Stories from Bucharest. Marginal People

Stories from Bucharest.
Marginal People

coordonator: Andrei MĂRGULESCU
text: Oana Maria ANGHEL, Andreea DOBRESCU, Ioana IORDACHE,
Andreea MORO, Eliza PALOȘ, Ioana RIZEA, Tudor RUSU, Patricia SAVU

© Andreea Dobrescu

Andrei Mărgulescu: THE CONTEXT
In the company of different year student architects attending „Ion Mincu” University of Architecture and Urbanism in Bucharest, I like exploring the city, sometimes as part of a photography course, other times on the spur of the moment, but always together with our group, „Stories of the City”. We take interest in marginal, unwanted and highly ambiguous places, where some urban „myths” are rarely confirmed and most often ruled out. We always try to keep an open mind and ignore any predefined study criteria as we prefer to roam freely among city fragments. We always get to speak to local people and find out stories about life, dwelling and neighbourhoods. In this collage-article, some of the students accompanying me on these urban adventures put their soul into their writing and captured photographs of this kind of direct, spontaneous, personal and memorable experience grounded on the interaction with people living in the outskirts of Bucharest.

They are poor, ragged and don’t have much to hope for. This is what most people seeing these photographs would think. However, their world is fascinating for me. Although at first glance it’s very different from the environment I was raised in, interacting with them reminded me of my childhood and the rare moments I enjoyed the freedom to run and play in nature. Their smile is genuine and they welcomed us so warmly that I was utterly impressed. They don’t have many things but are eager to share the little they have with the others, starting with this huge playground. (Andreea Dobrescu)

He’s called Ion and his surname sounds Transylvanian Saxon. He was in his early twenties when he first came here. He lives with his wife in a house at the boundary between a field and „India” area (that’s how locals call it) in Industriilor, Bucharest. He has been raising sheep out here for about 50 years. We greeted us with curiosity and warmth even though he was sitting at the table with his son who was celebrating his birthday. His children don’t raise sheep, one of his daughters works at the bank while the other one has a job in a shop. His son is married and is busy taking care of his own family so he only pays him occasional visits, as Mister Ion puts it: „We meet when we eat, we duck when we work”. In the past, he had about six hundred sheep and goats, but they ran low and now he has only about two hundred. He has some pigeons too, but his main income source comes from producing and selling dairy. He says things go well, he has a shop at Trapezului. At first, he was based in Sălăjan Market, but he left because the owner of the space pulled some strings and he couldn’t stay there anymore. Seeing our curiosity, he asked us if we would like to taste his cheese. We accepted, so he brought us almost a kilo. Straightforwardly and naturally, a few foreign colleagues offered to buy some, so he dropped the price a bit. Mister Ion lives next door to his brothers. One of them died of alcoholism last year. The new houses and apartment buildings in the neighbourhood don’t bother him because that’s where some of his clients come from. In his courtyard there are cameras, spotlights and a lot of dogs that chase away the potential thieves coming from „India” area. Apart from that, everything is all right. The urban filed unwinds before his eyes, he has a household packed with animals and tranquillity. The ideal picture. (Ioana Iordache)

Many would think life flows differently on the outskirts of Bucharest. Perhaps they’re right. The former industrial areas generated surrounding white areas – buffer zones – bordering the islands of urban habitation. The larger part of these spaces are vacant and unbuilt, giving way to a „renaturalization” of the land. By its very nature, vegetation makes its presence felt among the huge deserted spaces. This is the case of Industriilor area, where a large field welcomes the people around and at its „core”.Whether it is used by children as a playground or for other purposes, like a warehouse for storing building supplies and even things some people throw and other see as treasures, this space is adopted by people who reintegrate it into the city and make it usable. We found out some interesting stories, like the one of the man in the photo, who is native to Eforie. He likes walking around in the company of his extremely friendly and sociable she-dog on this big open field at the edge of Industriilor neighbourhood. He has been living in Bucharest for a long time and he has recently moved to a block here, at the edge of the field, to enjoy nature and strolling. He wished people wouldn’t degrade the place by throwing waste from the ongoing constructions in the area! (Andreea Moro)

