Thursday 5 April 2012

I lunch with an intellectual

I had a wonderfully enjoyable break from meeting businessmen and women today and lunched instead with the urbane director of the National Peasant Museum, Dr. Virgil Nitulescu. 

I liked him very much and into my mind came the words of the American diplomat, Donald Dunham who was here just after the war,  

“…I found this gently ironic look in the faces of most of the men in authority whom I met in the country. It acted as a second voice while they were speaking, seeming to say: ‘You must listen because the vocal sounds I am making are very important. On the other hand, you know, we are in a lovely country and the wine is good, the women beautiful, there’s plenty of everything and no need to hurry. Life is excellent fun. There is nothing really to worry about.’ "

Of course, the people who made this impression on Dunham in 1946 and 1947 are to be admired for their sang froid because in those days there was very much indeed for almost all Romanians to worry about.

I also remembered someone telling me that 

people like Mugur Isarescu don't talk to anyone under fifty. 

Having to my bewilderment just reached this milestone I suppose I can now talk to great men in Romania.

Mr. Nitulescu told me something I did not know that December 1 was chosen as the National Day only in 1990 and that two or three MPs had the wit to argue for 10 May which is the day King Carol I proclaimed Romania's independence in 1877 and the also day he first set foot in Romania in 1865. And is a sunny day, warm but not too hot. December 1 has dreadful weather and Romanians take off to the mountains then to eat and drink too much and trudge tipsily through the snow and it is standing insult to the Hungarian and German communities who had no wish to become part of Romania on December 1, 1918.

But I could not persuade him to adopt my theory about museums, that the National Archaeological Museum in Naples was the best museum I was ever in because all the inscriptions were only in Italian, the walls were off white, the atmosphere metaphorically though not literally was dusty and nothing was, dread words, family-friendly. A museum which welcomes everyone but is designed for scholars and people with scholarly tastes. The Egypt Museum, Cairo and all Romanian museums thankfully are like this but in Romania's case for how long?

We discuss the National History Museum which was created by Ceausescu to encourage national consciousness and how France and Holland are now in the process of creating national history museums. In response I suspected to large scale immigration just as Ceausescu acted in response to Soviet Russia's invasion of Czechoslovakia. 

Mr. Nitulescu is also responsible for liaising with UNESCO about something called intangible cultural heritage and gave me as an example, căluşul, a tradition which long pre-dates Christianity whereby young men leave their villages on 10 May for a week to perform this ritual dance which involves wearing masks and using sticks. Apparently the first historical reference to this dance occurs in the writings of Dmitri Cantemir. When they come back to the village they are men not boys. Even when a television programme was made recently about căluşul the television team was forbidden to record the rehearsals for the dance. I said that Marie-Louise von Frank the pupil of Jung, explained that it was vital that women not be present at male initiation rituals as one female smile of laugh would emasculate the boys.

He is the first person who satisfactorily explained Ion Iliescu to me. How, I always wondered, could a man who, if not still a Marxist-Leninist. which Nitulescu is sure he to his credit no longer is, is certainly a convinced Leftist, has presided over a kleptocracy of rich sio-dixant thieves who stole vast sums from a very poor country, first from 1990 to 1996 and then  a second time from 2000 to 2004 (eheu fagaces). Iliescu receiving the reports of the secret services knew better than any other man in Romania the full extent of the defalcations taking place.

Nitulescu explained that Iliescu knew that he had to work with the system. Obvious really and shows how little I understand the Balkans. Nitulescu reminded me of the story which I had forgotten of Adrian Nastase imploring the PSD barons to be less blatant in their behaviour only to have the boss of Dolj tell him 'We do not owe our positions to you, but you to us.'

The sad thing about Romania is that though I like in principle to mix with people ten or twenty or more years my junior, how very much more interesting Romanians over 45 are than the younger generation, who had the benefit of pop music, television and consumer goods in their formative years. The most formative in some ways being the first few years after university. Tom Gallagher was right when he told me that Romania in 1990 was a society that was maimed but though I am glad there are more goods in the shops I know I prefer the Romania I remember from 1990 to the Romania of today.

1 comment:

  1. If only one had the power to pick and choose what to keep, what to change and what to enhance, as we look back in time.