgotten collections in three Bucharest interiors: the living room of a two-bedroom flat, a personal storage space in a communist-era block, and a basement storeroom at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant.43 Within these post-socialist spaces, I investigate the connections between material culture, aesthetics, political ideology, and processes of recollection and forgetting. My focus is on how their neglected contents stimulated unexpected and unsystematic memories of the past, experiences of the present, and dreams and desires about the future. While such artefacts may be connected to the public realm through broader, shared social experiences and memories (Hoskins 1998: 8), I look beyond their generalised, globalised connotations to find their ties to localised and individual histories, identities, dream-worlds, and imaginations. 43 The basement of a museum is not exactly a “domestic” interior, but this particular site was more of a personalised than an institutionalised location. It served a similar function to that of a private storage space, for reasons I will elaborate on below. 82
  • 83. Lustre and Lace I begin with two examples that illustrate how the contemporary Romanian print media have tended to produce memory discourses in relation to urban, post-socialist interiors. In one of Romania’s main cultural newspapers, in an article entitled “The lustre of communism—or in praise of natural wood from Ikea” (2007), Andrei Manolescu recounts an evening when he happened to glimpse through a window into a ground-floor Bucharest flat. There he saw an elderly woman sitting at a sewing machine. The room had dark, lacquered wooden furniture, with an old television atop a shiny trolley. In one corner was a blue and gold vase filled with plastic flowers. This scene, Manolescu writes, opened up a view into an “uncomfortable and painful past,” reminding him of how Romanian apartments had looked “for decades” (2007: 6). Dingy walls; highly polished furniture; inoperative radiators; black-and-white televisions; kitsch bibelots cluttered on shelves; cupboards filled with jars of home-made pickles; matte glass windows in the kitchen and bathroom doors; toilets with lids that never stayed up. Negative memories of the “ugly” aesthetics and “low quality” artefacts from Romania’s recent past flooded Manolescu’s mind, taking him back to the “cold and smoky air of communism itself” (ibid). In a popular Romanian women’s magazine from the following year, I came across a bank advertisement depicting a hand-drawn cartoon publicising mortgage interest rates (see Figure 3.1, below). On the left, above a happy woman placing flowers on top of a cabinet was the caption: “Mihai’s wife decorates the house the way she wants.” On the right, above a downcast woman arranging a porcelain figurine and a lace doily on a television, were the words, “Mircea’s wife decorates the house the way her mother-in-law wants.” A third caption stated: “Mircea, give us a call! We’ll come to you!” (Tabu magazine, July 2008). The cartoon’s references to the past may be subtler than in the first example (though its gender stereotypes are hardly subtle). But its connections to communism are immediately decipherable by anyone familiar with the doily-and-bibelot home decor so ubiquitous in urban Romania during the ‘70s, ‘80s, and early ‘90s. The message of this ad is clear: with new possibilities for bank loans, younger generations will be able to escape their 83
  • 84. financial worries, and they will enjoy a future freed from old-fashioned objects, attitudes, and family dynamics “tainted” by the communist period. Fig. 3.1 Advertisement in Tabu Magazine (2008) These banal household items have the power to stir up sentiments related to the aesthetics of another time and space, a world with other textures, colours, and odours, different family dynamics and social relationships (also see Neidhart 2003). Both of the above examples feature familiar stereotypes of communism as producing substandard products and fashions, as well as fostering oppressive, social relations of dependency. In both instances, “outdated” artefacts evoke negatively charged political recollections, making clear that a capitalist future with Ikea cabinets and fresh flowers is infinitely preferable to a communist one with lace doilies and heavy, lacquered furniture. The advertisers’ assumption that these objects would have such broadly recognisable, universally accepted connotations reflects the media’s view that Romania’s communist past may be reduced to a single, shared, national experience. Just as the rejection of particular material objects associated with the aesthetics of communism may be seen as a refusal to endorse its policies or agendas, manifesting one’s taste (which Bourdieu describes as a “refusal of other tastes” [1984: 56]) in such cases is less of an index of social position than a marker of political and cultural identity. Yet while the mutual recognition of such objects may appear to delineate communities of collective memory, with shared “tastes,” “dispositions,” and “knowledge” (Bourdieu 1984: 76), these 84
  • 85. items must also be analysed for their complex, individualised connections to memory. Although many of my friends demonstrated preferences for “modern,” “higher quality” household arrangements, they did not welcome all new decorative trends, nor did they unanimously reject everything from the communist past. The actual ways that formal forces may be seen to “produce” or “reinforce” people’s behaviours and beliefs, or bring them “into line with official being” (ibid 25), are never straightforward.44 This dynamic applies to obvious communist propaganda, as well as to more subtle advertising ploys of the capitalist era. As Eagleton writes (1990: 3-4), while the creation of an aesthetic artefact is inseparable from dominant ideological forms of class society, aesthetics cannot be simply reduced to its ideological functions. Most poststructuralist approaches explore alternatives to functionalist or deterministic connections between materiality and culture, challenging Marxist premises that the material bases of life unilaterally shape social consciousness (Buchli 2000; Graves-Brown 2000; Humphrey 2005; Crowley and Reid 2000). Yet the relationships between ideology and post-socialist domestic interiors deserve closer attention. Just as communist citizens’ material surroundings were not automatic responses to the dominant political ideology, post-socialist interiors—communicating fragmented, diverse, and inconsistent perceptions about the past—can be viewed as individual, conceptual “refractions” of broader cultural discourses (Humphrey 2005). Methods and Reconsiderations As Pesmen (2000b: 195) probed the contents of “grandmothers’ locked wardrobes” (crochet work, medicine bottles, old clothes, books, photographs) to reveal the inner worlds of the post-Soviet soul, I wished to provoke my interlocutors to rummage through their cupboards, closets, and storage spaces for objects eliciting personal and cultural memories. Yet accessing such 44 See Madigan and Munro (1996), for discussion on how the activity of home decoration falls neither in the category of “passive consumption” nor “full self-expression,” but rather somewhere in between. 85
  • 86. intimate spaces was not easy. I felt awkward and invasive, even when dealing with close friends. It was not always clear (to me or to them) what I wanted. Some felt I expected objects that were overtly political or explicitly related to communism; others assumed that ordinary possessions would be irrelevant or not “typical” enough for my research. So after several faltering attempts, I took a different approach. Some of my colleagues at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant had begun planning for an exhibit about communism, and I had attended their initial brainstorming sessions. Since the museum needed to collect items for display, I decided to ask around for contributions. Through my own interpretation of the concept of bricabracologie, I asked people for everyday objects already lying around their house, not worth much money, that they associated with the period before 1989. I explained I was not interested in political artefacts or deliberately collected souvenirs, but rather things that had been tucked away or forgotten, objects they considered old, shabby, unimportant. Many people initially insisted that they had nothing left from “back then.” But once they started looking, they often surprised themselves by what they found. Accompanying them into pantries, cellars, balconies, and storage rooms, I watched them rediscover objects from their pasts, examining once-familiar household items with different eyes. I asked them to choose one thing and write a few sentences about it. I filmed them reading these statements, which frequently led to several hours of reminiscing. Sometimes they were alone during this process; other times they were surrounded by family, stimulating further discussion within the household. The objects gradually accumulated: A plastic pencil case. A manual typewriter. A glass pickling jar. A pair of schoolgirl’s socks. A crocheted mesh shopping bag. A hand-dyed silk scarf. A miniature porcelain bibelot. An aluminium ice cube tray.45 Though the museum exhibition unexpectedly was postponed,46 it had served as a successful pretext for collecting otherwise inaccessible objects, offering me a less invasive route into private domestic spaces. The acts of 45 See Appendix A (pp. 233-238) for a complete list of objects and their donors’ descriptions. A related exhibit eventually opened at the Peasant Museum in February 2010, with the title “Work-in-progress” (Între !antiere). In a room filled with “peasant” artefacts from the Museum’s collections, visitors were invited to search for the “communist” objects hidden amongst them. 46 86
  • 87. recovering and re-viewing possessions activated new processes of memory for my donors, and allowed me to participate in their transformative moments of recollection as well. These experiences also pushed me to define “domestic space” in broader terms, beyond the somewhat limited arena of the home, suggested by much of the related literature (Buchli 2002; Cieraad 1999; Jackson and Moores 1995; Madigan and Munro 1996; Pink 2004) (which I discuss further in my section about the museum storage area, below). The accumulated objects in this collection served as raw material for a series of stop-motion animations (offering visual commentaries on processes of memory) made in collaboration with Selena Kimball, an American visual artist who visited me in Bucharest during the final stages of my fieldwork in 2007. I have written about this collaboration elsewhere (Grossman and Kimball 2009). Here, I focus on a few of these forgotten objects, and the memories that emerged through their identification and collection. The Gomoius’ Living Room For several years, the Gomoius had been renovating their flat. Marius (an electronic engineer in his early 60s) and Tania (an economist in her late 50s) lived in a two-bedroom apartment in a typical communist-style block in a residential, working-class district in the south-east of Bucharest. Marius did most of the work in his spare time, with Tania in charge of the décor. They had traded in some of the heavy plush armchairs in their living room for simpler, more streamlined ones from Ikea. They had replaced their bathroom fixtures, installed thermopane windows and laminate flooring, and were in the process of retiling the walls in the kitchen and front hallway. These renovations were gradually transforming their flat’s “communist” look into a more updated, “EU-appropriate” one. 87
  • 88. Fig. 3.2 Tania and Marius in their living room (2007) When I first asked the Gomoius if they had anything to contribute to the museum exhibition, they seemed doubtful, replying that they probably had nothing of interest to me, because they had gotten rid of most of their old possessions. Maybe their parents’ house in the village had something more suitable, more “traditional,” Tania told me. I repeated that I wanted something from their flat in Bucharest. She insisted that they had thrown everything away, so I let the matter drop. After lunch, Marius and Tania decided to show me pictures of their cat Boris when he was a kitten. Looking through their family albums, I commented on the huge spectacles that Tania’s daughter had worn in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. “There wasn’t much choice back then,” said Marius. “You couldn’t just go to your optician and get the latest model frames. You saved every pair you ever had, and when something broke, you would use parts from your other frames to repair it.” He went over to the sideboard, pulled out a drawer, and brought out two cardboard containers filled with eyeglass frames. Some were plastic, others were wire, and many were missing vital parts. I picked up a pair with no lenses, legs, or nose-bridge. “Would you be willing to donate this to the museum exhibit?” I asked. “Of course,” he said. “Is that the kind of thing you’re looking for?” I told him that it was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for, and asked him to write two or three sentences about the glasses (see Appendix A, page 236). As Marius sat at the table thinking about what to write, Tania piped up. “I used to save all sorts of odds and ends, too. It was an obsession of mine.” 88
  • 89. Walking over to a corner of the living room, she opened the lid to a bench which functioned both as a seat and a cover for extra storage space. She rummaged around, and began taking out plastic bags and little boxes. “You always had to mend clothes and sew things,” she told me. “And back then if you saw something good in the shops, you would buy it. Because you didn’t know when you would find it again.” The bags contained knitting needles, balls of yarn, spools of thread. Shoelaces, zippers, buttons, buckles, press-studs. Scraps of fabric, embroidered cloths, crocheted lace. “You needed all of these colours for mending your clothes,” Tania said to me, “because you can’t patch a red sock with black thread!” One container held dozens of little plastic clasps, which she explained were brassiere hooks. “Whatever could be used, was saved,” she said with a laugh. Fig. 3.3 Inside the bench/storage space (2007) Marius looked up from his writing. “Do you want to see more?” He opened another bench and began piling its contents on the table. Electronic parts. Clock mechanisms. Telephone wires. Walkman headphones. Screws. “Even buying one screw could be an entire adventure,” he said. Like Tania, he had gotten into the habit of saving everything that might possibly be used for repairs. Next came a stack of neatly folded plastic bags: large, sturdy ones with handles, printed with colourful pictures and foreign words. Whenever someone would visit from the West, he explained, they would bring gifts in plastic bags. While the gifts themselves were important, the bags were also highly coveted 89
  • 90. because of the shortages in Romania at the time. People would wash and reuse them until they eventually fell apart. “Now we’re left with this fixation for plastic bags,” he said. These scraps from the Gomoius’ everyday life provide partial, disjointed glimpses into their experiences, rather than intact, complete accounts. They indicate that the past can never be depicted in its totality, but must be understood through traces of different meanings from different points in time (see DeSilvey 2007: 416). Unlike many deliberately commemorative narratives that suggest closure, the Gomoius’ accounts of their household artefacts were unfinished and open-ended, bringing the past into the present in unanticipated, undefined, and inconclusive ways. Their remnants were not organised like archives, or deliberately arranged in a linear, sequential order. They were clustered together like “conceptual clumps” of memory (Bloch 1998: 24), allowing narratives to be drawn out and assembled. The jumble that had been unattended for so long triggered inconclusive interpretations, creating a “puzzling pattern, a perpetual ‘might-have-been’” (DeSilvey 2007: 421), rather than clear pictures of what “actually” had happened. Strangely enough, the Gomoius’ narratives of nation-wide shortage were intertwined with memories of personal overabundance. The lack of available goods on the market resulted in curious surpluses inside the home. At one point, Tania told me, she used to have an entire drawer in her wardrobe filled with bars of soap. I had a passion for perfumes and for soap. Especially soap that wasn’t sold in our markets here. Rexona. Lux. We did have Romanian soaps. But the foreign ones had a nicer scent, and were more refined, and you couldn’t find them in our shops. When someone would come from abroad, and sell foreign soap on the black market, I would buy it. The strange thing was, I was happy to acquire it. But I couldn’t bear to use it. Because if I used it, I wouldn’t have it anymore. (Laughs) It was something special. I mean, if I had a bath with Rexona soap, it was a big deal. Tania’s wardrobe drawer was no longer filled with special soaps. But as she physically handled these other collections of objects that she had squirreled away, she recalled how times of scarcity and hardship had also been interspersed with opportunities for accessing “extravagant” goods. In 1999-2000, I often had encountered displays in Romanian living rooms consisting of plastic packaging, Coke cans, bottles of foreign shampoo 90
  • 91. and deodorant. These objects that Westerners might find worthless were valued in Romania at the time, partly because they were difficult to obtain, but mainly because of their associations with the non-communist sphere. In this context, as Yurchak notes of similar displays in Soviet households (2006: 195), such items should not be classified as commodities, but rather as “shells of commodities” meaningful because of their ability to “link the here and now to the elsewhere.” A decade after the Revolution, particularly in rural areas, such artefacts continued to be valued for their capitalist connotations, and still appeared in household interiors. During my fieldwork in 2006-7, however, these displays of foreign packaging had all but vanished from Bucharest, for they no longer adequately symbolised the capitalist world. Paradoxically, they had become suggestive of early post-communist times, which of course had been capitalist as well. But as Romania’s global position had shifted, that era was now perceived as closer to communism. Nonetheless, habits of purchasing extra or unnecessary items and storing them at home lived on. As Tania told me, Even today, whenever I see something that used to be hard to get hold of, I’ll buy it. Even though now it’s useless to me. It’s a consequence of the many years that we lived with shortages. But that was our world… How can I explain it? To accumulate as many things as you could. Marius added, You always had a permanent occupation. You had to look for knitting needles. You had to look for thread. You had to look for things to eat. It was to stop you from thinking about politics or whatever else was going on. You had to find something to be occupied with, in fact. You’d create false problems for yourself, precisely to avoid dealing with the real problems in society. They seemed to have mixed feelings about such habits, investing them with both positive and negative connotations. They were critical of how political restrictions during the communist era had limited their activities and access to certain resources, but appeared proud to have cultivated their respective handicraft and do-it-yourself abilities to such an extent. They saw their resourcefulness as a useful yet slightly shameful product of communism. They spoke about their “obsessions” and “deformations,” describing them as reactions to Ceau"escu’s “politics of brutalisation” (politica de îndobitocire). Tania also referred to her collections as her “boxes of monkeys” (cutiii de 91
  • 92. maimu#e), suggesting that she found the whole idea slightly amusing. But Marius proudly showed me a lamp he had made from a piece of driftwood. He had done all the wiring himself, and this a one-of-a-kind piece still worked, and had kept its place next to the dining room table over the years. Tania decided to donate a pair of her German circular knitting needles to the museum exhibition (see Appendix A, page 236). Store-bought needles were rare, she told me, and so her father had constructed several pairs, some out of wood, and others out of thick wire. But they were never much good— they bent out of shape easily, and their ends were too blunt. Whenever she had a chance to buy foreign needles (on the black market or through connections from abroad), she would get as many as she could, though she could not bring herself to discard the homemade ones. Back then, I didn’t consider the things of that generation to be—I didn’t think they meant anything or that they could have any importance. On the contrary. I got rid of them quite easily. But now, when I look at those knitting needles, the ones my father made, they already seem to have a different value. I know that he made them with his own hands. It means something. Because my father is old. I see the parentchild relationship in a different way now. He’s 80-something years old. I’m already almost 60. I’ve become a bit more sentimental… Plus, of course, I still hope that I’ll end up knitting the wool that I’ve acquired. When I retire, obviously. Because I like it. It’s relaxing. And I could, I don’t know, make dresses for a granddaughter, or suits for a grandson. Those knitted things would have a different value, because they’d be made by a grandmother. There are moments in life when you see things differently to the way you do after several years. Fig. 3.4 Tania’s collection of knitting needles (2007) 92
  • 93. Tania’s awareness of the changing significance of these artefacts over time evokes Appadurai’s argument that objects’ life histories vary in different historical and political contexts (1986: 16). The shifting value of the Gomoius’ clutter, however, was influenced by personal and familial contexts as well. Tania had explained how the homemade needles did not “work as well” as the foreign, store-bought ones, but held a deeper meaning because her father had made them. She was simultaneously critical and nostalgic about knitting as a way to exercise one’s creativity and individuality. She saw her handiwork habits as developing in conditions where there was “nothing else to do.” But at the same time, she believed her projects reinforced kinship relations and generational ties. She suggested that the possibility of taking up knitting again in the future might be emotionally rewarding. Re-evaluating these household collections after so many years and explaining their significance to me catalysed Tania “to see things differently.” As she noted, “I’d forgotten about all of this. Because in fact, everything you see around us now, that’s not how it used to be.” The Gomoius’ retrieval of these artefacts may be viewed as the formation of a Benjaminian dialectical image, a “double exposure” where the past is brought into the immediate present, and the old-fashioned appears new (Buck-Morss 2005: 157). Decades of Dust Zoltán Rostá", a sociologist in his early 60s, lived with his wife Inke in a two-bedroom apartment in a four-storey block of flats in Drumul Taberei. This microraion, or neighbourhood “residential ensemble” designed by socialist urban planners to facilitate a sense of social order and community (Maxim 2009) was one of several built in Bucharest during the 1960s. Drumul Taberei was a thirty-minute bus-ride south-west of the city centre, and wellknown for having more parks and trees than other parts of the city. It was also notorious for housing intellectuals. Zoltán had lived in this flat since 1971, but now divided his time between Bucharest and the Transylvanian city of Târgu Mure", where Inke had been staying lately to care for her elderly parents. 93
  • 94. In 1999 when I first met Zoltán, we had arranged that I would go to his flat two mornings a week to help him with English, and he would teach me about Romanian sociology. These sessions always took place at the kitchen table, with his ancient refrigerator buzzing in the background. Over ten years, his flat hardly changed: the tiny kitchen still had its white cabinets and plastic utensils hanging from the yellow tiled walls. The wooden window frames had not been replaced with plastic ones. The living room had the same heavy chairs and the same floor-to-ceiling shelves stuffed with books. The extra bedroom, which served as Zoltán’s home office, contained even more books. He had so many manuscripts, articles, and papers, he explained, that every week he would transfer a stack of them to his storage space downstairs in the basement. When I asked for a contribution to the museum exhibition, he decided to have a look around this storage room to see if it would give him any ideas. We walked down the stairwell leading to a dim, musty-smelling hallway in the cellar. Zoltán stopped at door number 49, opened its padlock, and turned on the light. The room was just large enough for us both to stand, and was lined with shelves along three walls. “This isn’t a real basement,” he said to me. “It’s too small. It’s only a place to put my books and papers. It has decades of dust. I’m not even sure what is here.” Among other things were collections of newspaper and magazine articles from his early days as a journalist, and books he had accumulated. There were also typical communist publications that showed up in every home library. I spotted titles such as The Glorious Bicentenary of the Romanian Communist Party (1971), authored by Ceau"escu himself, and The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Romania (1977), a 7th grade textbook. As I flipped through several books, I saw that even those that were not overtly political had the obligatory slogans on their first pages such as “workers of the world, unite!” 94
  • 95. Fig. 3.5 Zoltán in his basement storage room (2007) “It wasn’t only those sorts of stupidities which were written back then,” Zoltán said. “The first page might be filled with propaganda, but the rest of the book would be absolutely normal.” This principle held true for most aspects of everyday life at the time, he told me. Socialism wasn’t nearly as encompassing as people claim. We didn’t wake up and say, ‘What will the Securitate do to me today?’ No. We continued with our work, and found little openings, cracks in the censorship, and made our own way. For example, we would criticise Hitler’s politics towards art because we couldn’t criticise Ceau"escu’s cultural policies directly. At meetings, people didn’t spend hours praising the Party. They said what needed to be said, to prove they were doing things properly, and then they moved on. You could get away without writing those reports [informing the Securitate about your co-workers or about conversations with foreigners] without always telling the truth. You would strategise about what to put in and what to leave out. Yes, communism needs to be condemned as a political regime, as a mode of domination. But this doesn’t mean that Romanians who lived through it didn’t have survival strategies. It doesn’t take a lot of brains to learn to strategise about how to survive under socialism, my dear. Like the Gomoius, Zoltán acknowledged the oppressive aspects of the previous regime. But his recollections suggested that communist ideology was less pervasive than the Gomoius’ portrayal. Zoltán cast himself as an agent who was fully capable of working with and around the terms dictated by the state (see Pesmen 2000b: 191; TenDyke 2000: 156). As a journalist, he had to become a member of the Party if he wanted to make a living, so he tried to make the best of the given conditions and be as constructive as possible. “I would do the same things over again if I had the chance,” he said to me. For 95
  • 96. political dissidents, he told me, the situation would have been different. But for the majority of ordinary people, even those categorised as “intellectuals,” there were ways to negotiate the system. Zoltán here demonstrates a “complexly differentiating relationship” to communist ideology (Yurchak 2006: 28). As Yurchak argues (ibid 25), partial complicity with institutionalised power structures actually enabled late Soviet citizens to gain a degree of autonomy and freedom. This was because, as the political propaganda became predictable, formulaic, and “hypernormalised,” it could no longer be taken literally. People’s “performative” activities, particularly in their everyday lives, gave them opportunities to read their own meanings into their experiences, allowing for creative, diverse, and unpredictable interpretations that surpassed the “constative” significance of official discourses. People did not so much oppose authority as displace it, producing a “deterritorialisation” in which spaces of individual autonomy were not separate from, but paradoxically part of, the socialist system (ibid 157). During the 1980s, Zoltán became interested in oral history and sociology. At that time, sociology was banned as a “bourgeois” science, and he had to devise ways to do his research without overtly breaking any laws, or drawing too much negative attention to himself. He did not hide the fact that he was conducting interviews and recording people’s life stories, but he saved these activities for his “spare time,” calling this work a “hobby.” After the Revolution, however, he had accumulated enough material from this “hobby” to publish many books. He continued his research, and practising as a sociologist, to the present day. Zoltán’s basement collection evoked memories that were more reflective than judgemental about the past. He was not nostalgic about communism, but for the energy that he had during that period. “Youth, health, success,” he told me, “are all things everyone wants to preserve, despite whatever is happening politically at the time.” In any case, he told me, the nature of communist politics fluctuated widely over the decades; some times had been easier to live through than others. In the 1950s, when I was little, I remember people were required to have pictures of Lenin and Stalin and Gheorghiu-Dej in their homes, and to praise the Party during family celebrations or student gatherings. But in the 1970s and ‘80s, it 96
  • 97. was nothing like that. There were semi-public and semi-private spaces. It was only obligatory to hang Ceau"escu’s portrait on the walls of offices and schools, but not in your own home. People still feared the Party, but there wasn’t the same kind of terror that existed in the‘50s, when private space was not only occupied by politics, but assailed by it. Most analyses of communism fail to account for this one thing: however powerful the political regime may have been, it did not take over the most intimate parts of society. Zoltán’s accounts of various “openings” and “closings” during different stages of communist rule contain more nuanced depictions of the past than those offered in official public remembrance discourses. His views echo Yurckak’s assertion that there was no clear distinction between explicitly public and private spheres under Soviet late-socialism, but rather that they were involved in a “mutually constitutive deterritorialised relationship” (2006: 118). People repeated the formulaic praises to the Party in their meetings, accepted the silly slogans on the first page of their books, and tolerated the portraits of Ceau"escu hanging in their schools and workplaces. But that did not necessarily mean they experienced lives of dichotomies, divided into worlds of official and unofficial discourse, or of true and false ways of behaving. As Yurchak argues (2006: 7), such categorisations were more the product of Cold War regimes of knowledge constructed by capitalists. As Zoltán explained, people learned to behave in ways that followed the performative repetition of communist ideologies (as he put it, un proces verbal), but that also creatively “unanchored” these rituals and discourses from their predictable meanings (Yurchak 2006: 78). Originally, Zoltán put his books and papers in this basement because it was a place to store things that did not fit upstairs. But over time, he explained to me, it occurred to him that his accumulations could someday be used for studying the social history of Romanian communism. They could provide essential information about the social and political messages perpetuated throughout the decades. He had not intended to preserve these materials as deliberate records of the past, but when he looked back at them years later he saw their documentary value. Even now, their full potential was still untapped. Zoltán told me that he had a feeling that their significance would change in relation to political context. “I knew communism would eventually start to reflect about itself,” he said. “That’s the logic of time.” In this sense, 97
  • 98. the storage room served as a spatial manifestation of the passage of time (Foster 1993: 158). Just as Benjamin’s household display cabinet was “past become space” (Pensky 1996, cited in Makovicky 2007), Zoltán’s basement was “past, present, and future become space.” It encapsulated the past not in a narrative, “historical” sense, but rather as an interrupted, discontinuous, and non-progressive assembly of fragmented material objects and forms, waiting to be interpreted differently at different times. Our discussions in the basement caused Zoltán to recall that during communism, everyone with typewriters had been required to register them with the local militia every year. He told me how he would lug his heavy manual typewriter to the station each winter, and wait in long queues for the police to take a sample of the typeface for their files. It was a precautionary measure, so authorities could trace anonymous typewritten anti-Ceau"escu manifestoes back to their dissident owners. “Old typewriters weren’t like computers of today,” he said. “The edges of the keys would wear down with use, so that’s why the police had to monitor them every year.” He laughed. “It was the strangest queue of all, the one for the typewriters. The most absurd of all the absurdities.” It was both physically exhausting, he said, and morally humiliating. Using the same half-serious, half-sarcastic language as the Gomoius, Zoltán told me that this particular object had become an “obsession” for people during the communist era. These memories gave him the idea of donating one of his old manual typewriters to the museum exhibition (see Appendix A, page 238). He had several tucked away in his flat, he told me, so we headed back upstairs to find one. The Chamber of Horrors The final interior I consider is a storage room located in the basement of the Museum of the Romanian Peasant in Bucharest. As I have noted, museum interiors do not strictly qualify as domestic space; but because of its peculiar history, this site belongs as much to a personalised sphere as to an institutionalised one. While public and private realms are often regarded as 98
  • 99. separate from one another, they may be viewed as interdependent, indistinguishable by clear or rigid boundaries (Madanipour 2003: 239; Miller 2001: 4; Woodward 2001: 121). Such a dynamic is particularly applicable to the Peasant Museum’s basement room, which was informally referred to as the Chamber of Horrors. Only a few individuals who had been involved with the museum on a long-term and intimate basis had access to this space. Although it contained a collection of historical artefacts, the Chamber lacked the trappings of an official deposit, such as climate control or organised systems of cataloguing and documentation. In fact, the room was more of a dumping ground for items to be forgotten about rather than intentionally preserved. Fig. 3.6 Chamber of Horrors, Peasant Museum basement (2007) Fore-histories A large and impressive building on Kiseleff Avenue, the Museum of the Romanian Peasant was built in 1912. It had served as the National Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions until the early 1950s when the Communist Party dismantled its ethnographic collections, and established the Museum of Romanian Workers’ Movements in one of the building’s wings, and the Museum of Lenin and Stalin in the other. In 1957, the Lenin and Stalin side was closed, and the Workers’ Movements Museum took over the entire 99
