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Bogdan Suceava


Excerpt from

Critics about

Novel, Ego. Prose series, Polirom, 2004, 2010 (2nd edition), 240 pages

Copyright: Polirom

Translation rights sold to: Paseka (Czech Republic), Paradox (Bulgaria), Noran (Hungary), Northwestern University Press (USA), Ginkgo Editeur (France)

Excerpt from

The storyteller is I. Even back then you knew the end of history and you saw, just as a bird peering down from the upper air sees the ants and the torrent coming at the anthill as the ants sun themselves, everything that was to come, from the moment he entered Bucharest to the last gasp of his prophecies. When he entered the city, no one expected him to cover himself in glory, and he did not come riding on a donkey, beneath olive branches, although the expectation that was floating in the air had long been foreordained to him. We were all expecting a miracle. Do you remember the 1990s, with all their mysteries and untold history? Behold the time has now come to write their true chronicle. For a long time it was said that on his arrival he had no face, that not until later did his visage coalesce in contact with the city air or rather in contact with itself, an unheard-of coagulation of being. It was said that he had been born in the Transylvanian village of Weissdorf, which nowadays no longer exists and is no longer marked on the maps, from a Saxon father and a Serbian mother, and that from the very first moment she raised him in her arms the midwife had been astonished by the mark that covered his chest and which at first sight seemed merely an ugly deformity, a birthmark. And so they believed until the day when someone saw the babe with his chest bared and said:
“Holy Virgin Mother of God, do you know what that mark is?”
The truth is that the peasants of that village which time forgot had never travelled far and their minds did not dwell on things which lay beyond the bounds of the village. Seeing the child’s bare chest and tracing the mark imprinted on the translucent skin, that old man, more travelled than the others, said:
“The middle line here is Victory Avenue, then Gheorghiu-Dej Boulevard, Victory Plaza, the Titan district, this circle is the ring road, and this semicircle is Barracks Road, here is Herãstrãu Lake, and these are the streets of the Linden quarter.”

 


When his chest wrinkled up, the map would shift, forming alternations, successions, slippages and expanses, corresponding not to a single time, but to a limitless series of images, whose beginning and end were obscure. Things could just as well be narrated from end to beginning, and this is what that peasant saw, although he was unschooled and lacking in any prophetic gift, for he said, fearfully:
“I’ve never heard the like before. I don’t know what kind of a birthmark this is, but it looks like what you’d never even imagine.”
In fact, others said that it was not like that at all. It was impossible for a map of Bucharest to appear on the skin of a baby whose mother was Serbian and who had been born in the village of Evil Vale, below Nehoiu Mountain, to a family of sheep breeders who of old used to take their flocks as far as Stara Zagora and then back again every spring, but who today take them up to the Gemenea sheepfold, where the only white bears in the Carpathian Mountains had once been sighted. An old midwife is supposed to have delivered the child and to have recognised the birthmark when she washed him, a clump of blood and fortune and breath, saying:
“This is the sign of the end of all times or the sign of all times together.”
And she was also to say, prophesying from the very start something that an entire nation has been awaiting for centuries:
“It is a map of the second Jerusalem, a sign begotten, not made, a sign from the Lord and which demands worship.”
For which reason she spat on the babe thrice, to guard against the evil eye, she lifted him into the air towards the dwellings of the four winds and then proffered him to the sun.
It is not known whether the tale was concocted afterwards, when his room was being trodden night after night by thousands of phantasms and he had begun to drape his mirrors with white cloths and to pray aloud. But that was another time.
Later, they said something else about him: that he had been the only man under the sun to be born twice. The two lives glimmered far from each other and at the same time, but in neither was his body whole, or solid, but merely a mist, so that you would have been able to see through it, just as there are many transparent children throughout Wallachia. And the famed entrance into Bucharest, of which some rumours told, would have been no more than the meeting of the two lives, the intertwining of the two bodies, the weaving of two hearts into one, the superimposition of sign upon sign on two chests. This process cannot have been painless, and all we know – having read the documents, the records of some of the witnesses, the newspapers from the time, and according to the things we too recall – is that on the evening of 4 November 1992 an ambulance with vehicle registration number 17-B-1504 brought an emaciated, feverish young man to the emergency section of the Municipal Hospital, and that in the first moments he was not accorded any importance. We have no X-rays which might have recorded what was happening to his body at that moment, nor any illusions that the first medical observations were correct or sufficiently attentive. They did not know what they were looking at. They had that unique, admirable, wonderful phenomenon beneath their eyes and they did not know what they were looking at. It is human nature to suppose that every being with two hands, two eyes and a chest is necessarily a man. However, the chemical reality is surpassed by the meta-chemical, by virtue of which each one of us is different, although the prejudice is widespread that we are all made up of the same stuff. His fever rose endlessly – and it was only when it reached 44°C that a nurse observed that his eyes were shining much too brightly and his lips were murmuring and his veins were boiling, as though a Transylvanian and a Wallachian destiny were being mingled, as though the heavens were boiling with the loam. She heard him say something and this is what she thought it was:
“Follow me with angel cohorts, to the new birth, in time.”

