How to Understand the Bloc

30 august 2007

In the Communist days, there was a tremendous frenzy to house people in cities in apartment buildings, each one known as a bloc (block).

There is a classic Romanian film called The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Totally worth seeing. There’s a line in there that I absolutely love, where Lazarescu’s female neighbor says "totu?i suntem la bloc" which translates something like "we have to maintain appearances because we are, after all, dwellers in an apartment building".

Despite their decrepit appearances, living in a bloc is considered a step up above peasants and other "lower-class" human beings. Only living in one’s own house in town is considered to be better in terms of social standing.

Unless you are very unique, the outside of the bloc is going to look like a hideous, gray Communist structure that seems on the verge of falling down . They still do have collapses but luckily those are still rare.

Entrance is either through an open door or else with an interfon , a kind of "buzzer" system which if you’ve seen enough Seinfeld episdoes, you will understand. If you live there, you will be given a barcoded "key" that will unlock the electronically "secured" doors.

Note: There is a code you can type in to unlock most interfon< doors even without a key. I won’t tell you what it is though ;)

If it’s nighttime, there will be a completely dark stairwell that will make you think "ghetto" and "mugged" and various other scary things. Be heartened, intrepid traveler! Nothing of the sort will happen to you even if there are a collection of bored teens hanging out in the vicinity.

Somewhere, probably almost impossible to find, is a switch which will illuminate a series of bare bulbs on every landing. These are on a timer so if you are going up several flights, make sure you note where the switch is on every floor so you can press it again when the lights switch off without warning.

If there is an elevator (a rare but occasional occurrence) the words "death trap" will come into your mind, probably for a good reason. Take the stairs you lazy git!

Your destination inside the bloc will likely be a stout metal door that looks like it could repel a SWAT team. Ring the buzzer and be prepared to drop your jaw. The inside of the apartment will be clean, modern and so completely incongruous to the hideousness of the bloc‘s exterior and stairwell. Quite simple put, it will be beautiful, clean and very tidy inside.

Note: A few years ago there was a domestic comedy TV show called La Bloc that dealt with urban life in the apartment building (bloc) setting. I’ve met one of the principle actors from the show, the guy named "The American " and he’s incredibly nice. Horrible show though ;)


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