Since writing the entire book proved to be a heroic task, and I am not one, alas, I got caught up in my own struggle to survive and got derailed. So I shall start posting the interviews one at a time, hopefully I can manage maintaining the pace of one a week, thus be done in two years. It is rather overwhelming. I feel I had an elephant fallen on top of me.
Someone, please be a sponsor and pay my bills and get me a paid professional transcriber. There’s a PayPal button at the bottom of this post, don’t you worry.
I apologize to my interviewees for my delay.
I hope you enjoy their words and spirit as much as I did.
Black Swan’s Song
Rudy’s voice is deep, resonating, a classically trained actor’s voice. He enunciates very correctly and bites his words. He is in his early 60s. A slim, tall man, green eyes, dark skin, short black hair. A kind man, warm hearted, a raconteur with a flair for the dramatic.
Ella: So Rudy I’ll ask you to repeat yourself. I loved the stories you told me about your childhood, about your mother, and then how you grew up. If you’ll be so kind to remember all this for my sake.
Rudy: Like I said in my autobiography, A Drop of Life, I’m a small, small, small drop in the ocean of billions of millions of other drops that make humanity. But if this drop that I am wouldn’t exist the ocean would be poorer without me.
I always remind myself that even if there were moments in my childhood when I suffered, I still remember it with pleasure. Well, I suffered a lot because certain things were forbidden to me. I couldn’t understand why I was dealt with in that particular way, but each blow I received in my childhood, each constraint, in the end strengthened me, built me to fulfill my life. I love so terribly much to remember my childhood, because it is a strange story, like a movie screenplay, with dramatic twists.
I am the progeny of a mixed marriage. My grandmother was Hungarian, but not Hungarian from Transylvania, but from Hungary. They settled here during the Habsburg Empire, when the Hungarian border was still cutting thru Mureş County. She married my grandfather who was from here. And after the borders were drawn again and Mureş County became Romanian territory, they stayed here. I spent my summer vacations at my grandmother’s oldest son in Szolnok, a town in Hungary. On my father’s side, my father was Gypsy, an extremely large family, 14 children, seven boys and seven girls.
On my mother’s side, she was a blonde, not only white skin, but with blonde hair, a blonde-blonde, and on father’s side they were all white skin, like the Gabors from Crăciuneşti you’ve met at the festival, with fedoras, or the ones from the Mărginimea Sibiu about whom I say they are Vikings, with a white pink skin. So I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know how I came out black! I asked both my mother and those on my father’s side, and mother told me that for generations, no one was black! My paternal grandfather resembled Franz Josef I of Austria! Such white skin! He even had a Franz-Josef beard style.
Ella: How’s that?!
Rudy: Oh, it’s gorgeous. It starts with proud sideburns that run along across your lip. Cheeks, chin and neck are shaved clean. It looks like one continuous bushy line that skirts your upper lip but leaves the lower half of your face (the better half) bare. Exactly like Franz Josef, with his white hair, the old man was superb! And they told me the fourth or fifth generation of their lineage had an uncle that was black black black, and that was where, well, I was a curious oddity.
Enough said. Before me there were two more brothers, at one year intervals. I never knew them, one died when he was eight and a half months old, and the other one at a year and 2 months. At that time they were so wretched and hapless that from a mere cold gone untreated, sickness progressed and the children were deceased.
My mother suffered from bronchial asthma. At that time it was thought that it was a contagious disease, that it led to a pulmonary illness. When she got pregnant with me she came to Tîrgu Mureş because one of my mother’s brothers lived in Tîrgu Mureş and was a big wig at that time working in the Mureş County Council. That’s how I was born in the maternity ward in Tîrgu Mureş not in Iernut, where we lived, 32 kilometers from Tîrgu Mureş. I stayed there, raised by my uncle till I was five, so that I should not catch the lung illness from my mother. Therefore I grew up in an urban environment, educated by my mother’s brother who was Hungarian, so it was a thorough Hungarian education. Then when I went back to Iernut I was raised by my Hungarian grandmother. I did not know another language; my everyday language was Hungarian. I didn’t speak Gypsy language. No! I had no awareness that I was half Gypsy. I never had any concept that I belonged to this ethnic group as well. Never! Even if you can see I’m a Gypsy from a kilometer away due to the color of my skin! I was an odd thing, because I had black skin with blue eyes, blue, green, they change colors, I was an oddity. But I didn’t have any feeling of belonging to the Gypsy ethnic community because I was raised by Hungarians! We weren’t rich, but we were well-off. We never knew scarcity of food, or clothing, or money, plus our social status was elevated, the old woman was educated to the seventh grade! At that time someone with 7 grades could be employed in a leading position at the Townhall! Her son was a physician. Her other son worked at the County Council. They were very well off. And being educated Hungarians for generations, they sent me to the Hungarian kindergarten.