  • 100. building. In 1966, it became the Museum of the History of the Communist Party and Romanian Revolutionary and Democratic Movements. After the 1989 Revolution, the new Minister of Culture, Andrei Ple"u, decreed that the museum should resume its original ethnographic function. The halls were gutted, the building underwent extensive structural renovations, and its former collections were reinstalled. In 1993, it was opened to the public as the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. 47 Its newly appointed director was Horia Bernea, a visual artist whose father had been a prominent ethnologist and folklorist during the inter-war period. One of the first challenges Bernea and his assistants confronted was how to restore the building’s interior. Its neo-Romanian architectural style had been incompatible with communist aesthetics, so its rooms had been covered with aluminium siding, false ceilings, and wall-to-wall carpeting. Bernea hired workers to remove these additions, revealing mosaic floors, tall arched doorways, and marble columns. They dismantled and threw away hundreds of heavy glass panels used for displaying Party maps, charts, and photographs, along with huge iron bars reinforcing the glass. Once they had renovated the museum’s interior spaces, Bernea called in an Orthodox priest to sprinkle its rooms and recovered collections with holy water and basil in order to exorcise residual “evil” spirits from their tainted past.48 A second challenge was what to do with the unwanted artefacts from the Party’s collections. Immediately following the 1989 Revolution, institutions tended to dispose of everything connected to the communist regime, and there was a general fever for burning propaganda, smashing statues, and tearing up social-realist paintings. As #erban, an ethnologist and member of Bernea’s team, said to me, the “first phase of any revolutionary movement is one of violent liberation and destruction of the past.”49 One of the museum’s rooms had served as the Party’s archive, containing books, documents, and 47 This information was obtained in an interview with Aurelia Duma (20 June 2007), a museologist working at this institution since 1967. 48 See Radu-Bucurenci and Cristea (2007) for a more detailed analysis of this “exorcism.” 49 #erban recounted how in the early days after the Revolution he had found a framed portrait of Ceau"escu still intact in one of the museum’s halls. Just as he was about to destroy it, an exParty secretary wrenched it out of his hands and threw it on the ground. “I couldn’t believe it,” #erban said. “He took it away from me because he wanted to smash it himself! I’ll never forget that.” 100
  • 101. personal belongings of ex-communist leaders, including an Army minister’s boots, Chivu Stoica’s50 umbrella, and a pen that had belonged to GheorghiuDej.51 Another room that had served as the museum’s library held countless volumes about communist history. The museum also housed numerous busts and statues of Lenin, Marx, Engels, Gheorghiu-Dej, and Ceau"escu. Most of these objects were thrown out. Ioana, another member of Bernea’s team, told me how relieved she had been to see the communist objects go. “We threw out so much stuff. It was a joy. An extraordinary feeling of liberation. We finally felt extricated from all of those asinine things.” It did not dawn on them that foreigners might actually like socialist realist art. Or that communist propaganda might ever be considered historically valuable or worth real money at some point in time. Their post-Revolution identity as artefacts of political propaganda had eclipsed their potential value as cultural heritage. There was a rumour that a man from West Germany had offered one thousand Deutschmarks to buy the library’s copy of the book Homage to Ceau!escu, but nobody had taken him seriously. The museum had not established any official policies to profit from such transactions. People simply were not thinking along those lines. In the months following the Revolution, the museum tried to give away its remaining communist artefacts to the State archives, the Library of the Academy, and the National History Museum. But these institutions were also reluctant to accept such items, even as official donations. As Vlad, another researcher from Bernea’s team, explained to me, this reaction was part of the “post-revolutionary disorder, when you were afraid of possessing an object that was contaminated by the communist past.” Paradoxically, as Ioana explained, they also were worried about the potential consequences of disposing of such items. “We thought that at some point, someone would say to us, ‘How could you throw out these works of art?’ Because those ‘wonderful’ sculptures had been made by well-known artists. They had been paid for by the Ministry of Culture. Money had been invested in them. We were afraid to get rid of them.” 50 Prime Minister of communist Romania between 1955 and 1961, and President of the State Council between 1965 and 1967. 51 Prime Minister of communist Romania between 1952 and 1955, and President of the State Council from 1961 to 1965. 101
  • 102. Many of the artefacts fell into limbo, somewhere between preservation and neglect. Soon after the Revolution, a heavy marble statue featuring the busts of Marx, Engels, and Lenin was dumped in the museum’s rear courtyard. “It used to be right next to the skips,” Ioana told me. “You would go and throw out your rubbish with great satisfaction. Not exactly in their faces, but next to their faces.” Some foreigners had offered to buy the statue, she told me, but for some reason that fell through. Since nobody could figure out what to do with it, and it was too heavy to be moved around, it remained where it was. As far as I know, it is still there, in a corner of the back garden, undeniably part of the present-day landscape of the museum. Unlabeled, and for the most part, ignored. Fig. 3.7 Marx/Engels/Lenin statue, Peasant Museum courtyard (2007) In the early 1990s, some of the Party Museum’s artefacts were utilised in one of the Peasant Museum’s permanent installations. 52 The remaining objects of communist propaganda were consigned to the Chamber of Horrors. As Ioana explained, “That was our nickname for the room in the basement. It 52 Entitled “The Plague,” it was the only exhibit that incorporated the collections of the former Communist Party Museum. The installation contained mocking arrangements of identical busts of Soviet leaders and portraits of Ceau"escu, offering playful, ironic commentary about the absurdities of communist propaganda, and a critique of the destructive impacts of the regime on Romania’s peasant population. See Radu-Bucurenci and Cristea (2007) for a more detailed description of this exhibit, which can still be visited today. 102
  • 103. was a kind of burial ground for the communist things that we couldn’t throw away.” The room was damp, dirty, and disorganised. “Everything was put in there helter-skelter,” Vlad told me. “With no concern for conservation. Old pieces of Party furniture. Busts of Stalin. Soviet Proletkult paintings mixed up with photographs from the late communist period. It was something horrible.” For a decade, these objects rotted away. After-histories According to #erban’s theory mentioned above, the second phase after a revolutionary movement occurs after some temporal and emotional distance from the upheaval, when destructive impulses give way to “sorry feelings and regret,” and are followed by a desire for the “recuperation of memory.” In the early 2000s, the museum staff began to have second thoughts about the historical and monetary value of the objects they had discarded. As Ioana recalled, Eh, and look, we hadn’t done the right thing. We should have saved all those asinine things, because they would have made us rich. The museum would have gotten rich from it all. Which we’re sorry about now. But back then, we just didn’t want to have any of it around anymore. “At a certain point,” Vlad told me, “we realised that we had been fools. Because some of those objects should have been preserved.” Interest in their preservation escalated in the early 2000s, particularly under the supervision of the museum’s new director, Vintila Mih!ilescu, appointed in 2005. By that point, researching communism was becoming more popular in Romania. Mih!ilescu’s close ties to foreign anthropologists and university departments led to internationally financed collaborations and projects about memories of communism. Many of the museum’s younger researchers began exploring related issues in their own doctoral work. An invitation to Vienna in 2005 to contribute to an exhibition about the Cold War motivated the museum staff to revisit the Chamber of Horrors to see what could be salvaged. When they saw 103
  • 104. the state of the room, they decided to make a proper inventory of its contents, and to move what could be saved to a more appropriate storage space. Fig. 3.8 Busts of Lenin, Chamber of Horrors (2007) As DeSilvey reminds us (2007: 403), “every object left to rot in a dank shed or an airless attic once occupied a place in an active web of social relations.” The Peasant Museum’s rotting objects could be imagined in multiple webs of relations. As the artefacts decomposed in the Chamber of Horrors throughout the 1990s, they reflected the popular denigration of communism in Romania during that period. When they were moved to a more appropriate storage space the following decade, their new status indexed the public’s interest in remembering its communist past. Ironically, while this collection was from an institution that traditionally recovers and interprets cultural and historical artefacts, the museum had intentionally discarded these objects. This neglect, however, ultimately heightened the objects’ contemporary status as “involuntary” or “true” memories, which according to Benjamin are particularly powerful because of their “impromptu disruption[s] of temporality” (Leslie 1999: 68). Labelling or classifying these objects in deliberately commemorative ways in the early 1990s would have created “voluntary” or “false” memories lacking the impact of the “has been” 104
  • 105. encountering the “now” (Benjamin 1999: 462) that occurred when they were spontaneously re-examined and removed from the Chamber of Horrors in 2007. The move occurred in early March. I filmed the event over the course of two days. I followed the blue-coated maintenance workers as they pried scuffed canvasses off the damp, sticky floor and wheeled trolleys laden with chipped statues and damaged wall-panels down long hallways. This was the remaining detritus from the Lenin and Stalin Museum, the Museum of Romanian Workers’ Movements, and the Museum of the History of the Communist Party and Revolutionary and Democratic Movements of Romania. There were boxes filled with diplomas that had been given to Gheorghiu-Dej. Gifts from the People’s Republic of China to Romanian leaders. Medals of honour and army decorations. Huge black-and-white photographs of politicians and dignitaries shaking hands. “For his great merit in the fight against fascism and war,” read one caption, “the Soviet government decorates Dimitrov with the ‘Lenin’ medal, 27 June 1945.” I documented their transport to a new storage room, where they were sorted and stacked on shelves. Fig. 3.9 Transporting Lenin from the Chamber of Horrors (2007) 105
  • 106. The museum staff treated these objects with professional and personal ambivalence. On an institutional level, salvaging the Chamber’s remains was the museum’s new priority. But these items clearly were not handled like other collections of “national patrimony.” Many artefacts were simply thrown out because they were so mouldy. Nothing was properly cleaned or repaired. This was a temporary measure, I was told, until the objects were properly inventoried and archived. The entire process seemed more like cleaning out old rubbish from a cellar than an evaluation of nationally, historically, and politically significant remains. On individual levels, reactions were similarly ambiguous. When I asked one of the maintenance workers, perhaps in his mid-50s, what he thought about the pieces in this collection, he replied apprehensively, Ahhh. My opinion? My opinion is that they represented a cult. From a time not very long ago. Now they are being preserved for their value. I don’t know if ‘historical value’ is an appropriate term. But it’s something like that. To show to future generations, you know? One of the technical administrators, about the same age, cut in. Eh, posterity! What does a seventeen-year-old know about the communists? They have no idea. They never spent one day under that unfortunate—[Turning to me] Please, don’t make what I’m saying public… While these middle-aged men seemed uncertain about the actual value of the objects, and particularly about their relevance to future generations, the younger staff members appeared curious and enthusiastic about them. One researcher, working on a doctorate about documentary photography in communist Romania, was in charge of cataloguing the artefacts. She seemed delighted by what was emerging from the depths of the Chamber of Horrors, and set about photographing everything from multiple angles with her digital camera. Several other younger members of staff also came down to the basement from time to time to observe the process, sometimes incredulous as they bent over to decipher the script on the backs of paintings or to read the captions on the photos, sometimes arguing about the artefacts’ significance, sometimes laughing at them. 106
  • 107. There are many ways to interpret the tangled story of this museum’s shifting identities and the fluctuating attitudes towards its collections. Regarding these artefacts as indices of different evaluations of Romania’s past at distinct historical periods reveals them as sites of Benjaminian historical materialism, their “fore-histories” and “after-histories” constantly changing with different receptions at different times (Caygill 2004: 91). Their uncertain status echoed the current controversies in contemporary accession-era Bucharest, and the contradictory ways in which people are now regarding the past and future. Communist items that had been removed from the public sphere after the Revolution, and abandoned in the Chamber of Horrors, were now viewed in contrasting ways: as anthropologically interesting and culturally irrelevant; economically valuable and not worth conserving; important for future generations and impossible for young people to understand. As the French surrealists plumbed the detritus of the abandoned deposits of the Trocadero Museum in order to access traces of “dream states” of the past (Foster 1993: 170), and as Benjamin sought “safe deposit[s] of desire” in collections of household clutter (Leslie 1999: 73), I have located individual and collective desires and memories in the Peasant Museum’s disparaged storage space. By focusing on the museum’s basement, rather than its “proper” archives or its official, public installations and displays, I transcended deliberate acts of commemoration. Unearthing such arenas of inadvertent recollection points to the unstable, contradictory nature of presentday perceptions of Romania’s communist past. Conclusions Many of my interlocutors noted that only when I asked them to contribute something to the museum exhibition did they regard their household clutter with different eyes. As my friend Dan remarked, It felt like I was digging up all of these old objects and images, blowing tons of dust off all of it, and seeing it again for the first time. It forced me to think about things that I haven’t wanted to think about for so long. 107
  • 108. Dan’s observation supports the theory that collections themselves often create their own realities, “dictating the terms of their own analysis,” rather than representing a pre-existing, given reality (Henare, et al. 2007: 4). Both collecting and remembering thereby become ontological, rather than epistemological, projects (Henare et. al. 2007: 23). Objects and memories are not just interpreted, but rather reconstituted and recontextualised to have new meanings. For Benjamin, a collector systematically tears things out of their original context in order to access different angles of understanding. My interlocutors developed renewed connections to objects by purposeful acts of returning to and recuperating what they once had cast aside. The catalyst for their “new ways of seeing” was my asking them to view these forgotten objects in a different temporal and political context. By provoking new points of intersection between realms of memory and forgetting, I was able to witness moments of “awakening,” or understandings of the present resulting from material disruptions with the past. (Leslie 1999: 61). As DeSilvey writes (2007: 408), recollection is not like retrieving old files, but rather about bringing fragmentary, partial, and incomplete things into new relations. Benjamin also describes commemoration as the opposite of historical closure or reconciliation; for him, interrupting time and space provides insight into the “redemptive potential hidden behind official narratives” (Jay 2005: 236). In my own research, I found living rooms, storage areas, even the hidden recesses of a national museum, to be spaces in which ordinary objects “resist ritualised remembrance” (ibid 237) and awaken memories, dreams, and expectations of the future. Memory and forgetting are not separate, but rather overlapping facets of a broader phenomenon (Casey 1987: 12; Crapanzano 2004: 177; Delich 2004: 72; Fabian 2007: 78). Forgetting need not be seen as diametrically opposed to remembering, or as a “structural” problem “specific to the culture of modernity” (Connerton 2009: 2; also see Gross 2000: 52; Huyssen 2003: 17). As the ethnographic examples in this chapter demonstrate, forgetting can be a form of latent preservation, of inadvertent memory production, as the distance created by acts of neglect gives rise to powerful, involuntary memories at 108
  • 109. particular points in time. The narratives I gathered from these “unintentionally commemorative” collections are more complex than those conveyed by “deliberately commemorative” discourses. They show ordinary people’s ongoing, incomplete processes of memory, rather than settled narratives about the previous regime. They reveal individuals trying to make sense of the past in an uncertain present, through associative, non-linear, and haphazard methods of remembering. 109
  • 110. CHAPTER 4: Money Events Introduction I wish to turn my attention to money as the object of a particular type of remembrance work. As with my investigations of memory and food (see Chapter 5), I did not plan to study this topic in the field. It was only after observing long-term fluctuations in the Romanian currency (leu [singular] or lei [plural]), and certain discourses and behaviours related to these changes, that I began to consider money’s complex role within present-day practices of recollection. During my fieldwork, I often noticed that this artefact, in its material and discursive manifestations, tended to generate among its handlers strong emotions, many of which struck me as deeply entangled in processes of memory. Such reactions became even more noticeable in 2005, when certain substantive changes to the Romanian currency came into effect, and during the EU accession climate two years later, when many peoples’ hopes and expectations about their financial futures were heightened by the prospect of joining a new “economic community.” Building upon the Keynesian notion that money is both substance and idea (Hart 2005: 10; Irving 2010), and the argument that it is inextricable from social and personal relationships (Gilbert 2005: 370; Hart 1999: 233; 2005: 8), I investigate contemporary Romanian money not merely as an economic phenomenon, but as a material object provoking intense interpersonal exchanges. Instead of adhering to approaches describing money as producing objective relationships, as possessing quantitative, abstract qualities (Simmel 1978 [1907]), or as representing merely “the value of things without the things themselves” (ibid, cited in Ingham 2004: 64), I examine through various ethnographic examples how money’s material existence involves concrete qualitative, subjective, and emotional interactions closely bound to the workings of memory. Many scholars have argued that as cash is increasingly giving way to plastic and electronic forms of payment, money may be seen as 110
  • 111. being less palpable now than in the past (Carruthers and Epseland 1998: 1396; Maurer 2005: 100). Yet as my own encounters with lei over the years demonstrate, the tangible and visible aspects of Romanian currency play a significant role in contemporary social interactions. Fluctuations Until the 1989 Revolution, the leu was relatively stable. During communism, the formal economy was strictly regulated by the state, and people often recounted to me how the price of bread remained the same for decades. The period immediately following the Revolution was characterised by extreme inflation and price fluctuations, when banknotes with denominations of tens and hundreds gave way to those of thousands and millions. As Verdery observed (1995: 637), during forty years of communism, the dollar was worth between 12 and 20 lei, but in 1990, it shot up to 1900 lei over the course of a few months. While exchange rates were more stable during the second decade following the Revolution, with the dollar consistently hovering between 25,000 and 30,000 lei, the buying power of foreign currency dropped significantly between 2003 and 2006, due to rising local prices. In 2005, partly to solve the problem of having to pay for certain items with bricks of cash, four zeroes were dropped from the currency’s units. The paper banknotes from the 1990s and early 2000s had come in denominations of 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 50,000, 100,000, and 1,000,000. The physically largest notes corresponded to those with the highest value, decreasing in size according to their relative worth. One leu consisted of 100 bani. 53 The new currency in 2005 was officially still the leu, but it was conversationally referred to as the “new leu” or RON (ROmanian New). Denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 lei replaced the 10,000, 50,000, 100,000, and 1,000,000 lei notes respectively, and new 200 and 500 lei bills corresponded to the old amounts of two and five million lei, which previously had not existed as banknotes. The new notes were made of slick plastic instead 53 In Romanian, bani (coins) is the plural of ban (coin). 111
  • 112. of paper, but they retained their former designs. New 5, 10, and 50 bani coins were also minted to replace the old 500, 1,000, and 5,000 lei bills. Fig. 4.1 10,000 lei, post-communist paper banknote from 1994 Fig. 4.2 1 leu (RON), post-communist plastic banknote from 2005 The peculiar combination of old and new elements in the look, feel, and value of the RON gave it a paradoxical air of novelty and familiarity, difference and sameness, adding to people’s conflicting attitudes and behaviours surrounding their currency. To some, it was a positive change, signalling the beginning of a new phase of transition. Amidst rumours that it could be several years before the Euro might be introduced into Romania, they viewed the RON as bringing the country a step closer to the EU. Replacing dirty paper bills with clean, smooth plastic notes and getting rid of extra zeroes were ways to measure up to Western countries with more “advanced” currencies. But despite such hopes for a “modern” and technologically sophisticated future, people also demonstrated reservations about embracing the leu’s new identity. While nobody overtly challenged the new legal tender, many people seemed to resist 112
  • 113. adopting these monetary changes into their everyday lives. They often used the language of the old currency even when referring to the new, and constantly compared the new leu’s worth to that of the old. By the start of my fieldwork in 2006, I was aware of the sensitive dynamics surrounding money and monetary transactions, not just among Romanians, but from my experiences as well. I had built up my own recollections about the leu, which had changed its face and value several times since my first visit to the country in 1997. My financial activities were informed by a repertoire of (often highly fraught) social interactions and encounters I had experienced in relation to prices, exchange rates, salaries, and even the appearance of the banknotes themselves. Because of the leu’s persistent, affective ties to past incarnations, it became difficult for me to transcend my own uneasy and conflicted feelings, or to treat Romanian currency as an impersonal economic unit, divorced from the social relations surrounding its existence. Once I was aware of how my own process of “remembering money” in this post-socialist context was affecting my presentday perceptions and behaviours, I became interested in how such patterns played themselves out amongst my interlocutors, whose experiences with the leu spanned a much longer and more complicated history. Instead of conducting a conventional analysis about Romanian currency as a symbol of national identity, or about the changing economies of the postsocialist sphere, I will examine ordinary financial situations in which Bucharest residents have employed certain “procedures” and “tactics” (De Certeau 40: 1984) in handling and discussing their currency, and in doing so, invoked heated feelings about the past, present, and future. Although the leu has not been the subject of official commemorative attention, I view it as a “communicative” object of remembrance work, even when it is not intended or acknowledged as memorial (see Assmann 1995). Through various ethnographic examples and vignettes, I will demonstrate how the leu’s changes in material form over the past two decades, the contradictory ways that people have chosen to label its manifestations, and its impassioned treatments in specific social situations incorporate everyday, communicative processes of 113
  • 114. memory that convey some of the paradoxes and challenges of the current EU accession-era climate. Related Literature Classic analyses of money tend to emphasise its economic and functional properties, reducing it to a store of value; a means of exchange; a method of payment; and a unit of account (Gilbert 2005: 258; Ingham 2004: 3). Newer research, however, has considered money’s broader cultural and material implications. Recent sociological writings about the topic have redirected earlier utilitarian, and generally more demonising, theories of capitalist economies as rational, impersonal, and socially alienating, such as those developed by Marx, Simmel, and Weber, to examine the ways that contemporary financial systems may connect individuals, communities, and other groups. Rather than placing economies within evolutionary frameworks where culturally rich, “primitive” trade networks have given way to the dehumanising and homogenising effects of “complex” and “modern” economic structures, these more recent works study the finer social, cultural, and political gradations of present-day exchanges. This literature includes semiotic studies of money’s ability to shift in meaning based on the varied contexts of its use and its fluctuating locations through time and space (Carruthers and Espeland 1998; Gilbert 2005; Hart 1999). It analyses money’s associated material practices as subjective phenomena tied to human activities, indexing and affecting the development of particular forms of class and other social relations (Gilbert 2005; Hart 2005; Verdery 1995; Lemon 1998; Rogers 2005; Zelizer 1998). It also explores money’s wider role in the construction and dissolution of individual, cultural, and national identities (Eiss 2002; Helleiner 1998). Such research delves into the more relational and qualitative aspects of finance. As Maurer writes (2006: 26), money is not only quantifiable; we must also pay attention to its “fictional” qualities, its “metaphorical” associations, and its “imaginative” possibilities. 114
  • 115. Yet writing on money’s relationship to memory is still relatively sparse. While Hart defines money as an instrument of collective memory because it carries traces of human interaction (1999: 234), his definition seems to grant more agency to money than to people. It also is too generalising to help me interpret the specific circumstances I encountered in Bucharest, focusing on group mentalities, and ideas of “communal identity” instead of the diverse and contradictory perspectives and behaviours existing within groups. While Eiss describes financial transactions as “living archives” of communities, documenting relationships between people in concrete places at specific points in time (2002: 295), his approach is rather de-contextualised and rigid. Such a perspective fails to account for the ways in which such practices are changeable within any given period, vacillating in their intersections with larger historical and political forces, and dependent upon individual circumstances and interpersonal dynamics. Additionally, none of the research I have encountered in this realm examines post-socialist issues about money specifically in relation to memory. Literature addressing money in post-socialist contexts may be useful for dispelling myths about the “evolutionary” development of communist to capitalist economies (Creed 1995; Humphrey 1995; Platz 1995; Verdery 1993, 1995), or in providing ethnographic accounts of how fluctuating perceptions of money and consumption practices can mediate different types of social interactions in political and economic transitions (Lemon 1998; Pesmen 1995, 1996; Rogers 2005; Smith 2003). Yet such analyses tend to concentrate on the disruptions, instabilities, and “chaos” (Humphrey 2002) brought by postsocialism, emphasising elements such as inflation, barter systems, pyramid schemes, or high-level corruption. They rarely evaluate the more ordinary, everyday aspects of currency usage, or focus on its material role in generating emotions that reflect perceptions about the past, present, and future.54 I attempt here to fill in some of the gaps in the literature described above, drawing primarily upon my fieldwork in Bucharest in 2006-7. Because of the leu’s fluctuations over time, I also draw upon my other visits to Romania, 54 One notable exception is Pine (2002). 115
  • 116. including my stays there in 1997, 1999-2000, 2005, and 2009. This chapter will take the reader around Bucharest, revisiting various sites, tracing a map of “money events” and their related memories. This map, however, is not drawn to any particular scale, and it defies chronology by jumping back and forth through time. In this sense, it is less a cartography than a chorography, defined by Pearson and Shanks (2001: 64-5) as an attempt to “record and represent the grain and patina of place through juxtapositions and interpenetrations of the historical and the contemporary, the political and the poetic, the discursive and the sensual.” By highlighting money’s materiality and showing its effects through “deep mapping” or “temporal topography” (ibid), I hope to generate alternative interpretations of this topic. In charting particular situations, I will explore how money-related communicative memories are generated through habitual practices and behaviours, and become embodied in people’s experiences of the city. Capturing Communicative Memory My interest in the links between money and memory developed more through indirect observations than from planned interviews. My collaborators did not tend to volunteer opinions about the subject. Often it was the banal asides I had jotted down in my field notes, comments that did not seem relevant to my research at the time, which led me to more in-depth considerations. When I started writing this chapter (during my post-fieldwork fellowship in Bucharest in 2009), I began to question people more directly about the issue. I had some defunct banknotes and coins from my trips to Romania in 1997 and 1999-2000, and I carried them around to show people. My collection stimulated discussions about how things “used to be” during communist and early post-communist times. Interestingly, people often assumed I was more concerned with the history of Romanian currency than with their memories of its changes. When I showed my friend #tefan my old lei, he enthusiastically offered to dig up some old pre-war banknotes he had lying around his house, as he thought I might want to document them. In fact, I was 116
  • 117. more interested in documenting his experiences and interactions with the currency than with the leu’s incarnations over time. My colleagues seemed surprised that Romanian currency could be even remotely linked to memory. Alina, a friend in her mid-60s, said to me, “Our money has no memory whatsoever! It has changed so many times over the last century that at this point, it has nothing to do with what came before it.” But even perceptions about the absence of memory constitute a set of recollections, and say much about the circumstances accompanying this so-called lack of memory. The very fact that the leu has gone through so many transformations means that people invariably will have memories about it. Any sense of today’s currency is bound to be loaded with associations and feelings related to this shifting past. Alina’s vehement response also signalled the levels of emotion behind many Romanians’ present-day attitudes towards money. But as with many of the activities of communicative memory I encountered, my interlocutors were perhaps too close to the subject to identify it as connected to their own remembrance practices. As a less implicated outsider, I could recognise their feelings as operations of memory. My incidental observations of memory practices and discourses surrounding money, I realised, were just as important as people’s explicit statements about the subject. One summer afternoon in 2009 I happened to walk past a small flea market in the centre of Bucharest. I browsed its tables heaped with antique trinkets, old books, postcards, and jewellery, and was surprised to see several stalls containing collections of banknotes and coins. Very old, rare, or unused bills were selling for the equivalent of £20. Even the tattered Romanian notes so disparaged in the late 1990s and early 2000s (worth 5p or 10p at the time) were on sale for £4 or £5 apiece. I spoke at length with one of the vendors, a 64 year-old man named Marian, who told me that before retiring he had worked in Ploie"ti (a medium-sized city not far from Bucharest) as an auto mechanic, and had been collecting money as a hobby since he was 18. Though it had been illegal to possess foreign money under Ceau"escu, he explained, if you were a dues-paying member of the official Numismatist club, declaring any new acquisitions to the state authorities, and pledging not to use the money for functional purposes, you were free to collect whatever currency you liked. 117
