A collage-portrait of the Romanian writer as a child.
Ortgeist (the "spirit of the place") rather than Zeitgeist (the "spirit of the time") strikes the eye when the Romanian writer in general, and Ion Creanga in particular, is the case in question. The village of Humulesti (herein included all political, economic, sociocultural, and disciplinary conditions characteristic of this locale) earlier in life and the Junimea society (herein included Mihai Eminescu and all of the cultural conditions promoted by Junimea members) later in life are so important when speaking of Ion Creanga that we are tempted to see him as an epiphenomenon, an effect rather than a true causal agent (Simonton 2004) of his own works. The village of Humulesti for now:
I sometimes stop and call to mind the customs and people there used to be in my part of the world at the time when I had, so to speak, just begun to put a foot over the threshold of boyhood in my parents' home in the village of Humulesti. It faced the town on the other side of the waters of the river Neamt; it was a large and cheerful village, divided into three closely connected parts: the village itself, the Deleni and the Bejani. Moreover, Humulesti in those days was not just a village of ne'er-do-wells but a prosperous and ancient village of freeholders, its reputation and standing having long since been assured, with farmers who knew their job, with stalwart young men and comely girls who could swing in the dance and swing the shuttle, too, so that the village would buzz with the sound of looms on every side. It had a fine church and outstanding clergy, church elders and parishioners who were a credit to their village. As for father Ion, who lived at the foot of the hill, Lord, what an active and kind man he was! On his advice lots of trees were planted in the graveyard--which was surrounded by a high fence of thick plants with eaves of shingles--and the fine room at the gate of the church precincts was built to serve as a village school. You should have seen this untiring priest going around the village, entering one house after another, together with one of his churchwardens, master Vasile, the son of Ilioaia, a sturdy, good-looking, handsome bachelor. The two of them would persuade people to send their children for some schooling, and you should have seen the number of boys and girls who flocked into the school from all parts, myself among them, a timid lad, afraid of my own shadow! (CMB: 3)
It is a first-person narrative that we get, with a shifting but convenient distance between the experiencing self and the narrating self--this distance will be the pretext for an empathy that changes colours and gives a deja-vu touch to the story.
I don't pretend to know what other people are like, but for myself, I seem to feel my heart throb with joy even to this day when I remember my birthplace, my home at Humulesti, the post supporting the flue of the stove around which mother used to tie a piece of string with tassels at the end of it with which the cats played until they dropped exhausted, the flat ledge of the stove that I used to cling to when I was pulling myself up and learning to walk, the place on top of the stove where I used to hide when we children played hide and seek, as well as other games and delights full of childlike fun and charm. Lord, what good times they were, for parents and brothers and sisters were healthy and hearty, there was everything necessary in the house, the sons and daughters of our neighbors were for ever romping with us, and everything was exactly as I liked it best, without a shadow of ill-humor as if the whole world were mine! I myself was as happy as the day was long, giddy, and playful like the gusting wind. (CMB: 22)
The tune is never neutral, subjectivity is the rule. When the narrator's mind cannot get into the hidden recesses of the Other, there is always the heart that is all too ready to take over its job --and so the air of omniscience is never lost.
Dear to my heart was our village with the smooth flowing crystal-clear Ozana, wherein the Neamt Castle had sadly been mirroring its face for so many centuries! Dear to my heart were father and mother, brothers and sisters, and the youngsters of the village, my youthful companions, with whom on frosty winter days we had had such fun sliding and sledging on the ice; while in summer, on holidays, when the weather was fine, singing and shouting, we'd scour the woods and shady glades, the banks where we sunned ourselves, and the bathing places, the fields and the crops, the plains with lovely flowers and the stately hills from beyond which dawn and hope would beckon at that lusty time of youth! I loved, too, the nightly gatherings, the evening working sessions, the dances, and all the village merry-makings, wherein I joined with the utmost zeal! Even if you had been a block of stone, you couldnt have sat still when you heard Mihai, the fiddler of Humulesti, walking the village in the dead of the night with a crowd of young fellows in his wake, singing:
Tender leaf of springtime green, In the hours of darkness keen A nightingale within the glade Sang as sweet as any maid, And so moving was her tone That the leaves would flutter down; Sad and tender was her strain To those who'd ne'er meet again; Sighs and trills she ceaseless makes Piercing deep the heart that breaks.
So many were the songs the fiddler would sing and play upon his sweet-sounding fiddle! and so many the other merrymakings in the village, that the whole year seemed like one long holiday ! Which reminds me of an old woman's saying: God's blessing upon us and a yearful of holidays, and only one workday, and that a celebration or a wedding. (CMB: 69-70)
The narrator tells us more than once that he is "an ordinary normal man, born of two people," and the village of Hurnulesti, where he first saw the light of day, "is no out-of-the-way, joyless village, with no outlook on the world like some other villages," and the places around the village "deserve to be remembered too."
Above Hurnulesti, there is Vinatorii Neamtrlui where the ancestors of those men who had fought against Sobieski, the King of Poland, still live on. As you go further north, are the monasteries of Secu and Neamf, once the chief glory of the church of Romania and a second treasury of Moldavia. To the south, you've got the villages of Boiste and Ghindaoani, where people will only harness Hungarian oxen, no less, to their carts; where the plows will stand unguarded in the fields for weeks on end, the beehives will need no beekeepers, the cornfields no watchman, and not a thing will be taken; and the people in those villages know nothing of lawsuits. Close by Boiste is the village of Blebea, more than half of whose inhabitants, if they drop their fur caps into the water will say: "That's for father, God rest his soul!"
To the southwest you have the convents: Agapia, and hidden away from the world, Varatec, where Brincoveanu's rich and charitable wife spent her life; and the village of Filioara, with its deer trails trodden by those girls who run away from the nunnery, Baltate^ti, famous for salt, and Ceahlaesti, Topol ita and Ocea, where the people chase the crow away from their land after it has got the plum in its beak. Up north beyond the waters of the Ozana, there's Tirgu Nearrp and its outskirts: Pometea under the Cociorva Hill, where every house has a large orchard; Jupiieni, whose people have come from across the mountains, who eat rancid lard, are forever looking after their sheep and weaving the wool, and are famous for their oil presses; Condreni with its watermills on the Nempsor and its felt mills for cloth. Above the Condreni, upon a steep wooded slope, stands the famous Castle of Neamt in its wild countryside, where the lightning plays in summer and where the cattle with the fly upon them graze, watched over by the rooks and the hawks who've found it a good place in which to build their nests. But that's no concern of mine, a son of Hurnulesti. My task lies elsewhere: I wish to give an account of our village, and of the boyhood I spent there, and then make an end.
All the princes and metropolitans who have succeeded each other upon the throne of Moldavia since this country began had to pass through Hurnulesti at least once, on their way to the monasteries, to say nothing of other people who've journeyed through our village, wealthy, select people, visiting the monastery of Neamj and its icon that works wonders, its bedlam, its patronal festival on St. Ispass's Day, when there's a fair going on in town at the same time. Uumulesti was also on the road to various fairs such as Piatra on Whit Sunday and Falticeni on St. Elijah's Day; to patronal festivals at Secu, the beheading of St.John the Baptist, at Agapia on the Hill, the Transfiguration of Our Lord, at Agapia in the Valley, Saints Constantine and Helena, and at Varatic, St. Mary's Day. An endless stream of people! All the sanctifyings and dedications of churches; all the synods and the replacements of clerical and political personalities; all the strangers from the world over, all the hearts urged on by unfulfilled aspirations, all the broken and misguided souls that found their way to the monasteries, all these brought people through our village. People, people, an endless stream of people. Foreign armies and a troop of soldiers on horseback, all highranking Germans in goldembroidered cloth, they all went through Humulesti in the days of my boyhood, with drawn swords, making for the convents to look for beautiful Natalia; and they made a great to do in the convents and ransacked all the cells of the nuns, but could not find her; for the cellars of Pirvu, the watchman at Tirgu NeamJ, could hide a young princess, in time of need. And it was a good thing the nuns were there and that they knew how to appease them with gentle words, persuading them to put away their swords by telling them that those who draw the sword shall perish by it.
But why should I bother my head with kings and emperors, instead of thinking about my boyhood at Humulesti and of seeing to my own troubles? That's what I ought to have done from the start, but I was anxious to prove that the people of Humulesti do not live like bears in their lairs, but have the happiness of seeing all sorts and conditions of men.
In 1852, on the day when the chapel of the hospital at Tirgu Neamt was being consecrated and the Prince's school was being opened, I was one of several boys who had a part to play in the church service, and we stood near Prince Ghica who was present at that ceremony with a whole throng of people around him. We could not take our eyes off him; and he, good-looking and gentle, seeing us all arrayed in embroidered shirts as white as ermine, fine sleeveless sheepskin tunics, tight trousers of the finest wool, and wearing our sandals, all neat and clean and with our hair well brushed, with modesty written upon our faces and the fear of God in our hearts, gave us a fatherly look saying:
"Now children, you have a school and a holy church, fountains of consolation and spiritual happiness; make good use of them, cultivate your minds and praise the Lord!" (CMB: 44-45)
But the village was ultimately part of a much larger community and, when state matters were concerned, it was on the giving end--when so, dark clouds covered the sky and the well-balanced, monada-like mechanism that the village was got brutally disrupted.
One day, in actual fact it was St. Foca's Day, the mayor ordered the villagers out to repair the road. The rumor went that the prince was going to ride that way to visit the monasteries. Master Vasile found nothing better to do than to say: "Come on, boys, let's help with that road, so that the prince won't say, as he passes through, that our village is lazier than the others."
So we all set out from school together. Some of us dug with spades, some carried stones in wheelbarrows, some in carts, some in kneading-troughs; in short, the people worked with a will. The mayor Nica, son of Petrica, with the overseer, the deputy-mayor, and a couple of tousle-headed clerks, were moving to and fro among the people, when all of a sudden, what should we see but a scuffle on the gravel, a crowd of people in a confused heap and one of them yelling loudly. "What can this mean?" people were asking as they ran from all sides.
Master Vasile had been caught with a lasso by the militia; they were now roping him tight and handcuffing him, preparatory to sending him off to the town of Piatra. So that's why the mayor had summoned the people to communal labor. This was the cunning way in which young men were in those days pressganged into military service ... This was an evil sight indeed! The other young men vanished instantly, and as for us children, back we went to our homes, crying. "Curse that dog of a mayor, and, as he has seared a mother's heart, so may today's saint, Foca, burn his heart within him and the hearts of all his accomplices too!" wailed the women of village, cursing and weeping, scalding tears on all sides. Meanwhile, master Vasile's mother was seeing her son to Piatra and bewailing him as if he were dead. "Never mind, mother, the world is not just the size of the bit of it we can see with our eyes," master Vasile was saying to comfort her. "A man can live in the army as well as anywhere, if there's mettle in him. St. George and St. Demetrius and other holy martyrs were soldiers who suffered for the love of Christ; pray God we may live up to their example!"
Well, well, we'd lost master Vasile; he had gone where fate decreed. (CMB: 7)
All is white, hardly black. On and off, Turks used to come indeed, but they waged no war with the villagers and their children, and neither did they ruin houses and harvests--the storyteller's grandfather tells his daughter that much:
Upon this hill, daughter Smaranda, we took refuge at the time of the 1821 uprising, with your mother, yourself and your brother Ion, scared off by a band of Turks who had been recently fighting with the volunteers at Secu and were then making their way to Pipirig in search of plunder; and being in such a hurry, we had left behind your baby-sister Mariuca in her wooden cradle, upon the verranda. When your mother discovered that the child was missing, she began to tear her hair out of her head and to bewail her in a subdued voice, saying:
"Woe is me, woe is me, my child has been stabbed to death by the Turks!"
I then climbed to the very top of a fir tree and as soon as I saw the Turks turning towards Plotun I madly jumped upon the back of a horse, galloped home and found the baby safe and sound, but the cradle and all had been overturned by some pigs who were rummaging around, ready to tear her to pieces. At one end of the cradle I found a few Turkish coins, which the Turks, as it seemed, had placed by the child's head. Then I picked the child up and I was so overjoyed that I don't know how I got back to your mother on Man's Hill. When I had recovered a bit, I said bitterly like many another before me: "Those who have no children don't know what trouble is." Some people are sensible in this respect and stay unmarried. One such person was Ciubuc, the Transylvanian sheep owner, who later on in life, having no wife and child, moved by his deep piety or by other circumstances, gave over all his goods and chattels to the Nearrp monastery and became a monk with almost all his herdsmen, chanting many a mass during his lifetime; and now he dwells in peace under the walls of the monastery, may the Lord's grace be upon him, and may he rest in peace in the kingdom of heaven! For we, too, shall make our way there very soon! Now, you'd have had no inkling of all those happenings if I hadn't told you, would you?" grandfather said with a sigh. (CMB: 14-15)
Not to lose the thread of the story, which is now the village of Humulesti and its age-old customs:
One St. Basil's Day [New Year's Day], we boys of the village planned to take the New Year's plow around the village, for I was now in my teens, worse luck. And on the eve of that Saint's day I plagued father all day to make a buhai [a bull drum consisting of a bottomless wooden tub, the upper aperture covered with sheep skin, a strand of horsehair passing through a hole in the middle--all of this, when pulled, making a noise like the roaring of a bull] for me; or, if not that, at least a fine whip.
"Heavens alive, I'll give you a whip, my boy," father said after a while. "Haven't you enough food at my house? Do you want those good-for-nothings to dump you in the snow? Just wait and I'll take your boots away, and then well see if you're so keen to go out." Seeing that he was treating me in this fashion, I slipped out of the house with only the pig's bladder, lest father should get hold of my boots and I be the laughing stock of my comrades. And it somehow came about that none of my companions had a bell. My cowbell was at home, but dare I go back for it? To make a long story short, we did our best and got together a broken scythe, a shaft-coupling, a pole hook with a ring to it, together with my pig's bladder. We started from Father Oylobanu's, right up at the top of the village, planning to walk through the whole village. When we got there, the priest was outside his house sawing wood upon a trunk. As soon as he saw us standing under his window and getting ready for caroling, he muttered a few oaths under his breath and said: "The fowls have hardly gone to roost and here you are already! Just you wait a little, you little wretches and I'll give you something!"
Thereupon we took to our heels, followed by the priest with a cudgel hard on us, for Father Oslobanu was an ill-tempered, crusty old fellow.
We were so scared, we'd run halfway back through the village without having taken the opportunity to wish the priest:
A floor with fungus inches deep, Toadstools up the wall that creep, Children fat and loathsome too, Dozens of them you shall rue.
as carol singers do at the houses that don't receive them. "My word, what a devilish wicked priest," we said once we were all together, stiff with cold and frightened to death; "he very nearly crippled us. May we live to see him carried upon the bier into the church of Saint Demetrius under the castle, to which he is now attached. None other than Old Nick could have bidden that monster to come and build his house in our village. God forbid that our priests should be like him, for you wouldn't so much as taste any of the church offerings, ever!" By the time we had slandered the priest and said nasty things about him, and done a few other things, dusk had set in.
"Well, what are we to do now? Let us go into this yard," said Zaharia, son of Gitlan, "for we're wasting time standing here in the middle of the road."
And in we went, to Vasile-Anijei's and stood under the window as was usual. But for sure the Evil One was making charms: one fellow did not strike his scythe because he was cold, another because his hands were freezing upon the shaft-coupling; my cousin Ion Mogorogea, the pole-hook under his arm, would argue and wouldn't carol. It was enough to make your heart burst with anger.
"You do the wishing, Chiriac," I said to Goian, "you Zaharia and myself will roar like bulls, and these other fellows will join in the chorus."
And we started right away. And what do you think happened? That mean wicked wife of Vasile Anijei came at us with a red-hot fire-rake she was using to rake out the fire before cooking the pastry in the oven.
"May the fire consume you!" she said, thoroughly incensed. "What do you think you're up to? Who taught you to do this?"
Now run for it, boys, quicker than we ran from Father Oslobanu!
"A fine mess this!" we pondered, stopping at the crossroads in the middle of the village, close by the church. "One or two more welcomes like that and we'll be driven out of the village, like gypsies. We'd better go home to bed."
Having settled things for the following year and sworn a solemn oath to go caroling together again, we parted, stiff with cold and weak with hunger, and off we each went to our own house and mighty glad we were to be back. And that's the story of our carol-singing that year. (CMB: 26-28)
If there was any tavern in the village of Humulesti we have no way of knowing. With the excuse he was too young to be in a position to fill in any first-hand data, the storyteller, when a little older and a student in the market-town of Falticeni, let us join him in a rather idyllic tavern where people came for the love of the hostess the young students, however, also for the love of good food.
About nightfall we all, including old Bodringa, went to a respectable tavern belonging to the daughter of the mayor at Radasani where most people came out of love of the hostess than for any urge to drink wine; and lovely she was, too, a blessing upon her! She had recently married a widower, an old man; such a stick in the mud and just the sort of person you want for a host. The moment she saw us, the hostess welcomed us and showed us into a large room with shutters on the windows and a wooden floor, where there were only ourselves and the hostess, whenever she cared to look in.
In one corner of the room there were a few bushels of beans, in another hemp seed, in a third corner a heap of fine apples and Radasani pears, that will keep over winter until after Easter, in the fourth, peas and broad beans divided by a wide plank and nearby some Turkish pumpkins, dried pears in a wooden tub, as sweet to the taste as figs, further on a heap of reels of hemp and flaxen thread, hanging from a rafter a coil of worsted and yarn with many colors, for carpets and runners. Then oakum, combings, and sundry things dumped on shelves and corner cupboards as was usual in the house of a well-to-do farmer in those days. As soon as we were all assembled in that delightful room, the hostess closed the shutters, lit the candle, and in no time at all was back with a large earthern jug full of Odobesti wine; and as she poured it into the glasses its bubbles shot up into the air, it was so strong. Gitlan, the sly one took up a glass and handed it to the hostess saying:
"Come, honey, you drink the first toast and we will see if you put something in it or not."