Then when I had to start first grade in primary school, we proceeded to file into the Hungarian section of the school. And my Romanian mates to the Romanian section, because at that time Iernut was, well, 50, 60 years ago, was inhabited almost half-half by Romanians and Hungarians. And they spoke both languages in their daily interactions. On the street they’d speak to you perfectly both Romanian and Hungarian. The interaction between the two ethnic groups was exemplary. It was unheard of either in their minds, or souls or daily life to practice ethnic discrimination. Unheard of! They were all people. They were fellow villagers. They were people that lived together, partied together, laughed together, and wept together. It was unheard of to engage in ethnic restlessness. They were part of the same village, co-villagers. Period.
Well, I’m going to school. Fourth graders were always the ones to welcome first graders. The Romanian pupils made a flower tunnel, two opposite standing children raised the flower stems in an arch, and the kindergarteners entered the school thru that flower tunnel and the school teacher welcomed them into the classroom. The Hungarian pupils didn’t do the flower tunnel, and since we were filing in two rows, with my childish mind, I switched to the Romanian group to enter thru the flower tunnel. And out of this mistake I ended up in the Romanian classroom. My teacher, her name was Frăţilă Emilia, a tall, slim woman, with an olive shade complexion, with gorgeous eyebrows, blue eyes and black hair, later when I grew up I said she was Snow White! She asked me in Romanian to state my name. I didn’t understand. My desk mate told me in Hungarian, 'Azt kerdeznek hogy hivnak.' [They both laugh] I then said, 'My name is Moca Rudolf.' But I said, ‘Az en nevem Moca Rudolf.’
Ella: Es en innen nem megyek.
Rudy: ‘Es itt maradok!' And I won’t budge from there. So I started learning Romanian. I get home with the ABC book, mighty proud, ‘Look, dear grandma, mama, mama, look what they gave me. A book!” The old woman, happy that I received the ABC book, but when she saw it was in Romanian, she got on fire! The world turned upside down, and she yelled for my father, ‘Just come here! Look what this purdé, this Gypsy brat did!’ In that instant I became a purdé, a Gypsy brat! ‘He went to the Romanian section and he wants to learn in Romanian, and he got a Romanian ABC book, not Hungarian. It shows he is a purdé Gypsy brat and not a Hungarian!’
From that instant the tragedy started. In her conception she couldn’t allow such a thing! Then I couldn’t understand, now I do, I do understand her, even if I don’t accept her way of thinking, that’s how things were at that time. Not that I justify it, but I understand.
Anyway, I went to school. I loved to learn tremendously. When I was 9, 10 years old I had to work. What did I do? I had to sweep the yard, gather grass, mow, take the cow to the village herd, clean the pigsty, take the milk to the dairy… It was real work. I didn’t have the childhood of other children, I knew no playing. We never played. My play time was work. This is my family model. My father was a herdsman during day and watchman at night, he guarded the village hall. The icon he worshiped and bowed to was Work. He knew only that. The old woman the same. She’d say, ‘You have to work! You have to learn what work is so you value money and your gain, and not disdain the work you do.’ This is how I grew up, worshiping in this cult. No one cared about school. To the most you studied until seventh grade. I still caught the Russian system of grading, from 1 to 5, examination after the fourth grade, final exam after seventh grade, got your graduation diploma, and then high school so on.
The problem was that I turned into a sore sight, a human being that fights against the grain, against set conceptions. In our village, in Iernut, there were Romanian and Hungarian children who weren’t necessarily going to school, it was not a must. That’s how the concept was then, you go learn a trade, go to the collective farm, you can work the fields, you don’t need to go to school. Let alone I, who was half Hungarian, half Gypsy. ‘How dares the Gypsy,’ due to my dark skin I was identify as the Gypsy, no one said I was half Hungarian, oh, no, the Gypsy! The Gypsy, purdé. The herdsman’s son. That’s how I was labeled, ‘How does he dare, the herdsman’s son, to attend school till seventh grade?! How does the herdsman’s son dare to go to high school?!’ Such a thing was against their mentality, against nature, against the village life order, against its laws of functioning, it has never been done. High school was attended only by the physician’s son, the teacher’s son, the village priest’s son, that is the gentlemen’s, the rulers’ sons! It was like the Indian caste system, you’re not allowed to jump over a social stratum. No, no, no.
And I wanted to continue school.
Ella: But how did this play out exactly?
Rudy: Thru my parents’ views. I felt the society’s rejection thru the way my parents related to me. That is my father, the Gypsy man, who said, ‘Well, now that you finished seven grades, we go to your uncle in Tîrgu Mureş to get you in some spot where you can learn a trade. Construction work is very good, builders make good money, and, puiu tati/my dearest, we cannot go to that high school, that is only for gentlemen, we cannot go because it is not allowed.’ And he’d reason that money was needed to go there and only gentlemen go there. So the social group in which my father lived, their outlook on life got channeled thru my father, he’d tell me what people thought was right, but they wouldn’t say it to my face, but thru my father, as a part of that community, ‘No, you cannot go there, that’s only for gentlemen. Father dearest, we can’t get in there. We should be content if you learn a trade.’
Ella: What did you tell him, Rudy? How did you go about it?