  • 118. When I told him I was American, and took out my old Romanian banknotes saying that I was interested in seeing more, Marian enthusiastically showed me his neatly organised albums with bills dating from the early 20th century to a few years ago. He was particularly enthusiastic about the coins and bills with King Mihai’s portrait (the last of this kind were issued in 1945 by the Romanian Ministry of Finance, just before the arrival of communism), and he ended up giving me one, along with a 1,000,000 lei note from 1947 (a rare period of inflation in the wake of WWII). When he saw that I was curious about the money from Ceau"escu’s time, he gave me 5, 10, and 50-lei notes dating from 1966. During his working lifetime, he told me, the average salary was around 2000 lei per month, and until the Revolution there was “no such thing” as inflation. He described the by-now familiar narrative about how prices under Ceau"escu were always the same, how dependable the economy used to be, and how even though there were not many goods available, everyone had enough money, a guaranteed job, and a place to live. “Today,” he told me, “you can find anything you could possibly want in the shops, but there’s not enough money to buy it.” Fig. 4.3 50 lei, communist banknote from 1966 As this example demonstrates, in its capacity as an object of collection and recollection, and as a deliberately remembered artefact, the leu is appreciated for aesthetic and nostalgic reasons. This view of currency is distinct from that held by Simmel (1978 [1907]), who considers it a quantitative entity that weakens social bonds between individuals because of its 118
  • 119. abstract nature. For Marian, talking about his collection awakened dormant recollections he had about social and political situations connected to earlier currencies that had nothing to do with either their role as a medium of exchange or their quantitative value as collector’s items. His gesture of gifting me parts of his collection also revealed money’s capacity to acquire qualitative, communicational properties. Our interaction illustrated the potential for the material and affective qualities of money to surface, and to provoke inadvertent and unintentional memories revealing multifaceted attitudes about the present, past, and future. The Many Faces of a Banknote As most of us handle some form of national currency on a regular basis, banknotes are a palpable way that we physically come into contact with the state in our day-to-day lives. The design and imagery of a nation’s currency is often said to promote a sense of popular sovereignty and mutual belonging among its citizens. As Helleiner observes (1998: 1409), certain recognisable symbols and figures on notes may encourage ideas of collective tradition and memory among members of a country, fostering the sense that individuals with common monetary experiences also share certain social, cultural, or political sentiments. Such standardised interpretations, however, fail to account for more idiosyncratic or critical associations that people may have with their national currency. All citizens do not automatically share the same nationalistic sentiments simply because they are familiar with the same icons or emblems on their banknotes and coins. Neither do they necessarily care about or unquestioningly accept this official state symbolism, even though it is a visible part of their daily transactions. After the 1989 Revolution, the Romanian government issued new banknotes with the stamp of the National Bank of Romania replacing that of the National Bank of the Socialist Republic of Romania. Landscapes previously depicting the socialist emblem of wheat-stalks with a rising sun and other sites of agricultural and industrial production gave way to portraits of 119
  • 120. Romanian poets, artists, and intellectuals, and scenes of monasteries, churches, and other national institutions. These changes blatantly announced a different political order, with the new imagery affirming a nationally sanctioned break with the communist past. However, this post-1989 currency did not necessarily contribute, as some theorists might argue, to the “consolidation” of national territory, or to the “production of national citizens” in space (Gilbert 2005: 377), as it did not signify an obvious or coherent direction for the future, or garner unanimous support for the connotations it held. #tefan (in his mid 30s) recalled to me how “ridiculous” the banknotes from the early ‘90s had seemed, with their illogical mixture of symbols that to him only confirmed the disorganised politics of the time. Nationalistic illustrations of Dacian and Roman statues (implicitly affirming anti-minority sentiments that were particularly strong during that period) were shown alongside depictions of Romanian historical monuments and Orthodox religious sites, along with the pre-communist coat of arms that was missing its crown because then-President Iliescu was opposed to royalist sentiments. #tefan even seemed embarrassed that his country’s banknotes had contained such a mess of historical and political symbolism; it was obvious that he had not “bought in” to the currency’s nationalist agenda at all. I am less concerned with the history of such blatant nationalistic imagery on Romanian banknotes than with how their changing day-to-day treatments have become important parts of people’s ongoing processes of recollection. I examine the leu not as an official product of state institutional discourse or national symbolism, but as an artefact of ordinary use in human society. In this sense, I am coming closer to Navaro-Yashin’s (2002) view of the arenas of political and public life as enmeshed in one another, rather than regarding the state as a domain necessarily external to that of the everyday. Instead of looking at the leu’s function as a standardised unit of currency, I focus on how its changing material practices and emotional associations in the contemporary accession era reproduce old interpretations of the past, and continue to generate new ones (Carruthers and Espeland 1998: 1387). 120
  • 121. Reading Money The physical and visual qualities of Romanian currency seemed to play important roles in people’s conceptions of its value. In 1999, I quickly discovered how to “read” the material status of money (Lemon 1998: 30), as foreign bills with marks, creases, or torn edges were grimly and adamantly refused at most exchange houses in Bucharest. Tellers often scolded me for possessing them and for trying to exchange them, and I learned to bring new and “clean” looking dollars with me on future trips from America. Even though there were hundreds of banks and exchange kiosks throughout Bucharest, I usually would have to go to several before finding one that would accept my unfortunate bills “ruined” by one tiny smudge. This unwritten policy was assumed to be understood by both parties in the exchange. Such concerns about the foreign currency’s cleanliness were perhaps influenced by the fact that this generation of lei consisted of a cheap, rough paper that got very grimy and tended to tear quite easily. Fig. 4.4 1,000 lei, post-communist paper banknote from 1991 I often heard people complaining about the poor quality of the paper, particularly because once the notes became too dirty or ragged, shopkeepers would refuse to accept them, and if you were stuck with one of these, it was 121
  • 122. very difficult to get rid of, even at a proper bank. Through these experiences, I became very conscious (and often anxious) about how my money looked, and whether or not it was “good” enough to be accepted. Such an emphasis on the leu’s importance as an object defies conventional theories depicting money as a “universal commodity… exchangeable for all others” (Ingham 2004: 6), or as an item representing value but holding no intrinsic worth in and of itself (Dominguez 1990: 18). People’s responses to the visible and palpable changes in Romania’s post-socialist currency indicate that it was perceived as worth more than its literal exchange value (or at least appraised using additional standards); and these perceptions have become part of a repertoire of memories about Romania’s shifting place in the global sphere over time. In 1999, for example, a special 2,000 lei note was issued to commemorate the occasion of a total solar eclipse that had been visible from certain parts of Romania that summer. The note was made of plastic (the first plastic lei to appear), and was a pretty, sky-blue colour, containing a transparent window that formed part of an illustration of the solar system and the path of the eclipse across Romania. Fig. 4.5 2,000 lei, post-communist plastic banknote from 1999 These bills were issued in a limited number, and had an aura similar to the rare American $2 bill. While they were accepted as legal tender, many people (including myself) preferred to save them as souvenirs. The limited number of these notes, their unique, appealing appearance, and the fact that they were so resistant to damage, made them special. They were somehow futuristic, a taste of other, perhaps better, things to come. 122
  • 123. Calculations and Denominations During and after the official transition to the new lei/RON in 2005, it was impossible to engage in financial transactions that did not involve memory, as every purchase entailed having to go through mental calculations measuring and comparing current denominations against the previous ones. On one level, this process seemed particularly difficult because four zeroes had been removed from the old lei. If there were only three missing zeroes, it would have been much simpler to convert 50,000 into 50, or 1,000 into 1. But in the actual system, 50,000 old lei became 5 new lei, 10,000 old lei became 1 new leu, and 1,000 old lei became 10 bani (technically 0.10 new lei). In the summer of 2005, I noticed posters announcing the upcoming monetary changes hanging in windows of shops and post offices. They featured diagrams showing which old bills were equivalent to which new ones, stating in bold print: “Everything is simplified as of July 2005.” Between March 1, 2005 and June 30, 2006, prices could be listed in both old and new lei. As of July 1, 2005, the new banknotes and coins would enter into circulation. Until December 31, 2006, both types of currencies would be legally acceptable tender. On January 1, 2007, the day Romania officially joined the EU, only new lei would be valid. The posters claimed “simplification.” In reality, everything became much more complicated. In principle, the new lei would be equal in value to the earlier post-communist lei, as everything would be uniformly reduced by four decimal places. This quantitative equivalency, however, was not played out in actual practice. The reduction of zeroes made it necessary to create new banknotes worth more than the highest bill under the previous system, as what used to be one million old lei (100 RON) would no longer be convenient for handling extremely large amounts of money. With the introduction of 200 and 500 RON notes (equivalent to two and five million old lei respectively), the idea of 100 RON (one million old lei) was mentally depreciated, because it was no longer the most valuable banknote. The mere existence of larger bills expanded people’s perceptions about the range of comprehensible values, and orientated them towards the 123
  • 124. possibility of spending more money, even if they did not literally do so. With the combined effect of the loss of the terms “millions” and “thousands,” as well as the appearance of a bill five worth five times more than the previously largest note, individuals became more at ease with the idea of handling larger sums of money. Yet paradoxically, because of its higher purchasing power in previous years, 100 RON (one million old lei) was still treated as if it were a very large amount. Even in 2005, when both prices and salaries had risen significantly, and this quantity did not go as far as it had before, people still referred to 100 new lei as “a million,” as if it carried the same weight as it had a few years earlier, even though it clearly did not. At the other end of the spectrum, the shift to using new lei also eliminated the need for the smallest units previously in circulation. Because the reduction of zeroes would have turned 1,000 old lei into 0.10 new lei, which was not substantial enough to warrant a paper note, the old 1,000 lei bill became a 10 bani coin. The old 500 lei coin, which still had some practical value in the old system, turned into a virtually worthless 5 bani coin, and the old 100 lei coin became a practically non-existent 1 ban coin. The result was that many low-range goods suddenly jumped many times in price simply because their equivalent in the new terms seemed ridiculously small. Whereas you previously could purchase a bus ticket for 2,500 lei, the new amount would have translated into 25 bani, which just seemed absurdly low. A bunch of dill or parsley sold at the outdoor market, which once cost 500 or 1,000 lei, would have been 5 or 10 bani under the new system, also a seemingly insignificant amount of money. Though the theoretical values of these new amounts were numerically equivalent to the old ones, they ended up being worth much less in practice. Consequently, items such as bus tickets and parsley generally went up to that of the new smallest banknote—1 leu— even though mathematically, 1 leu is the equivalent of 10,000 old lei, which is much higher than the original price of either item under the earlier system. While salaries rose only slightly, low-end prices were able to increase tenfold simply because the number of 124
  • 125. zeroes in the leu had changed.55 As Maurer writes (2006: 23), money is often thought to represent straightforwardly quantifiable amounts, but numbers themselves are all too often “ineffable.” Although in the process of calculating old lei into new lei the amounts of money technically remained the same, these changes involved significant mental recalibrations which provoked memories about the leu’s previous values, destabilising its place in present-day contexts. These fractured conceptions about its worth then impacted the actual values of commodities themselves. Throughout these changes (and perhaps partly because of them), the new leu continued to be calculated and evaluated in relation to its remembered counterparts. The new plastic notes made the previously “new” postcommunist paper lei suddenly seem “old.” The plurality of meanings in Romania’s currency prompted stories and anecdotes about its many different versions. Such recollections were often provoked by the stress of an ordinary purchase that suddenly involved multiple calculations of numbers and values. So while people talked favourably about the RON as being more “modern” than the earlier post-communist lei, in 2005 they still regarded it as unpredictable, as having less purchasing power, and as introducing the potential for further price risings in the future. Simmel’s “ideal world” (Ingham 2004: 66), where money would attain a “neutral” position agreed upon and maintained by a social community, with commodities’ values reflecting these preferences, was nowhere in sight. The inconsistent ways people tended to refer to amounts of money, maintaining the old terminology of “thousands” and “millions” even when these notes were no longer in circulation, only added to the complexities of the new lei’s identity. 55 As one colleague in his mid 30s remarked to me, the new denominational system was deceptive: “The difference between 34 and 36 doesn’t sound like much. But if you look at it with the old numbers, comparing 340,000 and 360,000, there is a difference of 20,000 lei, which seems more significant. So we may think that the differences are equivalent, but in fact they are not.” 125
  • 126. The Language of Money Just as money can be read as a symbolic referent, a social system, and a material practice (Gilbert 2005: 361), its discursive patterns must be considered as well. After the new lei began circulating in 2005, people would talk about amounts of money using multiple terminologies, or state a price in one denominational system, then pay for it with another. They would refer to the sum of their 10 lei purchase, for example, as “one hundred thousand,” knowing that no thousands were to be seen, and that they would be paying with a 10 lei note. Because its identifying language was inconsistent, actual quantities could only be determined in context. For several years after the introduction of new lei into Romania’s market, the discourse around financial transactions remained messy and unclear, often evoking irritation, annoyance, and bewilderment about how to determine proper amounts and communicate them to others. It was common to see price lists referring not to “new” lei (lei noi) but “difficult” or “heavy” lei (lei grei), a rhyming joke referencing the complicated state not only of the economics but also of the social and cultural import of the new currency. At the start of my fieldwork in August 2006, both versions of lei were still in circulation, and the discourse was very much in flux. I was not yet “fluent” in the new currency or in the linguistic rules for addressing it. You could select an item and have the cashier ring you up in new lei, but tell you the total price in old lei, stating the amount in thousands. Or you would be told the price in old lei without the word “thousand,” so you could not be certain whether it was the price in old or new lei. Or you would simply be told the price in new lei. It took me some time to realize that there actually was some logic to the apparent disorder. Prices under 10 RON (or 100,000 old lei) often would be stated in old lei, but without the word “thousand,” even though thousands were implicit in the stated sum. For example, if a cashier told you “seven,” that amount often meant seven thousand old lei, not seven new lei. You then had to remove four zeroes to calculate its new lei equivalency of 70 bani. 126
  • 127. As I described one of my first supermarket transactions upon my return to Bucharest in 2006: The other day I bought some water and yogurt and juice at the shop by the bus stop. The cashier rang it up and told me, “Eighty-three.” So I took 83 new lei out of my wallet and handed it to her. She looked shocked. “No, no, no!” she said to me, and gave me back most of the bills. I had actually given her the equivalent of 830,000 old lei, ten times as much as I should have [around £18 instead of £1.80]. Then I realized that when she said “eighty-three,” she actually meant eighty-three thousand old lei, but she just hadn’t explicitly followed up with the “thousand.” She had been using the old terminology in a new way. And the amount she was conveying to me was actually equal to 8 new lei and 30 bani. Prices over 10 RON usually (but not always) included the word “thousand” after the amount, which required the single step of removing the four zeroes from the number. When the price was under 1 RON, it often had the word “thousand” added to it, so that something costing 50 bani would often be called “five thousand.” As lower-end prices had shot up so drastically, it would be easy to think that “five thousand” meant five new lei, but this amount would actually have translated back into 50,000 old lei. This tangle of zeroes was often too much for my brain to handle, and I would sometimes be reduced to desperately holding out a fistful of bills to cashiers and trusting that they would select the appropriate amount. I observed others doing the same, particularly elderly people who seemed utterly overwhelmed. Towards the end of my fieldwork in 2007, when the old leu was safely out of circulation, it was still common for people to refer to prices using the old denominations. By the time I returned to Bucharest in 2009, most cashiers had adjusted to stating prices in the new denominations, though I still would hear references to amounts in “thousands” and “millions” in casual contexts and in transactions among friends. By that point everyone was more familiar with the practices surrounding the new lei, but there were still instances of linguistic crossovers. Confusion seemed to be considerably reduced for people who did not have a repertoire of memories associated with earlier lei. For my foreign acquaintances, for example, who came to Romania after 2007 when the new leu/RON was the only money in circulation and its terminology was more or less consistent, 25 RON simply meant 25 RON. They did not have to think about how many thousands of lei this would have been before, or about the fact 127
  • 128. that its mathematical correlate of 250,000 lei would have once seemed like an enormous amount to pay for an item that was now considered worth 25 RON. But why was it that three years after these changes, so many Romanians still referred to prices using the lei’s old denominations? Technically, as several people pointed out to me, it should have been easier to switch back to pre-1989 denominations, since “tens” and “hundreds” were the terms in use during 45 years of communism. But now, people did not seem so concerned with that part of their monetary history. Their reluctant linguistic adjustments were perhaps partly due to mathematical complications, but they also illustrate that official changes in policy are not always instantaneously implemented in on-the-ground, everyday practice. People’s adherence to the “thousands” and “millions” of the 1990s may also have been linked to their sense of disillusionment with the financial scene during the 2000s. Continuing to refer to higher denominations may have been a means of indirectly critiquing the current high prices of goods and the inaccessibility of certain idealised living standards. Such discursive practices indicate a nostalgic longing not for communist times, but ironically for the earlier post-communist period. Exchange Rates and Relative Values In 2000, people often reflected back on the low, stable prices during communism, and lamented to me how expensive everything had become. In 2006, however, I found people looking back nostalgically not so much at communist prices, but at prices from the late 1990s and early 2000s. The cost of living seemed to have quintupled during the past six years; and while salaries had increased, they were still not proportional to the increase in prices. In my field notes from December 2000, I had documented how far 100,000 lei would go in Bucharest: How much is one hundred thousand lei? It is ten kilograms of apples. It is five cups of Viennese hot chocolate. 128
  • 129. It is a six-minute phone call from Romania to the US. It is ten tickets to the cinema. It is one compact disc. It is an entrée at a fancy restaurant. It is postage for nine letters to America. It is one hundred photocopied pages. It is thirty-two rides on the Bucharest Metro. It is about four US dollars. Comparing my above price-list to one calculated in December 2007, at the end of my fieldwork, I came up with the following: How much is one hundred thousand lei? First of all, it is ten RON (new lei). It is two kilograms of apples. It is one cup of Viennese hot chocolate. It is a three-minute phone call from Romania to the US. It is two tickets to the cinema. It is a third of a compact disc. It is a drink at a fancy restaurant. It is postage for three letters to America. It is fifty photocopied pages. It is twelve rides on the Bucharest Metro. It is about four US dollars (or three Euros). Such dramatic increases led people to remember the earlier postcommunist periods when money actually had more purchasing power than it did now, and allowed them to forget that not long ago they had considered those earlier amounts prohibitively high.56 Just as Marurer (2005) argues that money’s “adequacy” often falls short of people’s expectations, I would suggest that it continued to do so in Romania even when the currency had been “modernised.” As one acquaintance explained to me, the leu no longer had any precise meaning for her in 2009, as it had been worth such different amounts over time, and could not be counted on to have a reliable value in the future. While some people (especially older generations) would talk about how stable the leu had been under Ceau"escu, and how salaries and prices had remained the same for decades, I also heard memories of the unpredictable, surreal, and sometimes even meaningless qualities of communist-era money. 56 They also seemed to have forgotten about the severe instabilities of the mid-1990s that had such devastating effects on so many Romanian citizens. According to Verdery (1995), the pyramid schemes that flourished during this period paved the way for new, unequal configurations of wealth and power, and made people suddenly start thinking about money and economic processes in specifically moral terms. 129
  • 130. As Zoltán told me, particularly towards Ceau"escu’s final years, you never knew if you would be able to find anything in the shops. Because of this dynamic, money became less important, or “devalued,” as he explained, as people had begun to trade goods and services for hard-to-find items, rather than using cash (see Seabright 2000). As Dan explained, the “universal” currency in the ‘80s was a packet of Kent cigarettes and a bag of coffee. “My father had a vault filled with Kents,” he told me. “Sometimes to amuse themselves, people would put a special mark on the outside of the box to see how long it would take to circulate back to them.” Other friends recalled exchange rates from that period as a matter of theoretical abstraction, because of money’s “irrelevant” and “unreal” relation to foreign currency (valuta) in the communist-era. Exchange rates shifted only slightly during the communist period, but varied considerably depending on whether you went through official or black-market channels. Dan’s brother Drago", in his late 30s, remembered that before the Revolution, one American dollar was officially equal to 20 lei, but on the black market, you could get as much as 100 lei per dollar. In the late ‘80s, his salary as a factory worker was 2,700 lei per month, which could have been calculated as 25 or 125 dollars, depending on where you changed your money. But ultimately, none of it mattered, he told me, as these values had no real meaning since it was illegal to possess foreign currency. Even if you did have some, there were few places in Romania that you could legally spend it. A sense of danger surrounded memories about the possession of foreign currency and gold coins (called coco!ei). Zoltán, who grew up in the Transylvanian city of Târgu Mure", told me that between 1948 and 1952, the laws were particularly strict, and many families threw any coins they had into the Mure" River to avoid being arrested. Dan’s father Liviu, in his mid-60s, recounted to me a story about an acquaintance of his who had been put in jail for having a few American cents. He had done some work abroad, was paid his per-diem in dollars, and was left with some change that was too small to convert back into lei. When he returned to Romania, the Securitate searched him, found the foreign change and used it as an excuse to put him in jail. “Stupid things like that would happen all the time,” Liviu said with a grimace. 130
  • 131. “I don’t even like to think about it now, it makes me so upset.” Such feelings, still intense two decades later, contradict the classic economic “textbook” notion that money remains firmly “anchored in the domain of the secular,” the rational, and the utilitarian (Brown 1970 [1959]: 212), as in these cases, the possession of illegal currency provoked intense fears and anxieties. After 1989, it became legal to possess foreign currency, but it was some time before Romanian citizens were allowed to exchange unlimited amounts of money. Whereas during communism you could only change lei with state permission, and officially only at the CEC,57 for the first two years after the Revolution you could do so at any bank, but only in amounts up to $500 per year. This rule was due to the state’s desires to keep distribution of foreign currency to a minimum because of concerns about inflation. As several of my friends recalled, such transactions were strictly enforced, with the amounts of each exchange recorded in your passport. By 1992, these restrictions had been lifted, and exchange kiosks appeared throughout the city. Inflation was inevitable. The leu soon became devalued, and after a few months, the first post-communist banknote that had been printed, a 500 lei bill, was no longer worth enough to warrant its existence. Initially 500 lei had seemed like a large amount, but prices were rising much too quickly. By the mid-1990s, the 500 lei note had become a 500 lei coin, with hardly any purchasing power. By the early 2000s, the leu was weaker than most foreign currencies, and for many outsiders, the price of goods and services was extremely low. Yet for Romanians surviving on a salary of only a few million lei per month, the cost of living was exorbitantly high. This discrepancy made it very difficult for anyone with outside sources of income (either foreigners or Romanians with relatives working abroad) to navigate the concept of value. The very same prices that were “dirt-cheap” for many foreigners were prohibitively expensive to most Romanians. In 1999, for instance, I once laughingly told a friend in Bucharest that during my first days walking around the city, I accidentally had given a beggar a 100,000 lei note, confusing it for a 10,000 lei note. My friend 57 The Casa de Economii !i Consemna#iuni (House of Savings and Records) was not officially a “bank” under communism, but it was the single institution where Romanian citizens were encouraged to deposit their money and “save” for future purchases. It is currently state-run, and operates as the country’s fifth-largest bank. 131
  • 132. was horrified: while for me, it was a matter of having given away eight US dollars, for her, 100,000 lei was a week’s worth of groceries. A few months later it hit me just how much weight the 100,000 lei actually carried. I had been invited to a wedding in a small town a few hours north of Bucharest, and during the church ceremony I noticed that the bridegroom had a 100,000 lei note pinned to his lapel. I already was familiar with the average salaries and prices in Bucharest, and knew that such an amount went a long way in the city and even further in the provinces. Seeing the actual banknote decorating the groom’s wedding attire demonstrated its worth. It was not merely a symbolic gesture, but a literal means of commemorating the special occasion, a taste of the wealth desired for the new couple’s future. The impact was closer to that of seeing a hundred dollar bill pinned to a lapel in America, even though the 100,000 lei note would have been less than eight US dollars at the time.58 In 1999-2000, it did not take me long to begin evaluating Bucharest prices on the basis of local values, rather than on exchange rate equivalents. Although I never had to survive on a Romanian salary, I spent more time with Romanians than with foreigners, which gave me a sense of how far the leu could actually go. Yet because my funding was in American dollars, I was free to splurge on things when my Romanian friends were not, which would temporarily explode my attempts to see values and prices from a local perspective. As I also had to interact with other American Fulbrighters from time to time, I often was shocked by the amounts of money they were regularly spending until I remembered to calculate these amounts in dollars, as they were doing, and then the amounts would seem quite low. Such experiences complicated the apparently quantitative calculation between dollars and lei, as the same money would take on different meanings depending on the evaluative framework. During my fieldwork in 2007, the Romanian economy was seen as the strongest it had been in years.59 More and more families had relatives working 58 Between October 1999 and December 2000, the exchange rate went from 12,000 lei per dollar to 25,000 lei per dollar. 59 Romania’s financial scene has fluctuated since then, with many people claiming to be deeply affected by the “crisis” that hit the country in 2009. 132
  • 133. abroad who were sending part of their income back to Romania. President B!sescu, elected in 2004, had encouraged higher levels of foreign investment, which precipitated a rise in salaries, but also in commodities’ prices. In 2007, Romania had a $79 billion economy, which was 17th in the EU, and the country expected to receive $17 billion in EU funds over the next seven years (Ben Rockwell, personal communication, 1 February 2007). Many foreigners saw Romania as an ideal place for future economic growth. This “promising” prediction was not so unconditionally positive for local residents, however. In 2002, labour codes had changed, making it safer for banks to offer mortgages, theoretically giving more people the opportunity to buy their own homes. But this also caused a dramatic rise in real estate prices. An apartment that would have cost $5,000 in 2000 (considered quite expensive at the time) cost around $100,000 just a few years later (although this price would more likely be stated in Euros). House prices were literally rising by the day. My friend Monika told me how she had put a certain amount of money aside to buy a flat in 2004, and in the course of several months while she was looking at apartments, prices went up so much that she could no longer afford to buy anything at all. In 2006 and 2007, the real estate market was still growing, and there was a frenzied and desperate atmosphere among my colleagues searching for affordable flats to buy or lease. The emotionally laden processes of remembering and forgetting the leu’s varied exchange rates and relative values in the communist and postcommunist eras continually filtered into Romanians’ present-day attitudes towards money, often leading them to regard it with anxiety and apprehension. As Creed writes (1995), one cannot assume that socialism is automatically associated with concepts of economic limitation, and capitalism with ideas of economic opportunity. Multiple and often contradictory memories of previous generations of lei spanning the spectrum from stability to unreliability, and possessing such varied levels of purchasing power, made it difficult for Bucharest residents to unconditionally embrace the new meaning of their currency—even when it was presented as facilitating a “simpler” and “smoother” transition to a European future. 133
  • 134. Small Bribes and Little Gifts As Carruthers and Epseland write (1998: 1385), money is inscribed with meaning through its movement among people, taking on different connotations depending upon who is participating in the exchange, or what kind of historical connotations the transaction carries. During my various residencies in Bucharest, giving a “small bribe” or a “little gift” (!pag", or mic" aten#ie) to grease the wheels for various goods and services held multiple and sometimes conflicting connotations. While !pag" generally implies that an exchange of actual money is taking place, a mic" aten#ie is usually a gift of a luxury food or object in order to speed up paperwork, or to obtain a special favour or service.60 Both terms fall into the category of what Humphrey (2002: 130) describes as “transactional” bribes, or legal payments to “expedite matters in one’s favour,” as opposed to “variance” bribes or “outright purchases,” which carry connotations of illegality. During my fieldwork, these “transactional” bribes were acknowledged as ubiquitous throughout Romania. Many people (of all generations) tended to blame communism for introducing such “bad” habits and ingraining them so deeply in people’s mentalities. Particularly when people talked about Romania’s need to meet EU standards, they often would say that in order to eliminate corruption in larger, institutionalised spheres, these petty practices of !pag" and mic" aten#ie needed to end. When I suggested that bribery still occurred on many levels throughout the world, many of my friends seemed to condone this fact as “normal,” while viewing their own local habits as more reprehensible. Theirs was “backwards” behaviour, firmly rooted in communist, “Balkan,” and “Byzantine” pasts. At the same time, however, and even within the same groups of people, I encountered discourses emphasising the prevalence of altruistic gestures and the absence of pressure for monetary compensation under the communist 60 See Chapter 4 for my discussion of the Eugenia biscuit and its ubiquitous use as a mic" aten#ie during the late communist period in Bucharest. 134
