I love Romania. I've loved the country and its culture all my adult life, ever since being fascinated by the Romanian gymnasts at the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Olympics — Marius Urzica on pommel horse, Lavinia Milosovici in all events, especially floor and parallel bars, and Gina Gogean (seen here on balance beam at the 1994 European Championships). I immediately began teaching myself a bit of the lingo from a copy of Colloquial Romanian by Denis Deletant which my local library had a hardback copy of and I purchased the audio cassette that accompanied the book.
At Swansea University in 92 I was able to do some Romanian language night classes, run by a student calleld Mihai, and through him my Romanian speech improved. He also gave me cassettes of Romanian folk music which I now also love, and a recording of a play that told the story of ‘the real Dracula’, Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Ţepeş. My classical music interests embraced the symphonies and Romanian Rhapsodies of George Enescu and the more modern style of Anatol Vieru.
ANATOL VIERU's music occupies an unusual middle ground between the age-old and the ultra-new: his initial musical impulses were born of the Romanian folksong he heard around him as he grew up, though he soon evolved towards the mainstream of European modernism.
(1998 obituary in The Independent)
You can hear some of Vieru's first cello concerto here and, if your only knowledge of cello concertos are the Elgar and Dvorak then you might find it a little strident, but I love the textures and melodic lines in the piece. It's exactly the same in contemporary poetry — if you only read Tennyson and Wordsworth then the textures and language of contemporary poets can be difficult to listen to, but it contains so much beauty if given a chance.
Treading the Streets
No street in Bucharest has a history to match that of Calea Victoriei, the city’s most famous thoroughfare which runs - much as it has for more than three centuries - from Piata Victoriei in the north of the city all the way down to Piata Natiunilor Unite and the Dambovita river.
Lined with fine houses, palaces, churches, hotels, upmarket shops and museums, it remains perhaps the most prestigious address in the city.
(from Rediscover Bucharest website)
The above photo shows Calea Victoriei with a yellow taxi parked at the bottom of the street and a sign to a Pizza Hut further up the street. If you click on the image it should open a larger version of the photo in a new window. I took that photo in November 2004. Funnily enough, the only meal I ate out while I was in Bucharest was a slice of pizza, but it was not at Pizza Hut, it was at a small indie pizza / cafe place that I stumbled across one lunchtime.
Romanian Poets and Translations
I haven't read a lot of poetry by Romanian poets because my knowledge of the language isn't good enough to understand all the words, let alone the poetic inflections. I'd love to learn the language well enough to translate Romanian poetry though, and maybe I'll try and focus on improving my language skills enough to learn how to translate. Last time I studied at Swansea I did discover a book titled ‘Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry (1969)’ by Roy MacGregor-Hastie. I'm sure I must have ordered this rather than seen it on the shelves, but I purchased it from the Uplands Bookshop in Swansea sometime in the 1992/93 timeframe ... I had a habit of buying poetry books rather than chemistry textbooks!
It's the end of a chapter for an independent bookshop which has been at the heart of a Swansea community for 70 years.
Thousands of customers have picked up their favourite reads from Uplands Bookshop over the decades.
But due to a drop in customers, the impact of online trading and their lease coming to an end it means they will shut up shop at the end of August .
Bookseller Marilyn Nicolle, 63, of the marina, who has worked in a series of bookshops, said the closure would mean Swansea would be left with just one independent bookseller.
(from Wales Online)
That makes me very sad. Obviously I can't read printed matter anymore but I love independent bookshops, especially that one. Other notable purchases there include the Complete Poems and Plays of T. S. Eliot and The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (Alice B. Toklas was life partner of Gertrude Stein — that was very definitely a special order, and I went in to order it the night after hearing singer Adam Faith mentioning it on a Pot Night documentary ... the cookbook is infamous for containing a recipe for Hashish Fudge!
