Dumitru Țepeneag (pronounced Doomeetroo Tsepenag): IEI?; or ILE/IEE??
Hotel Europa by Dumitru Țepeneag; p. 331-6:
By the time Petrişor returned with three more bottles, Fuhrmann was no longer upset. They’re just kids, after all, running away from a benighted land. Mr. Fuhrmann had always regretted not having children; they would have been Ion’s age by now, and probably similar to him: frivolous and self-centered. Still, it’s stupid for a parent to blame his children for being selfish. There’s no reciprocity in the parent-child relationship, except perhaps at the emotional level. As far as duties and responsibilities are concerned, we’re talking about a one-sided phenomenon. Parents protect their offspring without asking anything in return, without counting on any reward. They do it by instinct. This should, therefore, also be the basis of ecological morality, Mr. Fuhrmann said to himself—and he slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand, rather as Archimedes did before leaving his bath, causing no small amount of confusion in the two Romanian students, who had been sipping their beer and thinking of something completely different.
“Do you need anything? Don’t you feel well?” Petrişor asked politely.
Furhmann looked like someone who’s just heard he’s won the lottery. His eyes were swimming in tears of joy, his power of speech temporarily lost. Great happiness is beyond words. The only time Ion had seen him look so radiant—his forehead red and glistening with perspiration—was when he beat Tariq, the unofficial backgammon champion at Ahmed’s bar.
Not knowing how to share his joy with the young men, nor how to pick up the thread of their conversation about ecological philosophy, Furhmann raised his glass for a toast—the only problem being that his guests had again finished their bottles.
“What’s wrong with you kids? Sitting with empty glasses in the homeland of beer?”
Petrişor didn’t wait to be asked twice.
“There are only two bottles left,” he shouted from the kitchen.
“We’ll buy some more,” the German called back proudly, and he took out his wallet. Then he had a better idea. He flicked through his address book and—under the eyes of the new generation—dialed a number with his ring finger. Although he spoke very quickly in his native German, the invaders from the Orient understood that he was making an urgent order. Two dozen bottles! The old boy’s lost his mind, Ion thought.
The local store took less than fifteen minutes to deliver. A few bottles were straight from their own refrigerator, so that the customer could start drinking at once. Mr Fuhrmann took three glazed mugs with lids from his sideboard.
He began to speak: slowly and hesitantly at first, pausing between sentences to find the right words and to get his ideas in order, then more and more quickly, with ever greater fluency and fervor . . . He didn’t start with Adam and Eve but with the Flood. Until then people had lived in real harmony with nature, even though they’d already been banished from the Garden (did they feel like exiles?). In other words, they were no longer simply animals: they’d learned to work and to think. The watery assault, caused by incessant torrential rain, was considered a betrayal, an abandonment by the Mother Nature in whose bosom men and women had, till then, developed more or less as little children. They adopted three kinds of attitude in the face of this axiological apocalypse: Noah’s response, which under Abraham led to the emergence of monotheism; Nimrod’s response, which paved the way for the scientific mentality by way of the construction of the Tower of Babel; and then the Greek reconciliation with nature, to which Hegel, for one, adhered for a time. In reality, the last of these approaches was never fully accepted, even among the Greeks; it may therefore be considered utopian, albeit sound. The other two ideals, particularly the first, involved submission to a higher, divine power that could mediate our relationship with nature and protect us from its caprices; it was even believed that, by worshipping that higher power, humans would more and more get nature to obey them. We are the “chosen species,” after all! Among the Greeks, however, the relationship between man and nature was managed by a host of gods, and man’s ambition to wrest more and more privileges was often rejected or condemned. Prometheus’s betrayal drew a terrible punishment, remember. Man didn’t try to make peace with nature, just maintain a certain equilibrium with it . . .
The hiatus between man and nature, symbolized by the Flood, may also be seen as the separation of Subject from Object, a split carried to the point of estrangement and even open hostility. To heal this wound, Abraham imposed monotheism and, in a related move, a twofold tyranny over nature: man was the slave of Jehovah, and nature was the slave of man. Go forth and multiply! Master the whole world! Such was God’s command to the human species.
The Judeo-Christian God is violent and cruel. He accepts evil in the world and, through human agency, even commits it Himself. The correlation between God and man is evident, here. Who, in the end, created whom, “in his own image and likeness”? It doesn’t much matter. Either way, the result was disastrous. If we can no longer be believers, this is due to our recoginizing how low the human individual has sunk . . . To believe in Him, we must also believe in ourselves, and how is that possible these days? God has His faults, of course, but at least He has the excuse of being a projection of our own . . .
“Okay, but He was also a way for man to justify his own crimes,” Ion interrupted, taking the argument in a different direction.
Fuhrmann remained unruffled.
“That was clearly an unconscious projection, and it only made things worse. Morality . . .” (Here I feel like adding: the impulse behind morality must be duty to others, hence to the species . . . )
“It can’t be based on a deal with the divinity,” Ion continued, in a slightly declamatory tone.
Fuhrmann nodded. He was proud that the boys were no longer just listening to him but also understanding. They needed to be patient a little longer, however, since he hadn’t finished what he wanted to say.
“So, paradoxical though it may seem, the religious attitude fueled Nimrod’s attitude, which sought to confront nature without divine aid. The Tower of Babel was human pride in its pure state. And, if God prevented its completion—the confusion of tongues made it impossible for the workers to communicate with one another—He did it out of fear that the gigantic edifice would reach heaven itself: that is, that men would dispense with Him, no longer need a protective master . . .”
Ion blinked, unsure of what Fuhrmann was getting at. Did he mean that both science and religion are anti-ecological? In that case, well, man himself . . . But he didn’t want to interrupt the oratorical flow again.
“Let me go back to Abraham for a moment,” the German said, looking quite pleased. “As you know, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son, just to prove his blind obedience to God. In nature, the perpetuation of the species is an instinct, an end in itself, the red thread running through life on earth. Only man has been able to disturb this vital instinct, to sacrifice the future of his species for the sake of an ideological construct. The angel stayed Abraham’s hand, but he would have killed . . .”
“Maybe he’d already seen him, so knew he wasn’t risking anything,” Ion suggested.
“Again with the jokes!”
Well, anyway, he would have killed Isaac, that’s what we’re told, and Isaac would have accepted it without flinching: in essence, he would have committed suicide. An ecological murder, so to speak—the perfect genocide. The Hebrews pioneered this idea, and then the Christians took it up and made it the cornerstone of their thought: God Himself had agreed to kill his only begotten son. Was this a way of atoning for His own original sin: the subject-object dichotomy? A reprieve for a humanity that was now entirely at sea, and whose morality was on the rocks? However we rationalize this sacrifice, it’s clear that Christian compassion isn’t applicable outside the human realm. Man continues to think of himself as the lord of nature, when in fact he’s a petty tyrant . . . a Ceausescu.
The Judeo-Christian mentality is fundamentally anti-ecological, and that fact is the source of all the difficulties in the way of a shift in humanity’s priorities. Ecological morality must be based on a new sanctification of our survival instinct: for instance, the idea that the coming generations will be our own flesh and blood . . . which, of course, is perfectly true! We have a responsibility for what will happen to our grandchildren and great grandchildren, and it depends mainly on us whether and under what conditions they will exist. Sanctification of the species, not of the individual!
What can stop Mr. Fuhrmann when he’s philosophizing?
Only one thing: the Absolute; pure transcendence.
The two students, heads buzzing from the beer and the hot summer of 1991, hoped that Mr. Fuhrmann would soon tire himself out and rest content with his prolegomenon for a new morality . . . Perhaps then he would take a little break, at least long enough for them to hazard a modest proposal:
“How about stopping by Ahmed’s? Maybe Tariq’s back from Baghdad.”
The tree branches at the window are naturally darker than the black night, especially as the night begins to fade, to grow paler, as night nears its end. This time my mind is made up! I’m on my way . . .
I hoist myself up and remain seated for a moment on the edge of the bed. I switch on the bedside lamp and turn to look at Marianne, who is sleeping with her mouth half open. She isn’t snoring—whistling, rather, like a samovar when the pressure is building up. I switch off the light.
Then I go to the bathroom and turn on the light there. The mirror greets me with a treacherous welcome. Servile and hypocritical! I try to avoid it by looking away and busying myself with the taps. I wash my face and brush my teeth, but don’t bother shaving this time; it would be too difficult without looking in the mirror. I return to the bedroom and grope around for my clothes. I feel the cat’s head, then its body stretched out on my shorts. Its fur is so soft, irritatingly velvety. I give it a push, and when it meows I tweak its ears. Marianne is breathing gently and whistling.
I find the suitcase exactly where I hid it a few days ago. I put on my padded coat, step into the hallway and close the door behind me. My back suddenly begins to ache as I walk down the staircase. Tant pis! [Oh well!/Nevermind!] Nothing’s going to stop me this time. Outside the dawn is slowly breaking. I head for the metro.
At the street corner, a midget is trying to climb up a rope. What’s holding it in place? Preferring not to look, I cross over to the other sidewalk. My suitcase isn’t heavy, and I try to convince myself that I am cheerful and carefree. I whistle an aria, but I get it so wrong that even I can’t tell where it comes from. I can’t resist the temptation to turn my head for a moment: the midget has wriggled up nearly three meters, so that his head is now level with a few second-floor windows. He is wearing a wide-brimmed hat. I quicken my pace. A car speeds past, and I have just enough time to glimpse a woman inside, dressed in white, like a bride. Also wearing a veil. Beside her, in a cage, a bird that looks just like an eagle. Yes, it must really have been an eagle. A bad omen, I say to myself, and I switch my suitcase to the other hand.