The lovely hostess raised her glass, and with laughing eyes wished us health and happiness and, having tasted a little, begged us not to detain her for she had other customers besides us, and her husband couldn't manage without help.
But have no fear; we barred her way and insisted that she should take a sip from each glass. And she would have stayed longer, I'm sure, had we not stupidly driven her away by thanking her with a loving kiss from each of us.
"That's the way of youth, bless them," old Bodringa said, as he sat perched on the heap of combings and munching dried pears; "It's as it should be, boys, it's your time now or never."
"Right you are, good man, said the hostess, coming in at the door with
a dish of hot pies and a roast chicken that she set before us; and, my word, what a blessing that was, for we were as hungry as wolves.
When we had finished drinking one jug, another would arrive for which we again gave thanks by kissing the hostess until she would pretend to be angry and run away from us. Then she would come back and run away again, for that's the way they sell the wine everywhere they sell it. How in the name of sin should I know what was on her mind? Maybe the hostess took no offence whatsoever to our company, that's why she'd try it so often. At long last, Trasnea, that nasty loot, took her by surprise and gave her a smacking kiss. Any ass will soon put his foot in it. And then the lovely hostess was really cross. But what could we do? As the saying has it: She'll doff her anger in the same blouse she took it. For there is no other way out of it. After a while, old man Bodringa took heart and began to play one of those Corabiasca dances that set your feet tapping. And didn't we warm up to it? We danced so crazily that the room wasn't large enough for us. We plunged into the beans, peas, and broad beans, as though we were blind and the hempseed was all squashed into oil under our feet. It was after midnight when we saw that old Bodringa had left us and we slipped out, one by one, making for our lodgings; myself with a load of dried pears and a large pumpkin that the hostess had given me; for she was as openhanded as she was lovely, the little darling! But when I reached our place what did I see? Nearly every one of my companions had borrowed some little thing; one of them, magnificent apples, another, Radasani pears, old Bodringa had picked up an armful of combings to set the fire burning, Trasnea's choice was hemp seed. Now Oslobanu, whose boots had their uppers cut out of one cow's hide and their soles out of another, was bringing up the rear, and, when he got inside, he lay upon his back, shod and dressed as he was and raised, his feet up to the rafter in the ceiling, until he was standing on the back of his head and you'll never guess what happened next. A good tubful of beans, and no mistake, ran out of the tops of his boots, which he usually wore turned down and which he had turned up for this special occasion! My cousin Ion Mogorogea alone, son of an honest farmer, had taken no keepsake, while Zaharia, son of Gitlan, had been content with kissing the lovely hostess. A great consolation for a young stranger at Shrovetide! And I now see that Gitlan, whose name in school was Zaharia Simionescu, proved the wisest of the lot; for he shared in the goods we'd brought; but we'd had no share in his happiness!
There's a time and a season for all things and now we got down to our books for a while, for the Christmas holidays were hard upon us and we were taking the bread out of our parents' mouths for no purpose; you can't get anything for nothing and money does not lie on the road for the taking. Putting our goods together, we now possessed at the beginning of Advent some four or five jugs of oil, three or four sacks of corn flour, a few pounds of salt fish, prunes, beans, peas, broad beans, salt, and enough wood to last for some weeks; for we took our meals together, taking turns at cooking, each using his own supplies, for the day. But Oslobanu, who ate as much as seventeen set us all to thinking. His old man, father Neculai, could have sent him plenty, no doubt; yet a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. (CMB: 58-60)
Not even by a long shot is then the tavern a place of perdition proper. We gradually get the feeling that Humulesti and the neighboring villages have this miraculous Midas-like property about them, to change everything into gold:
As the mountain bear will not leave its lair, as the peasant from the hills will not move to the field, nor the babe be taken from the mother's breast, so was it hard for me, even with all my mother's pleadings, to leave Humulesti that autumn of the year 1855, when the time came for me to go to Socola. And why wouldn't I leave Humulesti for the world, when my mother kept telling me that it was for my own good? This is the reason why: as God would have it, I was no longer a boy, alas! And the town of Iasi, that I had never seen, was not close to Neamt like Falticeni, from where in the late autumn or during the Christmas holiday, when the nights were long, I was able to return home from time to time. I would slip away about vespers and walk apace on moonlit nights with my friends, going to the nightly gatherings at Humulesti, walking posthaste all the way like coach horses. After dancing a while, we were accustomed to stealing a kiss from some of the more flighty girls, and vanishing from the village before daylight, we would be back at Falticeni about lunchtime. On each of the journeys there and back we would wade across the ford barefoot, opposite the Baths, the river Moldova being frozen along its banks so that the very marrow within our bones would be numb! But our hearts were warm for whatever we planned would come true! From Neamt: to Falticeni and from Falticeni to Neamt was just child's play for us in those days. (CMB: 69)
The farther we get from the village of Humulesti, however, the darker it gets. Going to the city of Iasi, something like going to Mecca for any good book-loving Moldavian, will be for the mountain lad a "fall from grace":
But this was a different story: the short distance of two post-miles [about six miles, the distance between two mailcoach stations where horses were changed] from Falticeni to Neamt was a totally different thing from the six long and tiresome post-miles, neither more, nor less, from Iasi to Neamt Nor am I just trying to be funny when I say that from Neamt to Iasi is the same distance exactly as from Iasi to Neamt. Far better for you to stay here, Ion, my boy, I was thinking in my simple mind, than weep unconsoled and wither away longing for the love of someone only I know! Yet there is a saying: A bear will not dance of its own accord. There was no choice open to me. I had to do what my mother was urging, I had to depart, whether I liked it or not, and leave behind all I loved! (CMB: 69)
Seeing there was no way of resisting his parents' decision, our hero began to think of his departure, but sorrowfully reflecting in his mind!
I really am up against a brick wall! Our village priests have never been through the Socola School and by the grace of God their belts won't go around their fat bellies. As to monks they're a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings from all the four corners, who've settled in those monasteries and to what heights will they not rise? But when it comes to me, I have to go through so many schools: at Humulesti, at Brosteni in the very heart of the mountains, at Neamt at Falticeni, and now at Socola, just to be permitted to become a miserable priest, with a wife and children; really, it's asking too much!
My first impulse was to tell mother that I'd become a monk at Neamt or at Secu, and with the amount of learning I had, or had not, I might, in a few year's time, become super-intendent in some small monastery and lay next to a tubful of gold coins, such as Father Chirilas, of Vinatorii Neamtului, amassed from carting wood.
And then, holy Ilarie, you just take your flask of brandy, plenty of fresh caviar, and some more tasty morsels in your great coat pockets, stick your pistols in your belt beneath your monk's frock, and tilt your hat over one ear; then armed with the sword of the Spirit, your long hair blowing about, you hurry off past The Evil Spot', towards the 'cursed Path-way' between Secu and Agapia-on-the-hill, where you can hear an angelic voice singing all summer:
Here I linger by the rill, God's ewe lamb.
while some deep bass voice will answer:
There am I come from the hill, God's own ram.
For being the miserable sinner that I am, quite unintentionally, I had discovered something of the monastic secrets, while I'd been walking with the boys during the summer, picking mushrooms in those places where I'd taken a fancy to monastic life, as a fellow steeped in piety always will, you know.
To go back to my story at last: the night before setting out I pondered in my mind until daybreak how I might soften mother's heart and go to a monastery instead; and just as I had decided to tell mother these things, lo and behold, there's the sun ushering in a beautiful day. Old Luca, who was now married a second time and whose young wife had been anxious to wake him in good time, and get him ready for the journey, suddenly called outside: "Ready? Come on! I am waiting, horses and all." Mother then began to rush me into setting out, leaving me no time to tell her about my plans to become a monk. (CMB: 70-72)
Try as he might, our protagonist cannot avoid leaving his beloved home village. He is as desperate as can be, he knows there is no way back--this traumatizing voyage to the big city, among grey clouds of mosquitoes and exposed to every ridicule, is actually his last rite of passage, his final loss of innocence.
To make a long story short, we and Zaharia's relatives gathered in old Luca's yard, kissed our parents' hands, saying goodbye with tears in our eyes; and when we had climbed into the cart as sorrowful and tearful as could be, old Luca, our driver, whipped up the horses, saying to his wife who was shutting the gates behind us:
"Olimpiada, my dear, be careful of that hole!" It had been made by some pigs who, having broken down the fence palings in one place, had grown fond of the corn in his garden.
It was the morning of the Day of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, as we drove out of Humulesti; girls and young men, dressed in their Sunday best, were busily bustling here and there, with joy upon their faces! Only myself and Zaharia, squatting in old Luca's cart, were being driven into exile, forfeited to the devil! I cant think of a more appropriate and fitting term.
"Please drive on faster, good man," I said, "so that the village won't stare at us as if we were bears on show." But old Luca was driving in his own way, for his horses were singularly worn out, weak and scraggy like feeble kittens and no fiery steeds as mother would have it, doing her best to get me out of the house.
"A curse upon whoever's done away with those seminaries just when we need them," Zaharia Gitlan said bitterly when we were out of the village. "Just when a man should be enjoying the days of his youth, he's got to set to booklearning; as if there were ten lives to be lived! Continually going from one school to another, all to no purpose, any day now well find ourselves turning into sickly, weak old men, just right for the priesthood, as soon we've finished at Socola!"
"What do you say to such goings on, good man?"
"What should I say, master Zaharia? What do I know of your regulations? I've got to drive you to the appointed place and from then on you'll manage as best you can. Giddy up, horses, so that we can be back home sooner."
As we heard old Luca lovingly speak of home and as we saw the villages and the lovely places we were leaving fall behind and new ones start appearing in front of us, our anger knew no bounds! Every well, stream, valley, glade, and other favorite place that we left behind drew a deep sigh from our chests! And if we had done as we then felt, we should have turned back there and then; only we were in old Luca's trust and we stood in awe of him as well as of our own parents.
After a brief halt at the bridge of Timisesti over the waters of the Moldova, we drove on to Motca and climbed slowly along past the woods at Pascani. Then from the top of that wooded mountain we, unhappy souls, looked back once more, in sorrow, upon the Neamt mountains, those giants, their tops hidden in the clouds, where streams sprang up, and from which swift rivers poured down, whispering secrets in their never-ending course and maybe carrying enough human yearning and pain along with them to drown them in the stately Danube.
"Well, well, Zaharia, old boy," I said as we were driving downhill towards Pascani, "we've lost sight of the mountains now and our exile is a fact for God knows how long!"
"As the holy Lord will have it," said Zaharia, his voice almost gone. Then he sat brooding all the way to Blagesti, across the Siret, where we put up for the night. But what a night! Here, on the porch of a wheelwright's house we nearly went blind; from evening to midnight we lay in the smoke of burning dung, as if we were quarantined, yet the mosquitoes had the better of us.
"That's life in the plains for you, old Luca said, tossing and turning this way and that, as if on tenterhooks, because of the mosquitoes. "As soon as you cross the Siret, the water's bad and wood is scarce; in summer you're smothered with heat and the mosquitoes are a torture. I wouldn't live in the plains for the world! Ours are fine places! The waters are sweet to the taste, crystal-clear, and ice-cold, there's wood in plenty, in the summer it's cool and shady everywhere, the people are healthier, tougher, stronger, and more cheerful, not like those dwellers in the plains, withered and puckered as if they'd been living on toasted mushrooms all their lives."
"You know what, uncle Luca," Zaharia said after a time; "the Pleiades are setting, so is Orion, and the morning star is soon due; let's start on our way!"
"Right you are, master Zaharia; a Saint has spoken through your mouth. Rather than toss and turn on this porch let's shorten the journey. For God Almighty's in heaven and he will protect us from evil."
And so, after taking leave from our host, who was lying in the open, under another porch, away we drove.
As soon as we were out on the main road, by good fortune, we came upon some men with cartloads of shingles driving to Iasi. We traveled with them for fear of the gypsies of Ruginoasa and we made splendid progress until, at day break, there we were at Tirgu Frumos where we split a few watermelons to quench our thirst and satisfy our hunger. Then when the horses were somewhat rested, on we went towards Podu-Iloaiei, and from there still further on to Iasi, more often walking than driving, for old Luca's horses had grown very weak and the peasants coming and going, who were fond of a joke, would make biting remarks, so that we were uncomfortable because of old Luca's shame.
And particularly about sundown, as we were just entering the town of Iasi, along Pacurari Street, a devilish young lad mocked us outright saying:
"Take care, old man, hold those steeds in check, lest they gallop away, for this town of Iasi is a large one and, for God's sake, don't wreak havoc in it!" That was the last straw for old Luca; he poured out on him all possible and impossible curses.
"Just listen to that! If he only knew, the lazy devil, where we'd started from last night, he'd hold his tongue; he wouldn't talk like that about my horses, in that fashion! And it's not the first time that I've been to Iasi. I've no need to take advice from the likes of him as to the kind of pace I've got to go, damn and blast him! If he'd just stopped a while, I'd have taught him to mock at travelers another time!"
Seeing that people were making fun of us and that old Luca was put out and angry, we crept under a rug as we were sitting in the cart, myself rather timidly saying: "Good man, if anyone asks you, from now on, why the horses are pulling so hard, just tell them that you're bringing some blocks of salt from the mines and see if they'll believe you!"
"So that's it? I didn't know that you were that sort," old Luca said, walking by the horses bitterly enraged. "Don't provoke me or I'll beat you through that rug to get the devil out of you."
Hearing what was in store for us, we nudged each other in the ribs and almost bursting with suppressed laughter, we just sat mum. At long last, after much sarcasm which old Luca received on all sides, for people can be very nasty when you're driving at a slow steady pace, in and out of potholes, through all the bumps and ruts in the streets of Iasi, we eventually came, late at night, to the yard of Socola; and we drove under a big poplar tree where we found plenty of students from all the seminaries of Moldavia; some were young, but most of them wore great big unkempt beards like big brushes; they were sitting upon the grass with their parents, clerics and lay people together, telling each other of their troubles! (CMB: 72-75)
It is all clear by now. The storyteller's boyhood is another word for his stay in his home village of Humulesti. When he leaves this paradise, his innocence is lost; his commitment to village community is lost, too. He will have to find a new identity, and we already know that he will make it in the end. For some time, however, he will have to be hanging around, in the big city.
The school business
Should we have any illusions about a presumably "intrinsic motivation" (Amabile 1996) for the would-be fiction writer, we will be disappointed. Ion Creanga goes to school for fear he should be punished.
Now the brightest schoolchild was the priest's own little Smaranda, a mischievous, high-spirited girl, quick-witted and so active that she used to put all the boys to shame in both learning and pranks. The priest came to the school almost every day to see how things were going. And one fine day it happened that he came to the school carrying a new, long bench. Having asked the teacher how we were each getting on, he reflected for a little while, then named the bench Dapple-Grey and left it behind in the school.
Another day, the priest again came to the school, with old Fotea, who used to make sheepskin coats for the village and who brought a dear little tawse made of leather thongs all beautifully plaited, as a gift for the new school. The clergyman named it St. Nicholas, after the patron saint of Humulesti. Then he invited old Fotea, when he came across some good pieces of leather, to make another one from time to time, somewhat thicker and stronger if possible. At that master Vasile smiled and we schoolchildren stood staring at on another. Then the priest laid down the law and said that there should be revision every Saturday for all the boys and girls, in other words that the teacher should examine each and every one in what had been learned during the week; for each mistake made, a stroke should be scored in charcoal on a slate or something and eventually every mistake should bring down a blow from St. Nicholas upon the offending child.
Upon which the priest's daughter, being giddy, thoughtless, and full of whims and fancies, suddenly burst out laughing. So much the worse for her, poor thing! "Just come out here, young lady, and mount Dapple-Grey," said the priest now quite sternly, "and let us put St. Nicholas, who's hanging from that nail up there, to his proper business!" In spite of old Fotea's pleading and that of master Vasile, little Smaranda got a good hiding and afterwards sat crying into her cupped hands like a bride, so that the very blouse shook on her back. When we saw this, we were quite dumbfounded.
Meanwhile, from time to time, the priest would bring small coins and cakes from the church offerings and give each his share, so that he tamed us. The boys set up a fresh blackboard each day, and on Saturday there was a revision. (CMB: 3-4)
When the punisment was perceived as some kind of "just retribution," nothing to say. The schoolboy accepted it and only hoped that, should he improve, well-deserved rewards will be in sight.
We still went our own ways occasionally, there's no doubt about that! Starting with the sheet of paper propped up by a stick bearing the sign of the Blessed Cross and with the letters of the alphabet, written out by master Vasile for each one of us, we passed on to the shorter catechism and from thence to the breviary, and from then on we were on our way! When priest and teacher were absent, we would go into the churchyard, keeping the prayerbook open; as the pages were somewhat greasy, the flies and the bumblebees would come to them in swarms, and when we suddenly clapped the books shut, we often killed twenty of them at one blow. What wholesale destruction we brought upon the race of flies!
One day what should come into the priest's mind but to inspect our prayerbooks. Seeing them all bloodstained, he clutched his head in horror. As soon as he found out how they got into this shocking state, he summoned each one of us in turn to Dapple-Grey's back and began to belabor us with St. Nicholas, bishop in partibus, as retribution for the pains the martyred flies and the holy bumble-bees had suffered at our hands. (CMB: 4-5)
When the punishment, however, was perceived as "wrong distribution," the schoolboy, with what we will have to consider an "innate sense of justice," reacted in his own style.