Rudy: I didn’t agree. I finished seven grades and my uncle brought me to Tîrgu Mureş, and he took me to the trade school, named Encsel Mauriciu at that time, then it became Metalo-Tehnica, and now I don’t know, Number Two. Unfortunately for my uncle and for those who wanted me to learn a trade, it was a rainy day. In the school yard, when I went with my uncle to file my application, there were students who were learning to become masons, and some of them were building a brick wall, and others were tearing it down, since they had to learn all of it! [Ella laughs] When I saw that mess and dirtiness,--I didn’t say a word to my uncle, because I didn’t dare to,--but to myself I said, ‘I won’t stay here, even if he kills me!’ After my application was registered, I was to stay during the exam period at my uncle’s. My uncle was very busy, he didn’t check on me. He didn’t even care if this purdé Gypsy brat succeeds at the entrance exam or not, he was mostly forced by his mother, my grandma, ‘Take him! So something might become of this purdé Gypsy brat! He is also Hungarian and we are ashamed! He’s ours, nevertheless.’ And to get her to shut up he took me but didn’t care what happened. Imagine that I took out my file from the trade school and I signed up at the high school entrance exam in Iernut. I commuted from Tîrgu Mureş to Iernut, staying at my uncle’s. I implored the secretary that lived across the street from us not to say anything to my father for it would have been a terrible misfortune. He would have ‘killed’ me. Ella, I was number 6, out of the 30 seats at the Iernut high school! The world turned upside down in the moment the results were posted because the high school secretary being part of the same community, had the same village mentality, ‘Imagine this, the Gypsy won a seat at the high school!’ It was as if I became the president of Romania at that moment in time. [Ella giggles] I upset a view of life. It was beyond their mental horizon,
I came home. I was in the yard, I took all my exams, and the woman shouts over our fence, ‘Uncle Rudy, your son won the entrance exam at our high school.’ Believe me in that moment I turned blond. [Ella laughs] And father, I remember how he came, ‘Where did he go, Ma’am?’ ‘At the high school.’ ‘What’s that high school?!’ ‘Well, a higher school, so he can study like the gentlemen.’ ‘He wants more schooling?! Didn’t he go to Tîrgu Mureş mason trade school?!’ ‘No, he came to Iernut High School.’
I hear father calling his sister, ‘Marika, you take this fellow here who went to some higher school he wants to go, and all summer long you keep him hoeing in the beet field. Let him see what work is. I’ll show him some higher schooling!’
So my prize for entering in a superior school—In which Romanians and Hungarians were incapable of entering, because it was a fierce competition, not like nowadays, —was that I went all summer long to work, to hoe the beet field.
I graduated from high school. They got used to it. ‘But now we’re done.’ ‘Well no, I want to go to college.’ Father, ‘No, no, no, that’s enough…’
Ella: [Laughs] But he never said that he was proud of you?!
Rudy: Yes, he did. He was proud, but see, my father was a man with such common sense, beyond imagination! A man as I said who worshiped in the Cult of Work. A man who knew too well his place, who said to himself, ‘This is my place and I have to be a value here, to sanctify it. I don’t have the right to move higher up. But in my place I have to be the best.’ He was a man of extraordinary modesty, at times to his own detriment! I had no right anywhere else, but in my place! But do you know how he was proud of me? He’d say, ‘Bravo Moca. Second class!’ [Ella laughs again] Never, ‘Bravo! First class!’ Later on I got it, oh, ‘First class is only for gentlemen. But I’m proud of my son.’
This is my father for you.
And I wanted to go to the university. ‘No, no, no, no. Let it go now. There’s no money, let me be!’ Furthermore, I wanted to go to Bucharest! ‘Hear that! Bucharest! When I’ve never even left my village, only went up to Tîrgu Mureş!’ It was as if I said I’m going to Oxford. ‘I don’t have the money.’ From that moment he was adamant, ‘Period. I don’t have the money.’
Do you know how that hurt, I’d never have money to go to attend university?!
I took my high school diploma, I graduated and I received my senior diploma, that’s how it was called then, but I couldn’t register for the summer entrance exam because I didn’t have money to go. I went to the train station in Iernut where they unloaded grain for the large warehouses of Iernut and they hired me by the day, daylight hours, to shovel grain, to air it so it won’t get overheated, so it won’t germinate and sprout. They had immense shovels. I went during June, July and August, three months from 6 in the morning till 8 in the evening. I worked at shoveling wheat grain. I had such blisters on my palms, I won’t tell you… The head accountant who paid us lived in Tîrgu Mureş, I met her on the street not long ago and she told me, ‘I remember you, the skinny Gypsy kid, with that huge shovel. You were all drenched in sweat, and blood ran out of your palms from the shovel.’ I made 800 lei which was then a lot of money for three months, and so I went to Bucharest!
I paid my travel to Bucharest; I got there two weeks before the entrance exam. I paid my room and board, and I paid the doorman from the lodging, I paid him 1 leu, then it was a paper bill, to let me turn on the light in a toilet closet so I can study at night. And Ella I studied from 5 in the morning in the library reading room to 11, when they closed. From 11 in the night I’d go to the toilet closet and I’d study till 3 in the morning. And from 3 to five, two hours, I’d sleep. At home I didn’t have time to prepare, working as I was. There had been 25 seats for summer, 19 were taken, so there were 6 seats left for that fall exam. On those 6 seats there were 4 ½ candidates for one spot, so a lot of competition. There were written tests and if you didn’t pass you weren’t allowed to go further on to take the oral test.