I walk down the steps into the metro. Two young people run by, then another chases after them. I think I can see a knife in his hand. I flatten myself against the wall, hesitate for a few moments, then start again in the same direction—even though I feel a lump in my throat and a shooting pain in my lower back. I have to get to the Gare Montparnasse, and from there catch a train to Brittany. A friend has offered to put me up there in his summerhouse, which he only uses one month a year, sometimes even less. I’ll have one room on the second floor, with a bathroom next to it. The window looks out onto some wooded hills; the village, behind the house, serves as a kind of last outpost before the mysterious country beyond. Perceval passed that way one still morning—a morning that will never be repeated.
I had forgotten the wild kids. When I reach the platform, I see all three of them chatting like the best of friends. I look at my watch: there’s plenty of time. Is Marianne awake by now? There’s a public telephone on the platform, and I think that maybe I should call and let her know I’m on my way to Brittany. Yes, at the very least I ought to tell her where I’ll be. But she’s probably still asleep, whistling and gently breathing. What’s the point of waking her? I’ll phone from the station.
When the metro arrives, the boys don’t even think of getting on but start racing to the other end of the platform. A policeman, brutally professional, pushes a ragged gypsy out of the car that stops in front of me. The gypsy winks at me and smiles, not looking at all perturbed. It’s not out of the question that he’s been hoping this moment would come. Now that the police have picked him up, he won’t have to worry about tomorrow.
“Nonsense!” Marianne would have said at once. “Do you think that freedom counts for nothing, that it’s just an empty word?”
“Yes,” I reply provocatively in my imagined dialogue—just to see what she’ll say, what arguments she’ll use against me. Both of us enjoy arguing, contradicting each other. “Freedom isn’t much use when you’re hungry.”
She takes a sip of coffee, as if to buy herself time to come up with a crushing response. Unable to find one, she makes do with asking me some (let’s say, pointed) questions.
“Is that how you spoke to the young people you met in Bucharest? Would you have the courage, or the effrontery, to tell them something like that?”
She thinks she has shut me up. In fact, when I met Mihai at the bar of the Hotel Intercontinental, I tried to explain to him that the important thing is not being free but struggling to be free. The road to freedom is more valuable than freedom itself, especially if it’s the kind that gets handed down by previous generations and becomes yours without a fight. Freedom like that . . .
“How come?” Mihai asked.
“Because all you can ever inherit are formal liberties, enacted by legislation and limited by the liberties of others. In a supposedly normal . . .”—I should have said normative—“. . . democratic society, people know they are free but don’t feel it. When you struggle for freedom, in a totalitarian society, the little freedoms you manage to snatch, like in a battle, are more euphoric, if you see what I mean. They’re more intoxicating than the same freedoms when they become legal rights. In a struggle it’s as if you can feel freedom—in and of itself.”
“You feel fear, then the pride of overcoming it,” Mihai said, almost in a whisper.
“Exactly. That’s what real freedom feels like.”
Dear Mr. XXXX,
As I write the lines you hold before you, the tears have not yet dried on my cheeks. I’ve been crying all day, like a child! At first it was partly because of the pain. Then, as the physical pain faded, I cried out of bitter disappointment. All is lost! For us, the battle is over!
Oh, the villains, the foul, vile wretches! How patiently they waited for the elections, and then, emerging victorious, stepped forward to do what they’d been preparing all along! Everything was planned in the minutest detail. First they sent in the police to clear the hunger strikes—as if they cared a fig whether they starved to death or not. It was just a pretext to get at us, and to put us to the test. We didn’t give in, of course. Most of the strikers stood firm. It was clear from our parleys with the police that they’d been given orders to provoke us. We refused to leave, and so they drew their rubber truncheons.
We retreated at the first assault. But then we came back in force, with stones, bottles of gasoline, and various concoctions—Molotov cocktails or whatever they’re called. I was in the crowd of young people who launched the counterattack. “It’s like at the Battle of Plevna!” Mihai shouted, at the head of what was mainly a group of gypsies. And so what? Who was looking at the color of their skin? “So what if they’re gypsies?” I said to Maria, who stuck as close as she could to me, even though she was screaming and crying with fright. Just as long as we don’t become racists like in South Africa!
But they weren’t just gypsies: they were probably gypsy-provocateurs, brought in to spread mayhem! Mihai was the only one who really believed that the police had pulled back to spare us. In fact, they wanted us to set fire to the interior ministry and smash things as we went along. At one point we found ourselves in front of the television studios. Mihai was right at the front, shouting his head off and throwing anything he could lay his hands on. He was one of the first to break into the building. How courageous he was! Then I lost sight of him: he seemed to vanish into thin air. I’m afraid something may have happened to him, because I didn’t see him the next day either, when the miners arrived and all hell broke loose.
The miners’ picks were more effective than police truncheons or water cannons. It was pandemonium! I saw with my own eyes how they pummeled a geology student I know: Constantinescu—Vasile Constantinescu, I think; his friends call him Sile for short. They hit him till he was flat on the ground, with blood pouring from him like from a slit pig. Others came (miners too?) and swung him into a truck like a sack of beans, on top of other bodies lying there. I was watching from a hiding place in an arcade, hardly daring to stick my nose out. I’d already been hit on the back with a cudgel and punched several times near the throat. I’d only just managed to get away from them.
Maria and Ana disappeared at the same time as Mihai. Anyway, there is no hope now of our holding out: the miners were too strong and had the support of Securitate types. I’d bet my life on it.
I stopped writing to watch the news, and there was Iliescu thanking the miners and that despicable bearded bandit. If I cry now, it’s out of fury! People say it was the bandit who shipped those miners in. Those monsters will stop at nothing to hang onto power, they don’t even bother to hide it, and yet the masses, still in a stupor from the years of the Midget, went out and voted for them anyway! The people applauded the miners: yes—ruffians, airheads, and dimwits, that’s the people for you! (Excuse my language.) Penguins of the cobbler Ceausescu! A frightened mass, willing to do anything just to survive—that was the Romanian people during the communist period! We all complained that we were living in a totalitarian state, with a monstrous police apparatus watching our every movement? And weren’t the police and Securitate Romanians too? Weren’t they recruited from the ranks of the people? And now, aren’t the miners also the people? And the tongue-waggers and costermongers who cheered them on after voting as they did . . . and the gypsies too, some of whom, as I said, were probably put on the payroll by the new regime to lead us astray: aren’t they Romanians too? Don’t they also live in this sad country, where people are so fond of jeering at others?
Forgive me my rage! All I can do is rant and rave: but what else is left? During those December days, I began to hope that our “mioritism”—if that word, with its pastoral overtones, is not a vacuous invention of intellectuals steeped in cultural theory and desperately seeking something more than a purely individualist identity . . . if, that is, it expresses a national or ethnic reality—well, I hoped that it might finally have some beneficial effects after being forced into an accommodation with Russian-style communism for so many years. Yes, I thought that the heap of mashed potato had finally exploded, in the end. And some people really did sacrifice themselves in December! When we faced APCs on the streets and shouted that death would liberate us, it was no longer a question of mioritic passivity; the sheep were no longer lining up passively for the slaughter but advancing toward their butchers with chests (so to speak) bared. If mioritism means overriding the will to live or even facing death with indifference, like the Dacians of old who joyfully fell in battle, then why should we not sacrifice ourselves for a whole nation pining for freedom? That’s what I said to myself: that’s what I thought most people were thinking. But I was wrong. In December, of course, the majority of people stayed at home in carpet slippers watching television. And, when they finally went out, it was to rejoice, not to sacrifice themselves!
The Romanian people didn’t change during the years of dictatorship. Or, if they did, it was for the worse: communism just accentuated their defects.
I cannot and will not remain in this country. I’ll go out into the big wide world. Now that’s much easier than before. At least we’ve got that: passports!
Once again please excuse me for this overlong and whinging letter. I shall allow myself to hope that we’ll meet again before long: not in Romania, but somewhere, somewhere in Europe.
“We’ll wake up and find him on the doorstep,” the Siamese mewed, with disgusted egotism.
But I say nothing. I don’t feel like commenting.
I go to the bathroom, automatically look at myself in the mirror, feel my puffy cheeks, study the rising slope of my forehead that accentuates the constant hair loss. “That’s life,” I say, shrugging my shoulders. I notice an odd taste in my mouth and decide to brush my teeth. I take the toothpaste and only squeeze a little onto the brush, because if there’s too much foam it ends up on my ears. I turn the tap. I’m too lazy to use the glass, which holds the tube of toothpaste, so I shape my hands into a bowl and lean over to sip some water; it’s lukewarm, then positively hot. I chose the wrong tap, so now I turn the one marked FROID and get a pleasant temperature. That’s civilization for you: all you need to do is turn a tap, press a button or lift a lever. I brush my teeth well. Although I don’t have my full set of teeth anymore, I haven’t needed any false ones yet, and the ones I still have will keep me going for a few more years. I rinse my mouth and think that maybe it would be a good idea to shave before leaving.
This time my mind is made up. There’s no point putting it off any longer. I must start writing the novel, writing it seriously, from beginning to end.
I’ve been to the pharmacy and bought the medicine prescribed by Dr. Gachet. My suitcase has been ready for a long time; the keys to my friend’s house are in my pocket. I look in the mirror again and smile: how pleasant it is to be leaving; to go out in the morning with a light suitcase in your hand, whistling, without a care in the world, not once turning your head, not once looking around with pity or contempt as you pass all those care-bowed people hurrying off to work.
