Once upon Two Cities

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There is an old fable about a mouse who claimed to be able to compete with an elephant. At first sight, the mere idea of a comparison between Bucharest and New York City seems as preposterous as the pretense of that old mouse. Yet, this book shows how the two cities appealed to people’s senses and how this feeling was mediated by guidebooks, cookbooks, conduct manuals, music, and films. It is about how people lived and how they enjoyed life. It is a glimpse of people hustling, crowding, and walking at leisure. It shows how they saw the two cities and how they talked about them. It explains what each of the cities was generally considered to look like and what they were shown to look like: not so much what people’s lives were, but what they seemed to have been; not how people behaved, but how they were taught to behave; not what they ate, but what they must have eaten; not all the “partitions” of the music in the cities, but those few icons and “scores” which were supposed to appeal, first and foremost, to the middle class. It is a book about images: word images, fictional images, visual images, auditory images. And it is also a book about urban and rural imaginaries. This is a book about two cities in search of their identities. In all these respects, the world metropolis and the small European capital city could stand side by side. In all these respects, they could justifiably be compared.