Notes from a tourist

 

by Mircea Pora

Translation from Romanian by Caroline Carver and Zenovia Popa

pentru versiunea română click aici

 

 

I am not at all sorry I am in this country. Just a few more years and the wandering around or being a tourist – to use a more aristocratic word – shall come to an end. It has been sprinkling since morning and the clouds are lead-like. Now and again I can hear phones ringing on some corridors. The suitcase that appeared yesterday in the streets under my room windows is still there. A cat beats about it here and there looking as if it had nothing better to do. Peak and medium tourist seasons have ended for sure. I am afraid even the last of it ended. The rain makes the paving shine in a certain way. I read in the guide that besides cars the country has also carts. In one paragraph it says clearly…’pulled up by two horses, or one horse, often even a donkey’… I wish such a vehicle passed at all … For the time being, only leaves are falling from the trees. And the forests around seem unchanged, and the rocks on the top all the more. In fact, even the hotel I am in is like a cave deserted long time ago. As I am not controlled by anybody, questioned, or terrorized by guides, I really can do what I want. As I did during my holidays in my so far-off childhood. I shall use my guide in order to review the interesting places in the resort… On page 14 it says…’The art museum Stana Izbasa is waiting for you to visit it. Bicycles and pets are not allowed’… So, to the exhibition, for starters… Five rooms with a total of four paintings. The titles are a bit strange, the colors are rather dark, the compositions are apparently simple, but with a significant power of suggestion. The first piece – if I can call it so – is titled ‘Death treating its rheumatism at baths’…and in fact portrays a human-shaped shadow standing on a bench,  taking out something from a bag with one of the blurry hands, possibly a blob, a coin, a small cake, or some kind of berry. The second canvas, placed in the room registered at number three, showed three round women, Flemish style, each one of them surveying what is going on in the pan on the cooking stove in front of her. The title is …’Competition to prepare a peasant dinner’. The last two paintings, placed next to each other in salon five, show a man standing, bestrewn with decorations, titled ‘Emperor forgotten by history’ and a rural woman, titled ‘Lady with a rabbit’, except that there is no small animal on the canvas. I am leaving this strange museum, unique in its way and, according to the guide, I should check a small museum of aviation opened twenty years ago. But the steps draw me towards the central park, towards the terraces where I may meet somebody. I have really never happened to be alone in a resort. I am not a very communicative type, but this is totally unexpected for me. Where could be – as described in the guide, the doctors, the accountants, common manpower, famous and less famous actors, professors, small town teachers, booze tasters, cohorts of arrogant people, great peacocks, bourgeois families, cheated husbands, cheaters, who, no matter the season, invade the resort?…Nevertheless, they relaxed here, because through hotels, restaurants, I found indisputable traces of an intense tourism, until not long ago…unmade beds, TV-sets on, partially closed taps, peasant soups, tripe soups, stews, mince meat, pancakes left in the kitchens. And if you pay attention in the streets, bags with pop-corn, ice-cream cones, cheese pancakes in oil, full meters of pizza and musical tools for the many… taragots, trumpets, saxes, drums, dulcimers. And another detail, not to be neglected… stray dogs. They could be found almost everywhere, but in some areas they would be in alarming numbers. Most of them were going at a walking pace, not interested in the rain pouring on their backs. Nevertheless, here and there, there were also numbers moving quickly, in an impetuous running. On the whole average, they didn’t seem aggressive, but rather defensive, resigned in front of a destiny they could not certainly grasp. However they seemed to be part of the inner being of the resort, of its hottest fibers. The green-covered guide clearly states …’from the refreshment kiosk, it is exactly a kilometer to the center’… That stall is on my left. Among the wet trees it resembles a squat being under hidden, unspoken pain…’What if I fell here, on these leaves, among these stray dogs?’… Anyhow, I dare to believe there must be somebody who would see I was taken where I should go …However I have to recognize that something surprises me eventually…is there somebody, someone, among these buildings, in the streets I pass?… As I have told before everything seems to have being working not long ago, but now no soul could be seen, I could say, no sign of life. I wanted a quieter resort, no commotion, it is right, but in such a place as this, where even the day seems dark, it is certainly too much. Down, under me, some dozens meters away, there is a river running off beating against the small rocks with almost a painful noise.