 

It made no sense, did it? It would have been no different from the delirium of any one of the raving madmen in the ward, had it not been for the crystal clarity of the diction, the correct and clear pronunciation, as though what must be said had not yet been said and now the chosen moment had come, the hour when the air would whirl with words around him, restorative words, healing spells, binding formulas, most of which had never before been heard, spoken, thought.
“Hmm, yes,” said Dr Pamfilie, who happened to be on duty, “there is nothing out of the ordinary wrong with him, he has a fever typical for those they’ve been bringing in off the streets lately, the glue-sniffers who sleep in the sewers, everything’s normal. Give him an aspirin. Allow him to leave.”
On his hospital discharge sheet the name Vespasian Moisa could be read, inscribed by a careless hand. It is the first document about him, because before it there is nothing. No birth certificate, no school report, no vaccination record, absolutely nothing.
It is here that the story of beginnings concludes, and also our documentation, for the facts become as fine as Bible paper, as spider webs, as thoughts of love. We pick up the thread of history a month later, in Piteºti, at a lecture which professor of history Diaconescu, one of the town’s worthies, was about to deliver to an almost empty auditorium. It was winter. At that time, the professor was nearing the final horizon of the theory that had been his life’s work. He had first expounded it at a history conference in 1985, where he had garnered merely shrugs and smiles, then he had worked on it together with renowned physician Apolodor Arghir, constructing arguments for the details or rather technical components of the medical side of the theory. In the first instance, the professor had had no success of any kind when expounding his ideas, perhaps also because dictatorial oppression quelled in its swaddling clothes the energy of many superb ideas, the enthusiasm of many inventors and creators, as well as the elegant proofs of many savants, mathematicians, logicians, philosophers and scientists. Professor Diaconescu drank coffee without sugar, he was a vegetarian, he wore sandals without socks in order to ensure continuous aeration of the foot (however hard it was for him, he remained true to this principle even in winter) and talked much about Sartre, one of his favourite references. At the political level, he was an unconditional admirer of Gandhi. After the professor’s lecture, the young man who presented himself as Vespasian Moisa asked him:
“Have you thought of writing a book about all this?”
The professor felt awkward, sitting there, in front of an empty hall, in the presence of five or six members of the naturist club.
“My dear man,” answered the professor with an absent smile, “neither literature nor theory can influence history.”
He was very much in the right: all the pages to which he had put the finishing touches were invariably marred by a literary note. In essence, his theory had nothing literary about it, but the lyrical air that absolutely all his texts acquired gave them a confused character, which captivated for a moment, but no more than a moment, the reader or audience. And this is what it was all about. According to the classic theories of the 1950s and 60s, the Gaeto-Dacians are supposed to have arrived north of the Danube around the year 3000 B.C. In the 1970s, an idea began to be accredited according to which the Gaeto-Dacians had arrived together with the first waves of Indo-Europeans, probably a thousand years earlier. Professor Diaconescu was more categorical: he confidently put forward the year 5000 B.C., and elaborated vehement arguments using heterogeneous passages from ancient writers such as Dio Cassius, Herodotus, and Apuleius, as well as mawkish Transylvanian idyllic poets George Coºbuc and Octavian Goga, as well as others. Once this part of the theory had been completely demonstrated, the professor argued that even back then the Gaeto-Dacians spoke the same Romanian as we speak today, which made the language more than seven thousand years old and transformed our everyday idiom into the oldest living tongue on the planet. Of course, as the professor argued polemically, there is a theory that Romanian is a descendent of Latin. It is a widespread theory, and in some cases it is even studied in school… Maybe, of course, but that aspect of succession ought to be a question much older than the year 5000 B.C., which is to say, it doesn’t even concern us today. The essential fact is that the Romanian language is an extremely ancient idiom and that it must be read and interpreted in terms of a code. We can speak of a true understanding of the Romanian language only after deciphering the initial and highly secret meaning codified in the syllables and letters of every word. As the Romanian language has a phonetic orthography, decipherment does not depend on writing: an analogous truth would have been arrived at even if texts written in Slavonic script had been analysed. Beyond the words of Romanian, the professor was convinced, there lies a code that not even the wisest initiates have ever deciphered. He liked to say that the Romanian language is the combination to the safe of the universe; it is a means of access at mankind’s fingertips, for discovery and understanding – as though God had slipped the house key under the mat.