I see him pedaling on the edge of the forest, happily breathing the fresh morning air. The mailman brings me a batch of newspapers from Marianne. Recent copies of Libťration, which I immediately start to leaf through.
The American senator Robert Dole (from Kansas) has expressed the view that the granting of most favored nation status to Romania should depend on how it behaves in the field of human rights. Dole, head of the Republican minority in the Senate, arrived in Bucharest on Friday, together with six other congressmen. In order for that status to be granted, he said, his colleagues will have to be convinced that “Romania has an exemplary human rights record.”
The delegation of senators met President Iliescu and representatives of the opposition parties. For his part, Petre Roman stated that he would be happy to go to the United States and to have a frank discussion with anyone interested in what was happening in Romania.
Most of the paper is, of course, devoted to the conflict in the Gulf, especially since Baghdad turned all foreign citizens on Iraqi soil into hostages. But this doesn’t mean that journalists have lost all interest in Eastern Europe. Here, for example, is a quote from an article entitled The Rabbi of the Great Departure:
“ ‘I’d have shaken hands with Hitl*r if it would have led to the saving of Jewish lives.’
“Moses Rosen will go down in history as the man who orchestrated the largest exodus of Jews from Eastern Europe (not including the USSR) to Israel. Thanks to his Zionist tenacity, 380,000 Romanian Jews—ninety-seven percent of the total—have managed to leave the country since the Second World War. Moses Rosen considers that he has fulfilled his mission to save his people. Many still hold the price of this policy against him, however: intense collaboration with a regime for which he became a kind of itinerant ambassador . . .
“By allowing the Jews to leave, the regime in Bucharest would obtain most favored nation status from the United States, and the international Jewish community would praise the ‘humanitarian’ merits of Ceausescu. The Jews became a bargaining chip. Israel paid between five and seven thousand dollars, sometimes much more, for each exit visa, in accordance with the demands of the Romanian authorities. Ceausescu accumulated a personal fortune of sixty million dollars through this ‘traffic’ alone.
“In 1968, Rosen sang the praises of Ceausescu, and ‘in my own name and that of the Jewish community in Romania’ expressed ‘the gratitude and boundless affection we have for him.’ These encomiums did not go unrewarded. In a country where religious practices were violently repressed, Rosen managed to expand the activity of Jewish organizations. Although the number of Jews in Romania continually declined, so that more than half the Jewish population is now over sixty-five, there are eighty synagogues and sixty-eight Jewish community centers in the country. Several Talmudic schools teach Hebrew, approximately five thousand elderly Jewish people enjoy special medical treatment, and four thousand Jewish individuals eat meals in kosher restaurants.
“These benefits for Jews led to an exacerbation of the latent anti-Semitism among Romanians. But Rosen justified himself as follows: ‘We must preserve the traditions for those who remain, and prepare the young people who leave for Israel so that they can emigrate as true Orthodox Jews, unlike the Jews from the USSR, who seek only to escape from communism and to become American citizens. I have been accused of making a pact with the devil, but I have never repudiated the state of Israel.
“Ten years from now it is possible that not a single Jew will be left in Romania. Moses Rosen will perhaps have been the last great rabbi of an exodus community. And he has done his duty to the end.”
(It can’t have hurt that he was named Moses. Probably made him particularly tenacious in his fight to return the local Jews to Israel.)
Ion might accuse me of speaking more about myself in this novel than him, despite the fact that he’s the main character. Of course, it would be easy for me to reply that he doesn’t decide who the main character is . . . But that, I admit, would be unworthy of an author who hates appearing to his readers as a god or a father in relation to his characters—especially since Ion (or anyone else) would have every right to ask me, with a show of innocence:
“Fair enough, but who does decide? And when?”
That would leave me stumped. So, I need to go about it differently. Maybe I should give Ion a little lecture about the function of the narrator, that mysterious intermediary between myself and him, between him and the reader, that voice which fills (or whose task it is to fill) the acoustic space of the novel, and without which you might think that nothing could exist. No, he’s not the author. The author is like the Holy Spirit: full of ideas but invisible, inaudible. He pulls all the strings, it’s true, but whose strings? I mean, he needs characters, even if they are miserable puppets . . . And all those creatures, who aren’t human beings—that’s why they’re called characters!—need a voice in order to exist, in order to express themselves. That’s what the narrator is: a voice! A voice that seeps through all the interstices of an unstable, evanescent construction built out of words and meanings. As in a dream, the narrator’s voice cannot be located; it gives you the feeling that it can burst out anywhere—unreal and ubiquitous. Of course, from time to time we seem to hear the voice of the characters. But that’s an illusion. In reality it’s still just the narrator: he dubs in all the parts, not only their speech but also their thoughts. Concealed somewhere along the props, he’s the one who thinks aloud.
Thus, if Ion could see me at this moment, he would realize that I’m as silent as the grave: I don’t even move my lips. And I can assure him that I’m no ventriloquist. (No, this ventriloquism metaphor complicates things. Forget I ever mentioned it. I said nothing!) I cover my mouth with my hand. So, if Ion looked at me with, as they say, eagle eyes, he would probably begin to understand what the narrator is all about. And he would be able to explain it to me! Yes, he would explain that it’s no good balancing centaur-like on the chair’s hind legs and wriggling to catch sight of myself in the mirror, no good craning my neck, pursing my lips, and torturing myself, I still won’t manage to see my reflection from where I am here by the window. No, it’s best if I stop going on endlessly about the narrator, because I still don’t know how to explain it properly. How can I explain it if I don’t really understand it myself? Perhaps there should be no mention of a narrator at all. And aren’t there more than one? Eh? And then, what are readers? Aren’t they also narrators of a kind, since we don’t all read the same text—even if it’s in the same book? Well, okay, I don’t want to insist. I think it would be easier to tell Ion—who must already be in Budapest, surprised that the suburbs have the same slowly crumbling prefabricated apartment blocks as in Bucharest—to tell Ion that I tend to write more about myself simply because I know myself better than I know him or the other characters. How could I know them? Did they exist before I put their names to paper? Before I tuned in to the voice of our intermediary, who speaks like an evangelist employed as a switchboard operator, and who now and then lets out a high-pitched squeak . . . ?
Mihai told me about Ion that first time. But who could have told me about Ion passing through the town of Kecskemet? It takes a real superhuman effort to follow him on his European tour. I’ve never been to Kecskemet—where Dr. Farkas left his car at the parking lot by the theater and invited the young men to a cafť. He had to take a short break before he took the wheel again. His son Gyury still didn’t have his driver’s license. Nor did Ion.
“Have you ever been to Budapest before?” Dr. Farkas asked Ion, and I have no idea what the student from Bucharest replied.
For my own part, I’ve only been to Budapest once, which, despite its Stalinist suburbs, is a splendid city, a real European capital. I was there a few years ago, for the official “rehabilitation” of Nagy Imre. I’ve forgotten the name of the hotel where I stayed. I remember it was on Lenin Utca, the main thoroughfare whose name has doubtless been changed by now. The elevator boy was a Romanian or Hungarian from Transylvania, so we could speak the same language. He told me that Budapest was full of Romanians. Many had crossed into Hungary intending to get to Austria, and from there to Germany, France, or Italy—anywhere, just to be in the famous West, now metonymically baptized “Europe,” as if the countries that didn’t belong to the European Community weren’t Europe at all but Asia, as if Prague and Budapest weren’t right at the heart of Europe. If, like De Gaulle, we reckon that Europe actually stretches from the Atlantic to the Urals, then even poor old Bucharest is closer to the center than to the edge—the eastern edge, I mean.
“But isn’t Russia also in Europe?” Ion asked, if only to please his benefactors.
“Not really . . .” Dr. Farkas answered, with a sudden note of sadness in his voice. His son began to laugh.
So, they were somewhere in Europe, where, as everyone knows, everything you could possibly want will just drop right into your lap. All you have to do is lean forward and pick it up. Yes, it’s all easy as pie. The only problem is, at some point, you might get a little sick of pie. You might want something else for a change.
“I’d like a croissant,” Gyuri said. He knew a cafť in Budapest where . . .
“In Budapest or Vienna?” Ion asked, with enough skepticism in his voice to irritate Farkas Jr.
“I said Budapest.”
Ion raised his arms as if to say that he had nothing against the idea, that in any case he had no desire to argue or indeed to suggest that he thought the Viennese more civilized or better fed than the inhabitants of Budapest. In fact, he was an admirer of the Hungarians, as Farkas Senior and Farkas Junior very well knew. During the dictatorship he’d even thought of running away to Budapest.
The Hungarians treated Romanian emigrants quite well. This was hardly surprising, since they hated Ceausescu so much: above all for the way he treated the Hungarians and Saxons in Transylvania. In the Stalinist period there had been an “autonomous Hungarian region” there. Maybe things were more or less okay for the Hungarians under Stalinism, but in any case they got quite a bit worse when Ceausescu figured out how useful nationalism could be—and nationalism was an excellent diversion on the other side of the River Tisza too. So, although Hungarian guards were supposed to be just as vigilant as their Romanian counterparts, they usually turned a blind eye to runaways of any ethnic group. Besides, how could they have told them apart? Through a pair of binoculars, a Romanian and a Hungarian sneaking across the border look as alike as brothers. That’s one of the advantages of extreme situations: they allow us to imagine that we belong to the same species. Afterward, we forget. No doubt membership in a single species doesn’t provide us a sufficient sense of identity; it’s only good for borderline cases. When life gets easier, your criteria become more selective—until, after a few successive selections, you wake up in a concentration camp or a gulag. But even that kind of selection isn’t discriminating enough . . . it’s too dependent on other people. You could take the initiative and carve more and more groups out of your society without waiting for anyone’s help . . . except that not even the narrowest circle (the family, for example) can ensure total solidarity.