In the deeper places, the water is black, like the caves of a castle. Watching it going downhill, following its laws, it seems to take away something of you. Even in forests on the right: if you start looking at them, you can see the autumn, a long dry being, insinuating itself among trees. From time to time, some bird draws my attention. Its flight  seems more an alarm signal than a quiet wing fluttering. I am passing a pizzeria which must have had dozens of customers not long ago. Curiosity and hunger push me inside. It is still clean, but one can feel some weakness, some frailty everywhere. Somewhere, close by, a war must have ended, a whole world would have declined. Among chairs and tables, small dust areas remind through sympathy those rooms where the light is always diffuse, and the exclamations of joy are lacking. A portrait, probably, of the patron… shows a rubicund man fighting against perspiration and summer heat. Everything is open, I can walk around like a sovereign where I wish… I close and open taps, I search the pantries thoroughly, the fridges, I examine commercial papers, endorsements, lists of orders, eventually attacking the shop front… In the sector of cakes, everything is dry, wooden, for example the amandines resemble some balls good for shooting. The rum babas have whip collars, obviously stiff, resembling grey snow at the end of winter. The pizzas, in their turn, could be used as fixing stones of cross ties at railways. However a miracle happens because I find in the kitchen, otherwise deserted, a cluster of sausages floating in hot water in a bowl. Full of hope, with refreshed strength, I go further towards the center, more precisely towards the park and the terraces over there. For the first time in life, a tourist in November … Wherever I have been, no matter what beach, mountain roads I have walked on, terraces I have danced, dined on, listened to recitals until late in the evening?… Now everything lies heavy, in this humidity and loneliness. The guide states, that more than a half century ago or less, everywhere, no matter the season, there was an intense fuss. Carriages mixing with cars, couples from everywhere finding fulfillment in solitary walks, dances, terrace dreaming, flirting in restaurants and confectionery shops. Pleasure, all pleasures are here. One could not imagine an evening without military music, no orchestra of waltz and tango carrying you on their wings. Once autumn came, a rusty carpet was spreading over parks and forests. A certain melancholia, like a delicate emanation of smoke, was everywhere. In the morning, the wisps of fog were floating, almost magic, over the river. The highest rocks were wrapped, temporarily, in the sumptuous cloud cloaks. Autumn tourists were, somewhat, different from hot summer months. If the latter, most of them native, were more temperamental, more expressive in gestures, in a word more noisy, generally, people coming in the resort during first cold days were taller, mostly of foreign origins, especially Nordic, inclined to silence, even melancholia. On  the whole the resort looked like a vessel on a silent sea navigating among webs of fog. Do not believe, though, that we speak of a tomb, of a prolonged string of graveyards or barren places. With a more reduced schedule, the orchestras were playing on the terraces until late in the evening, different singers could be heard, singing about loves, bear, whisky, liquors, about good lunches, about what selected societies represent. In the parks, before noon, small symphonic bands were sending the beginning or the end of some recently famous music to the blue sky, but, in fact, to the ears of a refined audience. Military and civil brass bands were not missing  either, among them, by their variety of repertoires, the accountants’ and the teachers’ from the counties, with artistic sensitivities, came to the fore. In winter, the guide said with an abundance of details there were no more opportunities to run into some trace of what we could call tourism and autumn tourists. The snow was covering everything, the streets, the larger roads, the forests; a feeling of partial standstill came into prominence. On the terraces there were tables and chairs, now, as if really frozen, spectacular snowmen showed up with features characteristic to white, mongoloid and negroid races. But you must not think that the resort was deserted…The tourists, less willing to be seen, were spending their time in clubs, libraries, fitness rooms, conference rooms. There were also times, when two or three couples wearing gum shoes, overshoes, furred booties were dancing on the snowed terraces to slow music from the violins. Sometimes raucous soloists were accompanying. Then there were also sledge tours, short ascents on different paths, daytime or nocturnal snowball fights, where they got into together with tourists and resort employers. At Christmas, in the middle of the central park, a decorated tree appeared out of nowhere, on the snow banks under its branches different presents were put: fruits, tropical cakes, balls, tricycles, umbrellas, gum shoes, ties, even wedding dresses… Going to the center, my steps feel now heavier now lighter. I face a sort of fear at the idea that I might not run into anybody there either. Nevertheless, when you are alone in a certain place, you have the great advantage of being able to do exactly what you want to. You want to admire a landscape, you contemplate, you want to throw stones into space or after a target, you proceed to the execution, you find a way to hum a song, the streets; the leaves, the trees, the pavement, the forest are ready to listen to you. I cannot deny I am in a strange position. I wish I were a late autumn tourist, a November tourist, but there seems to be too much of a standstill, too much absence around. If only a staggering, wiggle-waggle alcoholic showed up or a poor individual with whom I can exchange a simple glance. The ‘historic’ part of the resort welcomes me with its buildings, decayed as if overnight. Beyond the windows, you could think not of furniture, curtains, chandeliers, but the caves, the forests, the darkness. The rain drops falling on me may be there ten times bigger. Pacing, walking, I can feel the teeth of time everywhere, I can see how the twilight nets lay unfailingly over what was once alive. So many generations of tourists rolled into oblivion, in the sand. The waltz, the tangos, the caresses under the roofs of carriages, until those happening right now, in our modernity. The rain shall succeed in transforming the first central terrace in a sort of mirror. The orchestras kiosk dominates everything as a tall, blind athlete. The stairs leading to the second terrace are rotten, touched by incurable diseases. And the parks, where everything that was once a tropical plant is now a weed suffocating the eye. But upstairs, on the last terrace, the most deserted space, a surprise awaits…a man installed in a sort of penthouse, perhaps more a kiosk with two rooms, very little furniture. I am invited inside to sit on a chair at the table. Without many hesitations, my surprising entertainer starts the dialogue…

