Adriana Carcu

 

 

(Germany)

 

 

 

St. Mary’s Square

 

From inside the partition created by a canvas sheet hung in front of the window to keep curious looks away, the girl is watching the window dresser pleating a printed fabric in equal stripes and pinning it on a dummy. Each time he fixes a pleat he takes a pin out of the wrist cushion that looks like a silver hedgehog. In her left hand, deep in her pocket, the girl holds tightly a thin wad of money. The man ignores her and she likes it. She doesn’t need to talk. She doesn’t want to talk. She just stands there watching, mesmerized, how the light summer fabric becomes dresses, skirts and tops under his nimble hands.

 

When the man has draped the last mannequin and disappears into the shop, the girl emerges from under the striped canvas into the blinding sunshine.  She walks a few steps past the entrance to the building where she lives and enters the confectionery. “A savarine and a lemonade, as always?” asks the lady at the counter. The girl nods. She takes the plate with the juicy cake and goes to the table in the corner, where she can eat it unobserved. She eats the cake, drinks the lemonade and walk out into the sun again.

 

She crosses the noisy street and stops in front of the shoe repair shop. From the window she watches Mr. Miclos putting small wooden nails into the rims of a sole. The regularity with which he takes them out of a tin box and hammers them lightly into the tiny holes hypnotizes her. The sun is burning on her back. She turns around and almost bumps into Mrs. Ghioca, her neighbor, who is wearing a summer hat decorated with a bunch of artificial cherries. The cherries shine temptingly.  Instinctively the girl reaches out.  The woman stops her hand in the air with a firm grip. The girl looks at her and understands. You are not supposed to touch the decoration on ladies’ hats on the street. Especially not when they are wearing them. She greets her politely, “I kiss your hand”, and crosses the next street to the little square around St. Mary’s statue.

 

The marble Virgin stands tall inside a crenellated baldachin with the child in her arms. The open chapel is surrounded by an iron fence of a very intricate pattern. The monument is in memory of a martyr who died under torture in this place 450 years ago. The statue is the first thing the girl lays her eyes on every time she walks out of the building where she lives, over the crossing. She likes the thick iron rods, like the curves of a leaning anchor, which mark the limits of the square; likes the warm smoothness and the feeling of security when she runs her hands along them.

 

Anica, the crazy girl from the neighborhood, is standing in the middle of the crossing in her dirty blue slacks with the metal whistle hanging from her neck.  Cars and trams pass noisily by. Within minutes the whole tram traffic is in havoc.  It is always the same. The drivers mistake her whistling with the signals of the traffic coordinators and take the wrong track. Always.

 

By the time the coordinator spots her and chases her away, Anica is furious.  That is the time when you don’t want to stand in her way. It may be dangerous. She once bit the girl’s shoulder with her sharp teeth. When things have quieted down, and the trams are hurling along, the girl crosses the street and is again in front of the garment shop. This time she walks inside. In the back of the shop, up the creaking wooden staircase which smells of gasoline, is the hosier’s counter. The lady is her friend. She can talk to her.  From there she can see through the window to the door of her apartment on the second floor of the building on the left.

 

The girl stands there for hours looking at the myriads of buttons in their little wooden cases; all colors and shapes. She likes the whirls of ribbons, the faint smell of rubber of the elastic bands the lady is measuring with a wooden ruler; her precise, dainty movements when she counts safety pins or garment hooks, and the sweep of her hand when she pours them into the little cones she makes from brown paper packaging. They don’t talk much. Suddenly, the girl hears the noise of the shutters coming down.  The shop is closing and as usual she will leave together with the lady through the back door.

 

The lady disappears briefly behind the tall cupboard made of hundreds of tiny square drawers, each of them containing a different roll of ribbon or colored band, and comes out again holding her white summer purse. They are ready to go. In the street the girl looks at the huge clock right in front of the entrance to the apartment building where she lives. It is exactly six o’clock.  The lady knows that she lives there. They pass the confectionery and the bakery, and enter the building where the lady lives. The girl follows her to the door. While looking for her keys in the bag, the lady asks the girl where her parents are. The girl says, “They are not home”. The lady unlocks the door, walks in and turns around. Holding the door with one hand she says: “You can’t come into my house” and closes it softly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Turkish Women

 

The place where I do my round of jogging is called Hangäckerhöfe; a very complicated German word meaning approximately the hillside grounds and describing the location of a group of farms at the southern limit of the town.  All through the years this area with a perimeter of 2, 5 miles has been the subject of many peripatetic revelations, and the natural jogging track for the people of the neighborhood.