“You’re right,” said Farkas pŤre. “Man is a wolf . . .”
“. . . a lone wolf,” Ion specified.
But Farkas fils thought differently. In his view, there was a cure for everything. Of course, he said, the dissolution of the unity between animal and nature, bringing the advent of consciousness (which can only ever be unhappy) and the subject-object opposition, have made man a solitary being, have alienated him, split him in two. They have atomized the human species.
“But that’s only the first stage of man’s development,” the young man continued, now almost shouting.
“And what comes next, if I may ask?” his father enquired.
Ion smiled sardonically. He’d heard this kind of Hegelianism before—in the Marxism classes at school. The car overtook a tractor that was pulling a piece of agricultural equipment—let’s say a harrow. It looked like an instrument of torture from one of Kafka’s short stories.
“Next comes the contractual stage—the stage of society based on contract rather than conflict.”
“The multilaterally developed socialist society!” Ion exclaimed, and Dr. Farkas shook with laughter at the steering wheel. This didn’t fluster his son, although the idealist did scratch his red beard and pause for a moment to recharge his batteries. We shall use this pause to contemplate the countryside around them, through Ion’s somewhat melancholy eyes. Only now did he realize that he had left his native land behind and had no idea when he would see it again. The Hungarian Puszta is certainly not a pastoral or “mioritic” landscape, and suddenly unfamiliar surroundings usually provoke a sense of nostalgia, accompanied with a slight heartache or a little lump in the throat. –But isn’t the Walachian plain of Bărăgan similar to the Puszta? Transylvania is a real mioritic space . . . –Have you seen Burgundy, or Bourgogne, as it’s called in French? That’s a mioritic space all right: hills and dales, hills and dales, as far as the eye can see; acres of vineyards; and the high-speed train cutting through like a butcher’s knife . . .
Gyuri returned to the charge, addressing himself to Ion.
“The way you mix things up is typical of people acting in bad faith. What I’m saying has nothing to do with socialism—not even theoretical socialism.”
“Well, I’m sorry,” Ion said in a conciliatory, newly sincere tone. His mind seemed to be elsewhere, though he still made a polite effort to follow the discussion. Besides, he was looking at the countryside, not at his traveling companions.
Farkas Jr. went on to explain about the relational or relativist morality that can be established through a kind of negotiation, you might even call it haggling. It doesn’t rule out some pretty violent gestures, although these are subsequently defused and taken on board by society as a whole. Gyuri appeared to know what he was talking about. From time to time he used the phrase consumer society, which to his mind was less a model or ideal—though Ion wasn’t concentrating and missed these finer points—than a kind of stage in a process of transformation.
“Yes, a fairly slow evolution, certainly not without conflicts or latent contradictions.”
Ion closed his eyes. Farkas pŤre yawned with boredom. Budapest was getting closer.
The following article appeared in the daily Libťration, under the headline: “The ET Beliefs of RaŽl’s Disciples.”
An encounter of the third kind occurred in a casino near Clermont Ferrand. On the movie screen, a formation of flying saucers descends on Jerusalem. A UFO lands on a spotless platform. When the extraterrestrials appear, in a clip taken from a film by Spielberg, more than six hundred people cheer wildly in the belief that the virtual images are about to become reality. They all call themselves “RaŽlians,” disciples of RaŽl (in Hebrew: the one who has seen), the bearded prophet dressed in white from head to toe and seated in the front row. The RaŽlians all make financial contributions for the building of a base that’s supposed to receive the “emissaries from heaven” in the Holy City. All that remains is to collect twenty million dollars more and to get the approval of the Israeli government. It has been given a friendly warning: if it refuses, Israel will be wiped off the face of the earth.
Over three days of celebrations, the RaŽlians marked their twenty years of preparing for the “golden age” of humanity. The movement currently claims to have 30,000 members in a total of thirty-one countries, including four thousand in France. [ . . . ]
RaŽl is really Claude Vorilhon, aged thirty-seven, born in Vichy of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. Before he set himself up as the messiah, Vorilhon had tried his hand at sports journalism and done some singsong in Left Bank cabarets. His big hit: Miel et Cannelle [Honey and Cinnamon]. But, on December 13, 1973, while out getting some fresh air in the Auvergne, he came across an extraterrestrial in the crater of the Lassolas volcano. The creature dictated to him The Book Which Tells the Truth, then whisked him off to meet Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha on an Edenic planet.
Vorilhon’s belief in flying saucers, plus his air of a slightly crazy backpacker, earned him a number of television appearances thanks to Jacques Chancel and Philippe Bouvard. Public speeches completed the transformation of this guitar strummer into the prophet of an “atheist religion open to the infinite,” whose roots lay in a highly seductive sci-fi script. In short, Vorilhon explains, we are nothing but biological robots connected to the great central computer of the Elohim. There is no God and no soul, only a human species manufactured in a laboratory using DNA. After death, “nothing exists unless science does something to make it exist.” The central computer spits out the balance sheet of each life, and if it is positive the dead person takes up eternal residence among the Elohim, where he can make full use of creatures entirely subject to his desires.
Claude Vorilhon would probably have returned to his hikes in the Auvergne if he hadn’t attracted dozens, hundreds, indeed thousands of followers. Then his playful spirit left the UFO domain and entered New Age sociology, with a set of arguments that were a little more complex than the jumble you might expect. With the Elohim as his centerpiece, Vorilhon preaches a “selective democracy” or “geniocracy” and denounces the fact that “society nowadays lavishes more attention on the mentally deficient and physically disabled than on those with exceptional talents.” It is a eugenics program with spine-chilling echoes, which RaŽl plays down by emphasizing his total opposition to racism. He has also changed the emblem that all RaŽlians wear on a chain around their neck: a swastika—“signifying that everything is cyclical”—in the middle of a Star of David. The swastika is rounded off in the star, “so as not to shock the many Jews in the movement.” The RaŽlian breviary makes no distinction between the artificial computers built by humanity and the “biological robots” that make up Homo sapiens. The only difference, RaŽl says, is that we are “self-programmable and self-reproducible.” Love is a purely “chemical reaction that occurs automatically when a human being has been correctly programmed.” [ . . . ]
Vorilhon considers psychoanalysis to be “one of the plagues of humanity.” “You are what you want to be,” he says. “If you want to be a bell, then you’re a bell. If a cathedral, you’re a cathedral. If the infinite, you’re the infinite.”
During those three days of commemoration, the six hundred RaŽlians attending at Clermont Ferrand thrilled to the testimony of “the best” among them, whom RaŽl had promoted on the basis of merit in accordance with a five-level pyramidal system. An Italian girl: “It’s like I’ve been born again. Now I know who I am: a set of particles assembled according to a genetic code that describes my personality.” Christelle: “The messages from the Elohim were what I was lacking. Now I bathe all the time in a bath of love.”
There are also some former drug addicts: “RaŽl has confirmed what I felt all along: the world isn’t what they keep ramming down your throat—that life means suffering.” Nor is there a lack of young scientific and professional workers, often marked by a previous association with “guilt-inducing” Catholicism, such as the technician who joined the movement after flirting with Buddhism and “the paranormal,” and who has found a hedonism to his liking in the RaŽlian movement. “Pleasure keeps you tied to life. Without pleasure we’d all commit suicide. Everything works when you’re sexually content.”
Vorilhon continually draws on sexual imagery, presenting himself as a painter who “makes colors [that is, his disciples] ejaculate.” “Paradise,” in the mountainous region where the RaŽlians gather every summer, is something between the branch of a biblical sect—as seen from an ET perspective (Noah’s Ark as a flying saucer)—and a nudist colony where “swapping” precludes any jealousy. In RaŽl’s kingdom, AIDS doesn’t seem to have done much to cool the ardor of correctly programmed molecular love.
Vorilhon: “For sixteen years they’ve been advising poor humans to use condoms. The Elohim already knew that an epidemic was about to hit the planet and asked me to raise the awareness of RaŽlians.”
More prosaically, RaŽlians are asked to contribute ten percent of their annual income to the movement, in addition to selling tapes and pamphlets by Vorilhon. “But, as nothing is compulsory for us, it must be said that this target is, as yet, far from being achieved.” As the “prophet” himself testifies, the RaŽlian movement makes a profit of two million francs a year. A hundred and fifty million are collecting interest in Swiss bank accounts, theoretically for the construction of an embassy for the Elohim in Jerusalem. The prophet says that he is as poor as Job, but he is lucid in his way when he declares to the whole world: “I am only a transmitter . . . or emitter of trances.” Which is confirmed by a female follower: “Even if RaŽl told us loud and clear that everything he’s said up to now is bullshit, I’d still continue to believe.”
The article is signed: FranÁois Devinat.
When he reached Piaţa Rosetti, he looked at his watch. He was already a quarter of an hour late. It’s not so terrible, he said to himself, Ion will wait. He’ll be pleased to have something to complain about.
“You’re always late,” Ion said. “I’ve never known anyone so unpunctual.”
