We’d forgotten that the Romanian revolution that took place in the days leading up to Christmas 1989 started in Timisoara, so the Museum of the Revolution was high on our list of things to do and see when we arrived in that city. Leaving the dog to guard the van (which was itself already guarded in a secure car park, but we didn’t tell the dog that. She sometimes needs a sense of purpose in life…) we trotted off across the centre of the old town, marvelling at the attractive squares and boulevards. It was a bit parky though, so we’d had to drag out the winter gear. Regular followers of the Instagram feed will probably be relieved to learn that the Hawaiian shirt and garish board shorts are now buried deep in the darker recesses of the wardrobe.
The Museum had not long ago changed premises and had just started to settle down in its new home, previously a Romanian Army barrack block. I felt at home already. Rooms on the ground floor made suitably large areas for displays and the like, while the first floor – accessed for some reason through a lockable steel gate – contained smaller rooms, some set up to replicate Cold War barrack rooms or as video-viewing venues. A strong smell of smoke pervaded the entire building, but the curators assured us that the fire was safely out now. One of them seemed a little subdued; the other was much more chirpy, probably because she had reached the end of her shift and was off home. No hanging about when a fire might re-ignite itself at any time for her, oh no. The chirpy curator told us to give the flaky one a call when it was time to go and pointed out her office door. We launched ourselves into the heart of the museum.
While most of the exhibits were designed for a domestic audience and therefore only described in Romanian, the photographs explained themselves. A startlingly powerful video drew the whole thing together and left us feeling more than a little moved. We could have spent hours there.
And as it turned out, we nearly did. Returning to the entrance we found it locked. The ticketing desk was empty. Nobody was to be seen. We knocked on the office door but no-one answered, because no-one was inside. Feeling more than a little like the traveller in Walter De La Mare’s poem The Listeners, we embarked on a thorough search of the ground floor. No curator and worse still, no other exits. Rattling the locked front door did nothing except make a slight rattling noise. Up to the first floor then, and all we gained was a repeat of the earlier results but some 12 feet higher up. Meanwhile, another couple of would be visitors had appeared at the front door. They tried the handle. Nothing happened. They looked at us accusingly as we tried to mime innocent visitors, trapped in an abandoned building by a malign curator. Then one of the couple noticed a bell push. She pushed it. A bell sounded faintly on the floor above, and like a mythical sleeper summoned to the world of men by powerful incantations, the flaky curator slowly descended the stairs to open the door. She spoke. “I am not all right. I was the one who smelled the smoke. I am very stressed”, and she opened the door.
We scuttled out quickly, pausing to spare sympathetic looks for both the Smeller Of The Smoke and her fresh inmates. We should really have gone back later to check whether they’d been released, I suppose, but that can be a job for tomorrow morning. For now, it’s time to relish our freedom and toast the revolution.