  • 135. system. As Marius explained to me, before the Revolution, people were more likely to offer “in-kind” assistance to one another. It used to be that friends helped each other out without expecting anything in return. If someone had to move house, they’d call all of their friends and everyone would come to help. I would fix people’s televisions for free [he was an electronic engineer], and then they would do something for me later on. After the Revolution, you started to see differences in social class. And people didn’t help each other out so much anymore. Now every service has a price attached to it. Both variants are undoubtedly true: people were socially pressured into using money to pay for extra favours both then and now, and they would help each other out for free both then and now. Some of the post-1989 practices were similar to those under communism; others were new survival strategies for the post-communist era. Such apparently clashing explanations about past and present financial aspects of social relations confirm how memories about the subject are themselves filled with inconsistencies and discrepancies, demonstrating the lack of a clear-cut dividing line between behaviours in either period. One acquaintance in his late 30s told me in 2007 that even though he thought Romania had become economically better off since the Revolution, he was upset that people’s mentalities about !pag" did not seem to be changing. He described how proud he was that his grandfather had been one of the only inhabitants of his village to attend university, and that his success was because of his own abilities, which these days, he said, was a rare achievement. While younger generations in particular would disparage the idea of !pag", and claim to be leading the way in breaking such habits, they often were deeply involved in these practices. Paying off administrators in the university halls of residence was a common way for students to guarantee a place in a room (Rosta" and Stoica 2008). Many people told me that university and high school students could still easily “buy” their way into passing their exams. Alexandra, a 17 year-old high school student, explained to me in 2007 how she wanted to switch to a school with a better reputation. But she was not sure she could do it on the basis of her marks alone. She first had to speak to the Director of the school, she told me, and maybe give him as much as four million lei (she used the old terminology), or half a lower-end monthly salary, 135
  • 136. if she didn’t find any other way to transfer. Because she did not have the financial means to do that, her sister, who was a schoolteacher elsewhere in Bucharest, was going to try and talk to some other teachers at Alexandra’s school, and see if they could pull some strings without the money. Alexandra was very familiar with the standard procedure for resolving such a problem, even to the extent of knowing how much it would “cost” her. Although she professed to not be happy about going along with it, it was only her lack of resources, rather than any firm moral objections, that might have prevented her from giving the Director the expected sum of money to deal with this situation. One of the most common contexts for giving !pag" was (and still is) in the medical profession, though only in public institutions, and never in private practices. Daniela, a psychologist in a state clinic, described to me how even when she explicitly instructed her patients not to give her anything, many of them, particularly the older generations, still insisted on leaving her with a small gift or trinket after their visit. In 2007, when I had see a doctor in Bucharest for a case of bronchial flu, my friend Alina made an appointment for me with her own GP, and explained that although it would not cost me anything, I should bring along a bit of cash (50 new lei, or about £10). Being unfamiliar with the customs surrounding this sort of transaction, I did not know to put the money in a nice little envelope, and discretely leave it somewhere in the room at the end of the appointment. Instead, after my examination, I took the cash out of my pocket and offered it to the doctor. She protested so vehemently that I almost put the money back in my wallet, thinking that maybe she really did not want to accept it. Eventually I left the rumpled pile of bills on her desk. When I told another friend what had happened, she burst out laughing at the thought that I had nearly kept the money. “They all make a big show of not wanting to take !pag",” she said to me, “but in the end, very few of them will actually refuse it.” There were certain times when it seemed that offering a small gift or a mic" aten#ie was truly not appropriate (as opposed to the above scenario where it was still ultimately expected), particularly among Romanians who had been abroad and who had seen that this practice was less common in other countries. It was their associations between such behaviours and the communist past that 136
  • 137. made it something to be avoided, particularly once Romania had become part of the EU. In the summer of 2007, some acquaintances gave me a lift to Bucharest from a town about 60 miles outside of the city. The driver, in his 50s, was a well-off businessman who had some experience working abroad. After he turned down my offer to contribute towards petrol money, I tried to give him a bag of coffee I had brought back with me from England. While someone with a non-communist past might have accepted the offer as a friendly gesture, this man vehemently refused, making it clear that he wanted nothing to do with such practices. It was probably a mistake when I left the coffee on the back seat of his car. Afterwards, I wrote in my journal: The rules about !pag" and mic" aten#ie seem to be up in the air. A gesture that at one point not long ago indicated that you were “in the know” about how to thank people, can now be interpreted as a demeaning reminder about a past that many people are trying to put behind them. There I was feeling proud of myself that I had been prepared with the proper kind of compensation, and I think I ended up seriously putting my foot in my mouth. However, there were other times when such offers seemed to open up greater trust and communication. In 2000, when I was receiving packages fairly regularly from the US, and having to stand in long queues to pick them up at the local post office, my gift of a single box of (foreign) sweets to the customs officer noticeably cut down the time I had to wait in line during the rest of the year. In 2007, after several days of interviewing Uncle Costica (the photographer in Ci"migiu Park who appears in my film), I returned one day without my camera and gave him a box of chocolates I had brought from England. He was sitting on his bench chatting with two other men who are also in my film, and they all seemed pleasantly surprised by my gift. I could feel something relax in their attitudes towards me. “You are so well brought-up and refined,” one of them said to me, and they all wished me well in my studies. When I returned several days later to do more filming, Uncle Costica was noticeably friendlier to me than he previously had been, and he even told some teenaged boys to leave me alone when they started heckling me about my camera. I interpreted this change in behaviour as an indication that my gesture with the chocolates was an appropriate one for someone such as Uncle Costica, who associated this mic" aten#ie as proper social etiquette. 137
  • 138. While many people claimed to view the customs of !pag" and mic" aten#ie as negative, unethical, and decidedly “tainted” reminders of the social dynamics and hierarchies of dependency existing under communism, they were often commonly accepted (and even positively viewed) post-communist practices, even after Romania’s entry into the EU. As Humphrey writes (2002: 127), members of post-socialist societies may vociferously condemn the act of bribery, but its moral evaluations actually span a range of “transactional ‘gray areas.’” Some practices are criticised, others are tolerated, and others are seen as the appropriate responses to particular situations. Like Humphrey, I found it impossible to lump all of these behaviours together into one simplistic category of “corruption,” as people’s expectations about how to judge !pag" and mic" aten#ie depended upon the situation and the individual backgrounds of those involved. While such transactions should not be seen as explicit “survivals” from the communist period, they still carried implicit associations with the past (communist and post-communist), and contributed to current tangled and contradictory interpretations of acceptable and unacceptable financial behaviours. The Great Change Crisis With the many different forms of lei and RON that I handled over the years, I consistently encountered problems when I did not have the exact change required for my purchases. At ticket counters, supermarkets, postoffices, anywhere that did a fair amount of business and where one would not anticipate a shortage of extra change, it seemed that smaller notes and coins were either extremely scarce, or that cashiers simply did not want to relinquish them to customers. If a shop happened to be short on coins, you might be given a stick of gum, some sweets, or a couple of paracetamol as a substitute for “real” money. Sometimes you might even walk away with no change at all. If your change worked out to more than a few coins, and the cashier did not have the proper amount to give back, you could end up in a tense stand-off, and the cashier usually won. I frequently found myself in situations where the vendor 138
  • 139. was not able (or willing) to break the bills I wanted to use, even when the bills were extremely small, because there was “no change” to give in return. It seemed that shop-keepers would rather lose the business than be bothered to find the change themselves. Not only was it my responsibility as a customer to have the exact amount on hand, but I often would get chastised for not having it. Many times I was forced to leave the items I had wanted to buy and walk up and down the street begging neighbouring shop-keepers to break my 50,000 lei (5 RON) or 100,000 lei (10 RON) bill (equivalent to £1 and £2 in 2007). In such cases, money simply ceased to function as money, as the “promissory note” that it legally was. Defying Simmel’s theory that money’s purchasing capacity stems from an overarching trust in its theoretical value (Ingham 2004: 74), here was the bizarre situation where too much money had no value at all, leaving its possessor powerless. During my fieldwork in 2007, I would regularly go to a certain shop in my neighbourhood to buy water, returning my two empty glass bottles in exchange for two full ones, which cost 70 bani each. For a few weeks in a row, when I would pay the total price of 1 leu 40 bani with a 1 leu note and a 50 bani coin, the shop had no 10 bani coins available to give back to me. For three weeks of this I said nothing and walked away without my change. The next visit when it happened again, I told the counter woman, “This is the fourth time you haven’t given me my 10 bani back, so next time I am going to just pay you 1 leu for both bottles of water.” Instead of apologising or agreeing with me, the woman told me sternly, “It’s also your responsibility to bring correct change. You can’t expect us to have so many little coins when all the customers come in without the proper amount of money.” I said, “Yes, but what happens to all of those coins that you never give back to your customers?” She then fished a 10 bani coin out of her own purse and begrudgingly gave it to me. It was not that I was concerned about losing my 10 bani, which was worth around two pence, but rather that I wished to make a point about not wanting to subsidise a business’s pointless lack of petty change. While such a perspective undoubtedly points towards my American, capitalist upbringing, where “the customer is always right,” it also highlights the way in which business transactions in Bucharest often evoked tense memories about social 139
  • 140. relationships between consumers and providers of goods during communist times. As Verdery explains (1991b: 423), the socialist rationale was for the bureaucratic apparatus to maintain maximum control over the supply of goods, rather than the capitalist logic of control over demand and profit. Shopkeepers, as intermediaries to the state distribution system, came to wield enormous power because of their control over these supplies. In such instances, the state authority traditionally responsible for fulfilling the promise of money’s value (Ingham 2004: 76) was replaced by the shopkeeper’s authority. As Marius told me, during communism, shopkeepers were in a higher class (defined as income level, as well as social and material “possibilities”) than trained professionals such as engineers or economists. Auto mechanics would fix shopkeepers’ cars for free; doctors would give them preferential treatment. Any special personal connections (pile or cuno!tin#e) to the shopkeepers could give an ordinary citizen the chance to acquire a little extra of whatever was available, or access commodities that were difficult to find. Such informal transactions (often involving bribes) based on pre-arranged understandings with the shopkeepers were referred to as “under the counter” or “under the hand” (pe sub tejghea or pe sub mân"). The relationships of dependency described above encouraged deference and subservience in the customers, and feelings of superiority and selfimportance in the shopkeepers. Echoes of such attitudes can be seen to persist in certain financial transactions today. Humphrey (2002: 45) describes similar scenes in Moscow’s post-socialist shops as the continuation of power imbalances produced by an unreliable system of allocating goods. While this social dynamic may be linked to certain “leftover” communist-era relationships where the shopkeeper has ultimate power over the consumer, other factors are also likely influencing its ongoing occurrence. I suggest that it is not only people’s memories of social relationships, but memories about money itself that made shopkeepers so unwilling to take responsibility for breaking certain bills and giving change. The absence of bani coins during the earlier part of the post-communist era, as well as the ambiguity of their worth after the denominational changes of 2005, may have facilitated shop-keepers’ practices 140
  • 141. of substituting candy or paracetamol for these coins, or of neglecting to give anything back to customers at all. As the following example from my field notes in 2009 illustrates, recollections of banknotes’ greater relative values during early post-communist years may have affected people’s perceptions of the new lei, making cashiers even more reluctant to break a note that until fairly recently had been considered large and difficult to use in everyday transactions. At the Mega Image supermarket I heard the cashier tell a woman that her purchase came to 3 lei. The woman paid with a 10 lei note. “You don’t have thirty thousand?” the cashier asked her, as a way to ask for exact change. While she initially had used the new denomination, in the same breath she used the old one to ask for the same quantity of money. In this instance, the cashier’s choice of the word “thousand” when asking the customer for smaller change may have been a subtle allusion to her reluctance to break the “large” 10 lei note, which for her still carried the prestigious connotations of the 100,000 lei bill. Such expectations of proper “shop behaviour,” with the consumer at the mercy of the seller, may be seen as clear examples of present-day practices of communicative memory. The heated emotions surrounding these types of interactions challenge Simmel’s claim that monetary transactions necessarily lead to relationships of “sheer objectivity,” where “the personality of those involved appears wholly indifferent in spite of mutual dependency” (Simmel 1978 [1907], quoted in Poggi 1993: 66). Some Conclusions I have steered away from discourses portraying money as a cause of social alienation, an object “whose only currency is abstractions divorced from real life” (Brown 1970 [1959]: 211). I have also avoided treating it as a “neutral” symbol, an intrinsically worthless artefact merely standing in for value, or creating one-dimensional social relations of credit-debit (Ingham 2004: 63). Instead I have underlined its roles as an everyday “thing,” a physical substance implicated in concrete situations often provoking complex feelings and emotions. 141
  • 142. The last two decades have seen drastic transformations in Romania’s economic spheres, on micro and macro levels. The formal changes from communism to capitalism inarguably introduced concrete sets of “dislocations” (Grant and Reis 2002: 3) into the Romanian market, provoking significant adjustments in people’s financial mentalities and behaviours. But the shifts in prices, values, and materialities of Romanian currency do not mean that money has entirely new meanings under the new economy (cf. Smith 2003: 9), or that post-socialism represents a clean break from the previous system (Humphrey 2002: xviii). People’s everyday habits and on-the-ground behaviours do not simply change overnight or immediately answer to the dictates of official policy. Nor is the state the sole entity controlling money or giving it value (Ingham 2004: 50). Romania’s ongoing economic transformations have fostered new attitudes, discourses, and practices around money, generating positive and negative memories about the communist and early post-communist eras. On one hand, public discourses in Romania have criticised persisting “communist” attitudes, urging people to adopt “capitalist” values of “financial discipline,” “better management,” “new technologies,” and “civic responsibility” (Daianu 2006: 21) in order to “catch up” with the rest of Europe. On the other hand, such discourses also accuse people of forgetting previous “communist” values of reciprocity, reliability, and generosity, of embracing a “savage capitalism” without any clear rules or moral principles. These positions, however, need not be seen as mutually exclusive, as they point to the multilateral nature of the ways in which people are currently recollecting the past and engaging with the present. In my chorographic explorations of “money events” in Bucharest, I have pointed to circumstances from communist, post-communist, and EUaccession eras that show how money and memory can function in varied, paradoxical, and often unpredictable ways. While money and memory may be interpreted as intangible, relative, and difficult to grasp concepts, both also surface in palpable, emotional situations at multiple levels of everyday experience. By highlighting money’s materiality, as well as its physical and linguistic treatments in particular social interactions, I have accessed related 142
  • 143. memories and emotions ordinarily embedded in the invisible realms of the imagination (Irving 2010: 132). Often hidden in the crevices of everyday life, not always acknowledged as “recollections” by their practitioners, these remembrance practices demonstrate complex feelings about “old” economic situations, inconsistencies in “transition” era values and behaviours, and ambiguous expectations of “new” practices in the future. 143
  • 144. CHAPTER 5: Affective Tastes [W]hen from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection (Proust 1981: 51). Introduction In this chapter, I explore the social and sensory implications of Bucharest residents’ current practices and recollections related to food. As Chatwin writes of her research in post-Soviet Georgia (1997: 191), investigating new types of foodways,61 tastes, and gastronomic interactions can be an effective means to study socio-economic and political processes of transition. My chapter views the everyday arena of food as a window into Romanians’ experiences of the contemporary EU accession-era, including their self-positioning within broader processes of globalisation, Westernisation, and modernity. I focus on specific situations (some deliberately provoked, and others encountered in casual conversations and behaviours) that reveal culinary activities and their associated narratives as markers of Romanians’ perceptions of present epochal shifts. I apply Barthes’ interpretations of food as part of a larger cultural “signifying system” of communication (1997: 26), indicating the unstable and contingent qualities of tastes, values, and attitudes. Following Sutton (2001b: 73), I view food as a “cultural site,” not in the sense that it may represent fundamental concepts of identity, but rather through its potential to make visible certain elements of cultural change. I also examine the sensory properties of food, and its power to generate memories that are fundamentally connected to the body (Counihan 2004; Lankauskas 2006; Seremitakis 2003; Sutton 2001a, 2001b; Weiss 2007). The visceral dimensions of both food and memory are important not only at the 61 Chatwin (1997: vii) defines foodways as “behaviours that affect what people eat […] methods of preparation [and] rules for distributing” food. 144
  • 145. level of my interlocutors’ experiences, but also in my own fieldwork practices. This chapter describes my activation of taste memories through a technique I call “gustatory elicitation.” This methodological experiment not only used specific foods to evoke verbal and written narratives about the past, but it also allowed me to literally see, smell, touch, and taste some of the dishes that were recalled. I thus was able to participate in a process of collective remembrance, viscerally empathising with other people’s food memories, and generating parallel memories of my own. I additionally consider analyses of food handling and consumption as related to themes of exile, nostalgia and loss (Appadurai 1988: 18) through nourishing immigrants’ desires for “reimagining displaced worlds” (Sutton 2001b: 102). If we accept the notion of the past as a “foreign country” (Lowenthal 1985), then immigrant populations’ uses and invocations of food to create a sense of stability and place (Roy 2002) may be compared to similar nostalgic activities amongst Bucharest residents during the present era of transition. Such processes are visible in the popular media, in artistic and intellectual discourses, and in ordinary conversations and activities, but are played out differently in each of these realms. While my particular examples address how cultural and communicative food memories interrelate, they also illustrate how such narratives refuse to follow formulaic patterns. The multivocal nature of the recollections I encountered underlines the agency of remembering subjects, and challenges the idea that collective memories necessarily adhere to overarching, cohesive social frameworks (cf. Connerton 1989; Halbwachs 1992 [1925]). Queuing and “Getting By” During my fieldwork, I regularly observed that talk about the past would lead to animated discussions about items of food and culinary habits specific to the “time of Ceau"escu.” Memories of the social contexts surrounding the acquisition and consumption of food also surfaced, such as how people would queue for hours at local shops; the personal connections 145
  • 146. required to obtain scarce items; the recipes people improvised to create a semblance of “normality” in their meals; and how certain dishes that now are commonplace were once considered the height of luxury. Over two decades later, many Romanians looked back at the 1980s as the harshest period of communism, when Ceau"escu was exporting most of the country’s production to pay off foreign debts. Such policies, which included a rationing system with coupons for basic staples, had led to extensive material shortages, interminable queues outside the alimentare,62 and a general sense of desperation amongst individuals who expended great efforts to secure their daily subsistence. As Ioana, in her early 60s, recounted to me: First, the sugar disappeared… I was astonished that something like that could happen... So I asked for the Suggestions and Complaints book. Every shop had these kinds of books. And I wrote down, very indignantly, that there wasn’t any sugar. And, of course, it didn’t have any kind of impact… After that, little by little, other foods started to disappear. And later on, in fact, you had to buy all of your basic goods with coupons. Queuing became an everyday reality, along with corresponding patterns of queue behaviour, values and etiquette (Mann 1969). Ruxandra (in her mid 70s), explained to me that people would often queue up extremely early in the morning. Sometimes the meat would come at 2am. Sometimes at 3. Sometimes it wouldn’t come at all… And they would only bring a certain quantity of meat… You’d go to the queue. And you’d wait. To see if the truck would come. If things would be “put in” (dac" s-a b"gat). That’s what they’d say. “Come, they’ve ‘put in’ flour.” Or cornmeal. And you’d wait for hours on end. Hours on end. Gabriela, also in her mid 70s, recounted to me: That was our preoccupation. Going around looking for food. We didn’t know about art. We didn’t have other entertainments. We went around starving, like cats, looking for food… That was the drama for everyone. For the whole population. Domnica (late 30s), described how the shops were often depressingly bare, aside for a few random, undesirable items. Domnica: At the end of the ‘80s, there was nothing on the shelves. Nothing, nothing. Just bottles of Romanian champagne and tins of fish. And they’d make these pyramids and arrangements out of the bottles and tins. 62 The alimentara was a “generic name for the only chain of shops for the distribution of communist Romanian food products.” The shops were owned by the state and the available goods depended on the “whims of the ‘planned economy’” (Auditorium, et al. 2007: 44). 146
  • 147. Alyssa: Who would buy the champagne? Domnica: Nobody would buy it. It stayed on the shelves. How much champagne can you drink on an empty stomach? Eh, nobody actually died of hunger. But you couldn’t find food. Alyssa: How did people manage? Domnica: We managed. That’s the word. I don’t know how you’ll translate it. That’s the key word. We “managed.” Everyone “managed.” The phrase for “managing,” or “getting by” (a se descurca) was often used to explain how people survived the difficulties of the past.63 As the food situation worsened, people developed more elaborate tactics. They learned to carry a little cloth sack in their pockets at all times, called a “PPC” (poate pic" ceva, or “perhaps something will turn up”). When something eventually did turn up, people often would buy it in large quantities and store it for months on end. These personal hoardings led to a paradoxical situation, now often remembered with humour and puzzlement: everyone was always complaining that there was never anything to eat, but in fact, refrigerators were always full. People also recollected turning their kitchens into laboratories for concocting “replacements” for hard-to-find items, such as chocolate made from crushed biscuits and cocoa powder, soured cream thickened with cornmeal, salami made from meat and stale bread, or cheese made from a mixture of milk, butter, eggs, and bicarbonate of soda (see Anghelescu, et al. 2003: 282-284). My friends described learning to cook with tiny scraps of meat extracted from the feet of chickens and pigs, often the only available cuts in the butcher shops. Irina (in her late 60s) told me about a moment of rivalry between her mother and her aunt, because her aunt had succeeded in making five different courses out of a single chicken, and her mother had only been able to make four. Most citizens benefited from the networks of an informal or “secondary” economy (Verdery 1996: 26; 1991b: 423) to compensate for the State’s deficits. It was common for people to gain unofficial access to food through their jobs or connections with the nomenclature. Domnica recalled that her family’s nanny was also employed in the kitchen of the Party headquarters, and would always leave work with a few morsels hidden under her skirt. Irina explained to me how an employee at the German embassy used to smuggle 63 Note Kideckel’s latest book title: Getting by in postsocialist Romania: labor, the body, and working-class culture (2008). 147
  • 148. them meat from the diplomatic shop. The woman would call them up from a public telephone, whisper, “The pig has been slaughtered,” sneak over at midnight with the meat, then slip away. Liviu and Maria, a couple in their early 60s, described how people would humorously turn everyday dishes into “gourmet delicacies” by giving them exotic names. Pig’s feet, for example, were called “Adidas” (Adida!i in Romanian) to confer upon them an Americanised (and thus more “desirable”) flavour; chicken claws, called tacâmuri in Romanian, were pronounced tak-imur-i, to ironically evoke a Japanese (and seductively “foreign”) dish; and the chickens that came two-to-a-bag were always so scrawny and sad-looking that people affectionately referred to them as the “Brothers Petreu"i,” named after twin musicians who came from the rural (and pristinely “folkloric”) region of Maramure". These narratives point to feelings of desperation, but also a strong sense of agency underlying the strategies and coping mechanisms people devised to adapt to the shortages during this period. The majority of memories that I heard about food availability focused on the “difficult” period of the ‘80s. Yet people also remembered that a mere decade earlier, the shops were always abundantly stocked. Iulian (early 40s), for example, recalled big deliveries to the state agricultural shops in the ‘70s during his childhood in Bucharest. Enormous wheels of cheese would be rolled in and left on the streets until there was enough space to bring them inside. He and his friends would sometimes steal jars of yogurt from boxes sitting on the street. When there would be deliveries of watermelons, the kids would help unload them from the trucks, and get a few melons in return. Such stories about food revealed strong emotions and vivid impressions connected to particular periods. People’s visual and visceral descriptions point to Benjamin’s notion that people experience memories as “image spaces” within the body (Weigel 1996). Their accounts support the notion that remembering is not a purely conceptual or intellectual process, reducible to mere cognitive or linguistic models, but rather a corporeal activity that involves embodied feelings (Casey 1987; Connerton 1989; Fentress and Wickham 1992). Consequently, in order to probe people’s food-related memories beyond 148
  • 149. the level of reportage, I needed an alternative to traditional forms of interview and participant observation. I experimented with other methodologies operating within the same sensory registers as these processes of remembering. The Memory Meal As a visual anthropologist, I was familiar with the practice of “visual elicitation,” the use of photographs or other images to stimulate responses. I decided to use a similar model to provoke and re-create embodied recollections through a process I termed “gustatory elicitation.” In December of 2006, I organised a “memory meal” (mas" amintirilor), inviting people to my flat and requesting them to bring a food or drink they associated with the period before 1989. I hoped that this event would reawaken people’s senses, evoke individual and collective stories, and allow me to engage (as much as I could) with a past that was not a part of my own repertoire of memories. Just as advocates of ethnographic filmmaking argue that tactile or embodied qualities of visual knowledge may encourage a deeper appreciation of social experience (Grimshaw and Ravetz 2005, 2009; MacDougall 2006; McQuire 1998; Schneider and Wright 2006), I hoped that “gustatory knowledge” would allow me more intimate and complex insights into people’s taste memories. I invited approximately 30 people to the memory meal, mostly in their late 20s and 30s, and around 25 attended (see Appendices B and B1 for my invitation). They were more enthusiastic about the event than I had anticipated, many expressing surprise and delight that so many foods from the communist era were still available in stores today. People crowded into my tiny kitchen, unloading their bags and comparing their finds. Accumulating before my eyes were piles of Turkish delight, their soft lumpy pastel surfaces dusted in powdered sugar; Eugenia biscuits with chocolate crème filling; bread sticks coated with black poppy seeds; rum-flavoured chocolate bars called Rom; rings of hard pretzels, strung like giant beads on a piece of wire; salty puffed corn snacks called pufule#i; sweet puffed rice coated with blue, pink, and yellow candy flavouring; instant powdered coffee; powdered mashed-potato mix; 149
  • 150. glucose candy-bars; fish paste concentrated in toothpaste-shaped tubes; tiny tins of tomato paste; black-shelled sunflower seeds; a jar of home-made sour cherry jam, thick as tar; a bottle of sweet raspberry syrup to be mixed with sparkling water for improvised soda; packages of prawn crackers, known simply as “shrimps” (creve#i), which expanded like big curls of polystyrene when dropped into hot oil; and parizer, a type of bologna made from a mixture of unidentified organ meats, to be sliced and served cold, or breaded and fried. The event stimulated an atmosphere of pleasant nostalgia—there was little bitterness or regret. While participants generally agreed how “awful” most of the food used to be, this recollection was laced with a certain fondness. Squeezing some fish paste onto a piece of bread, Monika (late 30s) exclaimed, It’s just as bad as it was back then! Stinky, salty, and bad. Exactly like back then. Only the packaging is more commercialised now. It’s super! It’s terrible! Several people approached me during the evening (which stretched until three in the morning) and actually thanked me for organising the gathering, for giving them a chance to reminisce with their peers and re-experience parts of their childhood. As Ileana (early 30s) remarked, Younger people who lived through communism have a lot of positive feelings about those days, because they were connected to our childhood, and there is something magical about that time and the associations you have with it. We didn’t have to worry like our parents did about getting enough to eat, or surviving in basic material ways. So we are left with mostly nice memories… Indeed, many of the foods brought to the memory meal were sweets, snacks, and other childhood treats. Upon seeing a bag of caramels, C!lin (mid 30s) remembered how they used to be called “Cuban candies” (bomboane cubaneze). Whenever they appeared in the neighbourhood shop, the kids would go outside the blocks and shout, “Cuuuuuuban cannnnndies!” and everyone would run out to buy them. His remark prompted other stories about queues, jokes from the communist period, and recipes people concocted with whatever ingredients were available. As Gheorghe (mid 30s) stood in my kitchen frying up prawn crackers, he recounted how people used to order them in restaurants because sometimes they were the only available item on the menu. Silviu (mid 30s) remembered a popular joke about how when a queue would form in front 150