Then he would pass from lack of punctuality to lack of seriousness, the second character trait implying and encompassing the first. Or else, if he didn’t have the patience to dig up more general aspersions, or if he was simply unable to continue because his interlocutor protested at having this stupid widening of the issue forced upon him, he would jump straight to the specifics of their national character—and then, then there was no stopping him. It was Ion’s passion to list all the characterstics of Romanian identity, naturally beginning with the defects . . .
“But don't we have any positive qualities?" Mihai asked, perhaps less than serious.
"Yes, we do," the other replied. "But we're in a situation where we can't take advantage of them. They're like the dark side of the moon."
"As bad as that?"
"Let me explain. Negative and positive are always found together—I mean they are two sides, two possibilities for any given element."
"We are doomed by circumstances to remain in the negative, like an undeveloped photograph."
"Wait a minute, you’re beginning to wander," Mihai said. "You can use better similes than that to demonstrate your point. Why not a coin, let's say one leu, or even twenty-five bani. Or better still a dollar bill."
"Come on, wiseass, don’t get all pretentious if you already know what I mean.”
"I'm not being pretentious. I'm helping to perfect your theory—which I've heard dozens of times before, remember. Logically speaking, the idea is very interesting, Gestaltist. Saussure already made use of it, though for different, more scientific purposes."
I turned to Mihai, who’d given me a wink. Or at least I thought he had. He probably wasn’t really in the mood for one of Ion’s famous speeches about the Romanians’ national characteristics, about their sheep-like fatalism and other qualities, each more dubious than the last.
One thing led to another, and we’d ended up discussing the Romanian people. It was probably then that either Marianne or myself had said that I was writing a novel connected to the situation in Romania—more realist than my previous novels. At that moment the Siamese had crawled out from under the table and mewed ironically. The Romanian people . . .
“We’re an ancient people,” Smaranda said, “older than the English, for example. And the Romanians wouldn’t have found their way to communism if the West hadn’t allowed the Russians to occupy Eastern Europe. We’re a traditionalist people, who had nothing at all in common with the social-political theories of Western modernity.”
“Romanians are a naturally conservative people. They react slowly, and they’re skeptical about things. They’ve seen a lot in their time! They don’t get enthusiastic at the drop of a hat. At most they’ll put on a show. They learned doublespeak in the time of the Turks—then perfected it to a fine art under the communists.”
“What are you writing anyway? Is it porn? Send me some to read, so I can get an idea . . .”
“Out of the question.”
“Because I’m writing it in Romanian.”
Marianne is really seething. After I tortured myself for so long to learn French, and she tortured herself for so long putting up with me (I’ve never met anyone with so little aptitude for languages!), even after I managed for better or worse to write a couple of novels in her language (God have mercy on those misbegotten books, but they’re certainly in French, no one could deny it!), now I’m dropping it all, eh? and reverting to that Danubian dialect, that ragtag and bobtail language, that low slang of bandits and homicidal shepherds . . .
“Calm down!” I say, summoning up my last reserves of dignity. “You’re talking about my mother tongue after all.”
“You call that a mother tongue! Any kid can learn that screwball language! It has no rules worth speaking of! It should be banned!”
from The Necessary Marriage by Dumitru Țepeneag; p. 47-8:
so we’ll prepare for the wedding
some yellow roses spouted up to the right of the groom’s frock coat the gate was therefore open it was not surprising that the school dog could sneak in beside the bride’s dress everyone was laughing the photographer protested indignantly not like that it’s not possible get that cur out of the way when the bride saw the big shaggy sheep-like dog snarling close to her she took fright and began to scream an officer in ceremonial uniform entered the frame of the camera lens to drive the dog away he was holding the hand of a chubby-faced child with blue eyes who had a sailor’s beret on his head and a gold ring on his ear the bride took to her heels stumbled and fell over the train of her dress she lay on the paving as on a catafalque and all around there were flowers roses lilies peonies and orchids the chestnut and apple trees in the yard were in blossom it was hot and fragrant the dog finally agreed to bow out the photographer fussily rubbed his hands please be still don’t move so much otherwise the sun will disappear into the clouds everyone laughed ha ha ha what a merry hullabaloo it was turning into Pădureanu had brought a demijohn of red wine Ana too had a glass in her hand everyone was in high spirits the groom looked wistfully towards the hills which stood out sharply in the clear air
he takes a deep breath
as after a race he is panting as he gives up closes his eyes and mentally begins to count he opens his eyes and looks blearily around she may have sent a child to wake him up he closes his eyes takes a deep breath wipes the sweat from his brow sighs is panting as he gives up then opens his eyes again and smiles maybe he’ll fall asleep in a while he takes a deep breath and again closes his eyes he feels like vomiting a yellowish-green expanse or rather a hill or gentle slope gradually changing into level country and then into a valley in the manner of a wave that retreats and leaves behind a grimy foam what are you doing there the woman asks are you asleep no he wasn’t asleep it starts to rain again he has a terrible headache a bluish mist descends on the village he turns over with his face to the wall and masturbates it’s much better with eyes shut like this even though it’s very hot he moistens his fingertips with his tongue he feels he is choking flocks of sheep slowly descend into the valley the sky is blue he opens and closes his eyes the lamb’s head is on the table asleep he moves his lips without uttering a sound turns over and again there is nothing more than a black veil-like curtain the bed creaks at all its joints and again he can’t get to sleep it’s raining look at the hills over there he said or rather the slopes rapidly changing into meadows of a kind that might also be considered valleys except that the hills were too low they looked from above like green waves he is no longer asleep the ceiling is dirty and littered with spiderwebs he turns to face the wall so what did he tell you he has a headache huge bumblebees above the flower-covered valley he opens and closes his eyes why are you lauging I’m not laughing everywhere the smell of mice slugs damp maybe we’ve come the wrong way why are you telling me this he takes deep breaths
outside the day is breaking
at least six lambs
isn’t that too much
too much what an idea
if we have some chickens too it’ll be cheaper
maybe but we have obligations the headmaster
yes he can sure eat for seven that one
and don’t forget his wife
and the Inspector
yes what’s so surprising
you clever bastard
so let’s see seven lambs plus the wine
and the Inspector with his wife
and on the bride’s side
on the bride’s side nearly the whole village
well not quite everyone
they’re really big eaters
so you see
and the Inspector
what about him
d’you think he’ll come
he’ll come all right
just so people don’t say
so they don’t say this or that
they can say what the hell they like
so long as we do our job
there you see
and when do we write the report
we’ve got plenty of time
we’ll also mention the business with Anica
but what proof do we have
don’t worry there’s proof enough
so you saw them did you
sure I did
what did you see
I saw them walking hand in hand
what do you mean so are you a little kid or something
no but I mean
that’s enough nonsense
wait a minute don’t run off like that
I’m not gonna wait around
let me get a word in for god’s sake
okay what have you got to say
I mean that maybe it’s not enough
are you really as dumb as you’re acting
for the report
for the report
yes the report we make to the Inspector
so you really are dumb
you’re as dumb as they come the report
we write the report ourselves
we’ll put what we like in it
do you see
that you’re as dumb as they come
why didn’t you say so right away
no you just kept saying they were walking hand in hand
I saw them
maybe you did but that’s not sufficient proof
maybe not but that’s not all
what else is there
we’ll put other stuff in the report
what other stuff
we need to be thinking of that right now
well let’s think why don’t you come up with something
let’s say she went to him every morning
to his place
and she lay beside him in bed
what if we tell Ana as well
I told her ages ago
and what did she say
she laughed and said I had a one-track mind
what a bitch
anyway that doesn’t matter
what does matter
that’s what I was saying
we’ll turn out one of those reports for him
that they won’t forget in a hurry
I don’t have anything else
okay drop it we’ve got plenty of time
if you say so
so where were we eight lambs
yes eight or let’s make it nine for good measure
you’re crazy where’s all your money coming from
what business is that of yours
it’s not my business I just said it that’s all
and the wine
yeah the wine’s important
if we don’t manage it this time
if we don’t get him dead drunk this time either
the little creep doesn’t drink anymore
he must be on his guard
he’s not on his guard he’s sick
what’s wrong with him
something with his stomach
I haven’t a clue that’s what Ana told me
wait a minute
I have an idea
an idea has come to me
okay out with it
what are you cooking up
bring your chair closer
jesus your breath stinks
let’s not get into that
so tell me
the village was certainly beyond that hill reminscent of a sheep’s fleecy back they would therefore have to cross the forest but it was getting dark and she was a little afraid she walked behind the man who soldiered on with his head bent over the trunk why did you need so much stuff he grumbled look the stars are coming out and the moon will be rising soon a dog barked in the distance or rather yelped and howled in a kind of strangled wail and now Ana was really scared what if the wolves come after us the man bursts out laughing and drops the trunk the woman clings to him and snuggles up to his chest he strokes her hair looking at the moon shimmer as it rises behind the hill
the day is breaking
his sleep had been long and troubled the blanket had fallen off the end of the bed the sheet had crumpled beneath his sweaty body Ileana had left while he slept it was raining outside the chestnut leaves glistened at the window it was late afternoon there was no longer any sound from the kitchen not even of water dripping at regular intervals from the leaky tap in the sink he listens carefully for a few more moments then turns on his stomach as far as possible from the foul-smelling wall buries his head in the pillow and tries to fall asleep again it’s much better like that to sleep to lie unconscious to dream from time to time to draw that black curtain and try to get behind it even if you don’t always succeed you feel at first that you’re choking and the buzzing inside becomes louder and louder but if you persevere if you press both pillows around your ears and clamp shut your eyelids until they hurt the darkness begins to dissolve into a greenish mist interspersed with plumes of white smoke that turn into a kind of heavy blue rain or even hail and in the end the sky the freshly cleansed meadows the gentle slopes of grass glowing with light the crest of the hill and beyond it another valley still greener and brighter then another hill another valley hill and dale hill dale solemn motionless waves
