„Panem et circenses” – bread and games – are the only two things people really care about, wrote the roman poet Juvenal. Having that in mind, the mayor of Temesvár (Timişoara, Temeswar), Nicolae Robu, might have taken a rather bold move the other day, forbidding the usage of smoke-emanating barbecue stoves and manele music on the streets and squares of the city at all kinds of public events.
At first glance, this might not seem a very startling decision, but the reality is that a rather significant segment of Romanian society loves to party to manele music and feast on freshly roasted steaks, sausages, and, of course, mititei, or mici. In addition, the barbecue stoves used generally function with charcoal or gas, and the smoke becomes part of the flavor of the grilled product loved by many.
For your better understanding, just a short definition of terms: manele is a combination of Romanian folk and contemporary pop music, with Balkan influences. There is the “classical” manele, performed by fiddlers, and the “modern” manele that uses electronic instruments and beats. The lyrics usually refer to matters of the heart, dealing with one’s enemies, matters of wealth, and the difficulties of life in general. The critics of the modern manele say that it is a low-class genre, not cultivated or – as the mayor of Timişoara might say – not European enough.
The mititei, or mici (meaning: the small ones), are grilled minced meat rolls, probably of Turkish origin and adapted throughout the centuries to the taste of Romanian cuisine. The rolls are a mixture of beef, lamb, and pork, well roasted on grill stoves. It is a hugely popular type of food in Romania: An estimated 440 million mici is consumed each year, and it is mostly associated with outdoor events.
Mayor Robu’s campaign took the form of an internal note sent to his employees in the office of public fairs and events. “It is forbidden to use all kinds of open-air grill stoves and to play manele in the public domain of Timişoara. It is also forbidden to dedicate via public announcements any songs to anyone. Those who fail to respect the dispositions of the mayor risk drastic sanctions, whatever their status might be in the State structures,” stated the note, quoted by local news portal Opinia Timisoarei.
Mayor Robu emphasized in his statement that a city is respected if it respects itself. Temesvár is going to hold the title of European Capital of Culture in 2021, so the smell of smoke and grease at public events and partying to low-quality music are not compatible with this picture, said the mayor.
Nevertheless, what really hit a nerve was the fact that, not long ago, some videos were made and distributed on Facebook at a public fair organized by the City Hall. And, in the spirit of a true manele party, some public dedications were made to Mayor Robu himself; his critics did not forget to point out that Temesvár awaits tourists with the smoke of grease…
According to a decision taken by the local council in 2007, open-air barbecues have been forbidden since that year in the streets of Temesvár, but the rule was never upheld. But now, merchants at the upcoming Christmas fair will have to arrive with mititei already roasted, or they’ll have to use electric stoves that do not make smoke.
Manele has become so all-pervasive that several Romanian cities have banned it on public transport and taxis and at festivals. While we do not regard ourselves qualified to judge the absolute or relative merits of manele music, we will mention that a member of the National Audiovisual Board – who did a study on manele music – called it “the genre for the mentally challenged.”
But judge for yourselves – below is a sample:
Title image: Drastic sanctions await those who use open-air barbecues and play or listen to manele, says the mayor