I wrote this piece, part of a longer text about a travel to Romania, in 1997 while studying in Budapest.
I gulped thirstily the foamy beer, sensing Florin was in a story telling mood.
The troublesome news was that his mother, Florin was about fifty years old,
broke her leg and was now in hospital in Braşov. This is a medieval mountain
town famous for its Black Stone Cathedral and a street narrower than an obese
"She was searching for her wallet while going down the stairs and fell
down,” he told me lively, though sympathetic. “I would very much like to ask
her now, 'Have you been drunk?' because when this happened to me, in '93, she
said I was drunk. Though I told her that I was not! I was heading towards
having a beer with friends and I was searching in my pocket for my cigarettes
and lighter and I stepped on the edge of the step and fell. I told my friends,
lucky of me they held me up, that I broke my leg, but they thought I was
kidding. They took me to the emergency room and here I was for two months in a
plaster cast up the middle of my thigh. I very much want to ask her if she was
He asked me if I turned into a Hungarian, living in Budapest.
I said not totally.
"How do you say ‘mormoloc’
(tadpole) in Hungarian?"
"I have no idea," I said, realizing I knew tadpole only in Romanian
and I felt silly I wrote fiction in other languages.
"Then you are not a Hungarian yet."
He asked me what was going on with me, and I told him I finished my first
He smiled and asked me what would I worry next now?
"Well, maybe about my second book, and then about my third book, until I
run out of inspiration."
He said a friend of his, a poet, said it would be better if you could make your
debut with the second book.
I said I was afraid of not having new ideas and repeat myself.
He said something bizarre, that to have imagination asks for patience.
I was tickled by this idea and asked him to explain it.
He went way back to his childhood.
I hope he doesn't die, because this is what happens to my sources after they
entrust me with their stories.
"When I was little, I discovered a trunk of old books in the attic.
Tolstoi, Verlaine, Shakespeare, everything. They were dusty and falling apart.
The paper was almost brown. I read them all on the toilet seat we had in the
“I liked sitting there. It was warm and sunny. There wasn’t much sun in Braşov."
The stink of outhouse stung my nostrils. Visual artists were always peculiar to
"I didn't like school in the least. Our parents wanted to make us urban
beings. To have a future. We were coming from the countryside, we didn't know
what was that a toilet, an electric bulb, tap water… We knew other things
connected with nature and animals... The girls were more devilish than we boys
were. Beautiful girls with budding breasts I was dying to touch, were saying,
‘Comrade Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, The President of our country said...’ in the pionier/scout ceremonies.” He imitated
their goosey primness dancing his cigarette.
“I skipped being a pionier. I didn't
even enroll in the Communist Youth Organization. I was too wild, not one of
their positive elements, so they left
me alone. When they asked me to enroll in the Communist Party, I avoided it. I
said I’d think it over."
That was funny. I was always told everybody was forced to join the Communist Party's
"Even in primary school we were rioting against the absurd, rigid
regimentation. The school I went was next to the Synagogue and of course all
the classmates were Jewish, except for a few of us who lived in the Şchei
district populated by Romanians freshly settled from the surrounding villages.
The Jewish children were very good at school. They knew Russian well, we never
studied it properly. It took us months to grumble a few sentences, while these
Jews were chatting in Russian. We looked at each other little cocks in the
toilet and instinctively formed a group of little Nazis. We didn't know what
was a Nazi, but we started to say 'Hail Hitler' and raise our arms in the
toilet." He says this smiling and I listen to him puzzled. This is a nice
man, a real artist, and he tells me smiling how real life was long time ago. Why
should I worry, as I do, and not write it as he literally told me, fearing this
would offend my Jewish friends?
"Then they left with their families, one by one, to Israel.
“At that time the school had a new director who was very tough. He came in
class and announced, 'From now on you don't talk to Miriam Katz anymore. Her
family has been a traitor to our cause. They go to the capitalists.’ Miriam had
long, red hair, white skin and never talked to us anyway. Then we understood we
could start beating them without getting punished and swell! we did! We draw
swastikas in the break on the back of their copybooks. They never said anything
to us, they were always quiet and polite. Who knows what their parents said at
“I stayed in that school until baccalaureate, what else could I do or even imagine
I could do? I knew I liked drawing. My aunt Marilena from Cluj invited me to
visit my cousin and improve my shaky Romanian Literature and Language knowledge
because it was required at the Arts Academy entrance exam.”