And I see myself a student! I was number three out of six places.
Back then they wouldn’t give you a student ID right after announcing the results. First the exam committee had to validate the results, and only after 10 days you’d pick up your ID. But I didn’t have money to pay for another ten days, for board and room, Ella, I had just the travel ticket money. During the time that I prepared for the exam I became friends with a fellow who was a waiter at a restaurant near the university, and I asked him to let me wash the dishes for those 10 days so I could pay for my lodging, and I’d eat at the restaurant.
I called my father and told him I became a student. The phone was at a Romanian man’s home, his name shall be unmentioned, not because I hate him, but because he turned out to be so petty, so ugly, that I don’t even want to remember his name. But I remember the episode. He was the only one who had a phone on our street. His son came to the university exam and failed, though he was very rich. So I called and he picked up the phone and I told my father, ‘I’m in, I’ve become a student.’ Silence. ‘Hello, hello, hello?!’ During that pause, I later realized the Romanian man told my father to ask me, ‘Listen, did they give you a receipt saying you are a student?’ That is, the student ID. I told him, ‘Not yet, father. In 10 days.’ And father says, ‘Well, when you have the receipt, only then come home.’ He had to demonstrate to the village, the gadjos, the Romanian guy, that I am student. You can imagine the village mentality, that I had no right to go there! And I had to stay 10 more days washing dishes.
Ella: But what happened with the Romanian guy?
Rudy: Nothing. He came back home. After ten days I came home with the student ID. I didn’t go into my yard but to the Romanian’s yard. Oh, the revenge of youth. I took out my ID, ‘Look at it! I am a student and your son is not.’ His answer was, ‘Go to hell.’ He cursed me out. I went home, and grandma embraced me, ‘Come to your granny. It shows you are a Hungarian boy. For only our Hungarian boys have brains.’ She was so proud that I was a student. It was fantastic that I was a student.
It is praiseworthy of the villagers that in the moment they found out that I became a student at the Bucharest University, Ella, I wouldn’t get to greet people in the street, for I’d meet with the Hungarian and Romanian folk and they’d say first, ‘Have a good day.’ Three meters ahead of meeting me, way down the road, I couldn’t get a chance to greet them first! An extraordinary mentality leap, ‘Hoopla, this is a great man, a gentleman, an important person now. A brilliant mind. A student.’ Only physicians, only important gentlemen went to study at a university. No one would say anymore, ‘The black Gypsy brat, purdé,’ no, but ‘Have a good day, Mr. Moca.’
An extraordinary change.
My first job was in education.
Ella: What did you study?
Rudy: Psychology. I studied 4 years then I went further on to specialize in parapsychology. At that time they didn’t call it parapsychology, but deviational behavior elements.
Ella: What year was this?
Rudy: 68, 69, to 74. So I ended up in education. My first assignment was in Rîciu, at about 20 kilometers from Tîrgu Mureş. At the Humanities High School. I taught general psychology, a little book with red covers, 14 pages all in all. My workload was 20 hours a week, so additionally I had to teach anatomy, biology, botany, agriculture, to cover for the rest of the hours, for with only 14 pages of the skinny textbook, what could I do?! I worked there for several years, commuting from home. I’d stay there during week, and Saturday, Sunday I’d come home. This is how I met my wife in town.
Ella: Wait a bit! Tell me how was teaching?
Rudy: Teaching was very simple, because me coming in as a teacher, no one would say I’m a Gypsy. Also after living in Bucharest for so long I changed my speech, my accent became rather southerner, and nobody would say, because there was no such thing as a Gypsy with a university degree, even if I was dark, my blue eyes were odd, and as I spoke now with a southern accent, they’d bicker, ‘What in God’s name did they send us a southerner?! Couldn’t they find a Transylvanian teacher?!’ In vain I’d tell them I was from Tîrgu Mureş, but I spoke differently now, nobody would believe it. Or that I was a Gypsy. They’d say I was making fun of them, ‘Such a thing doesn’t exist.’
So I practically didn’t have the consciousness of my ethnic nationality. And nobody would believe it anyway. To make a small aside, when I was in the military service I was a messenger, a clerk, and the colonel at the office where I worked, needled me, ‘What nationality are you?’ He saw my dark skin and features, and knew that I was a student. ‘Gypsy.’ ‘Come on, get lost! In my entire life I never saw a smart Gypsy! Cai verzi pe pereti./Rubbish.' So you see, I just didn’t fit. I was outside the mold. I just didn’t fit. No, no. It was as if I’d say 70 years ago that the president of America would be Barack Obama. ‘Get lost. Are you stupid? Have you fallen on your head? Are you crazy?’ It just didn’t fit together.
But even myself I didn’t have any ethnic awareness personally. For me the Gypsy nation at that time didn’t exist. I was like any other Hungarian or Romanian ignorant of it. I’d say ‘Sure, there are Gypsies but I have nothing to do with them.’ Mine was the reality of a gadjo, that is a non-Gypsy. This is how I behaved.