  • 151. of a shop, people would automatically line up without even knowing the offering. I sampled as many different foods as I could, listened to the stories and jokes circulating around the room, and captured peoples’ reactions on film. We used to make “coffee” out of burnt bread crumbs. We would toast the bread and then crush it and pour hot water over it. The water would turn dark and we would strain it and drink it just like a real cup of coffee (C!lin, 36). We would make tea from linden leaves and put farmer’s cheese in it. The cheese would melt and mix in with the tea, and we thought it was the most delicious treat (Lila, 39). When my mother couldn’t find any vegetables in the markets and she would have to make soup from a packet, she felt bad for us and tried to make up for it by giving us other special things. Sometimes she would toast up pieces of bread and rub raw garlic on them. We loved it. You’d think we were having a special holiday meal, the way we went crazy over that garlic bread (Ileana, 31). At one point in the evening, someone found the fuse box in the hallway of my flat and cut the lights. There was a roar of enthusiasm as the room went completely dark for approximately five minutes. In the midst of the commotion, someone yelled “Alo! Alo! Alo!” 64 In the blackness my guests excitedly recalled the times when Ceau"escu used to ration the electricity, and they would be forced to study by lamplight or candlelight. One person called out to me, “Hey, imperialist! Do you have a candle?” When I said no, someone else said, “Of course, why would she be in the habit of hoarding candles like we were?” Even after the lights came back on, people continued reminiscing about water shortages, and how the best time to wash dishes or take a bath would be the hour that Dallas was on TV, because everyone would be glued to their television sets, and water would be in less demand. But as Dallas was one of the few programs (of the two hours of television per day) that people actually enjoyed, most people preferred to wait and risk not having water, rather than miss a broadcast. 64 This phrase references the beginning of the 1989 Revolution, a now iconic moment in Romanian collective memory. When the masses Ceau"escu had assembled for support unexpectedly started to boo him in the middle of his speech, he desperately repeated this word over and over into his microphone. 151
  • 152. Such moments serve as examples of “episodic” memory, or “embodied recollection,” as opposed to “semantic” memory, or “intellectual recall” (Fentress and Wickham 1992: 47). As the experience of taste connects to physical sensations that situate memories both in the mind and body (Counihan 2004: 25; Dolphijn 2004: 14), the memory meal provoked experiences connected to corporeal emotions and feelings. It also allowed me to participate in their collective rekindling, as more than a mere observer, and beyond cognitive and intellectual levels alone. Enacting such physical performances of memory in social situations elicited a range of cultural attitudes and behaviours, illustrating Bourdieu’s notion of habitus (1984: 471), or “embodied dispositions of social order […] inscribed in people’s minds.” As #erban commented, he often associated the physical, shared spaces of eating with particular social or political situations. 65 During communism, kitchens were common domestic meeting spaces for political debates and analysis (Ernu 2006: 200; Neidhart 2003: 6; Pesmen 2000b: 197). The memory meal served as a catalyst for a similar dynamic, winding down at 3am with a handful of people in the doorway of my kitchen laughing and commenting about the “old-fashioned” and “ridiculous” sounding radio and television listings from a 1987 newspaper. 66 This scene could be viewed as a reenactment of political discussions that likely occurred in many of my guests’ own kitchens in the past, evoking Douglas’s structural analysis (1997: 44) of how one meal event implicitly recalls all others. On this occasion, my guests drew upon their experiences of communist-era kitchens, and adapted them to present-day circumstances, indicating that embodied or sedimented memories may be more flexible and changeable than Bourdieu and Connerton suggest. As Farquhar notes (2002), discourses and practices “occupy,” rather than merely underlie, people’s habitus. Her study focuses on how bodies and appetites in contemporary China are “inhabited” by the Maoist past (2002: 10). This notion extends beyond a Marxist theory of the “embodiment of 65 This brings to mind the Romanian Orthodox tradition of poman!, a ritual meal organised by the family of a dead person, held on the 40-day, three-month, six-month, and one-year anniversaries of a death. 66 #tefan (mid 30s), who brought the newspapers, had inadvertently preserved them, since they had been stuffed into the windows of his house in the 1980s to stop the frames from rattling when the underground metro would pass by. 152
  • 153. consciousness,” towards a concept of materiality and discourse as active and mutually influential (ibid 7). In addition to analysing the political economy of eating, Farquhar argues, it is just as important to research the “political phenomenology” of eating—the social and physical behaviours connected to these experiences (ibid 47). The memory meal guests demonstrated such practices by re-staging the kitchen as a post-communist site where social and political forces “converged and surfaced” (ibid 9) through ordinary routines and rituals. Their behaviour also reinforced the idea that processes of remembering are active productions and transformations of the past, not simply passive retrievals or the rehashing of stored information (Casey 1987: 283). Such activities reinforce the Heideggerian notion that memory is not just a mental construction, but rather a lived process that is continuous with the human subject (ibid 312). The relationship between food memories and other physical experiences also points to memory’s qualities of synaesthesia, or the ability for one sense to be stored in or evoked by another (Dolphijn 2004; Holtzman 2006; Seremetakis 1993; Sutton 2001b). As Sutton argues (2001b: 88), synaesthetic perceptions tend to be highly emotionally charged. While procuring ingredients, preparing food, cooking, and eating, the body absorbs sensations of taste, texture, colour, and smell, and associates these qualities with the dynamics accompanying these culinary activities. The taste of certain dishes at the memory meal prompted my guests to remember old jokes and songs; the experience of darkness reminded them of other physical adjustments they had to make in their daily lives; images of particular product logos and packaging evoked relationships from childhood. As Dan explained, he brought gingerbread to the meal because for him it was connected to “the month of December, to carols and carol-singers, to mulled wine, and the peace and quiet that the approaching solstice/Christmas brought to our home.” Drawing upon multiple sensory stimuli, this exercise in gustatory elicitation offered people a chance to bodily re-experience personalised and politicised memories in heightened, concentrated, even joyous ways. As I have noted, I borrowed mass observationist techniques to access people’s thoughts and memories beyond the realm of oral narratives. As my 153
  • 154. guests arrived, I asked them to give me a brief written account of what foods they had brought to the meal and why. My request generated surprisingly intimate responses, amplifying the personal significance of the particular items each had chosen. I received a total of 18 written responses, which I have attached in Appendix C, but I share several below: Sour cherry marmalade made by Granny: It has the same taste now as it did back then. For me, it is the taste of my childhood. That is why I brought it. The sour cherries are from Granny’s garden (Ana, 27). Florio (mixture of vodka, red wine, cherry syrup, and almond extract): This drink represents my first contact with the murky world of alcohol. It was manufactured in Bucharest apartments during the ‘80s, with the warmth of a housewife, and consumed in moderation, with grave and aristocratic gestures, in the chill of the living room. Next to the glass case with the porcelain figurines (C!lin, 36). $pri#er biscuits and Turkish delight: My aunt used to bring these to me when she would visit. She would hide them under a pillow on my bed. During that time I was fat and was not allowed to eat sweets. The bag of !pri#er biscuits and Turkish delight was our little secret. One day she phoned and my mother answered. My aunt thought it was me and she whispered, “I left the bag of biscuits and Turkish delight hidden under your pillow. Watch out that your mother doesn’t find it.” We still laugh at this story (Dan, 33). Powdered potato mix: A kind of instant food from that time. Made from potatoes and usually mixed with water (producing a kind of potato puree), which had a very bland taste. But my mother would make it quite often when she came home from work, because it was very quick. There was also a similar kind of powdered bean mix (Carla, 28). The memory meal enabled its participants to become co-producers of ethnographic knowledge, creating a new, shared present that referenced another, differently-shared past. It gave me a first-hand appreciation of the particular connotations of specific foods, generating a repertoire of taste references that I would be able to draw upon in other contexts. It provided a point of comparison for the ways that communist-era foods were often evoked in Romania’s public spheres and in the media, which I will elaborate upon below. 154
  • 155. Nostalgia Marketing Ileana, who had spent the past ten years living in Germany, told me how common “Ostalgia” parties were in Berlin, with special themes dedicated to socialist food, clothing, and music. In Bucharest, none of the other memory meal guests had heard of or participated in such events. In the following months, however, I noticed that the nostalgia for communist products that had pervaded other Eastern European countries (see Berdahl 2000b) was beginning to take hold in Bucharest. By 2007, references to foods from “the time of Ceau"escu” became more and more ubiquitous on television, on billboards, and in other public arenas. A few months after the memory meal, my friend Daniela, who had participated in the event, showed me an essay about Eugenia biscuits in a literary newspaper column. Several people had brought Eugenias to the meal. While I was familiar with their crumbly, cardboardy taste, I had not previously grasped the significance of their connection to the communist era. They were special, my guests had told me, as they were the only biscuit during communist times that contained crème filling, while still being inexpensive and easily accessible. Now its packaging was slightly “updated,” and the crème was not as tough as it used to be, but the biscuit itself had remained more or less the same. As some of the written comments explained, Eugenias were the cheapest biscuits—the biscuits of poor people in communist times (Pit, 35). They are absolutely emblematic for this respective period. I ate not hundreds, but thousands! (Dorel, 58). I brought Eugenia biscuits. Eugenia biscuits brought me. Communism brought Eugenia biscuits. Eugenia biscuits brought communism (Ciprian, 28). As Daniela’s newspaper article explained (Cosa"u 2007: 16), the Eugenia may have been “a triviality” (un fleac), but it was one of the “essential and ubiquitous” trifles of the “iron and concrete age.”67 It was treated less as a 67 This expression is a play on the “Golden Age,” a phrase commonly used to describe Romania’s “glorious” period of communism under Ceau"escu. 155
  • 156. dietary substance and more as a token of “attention” (aten#ie, or small-scale bribery, described in Chapter 4), functioning as an unofficial yet widely accepted form of currency in the secondary communist economy. You could give them to shop keepers, butchers, or pharmacists with impunity, as these biscuits did not have the blatant or vulgar associations of a monetary bribe. Slipping someone a few Eugenias was a “small gesture,” writes Cosa"u, a sentiment that could signify anything “between fondness and sarcasm” (2007:16). So this apparently bland snack had a savoury social and political history. It was a common but indispensable object that somehow survived the large-scale upheavals in the macro-structures of Romanian life. Both now and in the past, and in disparate ways, these biscuits helped people feel and express certain relationships to one another and to the world (see Meigs 1997: 103). Other products underwent more explicit processes of “brand revival” or “nostalgia marketing” (Cercelescu 2005) while I was in Romania, including Rom chocolate and Dero detergent. Rom chocolate bars had been another popular item at the memory meal. In 2007, I noticed new posters and billboards advertising this product throughout the city. They depicted the chocolate bar wrapped in the blue, yellow, and red vertical stripes of the Romanian flag beside images of Ceau"escu, with the slogan “super sensations from 1964.” Fig. 5.1 “Super sensations from 1964. In a bigger bar” billboard (2007) 156
  • 157. Television ads for this product were even more brazen, portraying Ceau"escu’s head swirling around in psychedelic patterns. Others contained sequences where a teenager would bite into a bar of Rom chocolate and be transported back in time, coming face to face with Ceau"escu or members of the Securitate. In May 2007, the laundry detergent Dero launched a promotional campaign to commemorate forty years of existence. The label featured images of famous singers from the ‘80s, and the catch-phrase “The fragrance from the best years.” Fig. 5.2 “Surf DERO. The fragrance from the best years” advert (2007) Five variations of the detergent were available, each containing a free CD with songs by famous bands from the Golden Age. Sales went up 28.5% after this campaign to bring back “forgotten feelings” and to “connect the special edition of Dero with positive experiences, specifically of life from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s” (Bunea 2008). As Caldwell notes (2002: 307-310), post-socialist spaces characterised by commercialisations of the past tend to appeal to senses of shared identity and belonging among imagined collectivities (Anderson 1991). The Dero manufacturers mobilised images of popular singers as triggers of “forgotten” positive feelings. The product’s packaging drew upon cultural stereotypes of the strong social bonds that certain generations experienced during communism, often recalled as a positive side-effect of the political hardships during the ‘80s. This rhetoric invited consumers to relive the camaraderie of 157
  • 158. their pasts, rather than orientating them towards the future through the use of more “predictable formulas” of modernisation (Farquhar 2002: 289). The chocolate adverts, on the other hand exploited its associations with the Romanian flag, proclaiming it the “tricolour” chocolate, and evoking a sense of national solidarity. They specifically targeted younger generations, working with various sets of cultural clichés. They transformed the iconic image of Ceau"escu’s face (which used to be mounted on the front wall of every classroom and workplace), into that of a powerless, funny old man. Individuals’ reactions to such foods at the memory meal, however, had demonstrated alternative frameworks of recollection. Participants may have indicated common associations with certain foods, pointing to shared understandings of cultural signs (Halbwachs 1992 [1925]; Boym 2001: 52), and the reinforcement of social networks through recalling and discussing these communal meanings with others (Kansteiner 2002; Lowenthal 1985). Yet the guests also voiced private, idiosyncratic recollections, demonstrating how “local inflection[s] of a shared story” (Papoulias 2003: 116) contain a multiplicity of appropriations, internalisations, and accounts (Radstone 2000). Neither pure rejection and condemnation, nor blind praise and nostalgia, their mixture of positive, negative, contradictory, and inconsistent impressions generated a rich repertoire of memories about a mutually experienced past. Their written narratives described unique, idiosyncratic histories. They often contained contradictory opinions about the same items of food, serving to “detotalise” the idea of the pre-1989 Romanian past as a single, unified reality (Farquhar 2002: 290). Chocolate with rum (ROM): It was the only way we got to taste the adults’ treats. It was like smoking cigarettes, only this was permitted (Silviu, 28). Now they are even better than they used to be! (Monika, 37). Its slightly bitter and mentholated taste is less strong now, and its solid cream is more refined, and consequently worse than it used to be… All of the artificial flavours that have been added to foods after the Revolution are disappointing. They are pre-fabricated surrogates, and they pale in comparison to those from back then. And of course, they have no identity now in a world that has a different context, dragging out a slightly sweet extension of the past (Lila, 39). 158
  • 159. Certain iconic foods that held different connotations for different people also seemed to change in significance over time. Three people had brought parizer (bologna) to the meal, which everyone instantly recognised and associated with the 1980s. Some remembered it as a lowly, tasteless “working class” food, while others recalled it as “something of a luxury.” One guest recounted a time when his colleagues in Bucharest preferred to eat old, leftover parizer rather than feed it to a stray cat, while another guest told a how a family of peasants would not give such a “disgusting” item to their pigs. But at the memory meal, everyone pounced on the parizer and devoured it with evident delight, even while exclaiming how “awful” it was. #erban (mid 60s) remarked, “All of us were enchanted with that parizer that cost 25 lei. But it wasn’t just because of our poverty. It was something good. Our tastes were different then.” His comment speaks to the impacts that changing historical and political eras have upon people’s preferences. Although this is impossible to measure, #erban’s awareness of his own perceptual shift suggests the extent to which individual taste is not an objective fact (Weiss 1997: 7), but intertwined with broader social, political, and economic dynamics (Chatwin 1997: 141; Gabaccia 1998: 175; Mennel 1987: 373; Mintz 1985: 186). While I could not pinpoint a single taste in post-socialist Romania that, as Mintz says of sucrose, “epitomised the transition from one kind of society to another” (1985: 214), the memory meal enabled participants to see “old” foods in a “new” social and political context, and become aware of how their consumption preferences had shifted. Monika, who had brought tinned pineapple, told me how “capitalist” such an item used to seem; it was a real treat because it was so hard to find. Now, this “capitalist” food had become part of Monika’s repertoire of memories about communism. Daniela similarly pondered the ironic inversion of “authenticity” that seemed to occur that evening: before 1989, many regarded what little was available in the alimentare as poor substitutes for “proper” or “normal” meals. But now, many of the guests were grumbling that the food items that they managed to find for the memory meal constituted poor substitutes for the “real” products from the communist past. Such reactions 159
  • 160. indicate that perceptions of taste and its “authenticity” are not fixed, but rather connected to embodied political and cultural identities which may be stimulated, recreated, and altered through social, historical, and sensory experiences. Evocations of Taste One afternoon when I dropped by the Peasant Museum office on one of my regular visits, I found my friends raving about their recent discovery of Vietnamese instant noodle soup packets. For the past few weeks, they had been devouring them every day for lunch with a self-deprecating, ironic enthusiasm. They praised the unusual, spicy taste of the soups, the fact that these packets were so inexpensive and easy to prepare, and that instant noodle soup could provide an alternative to traditional, sit-down, several-course lunches with the entire family. They acknowledged the soup’s lack of nutritional value, and were quick to point out the staggering quantity of “E-numbers” packed into its ingredients, but this information only seemed to contribute to their fervent appreciation of this newfound treat. They boasted about how many packets they could eat at one sitting, marvelling at how full (and sometimes ill) they felt afterwards. They even asked me to write to the noodle company’s website, dictating an email for me to translate into English, thanking the company for the “greatest invention of the twenty-first century.” As they insisted to me that such a cheap and satisfying meal never would have been available before the Revolution, their conversation evolved into reminiscences about their childhoods. They energetically debated which foods had been the scarcest and the most coveted. If you were lucky enough to find any bananas, said Cosmin, they were invariably green and rock hard, and would have to be put on the top shelf of the pantry to ripen for what felt like an eternity. Oranges were only available around Christmas, and they were given to the children as treats. Gheorghe laughed as he told us he used to think citrus fruits grew only during the winter, as that was when they appeared in Romanian shops. Lila remembered that her grandmother thought it was 160
  • 161. dangerous to eat them any time other than December, because it meant they were unnaturally out of season. C!lin recounted how his mother once had gotten hold of a rare can of Orange Fanta, and the whole family had passed it around, taking tiny sips and savouring it for an entire week. My friends’ enthusiasm for the instant noodles was, like much of their antics, exaggerated and somewhat staged. But their reactions show how an ordinary convenience food may serve as a rich vehicle for productions of memory. Their responses also allude to what Barthes (1997: 25) describes as food’s “polysemic” properties, where food can be viewed not only as a substance but also as a signifier of social attitudes and political circumstances. Eating light, high-energy foods, according to Barthes, indicates people’s conscious participation in what they consider “modern life.” For this group of people in their 30s and 40s, instant noodles were well suited to new eating habits demanded by their busy and irregular post-socialist work schedules. The packets contained exotic flavours and spices that reflected increasing exposure to international and cosmopolitan cultures, including the hazards of “modern” additives and preservatives, generally seen as a problem that arrived only after the Revolution.68 My museum friends also created new types of memories by introducing localising strategies into their consumption practices (Sutton 2001b: 69-71), for example, by “domesticating” the Vietnamese soups (Caldwell 2004: 20) by adding a bit of vinegar, and thereby evoking a Romanian type of sour soup called ciorb". They also ate the instant soups in ceramic bowls decorated with Romanian folkloric motifs. Their integration of new tastes into their daily routines reveals that appetites are shaped not only by physiological needs and preferences, but new cultural, social, and memorial impulses arising at particular moments in time. 68 I was frequently told that before the Revolution, “everything was organic,” as nobody could afford things like pesticides and fertilisers (which probably was true only to a limited extent). 161
  • 162. Wholeness, Preservation, and Pickles As Lowenthal suggests (1985: 259), our outlook on the past often resembles our perceptions of a distant place—both spaces and eras may be evoked through the material aides of souvenirs, mementoes, photographs, and other relics. Food’s capacity to trigger the feelings of another place, through its sensory properties and symbolic associations, makes it particularly powerful for people in exile. Sutton’s analysis of the role of food in countering “fragmentation” and “atomisation” in situations of displacement demonstrates this for migrants, refugees, war victims, downsized workers, and, notably, people “caught in the fall of socialism” (2001a: 121). Reproducing favourite recipes and eating habits may serve as a means of cultural revitalisation, or in a phrase Sutton borrows from Fernandez, a “return to the whole” (ibid 120).69 Both spatial and temporal displacements may be navigated by the emotional wholeness and “embodied plenitude” created through shared and remembered consumption practices (ibid 125). In his book about food and memory in Bengali-American households, Ray echoes such findings (2004: 10), arguing that eating is a “place-making practice” which structures space and time and helps create a sense of community.70 My friend Teodora Gliga was originally from Bucharest, but had been living in London for five years. Whenever she visited her parents in Bucharest, Teodora stocked up on local produce from the outdoor market (or pia#a) to take back to England. Her parents often invited me around for meals, serving me delicious fresh fruits and vegetables and different kinds of cheese from the pia#a, emphasising their local, Romanian sources. As the EU accession date drew near, the Gligas expressed worries about the influx of lower quality, imported goods that were undercutting local prices. I had already noticed that tomatoes in the pia#as did not taste as good as several years earlier, and that the eggs did not have the same bright yellow yolks as before. 69 This idea of experiential and emotional wholeness is different from Appadurai’s argument (1988: 19) that certain recipes representative of a “national cuisine” tend to “inflate and reify” particular historic traditions, and present them as standing for the “whole” of the nation. 70 I am not engaging with the literature focusing on “nation-making through commensality” (Roy 2002: 484) or consumption as an expression of nationalist sentiments (Caldwell 2002: 297), as I am more concerned with place and community as contingent experiences, rather than as fixed, ideological constructions (though the two often cannot be separated). 162
  • 163. The Gligas also repeated rumours that with integration, new European regulations might force the outdoor pia#as to shut down completely. One Saturday morning in December 2006, when Teodora was visiting from London, I accompanied her and her parents on their weekly trip to their neighbourhood pia#a. While her parents negotiated with various traders, Teodora wandered around photographing the vendors and their wares. When one of them asked why she was taking pictures, she replied, “To remember what the pia#a is like. Maybe in a few months it won’t be around anymore. I want to have a record of how things used to be.” When Teodora returned to London, she packed as many Romanian tomatoes as possible into her suitcase, saying that she did not know if she would find such delicious ones again. Although most of the pia#as in Bucharest ultimately remained open, official rhetoric about Romania’s imminent entry into the EU galvanised people to start reclaiming certain spaces they saw as “endangered” national landscapes. Such anticipatory memory work reinforced institutionalised definitions of the past as wholly detached from the present. It stemmed from projections and expectations of future changes, rather than changes that had actually occurred. The Gligas’ desires to remember the pia#as before they disappeared illustrate Ray’s claim that food “plays a crucial role in anchoring us in a world that refuses to stay still” (2004: 12). These anchors, however, are contingent and temporary, as they signal mere points in people’s constantly shifting connections to their surroundings. Teodora’s relationship to her homeland involved a significant geographical separation. Her parents’ relationship to Romania’s imminent integration in the EU carried connotations of psychological distance. Such perceptions cast landscapes of food in a “heterotopic” space (Foucault, cited in Ray 2004: 5), requiring constant renegotiations and incompatible interpretations. They also entail a heterotopic sense of time, or “heterochronies” (Foucault 1986: 26), where memories of the past are blended into anticipations of present and future situations. Pickling and canning foods may also serve as a means to transcend spatial and temporal boundaries. Although in Bucharest it was no longer the necessity it had been during the shortages of earlier decades, preserving fruits 163
  • 164. and vegetables at home was still a popular custom among middle-aged and older generations. I often saw cars in Bucharest packed to the gills with cabbages, which people used in sarmale, a popular dish made from stuffing the leaves after soaking them in brine. Many families would buy kilos of tomatoes, aubergines, and peppers every August, in order to make batches of z"cusc", a savoury paste eaten on bread or with cheese. Over time, pickling and canning had become ingrained in my informants’ bodies as felt movements and performative actions, remembered through habitual, physical motions (Casey 1987; Connerton 1989; Fentress and Wickham 1992). These experiences suggest that entire systems of cosmology, ethics, and political philosophy may reside in people’s gestures and physical movements, pointing towards the body’s “political identity” (Cooke et al. 1992: 90). Irina (in her late 60s) acknowledged that the difficulties of canning during the shortages in the ‘80s had shaped her present-day tastes. You could only find small quantities of vegetables at a time, she explained, and you had to freeze them in stages until there was enough to make a proper batch. It was particularly hard to find empty jars and bottles, as well as tops and stoppers for sealing them. Sometimes it would take all year to collect enough for a winter’s supply of preserves. “I can’t stand z"cusc" anymore,” Irina told me, “because for me it represents the epoch of Ceau"escu.” Elena (late 70s) told me that she did not do much canning after her children had moved out and her husband died, but she could not bring herself to throw away her old jars. Even though she now bought preserves from the shops, she still preferred making small batches from time to time at home. Putting up pickles is a “house custom,” a “family thing,” Catinca (in her late 50s) explained to me. Her husband Paul (in his early 60s) added, “A house without a place to put your pickles is no longer a house, as they say. It becomes a kind of place for passing through.” Often when I would visit people’s flats, I would be given a jar of homemade jam or pickles to take back with me. Many people regarded my temporary status in Bucharest as an impediment to putting up foods, or my distance from home as preventing my own relatives from supplying me with the essential nutrition. 164
  • 165. When Paul and Catinca were forced to evacuate the Bucharest house where they had been living for twenty years, due to legislation connected to the recuperation of properties nationalised under socialism, pickles played a major role in their transition and resettlement. At first, when they were uncertain about whether they would find another place to stay for the winter, they decided not to make pickles, because it would just add to the complications of moving. But by mid-November, as Catinca told me, “I said to myself, it’s not possible. I’m going to make pickles this year too. How could I have a winter without them?” She showed me the huge glass jar containing cabbage, green tomatoes, courgettes, cauliflower, red peppers, carrots, celeriac, garlic, and dill, sitting on a shelf in their otherwise barren pantry. Pickling was Catinca’s and Paul’s attempt to preserve their settled household routines in the face of imminent upheaval, as well as a ritual for safekeeping memories of home and belonging, which they could access in their new, unfamiliar setting. Food and the process of preserving it enabled them to transcend their domestic upheaval and disorder. As Salman Rushdie writes, “To pickle is to give immortality, after all…” (Ray 2004: 144). Concluding Thoughts Food is a category I had not expected to investigate before setting off for fieldwork; perhaps this was precisely because it is such an obvious part of everyone’s life. Such commonplaces, however, can offer a wealth of ethnographic information. As Bal notes (2005: 71), “the everyday is, paradoxically, the site of minute detail and banality-inducing generalisation at the same time.” A meal can range from an ordinary snack to an elaborate feast. It can be a solitary experience and a collective event, a discursive occasion and a sensory immersion, a purely functional moment and a heavily symbolic one. Finding such an abundance of food-related memory practices in Bucharest, therefore, should not be so surprising, particularly at this point in time. In her studies of changing patterns of food consumption in late 20th century Florence, Counihan (2004: 4) uses culinary narrative as a lens for 165
  • 166. analysing the region’s social, economic, and political transitions of modernity. Chatwin (1997: 137) also shows eating habits as “sociocultural mirrors” of the transformations during the early years of post-Soviet Georgia. In Bucharest, I found that people immersed in the ongoing transitions were not just reflecting on the past. They were transforming it by “tasting” it in new ways. My chapter presents a picture of the unpredictable and unstable qualities of collective memories related to food. While people from different generations and backgrounds may share certain collective experiences, their memories are simultaneously cohesive and contradictory, backward-looking and forward-looking. Bucharest residents are not victims of suffering and helplessness. Nor do they unilaterally yearn for the “Golden Age” in the rosy light cast by media advertisements or certain works of literature. Instead, they are grappling with a Benjaminian form of modernity (Ray 2004: 168) where the impulse to look back at the past is accompanied by a drive to look towards the future. I found such impulses in the “partial truths” (Chatwin 1997: 3) revealed through my own experimental ethnographic practices. My attention towards the elusive realm of taste necessarily required an innovative methodological approach. As Schneider and Wright argue (2006: 13), “if anthropologists wish to enter into dialogue with the variety of sensual expression of other cultures, they must enlarge their own sensorium.” If using a camera can “realign” the ethnographer’s body to become more fully involved in fieldwork dynamics (Grimshaw and Ravetz 2005: 6), I suggest that using gustatory practices to stimulate memory also allowed me as the ethnographer to bodily engage with my research and my interlocutors in new and powerful ways. All cultural knowledge is mediated by memory; any sense of copresence between the researcher and her interlocutors requires a “shared past” (Fabian 2007: 132-3). By organising the memory meal, I was able to capture individual and collective memories and stories, to “catch memory ‘at work’” and document it by “making texts through recording communicativeperformative events” (ibid 80). My participation in the meal shifted my study of communist-era foods from a theoretical, conjectural exercise to a practical, participatory experience. It gave me an empirical reference point in my own 166
  • 167. “sensory knowledge” of tastes from the past. It proved to be an essential tool for probing more deeply into other memories I encountered in other realms of post-communist Bucharest. 167