 

The first person the professor convinced was his nephew, Emanuel. The truth is that Emanuel was a young man of sincere patriotic sentiments, in whom the theory of the antiquity of the Romanian language found fertile ground, just as a seed borne on the wind might find mellow and fruitful soil. Emanuel’s education had been highly complex, including not only good marks at school, but also plentiful listening to the radio and watching the television. Emanuel had been left with a sensibility bordering on the traumatised since the times when he had listened intensively to the propaganda spectacles of the Flame Cenacle on the radio, which were broadcast every Thursday evening and which he attended twenty-six times, not only in Piteºti, but also in Titu, Costeºti, Gãieºti, Topoloveni, Leordeni, Bragadiru, Vedea and various other venues. For him, the impression had been so profound that the magical slogan The First of December Unites Us would lave him in tears, and the lines And nonetheless a love exists, / And nonetheless a curse exists, even when hummed softly, would provoke in him brief erections, as fleeting as summer rains, concluding spasmodically, leaving him drained and breathless.
The professor expounded his partial conclusions to Emanuel in the spring of 1989. This took place in the professor’s room one evening, in the spring of 1989, while through the open window streamed the noise-saturated air of the most congested road in north Piteºti:
“Let us imagine that the Romanian language were written using ideograms, no different from Japanese,” said the professor, launching into his argument with dishevelled hair and wagging finger. “Let us imagine that each ideogram corresponded to a syllable. Each syllable would have not only a phonetic value, but also a secondary signification, codified by the passage of millennia, one that might contain the hidden remedy for the restoration of the respective thing to its initial meaning, in the case of its deterioration over seven thousand years.”
The professor had easily managed to decipher the fact that so or sol meant “sun”, and it followed that the word solitudine (solitude) could be translated “one born under a solitary sun”. Ridiche (radish) meant something odd: “pe mine mie redã-mã” (“render me unto myself”). His nephew Emanuel was enthused, although he kept asking all kinds of stupid details:
“How do we know that the Gaeto-Dacians had the word solitude?”
“I have no doubt,” said the professor, nodding, his eyes closed, as though in a trance. “The two languages are, at this level of vocabulary, identical. It is something that has been felt since the late eighteenth century, since the time of philologist Samuil Micu. The old man scented it, without a doubt!”
Then the professor added:
“But what does all this mean?”
For it seemed to him that his theory was merely part of a much broader, much deeper whole.
The Romanian language must be milked of meanings, as he also used to say. The verbs must be liquefied, the root of the meanings unravelled, the steam of its boiling appraised, the space between its substantives wrung, for there the Lord God, He Who Is, fearful be His name, has placed the key to redemptive meanings. If you follow that key, you can collect the cures for which mankind has forever struggled. It is incredible how clear and how simple it all is. All ideas of genius were, he believed, simple, were natural, could be communicated straightforwardly. For example, Einstein: everything is relative, damn it. That’s not a complicated idea, is it? Emanuel nodded and agreed that no, it wasn’t.
Dr Apolodor Arghir was passionate about the idea that he might discover at least one of those golden cures. He wasn’t a man to dream his whole life about finding a cure for cancer, leukaemia or diabetes, but a man with his feet on the ground, with down-to-earth thoughts and desires: a tall man, with a rotund face, with large, blue eyes, who walked with a slight stoop, thrusting before him a gleaming bald pate, wholly vindicated of hair. Dr Arghir dreamed of discovering a definitive cure for baldness, which he had come to regard, in its totality, as toxic both for physician and patient. He had lost all interest in professional reviews, treatises and conferences, and had begun more and more to believe in the traditional, natural medicine that had been practised before poet and folklorist Vasile Alecsandri frequented anatomy courses in Paris in the 1830s. It was during the period when Dr Arghir was appointed communist party secretary at Piteºti Municipal Hospital, immediately after receiving official acceptance of his application to purchase a navy-blue Dacia motorcar with a Canada dashboard. The conference he organised at the Municipal Hospital on that occasion was entitled New Research with a View to Curing Cancer and was open to healers from all over the world, regardless of their academic qualifications or the political regime of their country of origin. The conference was a grand affair, reported by Reuters and TASS. To the symposium also came witchdoctor Ougadou Li Gamba Wazaba Mimou, whose son was studying dentistry in Bucharest on a grant from the Democratic Republic of Zaire, and who performed a dance to extirpate tumours which shocked and enthused the audience, inducing fainting fits and ecchymoses. He was accompanied to Piteºti by a troupe of twelve bongo-players, who shook the hospital building to its foundations. The scars can still be seen today.
For a time, until he met Professor Diaconescu, Dr Arghir tried various experimental forms of treating the sick through music (his experience with the witchdoctor from Zaire had set him seriously thinking). He ascribed these inclinations to his being related, through a common ancestor, whose documentary attestation he considered to have been recorded around the year 1770 in a document recovered with difficulty from a village in the Caucasus, to great musicians of Armenian origin, including Charles Aznavour. He had begun to think about whether the only cure for cancer could be Bach. His patients, many in desperate medical situations, signed the form agreeing to experimental treatment and began sessions of listening to music and drinking medicinal tea. It is said that Dr Arghir gave up this project during the spring in which news of his irreducible infirmity spread through town: he was completely tone deaf. He could no more treat people by music than a mole could explain the colour harmonies in a Picasso portrait or the texture of a sunset seen from the beach at Costineºti. The rumour became public following the confession of a music teacher, the doctor’s mistress, who had for a long time tried, during moments of reclusion, to motivate her lover with Ravel’s Bolero, without ever receiving anything but an ambiguous response. Inasmuch as she considered that it was not a case of a colourless, odourless, insipid impotence that was amplifying with the pitiless passing of time, she continued a series of experiments whose subject was dear Apolodor, ultimately reaching the conclusion that he had no musical ear. In that period, extremely inauspicious both for his sentimental life and for his research, Dr Arghir became close to the professor when the rumours about his musical mistress reached the ears of his wife. They spend long afternoons together, talking and smoking, hair-splitting and analysing potential analogies between the theory of the antiquity of the codified idiom and the immutable truths of medicine. They took their comparisons as far as the level of modern studies. In the end, they decided to analyse one of the fundamental mythological motifs of the Romanian people, a myth that might date back to around the year 5000 B.C. The mandrake myth, to be exact. In fact, this was to be the unexpected care for chelie (baldness), insofar as the syllable che when added to the syllables li and e, then transformed according to a law of decryption on which the two had worked for almost three years, produced the secret name of mandrake. Baldness, which is to say mandragora. A broth of mandrake, to which they added sodium hydroxide, dried goatskin, Coca Cola and butter, had spectacular effects, transforming any baldy into a person with a respectable endowment of hair. Dr Arghir’s public appearances after treatment were so surprising that not even the Securitate officer who had written reports on him for more than ten years recognised him any longer. A black, frizzy, gleaming Afro now covered what had long been the most celebrated bald pate in the city.