Not long after this, one day in the month of May, close upon the Whitsun Mosi festival [in commemoration of the dead], the Evil One prompted master Vasile, the blockhead, for I have no better word for him, to appoint a fellow called Nica, Costache's son, to test my knowledge. Nica, who was older than me and whose scholarship was a trifle more than nonexistent, had quarrelled with me on account of little Smaranda, whom, one day, with every sign of regret, I had been forced to shove away because she interfered with my catching flies. So Nica began to examine me, and he went on examining and examining, and didn't he just score mistakes wholesale on a piece of shingle: one, two, three, and so on up to twenty-nine! "My word, this is ridiculous," I said to myself. "He hasn't yet finished examining me, and think of all the mistakes to come!" All of sudden, everything went black in front of me and I began to tremble with anger. " Well, well, I am in a spot! What's to be done about it?" I kept asking myself. Slyly I glanced at the door of salvation and kicked my heels impatiently, waiting for some loiterer outside to come in, for there was a school rule that two pupils should not walk out at the same time. My heart was fit to burst within me seeing that no one would come in and give me a chance to escape mounting Dapple-Grey and receiving the blessing of St. Nicholas, that dispenser of black and blue. Yet, the true St. Nicholas seems to have been mindful of me, for, lo and behold, that blessed boy walked into the schoolroom. Where upon, with permission or not, I made for the door, slipped out quickly, and, never lingering about the school, took to my heels homewards! A glance over my shoulder showed me two hulking brutes already on my tracks. Then I started running so fast that my feet struck sparks out of the ground! I passed our house without going in, turned left and entered the yard of one of our neighbors; from the yard I went into the stableyard, and from the stableyard into the maize field, newly hoed and tilled, with the boys after me. Before they reached me, scared out of my wits as I was, I somehow managed to burrow into the mound at the root of a maize stalk. Nica, Costache's son, with Toader, Catinca's son, an equally loathsome brute, passed by me, saying just what they were going to do to me.
Surely the Lord blinded them, so that they couldn't find me! After a while, hearing no rustling of maize leaves, not even a hen scratching the ground, I suddenly darted out, with earth on my head, and rushed home to mother and began telling her with tears in my eyes that I would not go back to school, no, not if they were to kill me. The next day, however, the priest came to our house and settled things with father; they calmed me down and took me back to school again. "For really, it's a pity to be left without any education, " the priest was saying, "you're now past your ABC's, you're working on the prayerbook, and, one of these days, you'll go on to the psalter, which is the key to all wisdom. And who can tell what time has in store for us? Maybe you'll live to become the priest here, at the church of St. Nicholas, because it's for the likes of you that I take the pains I do. I have an only daughter, and I will think seriously about my choice of a son-in-law." (CMB: 5-6)
The more severe, and certainly unjust the punishment, the brighter the perspective ahead:
Heigh ho! Once I heard of the priesthood and of our priest's little Smaranda, I gave up the flies completely and turned my thoughts to other things. I began to take to writing, to preparing the church register, to chanting responses, as if I were a respectable youngster. The priest put me down in his good books and little Smaranda gave a glance at me now and then; Master Vasile entrusted the coaching of other boys to me and, as the saying goes, a different kind of flour was now being ground in the old mill. Nica, Costache's son, loutish and bullying, with his grating voice, had no further hold over me. (CMB: 5-7)
At every turn of the narrative we are given to understand that there was an in-kind economy in the village that, at least economically speaking, the villagers' top priorities were there for the taking and, if anything special was needed, the market-town was never far away.
Father Ion was now walking about, his long hair floating in the wind, looking for another teacher, but he failed to find a second master Vasile, quiet, hardworking, and as shy as a maid. There was, of course, Iordache, the elder in the front pew, who spoke through his nose but what good was he? True, he had got the church strains [the eight fundamental melodies] by heart, but he was so old that his teeth chattered and, moreover, he was too fond of his drink. So the school stood deserted for a time. For some of us who dung to Father Ion things went none too badly: it is the church that enlightens a man.
On Sundays we would hum away in the pew and, slap! bang! there was a cake for each of us pinched from the offerings! When the eve of each of the two great festivals came around, some thirty or forty boys would run before the priest, wearing a path through the snow between one house and the next. At Christmas we would neigh like colts, while on the Twelfth Night we would bawl the Kyraleisa ["God's mercy upon us"] until the village resounded. As Father Ion approached, we stood in two lines and made way for him. Then he would pull his beard and say proudly to the host: "These are the clergyman's foals, my son. They look forward joyfully to great festive days like these throughout the whole year. Have you prepared boiled wheat, sarmale [meat balls], hemp tarts and cabbage pies for them?" "We have, indeed, holy Father. Please come in and bless our house, and please sit yourselves down so that matchmakers and suitors may do likewise." No sooner did we hear a meal mentioned than we fell to. Look out, food's coming! As the old saying goes: Pies make the mouth rejoice, and cabbage pies even more.
Our behavior was only natural, since there are only two such festive eves in the year. At one place, I remember, we crowded around so enthusiastically that we knocked the table over, dishes and all, in the middle of the room, bringing furious blushes to our priest's cheeks. Yet all he said, very goodnaturedly, was: "Where nothing is spread, there's nothing to spill, my sons, but a little restraint wouldn't be amiss!"
Then upon the festival of the patron saint of the church, the feasting would last a whole week. All you wanted was a belly in which to stow away the cornmeal cake [also boiled grain, honey and walnuts] and the various types of food, so numerous were they. Elders, priests, bishops, and all sorts of people from every part came together at this festival in Humulesti, and they all left highly contented. What is more, a lot of strangers were well received in private houses. Mother, God rest her soul, rejoiced greatly when visitors happened to drop in and there was occasion to break bread with them. "Maybe my sons will bestow alms in memory of me when I am dead, but maybe they won't; it's better to bestow them with my own hand. Anyhow, close is my shirt, but closer is my skin! It wouldn't be the first time it happened!" (CMB: 7-9)
Not all of the teaching staff were beyond dispute. Master Vasile had been caught by the militia and sent to the army; Father Iordache took his place but, fond of his drink, "what good was he?" Father Duhu, a kind man, had his own troubles. It seems, indeed, that the teaching staff was not exactly compact and fully professional.
These words spoken by those princely lips [urging children to make good use of the new school and the holy church] imprinted themselves deeply upon the hearts of the people present there, and without delay the school was soon filled with boys who were anxious to learn, myself among them, excelling everyone in pranks and laziness; I'd grown so lazy that my equal was nowhere to be found, because mother wouldn't let me so much as fetch a tubful of water in her anxiety that I should study and become a priest, like Father Isaiah Duhu, our teacher. Father Duhu was a kind man when he was in the right mood, God rest his soul! He kept the boys in such order as had never been seen before. In summer, out of his own money, he would buy baskets of raspberries and all kinds of fruit, for us to eat. Practically every Saturday he would pack the lot of us into a lumbering old coach belonging to the Nearnt monastery and would take us to the abbot's lodgings to be examinated in the presence of abbot Neonil, a crippled old man who gently advised us to stick to the book of prayers and the psalter, for all other reading, he used to say, was mere heretical learning which rather tended to trouble and embitter man's soul. Yet it was written that Father Duhu should not follow the advice of the holy abbot to the letter, but that he should teach us a bit of arithmetic, grammar, geography, and a little of everything according to our understanding.
One day, Father Duhu returned in a fury from the abbey and set us the following problem to illustrate the rule of three:
"If one penny wrongfully deducted equals a hundred rightfully earned one, then how many honest pennies are there in six thousand lei [the usual Romanian currency], my yearly salary, that's unlawfully been withheld by abbot Neonil and which the monastery of Neamt will eventually be made to pay?"
"Twenty-four million pennies, Father, or six hundred thousand lei," one of us answered, chalk in hand, at the blackboard.
"I want Nica Oslobanu to check that sum," said Father Duhu.
Nica Oslobanu, a great, big lumbering fellow got up, as usual, and begged to be excused since he had a headache. And I don't quite know how it came about, but a big 'bear' tumbled out of the front of his shirt and rolled upon the floor; not a bear like the gypsies train to dance at fairs, but a round ball of mamaliga [mush made of maze flour], with cheese inside it, cooked over live coals, and just the thing to put in your stomach when you're hungry. The boys made for it, and Oslobanu dived in the middle of them to get it back; there followed such a scuffle and such laughter in the classroom because of that 'bear' like you've never seen before.
At this I can picture Father Duhu in my mind, slapping his forehead and saying with the most enormous sighs:
"It's my great and grievous sins that have driven me into this place to teach those savage bumpkins! You'd have been a thousand times happier, Isaiah, grazing pigs at Cogeasca Veche than living to see such days! And you, Oslobanu, you stupid lout, a slave to your belly and taking no trouble whatever over your mind, you won't be a priest like your father before all the monks at the Nearnt monastery have turned hermits."
Oslobanu, stupid though he was, it was better to leave him alone because if they didn't he'd begin pawing the dirt in front of him, like a bull. As soon as he got home that evening he told his father what Father Isaiah had been saying. The rest could be left to Father Niculai Oslobanu, who didn't know very much, rushed through three services every day, and prayed for the soul of the dead wholesale, so that monks and ecclesiastics, abbots and metropolitans, with their wives and children, would be turning over in their graves.
One morning what did Father Duhu do, but take Teofan, another monk from the chapel of the hospital with him and go to the church of Saint Lazarus below Castle Hill. No sooner did they enter the church than they started picking a quarrel with Father Oslobanu who was officiating, because he wouldn't stick to the ritual.
"Ritual, you hypocritical pot-bellies? I'll give you ritual, that I will," Father Oslobanu said, putting saintliness aside. "By cunning machinations you stole the Holy Martyr Demetrius, Fountainhead of the Holy Ointment, from us, and instead of this renowed saint you have given us Lazarus, a ragged Jew, who keeps on dying and resurrecting and resurrecting and dying again, until no one will pay heed to him any longer. And that's a patron saint, is it? Moreover, having left us penniless by taking away our lands and putting a wall around the church, you now close the gates of the hospital too, just to spite us; they've even stopped our bells from ringing because of those hounds, the doctors. It's your doing, too, that the parishioners have dropped away one by one, so that not even a bleary-eyed hag ever drops in anore! And what's more: for sixty years and over I'm been serving the church and you're to teach me the ritual now, you vipers, are you? Just wait and I'll drive those lofty notions out of your heads!" And whistling through the air at the monk's heads came the great Ecclesiastical Code. Then, catching up a sturdy brass candlestick, he was at their heels to put a curse upon them! And just then Father Duhu and Teofan dropped their slippers, quickly crawling out on all fours rather than running, as the ritual designates!
The next day Nica Oslobanu didn't come to school; nor did Father Duhu ever go to St. Lazarus's, for Father Oslobanu would have had him nailed on the cross and stored in the church loft, side by side with some of the icons left over from Neamt Castle.
And I guess that the old man was quite right: for on the spot where St. Lazarus's now stood there had once been a church built in wood, dedicated to Saint Demetrius founded and endowed with lands by Prince Vasile Lupu, just like ours in Humulesti. But the Neamt monastery in its shrewdness, when building the hospital at Tirgu Neamt, rebuilt St. Demetrius church of stone, changing its patron saint, calling it Saint Lazarus's, and included it in the precincts of the hospital by surrounding it with a wall, and Saint Demetrius became patron saint to the hospital chapel; while they swallowed up the ecclesiastical lands, as well as the Humulesti lands. And so it was that the wrath of Father Oslobanu had reached its peak; no trace of a monk would he allow in his church; he'd sooner have them skinned alive! Father Duhu had narrowly escaped being turned into a martyr, to replace Saint Demetrius, the fountainhead of the Holy Ointment! (CMB: 45-48)
Shortly after this the storyteller heard that Nica Oslobanu had gone to the seminary at Falticeni, "would you believe it!" His cousin Ion Mogorogea, Gitlan, Trasnea and other aquintances of his had gone there already, at their parents' expense, of course. As to himself, "now left without any friends to get into mischief with and, moreover, having received a good thrashing from Father Isaiah for no reason at all," he would nag his mother to talk with his father, so that he might go to the seminary as well, "although he was such a mischievous boy." The young clerics were supposed to bring as an offering, to the Reverend Principal at the priest factory in Falticeni "gold coins, beehives, sheep, horses, oxen, and similar things, to be turned into coins for his treasury." Then one could "rely upon His Holiness and be sure to come away with all the necessary clerical learning." But in his case, his father gave just two measures of rye and two of oats to those in charge to enter him at Falticeni. "Schooling was just a manner of speaking; bribery was the thing." The principal, needless to say, was the perfect man for his job.
Upon reaching the place late in the autumn, I took lodgings with Pavel the cobbler, in Rada^eni Street, where my friends were quartered.
The principal who used to play cards until all hours, rarely came to the school. We students, seeing this, went still more rarely, yet there were plenty of scrapes and pranks. (CMB: 49)
The schoolboys are now on their own, all by themselves, to make both ends meet:
Pavel was a bachelor and his house was roomy enough. There were benches and beds all around the walls, with one more by the stove, and they were all taken. Our host, after working the whole day through, would take it easy upon the stove, among boot tress, shoemaker's lasts, sole extenders, a shoemaker's table, knives, sharp double-bladed knives, sleeking-steels, straps, pegs and wedge-shaped pieces of leather, needles, prongs, tongs, files, shoemaker's hammers, boot-trees, leather, thread, a broken plate with green vitriol, cobbler's wax, and all things necessary to shoemaking.
Bodringa, a shiftless old man, but full of fun, was also staying with us. For a bit of food and some cheap tobacco, the kind that's sold for six pounds a penny, he would do the chores for the whole household; he would saw wood, light the fires, fetch water, sweep the room and tell us stories all night long, crouching with his nose almost into the embers. He would play the flute too: the doina [a nostalgic song] that sends shivers down your back, the Corabiasca, Mariuta, Horodinca, Alivencile, Tiitura, Ca la usa cortului [all of them dance songs], and many more such jigging ones as these; and we would dance until the floor would sweat and the soles of our boots would wear out, and the heels too, for I was also wearing boots now. And with that sly waggish old man Bodringa around, Pavel could hardly manage to mend all of them. What's more, he too, once in a while, took leave of his senses, and made a mess of his own boots dancing with us. (CMB: 49)
Making do with whatever they had was the schoolboys' only worry. Some of them were really good at it. The "survival of the fittest" instinct was at home with them:
Once, it was Oslobanu's turn to buy firewood, and despite his utter meanness, he went out into the empty field near our lodgings and came upon a peasant from Sasca, I believe, or from Baia, with a cart loaded with beech wood boards.
"How much do you want for the cartload, my dear sir?" said Oslobanu, who had as little intention of buying wood as I now have of taking orders.
"Three husasi', young man."
"You don't say so, dear sir! So much for an armful of wood! I could have that lot on my back and carry it home at one go."
"If you can carry that, young man, I'll let you have it for nothing."
"Do you mean what you say, my good man?"
"I'm not joking, young man; well see if you can carry it, and then you're welcome to it."
Oslobanu then took the logs out of the man's cart one by one and balanced them on his shoulder, then he undid the belt that was wound around his waist and put it around them, binding them neatly so that they would not come apart, then lifting and heaving with some difficulty, he got them on his back and went home with them!
An impudent boy who was looking on said in a loud voice:
Beadle, Needle, Be-he-he! The devil take ye!
The peasant meanwhile stood crossing himself open-mouthed without so much as uttering a word.
Now I can't tell you exactly how heavily loaded that cart was with wood, which in the market was worth seven and a half lei at that time of the year, nor how big and strong Nica Oslobanu was and some sixty more lads like him, many of whom having left their wives and a couple of children in some forsaken mountain village, had come to Falticeni to thrive upon booklearning. (CMB: 49-50)
An infernal machinery was school at the time, inasmuch as learning (nonsensical definitions included) by heart was the principle:
A fine place for learning that was, without a doubt! Some would drone church tunes, putting on airs, you know:
Ison, oligon, petasti Two chendime, homili
until they were as hoarse as crows; others would blurt out the seven mysteries in the great catechism in one breath, with their eyes closed. Gitlan would fight with Goliath the giant in his sleep. In less time than it took him to make his mamaliga, that bewhiskered David of Farcasa would finish reciting at full speed without stumbling the whole history of the Old Testament, divided into periods, by Filaret Scriban, and the conjunctive pronouns in the dative and accusative according to Macarescu's grammar book: Mi-ti-i, ni-vi-li, me-te-il-o, ne-ve-i-le; me-te-il-o, ne-ve-i-le, mi-ti-i, ni-vi-li, whatever that may be, dash it all! Some boys would mumble like mad until they were dizzy, others would never stop bellowing it out, until their eyesight grew dim, some would move their lips as if reciting some passage as a punishment, most would walk about distracted or stand around thinking, seeing how they were wasting their time, and they would just utter a deep sigh, knowing well the hardships in store for them at home. For such maddening of brains and twisting of tongues as these unhappy seminarists were put through, I never saw the like. A terrible way to make you go insane, God alone knows.