  • 168. CHAPTER 6A: Lumina amintirii (In the Light of Memory) [40’] * Please watch DVD of film before reading chapter * 168
  • 169. CHAPTER 6B: Memory and the Visual Recovering our memories is not like replaying a tape. Rather […] it’s ‘like watching a few unconnected frames of a film and then figuring out what the rest of the scene must have been like’ (Newnham 2008: 8, citing Tavris and Aronson 2008). Cinematography, the art, with images, of representing nothing (Bresson 1975: 106). Filming Memory Visual anthropologists traditionally have used film to document physical spaces, artefacts, and images, analyzing representational processes linked to visible, tangible aspects of culture (Morphy and Banks 1999; also see Rollwagen 1988; Ruby 2000). But what happens when the object of study is memory: an immaterial, cognitive phenomenon not perceptible through vision alone? Making an ethnographic film about memory raises theoretical, methodological, and technical questions. How can memory be photographically invoked when its very presence implies an absence of the object of recollection? In what ways do practices of remembrance work either resemble or differ from material practices of visual representation? What creative filmmaking techniques could be employed to capture internal, emotional aspects of memory that are not directly manifested through visual means? As a doctoral student on the “social anthropology with visual media” pathway, I chose to use a video camera to analyse the invisible yet corporeal dimensions of memory. In this chapter I discuss my use of film, long employed by anthropologists to document external spaces, surfaces, and images, to interpret internal, subjective, and invisible realms of memory. I describe experimental shooting and editing techniques I have employed in Lumina amintirii (In the Light of Memory) to transcend the medium’s representational capacities and mobilise its “evocative” modes of operation (Crawford 1992: 78; MacDougall 1994: 267). 169
  • 170. As Healy writes (2003: 233), memories cannot simply be “inscribed” by language or images; they are “inhabited” by our bodies in space and time. Instead of merely describing or illustrating sites of memory, I engaged with them through my filmmaking activities. While shooting, I used creative treatments of cinematic motion; when editing, I layered images, voices, and sounds. My film creates overlapping temporalities, spaces, and narratives to echo the fragmentary, rhythmic, multi-layered experiences of recollection itself. It invites viewers to inhabit, rather than merely watch, the memories on screen. It aims to evoke the viewer’s “sensual imagination” (Healy 2003: 223), to awaken emotions and perceptions akin to the very processes of remembering. Approaching the subject in such a way resonates with a Bergsonian interpretation of memory not as physically lodged in matter, but as constant yet discontinuous movement, woven into bodily sensation and experiences of the duration of time (Guerlac 2006). I also discuss how my filmic practices (shooting, digitising, transcribing, editing, and screening rough cuts of my film) integrated intellectual and sensory processes into my research, and spurred interactions and insights that wove into my “non-filmic” research activities. Filming in Ci"migiu Gardens facilitated conversations that might not have occurred had I been there without a camera. Physically manipulating the camera, by strapping it to a bicycle saddle in order to film a continuous tracking shot around the park, sparked my curiosity about the relationship between motion, time, and memory, inspiring me to explore these concepts further. Reviewing my rushes while transcribing and editing also alerted me to the significance of urban parks in people’s memories of Bucharest, leading me to investigate how memory, urban landscapes, and gardens in particular, are often fundamentally intertwined. These insights were embedded in interviews I initially had considered less relevant to my thesis, and which may well have escaped my notice had I not chosen the park as the setting for my film. Such experiences point to the camera as a transformative and integral research tool, rather than an illustrative aid or afterthought to theorisation. Ethnographers who practice filmmaking to deliberately generate sensory understandings are still relatively few and far between. Current 170
  • 171. advocates of a phenomenological treatment of visual media, however, have posited that such an approach involves a unique form of “visual thought” in the field, where the act of “looking” precedes “thinking” (MacDougall 2006: 7), and where corporeal experience informs intellectual understanding (Grimshaw and Ravetz 2005: 2; Postma 2006: 327). A growing body of literature has encouraged broader anthropological acceptance of filmmaking as productive of critical analysis. While such perspectives, part of the wider sensorial or corporeal “turn” in anthropology,71 speak to my own work with film, I suggest that the realms of looking and thinking, intuitive sensation and rational calculation, cannot be so easily or straightforwardly divided. Although writing and film may come into being through their own sets of logic (MacDougall 1998, 2006), my experiences involved constant, dynamic interchanges between the visual, the analytical, the sensory, and the intellectual. Prioritising any of these categories, or viewing them as distinct capacities, only masks the complex and intricate ways in which they impact and inform one another. This chapter seeks to expand upon phenomenological discussions of visual practices in anthropology (Grimshaw and Ravetz 2005, 2009; MacDougall 2006). I highlight the multifaceted nature of “visual research” by analysing the intertwining modes of intellectual and affective perception in my filmic and written work (see Crawford 1992). My movement between fieldwork and shooting, writing and editing, was not linear or sequential: the text and film came into existence through a dialectical, mutual exchange involving a multiplicity of perspectives and activities. My theoretical understandings were embodied in my eyes, ears, hands, and heart during the work of shooting and editing. Using the camera led me to expand the scope of my library research, while refining my ideas through writing helped shape the form and contents of my film. Examining these processes in my thesis, I wish to illustrate the imbricated relationship between different types of ethnographic practice and forms of anthropological “representation.” I also suggest a potential model for researchers who might wish to use visual media to study elusive, invisible human experiences such as memory. 71 See Feld (2000, 2004); Feld and Basso (1996); Grimshaw and Ravetz (2005, 2009); Howes (2003, 2004, 2009); MacDougall (2006); Pink (2005, 2006, 2007); Schneider and Wright (2006); and Stoller (1989, 1997, 2004) for further explorations of this subject. 171
  • 172. In the Light of Memory The flat where I lived in Bucharest was right next to Ci"migiu Gardens, one of the oldest public parks in the city. During the last few weeks of summer, a huge flock of crows would roost in the trees of this park. Each morning the birds would fly out to the city, and each evening they would head back to the park, filling the sky with a cacophony of cawing sounds. This spectacle led me to spend more time in the park. During the intense heat wave in August 2007, I frequently sought refuge in Ci"migiu, sitting under the shade of the trees, listening to the crows, watching the people. The park was well-kept and picturesque, always crowded with people. There was a small pond in the centre, filled with paddleboats in the summer and ice-skaters in the winter. It had paths and bridges, a playground for children, a pavilion for brass bands, restaurants and bars. Encircling its perimeter were long stretches of old-fashioned green wooden benches with wrought-iron legs. People sat on these seats, fed bread crumbs to the birds, chatted with their friends. Elderly people rested. Parents fussed over children and babies. Young people listened to music, talked on their phones. Couples unabashedly made out. A photographer known as Uncle Costica had claimed one of these benches as his own, and took snapshots of passers-by for a small fee. He had an old stuffed deer they could pose next to if they wanted. Uncle Costica had been working in Ci"migiu since 1944. Many of my friends had told me stories of their childhoods involving the photographer, his deer, and this park. One Sunday afternoon in August 2007, I decided to film Ci"migiu’s line of green benches in a single, uninterrupted shot. I borrowed my friend Ana’s bicycle and strapped my camera to its saddle, the lens directed toward the benches. While I supported the camera, my friend Selena steered the handlebars of the bicycle, with Ana following behind us, discouraging occasional hecklers. We began filming at one of Ci"migiu’s side entrances, and walked counter-clockwise until we had completed a full circle. Multiple paths cut through the park, but we kept to a course along its outermost perimeter. The 172
  • 173. park’s contours and the occupants of its benches determined the route, contents, and pace of our journey. As we walked the bicycle along the circumference of the park, filming the succession of vacant and occupied seats, we caught people’s fleeting gestures, expressions, snippets of conversation. Sometimes people were unaware of the camera. Other times they looked up, startled to see such a contraption, and interacted with us. One teenaged boy threatened to break the camera if we filmed him, and then burst out laughing. A group of elderly tourists waved and smiled and called out to us in French. Children frequently asked what we were doing. We responded with minimal verbal engagement, but maintained eye contact. If anyone indicated displeasure at being filmed, I covered the camera lens with my hand. It took an hour to complete one lap around the park. The experience was interesting, but not extraordinary; at times it had even felt awkward and tedious. But when I went back home and watched the footage, the images on the screen were unexpectedly more compelling than what I had seen in “real life.” Why was this so? By isolating a concentrated swath of time and space, the camera’s frame directed the viewer’s attention towards fragments of everyday social activity that ordinarily pass unnoticed. The sequence of green benches, now limited to the visual field of a monitor, formed a strong continuity for the eye. The rolling movement of the camera was reminiscent of a tracking shot in a fiction film, with the images of different people’s faces lasting just long enough to provoke curiosity about their personalities and their life-stories. The empty benches invited reflection about the people who had passed by, and anticipation about those who would appear next. Memories were embedded in this raw footage; but memories were also produced in the very act of watching it. I decided to film other scenes in Ci"migiu Gardens. I began to spend time with Uncle Costica, who let me document his daily routines in the park. In the meantime, not yet certain what my film would eventually contain, I shot unrelated interviews and landscapes around Bucharest. By the end of my fieldwork, I had 45 hours of material from other parts of the city, and five hours of footage from the park. It was not until I returned to Manchester and 173
  • 174. transcribed my rushes that I made the decision to set my film mainly within the park. As my film’s structure slowly emerged in the course of editing, theoretical issues also surfaced. These included questions about the relationship between audio-visual montage and sensory experiences of recollection; the complex connections between memory and cinematic motion; and the ties between urban gardens and collective memories of Bucharest. The Double Paradox The relationship between memory and image transmission is far from straightforward (Melion and Küchler 1991: 2). Historically, images have served as the basis for many theories of memory. Aristotle’s writings describe the act of recollection as picturing an image in one’s mind. Roman orators were trained to mentally attach images of places and objects to their texts in order to facilitate the process of semantic recall. Visual aids such as maps, tattoos, and the zodiac, all represent means of conveying memories without the medium of words.72 Paradoxically, while memory may be analysed as a visual phenomenon, connected to concrete, material, and sensory processes, the visual qualities of memory are impossible to depict through images alone. We cannot document our recollections, or show them to others. We cannot take a picture of something that is by definition absent, unable to be seen. Even if these activities were possible, the resulting pictures would be inherently flawed. Capturing memory through photographic means would only reinforce misconceptions that memory could have a visual, physical presence, that it could be a fixed, unchanging entity, or that it could ever be fully accessible or recoverable (Huyssen 2003: 124; MacDougall 1994: 263). Many critics have deemed such “photographic paradigms” of memory (Casey 1987: 269) highly problematic. Some have charged photographic technologies with undermining the immediacy and directness of first-hand processes of recollection, and with cultivating impersonal or disembodied 72 See Casey (1987); Edkins (2003); Fentress and Wickham (1992); Gross (2000); McQuire (1998); Misztal (2003); Weigel (1996); and Yates (1966). 174
  • 175. relationships to the past (Barthes 1981; McQuire 1998; Sontag 1977). Others have asserted that archival footage or old photographs are mere “props” (Crapanzano 2004: 162) or “secondary referents” of the past (MacDougall 1994: 263) that could never substitute for the elusive, intangible phenomenon of memory itself. Although recollections may resemble pictures, photographic images will never completely mirror the visions in our mind. Expressing memory in concrete form requires more than actually copying mental images and transposing them to the visible realm. As a visual anthropologist studying memory, I grappled with this double paradox of using film to express what is highly pictorial yet also invisible and irreproducible. Just because I was expected to present images of “reality,” did I have to literally represent those realities? Could I find a way to transcend film’s indexical, representational functions in order to see beneath the surfaces of its images? As Benjamin observed (Leslie 2006: 178), technologies of visual reproduction may replicate the world, but they inevitably mediate it at the same time. If I were to present filmic images as Husserl advocates, not as “juridical evidence,” but as “evidence of sensory intuition” (Buck-Morss 2004: 10), then perhaps I could access the vivid yet intangible experiences of memory. If my film could slip between the structures of visual representation, to generate evocative spaces of feeling (Crawford 1992: 67), perhaps it could confront the double paradox outlined above. Such tactics have been explored less in anthropological and scientific studies of memory than in artistic and experimental ones. As Huyssen writes (2003: 129), artists using indirect narrative and figurative strategies often address memory more effectively than those using direct, interpretive approaches. Young (2000: 10) writes that fictional treatments best succeed when they avoid attributing “singular, overarching” meanings to memory, and instead engage in a more “refined, complex” form of history-telling. C. Green (2008: 681) argues that understanding memory through film is best achieved by working through rather than about memory, using visual techniques in ways that inspire distrust of the image, rather than adhering to realist conventions of classic narrative cinema. Healy (2003: 233) similarly writes that fiction films operating on “anti-representational” principles challenging conventional logics 175
  • 176. of space and time create viewing experiences that more closely resemble the “temporal manoeuvrability” of memory (ibid 225). Many ethnographic documentaries, however, still tend to fall within the realms of verifiable “evidence” and “witness” (Winston 1995: 10). Anthropologists are all too often “lulled” into the reality of film, expecting it to adhere to “reason, to words, to plain style,” and to “seek the discursive and eschew the figurative” (Stoller 1994: 96; also see Ruby 2000: 269). Yet as the voices from the “crisis of representation” era remind us, culture is never fully observable, and the “visualist ideology of referential discourse” is ultimately doomed to fail (Tyler 1986: 130). 73 My own struggles to interpret memory within the paradigms of ethnographic film pushed me to abandon any lingering ambitions of representative accuracy. Instead, I explored alternative ways to further engage the senses. I wanted my film to convey the frameworks and contents of particular memories in the current context of Romanian post-socialist transition. Yet I also wished to communicate memories’ textures and tones, their tendencies to be simultaneously blurry and clear, sequential and fragmented, reliable and unstable, nostalgic, ironic, emotional, visceral, and haptic. Through various techniques of montage, I sought to re-create an experience for my spectators that would be analogous to the workings of memory itself, evoking and activating how memory operates and feels, rather than trying to explain, depict, or represent it (Huyssen 2003: 130; Nichols 1994: 82). My focus shifts away from arguments rooted in scientific discourse, where debates within visual anthropology historically have formed (Asch and Asch 1988; Heider 1976; Ruby 1975, 2000; Young 1975), towards the more artistic implications of visual inquiry (Grimshaw 2005: 24; MacDougall 2006: 73 See De Bromhead (1996) for discussion on documentary’s struggles to balance rational, informative discourses with experiential, emotional ones; Gaines and Renov (1999) for debates about the dilemmas of cinematic realism; MacDougall (1998) for discussions about the need to move “beyond” observational cinema’s classical expectations of objectivity; Nichols (1994) for an analysis of documentary’s “discourses of sobriety”; Ruby (2000) for critiques of the naïve belief in ethnographic film’s realism; Russell (1999) for the suggestion that film’s ultimate failure to present evidence of the real opens up new possibilities for experimental filmic ethnographies; Vaughan (1999) for arguments to view documentary images as constitutive rather than illustrative of meaning; and Winston (1995, 2000) for descriptions of the camera as “culturally positioned,” and critiques of documentary journalism’s claims to “truth” and “the real.” 176
  • 177. 219). Instead of continuing to hold ethnographic film responsible for developing its own “codes” of systematic reporting and generating “scientific statements” (Ruby 1975: 104), I wish to broaden the forms, tones, and agendas of such statements. 74 Using my film as an example, I will discuss how experimenting with cinematic movement and audio-verbal-visual montage, elements often overlooked and under-theorised within visual anthropology, may communicate experiences of remembering by provoking affective images, sensations, and memories in audiences. My approach (more concerned with what memory does, than with what it is), aims for an “opening-up of memory spaces” (Healy 2003: 232) within my film, by means of complex intersections of affect and intellect, cerebral and corporeal reasoning. The Affective Imagination Film may be “ocular,” but it also operates “through the senses to the senses” (Gaines 1999: 92), giving it a directness and immediacy that texts and photographs often lack. According to Benjamin, film’s technological properties allow it to dig beneath the fragmented surfaces of reality to reach the “optical unconscious,” making film one of the best instruments for capturing emotional dimensions of modern life (Chapman 1997: 11; Clarke 1997: 3). Significantly, the term “ocular” does not just allude to visual properties, but to auditory, tactile, and temporal properties as well (Grimshaw and Ravetz 2005: 8). If the eye is a conduit for other bodily senses, then film by extension creates a dimension where images may “engage with the embodied mind” (Taussig 1994: 206; also see Clarke 1997: 9). My own film alternates stillness and movement, and integrates sounds, voices, and images, to transcend the ocular’s visual qualities and engage with multiple dimensions of sensory experience. Film’s “photogénie,” or its power to transmit an “enhanced” sense of materiality, facilitates its ability to approximate subjective phenomena such as memories, reveries, and dreams (MacDougall 2006: 17; also see Connerton 74 As Herzog writes (1999), “There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.” 177
  • 178. 2009: 117). As Eisenstein writes (1986: 24), filmmaking involves the process of “arranging images in the feelings and the mind” of the spectator through forms of montage. Film’s abilities to combine disparate sensory, visual, aural, and verbal elements to disrupt linear chronologies and depict multiple views of reality all enhance its affinities to the elusive and ephemeral operations of memory (Healy 2003: 223; MacDougall 1994: 261). My particular approach towards montage in Lumina amitnirii, described below, could be viewed as provoking experiences analogous to those of selective memory: discerning, choosing, leaving-out, and rearranging elements, in order to convey a specific set of subjective narratives. As the act of remembering is intensely personal, it is impossible to ever experience someone else’s memories first-hand. Yet films that employ a “language of sensation” through formal innovation may invite spectators into more emotionally intimate and analytically complex understandings of a subject’s experiences of memory (see Bennett 2005: 2). Films may allow practices of recollection to become visceral and intellectual experiences shared not just by remembering subjects, but by filmmaker and viewers as well. This is not due to the capacity of images to indexically represent things (though they may still represent things), but from film’s power, as a mimetic medium, to stimulate affect (Bennett 2006: 27; Leslie 2006: 180). Affect may be defined as a non-discursive, “sensual intensit[y],” unmediated by cognition (Navaro-Yashin 2009: 12). Affective memories are able to convey memory’s sensations, not just memory’s representations. An affective portrayal of memory thus operates not in a “communicative” realm, whose goal is the translation of meaning, but rather in a “transactive” one (Bennett 2005: 7). According to Deleuze, feeling is a “catalyst for critical inquiry” as it grabs us and stimulates flashes of ideas before we have time to fully develop our intellectual thoughts (ibid 8). Following Deleuzian theory, Bennet argues that transmitting felt experiences (“encountered” signs), rather than straight representations (or “perceived” signs), is a radical act, contributing to the politics of meaning (ibid 7). In my film, I have combined visual and textual strategies of representation and evocation, borrowing from observational, surrealist, and avant-garde approaches, to offer viewers an 178
  • 179. affective understanding of sites and practices of memory in Bucharest’s literal and perceptual landscapes. While my filmic practices are rooted in my observational-style training at Manchester’s Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology, I have been inspired by other methodologies as well. As I have discussed elsewhere in my thesis, I have been intrigued by the French surrealists’ traditions of deliberately manipulating scientific language to evoke the sensory, subjective dimensions of dreams, memories, and imagination (see Foster 1993; Kelly 2007; Russell 1999; Walker 2002; and Williams 1981). I have sought to emulate the surrealists’ simultaneous adoptions and disruptions of conventional codes of indexicality in order to call attention to the illusions of documented reality. I have also been influenced by French avant-garde filmmakers’ use of innovative framing, shooting, and editing styles to convey experiences such as the “velocity, memory, and simultaneity” of “modern temporality” (Merx 2008: 425). Audio-visual Montage Lumina amintirii consists of multiple audio tracks, with long, static shots of the park accompanied by diagetic sounds and extra-diagetic narratives. The images in these scenes present situated reflections of the park’s physical and social landscapes: people paddling boats across the pond; children running around a playground; young people playing card games on the grass. Over these and other static shots of the park, I added highly edited, reconstructed narratives by Bucharest residents I had interviewed at different times and in other parts of the city. Through such audio-visual montage, I wished to invoke superimpositions and suspensions of space and time, echoing memory’s capacity for the “displacement and condensation of competing temporalities” (Schwarz 2003: 147). Though use of voiceover is common in conventional ethnographic films and documentaries, I adopted the less traditional tactic of never revealing the speakers’ faces. I wanted the stories recounted by these voices to belong not to specific individuals, but to a larger yet diverse whole. 179
  • 180. The accompanying images do not directly illustrate or correspond to the spoken narratives, but rather serve as visual backdrops setting an atmospheric tone, allowing the viewer to drift along with the voices into unseen spaces of memory. Other sequences in Lumina amintirii follow interpersonal interactions and conversations within the park. Uncle Costica and two of his friends debate the pros and cons of Romanian communism; passersby pose with the tattered deer for photographs; a homeless man questions me one morning as I film the park’s deserted paths. These scenes conform to an observational style, cultivating a “special attention” to body language and sensory experience (Grimshaw and Ravetz 2009: 532). They refuse didactic verbal explanation or textual interpretation, and let events take their own shape rather than adhering to pre-determined structures or storylines. While editing these sequences, I applied standard methods of cutting and rearranging images and sounds to condense “real time” while preserving the integrity of my footage. Yet while Lumina amintirii loosely alludes to the passage of time over the course of a day, it does not conform to a single, linear narrative, or preserve a sense of strict chronological coherence. Like memory, it conveys a reordered assembly of fragments, themselves containing multiple stories, spaces, and temporalities. The subtle yet perceptible sound of the bicycle chain’s rhythmic ticking further heightenes the perception of passing time. This noise echoes the second-hand of a clock, alluding to but also literally marking each moment as it gives way to the next. Similarly, my incorporation of accordion music towards the end of Lumina amintirii intends to draw viewers through “gaps in time and meaning” into spaces of memory (Chambers 1997: 234). For many Romanians, the accordion player’s song Zaraza, written by Cristian Vasile during the interwar period, is evocative of Bucharest’s pre-communist reputation as a “European” and “cultured” city. As Chambers writes (1997: 232), films’ “aural maps” of recorded sounds are often “punctuated with memory,” disturbing our “ocular regimes” and evoking images other than the ones presented on screen (also see Morris 2001). 180
  • 181. In-camera Montage At first glance, the bicycle “travelling” sequences might simply appear to be moving variants of the film’s static, tripod shots. The long stretches of uninterrupted footage feature superimposed, edited voiceovers similar to those described above. But in these sections of the film, the narratives of the unseen interviewees alternate and sometimes overlap with the dialogues among the people seated on the park benches. These superimpositions of voices and faces evoke the “fluky links and stochastic jump-cuts” of memory that “resist ‘proper,’ orderly reasoning” (Terdiman 2003: 186), leaping across spaces and temporalities to bring fragments of the past unexpectedly into the present. An additional type of montage is embedded in the horizontal motion of the camera itself. While a single, continuous shot might be perceived as the opposite of montage, ordinarily associated with gaps and discontinuities, the lateral movement of the camera’s lens produces the phenomenon of in-camera montage, or internal changes of scene ordinarily achieved by a cut. The mobile camera creates and carries memories of its encounters with the occupants of the park benches. The viewer is able to experience each moment turning into the past, as similar yet slightly different images appear and disappear on the screen. According to Tilley (2004: 26), places and landscapes are “created and experienced through mobility as much as stasis, through the manner and sequence in which they are explored and sensed, approached and left.” The camera’s drifting gaze captures snippets of conversations, characters, and relationships, echoing memory’s inability to be complete or fully retrievable. It reveals the broader landscapes of the park, but also alludes to the “ambiguous landscapes” of recollection itself (Chambers 1997: 235). The discontinuous continuity of these images generates sensations of immediacy and distance, pointing to Bergson’s interpretation of memory as embedded in the overlapping temporalities of each occurring instant (Burton 2008: 327; Guerlac 2006: 116). The “temporal delay” inherent in these sequences resonates with his idea of the “ungraspable” present as a “moving target” passing through the “circuit of past, present, and future” (Guerlac 2006: 142). The succession of images establishes a perpetually “drawn-out present 181
  • 182. tense” (Russell 1999: 175), giving viewers a chance to actively engage with the past (Butler 1995). Significantly, the past is experienced not merely as a flat “transcription of a prior mental state” (Bennett 2006: 28), but situated, like memories, in the shifting contexts of the present. Critics have described similar filmic tracking effects as invoking experiences of a “peripatetic vision” (Bruno 2007: 25; Lebow 2003: 37), a “stare in motion” (Russell 1999: 163), and a “moving landscape” (Schwarzer 2003), connecting them to spaces of modernity, technological perception, and consequently, memorialisation.75 The motion picture itself emerged from the legacy of public viewing sites such as cabinets of curiosity, window displays, and panoramas, all invoking a specifically urban sense of motion (Bruno 2007: 15; Degot 2006). Such presentations of continuous movement are commonly analysed for their contemporary sense of fractured vision or a distancing feeling of speed (Bruno 2007; Schwarzer 2003). While my bicycle footage maintains a leisurely, meandering pace, it communicates a unique visual perspective, a mechanical form of flânerie, breaking with conventional filmic and human perspectives of “looking.” The slow, wobbly movement and the camera’s prolonged stare simultaneously engage and unsettle viewers, pushing them to experience the passing images in a charged, embodied way. Gardens, Movement, and Memory The camera’s movement along the path of benches and people gives the impression of wandering through a “garden of emotions” (Bruno 2007: 18), searching for clues to the past in a “greenhouse of collective memory” (Schwarzer 2003: 85). Just as cinematic movement is not only optic but also haptic, or tangible, communicative, and affectively charged (Bruno 2007: 14), gardens similarly serve as a “privileged locus in the pursuit of […] haptic, emotive space” (ibid 24). As examples of “affective space” (Navaro-Yashin 2009: 13), parks have the visceral power to draw out memories. Their 75 See Chantal Akerman’s video installation, D’Est (1993), and Paul Kerr’s Marilyn on Marilyn (2001), for examples of documentaries that juxtapose static shots with long “travelling” shots to evoke late-modern experiences of remembering the past. 182
  • 183. architecture may be read as “eloquent expressions of complex cultural ideas” (Hunt 1992: 3), their atmospheric landscapes conducive to meditative, “clarified remembering” (Casey 1987: 207-209). Walking along their paths may trigger intimate reveries, recollections, and contemplations (Ingold 2007: 2; Sennett 1994: 179; Tilly 1994: 30). My film’s focus on the interface between the park and its affective spaces, “actual landscapes and landscapes of the mind” (Boym 2001: 354), steered me towards deeper investigations of memories about Ci"migiu and the history of other public gardens throughout Bucharest. Just as urban gardens are often interpreted as symbolic landscapes evoking notions of a city’s idealised, rural past (Hirsch 1995: 2; Hunt 1992: 323; Schama 1996: 16), parks, courtyards, and gardens appeared to constitute an essential part of Bucharest’s identity for many of its inhabitants. People relayed such places to me as “related, contradictory moments and perspectives” (Hirsch 1995: 23), rather than conceiving them as coherent, absolute entities. These perceptions wove in and out of my conversations with older residents and those with long-standing connections to the city, coming up frequently in my interviews even when I had not deliberately asked about it. Gardens originally formed the core of Bucharest, as its early houses had been constructed around private courtyards (Andrei Pippidi, personal communication, 21 February 2007). When the landscape architect Carl Meyer was summoned from Vienna to design Ci"migiu Gardens and Kiseleff Park in 1843, Bucharest only had two other existing public parks (V!t!manu 1973: 98). Until that time, the abundance of private courtyards had meant there had been less need for large, public gardens (ibid 98). But the city was quickly expanding and changing. By the early 20th century, public green spaces were important features in the city’s landscape, and Bucharest was referred to as the “garden city of the future” (Iancu 1996 [1935], cited in Barris 2001: 233). Ci"migiu came to carry strong commemorative associations with Bucharest’s contemporary identity—not as an official memorial, but as an everyday “site of continual reinterpretation” (Crapanzano 2004: 170). When it was first built, it served as a fundamentally new type of community facility. Instead of being an elite, highly manicured landscape intended only for visual 183
  • 184. pleasure, it functioned as an arena of enjoyment and recreation for the masses. People would go there to eat, drink, play checkers and dominoes (Toma 2001: 40). Fishing and walking on the grass were prohibited; but the fact that people so often broke the rules indicated that they felt “at home” in this free and open space (ibid 176). Elena (in her early 80s), recalled that during pre-communist times when she was a child, exotic animals such as parakeets and peacocks were kept there. The street bordering Ci"migiu was once a red-light district, and she remembered seeing soldiers walking around the park with their mistresses. People had to pay a fee to sit on the benches, she told me, but anyone could enter the park and stroll around for free. Ruxandra (in her mid 30s), came from a family that had been in Bucharest for many generations, and also connected the city’s garden landscapes to its “pre-industrialised” (read pre-communist) identity. When I asked her what she liked about the city, she responded, Its old streets. Its houses with gardens. The scent of linden trees. Looking through people’s windows at night, and seeing the light of a lamp, like in a novel. These are things that make up the ‘perfume’ of this city… Now, fewer people are identifying Bucharest with those kinds of things, and instead connect it to the [communist and post-communist] constructions and demolitions that took place after the 1950s. Ruxandra’s description of the “perfume” of Bucharest reinforces how the sensory qualities of gardens can be deeply implicated in the sensory aspects of memory. Her account defies simplistic characterisations of Bucharest as a ravaged, battered, post-communist ruin. It points to tendencies amongst longterm residents to associate the city with the inter-war period, when Bucharest was romanticised as the “Paris of the East,” known for its elegant houses, private courtyards, and green spaces. Paul, an ethnologist in his early 60s whose grandparents had settled in Bucharest in the 1900s, described to me the distinct style of the city’s case pe curte, or “houses along gardens,” such as the one where he had been raised. The houses were shaped like wagons, with a long parallel garden on one side. In front of the principal entrance facing the street, usually behind a wroughtiron fence, Paul explained, would be a bench. And in the evenings, between 7 and 8 pm, the elderly people of the house would sit on the bench and chat. I remember my father sitting with my uncle, and 184