This is how I met my wife.
As you see I wear eyeglasses. She was an ophthalmologist surgeon. I went for a checkup because I couldn’t see well anymore, and I chanced upon her. An absolutely gorgeous woman. She looked very much like, if you remember one of the great Spanish singers, who at that time was also a movie star, with an absolutely wonderful body, her name escapes me now, very, very beautiful! The body of Gina Lollobrigida, something like that. She was, gorgeous! A white complexion, slightly olive, with green eyes, black hair, and a waist so very slim, with prominent breasts, gorgeous! Oh, Sarita Montiel was the Spanish singer. She had a wasp waist, wonderful breasts and her hips were like an Egyptian amphora. And of course the man within me attacked and... I don’t know what I told her during the consultation, but she cut me off, ‘Listen, Mister, here you’re a patient. Cut it out.’ She was quite a strong woman. So I told her, ‘Ma’am, don’t tire yourself because you’re not my type, so in vain you’re trying to… I’d never invite you to a cup of coffee!’ ‘I surely won’t come!’ she replied. ‘But if you have the courage, come with me for a walk. I’m a high school teacher. Otherwise, you can stay put here.’ When she saw the cheek I had, she said, ‘Alright, after the consultation we go for a coffee. It’s on me, since your sorry-ass teacher lot doesn’t have money.’ [Ella giggles] And out of this joke, you know how they say that when people tease each other it’s the first step to a strong relationship. This is what happened to us also. In two weeks we got married.
Ella: In two weeks?!
Rudy: In two weeks.
Ella: But how old were you?
Rudy: 27. And she was 26. I was older than her by 8 months. We lived in town. My poor father—I remind you we were a well-off family. In our yard there were two houses. He sold half of the yard with one house and gave me money to buy my apartment. I lived in Tîrgu Mureş and was commuting to Rîciu. But now it was not good anymore, I had to find something in town, enough of commuting. How could I move to town when during Ceauşescu’s time teachers were forced to do 10 years of teaching practice wherever they were sent by the state after graduation? It was during the policy of educating the peasantry, to eradicate illiteracy. The only way of working in town was to either study law, since judicial institutions were never in a village, or theater! I chose theater.
During high school I always participated in the Dialog de la distanţă/Long Distance Dialogue which was a series of patriotic, mass culture, so on, contests between counties during Ceauşescu’s time. And I’d always win, reciting poems, first prize on the national level. Well, I said to myself, I must have some gift for it. So I went, I took the exam, and there I was again a student for another four years in Bucharest. Married! My wife supported me. She sent me money, so on. During my studies our daughter was born, Magdalena. So I was already seeing some accomplishments: I was a student in Bucharest, I was married to a surgeon, my first child was born, no one was like me! I was the gadjo, like any other successful Romanian, or Hungarian, no awareness whatsoever of being a Gypsy. I returned home and got hired at the Puppet Theater. I was an actor. I was part of what then we called the crème de la crème of intellectuality, the actors, plus my wife a doctor, house, child, I had nothing to do with the Gypsies.
Ella: Wait a bit, Rudy. As if at the same time psychology started to be out of step?
Rudy: Yes, people at that time didn’t know what a psychologist was. Even among intellectuals, some mistook psychology for psychiatry. They thought you deal with crazy people. Or those who pretended to be in the knowing, mixed up the psychologist with the psychopathologist, one that deals with pathology problems, with illnesses. And all they taught at university was just elements of psychology, some rudimentary ideas about egalitarianism. Psychology was just a common subject like botany, agriculture, nothing special, but to be an actor, oh, was something oh, like being God! Anyway, at my wife’s medical office often Gypsies showed up, because they’d poof! beat each other and so had problems with their eyes, and after the happening of 1989—I can’t call it a revolution, I prefer calling it a happening, because all they did then was to turn upside down our values. I look forward to the day, I hope I’ll still be alive, when we return to our humanistic values. Now money rules. It’s something that I don’t want, I don’t like, and I reject. You can buy with money degrees, work places, brother, father, mother, social position, everything. I don’t agree with it. I wait for the time when human values are a priority, I hope I live until then. So, Gypsies would come to my wife’s medical office. An article was published, I don’t know who wrote it, in one of our local dailies, an article about Gypsies, written in an extremely biting and pejorative style, a propagandistic piece saying Gypsies can’t be educated. Some biped creatures that by mistake turned into humans and they had no… It was the stuff the extreme right parties in Hungary threw about in the streets on their propaganda: Gypsies can’t be educated, can’t be improved upon, second rate creatures that had to be exterminated.
And my wife reads it. I didn’t busy myself with newspapers. I was in my own world. My great luck was that I was married to an extremely wise woman. Extremely intelligent. She had her medical world, I my acting world, but at home we forgot about them and we were strictly immersed in our family world. I had an extraordinary marriage, in which if we had to discuss antagonistically we’d whisper in the kitchen when the kids slept and behind closed doors.
Ella: How many kids?
