Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bucharest, A Taste of Honey

I bet Bucharest will be a celebrated hotspot for artists and writers, maybe in the 2020s--the same way Paris was in the 1920s. In just one day of hanging around this city, I’m impressed by the intellectual vibe. It’s as if all the artists and intellectuals are still thawing after the 42 years of Communist rule. People here seem cultured, well-educated, and authentic. Cool neighborhoods with galleries, bookstores, cafes, and bars are being developed and it will be interesting to check back and see what Bucharest is like ten years from now. That’s how long I think it might take for the rest of the world to catch on.

I just returned to my hotel room from an outdoor concert by Maria Răducanu, a soulful Romanian musician and songstress. She sat alone on a stage, accompanied only by her acoustic guitar. I could not understand any Romanian apart from her saying, “Good evening,” at the start of the concert (Bună seara), and “That’s all,” at the end (Asta e tot). But understanding wasn’t the aim. She conveys so much feeling in her music, which is similar to Fado, a type of Portuguese music I listen to frequently. Her voice fluttered and crescendoed, and did all kinds of tricks that her audience found delightful and sometimes amusing. Every time we expected a certain note to come out of her mouth, she defied the pattern and surprised us. She would emit a strange sound or exhale loudly or end the song abruptly. She also sang songs that were sweet and took listeners down a winding road, rather than an exhilarating zigzag.
She sang in Romanian mostly, a language that sounds like Italian mixed with Russian. A few songs were in French and a few words I was able to catch. Then she sang an emotional rendition of “A Taste of Honey,” one of my favorite songs. It was comforting to hear a song I knew so well. I always liked listening to Sarah Vaughan or Patricia Barber sing this song because their voices sound like honey dripping, but Maria Răducanu’s version sounded so . . . so fado. She sounded romantic and crazed, out of control, the opposite of what Americans singing that song tend to sound like.

At the end, she bowed and moved from the stage to an empty seat in the front row. She sat there until the persistent clapping persuaded her to do one more song. I approached her after the concert to thank her for her music. She held a large bouquet of lilies in one arm and took drags from her cigarette with her free hand. She was surprised that I was not Romanian and wondered if I had come to the concert by mistake. Not at all! The concert was unforgettable. I’m glad I came to Romania for several reasons: for the awesome bookstores and friendly bookstore staffs, for the coffee, for the rare books I found, but mostly for this beautiful outdoor concert with the full moon shining above. It was a perfect evening.

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