  • 185. strolling along the edge of the garden… Why was it so nice? Because the people passing on the street would greet those in the yard. They wouldn’t chat, but they’d greet each other. You used to see that in the village habitats here in the South. And in urban places. Hence the cliché of Bucharest being a big village. It’s not only that it’s a big village—or that it used to be. But in the way that its urban texture was made, it preserved the principle of the connection between the street, the house, and the garden. Nowadays, they can’t do those things anymore, because—you’ve seen it. In the houses with yards that are highly valued by those who got rich by the transition. In the first place, they take out the classic fence, and make it opaque. They use tin, or walls. It looks like a prison. And then the yard can no longer communicate with the street. The street becomes a passageway. And the fence is an opaque thing that you can hide behind. You know? Which is a totally un-Bucharestian thing. To no longer have a connection between the house with its garden, and the street. This connection between the street, the house, and the garden, for many people so essentially “Bucharestian,” speaks to the bicycle footage in my film. Family members and friends sitting together on “the bench,” relaxing and chatting. People in the park exchanging greetings with the people passing by. The open space of communication linking both sides. It was only after I was immersed in editing that I recognised the correlation between people’s memories of Bucharest gardens and my film’s treatment of Ci"migiu Gardens. This understanding materialised through my various processes of montage, as I wove people’s recollections into images of the park’s landscapes, and as I brought memories of the past into spaces in the present. Issues of Audience Just as these processes had influenced the directions of my thesis and my film, I gained additional theoretical insights when I returned to Romania in 2009 and began to screen rough cuts of my film to local audiences. Following Martinez’s (1990; 1996) pioneering investigations about American undergraduates’ reactions to ethnographic films, anthropologists have become more attentive to viewers’ perceptions and interpretations of ethnographic media (see Crawford and Hafsteinsson 1996). During my six-month fellowship at the New Europe College (NEC) in 2009, I began to show versions of my film to audiences in Bucharest. I received a fair amount of positive feedback, 185
  • 186. with many spectators expressing appreciation for seeing their situation reflected back through an outsider’s eyes. But some people appeared less willing to accept the study of their own memories as an academic subject, or as a filmic exercise. The emotional pull of people’s own memories seemed to lead them to compare and contrast their experiences to those portrayed in the film. Rather than opening up discussions about the complex qualities of memory, or about using a visual medium to approach such a topic, the film invited critiques of the “accuracy” and specificity of the its contents. It provoked debates about Romanian history and about documentary film’s responsibility to convey certain types of information to its viewers. Banks’ account (1996) of returning to India to show a film he had made there a year earlier addresses how his viewers’ proximity to the subject matter caused them to “see” things in the film that were not actually recorded by the camera. When subjects of a film become their own audience, he writes, they may be “phenomenologically bound to their representations in a way that is impossible for a non-subject” (1996: 124). Similarly, Baudry’s analysis of projecting wedding videos to those appearing in them indicates that “selfidentifying” audiences (those who have personal reasons for relating to the subjects filmed) often have stronger demands for authenticity, and are more concerned with alterity (“what will the ‘others’ think?”) than general audiences (1996: 152). Such observations reinforce my own experience screening my film to local audiences. In the following sections, I examine various critiques of the film, not to defend the choices I made in making it, but rather to illustrate how the responses of local viewers reveal complicated and multilayered relationships to their own pasts, and to broader frameworks of social memory. Undergraduates In March 2009, I was invited to show a rough cut of my film to thirdyear undergraduates in the American Studies Program at the University of Bucharest’s Faculty of Foreign Languages. The students were mostly in their 186
  • 187. early to mid-twenties, although one was in her mid thirties. My initial impression was that they were bored by my film. Scenes where other audiences had laughed or responded with verbal comments were here met with silence. In the sequence where Uncle Costica and his friends debate the pros and cons of communism, several students rolled their eyes. During the night scene with the voiceover describing how hectic and busy life had become after the Revolution, a few of them snickered. After the screening, one student commented, “We probably aren’t the best audience for your film, because we’re not old enough to have experienced much of what it describes.” Another student stated, “We all grew up with our parents and grandparents constantly telling us stories like the ones in your film.” “Plus there have been so many books and films about communism coming out recently,” someone else added. Such contradictory responses confirmed this generation’s unique situation of being overly familiar with—but at the same time emotionally detached from—broader social memories of communism. These students had been saturated with such narratives from their families and by the Romanian media, and they apparently regarded these stories as far too banal to be of interest. But they had very few memories of their own that would allow them to relate to life before the Revolution. What they did know about communism seemed to conform to the clichés and generalisations currently prevalent in popular discourses: In the ‘80s, everyone was starving… People used to have a guaranteed house and job and holidays, but they had no choice about where they could work or live… The word “communist” had become largely divorced from its political and historical connotations. “To us,” said one girl, “it is associated more with people’s attitudes and mentalities. For example, when we say a teacher is ‘communist,’ we mean they’re really strict, or tyrannical, or old fashioned. If someone says they went into a ‘communist’ shop, it means that it didn’t have many different brands or products.” These comments illustrate this generation’s distinctive position (markedly different from people only a few years older), as mnemonically connected to, but politically and emotionally alienated from, wider collective perceptions about Romania’s past. 187
  • 188. Several vaguely recalled the communist textbooks they had used in the first grade, their old school uniforms, the portraits of Ceau"escu on the classroom walls. Most had only fuzzy recollections of the Revolution. One girl said she knew something historically significant had occurred when their teacher announced they no longer had to stand at attention when she entered the room. The student in her mid-thirties said she thought the country was no better off now than it was “before,” but others in the class defended capitalism. One of her classmates responded, “Maybe things aren’t perfect today, but at least we can openly disagree with our leaders without getting thrown into prison.” The conversation then turned into the very type of debate that they seemed to disparage in my film, comparing the benefits and drawbacks of the two political systems. Even though I tried to steer the discussion back to memory, and the idea that different people may recollect things in different ways, the students did not appear to be interested. For them, the film presented yet more clichés about the past. Its contents resembled many other memories that were at once too close to home to be interesting, but too distant from their everyday experiences to have any real bearing on their current lives. Postgraduates In May 2009, I screened another cut of my film at the New Europe College. Of the twenty-odd people in the program, all but three were Romanian. They ranged in age from their late 20s to their early 40s, and had backgrounds in anthropology, sociology, architecture, political science, history, philosophy, and literature. I projected my film in one of our weekly seminars, after a brief introduction and outline of my research. We had an hour for questions and discussion after the screening. Several people in this audience expressed concerns that my film did not correspond to what they knew from “real life,” corroborating Baudry’s observation that implicated viewers have higher demands for a documentary’s “authenticity.” One fellow from Bucharest commented that he tended to associate Ci"migiu Gardens with the pre-communist period, and that my use of 188
  • 189. this location as a backdrop for memories of communism was too much of a contrast for him. (Foreign audiences, on the other hand, frequently remarked that the images of Ci"migiu have a particularly “communist” feel.) Another NEC fellow observed that while the film showed a calm and reflective side of Bucharest, he had experienced the city as a chaotic, loud, and busy place, and he could not reconcile the “quiet and solitary” images with the city’s “actual reality.” (But at another screening, Ileana, who had grown up in Bucharest but spent the last decade in Germany, observed that the quiet atmosphere in the film was “exactly” like the Bucharest of her childhood.) Other students at the NEC felt there was too much of an “unnatural” contrast between the film’s “intellectual” voiceovers and the unrefined antics of the “less-educated” characters visible in the park. (Only Romanian viewers have commented on these class differences, which are distinguishable by subtle physical and linguistic cues that non-Romanians have not appeared to notice.) It is not surprising that insiders would be more likely than outsiders to pay attention to certain aspects of verisimilitude. Those personally familiar with the locations and scenarios depicted in a film are more likely to be thrown off by the sutures in “reality” created through editing. Romanian audiences often compared the stories in the film with their own experiences of remembering. Any apparent deviations of the narratives revealed in the film were then deemed either “right” or “wrong.” During one informal screening, in response to the voiceover recounting how baking used to be a “collective neighbourhood effort,” a viewer cried out, “Bullshit!” Partly to me and partly to the film’s narrator, she said, “We never had to borrow anything from our neighbours. You could always find enough food if you really tried.” Yet on another occasion, my friend Domnica reacted enthusiastically to the very same scene, bolting upright and exclaiming, “Yes! That’s precisely how it used to be!” While I intended my film to serve as a context for exploring the affective, subjective, partial, contradictory, and unstable qualities of memory, many insider viewers expressed a desire for me to “take a stand,” to offer an overarching judgement on Romania’s past and present. Such reactions raise questions about my role as an anthropological and aesthetic interpreter of 189
  • 190. present-day Bucharest, post-socialism, and memory. Is it appropriate to highlight the open-ended, ambiguous qualities of memory when most public debates on Romania’s communist history are so laden with ethical and moral undertones? If through watching my film, some audiences appreciate reexperiencing the feeling of a particular time and place (perhaps what Stewart [2009] describes as an “atmospheric attunement”), while others do not, does this mean that the film is unsuccessful? Should I worry about non-Romanians getting “wrong” ideas about the country’s past and present-day circumstances? Would trying to convey “right” ideas also be a limiting and dangerous path to take? I have no conclusive answers to such questions. I have chosen to describe these instances because they point to ways that my film evoked, rather than just illustrated, affective sensations of memory. They also reveal high levels of awareness about the existence of memory work currently operating within Romanian public arenas, calling attention to the ways in which recollections are themselves remembered, dismembered, and distorted. The undergraduate students’ considerable exposure to such discourses seemed to detach them from these memories, while slightly-older generations appeared to react with a heightened concern for the film’s significance and “accuracy.” Meta-memories in Academia Several Romanian colleagues (all studying at non-Romanian universities), whose doctoral work addressed similar issues of post-communist memory, recounted to me complications they faced in discussing their research with local academics. Maria, an anthropologist who recently returned from Canada to work in a museum in Bucharest, described presenting her thesis in Romania. People expected it to offer objective accounts of the past, she told me, which she read as a sign that they were conflating the concepts of memory and history. Mirel, a sociologist who had studied in Paris, was similarly frustrated that he found no local community of scholars with whom he could share his research. Academic work on memory in Romania, he told me, was either 190
  • 191. limited to outright condemnations of the past, or to “irrelevant” debates about what to do now with the “communist legacy.” Diana, whose thesis-in-progress addresses memories of communist childhood, recounted to me how when she conducted interviews or discussed her research with local academics, she struggled to disentangle herself from popular moral discourses about Romania’s past. Such dynamics highlight the fact that Romanians’ studies of how their own past is remembered are continued productions of how their own past is remembered. Local research on remembrance work in the post-socialist context by its very nature is a continuation of remembrance work in the post-socialist context, part of the same phenomenon it seeks to understand. As Banks’ experiences convey, the presence of an external observer in such situations is essential, because otherwise, dialogue about the subject would never be entirely separated from the subject itself. My own lack of personal memories and experiences of Romania’s communist past will always prevent me from becoming part of the phenomenon of “memory work among Romanians.” Yet my research still constitutes a form of socio-cultural work parallel to that occurring among Romanians. While my position has its advantages and disadvantages, it has allowed me to create a film about memory that, as my friend #tefan observed, “is different from anything a Romanian would ever make.” It has also enabled me to use my film as a tool for exploring not only how people are remembering the past, but also how people are interpreting other social productions of memory during this particular moment in time. Modes of Knowledge By placing the DVD of Lumina amintirii at the beginning of this chapter, I have directed the reader to experience the sounds and images of my film before reading the related text. Yet I have also placed discussion of the film towards the end of my thesis, trusting that my earlier written descriptions and analyses will have contributed important contextualising information relevant to understanding the film. I have argued here that working with 191
  • 192. images must not be seen as entirely separate from working with texts. In the research, fieldwork, reading, writing, shooting, editing, and screening of a film, it is impossible to isolate sensory and intellectual impulses from their “interlocking regimes” of memory, image, and language (Healy 2003: 231). Although an “essay” film, like a written essay, may serve as a theoretical critique (Alter 2007), it should not function as a mere visual version of the written medium. In the same vein, an ethnographic film may communicate anthropological arguments (Ruby 1975), but it should not be simply a visual translation of a scientific analysis. Ethnographic analysis requires methodical, rigorous thinking, but also a feel for telling a story, conjuring up descriptive images and provoking the “sensual imagination.” Ethnographic filmmaking similarly involves its own precarious and unpredictable mixtures of poetry and technology, happenstance and planning, intuition and calculation. While each task involves experiences and practices that generate diverse types of understandings, all inform and feed into one another. Rather than dwelling on whether ethnographic film is capable of communicating anthropological knowledge (Hastrup 1992; Loizos 1992; Ruby 1975), I advocate broadening conventional expectations of how ethnographic film can convey different types of meaning. The structure and composition of my film exploit the medium’s mimetic capabilities to reach the corporeal space of the “optical unconscious.” The film connects with affect and the imagination. I employ cinematic motion and creative montage to reveal historical and cultural particularities of memories surfacing in Bucharest, and to evoke the partial and multiple temporalities and spaces of remembrance work itself. By integrating experimental filming and editing techniques with more traditional, observational approaches, I have both followed and challenged existing ethnographic cinema conventions. By exploring the implications of this work on theoretical and practical levels, I have added my voice, eyes, ears, and other senses to existing debates on the politics and practices of representation within the discipline of visual anthropology. 192
  • 193. CHAPTER 7: Concluding Remarks The trifles of an era, once ten centuries have elapsed, become the stuff of the most serious scholarship (Proust, cited in Maleuvre 1999: 4). Reverberations Throughout my residencies in Bucharest over the years, I always managed to find places to live on Brezoianu Street, in the heart of the city next to Ci"migiu Gardens. Mid-way through my fieldwork in 2007, I temporarily had to relocate, and rented a flat for a month in another neighbourhood. When I complained to Bobo, an acquaintance in his early 50s, that I was feeling disorientated and uncomfortable in my new surroundings, he said to me, You say you feel uprooted, but you only moved from one part of the city to another. Think about what it must have been like for us when we moved from one political system to another. The disruption was on a large scale, not just on individual levels. Now maybe you can imagine what this feeling of transition has been like for us, in a very small-scale way. Although the “transition” theoretically ended once Romania was formally accepted into the EU, many people kept talking about the recent periods of intense social and political change. The ongoing reverberations of these events magnified the ordinary uncertainties of life, provoking many questions about present and future. As Tania (in her late 50s) remarked to me, The thing about this process of transition, Alyssa, is that nobody knows when it will finish. You know that you have a year or two left to complete your Ph.D., and after that, you will be done. It will be over. But here, who knows what the time frame is? Whenever things seem to improve, something else happens to set them back. How far can you actually go if you are constantly moving one step forward and two steps back? While the end of state socialism brought many “destructuring” effects (Burawoy and Verdery 1999: 2), it also offered opportunities for people to observe what aspects of their lives had remained unchanged. Many of my friends often alluded to such paradoxical characteristics of the post-communist 193
  • 194. period. Their lives had been bombarded with drastic and constant transformations since 1989, but at the same time, so much had stayed the same. The changes brought by the Revolution appeared to occur so suddenly and quickly, yet “old” habits and mentalities were slow to die. The activation of specific memories may have contributed a sense of stability and continuity to individuals’ lives, anchoring parts of the past and offering a means to ease existing doubts and ambivalences about the post-communist present. Yet as I have shown throughout this thesis, memories tend to be as unstable and inconsistent as any social, cultural, or political process. Recollections of shared events may provide only a temporary, contingent sense of grounding, and contain internal inconsistencies, ambiguities, and contradictions. My research has focused on exploring memory work’s performative roles than on its referential functions (Papalias 2005: 23). I have traced the trajectories and impacts of memory’s activities, rather than using memories to delineate or expound upon particular historical events. The practice of remembering is never a static project of proclaiming a single version of the past: it requires people actively engaged in redefining, re-thinking, and reconfiguring within the present. In the face of so much victimising and moralising rhetoric about Romania’s past, broadly publicised in the current accession era, it is particularly important to address multifaceted forms of recollection. As B!nic! notes (2006: 16), Romania’s communist past was experienced in “fragmentary” and “kaleidoscopic” ways, and does not solely belong to a single group, such as those who suffered in gulags or in prisons. In pursuing memory work around mundane spaces, ordinary objects, and commonplace situations, I encountered constructions of the past that formed a complex amalgamation of positive, negative, consistent, and contradictory opinions and experiences. Although many Romanians refer to the communist past as “traumatic,” I do not generalise remembrance work in such sweeping terms. 76 For this reason, I have not drawn upon the extensive body of literature about memory in relation to trauma or reconciliation that largely evolved in response to the 76 According to Edkins (2003: 4), “trauma” involves a catastrophic event or grave betrayal of public trust and order. 194
  • 195. World War II Holocaust and other horrors of the 20th century. I also have avoided treating memory work as a “therapeutic” discourse. This would have detracted from the positive and productive ways in which Romanians have confronted hardships resulting from the transition. It would have placed too much emphasis on judging “wrongdoings” of the past, and distracted me from grappling with the broader workings of memory in the present. Neither have I chosen to analyse the gendered dimensions of memory, although my research has involved contexts that gender studies often address, such as food preparation and consumption, and uses of public space. All recollections of the past are gendered to varying degrees; the Romanian communist state is remembered for its particularly insidious involvement in women’s reproductive lives. In his desire to increase the country’s population, Ceau"escu limited access to contraception and abortion, imposed monthly gynaecological exams, and made illegal abortions punishable by fines and imprisonment. 77 As much literature corroborates, rather than providing an alternative to capitalist gender inequalities, socialist systems often required women to carry multiple responsibilities of keeping up with housework, taking care of children, and maintaining jobs outside the home. Studying productions of memory in relation to these themes would have shifted my focus away from following memory’s movement through a wider range of social, political, and material contexts. I have attempted to clarify my use of terms such as “social memory,” “collective memory,” “cultural memory,” and “communicative memory.” I do so not to assign them static or reductionist categories, but rather to avoid inconsistent “conceptual extensions” of the notion of memory (Berliner 2005: 198). Anthropological discourse has defined the concept in such varied and disparate ways that it has become a “source of confusion,” often misleadingly mistaken for the concept of culture itself. 77 See David (1990), David and McIntyre (1981), Gal and Kligman (2000a; 2000b), Hord, et al. (1991), Kligman (1998), and Puia and Hirtopeanu (1990). Films such as 4 luni, 3 s"pt"mâni, si 2 zile [4 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days] (2007) by Cristian Mungiu, and Children of the decree (2005), by R!zvan Georgescu and Florin Iepan, also explicitly address these themes. 195
  • 196. Forms and Contents While many accounts squeeze the past into neatly packaged, linear, coherent narratives, actual perceptions of memory tend to be messy, fuzzy, and open-ended. Similarly, although “material bearers” of memory (Ferme 2001: 9) such as landscapes, artefacts, and physical sites index traces of the past through apparently concrete and enduring forms, these elements are not necessarily so solid, graspable, or permanent. Analysing this fundamental tension between memory’s processes of movement, its tangible manifestations, and its status as an object of the imagination (Fentress and Wickham 1992: 2) requires innovative, and somewhat oblique, interpretations of its presence, its absence, and its modes of operation. The majority of analyses situate processes of memorialisation within overtly commemorative spaces and structures, such as archives, museums, monuments, ceremonies, or memorial rites. Most research about unofficial processes of remembrance work is limited to explicitly memorial phenomena, such as personal souvenirs, rituals, and discourses of recollection. My search beyond the spaces “where talk about memory dwells and moves” (Fabian 2007: 92), to plumb of realms where talk (and consciousness) about memory may initially seem nonexistent, distinguishes my thesis from much of the related literature. As Verdery writes (1999: 26), “Where else, I ask, might we look for ‘politics’; in perhaps unexpected places that arrest the imagination?” By considering arenas that are not immediately identifiable as memorial, where memory is inscribed in subtle ways, I have centred my analysis outside of conventional settings where most other studies of memory-scapes are located. This approach has steered me away from reading apparent absences of memorial activity as amnesia. Instead, I have viewed neglected spaces, ruined landscapes, and outmoded objects as bearing more subtle layers of recollection. Identifying these elements as sources of memory was not possible through interviews or narrative accounts alone, but required prolonged exposure to individual habits and social routines. Indeed, I found that memory work may often only become legible by defamiliarising the commonplace, by paying close attention to the banal, “common landmarks of everyday life” (Boym 2001: 196
  • 197. 53). It also called for sensitivity to the complex ways memory moves between people, places, institutions, objects, and images. My ethnographic examinations of such indirectly remembered elements thus expand the potential objects of memory studies. They set the stage for more intricate understandings of the interface between official and unofficial commemorative processes. Some memories may be deliberately invoked and recognised as recollections; others arise unexpectedly and remain unacknowledged as such. Some may become institutionalised through commercial discourses and statesanctioned structures; others are communicated through everyday narratives and commemorative forms. While my thesis has focused on particular spheres of “non-commemorative” commemoration, I regard its various manifestations as part of a processual continuum. Such an approach problematises the assumption that “real” memory necessarily disappears with the emergence of institutionalised sites and practices of commemoration (Nora 1984: 12). I therefore have addressed when and how these different forms of memorialisation co-exist, overlap, and work around each other, and how the divisions between official, state-sponsored, dominant memories and unofficial, popular, counter-memories are not definitive or absolute. I also have explored how multiply layered spaces, objects, and activities of ordinary life may simultaneously conform to, contribute to, and challenge social, cultural, political, and institutionalised narrative frameworks. The specific methodologies I developed in the field required both observing and provoking processes of remembrance. By tracing memory’s movements and appearances around public landscapes and domestic interiors (Chapters 2 and 3), and following mnemonic interactions related to money and food (Chapters 4 and 5), I engaged not only stereotypical cultural narratives of reminiscence, but also unpredictable, individualised ones. By soliciting objects from forgotten collections (Chapter 3), and organising my “memory meal” (Chapter 5), I helped individuals and groups to reconstruct their pasts “dialogically and collaboratively” (Jackson 2002: 22), making their remembrance work in mundane contexts more visible and tangible to me. My active contributions to such reconstructions enabled me to experience practices 197
  • 198. of collective remembrance physically and viscerally, to delve into memory’s raw, fragmented, and highly sensory qualities. Such methods distinguish my research from studies that are solely concerned with remembrance work’s conceptual or theoretical implications. I have noted how memory travels between places, objects, and discourses, at times hidden and at other times visible. By examining such processes, I have directed my attention to what memories might signify to people who unintentionally engage with them. For example, moving through the city as a flâneur (Chapter 2), I observed marginalised spaces and structures not typically seen as either quintessentially commemorative or urban. Refusing to define urban memory as existing solely within obvious sites such as changing street names, national monuments, or well-known landmarks, I have attempted to highlight its less “localisable” (De Certeau 1984: 108) manifestations. Investigating Bucharest as it underwent literal and conceptual processes of construction and deconstruction provided me access to memory’s mobile, dynamic, and unpredictable tendencies. Structuring my thesis to echo the way that memories often comprise a “set of fragments suspended in time” (Chambers 2997: 232), I have called attention to memory’s dynamic and disjointed forms. My chapters have juxtaposed themes, ideas, scenes, and settings, exploring memories that cut across different periods of time, and encouraging multidimensional and multitemporal understandings of my field context. Drawing upon my own discontinuous recollections of Romania from the last decade, I have shown that memories do not necessarily adhere to sequential or linear perceptions of the passage of time. In order not to reinforce the idea that memories of these events are simply subjective interpretations of an objective reality, I have chosen not to offer even a summary of Romanian history. Through these methods, I have avoided creating yet another reified discourse of memory that turns into a product of consumer and “obsolescence” culture (Huyssen 2003: 10), or induces forgetting by promoting “disengagement” with the past (Gillis 1994: 16). In Lumina amintirii (discussed in Chapter 6), I conjured up experiences of remembering by cultivating film’s ability to access the senses, and by using 198
  • 199. unusual shooting and editing techniques to evoke a multiplicity of voices, spaces, and temporalities. Just as the study of nostalgia necessarily “slows us down,” by saturating us in daydreams, wishes, and spaces outside the present (Boym 2001: xix), so may investigations into memory draw us into trains of thought similar to the suspended and incomplete spaces of reminiscence. My film and my chapter about the film have embodied an implicitly Bergsonian understanding of memory as the perception of perpetual movement through time and space. In contrast, other chapters have drawn more heavily upon Benjaminian ideas of memory as embedded in material substance. Although these two viewpoints could be perceived as oppositional or even mutually exclusive, I regard them as complementary, because different manifestations and processes of memory require multiple analytical assumptions and conceptual tools. Incorporating both aspects into my research has reinforced memory’s dual roles as entity and as activity. It has bolstered memory’s existence as both noun and verb, and underlined the impossibility of separating these intertwined qualities. Using film to explore immaterial and elusive realms of memory has enabled me to question the widely-held belief that visual anthropology must be limited to “visual” realms of culture. As I worked in this medium, I rejected the notion that memory is a straightforwardly visual phenomenon, or that memory could be represented literally through visual means. My inventive filmic practices led me to rethink the widespread assumption that images are inherently more effective than words at conveying mental pictures to an audience. Following Benjamin, I found that the “image-spaces” of memory are best addressed through the “body-spaces” of film. Such “image spaces” are less connected to visual representations than they are to film’s ability to trigger affective thoughts, feelings, and perceptions by conveying motion, materiality, and landscape in embodied ways. 199