Rudy: Two. After Magda at two years—this is another little story, I’ll tell you all about it soon. And the Gypsies were coming. She sees this article, and comes home and says, ‘Please read this article.’ I brushed her off. ‘I don’t read newspapers!’ ‘Read it! I live with a man who’s half Gypsy and I don’t accept what it is written here. I know there are also positive Gypsy examples. And you are going to write a reply right now to what this idiot nincompoop says here, because my husband is half Gypsy and he’s not like what this guy writes in the paper!’ Due to my lady physician, I wrote to the paper, my first article, 20 years ago, 18, 19 years ago, as a reply to that article. From the moment I wrote that article Gypsies started to show up at my door, because I became, without realizing it…
Ella: [Ella giggles] You’re a lightning rod now.
Rudy: Yes, without realizing I became their lightning rod. I became the Actor, the Intellectual that protects the rights of the Gypsies. So my Gypsy self-awareness awoke in me. Starting with that instant I became step by step the embodiment of the most superior image of a Gypsy. I became the example of how one had escaped his Gypsy condition and proved possible what nobody thought possible. I became an example of someone who acknowledges his ethnic background without reticence, without being embarrassed, and in a palatable way, not like these new Gypsy Kings and Emperors, but in a decent way and in an intelligent way. Well, from that instant I became labeled an activist, educator, civic, social, moral, legal activist for the Gypsy, Rroma community. Without being involved politically, without being a member of any party, Gypsy or non-Gypsy, without ever becoming a political leader, I was acknowledged both by Gypsies, regardless of their group affiliation, from Vătrari to Gabors, or any of the other 39 Gypsy groups. I was accepted both by Gypsies and by gadjos, as an authority for the Gypsy nation, because ‘That guy is not ashamed to come out publicly about who he is, but he does it in such a way that I, the Romanian or Hungarian or whatever other non-Gypsy nationality, I can look him straight in the eyes, I feel like hugging him, and tell him, were there to be more like you, a few good tens, hundreds like you, the world of Gypsies would be wonderful.’ I made the Gypsy man answer when asked, ‘Do you know Rudy Moca?’ ‘Oh, sure, he’s our most worthy Gypsy.’
But when I became the social, moral, legal activist I realized I have no right to make mistakes, Ella.
Rudy: Yes. That is this crown people had placed on my head, society. It’s so heavy, weighty, so deep, so serious a responsibility, that I have no right to make mistakes. Anyone else can make mistakes, anyone else can laugh on the street, Ella, laugh like an idiot, but I have no right. Anyone else can dress whichever way, I cannot. Anyone else can afford making mistakes in what they say in a public meeting, wherever, I cannot. Anyone else can afford to make jokes, even bad ones, I cannot. And why I don’t have the right? Because I’m watched by tens, hundreds of eyes, I have but two. And the people would say, ‘Well, if that one behaves like this, what can I expect from the rest of them?!’ It’s an extremely hard responsibility. But, beats me, I like it. Beats me that this responsibility hanging on my shoulders, making me pay attention every instant of my life, because all my gestures, the way I eat, the way I dress, how I behave, I am considered the model the rest measures me against. I’m their standard. The non-Gypsy world said it, not just me, and people in the press with real credibility and influence, people with major opinion making power, have said, ‘Rudy Moca is a model in as much as how proud he shows his ethnic awareness.’
I acknowledge with pride that I am Gypsy, but never, in any situation, I don’t reinforce their Gypsy stereotypes. I don’t ţigăni/haggle or make a row like Gypsies, or gyp people.
Ella: On one hand I’d like you to tell me how your work flourished in theatre, since last year you directed Caragiale in Romani, and you won an award, and on the other hand I’d like you to continue with the family story. I know of your tragedy, your wife’s death...
Ella: I don’t know in what order, let’s try first with the sad ones.
Rudy: Let’s with the sad ones.
Ella: You also said after five years after Magda you had another child.
Rudy: Magda got born, an absolutely gorgeous girl, maybe you’ll meet her.
Ella: Does she live here in town?
Rudy: Yes. She is married to a Hungarian, has two children, I have two gorgeous grandchildren, I am very proud of my family. After Magda, my wife got pregnant every year four years in a row and had miscarriages, because my wife had the RH negative, and my RH was positive, and I didn’t know that. After Magda we got boys, and the boys would inherit my RH, and the mother’s body created antibodies against the fetus and at 2 ½, 3 ½ months of pregnancy the fetus deceased and abortion was induced. For me these were instants of immense tragedy. At that time people described my wife as ‘The lady physician that was always pregnant!’ since for four, five years in a row, people saw her always as big as a beach ball, ready to pop/cu burta la gură. She got pregnant with Adi, my boy that survived. We conceived only boys. So we decided she’d follow a treatment so that Adi could survive. It happened three times in the 6th, 7th and 8th months, that the abortion was imminent, but the doctors solved it somehow and the baby was born full term, he is whole, he is healthy, he has everything he needs, so I have two wonderful children, at a 5 ½ year age difference.
[All thru it church bells toll]
During these sad times I didn’t know what it was, a curse or what it was that she always lost the pregnancy. Adi was a much desired child, both by me and my wife, especially that he was a boy, he was terribly loved by his mother, terribly loved by his mother.