It was a real pleasure to look upon young David, that young lad from the mountains with his forked beard and his fine sideburns, his curly hair as black as a raven's feather, his high, pure brow, his bushy eyebrows, his large eyes, as black as mulberries, flashing like lightning, his ruddy cheeks like two peonies; tall of stature, broad in the shoulders, slim in the waist, pliant like a birch tree, he was as light-footed as a doe and as timid as a girl. God rest his soul! It was not his lot to take orders; he died, poor fellow, before his time, smothered under the conjunctive pronouns, may they never more be heard of, for they ate alive that very jewel of a young man! Far more sensible was Mirauta of Grozavesti, who would loaf about in the bitterest cold of winter, calling at every Jewish booth, for fun: he would ask for a straight sheath for his curved pruning knife, or for a halter for fleas, or even for nails out of Noah's Ark, or wild or cultivated strawberries for someone who'd gone out of his mind; or he would sing to spite the Jews:
The beetle I can just abide That munches beech leaves far and wide; The caterpillar is a brute: It kills off every tender shoot And does not let them reach a height To shelter lads and lasses bright!
And many more such devilish things that came into his mind. He wasn't such a fool as to waste his strength upon mi-ti-i, me-te-il-o, ne-ve-i-le, as young David had done.
Like Miraufa, I wouldn't take as much trouble to kill myself with booklearning; no children were crying for me at home, nor had I given the headmaster such a great premium.
Two bushels of rye and two more of oats were no reason for my refraining from consoling the priest's daughter at Falticenii Vechi.
What's more, when I looked into the mirror, there wasn't a whisker on my face, though I would singe it and rub in a mixture of tallow, burnt wick and burnt hazel every night, but it was to no avail. For the truth of the matter was that having joined that sort of a school it was only a long beard and a large purse, what a curse, that could make you step into clerical shoes!
As to Trasnea, the trouble he had with grammar, the poor soul! He once said to me in deep despair:
"I say, Stefanescu," (that's what they called me at Falticeni) "let's stay away from school today, for I don't know the multiplication table and I want to learn the grammar for tomorrow. Please, please come along with me, out to Falticenii Vechi. Well study together or each on his own; I'll do grammar and you whatever you want, and then you'll question me and well see if some of it has stuck in my poor head. That won't do anything about the other subjects that I can't cope with very well, what with this new alphabet [the Latin alphabet for the old Cyrillic one] that's come in, but this damned grammar is turning my hair grey, curse it, I wish it were burned to ashes! What's the use of it in church anyway? However it's in the syllabus. I'll begin at the beginning and maybe with your help, since you've been through Father Duhu's school, I'll get the hang of it."
As Falticenii Vechi held some special attraction for me, I agreed with Trasnea and off we started. A dry frost had set in, in the month of November, and there was a cutting wind that day that set your cheeks afire! As soon as we reached the fields, Trasnea lay down on a footpath and started on the grammar right at the beginning, first question, first answer.
Question: What is Romanian grammar?
Answer: It is the art that teaches us to speak and to write a language correctly.
Or, according to another edition:
Grammar is a discipline that shows us how to speak and to write a language well.
That's that; from prayer book and psalter, which we passed through poorly enough, we passed on to grammar, and what grammar! Not like the ones we have today, a whole lot of grammars, some rational', some 'fully developed' and chockful of 'compliments' which, we must say, without flattery, do explain ... so that you no longer understand a thing; these are expressly conceived for children and child's play they are too, they're so easy! But what's the use of talking about them? No such luck for Trasnea to deal in choice methods. No, poor devil, he had to learn another sort of grammar: "art, correct, in a language; a syllable is a complete sound, simple or compounded with one of the consonants, or with several consonants, which is nevertheless uttered in a single emission of breath." While in a different edition: "By a syllable we understand the utterance of a part of speech, etc."
Well, well! Now clear your voice and do your best, brother Trasnea, if you can. On the third page there's another piece of nonsense:
Question: How many divisions has Romanian grammar?
Answer: Romanian grammar has four divisions which are: 1. etymology, 2. syntax, 3. orthography, 4. prosody.
Question: What does each division teach?
Answer: 1. Etymology teaches us the parts of speech, that is grammatical analisis. 2. Syntax teaches us to join words according to the spirit of our tongue, that is grammatical synthesis. 3. Orthography teaches us to write well, that is according to grammatical rules. 4. Prosody
teaches us to stress the syllables and to pronounce them according to the nature of the words and of the intention we have in uttering them.
Then came mi-ti-i, mi-vi-li, me-te-il-o, ne-ve-i-le. And more ridicoulous inventions.
Now if you consider that Trasnea was advanced in years and somewhat hard of understanding, and that the teacher, who would himself wonder at his being a teacher, used to say: "Take it from here, down to here," as I believe they still do in some places to this very day, then, maybe, you won't be so hard on the grammarian, or on the teacher, or on Trasnea, but on the accident that makes people the way they are: either steel blades or tin ones. And do you think Trasnea would read question and answer, in turn, slowly and distinctly so that something intelligible could come of it? Not so, you pagans, but this way: "What is grammar, Romanian, it is ... what is, it is ... art, no art; art ... art ... which ... which ... which teaches us; teaches ... teaches ... what does it teach; ... what does it teach; to speak ... eak ... eak ... that teaches ...; what is, is ... is art, the devil! not art, the art that teaches ...; what is, is ..." And over thus, mumbling at great speed, stuttering and never stopping to think for a minute; he would seldom reach "to write a language correctly," poor fellow! When he'd completely addled his brain, he asked me to listen to what he knew. Then Id take the book out of his hand and ask: "What is grammar, Trasnea?" And he, shutting his eyes would blurt out quickly and mournfully, like a beggar at a bridge:
"What is Romanian grammar, it is ... what it is, it is ..." and the rest followed in the usual muddle, words distorted and strung together with no sense whatsoever, so that you felt like weeping with compassion.
"That's not right, brother Trasnea."
"What's wrong with it?"
"Don't say Romanian, but just give the answer; what do you repeat the question for?" And he would, in his way, make an effort to give a good answer, but it was no use, he got more and more tied up, began to heave sighs, and felt like knocking his head off.
"Leave me alone a bit," he would say sorrowfully; "and when I call, come back and question me again; and if I still don't know it, then I'll be damned! Now let's admit I'm no good at grammar and let's put it aside; art the same, to say nothing of 'Romanian, is ... which ... teaches us to speak and write well in a language' which are, I suppose, Romanian words, the devil they are! Only there must be some snag here, too ... 'to speak and write well in a tongue.' Devilish this! How can you 'write in a tongue'? Perhaps it means with the tongue, how should I know? It seems problable that the likes of us are hopeless when it comes to writing, but even when it's just a matter of speaking, more's a pity, it looks as if we spoke in a paganly fashion and as bad as could be; not Romanian, but some God-forsaken dialect. Good God, a man who writes grammars must be full of learning! Yet in grammar, as far as I can see, the table they call a table, the house a house, and the ox an ox, as I've learnt to call them at my mother's knee. Maybe the other horrors like pronunciation, art, correct, to pronounce, the analysis, the synthesis, prosody, orthography, syntax, etymology, concrete, abstract, conjunctive, mi, ti, i, ni, vi, li; me, te, H, o, ne, ve, i, le, and the likes of these may be pure Romanian, and we country bumpkins have no idea of them! It's a lucky thing we haven't to sing them, for it would be even worse for our weak, useless brains! Better dead than be a peasant! Get along with you, Stefanescu. I'll set to it again."
Leaving him to his own devices I went to the priest's daughter, found her alone and in a mood for company, and we had some quiet fun together until nightfall, for she had no mother, and her father, as was natural for a priest, was making the rounds, begging for what he could get.
I then went back to the fields, the ribbon from around the girl's neck in my pocket, a beautifully embroidered handkerchief with silk flowers, and a fine supply of apples in my shirt; and what do you think? That fool Trasnea was asleep on the path, the grammar book under his nose and never minding the cold. "Poor, foolish man! a worthless knave you are, this won't do; it would have been better if your mother had born you a colt for the wolves to have eaten," I said to myself.
"Hey! Trasnea! Get up! Do you know the multiplication table?" Up he jumped, I listened to him, but he knew nothing. "Come, let's go back, Trasnea, old chap, for I'm dying of hunger, frozen and sick at heart in this ghastly field!"
"Same here. Damn that grammar! I'm fed up with it. And besides that I am not feeling well."
"A sort of laziness and weakness in the knees, isn't that it, Trasnea?"
"You've got it exactly; a kind of faint-heartedness with weakness in the knees or thereabouts."
"Maybe it's the grammatical fever," I suggested.
"Worse luck! Maybe that's it," said Trasnea; "for dash it, as soon as you take it up, you're sleepy. Such stuff and nonsense won 't affect the ritual of the church and that's a fact. The Osmoglasnic [church-singing book, with eight modulations] is the thing. As father was accustomed to saying: 'the song of praise fills the bag, the hymn of thanksgiving fills the barn, my boy!' Why bother and worry about grammar, Stefanescu? Come on!"
And we went to our lodgings, about sunset; we ate our fill and then asked old Bodringa to play for us; and, from everywhere around, a crowd of clerics swarmed in, for that was one of their favorite meeting places. We became so involved in our dancing, you know, as one should at that age, that we didn't even notice the night passing. And so I got rid of my worries and of Trasnea mumbling in his sleep: "What is Romanian grammar ... it is, what it is ..." as he did other nights. But the jolliness did not end there; something better was added to it. Old Bodringa had hardly put the pipe to his lips when in came Father Buliga, nicknamed "corn stalk," from Buciumenii Street. He had already taken a sniff of burnt incense and a sip of holy water or something stronger, though it was early, God forgive him! And as soon as he had made the sign of the cross over us, with both hands, as his custom was, the way archbishops do, he forthwith came out with certain allusions concerning the priest's daughter at Falticenii Vechi; that she was a good girl, that she'd be a fitting wife for a priest, that she'd be very good for me, that her father would betroth her to me. Father Buliga, the old troublemaker, carried on with these until Gitlan started flattering him and saying: "Come now, leave it, good Father, don't go about spreading such fantasies at the very beginning of Shrovetide. Go on playing, good man Bodringa, for a while and let's have our fill of rejoicing, then Father Buliga will absolve us all!"
Old Bodringa took the hint; he began to play again, and the dancing went on.
Father Buliga, though an old man, seeing how things stood, lifted up the skirts of his robe, tucked them into his belt and said:
"As far as I'm concerned, may God grant you fun and good cheer, as long as you live!"
Then he threw his kamelavkion [clerical head gear] aside, and danced as enthusiastically as the rest of us, so that his strands of hair were all aflutter with the swing of the dance. We went at it over and over again until he very nearly gave out. We exhausted him so much that he was quite fed up with us. But, as the saying goes: If you join the dance, you must dance it out! The poor man seeing that he'd joined a pack of fools, began to think of excuses to get away.
"I'm a spiritual father to some parishioners who're expecting me, dear boys, and whether living or dead, I'll have to go, for that's our calling."
Then Pavel, our host, suddenly placed a dish with some cold meat and sausages and a jug of wine in front of Father Buliga, and said:
"Please, holy Father, come and share our meal. Take a bite and one or two glasses of wine, and then you'll be ready to go if, as you say, there's such a hurry." His holiness, making no attempt to resist, joined his hands according to custom, cleared his voice, and humbly said:
"The Lord's blessing upon the food and drink of His servants, amen! Then he raised his glass saying: "May you be bursting with health like a lush green forest, my boys, here's to you! When we are at our worst, may it be always as it is now!" He emptied his glass down his throat, then two or three more and on top of those some others. After that he again gave us his blessing with both hands and said: "Now boys, you've had enough, so be quiet!" Then he left us to our own devices and went his way. Yet we went on to say: What says the doctor? Let him say!
As for the priest he shall have nay! Enjoy yourself to your heart's content, And you'll be still more on pleasure bent! (CMB: 50-58)
Any talk about "intrinsic motivation" is thus out of the question. People went to school because they were so advised by the clergy--the school being based in church teachings and closely connected with church rituals. When high schooling was the question, the students were not exactly driven by their burning desire; they were aiming at church positions.
The rebellious child saga
There is no such thing as a good-looking hag, and neither is there any such thing as a well-behaved boy--this last statement being illustrated more than once in Recollections of boyhood:
And when it came to creaming the milk-pots, what a pickle I got into.
Be it fasting time or carnival, as soon as mother started to put out the milk to curdle, the very next day I began licking the curd off the top and continued to do so, day after day, till I reached the sour milk beneath. When mother came to skim the cream, skim it, Smaranda, if there is any!
"Maybe the witches have worked a charm upon the cows, mother," I would say crouching in front of mother, by the pots, my tongue hanging out of my mouth.
"Lord, let me just catch that hobgoblin by the cream pot," mother would say, giving me a searching look," and leave him to me! Godmother up there behind the rafter will doctor him, so that the tribe of ghosts and witches will not get him out of my hands. You can tell the ghost who's eaten the cream by his tongue, I could never stand a thief and a sneak and that's the honest truth, my boy. And mind you, God won't prosper him who steals, whether it be clothes or foodstuffs or whatever it may be."
"That did it! Strike a match and the house is on fire," I said to myself, for I was not so stupid as to miss the meaning of her words. (CMB: 28-29)
When it came to old Chiorpec, the shoemaker, the trouble the storyteller had with him he can't describe; or rather, truth to tell, it was the neighbour who had trouble with him; for every few days he would go and pester him to give him straps for a whip. More often than not he found "old Chiorpec rubbing the finest birch-oil into the uppers of boots, making them as soft as cotton wool ":
And this good man, seeing that there was no way of getting rid of me, would gently raise my chin with his left hand and with his right would dip the stick into the pot of birch-oil and would give me a good rubbing round the muzzle, so that all apprentices in the shop split their sides with laughing. And when I slipped out of his hands, I'd go back to mother's, running all the way, crying and spitting right and left.
"Look, mother, what that devil Chiorpec's done to me."
"Lord, it's done as if for the asking," mother said, rejoicing, "I'll thank him, my word, I will, when I meet him; for you stick like a burr wherever you go and drive a body out of his wits with your impertinence, idle wretch that you are!"
On hearing this I quietly washed my face around my mouth and saw to my own troubles. And as soon as I'd forgotten the trick he'd played on me, back I'd run to old Chiorpec for straps, as soon as he saw me come in, he'd say in high spirits: "Hi! Welcome, young pig's chap!" and again he'd give me a good rubbing, making a laughing-stock of me, and again I'd run home, crying, spitting and cursing, and mother had an awful time with me because of that.
"I do wish winter would come, so that I could send you somewhere to school again," mother would say. "I'll ask the teacher to send to me just the skin off your back and the bones from your body." (CMB: 29)
The troublemaker was not always that innocent. When he was driven by greed his "adventures" were more like petty thefts:
It was summer time, around about the Mosi festival, when I sneaked out of the house and went, in broad daylight, to uncle Vasile's, father's eldest brother, to steal cherries; for in his garden, and in a couple more places in the village, there stood cherry trees the fruit of which was just turning ripe about Whit Sunday. I made very careful plans so as to get the cherries without being caught.
First I brazenly went into my uncle's house and asked if Ion could go swimming with me.
"He's not in," aunt Marioara said, "he's gone with your uncle Vasile, on the road by the Castle, to a felt mill at Condreni to fetch back some coarse cloth."
By the way, I ought to tell you that in Humulesti the spinning was done by both girls and boys, women and men; and the village turned out many rolls of cloth and homespun grey wool which were sold, by the yard or made up into garments, to Armenian merchants who came for this purpose from other towns: Focsani, Bacau, Roman, Tirgu-Frumos, and elsewhere. Our cloth was sold either in the village or at fairs all over the country. Several of the inhabitants of Humulesti made their living that way. They were landless free peasants and itinerant merchants, dealing in cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, cheese, wool, oil, salt, and maize flour; cloth coats--big ones, reaching down to the knees, and short ones--tight trousers, white cloth trousers, nightgowms; carpets, either square with floral designs, or narrow runners; spreads made of local silk with woven patterns and sundry other things. These they took on Mondays to market or on Thursdays to convents, because the fairs were not easy for the nuns to get to.
"Well then, God be with you, aunt Marioara! I m sorry cousin Ion is not in, for I'd have loved to go swimming with him."
But I said to myself: "I've done it. A good thing they're not in, and if they don't turn up soon, so much the better." To cut a long story short, I kissed my aunt's hand, took my leave like a dutiful boy, left the house and pretended to head for the bathing place, but by clever dodging one way and another I found myself in the good woman's cherry tree and started putting cherries into the front of my shirt, ripe and unripe, just as they came to hand. As I was anxiously hurrying on with the job as quickly as I could, I suddenly saw aunt Marioara, with a rod in a hand, under the cherry tree!
"You devil, so this is your swimming place, isn't it?" she said, her eyes fastened on me. "Come down, you thief, and I'll learn you!"
But why should I get down when hell and destruction were waiting at the bottom of the tree? When she saw that I would not budge, two or three clods of earth came whizzing through the air at me, but missed. Then she started hoisting herself up the tree saying, "Wait, you swine, you, shell yet be the death of you, will Marioara, and pretty soon too!" Upon this I swung down on to a branch nearer the ground and all of a sudden I jumped right into some hemp that grew beneath the cherry tree; it was still green and waist high. That crazy aunt Marioara rushed after me, and I ran like a hare across the field of hemp with her on my heels to the fence at the bottom of the garden, but I'd no time to get over it, so I turned back, still across the hemp field, still running like a hare, with my aunt on my tracks, back to the cattle yard where again it was difficult to jump out, for there were fences everywhere along both sides and that miser of an aunt would not stop chasing me for the life of her! She very nearly laid hands on me! I went on running and she went on chasing, and between us we trod the whole field of hemp flat, and, truth to tell, there were about two hundred square yards of fine hemp as thick as a brush all ruined. And when we had done that bit of a job, my aunt somehow got tangled up in the hemp or stumbled against something and she fell down. I then suddenly turned around like a swivel, took a couple of running jumps, and vaulting over the fence without touching it, I doubled back to cover my tracks, went home, and was very good for the rest of the day.
