The time was early 1982. My dad must’ve taken the picture. We were in Predeal for a ski cup, as you can easily recognize by the numbers on the people’s torsos.
These were his colleagues at the factory where he had landed as an oil engineer.

Times were murky. We’d go skiing as often as possible, because there was no other distraction from the routine. We’d all stay at some villa, which once had belonged to some…bourgeois, before the war. I’ll always remember the spaces as - cold and somehow strange. We’d all sleep huddled together in the same room. In the mornings, us kids would watch the grown-ups trying to fry raw cut in half eggs, which had frozen between the windows over night, on a rather improvised camper heater, attached to a smuggled gas bottle someone had brought along.

1982. People in a distant galaxy, it seems, are shaking their limbs to the sound of MJ’s Thriller. Madonna makes her debut and gets her first contract signed, while everybody’s wearing terry cloth stripes on their wrists and heads, in horrid neon colours. Shoulder pads, acid washed jeans and starry patterns rule the dance floors.
Prince William gets born to Lady Di in June– another one to follow the hairdo- and fashion sins of the moment.

By the time we’re competing in the Carpathians, Argentinian troops invade the British Falkland islands, on February 4th.

Grace Kelly drives off a cliff in Monaco, later that year, in September.
The Delorean motor company goes bankrupt.
Kohl becomes chancellor of Germany in October.
In November, Leonid Breshnev dies in Moscow. Yuri Andropov, former head of the KGB, takes his place as head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Lech Walesa is released in Poland after a year in prison.

The mountains were quiet and peaceful. We’d go there on every possible occasion in winter, because Bucharest had become dark and increasingly menacing. Ceausescu and his lot had started demolishing whole neighbourhoods, in order to build a new stronghold against capitalism.
Excavators were ripping deep trenches in the mud, were once houses stood and kids played on the cobbled streets under age-old trees. The city turned more and more silent, dark and scared. Grocery stores and markets looked emptier every week, while the lines for sugar, eggs, sunflower oil and - even toilet paper - grew. People just stood in lines in front of random stores, hoping some of these products would miraculously show up in the shelves. Gas, water and power shortages contributed to the fight against the imperialist enemy.

The system was keeping everybody busy.

I remember those winters as cold and dark, at best grey. I remember my parents speaking less and looking more tired, worried.
Naturally, I remember feeling protected - a lot more than I feel today.

But…this was because I was a kid, not because times were in any way better. Adults would bear the weight of the worries.
I just used to linger in the staircase and ask ‘When are we leaving for the mountains?’ innumerable times, no matter who’d pass me by.

I might look like some kind of a princess on that pic, but my biggest worry was not loosing that leather bag - and the contest. Instead of feeling protected and surrounded by caring people, I’d compete, in my head, against anyone and everyone, except the tall guy, Gil, whom I always admired.

Dad and his mates would soon go back to working at their factory, which does not exist anymore. I’d start school that next fall - about the time Grace Kelly drove her car off that cliff.

A few years later, the Berlin wall falls and there’s major change in the air all over the world.

It’s been...33 years since then.


On your birthday

On your birthday, I thought of you.

I walked home round 3 am through some darkened alleys, which once were streets.
Now they’re hidden behind some ugly blocks.
I felt spring was in the air and I smelled the river,
as I walked beside its black water skirting the old town.
The streets were seething with Friday night fever.

I passed that huge line of cabs we’d never notice in our endless talks
on the way to my place, on nights like this one.

I’ve missed you so much since you’re gone.

On your birthday, I filled the house with white flowers.

But then I saw the mistletoe you hung over the doorframe.
I remembered your hands, as they were tying it there.
Your voice. Your skin.

You disappeared, as if I menaced your mere bones.

You walk on different streets now, under a different sky.
You carry this shadow around you, selling it off as freedom.
Deep inside you, you know. It’s slow of sale.

Yours must be a sad life.

Otherwise you’d have never come near me, in the first place.


On taming wild beasts

When I was small, people would ask: 'What do you want to be, when you grow up?'

There were always several answers in may head, so I'd need a moment to answer.
'Storm!' or 'a millionaire', I'd say sometimes.

Often I thought I'd like to be a tamer of wild beasts. To understand the languages of many and be able to handle their different ways. I'd be able to talk to owls and falcons, lizards and foxes, tigers and buffaloes...

Time passed by - and I became something else.
I do not want to tame beasts any more, I'd rather prefer to be like one.

A tiger, largely solitary, strong, unimpressed by ants or humans and their small struggle.
Minding his own business. Equally at ease on the ground, as in water.
Sharing food and territory amicably, whenever the case.
Just being.

'You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.' Mary Oliver, Wild Geese


We need to talk.