he takes deep breaths
. . . . he should see how wonderful a naval captain’s uniform is with its gold stripes or piping or it could be a cavalry colonel’s if he prefers she’ll be lying as she is now like this but in a beautiful white bridal dress with a bunch of lemon verbena clutched to her chest and there’ll be other flowers too on the bed that is to say the catafalque while he’ll stand upright looking grave can’t it be the other way round he mumbles and contemplating his pitiless fate which he’s afraid to see through to the end marry me he murmurs and she laughs making her flesh tremble cleaver blows can be heard from the kitchen then the noise of a grinding machine so we’ll have to prepare for the wedding of course she’ll be here today or tomorrow as well and Ciobanu puts both arms round her flabby body and nestles sighing at the woman’s breast
takes deep breaths
he wakes up looks around can’t see Anica oh yes she’s under the table he hears knocking at the window leaps out of bed but finds no one there he opens the window sees no one only the butcher’s van parked at the gate red like a piece of meat or flag
he’ll be asleep in a while
he’s set up the camera on its tripod and is rubbing his hands now right look at me adjust your beret and lean on the lamb properly it won’t bite the dwarf smiles and jiggles the ring hanging from his ear the photographer checks the frame again presses on the switch and the click is followed by a melodious tinkling okay that’s fine he looks around for Ileana afraid that the sun will go behind the clouds where the hell did she get to he signals to the moustachu to come closer to a tall fleshy woman wearing a black tafetta dress comes out of the green-shuttered house which is set back from the street in a paved courtyard complete with rose and peony beds the dwarf says hello to her as though he’s known her a long time she leans over to kiss him maternally on both cheeks then walks over with a stately gait to tell Andruţa something the photographer nods several times in agreement of course it’s a pleasure and at that very moment two elegant limousines draw up at the curb behind the butcher’s van one yellow the other blue Munteanu gets out first and formally greets the lady in the taffeta dress of course it’s a pleasure and then the groom in officer’s uniform helps the bride out of the blue car the others alight too Pădureanu has a demijohn in his arms we have to take advantage of the sun the photographer says in a professional tone and he poses the young couple in front of the latticework the bride has a slightly ironical smile a crowd of rubberneckers has appeared from nowhere in the street and some children impudently press closer to the guests Andruţa isn’t too happy with this stand aside don’t block the way he shouts and now here’s Ileana in her bridal costume you’re too late and she shrugs and turns her back on him the butcher comes running after her Pădureanu begins to hand out glasses left and right a toast to the bride and groom he says slurring his words someone in the crowd shouts long live the bride and Pădureanu pours some wine the sun will disappear behind the clouds the photographer groans but he has no choice and holds out his glass first to be filled then to clink with the others the dwarf shakes a bell and sits astride the sheep made out of some plastic material let’s take a photo with everyone in it Munteanu proposes whereupon the photographer heads for the camera and begins to compose a picture he tells the dwarf to move to one side the dwarf hands the bell over to the groom who isn’t sure what to do with it he tries to hide it beneath the tails of his uniform where it produces a curious bulge say cheese and the bride raises her eyebrows as much as she can smile for god’s sake you’re supposed to be happy and then if you look closely enough you’ll see that the bride is standing on tiptoe then her white shoes rise almost imperceptibly from the causeway and
under which his eyeballs quiver like little animals startled in the darkness of their burrow it’s hot it smells of earth and hay he feels safe there among the sheep puts an arm on the fleece of the one to his right hears the regular breathing of the one behind him the ewe is not asleep turns her mouth to his ear and gives out sounds that she’s been struggling to articulate for some time he begins to understand them or at least imagines that he does and then he answers her tells of various wonders the animal is uneasy as if sensing some danger he agrees with her but explains that nothing can be done that there would be no point in trying to ward it off and the ewe sighs and tickles his ear with her mouth what would she like him to do after all he’s not going to start running scared into the big wide world he just has to wait for what’s written to arrive but she loses her temper and he can scarcely understand the guttural sounds that emerge from the animal’s throat you don’t have a mother she probably says that’s right he answers but maybe he misunderstood it’ll be like a party he explains to her patiently like a wedding you see yes a wedding the moon and the sun will appear together in the sky and thousands of torches will light up at the ends of the earth herds of mist will float up the hills and sheep bells and trumpets will sound the fir trees will bend to the ground and all the forests will rustle it’ll be a magnificent wedding the ewe listened with its mouth wide open maybe it had even fallen asleep
again opens his eyes
the red van stops right in front of the house the butcher gets out with a lamb in his arms Ileana comes from the house and strokes the lamb the moustachu hands it to her the lamb wriggles and tries to escape he goes back to the van takes out two bags filled with eggs and walks towards the house Andruţa appears too looking rather sleepy and rubs his hands for no particular reason just one lamb and the butcher doesn’t reply opens the van’s rear door and returns holding one more lamb under each arm you’d make a pretty picture the photographer says and the moustachu laughs and stops as if posing for a picture Andruţa enters into the spirit of things set up an imaginary camera hold it don’t move smile that’s it the sky is blue it’s spring or maybe autumn he climbs back into bed and pulls the blanket up to his chin
is panting as he gives up
passes his tongue over parched lips feels his forehead still has a fever and pricks up his ears someone in the kitchen is sharpening two knives by rubbing them against each other a slug on the wall just beneath the window is creeping towards the chestnut leaves he gets out of bed picks up the photo of Anica from under the table and puts it on the window frame propping it up against the star-shaped broken glass
holds the lamb in his arms warm and frail trembling not struggling not like that the butcher says put it down and he hits it on the forehead with the back of his cleaver Munteanu drops the lamb which collapses in a heap on the paving stones the long sharp knife slides into its throat and the expert’s hand is so deft that he splits the thing open from top to bottom in the same motion the blood spurts out and stains his white apron Munteanu tries to dodge it but the other laughs and says there’s no need are you afraid of a little blood and the teacher mumbles something unintelligible not afraid he adds but without listening to him the moustachu works with incredible speed and concentration skinning the animal until it emerges small as a hare from its white fleece it’s no big deal really and Munteanu looks on with interest now we’ve got the others still to come the lamb’s eyes fascinate him with their slightly mocking stare while the mouth grins at him teeth bared let’s have a glass or two Munteanu suggests in a rather hoarse voice and without waiting for an answer the other man goes inside and returns with Pădureanu who smiles red in the face holding a demijohn in his arms Anica’s deathly pale face can be seen unrecognizable behind them
wipes the sweat from his brow
the Inspector drops the lamb and goes to a corner of the laundry room where Ileana wearing a skirt and nothing else jiggles her huge breasts as she hastily washes some clothes the Inspector moves closer she continues her work smiles at him and lets him touch a nipple with his index finger Munteanu and Pădureanu silently exchange glances then the Inspector goes round the lather-filled tub and slips his ivory hand inside the woman’s panties she has no complaints on the contrary looks triumphantly towards the two teachers large chunks of foam leap onto the impeccable black suit of this man of pale and doleful countenance another sheep puts in an appearance a sheep with very curly wool
now is the moment he’s asleep
with a sheep under the blanket
the Inspector removes his hand from the languid-eyed woman’s panties but is in no hurry to take up the others’ suggestion he goes to the other corner of the room unzips his fly and begins to urinate Ileana peeks at him out of the corner of her eye the teachers lower their heads
well gentlemen shall we continue
you know there’s also a washing machine
in the kitchen
they pass through a room that has a strong smell of basil a box lies on a table filled with eggs of every color some quite splendidly dyed the Inspector takes one and sniffs it for a long time then goes to the window to look out at the sun and slips the egg into his pocket all three go into the garden behind the house climb onto the bench beneath the chestnut tree and having cleared away some of the leaves peer into Ciobanu’s room through the window’s star-shaped broken glass
have a good look
he’s sleeping with a sheep in his arms
or pretending to be asleep
look domnule Inspector
the Inspector takes a good look then turns his head and sees the mustachioed butcher who’s crept up on them noiselessly the Inspector jumps down from the bench and as if they already know each other shakes the butcher’s hand and embraces him the two teachers keep their eyes fixed on the window and don’t even notice when the Inspector and the butcher head off arm in arm through the apple trees and flowerbeds
are you angry
are you sad
I’m not sure
you never let me tell you
tell me what
why they’ve got it in for you
I’ve no idea
what makes you think I know
they’re up to something
that’s their business
whisper to each other all the time
yes I’ve noticed that too
they’ve drawn up a report
good luck to them
they’ve stuck all kinds of lies in it
they say you hit your pupils
that you get drunk and come staggering into class
really and what else
they’ve sent it off
I don’t know to the Inspector
so what do they want exactly
to destroy you
they want you to be fired
they also said things about me
about the two of us
where did they get that from
I don’t know
from spying on us
and what proof do they have
do you think they need any
enough to be believed
I’m scared that
that they don’t any and besides
maybe they do have proof
what do you mean
maybe they photographed us
what are you saying
is that such a crazy idea
sure it is
well I don’t know
I’m the only one who’s photographed you
maybe they found the photo
and does that count as proof
I don’t know
a perfectly ordinary photograph
after the trip to the forest
ah yes it was spring
it was autumn
autumn with its fallen leaves
that rustled beneath our feet
you kissed me
yes you did
anyway that isn’t in the picture