But later that evening, along came uncle Vasile, with the mayor and the watchman, calling my father to the gate. They told him what had happened and summoned him to attend a hearing of the case and pay a fine and damages for the hemp and the cherries, for, if the truth must be told, uncle Vasile was a tightfisted fellow and as much of a miser as aunt Marioara. As the saying goes: they were like the two halves of an apple. It was not much use my saying anything. A man's work is his own concern. The evil was done, and he who bore the blame had to pay. As the saying goes, it is not the rich, but the guilty who pay. And so father paid the fine for me, and that was the end of that. And when he came back shame-faced and hurt from that restitution, he gave me the very grandfather of all hidings and said:
"There, take your fill of cherries! From now on, mind you, you've no more credit with me, you rascal! Do you think I'll go on paying more damages on your account?"
And that's how it was with the cherries; mother's word, poor dear, had come true too soon: that God will not help him who steals. Yet what good is remorse after death? And my own shame to boot! Just try to face aunt Marioara if you please, uncle Vasile, cousin Ion, or even the boys and girls of the village for that matter, especially on Sunday in church, at the hora [an open-air dancing party] where it's lovely to stand apart and look on, at bathing places or in CierulCucului, this [fenced-in grazing place for horses] being a meeting place for lads and girls who had been pining for one another throughout the week, while at work.
Believe it or not, I had made such a name for myself by the pranks I had been up to that I could hardly show my face outside for shame, and this was just at the time when a few pretty girls were growing up in the village and when my heart had begun to flutter somewhat. There's the saying:
"Hey Ion, are the girls dear to your heart?"
"And you to their hearts?"
"So they are to mine!"
But what can you do? It, too, will pass with time; nothing for it, but to grow a thick skin and let sleeping dogs lie. It's been the same with many another trial that I've been through in life, not just matters of a year or two with a definite beginning and end, but recurrent troubles lasting several years, as one's turn comes around for grinding at the mill. And after all I did look out, in a way, lest I walk into some sort of trap, but the very devil seemed to prompt me and I would stir up trouble in plenty. (CMB: 29-32)
Soon after the cherry business a new trouble arose:
One morning mother woke me up with the greatest difficulty saying:
"Get up, you lazy boy, before the sun rises, or do you want the Armenian cuckoo to poop on you so that everything will go wrong with you all day?" This was mother's way of pulling our legs about a hoopoe that had been nesting for many years in an old hollow lime tree, up the hill by the house of uncle Andrei, father's younger brother; and every day in summer at daybreak you'd hear it calling: "Poo-poo-poop! Poopoo-poop!" so that the village re-echoed. And as soon as I got up mother promptly sent me off to carry rations into the fields where we had some gypsies hired to tend the maize, at Valea Seaca, near Topolita.
No sooner did I set out with the rations than I heard the hoopoe singing: "Poo-poo-poop! Poo-poopoop! Poo-poo-poop!"
Could I stick to my course and leave it alone, I ask you? Not me. I went round by the lime tree, bent on catching that hoopoe for I was fed up with the thing, not necessarily because of the pooping, as mother said, but because mother would wake me every day before sunrise on account of it. And as soon as I came level with the lime tree, I left the rations on the path at the top of the hill, climbed quietly into the lime tree that very nearly soothed you to sleep with the scent of its flowers, slipped my hand into a hole in the tree that I knew of and what luck! I felt the bird sitting on its eggs and I said to myself delightedly: "Sit still, my pretty, for I've got you at last; a fat lot of pooping you'll do from now on!" And just as I was about to pull the bird out, I don't know how it happened, but I took fright at her fan-like feathery crest, for I hadn't ever seen a hoopoe before, and I let go of her, and she fell back into the hole. And as I sat there telling myself that there weren't such things as feathered serpents --for I had heard tales that snakes were sometimes found in holes in trees-I took courage and again slipped my hand inside to get the bird out, come what might, but she, poor creature, had vanished for fear of me somewhere into the recesses of that hole, and I couldn't find her anywhere. "My word! What a strange thing to happen, " I said angrily, taking off my fur cap and stuffing it into the hole; I then climbed down again, looked for a slab of stone of the right shape and size, climbed back with it up the lime tree, took my cap and put the stone instead, thinking that the bird was sure to come out from wherever she was hiding by the time I'd got back from the fields. Then I climbed down again and set out at a good pace to take the victuals to those gypsies. But no matter how fast I walked, time had not stood still while I'd been frolicking about goodness knows where, fussing and messing about in that lime tree to catch the bird; and the gypsies, it goes without saying, had grown wild with hunger, while they were waiting. There's a saying that goes: When hungry, a gypsy will sing, a gentleman will walk up and down with his hands behind his back, while a peasant will smoke his pipe and smoulder within himself.
So it was with those gypsies of ours; they were singing like mad upon that patch of land, leaning on the handles of their hoes, their sight dizzy with so much scanning of the distance to see whether their food was coming. When lo and behold! about midday, there I was, coming out from behind a knoll, the food ice cold and I uncertain whether to approach them or not, as I listened to them singing so merrily. All of a sudden the dragons were upon me and would have swallowed me whole, if it hadn't been for a young gypsy woman among them who stood up for me:
"Hey, stop it! Why do you go on at the boy? It's his father you've got a quarrel to pick with, not him!"
Thereupon, the gypsies, forgetting me, started to eat without another word.
As for myself, having thus saved my face, up with bag and dishes and back to the village. I walked around by the lime tree again, put my ear to the hollow and heard something flapping about inside; then I carefully removed the stone, slipped my hand in and pulled the hoopoe out, quite exhausted from so much struggling. As to the eggs, when I tried to lay hands on them, they were all just a squashed mess. After which I went home, tied the bird by the leg with a piece of string and kept it out of mother's way for a day or two, up in the loft, among the discarded wooden tubs; and every now and again I would go up to see the bird, so that the whole household wondered what I could possibly be doing so often up in the loft.
But the very next day after this, along came aunt Mariuca, wife of uncle Andrei, foaming at the mouth with anger and started quarrelling with mother on account of me:
"Now, did you ever hear such a thing, sister-inlaw. Just fancy Ion stealing that hoopoe that has been waking us each morning for so many years!" my aunt was saying plaintively. She was thoroughly upset and could hardly keep her tears back as she said this. I can see now that my aunt was absolutely right, for the bird had been the village clock, but mother, poor dear, had no inkling of what I had been up to.
"What's this you're saying, sister-in-law? I'd thrash the life out of him if I found out that he had caught the hoopoe to torture it. It's a good thing you've told me; leave it to me and I'll talk to him and worm the truth out of him."
"Don't you have any doubts about that, sister Smaranda," aunt said, "for nothing is safe from that little devil of yours. I've been told by people who saw him take it that Ion's the one who's got the bird. I'll bet my life on it!"
I was hiding in the pantry, and as soon as ever I heard what they were saying, up I climbed into the loft, snatched the bird from where it was hidden, jumped down with it under the eaves and made straight for the cattle market to sell it, for it was Monday and market day. As soon as I reached the fair I began to walk up and down among the crowd, hoopoe in hand, for I wasn't a merchant's son for nothing. Now a foolish old man with a heifer at the end of a bit of rope had nothing better to do than to ask me:
"Are you selling that birdie, sonny?"
"Yes, indeed I am, sir."
"And what will you take for it?"
"Whatever you think it's worth."
"Come, let's have a look at it and see what it weighs!"
No sooner had I handed it to him, than the mean wretch, pretending to feel it for eggs, gently loosened the string around its legs and threw it into the air, saying: "Bad luck, it's slipped out of my hand!" The hoopoe with a whirr of its wings landed on the roof of a booth and, having taken a short rest, flew off to Hurnulesti, leaving me open-mouthed and in tears, gazing at it! I then clutched at the old man's coat to make him pay for the bird.
"What do you think you're up to, old man? Being so free with a man's goods? If you didn't feel like buying it, why did you let it go? You won't get away with it, mind you, not even with that heifer of yours. Have you got that straight? This is no joke, you know." And I stared the old man in the face and made such a racket that people crowded around us to see the fun; it was better than a comedy.
"I say you are a tough one, my boy!" said the old man after a while, laughing, "why in Heaven's name are you carrying on like that, sonny? Now you want my heifer for an Armenian cuckoo? It seems to me you're asking for a damn good hiding, you little brat, and I'll give you one, if that's what you want. I'll lay into it so hard, my young fellow, that you'll thank your lucky star when I'm finished with you!"
"Leave the kid alone, old man," said a man from our village; "he's the son of Stefan, son of Petrea, a man much respected in our village, and you'll get into trouble with him over this."
"Jolly good luck to him, my good man; do you think I don't know Stefan, son of Petrea?" the old man said. "I saw him just a moment ago walking about the fair, with his measuring rod under his arm, looking for cloth in the usual way of business. He ought to be around, or in one of the booths making a bargain. Glad to know whose son you are, kid. Just wait a minute and I'll take you to your father and see whether it was his doing that you came to sell hoopoes and make fools of us at the fair."
All was well so far, but when I heard about father my spirits sank, and so I made my way slowly through the crowd and rushed off to Hurnulesti, looking over my shoulder to see whether the old man was after me; for, truth to tell, I was now anxious to get rid of him. You know the jest: Leave him alone, man! I'd gladly do so, but he won't let go of me now! That's just how it was with me, and, what's more, I was glad to have got off so lightly. "It would be a good thing if I could carry it off half as well with mother and aunt Mariuca," I thought, my heart thumping in my chest like a hare's with fear and weariness. When I got home I found that both father and mother had gone to the fair. My brothers and sisters told me in great terror that there was a fearful to-do with uncle Andrei's wife, and how she'd roused the whole village because of
the hoopoe in the lime tree, and how she was saying that we'd taken it. She had made it very unpleasant for mother. Aunt Mariuca, you know, is one that will worry the life out of anyone; she's not easy to get on with like aunt Anghilita, wife of uncle Chiriac, and that's a fact.
And as they were anxiously telling me this, what should we hear but the hoopoe singing in the lime tree:
"Poo, poo, poop! Poo-poo-poop! Poo-poo-poop!
My sister Catrina then said in amazement:
"Listen to that, brother! My word, the way some people accuse a man when he's quite innocent!"
"You're right there, sister of mine!" But I thought to myself: "If you only knew what she's been through, poor thing, because of me, and what I've been through because of her, you'd weep for that bird!"
Zahei had left us at it and had gone to the fair to give mother the joyful news about the hoopoe. And the following day, it being the Tuesday before the feast of Saint Peter, mother baked an ovenful of cheese cakes and cheese pies, also roasting some tender chickens on the spit, and then frying them in butter. About noon time she asked aunt Mariuca, uncle Andrei's wife, to come to our house and said to her good-naturedly:
"My goodness, sister, how people argue over nothing, by lending an ear to evil tongues! Be seated, sister, and let us rather partake of the good things that God has granted us, and drink the health of our husbands with a glass of wine:
May all evil from us go, May the good things ever grow, Vanish from us strifes and cares, All our land be free from tares!
For if a woman were to work herself into a state about every little thing, she'd go stark raving mad in no time!"
"Youre quite right, sister," aunt Mariuca said, shrugging her shoulders quite perplexed, as she was preparing to sit down to the meal. "Did you ever hear of such a thing? That's what comes of believing everything you're told."
Then we all began to eat. I don't know about the others but I do know that I ate enough to last me for the rest of the day. (CMB: 32-37)
The troublemaker is, in formalist and structuralist terminology, an "agent"; his mother is then, in some way or another, a "recipient," with occasional helpers like old Chiorpec, aunt Marioara, and the like. She will ultimately be the person to bestow (negative) rewards / punishments on him. Is she unmistakably fair? Some readers will think that she might be a little too harsh in what follows--which shows a certain degree of mental instability. There is, frankly speaking, some disproportion in her judgment (Calinescu 1964) between "crime" and "punishment," which could be attributed to the epilepsy she may have inherited from her impressionable mother and must have transmitted to her eldest son.
And in summertime, who but me should be walking the countryside, on holidays, keeping the girls company across fields, upon hill-sides, in those glorious water meadows and coppices, gathering oleaster to make yellow dye, marjoram, honey-balm and common melilot to lay among the clothes? Like the burden of the song:
Make of me, Lord, a lime infusion To throw the girls into confusion!
To put it briefly, wherever there were three people I made the fourth.
But when I heard about rocking the baby I didn't take kindly to the idea at all, though the misfortune of being the eldest had fallen to my lot. But what could you do when it was your mother asking you? That day, however, when she'd asked me, the sky was so blue and it was so warm and lovely out, that you felt like bathing in the dust, like hens. Seeing such weather I bolted to the pool, though I knew it meant leaving my mother in the lurch, my own dear mother, worried as she was. I must tell the truth, for God above sees all!
After a while, thinking I was somewhere in the orchand, mother came out and began to shout herself hoarse: "Ion! Ion! Ion!" But there was no trace of Ion. Not getting any answer, she left her work undone and followed in my tracks to the waterside where she knew I was in habit of going; and there I was lying naked in the sand, as big a lout as ever was. Then I stood up holding a sun-baked stone with silver spots in it to each ear and I hopped now on one leg, now on the other, bending my head fixed to the right, then to the left, saying these words:
Spots of silver, spots of gold, Take the water my care hold! And I'll give you coins of old; If you do, I'll clean your churns And I'll beat your drums by turns.
With that I threw the stones, one by one, into the deep pool in the river where I bathed, one for God and one for the Devil, dividing them equally between them; then I threw a few more to block the devil, foaming at the mouth as he was, at the bottom of the pool, then, splash! in I would dive to catch the devil by the leg, for that was our way of bathing, and had been ever since Adam's time. After that I would dive in three more times in succession for the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and a final one for Amen. Then would I gently edge myself up the bank like a great sturgeon and lie by the side of the water, slyly peeping at the water playing around the lovely legs of some girls who were bleaching linen upstream. I don't think there ever was a lovelier sight!
Poor mother her arms folded across her chest as a body will stand when worried, was looking on from behind a heap of gravel, quite close to me. But being so busy I couldn't see her.
Half an hour must have gone by with mother standing there, three or four more half-hours since I'd left the house and I was beginning to feel the sun right inside my stomach, as they say, for it was past noon. Yet in that state, beguiled by happiness, I was well lost to life and the world.
Mother, though a long-suffering woman, finally lost patience and came gently on tiptoe from behind, as I was contemplating those girls that I've been telling you about; she quietly picked up all my clothes from the bank and left me naked in the water, saying bitterly:
"You'll come home, you tramp, when hunger gets the better of you and then you'll dance to another tune." And away she went.
"Well, well! what are you to do now, Ion!" The girls who were busy bleaching their linen and who had observed this scene, nudged each other in the ribs and giggled at my plight so that the place resounded with laughter. I wished the earth would swallow me up, and the worship of a while ago had now changed to a desire to strangle them, more or less. But as the saying goes: You can't stop wind or water, and people will talk!
I let the girls laugh themselves silly until their mouths stretched from ear to ear, and biding my time until they were bent double, bleaching the linen, I shot out of the water and took to my heels; and I ran so fast upon the gravel that the stones I touched shot up as high as I was tall. Faster, faster I ran without ever looking back, until I came to the road that led to our house. But I wouldn't turn into the road, being ashamed of meeting people, and instead I jumped into Costache's garden and crawled on all fours through the maize, then I jumped into a lane, from that into Trasnea's garden and again through the maize-stalks, and, just as I was coming out of the Trasnea's, the dogs scented me and came at me as if they would tear me to pieces. What was to be done? I had heard people say that to stop dogs biting you and to get rid of them, you should crouch down the moment you see them springing upon you and let them bark as long as they like, lying silent; then they'll bark a while and leave you and go their ways. And that's a fact, for that's how I got rid of Trasnea's dogs on this occasion when they were after me. It was amazing that I was not caught by that great hulking villain Trasnea, who had borne me a grudge ever since the time when he had caught me stealing his best apples and summer pears in his garden, for he'd have beaten the life out of me, and that would have been the last straw considering the plight I was in! At last when Trasnea's dogs gave up, as Iv'e told you, I jumped into a crossroad and thence into our garden, and then I felt as if I were safe in Abraham's bosom. I walked without a care in the world across the maize garden until I reached the yard, I peeped through the palings and caught a glimpse of mother working hard, both indoors and out, and my heart bled for her; and it bled, too, for my own belly, exhausted with swimming as it was. As the old saying goes: I'm sorry enough for you, but sorrow for myself quite breaks my heart. Unable to bear the pangs of hunger any longer, I began to whine humbly behind the palings; "Mother, I've come home." And all of a sudden I dashed into the yard, stood before mother in my birthday suit, caught hold of her unwilling hand, and kissed it, saying to her, whining all this while: "Mother you may beat me, kill me, hang me or whatever you will with me, only give me something to eat for I'm nearly done for!" As the saying goes: Nakedness goes round about; hunger hits the nail on the head. At which she, with a mother's kindness, looked tenderly upon me and said with a sigh:
"A fine thing for such a great big, idle fellow to walk the country in such a state and leave me right now with no help at all! Come and have something to eat, but mind, I've had more than enough of you. Maybe if you behave yourself from now on, I might have the same feelings for you as before, but I can't honestly make any promises."
To cut a long story short, seeing that I was on mother's bad side, I swore to her that I'd never behave like that again. Then I was as good as gold to her, never doing or saying anything to upset her, for a kind word will do a great deal. I did the household chores as industriously as could be; I tidied up and cleaned the house as well as any capable girl, so that mother had no need to worry when she went out. And one day she gave me a kiss and said with great tenderness:
"May God grant you happy days, Ionica, my dearest, and may He shower upon you His most precious gifts, if you keep on as you've been doing recently!"
