by Diana Damian Martin
In first grade, we started approaching Romanian language compositionally and grammatically. It took me some time to understand the split, as if grammar has no fictionality, but the architecture of a Slavic-Latin language like Romanian is also uprooted by migration, occupation and imperial rule – precarious and poetic conflicts of meaning.
In our first composition sessions, we were asked to write letters to seasons, as an act of remembrance of the experience of the passing of time. Lived experience was not particularly relevant, and there was a structured process of copying the same text, in ink, onto a new sheet of paper, at least three times. Few edits were made in this process, and calligraphic commitment had to be made, so as the text was composed not through language, but compositionally across the lines of the page.
Given that so much of what I learnt during those first years were folkloric texts that dealt with landscape, loss, rurality, most remnants from pre’89 textbooks constituted nationhood through a traumatic nostalgia, as if the only national conflict ever experienced was a failed romance with an unforgiving nature.
It is an odd experience, looking at the place of narrative in these texts of composition: they are not devoid of character, and, as you would expect for seven year olds, they are not rich in description. Childhood and narrative and atmospheres: the wind, the mountains, melting snow, clear-water lakes. Repeated, in sets of four, with impressive consistency.
The word narațiune entered Romanian via French, narration; it is distinctly different from the word story, poveste, which employs a higher level of fictionality.
Not long after that, in civics class, we learnt that politics, politică, is an activity and an attitude of taking active part in civic life.
We were calligraphicaly sketching a series of instructions for false linguistic correspondence, a process of iteration of political narratives. The old Romanian word for politics is politichie, which always reminded me of the language in Ion Luca Caragiale’s dramaturgy. Scrisoare Pierdută (Lost Letter) opened in 1884. It begins like this:
TIPĂTESCU (prefect), citind din ziar:
Ruşine pentru orasul nostru să tremure în faţa unui om!… Ruşine pentru guvernul vitreg, care dă unul din cele mai frumoase judeţe ale României pradă în ghearele unui vampir!…” (indignat.) Eu vampir, ‘ai?… Caraghioz!
[TIPĂTESCU (prefect), reading from the paper:
Shame that our town is threatened by such a man!… Shame for our miserable government, giving away one of Romania’s most beautiful counties in the claws of a vampire (resentful) I’m a vampire… Ridiclous!]
Curat caraghioz!… Pardon, sa iertaţi, coane Fanică, ca întreb: bampir… ce-i aia, bampir?
[PRISTANDA (police officer):
Well ridiculous!… Pardon, forgive me boss, for asking: bampire… what’s a bampire?]
The civics of linguistic correspondence, in a small fragment of memory.