When Big Is Not Beautiful: The House of the People
Translated by Adam J. Sorkin (verse) and Ernest H. Latham, Jr. (collage) with the author
THE PEOPLE’S HOUSE is:
Bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The largest in the world after the Pentagon.
The most massive after the Temple of Quetzalcoatl,
the Aztec feathered serpent god in Teotihuacan.
The heaviest building in the world.
It sinks into the ground 6 mm yearly.
7 times as big as Versailles.
Volume 2,550,000 m3.
Height 92 m underground; 86 m above the ground.
The People’s House and neighborhood cover 7 km2 of the city: the area of Venice.
The most expensive administrative building in the world.
Estimate in 2006: $ 4 billion.
The actual cost has never been established.
Style: totalitarian kitsch
Media magnate Rupert Murdoch wanted to buy the People’s House in 1990. He offered one billion US $. He was turned down.
The Japanese offered more. They were turned down.
We do not sell our country, they said.
There were proposals for the building to be turned into a casino, a museum of communism, a Dracula theme park or the mall of malls.
Today, the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Constitutional Court, the International Conference Center, the Center for International Police Cooperation are housed there but hardly occupy 30% of the People’s House.
The building has not yet been completed.
Applaud in this hall, the guide says, and we visitors clap our hands.
A strange feeling to applaud on command as he always used to be cheered.
We applaud here, and in his palace of insane size
our applause sounds strange, like the remnant of homage to the crazy little man
who nourished himself on applause, even stored on magnetic tape
and replayed in a loop.
We applaud a ghost – we’re a handful of visitors from several countries,
our shy ovation echoes as if we numbered a thousand or more.
In the People’s House, see, there wouldn’t have been any need
for the thunder of handclapping recorded in the Concert Hall of the National Radio!
The acoustics were specifically engineered, according to some,
so he could be heard everywhere: and once he clapped
the whole country would obey.
We take this applause test. The walls
return our sound multiplied from another world.
The touch of our palms sets spectral echoes free.
With a poisonous aftertaste.
We applaud as a game. And the game is embarrassing.
It spreads crooked smiles across our faces.
Left behind by those who were forced to move to their assigned small apartments in highrises, with what little from their previous households that they could fit into the allotted about 100 ft2 per person, their dogs simply stayed.
Howling in a wasteland, many of them kept watch over the ravaged patch of land where their house had been. Raising a heartrending lament for the masters who were no longer.
Some dogs remained loyal to the ghost of the house that they continued to see with empty, haunted eyes. Others invented a purpose for themselves – desperately they ran after cars and buses, to
chase danger and ugliness away from people.
A generation or two later, an atavistic instinct of survival revealed itself. The survivors gathered in groups, becoming packs of city dogs, occasionally murderous: especially at night.
For night is a different world.
Our neighborhood dogs now know how to cross boulevards, they obey the traffic lights.
They stay with people who scavenge in the garbage, sharing the goodies they find in the depths of the cans and dumpsters.
They choose new masters, mostly the homeless, and they sleep in the streets side by side with them. They beg together, dog and man, they keep each other warm, no matter how bitter the winter.
Down passageways, on sidewalks, on steaming manhole covers around the city.
The heart of the city keeps sliding, the soil slippery over underground waters
with people seeking refuge,
the heart of the city keeps skidding downwards, burying itself under the sliced hill
where before the demolition houses could barely be seen among the trees
apple, cherry, peach, quince, houses with deep cellars
plentiful gardens – a cornucopia the green belt encircling the city.
These gardens once yielded rich harvests, provided for a multitude of people
– now replaced by rows of high-rises that will quickly age and turn ugly.
Lanes with trees arching above them, linden and honeysuckle
remain as wraiths for those who, fewer and fewer, can still conjure them in memory.
The heart of the city unravels, hides, gathers itself up again unwillingly, moves on,
bones relocated when the maniacal leader has ordered hanging lakes like Babylonian gardens
the heart of the city sinks with the dry bones left behind, crushed under concrete
above which waters flow and gush.
In spring, fresh shoots grow, streams of blossoms pour forth, even though
the caterpillar tracks of bulldozers will level them once again
The heart of the city flies to the four points of the compass
with the dust and grit that until yesterday had been houses
the heart of the city bleeds in the huge buckets filled with boiling hot cement
that froze in minutes on the higher floors in the deadly winter cold of 1984.
The worker at his designated level stirs the mixture in the bucket a bit
and hurriedly splashes the icy coating on the walls of the new apartment building
from which next spring large chunks of wall are going to crash down
on those who will have been compelled to move there.
Oh, the heart of the city throws parties till dawn, under an orgy of strobes, under neon signs,
in buildings that have waited for years to be torn down and now
are almost ready to crumble on their own:
beneath the stucco wing of an angel forgotten by his masters
a tree sends out its roots.
The heart, the heart that sank again last night, when they demolished the most gorgeous
Belle-Époque villa in the neighborhood, which had just been restored.
The heart of the city, this heart
that had hoped Ceaușescu took all the evil with him
wherever he departed to.