After Adi she became pregnant once more. She had a gemelar pregnancy, twins, uni-placentary, the same placenta, identical twins, they were like two drops of water. They were also boys. But at 3 months the abortion occurred unfortunately. It so happened I witnessed it, she felt the need to go to the toilet, and they fell in the bidet, toilet seat. I called the doctors, and they came immediately.
They were no bigger than my palm, two fetuses.
It was a tragedy for me.
The loss of the twins is tied up with the illness that made my wife die. Some of the doctors said that it was due to the abortion of the two babies, because the lactic functions in her breasts got blocked and a lactic nodule, lump was created and it degenerated into cancer.
But others said it was an effect of Chernobyl, when it happened that day, or the next, we were sunbathing with the children, and an acid rain fell. My wife having a fair skin… We covered the children with a blanket, but we two were exposed to the acid rain. Nothing happened to me. My wife though had little red dots, like they were from measles. Half an hour after the acid rain. So some of the doctors said the cancerous nodule, lump was caused by the Chernobyl radioactivity.
Though she was a doctor herself, she refused to believe she had cancer. She went thru the first breast removal surgery. Then she took her place among those who were considered to have a progressive cancerous illness. She went thru cytostatic treatment, so on, but in two years the cancer relapsed, and came back to the other breast. She went thru the second surgical intervention. Her second breast was cut off. I can’t tell you what dramatic times she went thru, she being a beautiful woman, proud of her body, she now had to wear clothing that covered that area of her female body. Her illness gradually became worse and worse. Again she went thru cytostatic treatement, and we asked what else could we do to stop the illness. At that time we were told there was a drug, extremely expensive, some injections brought from Western Europe, but 6 ampoules cost 60,000 lei. At that time 60,000 lei meant you could buy a two-bedroom luxury apartment, or a car, a Dacia was 62-65,000 lei.
Ella, I was capable, a man with an ill wife, after two surgeries, and two children, to sell our apartment. I said I’d live on the street, no matter where. I wrote a 28-page petition addressed to the Ceauşescu couple,--they were alive at that time, this was before the happening of ’89,--and that petition, maybe God wanted it so, returned to the First Secretary of Mureş County, signed by Elena Ceauşescu, in which she forced the local party bosses to offer us a three-bedroom apartment. It was something unimaginable. To sell your privately owned apartment and to receive from the state another apartment for rent, without bribing anyone. Impossible. But maybe the 28 pages of my petition were written in such a way that it softened the most terrifying hearts, like those of the Ceauşescu couple. And I received that paper signed by Elena Ceauşescu.
I was summoned at the local County Council, they were outraged that I went over the local officials’ heads straight to Bucharest. No one remembered that I had gone every day bowing at the Town Hall, ‘Help me, help me, people! I sold my apartment for six ampoules.’ I didn’t care that I ended up with my children in the street in the hopes that those five ampoules would stop my wife’s illness. All I wanted was for my wife to stay alive. No one would listen to me! But then, I don’t know how, a miracle was created, God listened to me, and we received a two-bedroom apartment from the state to rent. We made the six injections and we prolonged my wife’s life with another four years. But after four years she had multiple metastases, aggravated and galloping cancer, during which, I studied that afterwards, the atypical cells were eating the entire body.
The last period of 6, 7 months, my wife got paralyzed, she developed terrible eschars, bedsores, immense holes were create, in which I’d stick my hand in and I’d take out rotten flesh replacing it with tufts of gauze, over which I’d pour undiluted medicinal alcohol. She felt no pain because the nervous centers were damaged. I learned how to use the catheter, to insert it to help her urinate.
In her mouth she still had hunger sensations, but from neck down her body was not functioning, and so to be able to produce the relief of digestive intestine tract transit I’d insert my fingers and dug out fecal matter. I turned her around in bed with the help of the sheets, and for 6 months I was both father and mother, I was the nurse, the cook, I learned how to cook, I learned to cut, tailor, and to sew, I went to work and I didn’t allow anyone to notice what was happening during those 6 months. I’d go at night in park in Moldova neighborhood, where we had our home, and I’d cry on a bench in the dark, so no one could see or hear me, because I didn’t have the right to show weakness in front of my children and my wife.
And God wanted her torture and our children’s and mine ended, and she went where I say God had granted her place, but I don’t consider that she is gone, she still exists next to me, even now as I talk, I feel her always next to me. That’s what probably made me never remarry, not because I live on memories, no, I live in the present, because as I always said, I didn’t love my wife, I adored her. For me she exists like something sacred, like a saint, and she never vanished from my side, and I never could, and I cannot ever have another woman. No. For me she was the only one, she is the mother of my children, and no other woman could replace her as the mother of my children.
That was the reason I didn’t remarry.