At that moment Flavia came home and she was not in the least in the mood to indulge
Florin's stream of consciousness. She came hobbling around the kitchen,
slamming things around. "Where is the bean soup? You drank! You didn't buy
bread, though I left you money on the fridge! Why don't you put the beer in the
He was happy, not in the least embarrassed. Neither was I, because I knew Flavia
thought much of him and worried about his drinking. But we were floating in the
past and we didn't want to come back to the kitchen squabbles. Finally Flavia
gave up and joined us for a while, adding her contributions with an impatient,
"Let me speak now!" when they were describing what kind of woman was
tanti Marilena with her piercing blue eyes, who took Florin and his drawings to
a reputable drawing teacher who refused to teach Florin. Tanti Marilena looked
at him, told him resolutely, "We have to talk!" and the two of them went
into his studio, closed the door after them, and then the teacher called Florin
in and told him he should come to class on Tuesday.
"But what did she say?" I asked thinking she was maybe a femme
"She was a very resolute woman,” said Florin smiling. “Maybe 'Fuck off!' I
don't know. Once we were in her new Trabant. She was new to driving. She drove
illegally thru the zebra crossing. A poor peasant froze in the middle of the
street. He was looking bewildered at her while she was cursing him, both in
Hungarian and Romanian, why the hell he wanted to make an accident."
"But she was making the
accident!" I laughed.
"Yes, but she was like that,” laughed Flavia, warmed up by the memory. She
made a graceful pantomime of Marilena, “In two seconds she rolled the window
down, cursed him in Romanian and Hungarian, to make sure he understood, rolled
back the window pushing hard at the damn handle, and left the peasant aghast
holding his bags in the middle of the zebra… When I went to visit her for the
first time, and Florin told her I was his fiancée, she, first thing, examined
my legs! Though I had a miniskirt and you could see they were good legs, she
grabbed my skirt from my back, pulled it upwards! I was preparing a tea or
something in the kitchen, and she came and said loudly that she wanted to see
my thighs! This was her style..."
The phone rang. It was some Italian, a friend of Pansa, Flavia’s sister,
wanting to say a late Happy New Year to them. Pansa worked for a year at an
Italian clinic. It was sweet how both Flavia and Pansa said beaming their siamo bene and arrivederci. We Romanians finally get to travel abroad, slowly but
Then Flavia had enough of being up so she declared, "It's late, you should
all go to sleep."
But Florin informed her musing, "I like her," making me blush, so we
went on with our marathon. He was now talking about the Arts Academy.
"I didn't like my portraits because they were too true to nature, while
others made futuristic stuff..."
"I need a true-to-nature cover. Can you turn photos into drawings?"
Yes, he could... Then, in the last year at the Graphics department, he had to
do pedagogical practice. He taught drawing in primary school and the pupils
were so brazen.
He was dutifully drawing on the blackboard some still nature or some floral
frieze, working hard to expand their artistic abilities. He was quite sharply
dressed, you know, with a fresh white shirt, his hair slick. Still, what he got
from his sweet pupils while drawing so dutifully? Little bantering voices chirped,
“Oh, don't you say so, dude?!" stabbing him with their giggling.
"You didn't know what to do... Slap her? She was too big! And too small to
ask her for a rendez-vous... So I told them, 'Let’s be patient with each other
and be quiet until the end of the class. You can do your math homework if you
like. I will read this fine novel meanwhile.' So for a whole month we lost each
other’s time, until I fulfilled my teaching requirement."
“O-la-la! I wrote these people in Syracuse—they asked me to write a statement in
my graduate school application about why I liked teaching creative writing. I
wrote them that I loved teaching because I loved eager young minds.”
“Eager young minds indeed,” laughed Flavia. “They are troglodytes nowadays. Few
are like you. I admire you so much."
Oh, again I blushed in embarrassment, and wanting to change the subject I asked
her, "How do you say mormoloc in
Hungarian?" She is also both Hungarian and Romanian.
"Vízibolha..." she mumbled, making an
is purece de apă, păduche de apă!” water
flea, water lice I laughed, “You can’t speak Hungarian either."
"What is it in English?!" she asked.
"I don't know... Neither in French..." It’s tadpole, you sad English
She went to bed promising to wake me up early to be in time to fetch my scholarship
money at the Ministry of Education.
Then Florin said how at graduation, they were already married by then, they
wanted to go work in some other city together.
