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Constantin ROMAN: “Voices & Shadows of the Carpathians” – Part 2 of 2

February 22nd, 2015 · 3 Comments · Books, Diary, Diaspora, Famous People, OPINION, PEOPLE, quotations

Constantin ROMAN; "Voices & Shadows of the Carpathians"

Constantin ROMAN; “Voices & Shadows of the Carpathians”

Constantin ROMAN: “Voices & Shadows of the Carpathians” – An Anthology of Romanian Thought – Postface

A Conspiracy of Silence:

Now, I am a person who likes simple words. It is true, I had realized before this journey that there was much evil and injustice in the world that I had now left, but I had believed I could shake the foundations if I called things by their proper name. I knew such an enterprise meant returning to absolute naiveté. This naiveté I considered as a primal vision purified of the slag of centuries of hoary lies about the world.”

Paul CELAN (1920-1970)
(“Edgard Jene and The Dream About The Dream”)
(“Collected Prose”, Carcanet, 1986)

PART 2 of 2

Since I chose Britain as my adoptive country, especially in my innocent days of scholarship at Newcastle and later on at Cambridge I was brutally aware of the ignorance of Romanian values in the West. After all why should it matter? We were only a “small country” on the map of world culture and for that reason we experienced the same complex as the other small European nations – Portugal, Belgium or Finland.

Constantin ROMAN: A History of Plate Tectonics  at Madingley Rise, Cambridge

Constantin ROMAN: A History of Plate Tectonics at Madingley Rise, Cambridge

In my early years of exile, fired by a youthful naiveté, steeled by an tinge of arrogance, I was convinced that I could repair such injustice, that I could change the world and become an unofficial “Open University” of Romania – I felt I had a “Messianic” message to impart to the rest of the world and set up urgently to the task of writing articles, translating Romanian poetry in English, even organizing exhibitions and festivals, to put the record straight. My research at Cambridge focused on the Carpathian earthquakes and made the subject of an article in ‘Nature’ or the “Geophysical Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society”. I was busy publishing Romanian poems in “Encounter”.
"Curierul Romanesc", Sweden, a Romanian Language Quarterly, Oct-Dec 2009

“Curierul Romanesc”, Sweden, a Romanian Language Quarterly, Oct-Dec 2009

In the “Cambridge Review” I debated the “Romanian myth in the sculpture of Brancusi”. I cajoled George Steiner in chairing an evening of Romanian poetry at Churchill College. I played panpipe music, the Romanian shepherd’s lament, in the Chapel of Peterhouse. I trotted about the country addressing the WI (The Women Institute) in obscure provincial towns.
Constantin ROMAN: Devying the Idiocracy - Cambridge Memoirs

Constantin ROMAN: Devying the Idiocracy – Cambridge Memoirs

Other Romanian writers were pioneers of a new style: the Dada, the Lettrism, the “Theatre of the Absurd”… These exiles were part of the literary aristocracy of Paris, whose salons were frequented by Proust, Valéry, Apolinaire or Colette– all those enchantresses, who delighted, for decades, the refined Parisian society, the conductrix of good taste – Countess Anna de Noailles, née Princess Brancovan, Princess Marthe Bibesco, Hélène Vacaresco… All these were aristocrats by vocation and by blood – This is what our Romanian aparachik did not want to spell out and was trying instead to cover up. Besides, for the Communists, these writers who chose Western Europe as their haven –still represented the embarrassment of a deep chasm between “them and us” – The “errand children” of Romania were not yet ready to be accepted to the bosom of their country of origin, even after Ceausescu was put down. The Romanian Diaspora was still on trial. We still had a long tortuous road ahead of us, for our minds to meet. It was not going to be easy bridging this spiritual gulf between the uprooted and the deep rooted, between the dispossessed and the repossessed, or, shall I say, the possessed of insidious propaganda – the brainwashed, the complacent and the political opportunists.

I never got tired of my “missionary” initiative, but I soon realised that the echoes were meagre compared to the effort that I put in this pathos. Soon after, like every other graduate, I was absorbed in my profession, in the less glamorous field of Geophysics, or as the French had it encapsulated so well, I had to “waste my life by earning it”. Still, my initiation in the contribution, which the exiled Romanians had made, grew ever more with every book or work of art I had acquired during this trail of exploration.

Eastbourne So, many years later, when listening to that Romanian Cultural Attaché addressing his unsuspecting audience in Eastbourne, I was shocked by the malevolent manner in which he dispatched his subject. In spite of this reaction I decided giving up my vocation of a “Good soldier Schweick” and say nothing, not to muddy the waters of an otherwise sunny afternoon of the English Riviera. I was content to label this sorry diplomat a “rhinoceros”, a “relic” of our troubled past. Still I was surprised to hear, later on, that he was promoted to become an Ambassador in a Western democracy:

“Good work, Comrade! Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!”, whispered in my ear my cynical “other self”.

I thought:
“His dutiful, zealous iconoclasm, his personal cultural revolution, his damage to Romania’s cultural heritage were all adequately recompensed by his masters, both overt and covert: Ceausescu’s shadow was cast large, well after his demise, it was functioning very well, according to the same tenets of “cultural demonology.”

The age of wisdom, but perhaps not the wisdom of the age, made me, at long last, discover the bliss of being reconciled with inequities that one cannot change. But was I?

Many more years after the Eastbourne episode, as I returned from John Sandoe’s bookshop in Chelsea, I was in reflective mood:
“How come that I did not know about Paul Celan, after all these years? It was no longer the Communists fault, it was MY fault.”
I trawled the internet, I scurried the bookshops. Even Waterstones had two books by Celan: I was surprised by my find.
Still, John Sandoe had quite a different dimension:

“I must put the record straight!”

I fell again in the same old trap in which I fell before so often, a trap which I promised to avoid: that is the hole in which all Romanians find themselves when they live in the West, a hole from the depths of which they cry:

“Look at us, we are famous, but nobody really knows about it! If they do they think that we are foreign!”

As they do go about explaining their seminal contribution, their splendid but ignored contribution, Romanians are experiencing that schizophrenic sentiment –an inferiority complex overprinted by an indelible conviction of belonging to an illusory important nation.

By assembling this compilation of thoughts and shadows from the Carpathian space, I hope that I could make peace, at least to a modest degree, with this dichotomy, which confronts the Diaspora.

London, July 2001

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