 

In this square perimeter I have been running for almost 20 years, rain or shine.  Here I have witnessed wonderful sunsets and heavy storms; I have been watching wheat and corn grow and ripe, I counted rabbits and sheep in autumn; saw the changing hues of the vineyards on the hills; ran along with riders on horseback, and occasionally had all my energy liquefied into fear by the encounter with a fierce dog.

 

If you are running for a long time you come to know the people living in the farms, each of them placed in the middle of a square of land separated by cross ways, and you come to learn the habits and schedules of most of the dog-walkers and joggers:  the man with the tiny dogs, so small that from afar you think he is walking his own shoes.  The older jogger who always says, ”Hi, honey” and blows you a kiss, the bunch of half-marathon trainers in spring or the small group of steady runners.   With these I have a long history of silence; the rising of the right hand is our only sign of acknowledgment.

 

One day, while doing my round in that semi-automatic trance joggers have, I saw in the distance two unfamiliar figures.  They soon took the shape of two sturdy Turkish women – one middle-age, the other young – doing a highly powered walking.  They were clad in traditional dress, headkerchiefs and ample attires covering most of their bodies.  Both were wearing flip-flop.  After recovering from surprise (I had never seen people wearing that kind of clothing moving so fast), I said to myself, well, they must be in a hurry, and forgot all about it.

 

To my surprise a few days later I met them again: same dress, same speed. This time I understood: they were not hurrying anywhere, they were out to do some exercise.  I gave them an encouraging smile and I started reflecting right away about the effort of will and persistence this must be for somebody with such a strict gender tradition as theirs.

 

The third time around the women were running at slow speed.  Still in flip-flops.  This time when I got close enough I gave them the thumb up and said, “You need to get proper running shoes.”  They both eagerly agreed and smiled at me in return, Alles klar!  After a while I met only the younger one.  The speed was better but she was still wearing the flip-flops.  I didn’t say anything. We just smiled at each another and continued our way.

 

The encounters became quite regular and, although I don’t have a running schedule, they were pretty sure to be there most of the times I went out.  After a while I realized that I was already expecting to see them.  The strange thing was that we would always meet at the same point of the natural running track.

 

Three weeks ago, I saw my girls again (this is what started calling them) as soon as I got on the long side of the square.  They were moving quite fast and I could see from afar the victorious grin on their faces: they were wearing sport shoes.  We all raised the right hand in acknowledgment: we were fellows now.

 

Last week I went shopping in the food-store at the end of my street.  While I was waiting at the counter with that vacant look we all have when we stand in line somebody touched my arm.  I turned around and I saw a small woman with beautiful dark eyes smiling at me.  As it often happens when you meet somebody outside a certain environment, I couldn’t recall immediately who she was.  She told me her name was Sera and that she was running with her mother in the gardens.  Sure it was her!  I told her then that I was watching their progress with awe.  She replied, “It is because of you we are running.”

“What do you mean, it is because of me?”

“Well, we live in the apartment block at the end of the ground and we have been watching you doing your rounds for years.  One day my mother said to me, ‘Sera, the first time I saw that woman running in the gardens you weren’t born yet.  Ever time I see her I think how good she must feel, and somehow I wish that I could run too’. ‘But you can run, mama’, I said, ‘let’s start running together’, and this is how we started running”.

“How come that we always meet at the same point?”

“From the 9th floor you can see the whole ground. When we see you coming into the gardens at the far end we just go out the door, so that by the time you reach the long side we are at the other end of it.  As we parted outside the store she gave me a beautiful smile and said, “Teşekkür”.

 

Yesterday Sera was wearing sport pants and her mother was running without the headkerchief.  When we met we raised our right hands and smiled.

 

 

 

The Trip I Didn’t Make

 

The thought that I was going to Amsterdam made me giddy with anticipation.  Memories came up from the time when I used to spend a couple of days each month there, working at the headquarters of a computer company on the Herengracht. In those days, after each journey, my boss used to ask me, “Did you have a space cake in Amsterdam?” whenever I got back to Heidelberg.  I never had one.

Some time ago I started remembering those radiant summer mornings along the channels, when the water reflects so many lights and thoughts, or the Queen’s day, a tumult of color and sound. The rainbow dress I bought for 10 gulden, and the seashell a friend stole for me from the flea market in Waterloo Plein, because I didn’t have the money to buy it. I wanted to see Amsterdam again.