 

The fact that the theory was true ought to have brought thousands of patients to the two discoverers’ door. However, events took an unexpected turn. One evening, after the aforementioned lecture, Professor Diaconescu received a visit from Vespasian Moisa. In the professor’s office, a discussion on religious and historical topics took place. After not so much as an hour, the professor telephoned the doctor and urgently summoned him. His voice quavered, it was the voice of one who had seen the world’s abysses close to, the ultimate things of wisdom, beyond which all truths are equal and before which imposture and endeavour are all one. He was shocked. He was beyond the boundary; he was in the land of fable.
“Our theory,” he told him on the telephone, “is indubitably true and is part of something much more elevated and much closer to the heavens.”
It was harder to convince the doctor: it took almost three hours. Vespasian Moisa unfolded to him a sequence of devastating arguments, which involved subtleties of anatomy and logic, and, springing from the sphere of ideas, the proof which oriental wisdom had pursued for centuries: the existence of the Lord God is proven by the structure of the human body. Near midnight, the professor and the doctor knelt before Vespasian Moisa and said: “You are our Teacher!”
This took place on 26 February 1993 and constitutes the first spectacular conversion to be recorded in the history of the Teacher. In strictly philosophical terms, Diaconescu and Arghir placed their theory in the service of a belief, of a heresy, of a theoretical construct as to whose validity history would decide. The two were the first of a long line of believers convinced beyond any doubt that Vespasian Moisa was a prophet of the Lord God. Their minds did not have an exaggeratedly religious make-up, they were not religious fanatics who could barely wait to be told things about which they were already convinced, in spite of all the excesses of their previous theories. In this sense, we must speak of a spectacular conversion.
Vespasian embraced them, lifted them to their feet and is supposed to have spoken as follows: “You have discovered your truth in the parts of knowledge that have been given to you. But only a man born twice could see the whole, for the whole comes from God in Heaven. I have come. I have brought you it. I am here for you.”
When Vespasian Moisa sent word to them to come to Bucharest, a few months later, at the beginning of the summer of 1993, for the hour to integrate the City had arrived, both professor Diaconescu and physician Arghir dropped everything – hospital and family – and came to Bucharest. And likewise did so many others, because Vespasian was bringing Life, Truth, Freedom. It is complicated to explain, but this is how it all began.


Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth



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