All of a sudden I found myself crying for sheer joy. I was more sincerely sorry than I had ever been before. Had mother thrashed me with every paling in the fence, had she driven me out of the house like a stranger, I should not have stood before her as contrite as I was at her gentle words.
And don't you believe that I didn't keep my word. I did, for as long as I could manage, since that was my nature, patient and steadfast in my speech, but, after my own fashion. Nor is this self-praise, my deeds will speak for me: I didn't ask for food when I was asleep; when I was up I didn't wait for others to give me; and when there was any work to be done, I made myself scarce. And that was not the sum of my accomplishments. If I was treated roughly there was nothing to be got out of me. If I was treated gently, that worked even less; and when I was left to myself, I made such a fine tangle of things that not even St. Nastasia, who can save you from poison, was able to unravel it with all of her skill. As the saying goes: One fool can throw a boulder into a pond, but ten wise men cannot get it out. (CMB: 39-43)
There are many things to do and little talk is needed if you're with someone who understands you. One day the storyteller talked it over with Gitlan, arguing that something ought to be done to get rid of a few hearty eaters, "because the partnership didn't seem fair." They presently found a way of solving their problem that "could not be improved on."
At night when they were all asleep, we would apply 'posts' to the feet of whichever person we'd choose; it was easy to do as some of them would drop off and sleep like logs as soon as old Bodringa began to tell his tales. Having agreed on our plan, we waited for a time when the others were absent and started making enough posts to last us for some time. They are made from a few sheets of paper stuck together with tallow, which we melted at the fire. You gently apply one to the sole of a man's foot, when he's asleep; then put a match to it. A holier thing than this isn't possible! Since feelings ran high against O^lobanu, his turn came first. And when the flame burned him to the bone, he jumped from his sleep, roared like a bull and couldn't keep still because of the pain. Yet, unable to discover the culprit, and not relying upon his strength to fight us all, he fell on his knees and touched the ground with his forehead, calling God's wrath upon us, curses pouring out of his mouth. Despite the cursing we applied a few more 'posts' on succeeding nights and since his soles had become one big sore, he had to go haste back to Humulcsti, sick of the priesthood and leaving all his provisions behind in our hands. Upon which Gitlan wrote to Oslobanu:
Good health to you from the empty stomachs you've left behind. If you haven't enough to eat where you are, do come here that we may fast together.
Always wishing you the best, Zaharia
Captain in charge of the posts.
A few days later we cured Nica, the son of Constantin, son of Cosma, from Humulesti, who had only recently joined us in our lodgings, of the taste for the clerical calling. He too went back the Oslobanu way with blistered soles on his feet. And so much the better, for they were wasting their time anyway.
Trasnea, however, tougher than the others and slow of understanding, stuck it out as long as he could; then seeing that we'd got the better of him with those 'posts' he moved into new lodgings taking his share of provisions. After he left only three of us remained at Pavel the shoemaker's: myself, Gitlan, my cousin Ion, nicknamed Mogorogea, and old Bodringa, of course. My cousin who had seen the plight of the others made it a habit to sew up the sleeves of his fur coat every night before going to bed, and to stick his feet in them. He slept without a care in the world, thus illustrating the dictum: Caution is the mother of safety.
Close upon Christmas Pavel made a pair of Muscovy leather boots for my cousin Ion, with whom he was very good friends. Mogorogea had paid Pavel two icusari [Turkish coins] for the boots. But they were worth it, without a doubt; for he'd used good leather, they were double soled and they were made to measure. The only thing Pavel had forgotten to put in was the squeak [thus calling attention to their newness], and Mogorogea had been much upset at that. Luckily the winter was bitter cold and the snow remedied the omission.
During holidays we used to go home and then it was a case of the gypsy saying: "Christmas, the time for stuffing yourself." Smoked pork chops, boiled sausages and haggis, dried sausages seasoned with garlic, thin slices of bacon, all home made, chopped and properly fried in the pan; eaten with warm mamaliga, they would just glide down the throat like anything. A peasant will make a lot of tasty dishes, if only he has what he needs to make them. And thanks be to God, our parents had that; for poverty had not settled on their doorstep at the time I'm speaking of. But on with my tale: we kept Christmas properly with our parents at I Iumulesti and after Epiphany we went back to Falticeni, to Pavel, our landlord. We called at the school just occasionally, as a matter of protocol, but, truth to tell, there was no point in going there; for what's in the book you may learn on your own, if you are so inclined, and if not, then, good luck to you! And I was one of the the fortunate ones: for when it comes to faith, what's the use of booklearning? Old Bodringa, I'll agree, had a lot to teach you. His pipe would set you dancing against your better judgement and his tales would not let you go to sleep. Besides, there were other things to pass the time should we feel so inclined: darts or some card game or other; or sometimes, at night, we would sit up talking until daybreak. On holy days we would make our way to the villages where we knew there was dancing. At Radasani, a large, pleasant and wealthy village, we circle-danced thrice on the same day: with staid bachelors where the youngest girls had turned up; with young fellows to which the older and more interesting girls had come; with youngsters joined by whoever wished to join in. The young men would hardly move and the hora swung very slowly. The girls would not wait to be asked, as they do elsewhere, but would each undo the hands of two young men, where she thought fit, bid them "good day" and go on dancing. My cousin, flaunting his new boots, would only dance next to the mayor's daughter, a sister of the lovely innkeeper's wife at Falticeni. Whereupon Gitlan who was dancing by me, whispered into my ear: "You wait and see what I'll do to Mogorogea; if he doesn't rue this day, I'll be damned!"
"Be quiet, man, and don't be a fool," I said, "for he may get upset and go back home like the others."
"So what if he does? Good riddance! As the saying goes: If the old woman steps out of the cart, it will only be all the lighter for the mare." And we danced on.
That night we went back to our lodgings, and Mogorogea, a neat careful fellow, cleaned his boots and placed them by the stove to dry, as he always did. Three days after that my cousin's boots split all over. Thoroughly furious, he had it out with Pavel, asking for a new pair or for the money back right away.
"You've been using overdried leather, you clumsy cobbler," said Mogorogea angrily, "is that the kind of friend you are? Come now, make your choice, or I'll ruin your good name. I'll throw these boots at your head, do you hear?"
Pavel being quite blameless answered scornfully:
"Look here, young cleric, don't go too far, because you can't carry it off. Who are you calling a clumsy coobler? Now that you've been wearing the boots a long time, running around with your rowdy friends, wearing them to pieces at dances, kicking them up hill and down dale, now you'd like me to give you your money back, or make you a new pair, would you? Not bad, that, I will say! Aren't you satisfied with all the trouble I took putting those damned shoes of yours on lasts, stretching them on boot trees, and rubbing oil into them here on the stove, under my very nose, each morning? And the time you stuck 'posts' to my foot, too, and I, like the good-natured fellow that I am, kept quiet and put up with it all! You're an impudent young fellow, I'm sorry to say! But, if you want a fight, I'm your man!"
"So that's what you think, you bungler!" my cousin said. "You're actually trying to talk yourself out of it! Yours aren't the only boots I've worn, so I know what good boots are, you feeble idiot. And you're insulting me, as well. I'll give you such a hiding that you won't enjoy another meal as long as you live!"
"Before you give me that hiding, I'll hack you to bits with my shoemaker's knife, see?"
Observing that they were about to come to blows, we intervened and with great difficulty calmed them down. It was agreed that Ion was to give Pavel another irmilic [Turkish coin], while the latter was to mend his boots and forget about the quarrel.
They would sometimes crack a joke after that, but it went against the grain and Mogorogea couldn't get over the insult he had suffered at Pavel's hands.
During carnival week [between Christmas and Epiphany], uncle Vasile came to Falticeni and among other foodstuffs he brought to his son were three fine young pigs, all prepared and ready for roasting.
"Welcome, father," Ion said kissing his hand. "So you found us all right, did you?"
"Glad to find you in good health, my boys," uncle Vasile answered. "They say that the blind found the town of Suceava all right, so how should I have missed you?" Then after talking about this and that, he asked us the direct question: "And what's the opinion of the Board concerning your ordination? is he going to let you finish soon? For, truth to say, I've had enough of so much worry and expense."
"You don't call him a Board, father, but the Reverend Principal," Ion said, a bit uncomfortable because of his father's ignorance.
"There, there, your Highness! as if that's what I'm worrying about, now. As we say: It's not the master, but his man; but like master, like man and they're much the same. And if it comes to that, why not call things by their names? Be it Board or hoard, winning or skinning, or whatever its name, son; what I do know is that he's really giving me the shaft," said uncle Vasile. "They say that a priest has four eyes! Better pray and implore the holy St. Nicholas of Humulesti to help you into the priesthood! Then you'll find yourselves without any difficulties; you've no taxes to pay, nor offerings in kind, at dinners you're the head of the feast, and eat pies and roast chickens, and you'll get paid, too, for blunting your teeth. You know the saying: If a priest had horse's legs, a wolf's mouth, a thick skin and a mare's belly, he'll want nothing else. It would be a good thing, God's mercy upon me, if church dignitaries were somewhat different! But you will have heard that a priest's hand will grasp rather than give away; he thrives upon the living and upon the dead. Just look at the way the Board lives, no hard work like ours. However, grace must be honored. I've already found a kamelavkion for you, son, " uncle Vasile said, when he was going. "Try not to procrastinate, but lay hands on that certificate as soon as you can and come home, for Ioana, daughter of Crigora? Rosu in our village, is looking forward to being a clergyman's wife. Farewell to you both, Zaharia and my nephew, I'm going."
"Farewell uncle," we said seeing him some distance on his way; "and please tell our parents that we're in good health and our thoughts are with them."
When uncle Vasile had gone, I gently put it to Ion:
"Cousin, let's roast one of those piglets tonight; I'm dying for one!" Mogorogea, stupid and mean as he was, began to shout at me:
"Now listen, you two; I'm no Nica O^lobanu that you should make a laughing stock of me. As you feed me, so I'll feed you. Not a bite of these piglets will you eat, not if you were dying of hunger."
"And if we don't get any, may he starve who talks in that way!" said Gitlan.
"Amen," I added, half-heartedly.
"And I'll join in," Pavel said from behind the stove.
"Amen or no Amen, you just take your mind off the piglets," said Mogorogea nastily, "is that clear? You're always after delicacies, well, you'll do without them and you won't be the worse for it!"
"Leave him alone, chaps; may those piglets choke him in the next world!" said Zaharia.
And we started working at our books, Heaven help us! Yet, if the truth be told, we felt no more like working than a dog feels like licking salt. A mighty fire had been burning in the stove; we raked it together and covered it up, for there was a frost outside. Old Bodringa had got tied up somewhere or other that night and Pavel, having no work to do, had turned in early. While Mogorogea, his thoughts fixed on that kamelavkion of his father's, had gone to sleep before Pavel, his feet safe within the sleeves of his furred coat as usual, and was now snoring away. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours, the old saying goes.
A bit later we put out the light and went to bed, only we couldn't fall asleep for thoughts of that piglet.
"Zaharia, don't you have any of those 'posts' anywhere?" I said under my breath.
"No," Zaharia answered even more softly, "and Lord, what a good thing it is for Mogorogea. Here's the best I can suggest. Take my knife, gently cut the sewing of Mogorogea's sleeve under his foot, singe it thoroughly with these matches that burn without flaring up, and he'll have no pleasure from those piglets, I assure you. But watch out and be quick about it."
"Give me that knife," I said, "and whatever happens I hope you won't let me down and won't allow him to beat me!"
"No fear of that," said Zaharia, "singe away and don't worry!"
Then I took my courage in both hands and did just what Gitlan had advised me to do. Gently cutting through the stitches, I applied as big a bunch of matches as ever you saw to my cousin's heel, where the skin is thickest, until he felt the burn. Suddenly he roared as load as could be. Away I leaped, matches and all, and slipped behind Zaharia's back. We both started snoring as if we'd been sleeping for goodness knows how long. Meanwhile Ion, his feet tied up in the sleeves of his fur coat, had fallen flat on the ground, writhing around like a snake and cursing us with any curses that came into his mind:
"Damnation! God damn you, you filthy swine, you! There's no getting a wink of sleep, in this house, because of the likes of you! Who played that trick on me? Zaharia and Nica, I hear them snoring and I don't think they would dare. It's that thief, Ravel, who's done it, may a gadfly suck him dry when he's in his sweetest sleep! There he is, pretending to be asleep too! The devil! Let me just teach him to make a laughing stock of people!" With that he took a live ember from the fire and got up on the stove by Pavel. And as he was lying on his back, poor man, fast asleep, Mogorogea put the ember on his chest saying:
"There, that's for the fun you've had with me, you miserable cobbler"
A fearful roar went up and at the same time Pavel, pounding the stove with his feet broke it to bits. In the sudden confusion that ensued, finding himself face to face with Ion, a savage struggle broke out between the two of them, and there we were with ringside seats, if only we could have sat it out.
"Stop that, Zaharia, or there'll be murder in this house and we ll have to answer for it," I said, shaking like a leaf with fright.
"Hey you! what's come over you? said Zaharia springing between them like an eagle. "Do you call this a decent man's house?"
I, meanwhile, rushed out of the house weeping, and began to shout as loud as I could to summon the neighbors. People jumped up on all sides, heavy with sleep, thinking there was a fire or that soldiers were murdering us, God forbid! For there was a German army quartered at Falticeni at that time.
When the racket had subsided, people left us as they'd found us and went back to their houses, cursing and swearing at us. You should have seen the shocking state the house was in, everything thrown around, windows broken, the stove dashed to the ground, handfuls of hair torn out of their heads, and blood upon the ground. Pavel burnt in the breast and Ion, nursing his burned heel, sat on one side, panting; Zaharia and myself on the other, amazed at what had happened. While, as for the innocent piglets, staying in the lobby to keep cool, I never knew what happened to them. Zaharia wishing to put an end to the silence, said after a while:
"Sing to them, Ion: 'Hallelujah, those righteous of the world' and give up yearning for them; it's plain that was their destiny, poor little dears!"
"Won't you shut up," said Ion, bursting with anger. "You've never stopped talking about them, and now you've had your way with them."
At this point old Bodringa came back, a little drunk, and began to cross himself as soon as he entered the door.
"Well, good man," I said, "what do you think of this? Do you like it?" Pavel, who had so far sat without uttering a word, looked around sorrowfully and said:
"Look here, you clerics; to put an end to all these problems get out and leave me alone!"
Relieved to get off so lightly, we took what was left of our belongings and moved to a blacksmith's, taking old Bodringa, our only consolation, along with us. (CMB: 60-68)
In Ion Creanga's style now, for a conclusion to "the rebellious child saga." After all, what's all this talk about? He's had his share in this world like everybody else: "a clay figure endowed with eyes," a handful of animated dust from Humulesti, "who was never well-behaved in his teens." Nor was he wise in his twenties and early thirties, but later on he was Mihai Eminescu's most trusted friend and, to be sure, the best storyteller there ever was. Unfortunately so, he was also an epileptic.
The troubled home legend
Mother is all-knowing, alien to no magic when it comes to standing by her child. She has embarked on a holy mission: the preservation of the species, and consequently all of nature works for her. The child, who is lucky enough to have her around, by his side, will certainly be innocent and happy.
Mother, who was well-known for her oddity, would say to me sometimes as the sun peeped from behind the clouds after a prolonged rain: "Go outside, you fair-haired child and laugh at the sun, maybe the weather will change." And the weather did change at my smile.
The sun, no doubt, knew what I was capable of, for I was mother's own son, and she in truth could work wonders: she could drive away the black clouds overhanging our village and drive the hail away into other places by sticking the axe into the ground, outside the door. She would make such excellent jelly out of a couple of beef bones and water that the people crossed themselves in amazement. She would hit the ground, the wall or any wooden thing that I bumped my head against saying: "Take that!" and forthwith the pain was gone. When the red embers moaned in the stove, which is supposed to foretell wind and bad weather, or when the embers hissed, a sign that there is talk about you, mother would scold the hearth and beat it with a poker to make the enemy shut up. More than that, if I didn't look as well as she thought I ought to, she would immediately lick her finger and make a muddy mixture with dust from the heel of her shoe, or, if she was in too much a hurry for that, she would take soot from the stove and say: "As heel or stove are free of the evil eye so let my baby be free of it!" and she would make a mark on my forehead lest her precious pet come to harm.
That's what mother was like when I was a child, full of strange and wonderful practices, as far as I remember; and well I do remember, for she rocked me in her arms as I sucked at that sweet breast of hers and nestled in her bosom, babbling and fondly looking up into her eyes! I have taken my blood of her blood and my flesh of her flesh; I've learnt speech from her and wisdom from God at the time when a man has to distinguish between good and evil.
But time was craftily rushing by me and I grew up unawares; thoughts ever different crossed my mind and desires ever new stirred in my soul, and instead of growing wiser I grew more and more restless and my longings now knew no bounds. Fickle and deluding is man's thought and you soar upon its wings at the bidding of ceaseless yearnings and there is no peace until you're laid in your grave!
But woe to him who gives in to such thoughts! Imperceptibly the river of life is rising and sucking you into the deep; and from the height of happiness you're suddenly cast down into the depths of sorrow.
Let us rather talk of the days of our childhood, for childhood alone is merry and innocent. And there, when all is said and done, is the truth of the matter.
What does a child care when father and mother talk about the hardships of life, of what tomorrow may hold in store for them, or when they are worried by harrying thoughts? Astride a stick a child thinks he is riding a most wonderful horse and gallops apace in high spirits, purposefully whips it and curbs it and shouts at it until you're deafened; and if he falls, he thinks it's the horse that's thrown him and it is the stick that bears the brunt of his anger.
