THE STATE OF NORMALITY
By DOINA HORODNICEANU
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© 2002 Doina Horodniceanu
In the spring of the same year a famous American agriculture specialist came to visit our countryside. He was one of the first that showed up here after the end of the cold war. Or when it started to get warmer, the Cold War, I mean. A certain Mr. G that used to produce agricultural machines. He was an occidental, a person to whom comfort, well being, good manners, politeness were old habits, life necessities. He believed in freedom. He couldn’t understand the people’s fear to speak up, to voice personal opinions, to say yes or no. I was assigned to accompany him during his trips. I was in charge of his entertainment too. So I took him to the countryside, in Transilvania and Moldova. I showed him the emptiness of the tired, badly managed fields, the monasteries and the people. He looked around: tractors, plows...
Our countryside was beautiful. It was an incredible day, warm, sunny, bathed in transparent April light. Gypsies on the road made a lot of dust. The same old rituals, the same old machines. The principles are old too, and the peasants still use plum brandy as a medicine. The fields reach the churchyard, the pigs walk on the unpaved streets, but inside the houses kids wait with their cups ready in front of the TV, just in case the little black and white screen would pour a little bit of milk. The harvest was finished long time ago, so generally speaking it’s good, it’s very good. The peasants buy their eggs from the city and salami too. The firefighters fight to stop the flames and the tractors dig long deep gaps between two farms. Otherwise our countryside is beautiful.
We stopped at a farm. The house was small. Three rooms all together. The outside was blue. In front of the door was a small outdoor carpet, very typical for the region. Red roses among green leaves on a black background revealed to our eyes from underneath the crust of mud. A woman opened the door for us. She was a widow. In her sixties. The communists had shot her husband forty years ago. He didn't want to give up his land. She raised four kids alone. They are workers in a big plant in the city. They come and visit her two times a year: for Easter and for Christmas. She took care of the farm, she did all the work by herself. Now they want to give back a part of the land her husband died for. She cried with her face hidden behind her fists.
"I'm old, I can't work that much land any more. I don't have money to buy machines or to hire helpers." She dried her tears.
"Forgive me. I forgot to serve you anything. You must be tired from the road. I'll make you some coffee."
We sat at a table. The interior was typical too. One wall covered with glass icons, a real altar. Hand-woven rugs on the walls, on the beds; on a tray was a pile of plastic fruits. Sparkling clean. She returned bringing Turkish coffee, home made jam and icy water. Everything was typical in this woman: her black dress with the white apron, her small nose, and the hair hidden under the kerchief. You would not think twice about accepting her invitation for lunch. She was nervous, she kept kneading a handkerchief in her hands. She smiled shyly at my American companion.
"Where is he from?" she asked me.
When I told her, she wondered:
"So far from home..."
Mr. G brought up his wallet. I read several times about wallets made of crocodile leather but I have never seen one before, never dreamed to touch one! It looked great smelled like private airport, doorman, private driver, and maids; beautiful women, heraldic graces and monogram. His grandfather was Romanian. He immigrated to America between the two wars. Mr. G doesn't speak Romanian at all. Neither could he understand. He showed us a picture of his son. A two or three year old, very cute. Blond hair, blue eyes. He laughed healthy and happy from the photo. When his mom buys him a banana he doesn't cry about not having another one. We thanked our hostess for everything and left. Back in the car was silence. I wondered how much he understood from my translation.
"Well, these are last century's equipment. Here you need something completely different, much lighter machines."
I understood him perfectly. What he didn't know was that for the last fifty years we hadn't had any kind of agriculture. That ever since the communists took the land from the farmers, and all the villages’ young population was forced to work in the big city plants, the only ones that worked the land were the students, the soldiers and the prisoners. In the evening I took him to a nightclub I noticed in a city next to the village. It got my attention by its name “3A” and by the pictures in the window. I was right, we saw there some beauties even my American friend with all his money hadn’t see before. All the dancers coached by comrade Lucinschi. Of course he didn’t feed them with blintziki, marinated mushrooms or stuffed cabbage.
I tried to promote Mr. G’s opinions in front of my superiors. Nobody wanted to listen though, and we kept producing the old heavy machinery that nobody needed but we knew to make so well.
Everything went worse except for Tudor, who got a full time job for Reuters Agency. He did not seem to notice the dark side of the world anymore. His world was full of love and happiness. He seemed to live in a continuous euphoria with his beautiful dancer. His house changed. As far as you could see, money and imports. Shouting from every corner. Three things I liked the best and I would like to have for myself: a Japanese TV set as big as my bed with a surround sound system, a metal table with a crystal top, and more than anything else the couch and chairs. Made of the finest red leather. I don't have such leather even for my gloves. When you sat on them you plunged into feather. Even Tudor changed. His style changed too. Cherry blossoms and magnolias took the place of old scared eyes. An atmosphere of calm and serenity erupted from his pictures. Birds and ballet dancers on green plains on mountaintops under clear blue skies.
And then there was Anna. She, always she and always alone. On beaches, on small streets, driving convertible cars, in studio portraits, in front of historical monuments, or in elegant evening dresses. Dressed up she looked fabulous. She was so fascinatingly different that you could not imagine such a creature with toilet paper in her hands. The prototype of a wonderful being impossible to picture in the prosaic situations of every day life. Anna, she was weightless like the breath. Laughing and crying with big salty tears as the sea. She was as beautiful as the shadow of a thought. Among all the waters only she was land.
One day I went with Tudor to the Cemetery. We took flowers to his girlfriend’s grave who died during the earthquake and to Victor. It was quiet there. The silence hit the stones, broke and crossed itself, became distance, became sand. I turned my face to the sun. I could hear the beat of the drum stones hit by the sunrays. I was thinking of the millions of cadavers without a name or a grave. I was thinking especially of those thrown together dead or alive during the revolution. That girl, she was actually lucky dying in one second so long ago. Only one second of fear, not days, weeks, months, years. I looked again to the funeral stones.
The only real things, those that we carry to the very end are our sentiments. I wonder what we are going to leave behind us, at the end of the day? A little bit of hate? Oh well, I don’t know, maybe, a little bit. Few passions? - I wonder… But love for sure.
To be Continued...
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