we were on a hill
sheep bells were jingling
an eagle was circling overhead
yes a hawk
it was beautiful
the sun was setting behind the hill
big and red
why should you be
that something will happen
stop this nonsense
something’s going to happen for sure
yes there’s going to be a wedding
that’s not it
yes that’s it a wedding and there’s no need for you to be afraid look the moon’s come out
both the sun and the moon
on his back looking at the sky and hills then he gets up wipes the sweat from his brow passes his hands over his eyes pricks up his ears and hears the barking of dogs and the jingling of bells the sheep looks at him with a glimmer of irony what’s got into you that you’re in such a hurry all of a sudden he laughs then shrugs and points to the horizon or rather just above the hill the sheep turns to see what he means and catches sight of the moon with its pale daytime countenance then the shepherd stretches out his arm towards the little fir plantation and the sun still hadn’t gone down its rays were burning the firs and turning the whole hill into a bonfire in which the flock quietly blazed he again sprawls on the grass the ewe brings its mouth closer to his ear you’re tickling me he shouts without realizing what efforts the four-legged creature is making so that
then into the valley
but he finds no way of getting to sleep in vain does he count in his head trying not to think of anything in vain does he press two pillows against his ears he tosses from side to side and the veil is always there though so worn and frayed that he can only make out that yellowish-green or bluish-green expanse with great difficulty now it’s more bluish he doesn’t manage to pull it aside kicks the bed frame with the soles of his feet gets up looks bleary-eyed around him sees the photograph of Anica the chestnut leaves the slug slowly crawling up the wall he pricks up his ears there’s no one in the kitchen he goes there barefoot with his penis hanging outside his trousers soon returns and then wielding the aquiline saltcellar squats by the wall and before he sprinkles the deadly powder on the slug’s body he feels someone’s eyes on his neck and temple there at the window among the chestnut leaves looms the mustachioed face of the butcher he has donned a sailor’s beret and is staring at him with a smile they hold each other’s gaze for a few seconds and then Ciobanu lifts his arm and hurls the saltcellar at the window the other man anticipated this in time and stepped out of the way the window smashes and after a few seconds the head reappears with a sneer Ciobanu looks under the bed for a shoe or another object to throw at the moustachu but doesn’t find anything he sees the vase on the table and quickly reaches out for it the butcher vanishes again this time for good in vain does he open the window and lean out he can’t see anything the photograph of Anica has fallen under the table he leaves it there gets back into bed covers himself with the blanket shivers the air coming through the broken window is quite cold the slug continues its steady ascent
he feels like vomiting and
that buzzing louder and louder he clamps shut his eyelids until they hurt the darkness begins to clear a greenish mist and then a blue rain that gradually becomes almost whitish because the drops are as large and white as hailstones and in the end the sky and rain-washed plains the hillside pastures with undulating grass he lies on his belly staring at that crest after which another valley opens up and then another hill and dale hill dale flocks of sheep moving up and down like slow-motion waves
he closes his eyes again
with the ewe in his arms he tries to sleep to think of nothing but feels the restless dog nearby watching anxiously for an unseen danger then hears barking something’s happening for sure and bleating then the sheep become flustered the mastiffs have stirred and are already growling at his feet he grips the knife half pulls it from its leather sheath rests on one knee and tries to identify other sounds of barking yelping bleating and groaning in the dark then the shouts of the shepherds urging on the dogs and provoking the wolves he hesitates takes a few steps and slips among the fleeces of the frightened sheep which are huddled together against the surrounding wall then leaves the pen and breathes in the cool night air calls the dogs around him and squints to see better they’ve attacked the other sheepfold the battle was at its height he’s always lucky the wolves keep away from him in the end and maybe that’s why the others bear him a grudge he squats down strokes the tense mouth of one of the dogs the sky is powdered with stars he’s starting to feel cold looks for the blanket fails to find it then turns over again a dog barks he stretches out his arm and turns on the light the lamb looks at him calmly from the doorway it doesn’t resist when he takes it in his arms lays it beside him in bed and strokes its little ears and mouth it’s warmer like this with two under the blanket
closes his eyes
Ana enters in high spirits carrying a bunch of flowers that she puts in a jug she glances towards the bed are you still not up and without waiting for him to say he’s ill or has a temperature goes with the jug into the kitchen fills it with water it’s a wonderful day puts the jug back in its place she’s brought yellow roses and goes up to the bed he hasn’t moved at all he stretches out an arm and she bends a little to let him take one of her hands ask her to sit on the bed and to put her hand on his forehead he pulls her towards him but not forcefully enough she tears herself away are you crazy that guy’s in the kitchen and she begins to describe the butcher making special mention of his ruddy cheeks and his red neck too he makes another attempt but has no more success then she gets up shuts the door turns the key twice in the lock and seems undecided he sits up and looks at her a long stare she laughs why are you laughing I’m not laughing she looks towards the window the glass is broken she sees the photograph then takes a step towards the bed and begins slowly to unbutton her blouse
and wake him if necessary because he’s late
how can he sleep with all those noises in the kitchen cleaver blows the grinding machine the rubbing together of knives the self-assured expert’s voice ringing from the moustachu as he explains to Ileana and Ana how to make mititei sausages in vain does he toss from side to side he would do better to get up to stop torturing himself he crawls to the edge of the bed and looks at the chestnut leaves outside it must be quite hot then at the door and the shapes scratched on it he stands up searches in a drawer takes out some wretched blunt crayons red blue and finally a yellow one sits in front of the door and begins by reviving the rather faded blue of the sky then uses the yellow crayon to combine with the still-visible traces of blue to produce an approximation of green for the garden next to the shape of the shepherd so red as to make you think of a boiled lobster he draws a fir tree also using blue and yellow and looks with satisfaction at his achievement he still has to restore the sheep that yellow patch with an outline reinforced in black he adds a little red since he has only three colors then breaks into a smile the vague shape of the soldier lies a little further along and he tries to work on it in such a way that the stick over his shoulder resembles a scythe it could of course also be a scythe-shaped flag a somewhat torn tricolor but what does that matter he’s quite pleased with it and goes on to draw a blue sheep and an orange ram and to insert some rocks with a combination of the three colors he used for the flag this produces a kind of violet that is reflected in the waves breaking against the rocks one sheep has fallen into the sea another has clambered to the top of the highest cliff then suddenly the whole landscape recedes and in its place appears Ileana he remains with the crayon in mid-air interrupted in the full flow of artistic creation
he looks around bleary-eyed
. . . the bride is wrapped up in her thoughts the Inspector looks morosely out at the sheep which have somehow or other sneaked into the yard and joined some wicked little children there the soldier listens attentively to what Munteanu is telling the colonel the madam is always dressed in black in a long taffeta dress with a red or yellow rose at the bodice Munteanu’s voice grows increasingly loud and now smothers the dwarf’s guttural explosions the only resistance comes from the photographer who glass in hand wants to propose a toast to the bride and groom but where is the groom Pădureanu finally shouts the groom has vanished the headmaster looks everywhere even under the table the bride is not impressed he closes his eyes the hills seem like green waves or the moving muscles of a sea creature he drowses from time to time but can’t quite make it into sleep he hears Munteanu continues his story in an ever more dominating voice each has her own room you’re in that red-carpeted lounge where they sometimes have celebratory meals or sometimes even wedding receptions I swear they do and the woman seated next to the dwarf nods several times in agreement a red or to be more precise scarlet carpet the same color as this wine come on Mister forget the toast can’t you see the groom hasn’t shown up the butcher enters with a platter piled high with roast meat and sausages the sailor demands an egg dish and Ileana laughs she’s stained her wedding dress with sauce you’d better take it off someone says and at that moment the Inspector sees the ginger-haired pupil from fifth grade clamber onto the window ledge and smile at him as she does also unbuttoning her blouse and the smile spreads across her face he glues his back to the wall and closes his eyes someone is knocking on the door he says come in the door opens with a creak and at first he can’t make out who’s entered so he says once again come in sits up straight in bed sees Anica head bowed still in the doorway come in didn’t you hear and he notices a lamb in her arms she takes two steps forward and finally raises her head she’s terribly pale with rings under her eyes and scars on her face he closes his eyes and hears the bells of the sheep opens them again and sees the photo of Anica with a lamb in her arms against that backdrop of hills and dales the sun is slowly sinking behind the hills ever redder ever larger Anica’s slim fingers glide over his forehead and lids beneath which the eyeballs quiver like frightened little animals but he’s still unable to sleep the wedding guests are making more and more noise he turns to face the wall and starts to bang with palms fists feet loud guffaws nonstop on the other side and his palms and all his fingers hurt someone shouts come in through the laughter and hiccups in a thick mocking voice and again guffaws and clinking of glasses clanging of knives and forks on plates smacking and chomping sounds Munteanu’s voice louder than all the others and Ana’s shrill giggling the madam is at the top of the stairs in her long black taffeta dress and this time the dwarf comes with a soldier who’s carrying a kind of club on his shoulder as though it were a rifle or rather a scythe or flagstaff and is scarcely able to climb the stairs stumbles falls on all fours and then the dwarf with the earring is forced to start dragging the soldier he laughs as he holds the stick tight with both hands and that’s how they enter the lounge roaring and bleating in unison come in that thick voice calls out but he can’t pass through the wall Ileana on the other side is in her slip put the bridal dress on says the photographer