  • 200. Future Directions As a friend from Bucharest noted to me soon after I arrived in the field, only in the last few years have Romanians begun to classify their feelings about the recent past as “memory.” During the first decade after the 1989 Revolution, the communist and early post-communist eras were regarded as too familiar and present to be considered suitable subjects of recollection. Yet the more that exterior landscapes, interior spaces, material artefacts, and physical structures continued to change, along with people’s everyday experiences, social interactions, and relationships to the rest of the world, the more compelling it became for people to evoke, recapture, and make sense of a time that seemed very remote and simultaneously not that far away. Faced with the current ubiquity of cultural references to “before” and “after,” “then” and “now,” it is difficult to remember that a mere decade ago, the periods just preceding and immediately following 1989 did not yet constitute the “past” for many Romanians. But today, in the wake of the Revolution’s twentieth anniversary, as the first generation with no direct experience of this history is entering university and the workforce, and taking on increasingly visible roles in Romania’s public sphere, distances between past and present seem clearer, more palpable. This cohort is sometimes called the “generation without memory,” underlining the significant gaps between their memories and those of older generations. The synecdochic label “generation without memory” equates memories of communism with memory as a whole, indicating that to older generations “with memory,” this shared communist past serves as a quintessential marker of social and political community. Studying the role of memory processes in the creation of such differences would be a promising subject of further research, particularly as Romania continues to grapple with its “European” status, and as socioeconomic divisions become more pronounced. Romania’s global position continues to shift, along with people’s relationships to individual and social discourses of memory. Studies of remembrance practices are becoming more prominent subjects of public discussion. It could be valuable to map out trajectories of such meta-memories, 200
  • 201. particularly within Romanian academia. Evaluating the local development of memory-work studies as yet another form of memory work would significantly extend the breadth of essential literature in the field. Examining how these discourses function would emphasise memory’s creative role as “producing” rather than “retrieving” knowledge and information (Papailias 2005: 6). Analyses of how academics categorise some issues as “being remembered,” and others as neglected or collectively forgotten, could increase our understanding of how particular events end up as topics of academic investigation. Probing how public intellectuals distinguish their own discourses from discussions in political, artistic, and commercial spheres may reveal much about the dynamics of competing claims to memorial authority. As nonacademics increasingly encounter scholarly interpretations of their own remembrance practices, it would be revealing to examine the ways in which people choose to engage, build upon, and contest the methodologies and messages of such studies. Unfinished Chorographies Despite the increasing number of studies investigating the post-socialist present and perceptions of its past, there will always be areas that remain unexplored (Lampland 2000: 215). Rather than representing holes in our knowledge, these uncharted spaces are integral and essential components of any chorographic project. Gaps as such are constitutive of memory; without them, there would be little difference between raw experience and recollection. Commemorative objects, places, narratives, and practices reflect understandings specific to certain historical and cultural moments, and as such involve temporary, incomplete glimpses into the past. As Benjamin notes, and as my work has confirmed, because our knowledge of the past is always interrupted and unfulfilled, it necessarily also belongs to the future (Caygill 2004: 93). Delineating the spaces around certain memories invites subsequent evaluators to read these gaps as crucial fragments of new assemblages that will continue to carry and reveal different meanings over time. 201
  • 202. While a chorography may involve mapping, it is not the type of mapping that implies an exhaustive “appropriation” of territory (see Wolff 1994: 167). The chorographer’s aim is not to depict every inch of terrain, but rather to uncover fine-grained details, connections, and relationships within and through time. A chorographer’s maps are not set to a consistent scale; they make room for distance between its features to shift, and for the features themselves to change in form and proportion. Unlike topographical maps that bear no traces of human existence or movement, a chorography regards people and their dynamic interactions as essential constituents of the landscape. My chorography of Bucharest has discussed places, objects, images, and events as more than mere backdrops for the production of memory. I have revealed them as memory’s building blocks, inseparable from the interpersonal and social relationships that generate, reflect, transmit, work around, contest, and reconstruct commemorative practices. In demonstrating how acts of remembering, forgetting, and anticipating the future are entangled with particular material, discursive, and cognitive realms, I have cast new light on the subtleties and complexities of what Proust labelled the “trifles of an era,” while exposing the nuances and intricacies of memory processes themselves. 202
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  • 230. ________. 1999. The political lives of dead bodies: reburial and postsocialist change. New York: Columbia University Press. Wagstyl, S. 2006. Building for Europe: how Romanian and Bulgarian migrants buoy growth. Financial Times, 19 October. Walker, I. 2002. City gorged with dreams: surrealism and documentary photography in interwar Paris. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Wanner, C. 1998. Burden of dreams: history and identity in post-Soviet Ukraine. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. Watson, R.S. (ed.). 1994. Memory, history, and opposition under state socialism. New Mexico: School of American Research Press. Weigel, S. 1996. Body and image space: re-reading Walter Benjamin. Translated by G. Paul with R. McNicholl and J. Gaines. London: Routledge. Weiss, A.S. (ed.). 2007. Taste nostalgia. New York: Lusitania Press. Werbner, R. 1998. Beyond oblivion: confronting memory crisis. In Memory and the postcolony: African anthropology and the critique of power. R. Werbner (ed.). London and New York: Zed Books. Wieseltier, L. 1993. After memory: reflections on the Holocaust Memorial Museum. New Republic 208(5): 16-26. Williams, L. 1981. Figures of desire: a theory and analysis of surrealist film. Berkeley: University of California Press. Winston, B. 1995. Claiming the real: the Griersonian documentary and its legitimations, the documentary film revisited. London: British Film Institute. ________. 2000. Lies, damn lies and documentaries. London: British Film Institute. Wirth, L. 2000 [1903]. Urbanism as a way of life. In The city reader. 2nd edition. R.T. LeGates and F. Stout (eds). New York and London: Routledge. Woodward, I. 2001. Domestic objects and the taste epiphany: a resource for consumption methodology. Journal of Material Culture 6(2): 115-136. Yalouri, E. 2001. The acropolis: global fame, local claim. Oxford: Berg. Yates, F. 1966. The art of memory. London: Routledge and K. Paul. 230
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  • 232. Filmography A fost sau n-a fost [12:08 east of Bucharest]. 2006. Feature film. Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu. Romania: Tartan USA. Amintiri din Epoca de Aur [Tales from the Golden Age]. 2009. Five short films. Directed by Hanno Höfer, R!zvan Marculescu, Cristian Mungiu, Constantin Popescu, and Ioana Uricaru. Romania: Wild Bunch. California dreamin’ (nesfâr!it) [California dreamin’ (endless)]. 2007. Feature film. Directed by Cristian Nemescu. Romania: Media PRO Studios. Children of the decree. 2005. Directed by R!zvan Georgescu and Florin Iepan. Documentary film. Germany and Romania: Arte. Cum mi-am petrecut sfâr!itul lumii [How I celebrated the end of the world]. 2006. Feature film. Directed by C!t!lin Mitulescu. Romania: Les Films Pelléas. Dacia 1300: my generation. 2003. Film installation. Directed by #tefan Constantinescu. Romania: #tefan Constantinescu. D’Est [From the East]. 1993. Film installation. Directed by Chantal Akerman. Belgium-France-Portugal. La Sept-Arte. Hârtia va fi albastr" [The paper will be blue]. 2006. Feature film. Directed by Radu Muntean. Romania: Multimedia Est. Marilyn on Marilyn. 2001. Documentary film. Directed by Paul Kerr. UK: British Broadcasting Corporation. 4 luni, 3 s"pt"mâni !i 2 zile [4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days]. 2007. Feature film. Directed by Cristian Mungiu. Romania: Mobra Films. 232
  • 233. Appendix A Memory Objects 1. Ice cube tray From the FRAM—the polar bear, that is, our old refrigerator, which consumed a lot of energy, in which we made cantaloupe ice cream for the first time, and which… spilled over into the whole fridge because it no longer froze things at all! When we bought another fridge, an ARCTIC from G!e"ti (1978), our poor FRAM became…a coop for the chickens in the countryside. —Fotinica, 55, Human Resources Assistant 2. Cloth sack 1985—Winter. Four in the morning, standing in the queue at the “Venus” grocery store in Pia$a Doroban$ilor. Maybe they would bring some meat. If so, they would sell one kilogram per person. After an hour, at five in the morning, my feet were frozen and my ears had become numb. I tried to wrap the sack around my ears. At five-thirty I couldn’t take it anymore and I went back home. —Eugen, 71, Pensioner (Mathematics Teacher) 3. Ink; pencil holder Ink for writing homework, which would leave blue stains on your fingers… to prove that you were diligent and… that you did your homework. We used to play with the ink designs on paper (like in the Rorsarch experiment) or we would use it to “take fingerprints,” like in the detective films with Alain Delon and Lino Ventura. Cheap pencil holder made of plastic: [for carrying] eraser, pen, & two pencils. Ugly pencil holder that you can’t get rid of, that you either break in the second trimester or that you use in art class to put water in for watercolour painting. —Dan, 33, MBA Student 4. Cookbooks For Alyssa: for your Romanian archives, I give you some old cookbooks, from 20-25 years ago, filled with recipes that I don’t think I ever tried once. But I bought these cookbooks because 233
  • 234. they were appearing at the same rate that food was disappearing from the shops! It was probably a kind of compensation. —Ioana, 63, Art Historian, Bucharest 5. Porcelain bibelot I don’t know why it is that whenever I see this kind of kitsch, what comes to mind is the band “Mondial,” with their song “Love, porcelain bibelot” (verses by Minulescu), one of the first melodies that I remember hearing on the radio. Probably in Minulescu’s time, porcelain meant something different… —Dorel, 60, Lepidopterist 6. One white synthetic sock, two cotton socks, tattered, with my grandmother’s “garter”; a pinafore (school uniform) The white socks always got in the way of my playing. They were part of the school uniform, and they were supposed to always be impeccable. In the mornings, my grandmother had a ritual, which I sometimes would see, with eyes halfopen, if I were to wake up for a few minutes at dawn. I would see her on the edge of the bed, putting on three layers of socks, one by one, in the frosty days of winter. First the tattered socks, and then the “good” socks, fastened with the “garters” she’d made herself. The pinafore belonged to a cousin, before I wore it, and it would have been my turn to pass it along to someone else if we’d had to continue wearing school uniforms after 1989. —Sorina, 30, PhD Candidate 7. Pickling jar Ever since I can remember, in the autumn, our family would make various preserves, even if you could still find things in the shops. For example for the winter, we would put up cucumbers, red peppers, cabbage for sarmale, and I would make all sorts of jams out of cherries, sour cherries, apricots, plums, and others. One recipe that I like very much is for pickled peppers in vinegar. The recipe: 60 large peppers, red 1 liter of vinegar, a cup of sugar, 2 parts water 1 cup of oil 100 grams salt Bay leaf, peppercorns, garlic Boil the vinegar with the water, sugar, salt, oil, bay leaf, and pepper. Wash the peppers and cut them in quarters, and bring them to a boil, then put them in the jars, one tucked inside the next, until the jar is filled. When finished, pour the hot vinegar into the jars, and cover them with cellophane or with lids, and heat in the oven for about 5 minutes to sterilise. Recipe guaranteed. Bon appetit! —Elena, 79, Housewife 234
  • 235. 8. Seltzer bottle In the old days, the seltzer bottle was the ordinary person’s mineral water. It was hardly ever absent from the table. Men were the ones who used it most often to make spritzers [a mixture of wine and carbonated water]. When I was a child I was often sent to the seltzer water shop to trade in the cartridges, which I was never too happy about. On the other hand, I liked drinking carbonated water from the seltzer bottle, even though I preferred natural mineral water from the spring. I especially remember certain Sunday meals in my grandmother’s courtyard, where the seltzer bottle cooled you off in the scorching heat. There were many different types of seltzer bottles: the old ones were glass with a wire mesh covering. The more “modern” style was made of coloured metal (aluminum?)… For me, this object is one of the very ordinary objects I grew up with, but now it provokes in me a funny nostalgia… —Monika, 37, Ceramicist 9. Set of moving slides for the 4th grade: “History of the Homeland,” 1975 Moving slides rolled into my life for at least ten years, from the end of the ‘70s, up until around the Revolution. In the beginning there were the story-slides. I knew the order of the stills by heart. First, the two rows of coloured rectangles. Get ready… Then, the same mandala, made out of crisscrossing arcs of a circle. I don’t know what it represented, but for me, as for other thousands of children who had no access to cartoons and were eager for stories, it meant the same thing: the sign of the beginning. Start! The story was coming. Read by my parents or my kindergarten teachers, it was a chance for them to exercise their theatrical skills; or else I would stumble over the words myself, revealing the slides’ strikingly educational qualities. The many-coloured rectangular images would return after the still announcing The End. My sigh would overlap with the fluttering of the film as it would break free from its metallic clip and curl up once again into a spiral. The story-slides, undoubtedly an inferior audio variation of vinyl records, soon gained a moral use-value, as they were given to my cousins in the countryside, along with a slide projector. More impressive—for my entire family—proved to be the slides of the Leningrad Metro. I received these as a gift from my father, along with a slide-viewer, a small gadget, easy even for me to handle. This was a plastic three-dimensional box, containing a slot for the slide, with a magnifying glass through which you could see a mini-screen. You didn’t have to plug it in; you didn’t have to adjust the focus or the size of the image. The only motion you soon got accustomed to was putting the slide in the correct position and directing the slide-viewer towards the light. The photos of the Leningrad Metro were one of the exotic props used to impress guests. Everyone, young and old, would pass the gadget back and forth and marvel at the technical and artistic accomplishments of the Soviet Union. The Metro in Bucharest hadn’t yet been built. To travel underground was one thing, but to be able to appreciate works of art in wide, subterranean spaces made of marble, even if they were part of the big transformations of communism, this commanded our total admiration. Slides became a regular part of our life. My father no longer developed our vacation negatives into photographs. Instead he sent them to be directly processed as slides. He would then carefully cut out the positive images and the whole family would put them into the special 235
  • 236. plastic frames. We had evenings in which one of the walls would be transformed into a screen and we would re-experience, in projected form, our vacations. I think my parents bought me the moving-slides of “The History of the Homeland” when we were on vacation somewhere in the countryside. I don’t remember ever projecting them. I must have looked at at least some of them. Not systematically, in any case—there are 36, made in the style of the textbooks of the era! That is, without the simple charm of the story-slides, or of the fascination for the exotic Soviet images of the Leningrad Metro, or of the associations with our everyday lives. Now, after many years, when I rediscovered the box with the slides, the photograph on its cover popped into my mind: the well-known portrait of Mihai Viteazu. And I recognised—not the slides in and of themselves, which I really had little connection to—but rather the specific way in which we used to be taught Romanian history. —Daniela, 33, Psychiatrist 10. Eyeglass frames These eyeglass frames ended up in this state after they broke. I used the parts that are missing to repair other frames. This was necessary because eyeglass frames were very rare during communist times. These frames are from a (personal) collection of frames that served as spare parts for future repairs. —Marius, 60, Electronic Engineer 11. Circular knitting needles from Germany As I very much liked all sorts of handiwork (sewing, crocheting, knitting), I acquired a lot of thread, yarn, and tools that could satisfy these passions, and that were also necessary, as I was not always able to find what I wanted in the shops. The knitting needles I used spanned an entire evolutionary range, from the homemade ones to the more refined, aluminum ones that were lighter but still uncomfortable to use because of their size, to the circular ones from Germany that were special because you could work more easily with them, but also because you couldn’t get them unless they were brought in from abroad, and for a pretty price, but they were worth it! —Tania, 57, Economist 12. Wooden mushroom for darning socks This mushroom spent a few dozen years in my mother’s sewing basket, beneath the heap of socks to be darned; she turned it [on a lathe] and painted it herself, back when she was making wooden painted toys and m"r#i!oare and selling them wherever she could. The heap of socks and stockings waiting to be darned would get smaller, but I never saw it completely disappear. Or if it did, it was just until the next day, when I was at home. The colours painted on its cap have been rubbed off, probably on my mother’s fingers. —Irina, 69, University Professor (French literature) 236
  • 237. 13. Photographic portrait, School No. 155, Bucharest Falcon of the Fatherland [young Pioneer organisation], Gliga, Teodora. Hair braided by my grandmother, collar and cuffs also embroidered by her or by one of my aunts. I didn’t yet have all of my teeth. The pencil case belonged to a classmate, who got it as a present from abroad. —Teodora, 28, Post-doctoral Researcher 14. Vegeta Vegeta is a “wonder” condiment, produced in the former Yugoslavia, more precisely in Croatia. It gives all soups and dishes an extraordinary flavour. I recall that it was never absent from my grandparents’ kitchen. During the Ceau"escu era, friends, acquaintances, and relatives would bring Vegeta to Romania from abroad… I arrived in Romania after this period; however I heard stories from older colleagues, students during the “time of Ceau"escu,” about how they would bring along some extra packets of Vegeta from Serbia [to sell in Romania], in order to round out their student budgets and allow them a little “extravagance” from time to time, such as going to the canteen at the Inter[continental Hotel] during that period. —Eugenia, 33, Actress 15. Almanacs Brought back into the Romanian consciousness by the illiterate politician Vanghelie [who in a speech during his 2006 campaign for mayor incorrectly conjugated the plural form of the word], almanacs brought joy, a smattering of culture, and information to the majority of middle class Romanians during the ‘eighties. I am not speaking for anyone else. I was part of them. I was raised as one of them. The appearance of these newspaper supplements and publications were feverishly waited for— in their own way, in apartments lacking heating agent 007’s services—at the end of each year. When they appeared in the shops, people would whisper on the street corners, and sidle up to the printers. It was made known to the storekeepers that they wouldn’t be let down if they set aside a copy for those who ordered it. With an almanac you could very well get yourself to the dentist, obtain two tins of pineapple, prove your love to your wife. Usually the almanac was read back to front. At the end were the entertainment columns: games of logic, tests of self-knowledge, stupid jokes and caricatures. The closer you got to the middle of the book, the more challenged you were: researchers from the University of Bremen discovered I don’t know what kinds of new weeds compared to last year—you were never able to prove that kind of thing—Western Europe was illustrated in black and white, showing only drug addicts and homeless people; the Americans were uncultivated because 80% of them didn’t know who their president was. Only we, the Romanians, were the clever ones. Enlightened by the verdicts of the Congress of the Party. Of the only party. This information floated through the almanac’s first pages, where you could avail yourself of some of the words of the Beloved Leader. Some of his useful advice. Then, last of all, the first page: the photograph of Ceau"escu. In profile. Perfect for colouring in. For adding mustache, glasses, and goatee. Things forbidden to children. And in order to avoid committing such antics, you definitely needed to be educated by the Children’s Almanac. Or trained in the philosophy of the Scientific and Technical Almanac: Darwinist. Breathing in the pages of the Army Almanac. Socially dedicated, like the reader of the Coruscated Almanac. 237
  • 238. A smidgen of liberty—there are always barriers that cannot be crossed, Serghei Bubka knows this—seemed to shelter us, like vegetables sheltered from the sun, between the almanacs’ covers: Sports, Literature, and Science Fiction. Almanahe, almanaheeeee!!! [Incorrect plural form in Romanian] —C!lin, 36, Museum Treasurer 16. Manual typewriter, “Hermes Media 3” I wouldn’t have remembered the typewriter, an object familiar to me ever since my childhood, if in the ‘80s it hadn’t become an object of obsession for its owners (and for the Militia). Back then, probably to discourage their usage in the production of certain anti-Ceau"escu manifestos, they gave an order that all owners of typewriters must declare them at the police station in the district where they belonged, and leave a sheet of paper printed with all of their existing keys. It was the strangest “queue” of all, during those years, the queue of typewriters at the police station. This operation was repeated every January (or December??) because they needed to keep track of the inevitable increasing bluntness of the letters. — Zoltán, 61, University Professor (sociology and communication) 17. Scarf I looked around and couldn’t find anything that reminded me of my life before 1989. I started searching through my closets and finally found a scarf given to me around 1980. Nowadays they don’t make these anymore, because the Fine Arts shops where they were sold no longer exist, at least I don’t know about them. Everything sold there was considered a luxury item, of good taste, maybe because it was made by artists or people connected with art; but the prices were sometimes out of the ordinary person’s range. So, except for those with money (very few, at any rate!), everything bought from the Fine Arts shops was fated to be a gift. —Alina, 62, Ethnologist 238
  • 239. Appendix B Memory Meal Invitation (Romanian) 239
  • 240. Appendix B1 Memory Meal Invitation (English) FROM THE PEOPLE’S KITCHEN Come to the memory meal! Friday, 15 December 2006 20:00 At Alyssa’s 47-49 Brezoianu Street Sc. B, Et. 3, Interphone 173 314-9945 / 0728 029 273 Bring something that reminds you of what you would eat before 1989 Eat—Remember—Talk cabbage * tarragon * endive * lentils * grains * gumbo * celery * cauliflower * turnip * kohlrabi * rhubarb * sorrel * 240
  • 241. Appendix C Memory Meal Responses Sour cherry marmalade made by Granny: It has the same taste now as it did back then. For me, it is the taste of my childhood. That is why I brought it. The sour cherries are from Granny’s garden. Black sunflower seeds with a little cup and a cone of paper torn from a notebook: The cup is made of wood and cost 1 leu (before ’89). I brought them because back then I liked them. Inka: coffee made from grains. Children were allowed to drink it. It was a rarity. I had it only once, when it was brought back from a flea market in Timi"oara. I brought it here so we could drink it (Ana, 27). Murfatlar wine: Our teacher used to make us take the labels off the bottles of wine and paste them into a notebook of “Romania’s Riches.” Fish paste with bread and butter: You can still find it! And I ate it when I was little, and it was good. Breadsticks: We didn’t like them at all, but you can still find them. Neapolitan wafers: To have something sweet (Ileana, 31). Florio: Three quarters of a bottle of almond essence—“Daily” brand, 0.7 lei (Bucharest) One bottle of sour-cherry syrup—“R!ureni” brand, 5 lei (Râmnicu Vâlcea) (instead of sour-cherry syrup you can use cherry syrup with sour-cherry essence) One bottle of cabernet—“Tomai” brand, 13 lei (Republic of Moldova) One liter of vodka—“Scandic” brand, 21 lei (Bihor) Additionally, for the use of the bottle, Two liters of mineral water—“Wonder Spring” brand, 2 lei (Stân! de Vale) Total price: 41.7 lei for 2.5 liters; 2 lei for each 100 milliliter serving Complete ingredients: Potable water, propilenglicol, almond flavouring, sugar, water (demineralised), sour-cherry concentrate, E330 (citric acid), natural flavourings, E163, E122, 63% alcohol (ethyl alcohol from grains and glycerine) This drink represents my first contact with the murky world of alcohol. It was manufactured in Bucharest apartments during the ‘80s, with the warmth of a housewife, and consumed in moderation, with grave and aristocratic gestures, in the chill of the living room. Next to the glass case with the porcelain figurines. It is the liquid extension of many other foods fabricated with the goal of becoming closer to the West, which we intuited from films: pizza dough made from slices of bread, spaghetti created from macaroni as big as a horse’s penis (C!lin, 36). !pri"er biscuits and Turkish delight: My aunt used to bring these to me when she would visit. She would hide them under a pillow on my bed. During that time I was fat and was not allowed to eat sweets. The bag of "pri#er biscuits and Turkish delight was our little secret. One day she phoned and my mother answered. My aunt thought it was me and she whispered, “I left the bag of biscuits and Turkish 241
  • 242. delight hidden under your pillow. Watch out that your mother doesn’t find it.” We still laugh at this story. The Turkish delight is because of “Turkish delight pastry” (made of Turkish delight creamed with lemon, lemon peel, and butter), which accompanied my entire childhood. Nobody makes it anymore. Other times, other tastes! Nougat: This was an absolute delicacy; it was sold by the kilogram at pastry shops, it was extremely sticky, but it was something reminiscent of the Ottoman period when the Turkish culture was present here along with the Parisian influences. Gingerbread: This was a pastry for Lent. My grandmother would make it at home, with a burnt sugar and linden tea mixture, which she would buy from the grocery store (alimentara). They were close to what I would imagine when I’d read the story of Hansel and Gretel. For me, gingerbread has always been connected to the month of December, to carols and carol-singers, to mulled wine, and the peace and quiet that the approaching solstice/Christmas brought to our home (Dan, 33). Shopping in the ‘80s: Bought on the way home from work from the stands and mini-markets in the Tineretului Metro (underground inside the station) Chocolate with rum—Romanian: Because its slightly bitter and mentholated taste is less strong now, and its solid cream is more refined and consequently worse than it used to be. Mentosane candies: Minty, very strong taste that turned your mouth to ice but still not really cold… Today the mentosanul crumbles much too quickly in your mouth and is less mentholated and the taste is too artificial. Cip candy drops (drojeurile) Minuscule candies, smaller than a grain of rice, sweet and a little bit sour, of all different colours, crammed into a cylindrical, transparent plastic box. You could stick lots of them on your tongue to savour the taste and they dissolved very quickly. They were our daily dessert after our sandwiches at school. Glucose with different flavours (orange, lemon): It was a kind of sweet-sour cake of mud, which stuck forever to the roof of your mouth when it was dissolving. A tablet the size of a chocolate bar could be instantly devoured. Pufarine [puffed corn snacks]: Coloured and cocoa flavoured. Bonbons: Sharp mint flavoured and milky ones. Amandine: Candies coated with cocoa powder. Romanian Turkish delight: Strong, not very sweet, and not much flavour. All of the artificial flavours that have been added to foods after the Revolution are disappointing. They are prefabricated surrogates, and they pale in comparison to those from back then. And of course, they have no identity now in a world that has a different context, dragging out a slightly sweet extension of the past (Lila, 39). Parizer Pané: Fresh parizer 2 eggs Flour Breadcrumbs Spices 242
  • 243. Parizer pané, a simple and inventive recipe! You use your imagination when preparing it, I can say that it is also very healthy! Why eat pork? (It’s not even good for you! And you couldn’t find it much in those days, anyway.) Parizer was more available before 1989. Long live the imagination! Bon appetit! (Eugenia, 33). Pufule"i (a kind of puffed, expanded corn, kind of like “snacks” are today): You can still find them and some still taste the same as those before ’89. They were our “snacks” from back then. All the kids munched on pufule#i. Carpa"i cigarettes: I don’t smoke, but I know that these strong cigarettes were the most common back then. They’re the most representative. Powdered potato mix: A kind of instant food from that time. Made from potatoes and usually mixed with water (producing a kind of potato puree) which had a very bland taste. But my mother would make it quite often when she came home from work, because it was very quick. There was also a similar kind of powdered bean mix (#tefania, 28). Eugenia biscuits: Eugenias were the cheapest biscuits—the biscuits of poor people in communist times. Vietnamese prawn crackers (creve"i): The grocery shop (alimentara) was always well stocked with them (Pit, 35). Coming to the party of food from the 1980s, I didn’t have the same enthusiasm as Lila [my wife]. She brought various things that she found in shops, remainders that had successfully been adopted by the transition, and that will survive into the epoch of “post [EU] integration.” Arriving at the gathering that you provoked, observing that the table was full, a sign that you’d succeeded in mobilising people, I decided to make a move myself. Near Ci"migiu Gardens, we rent an attic that we use as a storage place for books and things we don’t use. In the kitchen, there were several old potatoes left from one and a half years ago. They were sprouting eyes, they were dried out, they looked strange, to be sure. Also, we had a frying pan in which the oil had congealed, because in that interval of 1 1/2 years, the window had been left open. Oil and potatoes were essential ingredients for an average meal during the ‘80s. Oil was used in all types of foods. Potatoes could be used in multiple recipes. They spanned the spectrum from full success to everyday culinary routine. One day in the ‘80s, fed up with the multitudinous meals of potatoes, I decided to break with routine. I searched the cookbooks for a “different” recipe. I didn’t find anything suitable because I was always lacking one ingredient or another. I eventually found three recipes that worked, but they called for snails. Obviously, I was missing the snails, but the rest of the ingredients were in the family pantry. The question was: where could I obtain some snails for the recipe that I was so suddenly attracted to? It had rained that day, with rather overcast weather, and I remembered that in such conditions you could find snails growing on vegetation out in the open. But where could I find such vegetation? In a cemetery, of course. I quickly set out there and gathered 34 specimens, which I prepared as specified in the recipe. And I ate them heartily, and with an immense curiosity. Needless to say, on that day I felt special, even a little bit Western. Anyway, the next day I re-entered the Epoch of Potatoes (Cosmin, 33). Pufule"i [puffed corn snacks]: Because nothing was more suitable for children than these types of puffy, salty, crunchy things. 243
  • 244. Chocolate with rum: Because it was the only way we got to taste the adults’ treats. It was like smoking cigarettes in secret, only this was permitted (Silviu, 33). I brought creve"i [prawn crackers]. Why? Because of hunger. Yours truly, G. P.S. Prawn crackers are Vietnamese and are prepared in scalding oil (Gheorghe, 34). Pretzels: They were usually given out to Christmas carolers. Pufule"i [puffed corn snacks]: A universal sustenance, both salty and sweet. Coffee—“Mokka” brand: It was sold by shopkeepers under the counter (pe sub tejghea) (Daniela, 33). Raspberry syrup: Because it was extremely good in those days. Chocolate with rum: Now they are even better than they used to be! Turkish delight: Because we used to eat Turkish delight all the time. Tomato paste: Because it reminded me of the macaroni with tomato sauce and onions. Simple table napkins: Because I remembered how nicely they fell apart when you wiped yourself with them. Tinned pineapple: Because it was the utmost of delicacies (Monika, 37). I brought… Eugenia biscuits!! Reasons: 1. They are absolutely emblematic for this respective period. I ate not hundreds, but thousands! 2. I couldn’t find anything else to bring. 3. Anyway I don’t know how to cook. But here’s a list of foods from back then: sarmale (stuffed cabbage) with salami; meatballs made of fish; rapeseed oil; ocean fish; parizer pané (Dorel, 58). I brought Eugenia biscuits. Eugenia biscuits brought me. Communism brought Eugenia biscuits. Eugenia biscuits brought Communism (Ciprian, 28). I have to write what foods I brought and why. Probably I’ll have to write at the end how much I ate and why. I’ll have to sign, write my age, gender, profession, aspirations and repulsions, my political inclinations. I brought parizer with mushrooms and peppers from the Angst supermarket, and chicken paté, because both were emblematic of communist food. This is the first time I’ve been invited to a party that is also a subject of a didactic study. It’s horrible. Thank you (#erban, 60). 244
  • 245. I brought dry red wine, but it is new (2003), I assume it’s better than the wine during communism and up till 1990. I also brought old newspapers, but not “Scânteia” [the Romanian communist party paper] or “Informa#ie” [a “regular” newspaper]. They listed the Radio and TV programs from November 1987 and April 1988. There were only three radio stations and two television channels back then, with two hours of TV broadcasting in the evening. We used to call those hours a “sandwich,” because they contained “news” reports at the beginning and the end, and “filling” (rahat [“crap”]) in between. I brought all sorts of packaging—milk bottles and sweet boxes made of cardboard. I also brought an electric coffee grinder (copies of the German and Polish models), a basket for carrying the milk bottles, and a net bag for shopping at the market, and also cookbooks by Sanda Marin [a well-known author of Romanian cookbooks], and books with homemaking advice/tips from the interwar period (#tefan, 35). 245