As to myself during that time I learned to do everything. She died in April, on April 14th there were 21 years since she died, Magda was in 12th grade, the boy was 10 years old. I tailored my daughter’s dress for the high school graduation festivity, and her prom dress, and with each stitch I cried, [He cries] ‘Dear God, you won’t leave me without her, she is here.’ I was with her at my Magda’s wedding. I paid the wedding party. She was with me at Adi’s wedding. She was next to me when Magda’s babies were born, when I bathed Magda’s first baby, because they were fearful, and they asked me, ‘How are you not afraid?’ And I said, ‘No, because it is your mother’s hand that holds and washes the baby. Just look how it’s done.’ Or when Adi’s daughter was born.
It’s the same today, when I have my moments of joy or sadness.
It’s the same when I go home in the evening and I talk to her, no one hears me because I live alone in my apartment. I talk to her without anyone thinking me crazy or good for a straightjacket, no, no, but fully conscious I have her nearby me. Or in the kitchen when I cook, or on Christmas when I make stuffed cabbage for my daughter and my son, in an earthenware pot following their mother’s recipe. I’m now the earthbound half left here but with her half in heaven we make a whole. I never went anywhere without her being present. Never. Neither when there were hard moments in my life, nor when my success brought me prizes and recognition. She’s always been next to me.
Ella: Do tell me about your theater experience in Bucharest, how was ignited by Caragiale?
Rudy: I just got a phone call saying I should direct O Noapte furtunoasă/A Tempestuous Night by Caragiale, but in Gypsy language, played by professional actors that acknowledged they were Gypsy. I was in shock. I asked for three days to give the answer, if yes or no. I went on the internet and I saw there had been over 680 shows with this play, from Romanian language to Chinese. I’ve seen about 600 scenic designs. I had to design the scenery and direct. After three days of thinking I concluded I had to weave the play’s world with the Gypsy world, to find affinities without offending either the Romanian side or the Gypsy side. The play’s world was somehow inspired by the world of the slums, and the slums are so very similar with some of the Gypsy communities in which the raucous clamoring noise is overwhelming. Tempest is a very Gypsy thing. And so I asked the actors to perform in this style, slum clamorous style.
After three days I said yes, I’ll do it and I went to Bucharest, where is a viper nest of envy and competitiveness. I chose the actors after a bloody competition, because I don’t make any professional compromise, neither as an actor nor as a director. I am not a pretender, I don’t put on airs and don’t make compromises. I don’t play at playing theater, I really give it my all. I am direct and concrete in my demands.
Well, we rehearsed at the Jewish Theater and I asked about 20 Gypsy intellectuals to come see the previews, because I wanted their opinion. Well, I invited 20, but 40 showed up, word of mouth gathered them, both intellectuals and journalists. It was like wild fire! It was explosive. The first night was at Masca Theater, I thank my friend the director and actor Mălaimare with deepest bow.
It’s a space that fits 40 seats. They placed extra rows of seats so they could fit 60 people. But it was a demand of 200,000 people! They wanted to see the show because the entire Bucharest was abuzz, clamoring, newspapers, TV channels were blasting, ‘European premiere!’ ‘An extraordinary spectacle!’ ‘A sensation!’ And the audience showed up. Out of 60 people, 40 were journalists. It was extraordinary.
One of the most fantastic praise I was given was the one told by Mihai Malaimare, who after the press conference on stage, said ‘I’m proud that this show opened at my theater, and for the fact that 50 years after Alexandru Giugariu, the incomparable sacred monster, played the part of Dumitrache Titircă Rea only now I saw his performance matched by Rudy Moca!’ For me it was an unimaginable praise. This is how I became known in the theater world in Bucharest.
I couldn’t perform for long because I have a cardiac illness, I am a professional theater person, I don’t pretend to play, I play. I don’t pretend I am Titircă, but I am Titircă Inimă Rea, or whatever other character. So I performed 3, 4 shows, but it was extremely tiresome, and an alarm signal beeped, ‘Attention, what are you doing to your heart? You’re not allowed. You have to stay within certain limitation, you are a cardiac!’ And I had, out of health reasons, as Mălaimare served me as a reminder, that the only reason that keeps an actor away from stage is sickness. And I had to resign myself with great sadness from being actively involved on stage. I acted for awhile, but then they found a replacement and the show went on, even today. I just found out that they performed at Maria Filotti Theater in Brăila to enormous acclaim.
And continues to roll on, being in demand.
Then in February, 2010, the State Secretary, who is also the director of the Rroma Center in Bucharest, Amber Zătreanu is the lady’s name, calls me and asks me, ‘Would you like to send a script for our puppet theater competition?’ And I said, ‘No, no, let me be.’ But I sent her a text out of the 15, 20 that I have written for participation in their youth theater, children theater, just to make her shut up.
In July she calls to congratulate me that out of the 26 texts that competed, my script, The Empire of King Baxt, got the Grand Prix. ‘Our policy is that you’ll have to come and direct the show.’ So starting with July 15, 2011 I’ll be in Bucharest rehearsing The Empire of King Baxt. My second time directing in Bucharest, this time for a show for young adults and children.
Ella: Then we shall continue our discussion in Bucharest, when I’ll have other questions to ask. Thank you.
Rudy: Alright, I thank you.
Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, fight against racism being one of them, I’d be ever so grateful.
Thanks go to my family for their quiet support, and to Len Vretholm for his enthusiastic proofreading.
March 17, 2013