"You woke up, washed your face, put on your clothes,
went by your business,
Shaking hands, passing smiles, counting coin...
Got a secret?
Can't tell nobody.
Carry it close, dawn to dusk.
Pick up tomorrow,
All over again.
Ain't nothing at all."
Daughter Maitland - St. Louis Blues. 'Boardwalk Empire'

'We need to talk', she said.

By that time, there must have been nothing left to talk about, anymore.
Should have listened closer, way earlier', she thought.
'Should have said something, earlier', he thought.
Cracks were already going all the way through the sky.


The Pharmacy

'Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind'

Long time ago, before the World Wars, there were two German pharmacies in Bucharest. One was Thüringer’s, on 43, Elisabeta blvd. the other one was ‚La Ochiul lui Dumnezeu’ (‚At God’s Eye’), opposite to Stirbei Palace, on Calea Victoriei 138.

In 1939, on the occasion of the latter’s centennial anniversary at that location, a collection of ancient pharmaceutical devices was exhibited in the windows of the corner house: jars, tin pots and delicate scales, graters, mortar and pestle sets of various materials, to grind powders from which lozenges and ointments were made.

Behind the house, in a herb garden, various plants were cultivated for their specific uses:
thyme, for cough drops, sage, for disinfecting tinctures, several species of mint, for the stomach troubles, valerian, for treating insomnia, marjoram and lavender, against pain and unrest, rosemary, against migraines and blood pressure, dill and fennel for tummy teas, chervil for the eye bath.
Celandine (rostopasca), said to cure infections and even tumors. Centaury and artichoke thistle, as antioxidants, for liver, rein and blood problems. Horsetail, hemostatic and similar in effect with today’s aspirine. Yarrow (‚soldier's woundwort’, or ‚coada soricelului’), that would stop bleedings.

This phial contains a few age-old grains of juniper, called ‘Wachholder’ in German. It was probably taken to the household for the kitchen cupboard and thus escaped the pharmacy’s fate.

Mr. Carl Schuster, the owner, had come from Transylvania in 1829 and opened a pharmacy in Bucharest. His brother Gerhard had also opened one in Vienna, on 18, Währinger Strasse, under the name of ‘Zum Auge Gottes’ (which means the same in German).

Gerhard and his sons all died in the First World War. Today the Viennese pharmacy moved to 79, Nussdorferstrasse.

Carl Schuster married in 1840 in Brasov and brought his wife to live with him in Bucharest. Their granddaughter Friederike married in 1920. Her husband, Albert Prall, was a 2m-tall officer freshly out of the Theresian Military Academy in Vienna. He left the army to study and become a pharmacist as well, in order to be able take over ‘God’s Eye’ one day.
When the Second World War started, Martin Schuster, Carl’s son, was already too old to be enrolled. He spent most of his time at the pharmacy, trying to offer help to whomever needed it.

The tides had turned: Romania switched from neutral at first, to the side of the Axis Powers after the Soviet invasion in Bessarabia and Bucovina. On the 23rd of August 1944, King Michael I removed marshal Ion Antonescu and Romania joined the Allied Forces.
In a tempestuous withdrawal, during three days, the Luftwaffe covered Bucharest with a carpet of bombs.  (This, after the Allies had severely bombed the city on Easter that year.)

On August 25th an infantry platoon in company of two tank destroyers rounded up Legatia Germana at 174, Calea Victoriei (opened in 1880, became later Cazino Victoria). Not accepting the defeat, German Embassador Manfred von Killinger shot his secretary first - and then killed himself.

When the sirens started howling again the following night, Mr. Schuster refused to go to take shelter in the Stirbei Palace cellars, claiming that he had to be at the pharmacy, in case somebody would have needed help.
In an attempt to hit the 52.5m high building of the Telephone Palace, the National Theatre on Calea Victoriei was put to ashes. The whole neighbourhood was set ablaze, as the bombs also hit the gas pipes on the main streets.

Eventually, as people from the palace returned and insisted again, Martin Schuster joined them, but left the pharmacy unlocked: he pulled the door shut by its handle, saying that someone might still need bandages, disinfectant or pain killers.

One of the last bombs fell into the pharmacy’s ventilation shaft that night. It landed in the basement and detonated the building together with its herb garden.

Coming out of the shelter the next day, he found the door handle on the pavement.
That - and a bundle of papers that had been locked in a safe - were the only remains of ‘God’s Eye’.

Eventually, with the help of his son in law, he put together a new pharmacy, which was nationalized in 1948. While returning from work one night in March of 1952, Albert Prall was killed by drunken soldiers, together with his Turkish colleague, whom he was trying to protect from being bullied in the street.

But this is a different story.
Albert Prall’s daughter is my grandma.
My mother was born in 1948.