There are many great Romanian poets from all eras of poetry. Glancing down the list of Romanian language poets on Wiki I recognise several names, including Tristan Tzara (1896–1963) who was one of the key figures in the Dada movement . Another famous poet was Mihai Eminescu (15 January 1850-15 June 1889). Described on Wiki as ‘often regarded as the most famous and influential Romanian poet.’ Interestingly I'm also listening to the introductory 5 CDs of the Pimsleur phase 1 lessons in speaking Romanian, and one of the phrases in unit 3 is about Eminescu Street! I can say sentences like, “Good morning, miss. Where is Eminescu Street — is it here?’ ‘No, sir, it is over there.” “Of course [but good] Thank you, goodbye.” I know, you doubt my skills, but I've recorded that exchange for you to listen to here! — no, my delivery is not brilliant but I think it'd be understood :)
Romanian Poetry Friends 1: Tara Skurtu
Romanian poetry is more than alive and kicking. I discovered this in the fall of 2013, when I first traveled to Romania and serendipitously landed in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu the week of an international poetry festival. I was there on a poetry fellowship and had expected to spend two months wandering the birthplace of my paternal great-grandparents alone, unable to speak Romanian, hoping to find inspiration for poems. Instead, I discovered the life force that is Romanian poetry. And let me tell you, it’s a force that travels. From literary festivals and poetry marathons to bar lecture clubs, young writers’ groups, book fairs, and launches, I found myself swirling in a whirlwind of a vital poetry community, a poetry so strong that it made me want to learn Romanian. And so I began to teach myself Romanian through contemporary poems. Today I’m delighted to introduce, in this Selected Feature, the work of Adela Greceanu, Angela Marinescu, Svetlana Cârstean, Radu Vancu, and Ioan Es.
(introduction by Tara Skurtu to Featured Selection: Romanian Poets on Plume Poetry)
I've known Tara for quite a while through her poetry. You can find links to many of her poems, including audio recordings, via her website taraskurtu.com. I always enjoy reading and listening to her poetry.
Tara Skurtu, born in Key West, Florida, is a Boston-based poet and translator currently living in Romania. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Boston University and a double degree in English and Spanish from the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is a two-time Fulbright grantee, and she has received two Academy of American Poets prizes, a Marcia Keach Poetry Prize, and a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship.
Tara has taught at Boston University as a lecturer in creative writing, a lecturer in composition at BU’s Prison Education Program, and she served on the planning and teaching team for Robert Pinsky’s 2014 MOOC, “The Art of Poetry.”
Her poems are published and translated internationally, and recent work appears in The Kenyon Review, Plume, Poetry Review, and Salmagundi.
Her new collection is The Amoeba Game, published by Eyewear Publications, and I'll share the end of a poem titled Visitation Tank from that collection. It is set in the visiting area of a Florida prison.
We swung from the hook
of a rusted crane and ran together
off cliffs, stretching into unnamed
shapes as we fell and slapped
the warm water. Here Dad discovered
the mud was clay, dropped handfuls
of it into a bucket, and in our little kitchen
we molded and baked on a cookie sheet
abstract faces that fit, warm
and smiling, in our palms.
(from Visitation Tank by Tara Skurtu)
Romanian Poetry Friends 2: Maria Stadnicka
The Hen and Chickens in Abergavenny often has poetry events — I've mentioned the treacherous staircase up to the poetry room before on this blog ... for disability access it scores minus 10 on the Turnbull scale! But I am prepared to attempt the ascent if somebody is reading there who I wish to hear. On the H&C Facebook page I noticed a reading in March by Romanian poet Maria Stadnicka, and I immediately pencilled that into my digital diary and will, snow permitting, be there.
Maria Stadnicka is a writer, freelance journalist and lecturer. She started writing poetry at the age of six and published her first poems in 1995.
Between 1996 and 2003 Maria lived in Iasi and Botosani, Romania and won 12 Romanian National Prizes for poetry, as well as Porni Luceafarul… – First Prize for poetry collection and Convorbiri Literare Publishing House, T. Arghezi – First Prize for poetry and V. Alecsandri – First Prize for poetry.
She worked as a radio and TV broadcaster, presenter and editor in chief for Radio North-East, TV Europa Nova and Radio Hit and was a member of the literary group Club 8, Romania.
In 2003, Maria moved to England and she became member of the Stroud Writers Group, Gloucestershire. She read poetry in Bucharest, Timisoara, Iasi, Botosani, Suceava, Tg. Jiu, Sighisoara (Romania) and Abergavenny, London, Oxford, Bristol, Cheltenham, Stroud, Winchester, Stourpaine (United Kingdom).
