The doors of the 104 bus swing open, and ten people get off the back of the bus. I step up into the warm fug of the 7.45 am bus and jam myself in with the other people getting on.
Some of the young professional women who live in my apartment block wear heady, expensive perfumes like opium, which linger in the lift and stick in the back of my throat on transit to the ground floor on my way out. However, I do not notice these smells on the bus, so I assume they do not travel to work by bus.
I am experimenting in making a curry sauce with the minimal Asian seasoning options available in Bucharest so I imagine my hair smells of curry spices. I have intentionally reduced my personal garlic in-take in order to lessen the likelihood of emitting the pungent aroma of the vampire killing member of the onion family, as I am often being squashed into someone else’s armpit on my morning journey, and someone is often squashing into me. But I doubt anyone has noticed that I have subtly altered my diet, for the benefit of my fellow travellers.
Few younger people travel on the bus at this time in the morning. Instead it seems to be mostly people in their mid-forties and older people. Hardly anyone seems to wear formal office wear and most people seem to be in jeans or comfortable clothes with dark hats of different shapes and long coats covering up their winter clothes. I feel quite smart in my teaching gear.
A woman in a seat by the window passes her travel card to someone next to her, who passes it to someone else who passes it to a person next to the card validation machine. Once the person at the end of the chain has validated the card it is sent safely back to the woman next to the window. This appears to me as a smoothly mechanical act of cooperation.
My sixth-formers, who are privileged young people, have told me they do not travel on the bus. They listen patiently when I mention my observations about the unwritten norms of Bucharest bus travel, once again. When getting off, people say ,“trebuie să coborâți” which means, “have to get off”, people say this one stop before they get off, and before that, they will swap places with you, to stand in an invisible holding section near the doors, where those who want to exit usually stand. Since I am used to just moving to get off when the bus stops, without complicated preambles, it takes several weeks to get used to the right way to do it. Also my method of getting off involves saying, “pardon” a lot. Frequent pardons are probably unnecessary, but that is the peculiar English way of moving about which I have adopted. I could probably improve upon this, with guidance from a Romanian person.
I sometimes see older women with freshly cut flowers on the bus, presumably taking the flowers to market. People take extra care not to bump into their precious wares. I guess that these cut stems probably have a total sale value equivalent to seven to ten pounds.
Every morning we go around a huge round-about and many people cross themselves several times. At first I thought people were doing this as they were worried about the bus driver’s ability to navigate the road which seemed odd, as I have found the bus drivers in Bucharest to be without exception, very good. However my friend informed me that followers of the Eastern Orthodox religion do this, because they are showing their respect to God when they are passing a church.
One morning I see two builders, probably ten years younger than me, in their mid-thirties sitting in front of me, on their way to work. They are both slender and their faces are furrowed with lines. I think that they have probably experienced some hardships. I believe I look younger than them and I think of the responsibilities of feeding the children they probably have and I wonder how it is possible to get by on the average builders’ wage which is probably the minimum wage of 322 euros per month. There are plenty of signs of regeneration and new building works occurring in Bucharest, but it must be hard to recruit people to work in the Romanian construction industry, as although wages are rising, they are still a lot lower than in other European countries.
Many people on the bus are using their phones. I am on my way to teach a sociology lesson, and I think I am probably the only one doing an online Marxist commodity fetishism quiz. I get 100 % in my quiz. I want to use the quiz with my sociology students, but need to check my own understanding first. I briefly ponder the waste of moving to another country, in that it has been necessary to buy many things I used to have at home. I feel a pang of guilt about a few of the items characterised by built in obsolescence, that I picked up as quickly as possible to fill a space in my flat. I needed a kettle and a hoover.
In Bucharest there are a number of lovely markets selling beautiful, traditional authentic Romanian products, made by peasants, artists and artisan crafts people. My favourite one is at the Peasant Museum, an intriguing anthropological cultural centre. At Christmas I spent a fair amount of time considering whether my family or friends would appreciate a pair of large woollen hand-knitted socks for Christmas. I consider the work that goes into making those socks, and I imagine the person selling them to also be the person who made them and feel that they must be imbued with a special kind of magic which accompanies carefully hand-crafted objects.
I peer over at other people on their phones, and look at them texting friends and using social media and whatsapp. I smugly think, I bet no one else is contemplating commodity fetishism at 7.55am in the morning. However, I am possibly wrong on this account as most Romanian people I have met, are very knowledgeable about matters related to Romanian culture, history and life under communism. I suspect the word hegemony, is in common usage, as the IT guy at my school, knew what it meant and how to spell it when he reset my IT password for me. I need to avoid making assumptions as in this country as I clearly have a lot to learn.
1, In Karl Marx’s critique of political economy, commodity fetishism is the perception of the social relationships involved in production, not as relationships among people, but as economic relationships among the money and commodities exchanged in market trade. (Wikipedia)
2, Note: Hegemony is associated particularly with Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci. It is the idea that the ruling class can manipulate the value system and ideas of a society, so that their view becomes the world view of everyone in society and becomes accepted as common sense. Gramsci used it to explain the way that the ruling class dominate the proletariat, not through force but through consent, which is achieved through ideological domination.