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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Sketches from Bucharest

Updated: May 23

I was travelling to Romania for a “YEUF project” event – my main mission was to record video interviews for the documentary I am making for our EU elections voter mobilisation campaign – but inevitably, the trip incorporated a variety of other activities.

The journey started out badly, as my travel curse seemed to be operating in full force. I was taking a 6:30am flight from Stansted airport, so I stayed at a nearby hotel (a 15-minute bus ride away). The bus was supposed to arrive at 4:20am and there were a group of us waiting – it arrived 15 minutes late and did not stop (there were people standing on board, so I assume it was full). The next bus was not due for another two hours, so we immediately tried to call Ubers. After another 15 minutes, one finally arrived and four of us managed to cram inside – I arrived at Stansted with 1 hour and a half to catch the flight – which would have been plenty of time, but the queues were ridiculously long and my bag was pulled out at security, so had to wait in another queue for it to be laboriously searched. I had just enough time to grab a (much needed) coffee before boarding the plane – overall a very stressful airport experience in my sleep-deprived state. Things got worse.

The flight was late arriving into Bucharest airport - so, I had to rush to travel across the city to the Romanian Parliament where the opening ceremony of the International Forum on Modern Democracy was taking place. I found a nearby café where I could get changed into my “formal” clothes (I hate getting dressed up in a suit - but I had a colourful, floral skirt which was smart enough, and I thought I could get away with wearing it). The Romanian Parliament is a monstrously sized communist building and, I stupidly went to the wrong entrance before finding someone who could point me to the correct entrance – this involved a lot of walking, dragging my suitcase in tow. I was late for the start of the event by this point.

Whilst listening to the speeches, I checked my Booking. com app to find out how to check into the accommodation I had booked. Since I needed to be in the MA course committee meeting at 5:30pm, and I couldn’t do it in the Parliament building (we needed to leave by 6pm) I was hoping to check-in to my accommodation beforehand. Unusually (for an apartment) there was no information about check-in and after sending multiple messages and calling their number a few times, I received a reply at 5pm to say that “there is a problem with the apartment and we can no longer host you”. At this point, I tried not to panic – it rarely helps. I found some alternative accommodation on the app and booked it before leaving the parliament to go and sit in the park opposite to do the course committee meeting. It was a bit of a ridiculous situation, but the weather was good and my mobile connection was sufficient that it worked.

Some street art I particularly liked.


Afterwards I headed to the second accommodation that I had booked, which was very basic but met my needs. The only problem was the young, male receptionist who appeared and immediately asked me if I was a “British girl” – I knew he was going to be trouble. Then, every time I walked through the reception area, he tried to get my attention and invite me to “have a chat” with him – no thanks. He also asked me why I had used the stairs instead of the lift, which indicated that he had been watching me on CCTV since the elevator was not visible from the reception area – “I have legs, I can use them” – was my curt reply. Unfortunately, he wasn’t picking up on my “leave me the fuck alone vibes” and continued to pester me – I wouldn’t have been too bothered if it wasn’t for the fact that I knew he likely had access to a key to my room. I left the key in the lock overnight, so that it couldn’t be opened from the other side, but I was still too anxious to sleep. I kept waking up worrying about it.

 

I also phoned Booking .com customer services to explain what had happened with the first accommodation, they said they would process a refund on the first booking, but it would take up to two weeks. Which is especially annoying since I am waiting for travel reimbursements from four different trips and now having cash flow issues as a result… Which is not helping my already extremely high stress levels. Combined with the social media trolling and street harassment (more on that later) I genuinely feel like I am on the brink of a nervous breakdown at this point, but I know that I can’t take a break for another three weeks (until after the EU elections). I know my thoughts are descending into negative spirals and I’m struggling to stop it from happening. I just want to be at home with my cat.

'The little things matter'.


In the morning, afte catching up on urgent work (for my other job), I headed over to the conference where I was due to speak on a panel discussion about youth engagement. I was delighted to see some “craftivism” on display, as they were giving out hand-made blue and yellow crochet pin badges to all the attendees. I had only been given a few days notice that they wanted me to speak and I hadn’t had time to prepare my speech. So, I just bullshitted something on the spot – which the co-ordinator of the YEUF project insisted we filmed for the documentary I will be editing shortly.

