Bucharest, Fall 2002:
The broad avenues lined with statues demonstrating both classic and modern influences do indeed give one a feeling of culture, as remembered and conveyed by stone and bronze.
Bucharest's Old Town, like Wall Street to the USA, is Romania's banking center.
Older architectural buildings aren't limited to the center of town, and house not only banking systems working to modernize, but their law school. This building is festooned with statues of great legalists like Solomon, Cicero and Justinian. The name they give this institution translates literally into English as: University of Straightness.
This city that is the center of political, economic and legal power is also the center of religious authority.
The Romanian Orthodox Church has its own Patriarchal Archbishop who is the supreme religious authority for Orthodox Romanians.
The 'Patriarchal Palace' was the Romanian Parliament until the mid 1990s. At that point, they moved into the People's Palace, and gave this building to the church. They now use it for ecumenical conferences.
If you look closely, you can see where the current inscription has been carved over the older functions of this building.
In the same courtyard stands the Patriarchal Cathedral. Not the biggest or even fanciest of Romanian churches, but the one which has been traditionally the seat of the Patriarch.
The artifacts inside impress the eye but not the historian -- they date mostly from the 20th century. Though the advantage to that is they are big and grand -- the four portraits on the iconostasis claim to be the largest enamel-on-gold icons anywhere.
Wending between monumental buildings in the old town is the quaint covered shopping street of Pasajul Villacros (Covered Passage) where locals shoe needs are mixed with tourists kitch needs (note the fez on the Nubian pointing the way to the Cafenea Egipteana).
With the holidays coming, every shop owner must scrub their windows.
Sprinkled throughout the outskirts of Bucharest's center are a consellation of grand and eloquent basilicas.
The appearance of Celtic roots in the iconography of cross carvings has been often noted, but rarely explained.
One block from the financial district is a tiny gem.
Glimpsed from the outside, the Stavropoleos church seemed to promise riches to eyes that seek beauty.
But there was a wedding the first weekend we visited, and we couldn't enter.
So upon our second trip to Bucharest, we had to return to explore the inside.
Even though still under renovation, we were not disappointed, except that the church's inside is so small, and therefore contained less gorgeous gothic frescoes than it might otherwise display
The Stavropoleos courtyard is a place where a whisper seems like a garish intrusion and where serenity crowds out our diurnal confusion as if a mist of calm meditation were rising from the mottled stones.
Alongside the venerable churches, tucked away in snaking, cobble-stoned lanes, we often gain glimpses of the struggle waging across this land.
Old and new vie for supremacy in the minds of Romanians who dream of attaining New World riches in order to return home and retire in Old World style.
It's safe to say that Old World style won't be what it used to be now that the church chandelier is plugged into the New World wall socket.
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