Our neighborhood was a busy and loud place, built in the 1970s for young families who were looking to find a place of their own, and for those who had recently moved to the city. Apartment buildings were shooting out from the ground like mushrooms after the rain. With the population in the neighborhood being very young, there was an army of kids constantly playing outside: screaming, laughing, running around.
Most people had a black and white television set at home that they often had to physically abuse in order to work, but there were no programs to watch anyway, besides one hour of “news” (Telejurnal) in the evening and one hour of Romanian cartoons (Mihaela) at 1:30 pm on Saturdays. That was the only time when the neighborhood was quiet because all the kids were watching Mihaela. Color TV was only a term in vocabulary, such as rocket or America, or kiwi: we knew that they existed, but we never actually saw them.
The architecture (if one can use this word) of the neighborhood was typical of the communist way of panel construction, with the scope of fitting in as many people as possible in as many small apartments as possible. The blocks were usually divided into two categories: the 1st category apartments were somehow more generously built. Usually the difference was noticeable in the size of the kitchen and of the bathroom, but also the rooms were slightly bigger than the second category apartments.
Typically, the people belonging to the “higher” social class (such as doctors, teachers, or people working in the administrative offices of the state) lived in 1st category apartments. And they were proud of it.
My parents owned an apartment on the second floor of a 2nd category panel building: they were no academicians. They were simple working people who were able to afford a three-bedroom apartment, which was a generous accomplishment for a family of only three. It was not uncommon for families who had between two and five children to live in two-bedroom 2nd category apartments.
I had my own room and liked it, although I would have not minded sharing it with siblings. I was quite unhappy about not owning siblings and I made an annoying habit of asking uncomfortable questions to my mom about the reason why all my friends had siblings, but me. In the last 20 years she made her own habit of asking me why everybody had kids but me. So, I guess we are even now.
My room was a relatively small room, but more than big enough for a kid. It was directly opposite to the entrance door of the apartment, so I was always aware of what was going on in the stairway. I heard who was coming home drunk (although usually it did not matter in which room or in which apartment you were to hear that), I heard who was whispering gossips to somebody else, I heard who was laughing or crying, and I heard when foreign people were climbing the stairs.
Our kitchen was near my room and it was very small. When my mother was working at the kitchen table and I wanted to go to the seat next to the window, she nearly had to climb on the table so that I could fit and pass behind her.
It was a good seat: from there one had an eagle eye view of the neighborhood. You were in the middle of everything when you were sitting on that chair. It was the best seat in the whole apartment: my mom and I loved it. My father could not care less. I believe, I never saw him sitting on that chair. For him, being in the kitchen meant merely having a meal.
Near the kitchen we had a small bathroom with a toilet that had the water tank on the top of the room, a sink and a bathtub. I remember that, after thorough research, my parents were able to find a full-sized washing machine that had a slightly different shape than the usual washing machines that fit in the bathroom. It was a Romanian brand washing machine that was presumably designed to fit such spaces.
The frame covering the pipes of the bathroom was made of cheap plastic in a strange mustard color. It was however practical as you could easily remove it in case you needed access to the water pipes, which happened very often as we were repeatedly flooded by the apartments above us. During those days, the bathroom always smelt like a moist wine cellar and I was afraid to go in alone. With the frames removed by my parents so that the walls could dry, the pipes around the sink looked like the intestines of a giant monster that smelt bad and gave me the shivers. So, I was inclined to finish my business even faster than usual so that I would not have to spend more time than necessary in the bathroom.
In the small hall that connected the kitchen and the bathroom with the living room (we called it the big room) there was a miniature pantry. As it was awkwardly taking up space with no visible advantage, most of the families decided to get rid of it. People simply ripped down the walls, without really making sure that no unwanted consequences resulted from it.
The big room was the place where guests were seated when they visited. There were lots of visits those days. People kept showing up at doors with or without reason and were invited into the big room. It was something given, it was normal, and I often had to run out to the store (Alimentara) in order to buy cakes or something to drink (e.g. Aurora – a soft drink similar to Sprite) for our guests. Hospitality was and still is a huge tradition in Romania that is kept religiously.
My parents used to often organize parties in the big room: there were lots of food and music. Sometimes people came to play cards or rummy, or just simply to talk and dance. They were very pleasant times and as a child I was constantly looking forward to the next guest. It was also normal that neighbors dropped by unannounced, so the apartment stayed seldom without guests.
Passing through the big room, you finally arrived at the third room of the apartment, the back small room. There was a balcony connected to it that was altered into a sort of winter garden where my mom had her huge collection of flowers. Half of the space was repurposed into a pantry to make up for the room that was lost after tearing down the hall pantry. Almost each family put windows on their balcony in order to simulate more space in the apartments: either to create storage space or even a whole new room.
Many years have passed since we were kids and our families lived in the neighborhood. Once communism was erased, our country took a slow development curve. Most of the buildings from those times still look the same but showing visible traces of time.
A few years back a new trend came into being in our town. A private construction firm had the idea to take over the renovation of the panels. In return, the administration had to agree that this firm built a new floor on the top of the blocks for its own use. The firm did a real good job and the old panels received a face lift looking quite chic.
When the responsible of our block of apartments was contacted by this firm, he was immediately against the renovation works and there was no way to convince him to agree. When asked, why he would not want to agree, this person responded that he did not want his ground-floor apartment to sink into the basement once a new floor was built on the top of the building.