The hotel was in Rembrandt Plein, one of the busiest spots, where every second entrance is a coffee shop.  One night, after watching men kiss on the street and exchanging compliments with transvestites, I went into the coffee shop across the street from the hotel, with a huge marihuana leaf painted on the window.  I went straight in, I put my elbow on counter, and in the most casual tone I said, “a space cake”.   The guy looked at me and said tentatively “would you rather have a hashish brownie instead?”  Me, looking straight ahead with a ‘no nonsense’ look on my face, “a space cake.”  I can hear him asking somebody behind me if they wanted to feel relaxed and groovy or rather have a more active sort of experience.  Nothing clicks in.

I take the muffin packed in rustling foil and go out.  I sit at a table and while I unpack it, I read, “8 gram marihuana to 200g flour”.  Again, not a trace of sense visits my mind.  I start eating it.  It tastes good. A blackberry muffin.  Forgetting completely that besides flour, sugar and butter it contains other things too, I eat the muffin to the last crumb.

A few minutes later my tongue starts feeling furry and I realize that it is time to go.  At the hotel I climb the carpeted stairs that escalate in  endless labyrinths, and while I brush my long, long teeth I get a funny feeling that the walls start slewing.  I feel like inside a huge, white, deflated rubber ball.  The next moment, or hours later, I sit on the corner of the bed and wonder where the bed is going.

My sensible world ends here. I am balanced on its edge contemplating the abyss at full speed.  Lights get smudged by the rush.  Sounds become sensation. Terror starts.  I try to resist.  I try to anchor myself in the present. The sounds in the street hurt my muscles and my muscles start contracting by themselves, in concentric waves from toes to the head – always from toes to head – to end up in a pulsation somewhere inside my brain twisting it in new spasms of anguish.  The bed is my ship and it is moving fast in the scintillating darkness.  Beyond the end of the mattress I can glimpse the infinity.  It goes on and on and on in rushes, and I fear that I will never come back to live in myself again.

Exhausted I lie down and close my eyes.  A quiet procession of gnomes and fairies start their progress through a dark world of contorted tree trunks and low cottage roofs; a world of brown and dark green and deep red.  A world of quiet mystery, of whisper, and low sweet music.  The gleaming heaths are sparkling through the branches; golden light filtered by the dark leaves.

 

I bend, I enter a cottage and I lie down to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________________________

 

Adriana Carcu is an international freelance journalist and author with a long publishing experience. She has published two books, signs a column in Orizont, the magazine of the Romanian Writers’ Association, and contributes with interviews and reviews to the sites All About Jazz, Jazz Compas, jazz.ro and various other cultural sites and magazines.

 

In the summer of 2012 Adriana published in the volume Cronica Sentimentala (Sentimental Chronicle) travel notes, reviews, essays and stories summing up her life and writing experience covering the time span of five years. In 2013 the volume was shortlisted as The Best Book of the Year by the Gala for Editorial Excellence Bun de Tipar.

 

In 2009 she published a volume of narrative interviews titled Povestea zilelor noastre (The Story of Our Days), containing the life stories of 12 representative Romanian artists living in exile. The book is the result of two years of travel and research, and has been acclaimed as “Personality interviews, made with aplomb but also with love; a consistent study matter for those who wish to specialize in performance journalism”. The interview with artist Valeriu Sepi was awarded “Best interview of year 2007” by the Romanian literary magazine Catavencu. In 2010 the German edition was launched at the Frankfurt Book Fair with the title Die Geschichte Unserer Tage.

 

Between 2007 and 2010 Adriana has been the Executive Editor of the on-line entertainment magazine No Strings Attached E-News, where she has created and edited the section Europe Reloaded.
Adriana Carcu has started her activity as a translator in the pages of the Orizont literary magazine in the eighties, when she has introduced to the Romanian readers less known authors like Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski and Anais Nin. In 1999 she translated the volume Think Young, Be Young by Elsye Birkinshaw. Today she translates, authors like Kenneth Patchen, Roberto Bolano or Karl Ove Knausgaard. For the enzine No Strings Attached E-News, Adriana has translated from Romanian classical and contemporary authors like Alexandru Macedonski, Lucian Blaga, Nichita Stănescu, Mircea Mihăieș and Adrian Sângerozan.

 

www.adriana-carcu.de

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