Sunday 21 March 2010

Romanians liked expensive cars in 1818

The Reverend Robert Walsh accompanied the British Ambassador on his journey to present his credentials to the Sublime Porte and wrote a Narrative of a Journey from Constantinople to England, London, 1828. The whole book is here.

Contrasts and parallels between then and now abound.

“…Formerly, it was the practice for the Boyars, like their ancestors the Scythians, to ride on horseback, from which they seldom were seen dismounted in the streets. It was only about thirty years ago that they adopted the more effeminate habit of riding in carriages; and this practice is congenial to their vain and indolent disposition, that now they would not cross to the opposite side of a street without entering into them. But the circumstance which most distinguishes Bucharest is melancholic dissoluteness of manners among all classes. The town abounds with wine-houses; and, to attract customers, a number of women are kept in each house, who are ready at a call to dance and sing for the guests. To these houses the Boyars repair from their own families and pass their evenings among the most shameless class of females that ever disgraced the sex. In this way it is that Bucharest is rendered infamous for profligacy beyond any other city in Europe. The number of this unfortunate class is so great, that it was proposed to lay a capitation tax to them, as the most profitable source of revenue that could be resorted to and it is expected that the proposal will be carried into effect.

…The first thing that struck me in the streets was the number of brilliant carriages rolling in all directions or standing at the doors.…It is the favorite vanity of the boyars to display these machines, on which they expend large sums of money; as they are made merely for show – falling to pieces in a year or two, and requiring a constant expense to supply new ones. In one of these gaudy vehicles a fat Boyar sits, wrapped in a rich pelisse with an enormous calpac, or cap of curious shape, consisting of two large lobes swelling out one above the other and covered with green or scarlet velvet. In the front is generally a tall, dirty fellow, in a shabby, ragged, grey great-coat; his head covered with a large, slouched, foxy felt hat, tied with cord, from which his hair hangs loose and matted about his face and shoulders. This barbarous mixture of finery and rags the Wallachians seem to have derived from the Russians.”

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