© Andrei Mărgulescu

Initially, there were several children playing football on the urban field in front of „India”, the way locals call the small improvised settlement. At first, when they saw us approaching, they instinctively started to hide out and their mothers came to take them inside. I think this gesture is indicative of how they are treated by people around them, especially strangers. Two of these little ones, out of bravery or just curiosity, remained there to greet us. We bent over to them so as to show our good intentions and make their acquaintance. It was the beginning of a friendship, even if only for one evening. The photo shows Cristina, 12, and Claudiu, 9; they are not brothers, but she said they all live there like one big family. Ever since the first five minutes, Claudiu showed us, very offhandedly, the scars left by his heart surgery, he told us about his mother’s condition and every day hardships without any trace of self-pity, on the contrary, very calmly and maturely, as if we were dealing with ordinary things.

During the day they work on their neighbours’ land to earn some money and in the afternoon they play. They don’t go to school, although they would really like that. Cristina is passionate about sport, we could see that as the football match was heating up, but, being modest, she said she couldn’t play well. The thing that impressed me was that she wasn’t sad, but lively and even happy with the little she had. She even sang us a local carol and a „traditional” melody. She told Nicole it would be very nice if we could live there together. When it came down to their house, Cristina asked me: „Do you have a shower?”. To me, this experience was a lesson I should have learnt in faculty, but which I only understood here: the notion of community. Despite the fact that we marginalize them, I saw there truly free people having an entire field for a playground, using their creativity to recycle the „waste” others generate and having the maturity to accept life’s hardships and embrace the joy for what comes next. I am delighted by the existence of these neat and beautiful people who wish to communicate and reveal their true selves; all they want is a chance to be heard out and demonstrate they are just like us; they are our equals, even though they don’t live in the city centre, among often too enslaved and hurried people. (Oana Maria Anghel) 


We are about to enter the most ill-famed street in Ferentari. The plaster is peeling off the block speckled with parabolic dishes. Yet the improvised balconies and the line-drying clothes next to the windows tell a much more domestic story. All of a sudden, we hear children’s laughter coming from behind. Two kids, a girl and a boy, are racing and smiling from ear to ear. They have nothing to do with regional policies, quarrels and disputes or any kind of adult problems. They do what they know best: they play. And their game reminds me of the races I used to do when I was a child. (Eliza Paloș)
Beyond the improvised fence there is a playground. The swings seem to suggest we are indeed dealing with „a playground”, although I am not sure the term matches reality. A large pile of rubbish lies between the fence and the swings while a little girl is playing at the back. The children’s space is invaded by the adults’ refuse. It is more than a metaphor, it is the real world the little ones have to face. Nonetheless, one way or another, life goes on. The game endures and the children play. Even in this place. Even under these circumstances. However and wherever, children carry their purity with them everywhere. So that life may go on. (Eliza Paloș)
This is not an easy life. A lady with speaking eyes tells me how she supports herself and her ailing husband with a pension of five millions (in old currency). She has a son who doesn’t help her as he is abroad, but she doesn’t condemn him because „he does have a point”. Indeed, this is not an easy life. There is drama everywhere, you can see it, fell it as it flashes and pours out of every hole. Nevertheless, life goes on, drawing on a force whose source I found it hard to understand. There is something artless, free and easy about these people and places that goes beyond drama. Beyond all, life follows its course and local architecture moulds to this dynamic and continuous process. My impression is that, due to improvisation, what architecture does is serve rather than compel as is sometimes the case with „author architecture”. One last lesson stemming from this experience: people’s generosity. Despite life’s hardships, there is room for jokes, good will, understanding and hospitality. What excuse can people like us, who enjoy more opportunities, make for not being equally open and generous? For not making better use of our time, energy and resources? (Eliza Paloș) 