–          My name is Raul, Mister Raul, and I am the curator of the resort between November and February. You have been the only visitor in these weeks, you know…

–          You may not believe me but I really wanted this…It is weird, what a rare treat is to be alone in the streets, the hotels, the stalls…With your own phantoms following you …Think of the tourists who walked here so many decades ago…

–          I understand, but now you suffer a bit, I am guessing…

–          Yes, I would like to have pictures of all trippers this summer, three months ago. What they did, how they had fun, how they looked like!

–          It is a wish easy to fulfill, for me it is really a pleasure… and Mister Raul took out a screen and a projector from a locker. A few seconds later, the show started… movement, noise, cries and crowds encountered you don’t even know where from, where to look.

–          And what does this do? …I wonder…

–          Let me zoom out for you…he eats a chicken, a whole piece…

–          And the woman next door… a sort of tank?

–          She eats another chicken… look how happy she looks…

–          And here?

–          It is the market where they eat watermelons right there on the spot…they splinter them, the pips go on the floor, in the end the juice is long-standing, healthily sipped…

–          And the skins?

–          Well, you can see … half of the them on the floor… on the soil, if you want me to talk like in the books…

–          My lord, is it true what I see now?

–          As true as it can be…among tourists, at noon, from sheep pens A towards sheep pens B, a herd of sheep passes…Watch how they all mix…rams, ladies with lower case ‘l’ but also capital letter ‘L’, misters also, dogs, policemen, taxis, private cars clustered… and the shepherds with their fur-coats, majestic, centennial…

–          Pardon my asking… I saw many pizzeria… Do shepherds enter them?

–          Of course, as if it were their own home … look, right here, three of them having pizzas and juice… they are relaxed, natural, as if they had done this for ten generations.

–          And the herds?

–          They plunder downhill…I can provide images.

–          Mister Raul, this is very generous of you…what are you showing me now?

–          A collection of bellies – all types…beer, stuffed cabbage, grilled minced meat rolls, vegetable stew, grills, all kinds of pies…

–          And here?…

–          In the evening, after dinner, in the dance ring… the grilled minced meat rolls, the peasant pottages, the cow pottages, the stews jump in the stomachs…

–          But you should know that almost all these tourists are cheerful…

–          I can only tell you that essentially, the nation is cheerful and lives according to the great principle…‘Yesterday she was standing on the porch/ Today she fucked off’…

–          Yes, what can I say, a profound, constructive thinking…

–          And here, what are you showing me?

–          How in the old part of the resort, lacking any interest today, some boys broke down Hercules’ statue in order to make money of it as junk…

–          Pardon me, we are witnessing a genuine mythological attempt…

–          Relax…and enjoy everything I showed you…

–          And now…what do I see?

–          It is your cart pulled by a donkey that shall take you to the station so you can catch the Intercity…

–          You shall get on immediately and say…’Come on, Miciurin, let’s go, because time goes by…or, perhaps, you shall say… partir, c’est mourir un peu’…

 

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: www.egophobia.ro Însemnările unui turist

  2. Pingback: www.egophobia.ro EgoPHobia #35 / sumar

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