it’s at the studio and Ileana leaves the lounge beneath the admiring eyes of the wedding guests and descends the same scarlet-red stair carpet worn down by so many feet so many words she descends while the little sailor ascends hauling after him a dead-drunk soldier who in turn drags along a ewe they’re greeted at the top of the stairs by the madam in a long black dress and behind her the Inspector stands as glumly formal as at a funeral so you’ve come with the sheep again Munteanu bleats he holds out a glass which Pădureanu promptly fills to the brim so it’s not surprising that before it reaches the teacher’s lips the wine spills on the table there’s a moment of silence the colonel dips two fingers in the wine and marks a beauty spot on his forehead and they all hear banging on the wall come in the colonel mumbles in his thick voice the soldier is so drunk that he trips over the ewe and both he and the sailor fall crashing to the ground the madam laughs covering mouth with hand the Inspector alone keeps his poise and goes to the window to chase away the boy on the outside ledge the pupil is terrified by the sight of the Inspector and drops suddenly among the sheep and schoolkids gathered below Ana suggests taking the tables into the yard it’s nice outside the headmaster agrees there’s no wind and it’s not too hot either but opinions are divided some would first like to see what else the dwarf can do others argue that he’s getting a bit boring we’ve seen him so many times before and they begin to squabble the photographer climbs on his chair and asks for quiet he wants to drink a toast in his room Ciobanu has gone completely crazy he bangs with his fists and feet on the wall let’s have the groom the photographer says what kind of wedding is this for god’s sake he didn’t want to try on the uniform and the others only just managed to persuade him he looks like death warmed up it’s not absolutely necessary what do you mean it’s not necessary stop all this nonsense put a full stop or at least a comma the headmaster says delighted with his own joke and he strokes Ana’s thighs while Pădureanu brings another demijohn and fills the glasses yet again what do you mean it’s not necessary of course it is Ileana returns in her bridal costume and sits down next to Ana the movement jostles the headmaster who walks off resignedly to the window box while they install the ewe in the groom’s place she’s well-behaved and looks very pretty there decked out with red yellow and blue ribbons
. . . we have to take the wedding photos before the sun goes down he’s right the Inspector says in support and he sends Ana and Ileana off to fetch the groom but what if he refuses to come asks one of the women what if he’s too ill to get up in any case do what you have to do and bring him here dead or alive the colonel finds himself demanding and the Inspector gives him a sharp look he fingers the patches of damp there’s a smell of death and he feels like vomiting he sits up a little and makes a movement as if to draw a curtain and at that moment the happy couple appear each more beautiful than the other come on get up and put your clothes on he closes his eyes the hills are deserted eagles circle above the trees and a reddish light as bright as a thousand torches sets the forests of conifers ablaze what should we do with all these sheep Andruţa asks but it’s a rhetorical question to which no one deigns to reply the little sailor has reappeared from under the table and really does have a fabulously large cock he doesn’t know where he put his trousers look there they are and his jacket and cap too not the briefs though Ciobanu mumbles what would you want them for and Ileana laughs they could do with a wash don’t you see how they stink and she goes to get some soap and water he’s lying naked on the bed with his hands folded across his chest Ana strokes him tenderly he’s so thin he has dry cracked skin in some places yellow with blue veins and red blood vessels broken by a final gasp to take in some air he’s choking Ileana returns with a kitchen sponge and a pot of water I put some soda in it as well he’s really grimy and he feels himself being immersed in a lukewarm liquid the black curtain parts a little slowly and solemnly and that green flower-strewn pasture appears in all its overwhelming splendor together with the blue sky the sunny hillside and green valley another hill and beyond it another valley even greener and brighter than the last the bright light ever redder ever more intense and then long flashes of lightning and torches huge fir trees burning at the far end of the earth Andruţa puts his head around the door quickly quickly before the goddamn sun disappears is he pretending to be asleep he’s asleep maybe dreaming the woman answers as she passes the sponge over his penis inert and purple like that of a drowned man hurry up Andruţa squeaks before running to his studio to prepare the camera they wipe him with a kitchen cloth he doesn’t seem to smell so badly anymore come on get up he doesn’t open his eyes doesn’t smile or maybe we should dress him lying like that in bed then see how he looks but where the hell are his briefs Ileana eventually finds them under the bed between the two lambs that are huddled there what are these two doing here and they both laugh but the briefs are too dirty to wear the heads of Munteanu and Pădureanu appear at the window unrecognizable in their shepherd’s gear and big fur hats get out of here Ileana shouts and they laugh like a couple of idiots we’re not needed anymore then Ana threatens them with the Inspector and they make themselves scarce the women finally manage to dress him in the naval captain’s uniform it suits him very well and they kiss him comb his hair Ana says pity he doesn’t have a mustache and look he’s starting to go bald they sit him on the edge of the bed but he can’t sit up straight falls onto his back we need the others to help us they won’t be able to carry him into the yard alone the soldier enters right on cue with a stretcher they put the cap on his head and fix a yellow rose to his buttonhole it goes wonderfully with the navy blue of the uniform they take him out of the room the other wedding guests have meanwhile made their way into the yard where there is an indescribable commotion flocks of sheep bleating dogs barking children shouting and pressing around the photographer who has set up his camera in the middle of it all in the reddish glow of sunset come on hurry up Aundruţa is overexcited I’ll screw everything up it’s not possible like that on the stretcher he has to be on his feet stand up straight what kind of a groom is he anyway a watchdog is sniffing one of the brides’ dresses a huge shaggy butcher’s dog Ana gets scared and begins to scream the colonel tries to chase it away as does the dwarf who’s put on his clothes now and pulled a sailor’s beret over one eyebrow Ana stumbles and falls bring a stretcher for the bride too Pădureanu appears with a demijohn of wine what’s all this tomfoolery the photographer complains too much high spirits can spoil things Ana hauls herself up unaided and doesn’t seem at all angry the sun’s about to set and there’s the Inspector helping the soldier to drag along a huge armchair that they probably got from the staff room or possibly even the church come on everyone you can drink straight from the bottle you’re drunk as a pig the sheep bleat and jingle their bells Andruţa raises his arms to heaven to the sun sinking faster and faster behind the houses soldier and Inspector sit the groom on the armchair and turn his head slightly to one side his cap has slipped right down over his eyes the Inspector goes and whispers something to the photographer who then walks over to where the groom is seated the colonel who when necessary can be very energetic signals to the two shepherds to leave the demijohn and come and join them he raps out an order to the soldier and smiles to the lady in taffeta there follows a to-ing and fro-ing that seems to have no point but turns out to be quite effective the sheep are pushed to the edges of the yard the school-children form up into a column two abreast and candles are handed out to them it was the Inspector’s idea the first candle is one of those thick ones used in churches but it doesn’t give much light and anyway the sun hasn’t yet disappeared completely but each child should get two the Inspector explains so that we’ll have them all alight and everyone will be arranged around the happy couple the bride having been chosen by lot then after a moment’s hesitation the two women begin to protest they didn’t dress up like clowns just for the hell of it are you making fun of us we’ve slaved away washing and dressing him like a baby Ileana bursts into tears and Ana too begins to wail the groom sits rigidly in the armchair with his eyes shut the dwarf shakes a sheep’s bell and says that Ileana who’s the more robust of the two should carry Ana piggyback and pose like that as though there were only one bride the photographer disagrees it’s not so easy to photograph a pair of brides everyone weighs in shaking their arms and shouting until the Inspector is forced to intervene again with his solemn gestures and grave persuasive voice he proposes a collective photograph so that everyone will be happy the two brides standing with bunches of red and yellow roses on either side of the groom’s chair the lady in the taffeta dress the cavalry colonel the butcher with a large knife in his hand Veta the soldier with the scythe or flagstaff over his shoulder and Munteanu and Pădureanu slightly apart in shepherds’ costumes bent over their crooks and gesticulating as though hatching some plot and then a little to the front the midget sailor and the beribboned ewe Ana at the captain’s feet or rather sorry the groom’s feet the headmaster somewhere close to one of the brides the ginger-haired kid from fifth grade and finally Andruţa the photographer with his camera and tripod and all around the candle-bearers standing to attention scarcely daring to breathe and then the flocks of sheep and the watchdog the Inspector speaks calmly to everyone shows them their place attends to the tiniest detail then walks backwards to be at a greater distance from the camera he’s now just another man a tall one to be sure but not much different from any passerby he stops at the edge of the sidewalk half raises an arm to work out the required level squints his eyes attentively approaches the display window once more the photograph blown up to the size of a painting and framed so that it can be hung on the wall nods his head stops takes another step gives another nod and you can’t tell from his face or gestures which express only the kind of intense concentration necessary to formulate a value judgment you have no idea whether he likes the baroque composition heavy with obscure meanings or on the contrary is unpleasantly surprised by it he takes another step forward draws even closer and finally or so you assume notices what is necessary and essential to notice at a wedding namely that the groom really is happy.
- Back cover:
A man lies sleepless in a foul-smelling room while raucous noises come from next door, and women—past and present, real or imagined—pass through his mind. From these few elements, Romanian author Dumitru Tsepeneag builds a dreamlike world both ancient and contemporary, and as mesmerizing as that in his critically acclaimed "Vain Art of the Fugue." Praised by Emil Cioran for its precise and masterly evocation of sensual detail, "The Necessary Marriage" confirms Tsepeneag's position as one of the most important Eastern European writers of the post-communist era.