You don’t get to know Ferentari if you are a tourist in Bucharest. Or an inhabitant of Bucharest. There are no tourist objectives, no places to visit or things to learn from the tourist guides. And even if there were any, they are too far from the city centre and you don’t have time to walk such a long distance. Even so, you won’t reach Ferentari because nobody will recommend you to take a stroll down here. I have been here twice. What have I found? People with stories instead of tourist objectives. People wait for you in front of their block, right on the stairs, on the improvised benches, at the corner of the street or even at the apartment windows. As soon as they see you, they ask who you are and where you are heading, then they start telling you about them, actually about their sorrows. The noise and all the hustle and bustle coming from different groups of people speak about the use of public space and about unified communities belonging to a neighbourhood. That is, about how difficult it is for several groups of people, from children to adults, to use public space without getting into each other’s way. And they actually manage to do that!
(Ioana Rizea)

When you get to Văcăreşti Delta, you must make a stop at the blue-fenced house, the one on the edge of the pier. There are several houses on the same side, but it is only here that you can find out stories different from yours. Although in front of the gate all is quiet, behind it we can hear children’s voices. They don’t ask you to come into their courtyard or let you in the house if you invite yourself. It’s only natural since we were strangers. During one of our visits, the eldest daughter (or so she seemed) replied that she wanted to announce her father before letting us in. He was on his way home, but even so, she suggested we call him on his mobile to ask for permission. As his phone was turned off we had to wait by the gate – we, on one side, the children, on the other. They were cheerful and talkative and we were all curios: we wanted to know them, they wanted to know us and we all wanted to know where each of us goes to school.(Ioana Rizea)

The periphery is not the place to look for villas or expensive cars, but happy people who work hard every day in order to carry on. They are the ones who learnt to fight. This is where Cătălin lives in what is to me „a collage house”. A space he himself conceived and built comprising only one room containing a sofa, a few furniture items and a table with lots of dishes on it. He bought some bricks to start working on the stove and when we arrived he had just finished pouring the screed. A very industrious man who experienced many hardships and is pleased because he managed to build by himself what he has now. A man who feels that what he built „belongs to him” and it’s „home”. It’s as simple as that. All the objects in the house have special significance to him. Some of the slabs he used for closing the perimeter were saved from the fire that had consumed his old house, lying just a few metres away from the current one. The candle on the table is the one that had burned the previous evening, he probably worked late and needed light. He worked abroad to earn some extra money, but there is no place like „home”! (Patricia Savu)
A sunset revealing a reality where joy is the essence of life and games and playing shape and complement poverty and sorrows. They are more than friends, they are family. They go to school together, help their parents with housework without ever forgetting to rejoice. They are free. The playground exceeds the space of the courtyard, the pier turns into a territory populated with dolls, toy cars and even schoolbags. I shall never forget the smile of a girl who, although at first seemed afraid to talk to us, once she gained confidence, she told us she really likes going to school and Romanian is her favourite subject. Furthermore, she opened the door to show us the courtyard. It was a small space, I remember there was a mattress in the middle and a huge pile of toys on it. Her brother was right beside her, hiding from us behind the gate. They have been living on the pier of Văcărești Natural Park since they were born, they go to the „Delta” just to play or fetch water. They live in an improvised house, but they don’t complain, they are glad to have a roof over their heads. They can’t afford to wish for more because at their age they are mature enough and aware of the possibilities. Their parents try to protect them from everyday worries and teach them how to stand up to a society strongly influenced by prejudices. Although their mother and father weren’t at home, the girl gave us her father’s phone number so we can ask for permission to enter the courtyard. This says a lot about the manner these children are brought up, but above all, shows me they are simple people who don’t really need any help, all they need is to be integrated and treated as equals.(Patricia Savu)

In Sălăjan, a street leads me to the churchyard, and all it takes for the image below is the kind call of a lady. We are invited to have some of the koliva she personally made and we are given a glass of water even before we start feeling thirsty. Meanwhile, she tells us about the church and the neighbourhood and the fact that „there are good people” here. (Tudor Rusu)
In Sălăjan, as in so many other peripheries, people still tell stories. On Sunday mornings, the people in the neighbourhood gather around bottles of beer and a story told by one of them. People wave their hands about, raise their voices and lead their lives in this space avoided by the common inhabitants of Bucharest. Here, in the periphery, you often notice open, curious and kind people who, as soon as they catch sight of you, they look forward to hearing your story. The plastic table behind the garages becomes a local landmark, a centre, a meeting place.
(Tudor Rusu)



Comments are closed.

Powered by Jasper Roberts - Blog