That is what I was like at that happy age and that's what I think all children have been like ever since the beginning of the world, no matter what people may say. (CMB: 22-23)
The list of American writers whose fathers (or rather "absent fathers") were perceived as failures includes Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, John Steinbeck--the list is so long that the off-chance of an "idiosyncratic accident" (Miller 1987) should be excluded. Small wonder, then, that such writers are described as "fatherless men abandoned by a past that they in turn reject" (Miller 1990)--a description that is as inadequate as could be for the Romanian writer in general, and Ion Creanga in particular.
Whenever mother was tired out and lay down a little to rest, we children would raise the roof. When father came home at night from the woods at Dumesnicu, frozen stiff and covered with frost, we would give him a fright by springing upon him, from behind, in the dark. And he, tired though he was, would catch hold of us, one by one, as in a game of blind man's buff, and would lift us to the ceiling saying: "What a tall boy!" and he would kiss us to his heart's content. When the oil lamp was lit and father sat down to his meal, we would fetch the cats from their nooks in the stove or under the oven and we would rumple their fur and drill them before him so thoroughly that they had a rough time of it; and they couldn't get away, poor cats, before they had scratched and spat at us as we deserved.
"And there you are husband, looking at them and encouraging them, aren't you?" mother would say, "I say, well done, cats! And as for you boys, you're a couple of rascals, for no living thing can find shelter in this house because of you. Since I've not given you a thrashing today, you plague those poor cats and jump upon a man as if you were dogs let loose! I'm blessed if I don't think that you've got a bit of the devil in you and that sometimes you go a bit too far. Just let me get that stick from behind the rafter and I'll beat you black and blue."
"Come, leave them alone, wife, do; they're glad to see me back home, that's all," said father, swinging us up and down. "They've not a care in the world: the wood is in, there's plenty of lard and flour in the attic, cheese in the wooden tub, likewise cabbage getting sour in the barrel, thank God! Let them just keep fit to eat and play now that they're small, for they'll get over romping as they grow up and cares gather around them; they won't escape that, never fear. Don't you know the saying: a child shall play, a horse shall draw, and a priest shall read?"
"It's easy for you to talk," said mother, "for you're not shut up in the house with them all day long. That's enough to make your hair turn white and make you wish the earth would swallow them up, God forgive me! I wish the summer would come so that they could play outside a bit; for I've had more than enough of
them. All the devilish tricks that come into their minds, they put into practice. When the wood tapping [a long piece of wood that is rhythmically beaten with a mallet before service time, to call the worshippers to church] begins to summon people to church, out rushes Zahei, that perfect child of yours, and starts tapping the loom so that you can hear the very walls of the house creaking and the windows rattling. While Ion, that blockhead, with hammer and tongs raises such a hullabaloo that it very nearly deafens your ears; then, with a rug on their backs and a paper cap on their heads, they sing:
Halleluia! It's God's wish, Our priest has gone and caught a fish!
until they drive you out of the house. And this goes on every day, two or three times a day, so that you would feel like giving them an almighty thrashing, if you were to take any notice of them."
"In a way it's as it should be, my good woman: you're a church-goer and known for it too, so the boys are providing you with a church service to your heart's content on the spot; not that the church is so very far ... From now on, set to work, boys, upon all night vigils and as many odd ideas as you please, so that every day mother may give you buns with a glazing of honey, such as they have on the day of the Forty Martyred Saints, and coliva [boiled wheat] with walnuts!"
"Indeed, are you in your right mind, my man? I did wonder why they're so good, poor dears; it's because you're encouraging them and backing them up. Just look at them, both sitting wide awake and staring into our eyes as if they were trying to make a portrait of us. Just you try to give them a job to do, then you'll see them trembling, sulking and whining, " mother said. "Come now, off you go to bed, boys, for the night is soon gone, but what do you care as long as you get your food served up under your noses!"
When we had all gone to bed, children will be children: we'd start fighting and wouldn't sleep for giggling and playing until mother, poor dear, had to pull our hair and give us a few thumps in the back, and father, having had enough of such a row would sometimes say to mother:
"Come, come, shut up! That's enough slapping and scolding. They're not old women who go to sleep standing up." But mother would then give us a few more thumps, saying:
"Take that and behave yourselves, you devils! I can't even rest at night because of your giggling."
Only in this way did my poor mother get some peace at last, God rest her now! But do you think that was the end of the matter? No sir! The following day at dawn, we would begin again, so mother took down "Godmother" again and thrashed us, but do you think that made any difference to us? You remember the saying:
Wicked, nasty skin Minds no salve nor stick.
I recall as if they happened yesterday the things that came in our heads and all the myriads of things we did. Just try and remember every trifle of recent events and see if your mind is equal to the task, brother Ion.
At Christmas when father killed the pig, singed and scalded it and quickly wrapped it up in straw to make it sweat, and thus easier to shave, I would bestride the pig, straw and all, and I would have the time of my life knowing that I would get the pig's tail to fry and the bladder to fill with grains, to blow it up and rattle when it was dry; and then, alas, what a time mother's ears had of it, until she'd break it over my head! (CMB: 23-26)
It is a catch-as-catch-can game for the child, always willing to take his chance and have a good time. But when his mother is up in her work, utterly unable to make it, he knows better than playing around.
As soon as I got up from the table, I said goodbye to the food and made straight for the bathing place; I dived in boldly from a steep bank into the swirling water and I came to the most awful belly-flopper flat on my stomach, and I saw a blaze of sparks in front of me from sheer pain. I thought my belly had burst and no mistake. I scrambled painfully out of the water and sat upon the bank hugging my stomach and the boys gathered around me and buried me in sand and said prayers for the dead over me as best they knew. It was about an hour before I came to my senses. After that I began to bathe at my leisure until sundown. Managing to get home with the cows, I told mother that our cows had run loose from the cowherd's enclosure about noon and that I had taken them grazing, on my own, and that's why I was so late. Mother, like a good Christian, always seeing the bright side of things and accepting the explanation I had so favorably presented, praised me for my prowess and, moreover, placed a meal before me. Eating like a wolf I pretended to be humble and laughed up my sleeve, all the while, wondering at the skilful lies I had been telling her, so much so, that I half-believed them myself.
That's how a person may often be taken in when he least suspects, if he can't reason things out, but on the other hand, experience is the mother of wisdom.
One day, close to the festival of Saint Elijah, mother was up to and over her eyes in work. There was cloth, to take out of the looms, another lot to warp and begin weaving, a heap of coats cut out and waiting to be tailored rose up to the ceiling, the wool combs lay in the chest without anyone to use them, the wheel stood in the middle of the room, and there was no coarse for weft!
And as the saying goes: No sense in waiting, for your luck stands still. What with bobbins to spool, a baby in the cradle and some five or six children waiting to be fed, she had her hands full and no mistake. The work had to be done quickly too, for the fair at Falticeni was almost upon us and that was the real thing, the most important fair of the year.
Mother woke up earlier than usual and said to me very lovingly: "Your father's gone to cut those oats, for they're shedding their grain upon the ground, and I myself have more than enough to do, so don't go wandering along the roads, but stay at home with mother to make spools and rock the baby, and at the Falticeni fair I'll buy you a hat with a ribbon around it and one of those bolts with pockets in them, the sort you've always wanted."
"Right you are mother!" But I alone knew what was in my heart. I may not have been much good, but when it came to sewing and embroidering cloth coats, and particularly to spinning, I was every bit as good as the elder girls; and that's the reason why that wicked Mariuca, daughter of Savucu, whom, by the way, I did not dislike, would often tease and mock me, nicknaming me "Ion the Spinner" which was the name of a gypsy from Vinatori. Despite that, she was dear to me, however, and I would spin in her company, in the shade of their walnut tree, and each of us would produce such a mound of thick spun wool that mother would give me a kiss when I showed it to her in the evening at home.
Thus we boys and girls would call upon one another, taking our work along for the sake of company, which is called in the country pezatoare [spinning party] and it's generally held at night, each one doing his or her own work. So deftly were we spinning that it was a delight to Mariuca and I, each trying to outdo the other, and as the spindle was spinning so my heart spun within me for the love of her! God is my witness! And I remember that one night at a corn husking party I caught a mouse in her bosom that would have sent her into fits, poor child, if it hadn't been for me. (CMB: 37-39)
Anton Bruckner's mother stopped on the way home from his father's funeral to enroll him in music school. So much determination is frightening, indeed--but so it seems are composers' mothers, nothing less than smothering. Yehudi Menuhin's mother, for instance, isolated his exceptionally talented son from his contemporaries and included his sisters in the edict, for the lot of them to share their isolation together. Giacomo Puccini's mother decided her six-year-old son become an organist like his deceased father and consequently asked her brother-in-law to take the unwelcome task of teaching the recalcitrant pupil. The talent in musical performance is evidenced early (Sulloway 1996), perhaps earlier than elsewhere, which is why such examples of mothers abound in the field. By comparison, Ion Creanga's mother was dominating, but we are actually of two minds about such an appellative that, given her special task (handling a very naughty boy), might be a little too harsh.
While I was learning at school, mother was keeping up with me at home, and she was soon able to read the prayer-book, the psalter, and the Book of Alexander better than I could, and she greatly rejoiced when she saw that I took to booklearning.
As for my father, he would often tease me:
Little scribbler, no cheese for you, A cup full of milk that's sour And nothing in your pockets too.
If he had had his way I might well have stayed where I was: Nica, Stefan's son and Petrea's grandson, a very decent fellow and a good husband in Humuleqi. As the saying goes: Better to be a leader in your village, than a laggard in the city.
Mother, however, would gladly have spun the distaff, had that been necessary, to enable me to go on with booklearning, and she would constantly nag father to send me to school again somewhere else; for in church she had heard the saying from Proverbs that the learned man should have wisdom and be a master to the unlearned, who should serve him.
Moreover, all the old women who read the future in forty one corn seeds thrown into a sieve, all that dabbled in astrology, all the people who told fortunes by cards, whom she had consulted on my behalf, all the church-going women of the village had filled her head with lots of fantasies, each more queer than the other, such as: that I should dwell among the great, that I had no more luck than a frog has hair, that I had an angelic voice, and many more such wonders. As a result of all this, mother, in the weakness she had for me, had come to believe that I should turn out a second Cucuzel, that pride of Christendom, who could draw tears out of every stony heart, collect together innumerable hosts of people in the depths of the forest and gladden the entire creation with his song.
"Great heavens, woman, you're mightily lacking in judgment," father used to say, seeing her so passionately wrapped up in my future. "If they were all to turn out full of book-learning, as you think they should, there'd be no one left to pull off our boots. Haven't you heard the story of the chap that went to Paris, wherever that maybe? He went an ox and came back a cow! Now, there's Grigore, son of Petrea and grandson of Luca, in our village. What schools did he go to, to learn to make such witty speeches, and to act as usher and reciter of the nuptial poem at weddings? Can't you see that if a fellow has no wits, he just hasn't, and that's the end of the matter?"
"That may be," mother said. "But I want my boy to be a priest, and what have you to say against that?"
"A priest, eh! no less," said father, "Really, now ! Can't you see that for a lousy, lazy, good-for-nothing he has no equal? And as soon as you've got him up, he clamors for food. Now when he's small, he catches flies in his prayer-book and goes up and down the riverbanks all day long looking for bathing-places, instead of leading those horses out to graze and helping me with various jobs, as much as he is able. In winter he's for ever on the ice and the sled runs. You and your fancy education have given him bad habits, as soon as he's grown up a bit he'll begin chasing skirts, and, as things are, he'll never be any good to me!"
So, as I have the honor to tell you, there was much talk going on between mother and father on account of me. (CMB: 9-10)
It's not that the father is insensitive or uncaring. He is simply practical-minded and wary because he is compelled to see things in perspective, to connect his home to the outer world. The blame will be his if anything goes wrong and his home collapses. The mother, as "mistress of her domain," affords to stay focused and see only what is best for her children. With only this purpose in mind, she can be manipulative indeed, should the occasion arise.
During the winter, mother was again after father to send me to school somewhere; but father said there was no more money to be spent on me.
"I used to pay just one sorocovfy [a Russian coin, worth sixpence] a month to Vasile, the church singer, son of Vasilica, while that crab Simion Foca, the church singer from Tusuieni, wants three husapi [Hungarian coins, worth eighteen pence in all] a month just because he talks in riddles and breathes in tobacco all day long. I tell you! This boy, clothes and all, is not worth as many husapi as he's cost me so far!"
When mother heard that, she blew up.
"You poor fool! Since you have not a scrap of book-learning, how can you understand? When you're spending those sorocovap for your mustache, that's the time to make a fuss! Hasn't Petrea, son of Todosica, our tavern keeper, made nine hundred lei off you, and Vasile Roibu, in Bejeni, and many others of the same type, almost so many? Isn't there also plenty to spare for Rusca, Valica's wife, and Onofrei's Mariuca? I know more than you think. Don't you believe that Smaranda's asleep. You're a fine one to sleep the sleep of the just, you are! So, you've no money to spend on your son! Listen, my man, you'll plunge to the bottom of hell and there'll be no one to get you out, if you don't do your best to get one of your sons to be a priest. You avoid confession as the devil avoids incense. You don't go to church from one Easter Sunday to the next. Is that your way of looking after your soul?"
"Will you be quiet, woman! The church is in a man's conscience, and when I'm dead, I'll lie by the church forever," father said. "Don't you carry on in this way like the hypocritical Pharisee. Rather beat your breast and say as the tax collector did: Lord, be gracious unto me, a sinner who am worrying the life out of my husband and wasting my breath in vain."
In the end, after all the argument between mother and father on my account, mother won the day. (CMB: 12-13)
On the last Sunday before Lent grandfather David Creanga from Piping, seeing the difference that had arisen between father and mother on account of the child, decided to become a third party:
"Never mind, Stefan and Smaranduca, stop worrying; today is Sunday, tomorrow Monday and market day, but Tuesday if we reach it whole and hearty, I'll take my grandson along with me to Brosteni, with my son Dumitru, to Neculai Nanu, the master of the school founded by Balos; and you just wait and see what he makes of this boy, for I was highly satisfied with what my other sons Vasile and Gheorghe were taught. These twenty years that I've been mayor at Piping, I've only had difficulties with the accounts. What's the good of my reading any ecclesiastical book? If you can't put things down in writing, be it ever so little, it's hard. But since my sons have been back from school they keep the accounts for me, penny by penny, and I just take it easy; I now say with complete confidence that you may be mayor for a lifetime and never feel it a burden. My word, a good deed Alecu Balo? has done with that school of his for anyone who'll take the trouble to learn; and, Lord, what a wise and capable teacher he has found! He talks so gently and he receives everyone so kindly that it is a pleasure to have him as a teacher. He's a credit to the parents who bore him. Such a kindly soul of a man, there's no gainsaying it. And for us mountain people particularly it is a great blessing! More than sixty years ago, when I came with father and my brothers Petre, Vasile, and Nica from Transylvania to Pipirig, such schools were not to be found. Maybe at Iasi or at the NeamJ monastery there might have been some like this one in the time of the Metropolitan Jacob; he was distantly related to us through Ciubuc, the bellringer at NeamJ, your mother's grandfather, daughter Smaranda, whose name stands engraved to this day upon the church bell in Pipirig. Ciubuc, the bellringer, had learned his letters in Transylvania, like myself, and then he left those parts and wandered away, as we did; he came over here with his belongings, like old Dediu of Vinatori and other shepherds mainly to avoid being turned into a papist, as far as I know. He was so welloff that his sheepfolds and herds of cattle spread over mountain after mountain: Halauca, Peatra lui Iepure, Barnariul, Cotnarelul and Boampele until as far as Patru Voda. This Ciubuc was said to be a decent, generous fellow; every traveler who stopped at his house was hospitably received and fare in plenty was placed before him. He was famous far and wide for his kindness and riches. The Prince himself is reported to have once put up at his house, and upon his asking with what men he held together such a sea of belongings, Ciubuc is said to have answered: "With those weak of mind, but strong of body, your Highness!" Then the Prince could hardly conceal his surprise and he said: "Now here's a man indeed, I'll vouch for it. Were there many such under me, the country would be safe in time of need. " And the Prince gave him a friendly tap on the shoulder, saying to him:
"Goodman, remember that you're my man from now on, and my door is always open to you."
From that time on Ciubuc was known as the Prince's man, so that to this day, a certain hill over by the Plotun, where Ciubuc was usually to be found, is called the Man's Hill. (CMB: 13-14)
The grandfather's final plea rests the case:
"It's a good thing, my son, that your boy should have some booklearning, not necessarily in order to be ordained, as Smaranda plans, for a priest's calling is an exacting business and difficult to fulfill, and if he's not the right sort, better none at all. Yet booklearning brings some consolation in itself. If I hadn't been able to read, I would long since have been out of my mind with all the troubles I've had to bear. But I have only to open the Lives of the Saints and therein I find all kinds of things and I say: 'Lord, great is the endurance that Thou hast granted Thy chosen ones. Our hardships are child's play compared to what we read about in the books.' Besides, it's no good for anyone to be a complete ignorant. There is much wisdom to be got out of books and truth to tell, you're no longer just a cow for anyone to milk. The boy, as I can judge, has a good memory, and considering the amount of schooling he has had, he sings and reads as well as one could wish." (CMB: 15)
Nothing can be done now. The child's father has been won over by his wife's arguments, and they speak one and the same language. Like it or not, the boy must go to school.