"There was something in Iaşi, but we wanted Bucharest. I got some very
weird job, she didn't get anything. I was supposed to start work on the first
of August, which I did. My new work place was at 'The Creative Esthetics and
The Esthetics of Production Institute.' On August first, I knocked at their
door. They told me the director was not in, neither was his secretary, or his
deputy, so I should come the next day. They didn't want me there. It was
tricky, because if you didn't show up at the due date, you lost your work
place. I told them, 'The government wants me to work here. Look at this paper!
It says black on white that I am your employee.' I came again the next day, and
again they sent me around from one office to the other. I was staying at my
aunt, so I wasn’t paying a hotel and I have plenty of patience. I decided I
would wait until they signed my papers and gave me work.
One guy told me in a hurry that the director had already left. Later on I
realized he was the director. He was a cynical, a sadistic idiot. In the end
they didn't have what to do and gave me an assignment to draw yellow and black
letters, from Ceauşescu's writings, for a school poster.
Then I remembered that my cousin Paul from Cluj, said I should go and ask for
his friend's help. But I forgot his family name. I knew only where he worked. I
went there and told the porter I wanted to speak to Cristian. The porter asked
humbly, 'Comrade Vlădescu?' 'Yes, Comrade Vlădescu!' and he let me in. Comrade
Vlădescu came out from a fanciful meeting, smoked with me and sent me to the
Military Publishing House. There they treated me nicely, offered me coffee. It
was different if someone like Vlădescu sent you. They didn't have any position
opened but they promised to call me back and they kept their promise.
But now the Creative Esthetics didn't want to let me leave, because they didn't
want to be known that people quit them. One day as I was drawing black and
yellow texts from Ceauşescu, on a ladder, cursing Tofan, the guy who refused to
stamp and sign my work transfer papers, so I could go to the Military
Publishing House. Well, the school principal, a nice woman, came to give me
sandwiches to eat. She was happy that finally the school would have quotations
from Comrade Ceauşescu. And as we talked, I knew that she was also named
Comrade Tofan, but somehow I never made the connection up to then, and I asked
her, 'Are you a relative of Comrade Tofan from the Personnel Office at the
Light Industry Ministry?' 'Yes. I am his wife.' 'Well, he gives me so much
trouble. He doesn't want to let me transfer to the Military Publishing House.'
'Who? Sorin?! Does Sorin give you such troubles?!' The next day he immediately
called me in and signed and stamped my papers and asked me nicely to finish the
quotations for his wife before I’d leave.
"But still the director from the Production Esthetics didn't want to let
me go. Such absurdities were going on. I told my future boss at the Military
Publishing House about it, asking him to intervene somehow and he said, 'Who?!
Basarabescu?! But we don't intervene when it comes to him! We order him, he
complies!' He was their informer. So they ordered him indeed, and I got my
stamp in no time, plus Comrade Basarabescu was licking my ass now telling me we
should cooperate in the future, and what a nice guy I was.
"It was nice at the Military Publishing House so I worked there ever
since. Until I broke my leg... It is so easy sometimes. Things that you
struggle for years get solved in a matter of minutes... I was staying at my
aunt’s. It was dreadfully sad to be alone in Bucharest. I don't wish this to anyone.
I feared I’d annoy my aunt, so I came home only late at night, not to disturb
her. I hang out in pubs, at Turnul, or Pescarul."
"Couldn't you work for yourself after your work hours?"
"Well, it was difficult. When you enter into a network of manipulation and
thievery you can't get out of it. Flavia was in Baia Sprie. Then she came over.
She didn't work for ten years, raising our kids."
"How could she survive without making sculptures?"
"She was okay," he said convinced and poured more beer into his
glass. I was sleepy, sleepy.
"How could you? I'd go crazy
without my writing! Don't you regret it?”
“Quite often, even now. But see, cover design is not exactly art."
"Why not?! Even making Eiffel Towers out of matches can be art!”
“Let’s make a cover for you. I need to hold your book in my hand. Send it to
"It's in English. That won’t do. I’ll write a summary in Romanian for you.
And I have a photo I'd like you to make a drawing after.”
"Send them. We could make a book, even if only a single copy. Something to
hold happily in your hand. Not like these consumerisms they sell nowadays. Do
I nodded. It was exciting imagining Florin brooding around designing my first
I should mail him the photo.
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, witnessing democracy, freedom of speech and faith, and engineering social change thru art being some of them, I’d be grateful.
October 18th, 2013