(information from Maria Stadnicka's website)
I scribbled more question marks on waiting room tables
than I gave answers and
I felt the humility of a man proven wrong when
I hoped I had done enough.
Somehow, each time I rebelled,
I ended up cleaning up the wreckage, packing, unpacking,
but not myself.
(extract from Preparations by Maria Stadnicka)
At the time I did not realise that Chernobyl had had direct effects in Romania too. I think back to my early days of writing poetry — scribbling on Post It Notes and on the backs of train tickets, and love finding out that over in Romania, Maria too was doing similar, for different reasons. A contributing factor to my interest in the communist countries was the Romanian revolution in 1989, at the same time communism in Russia was changing. Mikhail Gorbachev promoted perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), topics which were frequently talked about in my high school assemblies and tutorials. Maria talks about her experience of that time in this piece:
26th April 1986. I was eight years old and went to a nearby gymnasium school. 26th April 1986 was a Saturday. In those days, we went to school six days a week and, on Sundays, we had homework. There was nothing else for us children to do. We had no television during communism, there were no magazines and we had only two newspapers. I had started to write poetry by that time; write on old notebooks, on my mother’s factory coupons, on food wrapping paper. We had no books at home, so I wrote to have something to read in the evenings.
Once a month after that Saturday, the school’s paediatrician would come to deliver our iodine tablets quota. We had to swallow one every day for almost a year. We kept breathing and eating and learning and sleeping and growing, not knowing why the iodine was good for us. The boys mostly played with the sweetish small tablets or used them as crayons. I was a short-haired nervous girl. Shy and small for my age, and I think I took them all, with precision. Or maybe for fear of being publicly reprimanded during political propaganda lessons we had on Wednesdays.
(from The Pink Chernobyl)
Maria's collection, Imperfect, published by Yew Tree Press, is available on Amazon.
Hungry Mind, Hungry Stomach
One of my favourite books was European Peasant Cookery by Elisabeth Luard.. I owned it in a paperback edition and remember seeing a hardback copy for sale in a bookshop in Gloucester many years later and debating whether it made sense to own two copies of the same book! I cooked many recipes from all the countries of eastern Europe, the Baltic states and Belarus and Ukraine. If you've read to the end of this post then you deserve a tasty recipe with which you can fill your stomachs! Just one warning — this recipe uses a lot of garlic so if you're a vampire you might want to leave that out ;) This recipe is taken from the American edition of European Peasant Cookery, titled The Old World Kitchen (1987).
Tocana de pui (Chicken Pot Roast)
The young woman who gave me this recipe, a shepherd's wife in the Carpathians, had just bought in the market at Sibiu a special dish in which to cook it. She showed me a chicken-shaped earthenware casserole, oval and unlidded. Carpathian shepherds are exempt from modern Rumanian state collectivization, and their pantries are well stocked--there is no shortage of cheese from the sheep, butter and cream from the family cow, or eggs and poultry from the yard, as there is in the rest of the country.
TIME: 10 minutes plus 30 minutes of cooking
15 to 20 garlic cloves
1 boiled chicken or any piece of boiled meat
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) butter
½ cup fresh or sour cream
Preheat the oven to 350°F. You will need a small baking dish.
Peel the garlic, slice it, and scatter it over and in the chicken.
Put the bird in a close-fitting casserole, tuck the butter inside it, and pour the cream over it.
Cover with wax paper or foil, and roast or broil in the oven for half an hour.
Serve with noodles, a salad, and cold white wine.
Mme. Frunzete, the shepherd's wife, grew beautiful grapes in her courtyard, and would serve them to finish the meal.
#Romania #Poetry #Cookery #Music @TaraSkurtu @MariaStadnicka @elisabethluard
Gosh, you have a varied list of interests, Giles. This is very interesting. I worked with a Romanian chef called Virgil, when I was a waitress in New York. What a nice man. His wife was Vietnamese, and their children were stunning. You’ve brought me back to some lovely memories. Thanks Giles.
I’m glad my post did that, Frances! 🙂 I got to use a few Romanian phrases when I chatted to Maria at the poetry event and we talked about some of the beautiful Romanian features, such as the painted churches 🙂
Dear Giles, thank you very much for mentioning my work on your website. It was such a pleasure to meet you and talk in Abergavenny. Your connection with Romanian language, culture and people is inspirational. 🙂