And now you're thinking of leaving your village, my boy, with its charm and its beauty and going to that strange and faraway place, if your wretched heart will let you! And I tried very hard to make mother understand that I might pine and sicken for love of her, and even die among strangers, that my cousin Ion Mogorogea, Gheorghe Trasnea, and Nica Oslobanu had given up study, and that they were still eating their bread in their parents' house for all that. But it was useless work! Mother had other ideas in her mind; she carefully prepared all the necessities and eventually said to me in deadly earnest:
"Ion, you must always keep your good name and never abandon peace for strife! You'll go where I say. Zaharia Gitlan will go with you. Old Luca, our neighbor, is going to drive you in his cart, with his two fiery steeds. Come now, run along to his house and see if he's ready to go. For tomorrow at daybreak you're setting out, God willing."
"I won't mother, I'm not going to Socola, even if you kill me," I said, crying my eyes out. "People have lived and they still do without being ordained."
"It's no good whining, my son!" said mother quite unmoved. "It won't work with me. You know by now the way I am. Don't push me too hard or I'll fetch that stick from behind the chimney and put it across you, big as you are!"
Then she called father and said to him firmly:
"Tell this boy what he must be told, so that he'll stop wishing we ll change our minds, and get himself ready for his journey."
"There's no question about that," father said gloomily. "He'll do as we say, not as he wishes, for he's not independent yet. If that were my only care, good woman, I'd have no concern in the world. But how to meet the expense, that's what's worrying me, for money doesn't lie about, like firewood. These six or more besides him, who're staying behind, will they live on nothing? Yet he, being the eldest, it's his privilege; we've got to try and get him started, for you never know the sum of man's days! And maybe someday he'll be a help to the others!" (CMB: 70-71)
Romanian village homes, if we judge by Mihail Sadoveanu and, to be sure, Ion Creanga, were not free from arguments, but they never degenerated. As a rule, women won the day, but no offence taken. The "loser" took his defeat graciously and life went on as usual.
The sickly child myth
The storyteller's mother wanted her boy to be a priest, her reasons being transparent for her husband: she just wanted to secure a place for herself in heaven. The boy more or less consented to this plan of hers, his reasons being visible all along for the readers: he just wanted to get free access to food. Unless he had fallen ill himself, the cholera epidemy would have stayed in his memory as the never-ending opportunity to get his shirt stuffed with pretzels, apples, walnuts, carobs and dried figs from the dead man's tree:
That summer, around about August, the Right Honourable cholera of 1848 stepped in and began wreaking such havoc on the people of Humulesti, right and left, that there was nothing to be heard save weeping and sorrow.
As for myself little devil that I was, I used to stand by the fence when they drove the hearse past our gate and chant a jingle over the dead man:
Jackdaw, jackdaw, what have you in your pail? See me take the chickens' food to the elder vale. Lucky is the oriole perching on a bough, He's praying to the burning pyre, The cuckoo takes a bow. There's naught for me, there's naught for thee, But for the ghosty goblin in the graveyard now I have two oxen and a cow, if he 'll stop his eerie row!
Or again, I would walk in the procession to the church and return with my shirt stuffed with pretzels, soursweetish apples, walnuts in tinsel, carobs and dried figs from the dead man's tree, so laden that my father and mother crossed themselves with wonder when they saw me with such goodies. To get me out of harm's way, they sent me to the sheepfold in the clearing of Agapia, close by the bridge of Caragita, where our own sheep were grazing, to stay there until the sickness had abated somewhat; but the very same night the cholera struck me down, tearing at my bowels and causing me to double up in two, as if in a vice. My vitals were burning within me for thirst, yet the shepherds and their chief took no notice at all; I screamed and they just turned over in their sleep and snored on. So I crept as best I could to the well behind the sheepfold and drank a pailful of water in no time. The well served as my camp that night, and I never closed my eyes long enough for a spark to be struck from a flint.
It was only at daybreak that Vasile Bordeianu, our shepherd, took pity on me and went to Humulesti, two hours walk away, and told father, who came with a horse and cart to fetch me home. All the way I never stopped asking for water, while father wheedled me away from it from one well to another, until at last, with God's help, we reached Humulesti.
When we got there, the village healers, old Vasile Jandura and another fellow whose names I can't remember, were in the house frying some skins of pressed grapes in tallow in a big cauldron upon the fire. After they had given me a thorough good rub with lovage macerated in vinegar, they spread the warm husks upon a piece of cloth and swaddled me up as they would a baby. In no time at all I fell into a dead sleep and didn't wake up until vespers on the following day--as fit as a fiddle. God rest old Jandura and his helper! As the proverb has it: a bad penny always turns up. Before nightfall I had already gone around the village, and even had a look at the bathing place with my friend Chiriac, son of Goian, a lazybones and a ne'er-do-well like myself. But father never said a word to me then. He left me to my own devices for the time being. (CMB: 10-12)
We just saw the storyteller dive in "from a steep bank into the swirling river water and come to the most awful belly-flopper flat on his stomach, scramble painfully out of the water and sit upon the bank hugging his stomach in sheer pain," then come to his senses an hour later--in the meantime, "the boys gathering around him and burying him in sand and saying prayers for the dead" -, bathe at his leisure until sundown and eat like a wolf later in the evening. Shall we expect this wonder boy to be affected by such a "trifle" as slipping and falling full length into the ice-cold river?
On Tuesday at daybreak [grandfather David] placed the wooden saddle and the pairs of bags across the horse's backs; then neatly tying the bridle of the second to the tail of the first, the third to the tail of the second, the fourth to the tail of the third, as mountain people do, he said:
"Now, you two, Stefan and Smaranda, God keep you in good health, for I'm about to set off. Come, grandson, are you ready?"
"Ready, grandfather, off we go!" I said, giving my full attention to some smoked pork chops and some fried sausages that mother had placed before me. Taking leave of my parents, I proceeded with grandfather on our way to Pipirig. There was a bit of a frost that morning, sharp enough to split wood. And just above Vinatori, as we were crossing the bridge over a tributary of the River Neamt grandfather walking behind holding the horses' bridles, myself walking in front of him, my boots slipped and I fell full length into the Ozana! Thank God grandfather was there! "Now, those worn-out boots of yours are all too silly, " he said, quickly lifting me out of the water, soaked to the skin and frozen to the bone for water had leaked in everywhere.
He quickly took off my shoes, which were frozen stiff. "A good old-fashioned wrap-around boot's the thing! Your foot feels comfortable in it and when it's frosty you're as snug as can be." In the time it took to say this I found myself already wrapped up in fluffy shepherd's coat from Casina, crammed into a bag on horseback, on and away to Pipirig. And when Grandmother saw me and the state I was in, stuck in that bag like some waif, she nearly dissolved into tears. Never yet have I seen such a woman, to cry over every little thing; she was soft-hearted beyond all measure. She did not eat meat, ever, for the same reason, and on holy days when she went to church, she wept for all the dead in the churchyard, kin or strangers, it made no difference. Grandfather, however, was an extremely level-headed fellow; he minded his business as he saw fit, and left grandmother to her own devices, like the mere woman she was.
"Good Lord, David, what will you be up to next? Why ever must you fetch the boy out in this weather?"
"Just to give you something to wonder at, Nastasia," grandfather said, fetching a wild boar's hide out of the lumber room and cutting out a pair of wrap-around boots for Dumitru and another for myself. Then he gathered them nicely and threaded a pair of horse-hair bindings through the little hooks. (CMB: 16-17)
The rule that is stipulated by psychoanalists (Miller 1990) is that people respond to childhood trauma with creativity (should there be some warmth in the traumatic environment) or with destruction (if there is no warmth). No worry in such cases for Ion Creanga, he always had his parents or grandparents standing by.
On the third day after this, provided with clean underwear and two pairs of foot wrappings made of stiff white cloth, we slipped on our new boots and, having kissed grandmother's hand, we took the Boboiesti road, with grandfather once more, as well as Dumitru, mother's youngest brother. After climbing behind the Halauca, we eventually reached Farcasa, and that was our resting place for the night. Our company there was father Dumitru from the Piraul Cirjei, who had a goiter upon his neck as big as a large wine flask, and he would cackle and snore as if from a bag pipe, so that I got not a wink of sleep on account of him all night long. He was not to blame, poor man, and as he himself used to say: "Those who have a goiter in the head are worse off than those who wear it outwardly."
The next day we left Farcasa, passing through Borca to the Piraul Cirjei and Cotirgeni and so on until we reached Brosteni. Having placed us in lodgings at his own expense, in the house of a woman whose name was Irinuca, grandfather then took us to call upon the teacher, took us to the church and made us cross ourselves before all the icons, and then left us with his blessing and went home, occasionally sending us what was needed.
Now in the village of Brosteni, which was spread out like most mountain villages, the wolf was not shy of putting in an appearance in broad daylight. The houses were dotted about irregularly, one under a steep hollow bank, another beyond the Bistrija nestling in another such ravine, in short, wherever man found it convenient to build a house. Irinuca had an old hut, built of wooden logs, with windows as broad as the palm of your hand, roofed with planks, fenced in with rough-hewn pieces of tir, standing right under a steep descent, on the left bank of the Bistrita, close to the bridge. Irinuca was a woman neither very young, nor very old; she had a husband, as well as a daughter, who was so ugly and cross-eyed that you were afraid to spend the night under the same roof with her. Fortunately, from Monday morning until Saturday night she was not to be seen. She went up the mountains with her father wood-chopping and she would work there like a man all week long for practically nothing. Conditions were such that two people with two oxen could hardly earn their keep in winter time. Nay, it happened to many a man that he came back on a Saturday night with a broken leg or with his oxen badly hurt, and this he had to accept as part of the bargain!
The hut on the left bank of the Bistrita, the man, the girl, the oxen in the woods, one billy-goat, and two lean shabby nannies which always slept in the lobby, that was Irinuca's whole fortune. Yet that really is a fortune when you're strong and healthy. But what business is that of mine? Let us rather get back to our own business.
The very next day, after grandfather had gone back home, we too went to school. The teacher, seeing that we wore our hair long, ordered one of the schoolboys to cut it off. When we heard those dread words, we began to cry our hearts out and to beg in the name of all the gods, that we should not be made frights of. But no, we had mistaken our man; the teacher stood by and had our heads cropped close. Then we joined the ranks of the other pupils and he set us things to learn according to our ability; among other things we had to learn the "Angels cried aloud" by heart.
We went on like that right into mid-lent.
One fine morning we woke up covered from head to toe with goats' scab, caught from Irinuca's goats. Ugh! What was to be done? The teacher wouldn't have us in the schoolroom, Irinuca could not cure us, there was nobody to let grandfather know, our provisions were almost eaten up--an evil plight indeed!
I don't quite know how it came about, but close upon the Day of the Annunciation, a sudden spell of warm weather set in, such as you've never seen the like of; and the snow melted, and the streams flowed and the Bistrija swelled between its two banks nearly carrying Irinuca's house away.
And during those warm days we would anoint our bodies with newly boiled lye, then lie in the sun until the ashes stood dry upon our skin and then step into the Bistrifa and bathe. An old woman had taught us this as a means of getting rid of the scab. You can imagine what it meant go bathe twice a day in the Bistrifa at Brosteni, before Easter. Neither shooting pains, nor ague, nor any other sickness did we get, nor did we get rid of the scab for that matter. As the saying goes: it clings to a man, like the scab. One day, Irinuca having gone into the village where she could lose all sense of time, what did we do but climb the steep slope behind her house, each carrying a roughhewn plank in our hands; the streams were coming down something wonderful, one especially, as white as boiling milk. The devil prompted us to shift a rock that was precariously balanced, whereupon the boulder started rolling down and bouncing head high, and it went right through Irinuca's fence and the lobby where the goats lived and made straight for the Bistrifa, setting the waters a-boiling! This happened on St. Lazarus's Day, about noon. What in Heaven's name was to be done? This woman's fence and house smashed to bits, a she-goat crushed to pieces, that was no joke! Scab and all were now forgotten in this fright.
"Be quick and get your things together before the old woman comes and let us run away and catch the raft to my brother Vasile at Borca," said Dumitru, since the rafts were already running.
We gathered the few things we had, hurried down to the rafts and the raftsmen readily agreed and set off. What Irinuca said behind our backs, what she didn't, I do not know; one thing I do know, that I was scared stiff all the way to Borca, which was the goal of our voyage. And next day, which was Palm Sunday, we left Borca at daybreak in the company of two peasants from the mountaints, riding their horses; we cut across the Old Highlands way down to Pipirig. That Sunday was a fine day and the peasants were saying that they had never seen such an early spring, not since they were born.
Dumitru and I never stopped singing, gathering bluebells and violets on the hillside, playing and capering as if we had nothing in common with those scabby fellows in Brosteni who had worked such blessings upon Irinuca's house. And as we were going along like this, about noontime, the fine weather suddenly changed into a fearful whirlwind, which literally brought fir-trees crashing to the ground. Maybe old Mother Dochia had not taken off all her sheepskin coats [a ritual going over the first nine or twelve days of March--with Dochia's last coat off, winter being over].
It began to drizzle, it turned to sleet, then it grew cold and started to snow in earnest, and in a twinkling the road was blocked and there was no knowing which way to turn. There was snow and fog everywhere, so that a man could not see his companion though they were walking side by side.
"We've given the weather the evil eye," one of the peasants said with a sigh. "I did think it strange that the wolf should have swallowed the winter so speedily. We've lost our way around about the weaning folds. Now let us blindly cut across country and go where fate takes us."
"I seem to hear a cock crowing," the other man said, "Let us walk that way, maybe well come across some village."
Down we went and down again, with great difficulty down perilous slopes, getting tangled in the undergrowth of a fir copse and the horses would slip and roll downhill. Dumitru and I walked shivering and crying into our fists with cold. The peasants just groaned and bit their lips in anger. The snow was waist-high in certain places and night had begun to fall when we came to a dead end in the mountains near the streamlet running, like ourselves, from the uplands into the valley, rushing and crashing against those rocks, whether it could or not. The only difference being that it went its way, while we came to a standstill and were really in a desperate plight.
"Now boys, let us sing and praise the Lord," one of the men said, getting to work with his flint and tinder, and setting a fir-tree alight.
"Whatever is ordained stands written upon a man's brow; make merry and be of good cheer," the other one said taking a large piece of cold mamaliga out of his saddlebag, toasting it lightly upon the cinders and giving us each a piece. That piece of mamaliga slipped more easily down our gullets than if it had been buttered! When we had done something to appease our hunger we curled up near the fire; snow overhead, sludge underneath; one side of us was freezing, the other baking, as befitted the time and place.
And while we were thus tossing about, another trouble lay in store: the burning fir-tree very nearly scorched us to death, and we were only saved thanks to one of the mountain fellows. Maybe Irinuca's curse had now come upon us.
Day broke at last and having rubbed our bodies with snow and crossed ourselves according to the custom of Christians, we set off with the two peasants climbing back all the way we had come. The snow was not falling so thickly now and after a good deal of trouble we found our way. On and on we trudged and by nightfall we reached grandfather David's at Piping. And no sooner did grandmother see us than she burst into tears of joy.
"I'm convinced this David of mine will bring me to the grave with his goings on. Just look at the sores on them, poor darlings! The scab has eaten into them among those strangers, poor lambs!"
After she had sympathized with us and wept over us, as it was her custom to do, and after she had crammed us full of the choicest things she had to eat, she went into the pantry, fetched a jugful of birch ointment, rubbed our bodies with it from head to toe and bade us lie upon the stove and keep warm. She rubbed the ointment into us two or three times a day and during the night as well, so that on Good Friday we were as fit and smooth-skinned as ever. By that time news had also come, from Brosteni, of the damage we had brought there, and grandfather, without protesting too much, settled with Irinuca for four gold ducats. Then, on Black Saturday, he sent me home to Ilumulesti, and on Easter Day I sang out such an "Angels cried aloud" in church, that the whole congregation gaped at me, and mother felt like swallowing me whole with joy. Father Ion sat me down at the table with him and little Smaranda cracked plenty of red eggs with me [as part of the Easter ritual of breaking eggs, saying "Christ is risen!" and getting the reply "He is risen, indeed!"] and joys of all sorts were pouring down upon me.
Yet the second Easter service was not such a success, for all the girls in the village had come to church; some of them being more frivolous, burst out laughing as soon as ever they set eyes on me and kept on chanting:
Cropped head of hair, Cropped head of hair, The dogs will have their share! (CMB: 17-21)
And thus Ion Creanga grew up to be a nonconformist priest, a dedicated teacher and, last but not least, an eminent writer. His eating disorder came complete, later in life, with a disabling epilepsy that he inherited from his beloved mother.
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Bogdan C.S. Pirvu Iuliu Hatieganu University of Medicine
Ioana Cosman Babes-Bolyai University
Ioan Florin Diaconu George Enescu Arts University
Andrei Hurdubei Alexandru Ioan Cuza University
Haralambie Athes Alexandru Ioan Cuza University
Muguras Maria Petrescu Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity
Cristina-Georgiana Voicu Romanian Academy, Iasi
Adrian Brunello Romanian Academy, Iasi
Georgiana-Elena Dila University of Craiova
Mihaela Prioteasa University of Craiova
Felicia Burdescu University of Craiova
Cristina Prisacariu Grigore T. Popa University of Medicine
Ionut Horia T. Leoveanu Iuliu Hatieganu University of Medicine
Cristian Dinu Popescu Grigore T. Popa University of Medicine
Catalina Arsenescu Georgescu Grigore T. Popa University of Medicine
Doina Cosman Iuliu Hatieganu University of Medicine
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|Author:||Pirvu, Bogdan C.S.; Cosman, Ioana; Diaconu, Ioan Florin; Hurdubei, Andrei; Athes, Haralambie; Petres|
|Publication:||Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2014|
|Previous Article:||Nature, pure and simple.|
|Next Article:||King of the Rats.|