Posing in the YEUF glasses with the Danish project partner


Fortunately, I’ve generally had good feedback on my contribution (including a young woman telling me that she “loved my outfit and my hair” and “she was so proud of me” before giving me a hug – which was incredibly touching). A couple of guys on Twitter told me that I “ummed” and “erred” too much – which, is unsurprising given that I hadn’t written or rehearsed what I was going to say in advance. I don’t think it was so bad that the footage is unusable. A few supportive women replied to these comments accusing the men of being unnecessarily critical and “mansplaining” at me.



Afterwards, we had a YEUF project meeting with the co-ordinators and changemakers and discussed the plan around dissemination of the documentary. Afterwards I filmed interviews with a few of them, I was especially impressed by the Portuguese partner who is arguably the most active and effective of all the partner organisations, especially at reaching voters from deprived communities, and explained the “street work” methodology behind their approach incredibly well. The following day, I returned to the conference to record the remaining interviews which I needed – unfortunately, the participants weren’t keen on being part of the ‘It’s Time To Vote’ music video, so I wasn’t able to get the footage I needed for that project. So, I need to come up with a creative solution to this problem (which will probably be; recording lip sync footage, using more B-roll footage from events and/or trying to get people to hold the lyric cards during my performance in Munich).


Art Exhibitions

 

Due to the very cheap accommodation and the flight being much cheaper on Monday, I had booked to stay the weekend in Bucharest. Although, I desperately regretted this choice once I was there – knowing that I was going to have to leave again on Wednesday for London and Belfast. But since I was here, in addition to working from a delightful series of cafés, I decided to take the opportunity to visit a couple of exhibitions and make some sketches for my travel journal. The first exhibition, Galeria Galateca was a bit odd, consisting of a few tech-art installations – the main attraction seemed to be the shop which sold work by local artists – I wasn’t too impressed by the quality of anything. So, I wandered into the old town where there was an ‘Art Safari’ which sounded like a bit of a gimic, but turned out to be quite good – I wrote a separate blog post about the Art Safari, as well as the European Art Museum which I saw on the Sunday.

 

Street Harassment

 

My friend who visited Romania last year had reminded me to expect a significant level of street harassment after relaying her experiences. So, I was not at all surprised by the constant, low level of gendered abuse I experienced throughout the duration of my visit. Which included cars honking at me, men shouting things to get my attention and one guy who was following me, stopping when I stopped to take a photo of some street art and then starting walking again when I started – he then said something to me in Romanian, which I didn’t understand - at which point I ran. This shit depresses the hell out of me. I didn’t stay out after dark any night because I was too afraid.

The photo I was taking when the guy started talking to me.


Sketches

 

Due to the anticipated and delivered street harassment, I didn’t feel comfortable making any sketches outdoors, in-situ. So, the following were made from photos I took:

These clocks are located in most of the parks in Bucharest - I find them extremely charming. Some guy on Facebook commented on this sketch to mansplain at me that there is 'Too much foliage behind the clock' - opinion noted.

This building is the 'National Military Club' and guarded by soldiers. I like how the sketch has come out in a slighty aggressive style.

A war memorial in one of the parks - also guarded by soldiers (I guess they need somethong to do...).

One of the many, many churches in Bucharest. And another one below.


Trolling

 

I edited and subtitled a 2-minute video from my impromptu speech in Bucharest, which has attracted plenty of trolls on TikTok and Twitter (as per usual for these platforms). It is much the same abuse as what I usually get; accusing me of being undemocratic; telling me to ‘piss off to the EU’; calling me names ‘an attention-seeker’, ‘a bed-wetter’, ‘a fuck-wit’, ‘a fool’, ‘a div’, ‘loser’, ‘deluded person’, ‘a child’ and ‘a sad sad sad sad lonely lady’; several misogynistic comments ‘pathetic little girl’ and ‘strip off that’d overcome my apathy’; mental health slurs ‘u belong in a [sic] asylum’, ‘seek help’, ‘loony politics’; with plenty of memes throw in for good measure. I don’t usually engage with the trolls but since this video was relating to the YEUF project, it was in my interest to boost the “impressions” as this is one of the project KPIs – and the more trolling I receive, the more impressions we achieve. It’s rather depressing how unimaginative they are with their abuse, but I guess at least I’ve “broken out of the echo chamber” and annoyed them. I just wish I had a thicker skin to cope with it.









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