I’m telling you from the start, my friend, that I was born in Braila. It is important to know it, in order to understand why I am talking about my city the way I am. With ardor, with melancholy, either way, with all my heart. Look, see? This is what Braila has: a soul.
Maybe you will think that it is a typical country town where almost nothing happens. Its life, however, is similar to the Danube. At times tumultuous, other times equal to itself; anyway, in permanent change. The Danube gathers the waters of so many rivers. Braila gathers the cultures of so many people living here for hundreds of years. This is why my city is asking to be discovered and rediscovered. I have done it in places that, for any person from Braila, have sentimental value and the gift to make us feel real, with our loves, dreams and accomplishments.
I have always been fascinated with the light in Braila, the way it reflects into colors. And the architecture. A strange mix of personal stiles of all those who, along time, have found their home here. Many times I feel like, on the streets I roam, the houses are like sand castles that the residents have decorated with a shell or a piece of wood brought from the Danube, or maybe a flower picked in the park. Nothing is unitary, but everything in colorful, diverse and fascinating. Like in a kaleidoscope where Romanians, Greeks, Turks, Hebrews, people from Lipova have brought a piece of history, of memory, of nostalgia.
From 1368, Braila has centralized the trading interests of historical provinces. It was a blooming city where the commerce was the highest in the country. Merchants from all over the world would come here. Year after year. It was burnt and reconstructed, occupied by Turks for almost three centuries, then freed. In the Modern Era it has bloomed spectacularly. Today you can still see the imposing houses of the merchants and ship owners, the streets with their particular scent, bordered by plane trees that seem to be made of the same build with the old walls.
Braila offered great individuals to Romania and the world: Hariclea Darclee, Ana Aslan, Maria Filotti, Nae Ionescu, Leon Feraru, Panait Istrati, Mina Minovici, Gheorghe Munteanu Murgoci, Perpessicius, Gheorghe Petrascu, Mihail Sebastian, Petre Stefanescu Goanga or Ilarie Voronca. I still wonder where the secret of Braila lies. How come so many distinguished people were born here? It is a place where the Levantine and Western perfumes mixed, where the Danube, towards the inflow, had the time to gather and bring what’s best and most real in the countries it crosses. This could be the answer. Or perhaps there doesn’t need to be a definite one, because where would the mystery be otherwise?
The Braila in my heart mainly means the Public Garden. The favorite place to go for a walk for yesterday’s and today’s people of Braila. The kiosk wherefrom the chords of the musical ensemble echoed. One can still hear them today. The alleys of the lovers, the grandparents with their children, the loners or the pupils tired of school. After the walk on the Royal Street, the ladies would once come here and flaunt their grandiose attires, and, accompanied by gentlemen, they would stop for an appetizer, before tiffin. The maids would also come here with the adjutants. One would play backgammon, discuss politics and business here. Romances and separations would befall here. And it is no different today.
The kinetic fountain. Another meeting place. Especially for the youth. Because here Braila earned its freedom in 1989. In its blue light, how else than blue like the Danube, love stories begin, fiery matters are discussed, plans for the future are made, silence and answers to thousands of questions are being searched for. This place is also part of the soul of Braila.
“Here, each step brings me closer to childhood. The Danube recalls the first sleepless night of love to me. The wide boulevards curved along the nostalgic shore are wiping away their awe. Perhaps they will find the shadow of Chira Chiralina someplace else.”, Mihu Dragomir once said.
“Braila? A voluptuous paramour who contemplates its lover, the Danube, with a gaze as fiery as it is lustful.”, Panait Istrati also said in the past.
What more can I say? I can only smell the trace of water, even when I’m not beside it. I can only hear the stillness of the pond, at times interrupted by the call of a bird, even in the tumult of a crazy Bucharest. I can see with my mind the harbor, the boats, the forest and I can imagine that I am next to all these. To feel…at home. I hope, my friend, that I have succeeded in making you understand, at least a little, what the soul of Braila means. The city in my heart. So old and so new. With all its houses, all the plane trees, with the Danube and its people. With the music and the poetry hidden in every rock on the pavement, or in every detail of a facade. And I can only end by remembering the words of another passionate man from Braila, irremediably in love with my city: Fanus Neagu. “If you left to see the world in Braila, you must come back. Even just for the exhilaration of a moment unique even through breathing on the street of our great city. Listen how the legends of an ancestry pass, unmistakably, up above.”