So there's this block. A "block", in Eastern Europe, is what Americans call an apartment building. ("Block", to Americans, is a measure of urban distance. It has no meaning in most European cities. Another story.) "Block" sounds rather ugly to an American ear, but it's too often appropriate... most Communist-era apartment buildings are, indeed, pretty unattractive. We live in an older neighborhood of prewar houses set on tree-lined streets. Before the Commmunist takeover this was the edge of town, a comfortable area for Bucharest's doctors and lawyers. Most of the houses got nationalized under Communism; today, most of them are suffering from decades of deferred maintenance. The streets are potholed and the sidewalks so crumbled as to be almost impossible to navigate with a stroller. Still, it's a very nice neighborhood, and we've been very happy in our house.
The neighborhood is walled along one side by blocks... big apartment buildings built by the Communist government as Bucharest's population soared in the 1950s and '60s. This gives the area a funny feel sometimes, like it was walled off, neglected and half forgotten. Which I guess it was. A bit further west, along Strada Victorei and Bulevar Aviatorilor, are the big villas that used to belong to the Communist party elite. But our neighborhood was home to lower-level Party members, and it seems to have sort of fallen through the cracks... it wasn't scheduled for demolition (like so much of Bucharest was), but neither was it particularly well cared for. So the nice old houses peeled and sagged, but survived. Most of them were chopped up into smaller apartments. Sidewalks crumbled, ironwork rusted, gardens got very overgrown, but a time traveller from 1940 would still recognize the neighborhood... which is not true for a lot of Bucharest. Anyway, the block. If we look out our bedroom window, there's this one block squarely in the view. It's just south of Strada Lisbon, which puts it about two blocks... er, a quarter of a mile... um, say three or four hundred meters south of us. It's a big one, twelve or fifteen stories. Built in the late '60s or '70s, of a peculiar pale yellowish-orange brick. The block isn't beautiful. It's, well, a block. But it's been part of our landscape for two years now, and we've gotten used to it. And it has its moments. In autumn and winter, on clear afternoons, the long light of sunset hits the yellow-orange brick and briefly makes it lovely, like a mesa in New Mexico. On winter mornings, it blocks the sun for the first half hour or so, but then releases it; I remember a morning in January, watching the block's shadow pulling away from our street as the sun rose over it, and all the little birds telling each other to wake up! because the sun was here! And then, just a few minutes ago, I watched the full moon rise over the shoulder of the block -- slowly growing from a sliver, to a half-circle, then sailing off into the velvety summer sky. And that's all.