Old Harriutiunian believed in Communism

 

 

by Daniel Vighi

Translation from Romanian by Wendy Stein and Florina Samulescu

pentru versiunea română click aici

 

‘We all took off like a rare bat out of the park just outside the nursing home. We left the bench, the gypsy kids, the girl and the boy with the water boots, who had recently returned from the job he had made in the dilapidated stable where two emaciated mares where sheltered with their ribs sticking out of their coarse hide, loaded with burrs. We took off like a rare bat towards Ion Creanga Street where the Sephardi synagogue was, and we didn’t know what it would mean and we were attracted by its strange name and by the fact that it was hidden in the back of a yard. It had a tiny window that overlooked a fallow garden. It was through that window, actually, that we managed to squeeze into the tiny synagogue with its dusty chairs, cold, silent, freezing in the middle of summer.’ These were the statements that one of the members of the expedition will write in his own hand later on. It might have been Pitiu. Or Mandragora. It’s less likely that it was J.H. who, as you will see, was not really willing to co-operate and give such statements. Also, J.J. doesn’t seem to have written it. The tone of the work, so to say, was manly and more educated than it would have been if it had belonged to one of the frontier punks that accompanied our rockers as instructors, and also as nosy blunderers who were frequently open-mouthed with wonder. So, they left the park with the pimping trees, with the children’s sand pit that no one used, with the contorted iron swings, with torn wooden back rests. They left towards Ion Creanga Street and then they dragged on with guitars, tin kettles, bubble-gum harmonica,  Pol’s Mexican poncho and people stared at them in amazement, the few passer-bys that were out on that slightly foggy summer morning, with the sun hidden behind the clouds.  They stared as if struck by lightning: ‘stop this invasion’ their stupefied faces seemed to say. They finally arrived at the crossroad between Ion Creanga Street and Ispirescu, and Sepi stopped in front of the gang, turned around with a sulky face and said: ‘This is Artie’. ‘Where’ asked the confused colourful crowd of tyke rockers. ‘Where is Artie’ they asked again with muddled physiognomy, and Sepi raised his right hand and with his index finger pointed towards the huge rented house right in front of them. ‘Here!’ It was a hovel eaten away by dampness, covered in mildew, with grapevine on its façade and with chubby stone cupids, consumed by rain and the Fabric torrid summer heat. Here, repeated again Sepi and they all watched, puzzled, how a fowler was exiting the hovel with a giant bird cage where he kept carrier pigeons for the Contest in Yugoslavia of the Pigeon Racing Society which organized long distance flights. The fowler stopped his bicycle before them and the pigeons started struggling between the bars when he asked the group in wonder: ‘where are you from?’ and Sepi answered just as sulky and almost bored. ‘What do you mean where from, from Fabric, where else’. ‘Is Artie home?’ ‘Home, yes!’ The fowler looked in amazement at them for a while but since no one was interested in his amazement, they went straight into the back yard of the rented house. Only that, right at the time they were barging in under the long archway, filled to the brim with trash barrels, ash and cabbage leaves, Harri Holinek suddenly appeared, with his bicycle with aerodynamic wings, with the handle bar similar to an aeroplane’s stick and with the small engine in the back, fuelled with gasoline from the tank placed where the one usually carries the bread and milk bottles. They watched him in silence as he passed by, pushed by the propeller that gyrated loudly with smoke coming out of the tiny exhaust pipe. You almost expected that any moment Harri would fly away over the trash cans filled with cabbage leaves. Sepi raised his hand and yelled: ‘Hi, Harri!’ A wave was his reply. A few years ago, Artie also stared at Harri’s transition through the yard, and then on to Hay Market, heading for the Electric Turbine and then further on towards the neighbourhood Between Poplars. As they were staring at this unexpected transition, Artie pops up from a pantry: ‘I’m fixing some crates at neighbour Rosenstern Iliuta. He’s getting ready to leave’. Sepi raised his shoulders in confusion: ‘where’s he going?’ Artie looks at them in amazement: ‘What do you mean, where? To Sion!’ ‘We didn’t know that’ said the gang with sudden respect. Silence enveloped the back yard where old Jews go and stand in line at Petracowski Convenience Store, banging milk and yogurt bottles. One of the frontier guys, namely Benda, signalled them to follow him, and they all started towards the old linden tree in the middle of the yard, which had at its base two broken bed settees, thrown out by Iliuta Rosenstern who cut loose everything redundant because ‘he was getting ready to leave for Sion’ as Artie said. Everyone sat down anywhere they could on those broken beds, ready to listen to frontier Artie’s story and how he made a cool plane to cross over the border.

‘Look, Artie, these little children are getting ready to leave and I said that we should talk, to see how things are with this leaving business.’

‘Where do they go?’

‘Far, far away, where else?’

‘And do their parents know, cause I can see they’re rich kids, and if this comes out, we’re busted. I don’t really care, cause I know I’m tough, but them? What’s the hurry, spawns?’ J.H. mumbles something, Mandragora talks about Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

‘Never heard of those two you’re talking about. So, you want to meet up with them and for this you’re willing to go into the wide world? Why not call them here, to Fabric, it’s easier for them to come here, than for us to go to them, that’s a fact, I had a friend that called someone from the Federacy and he came, and the whole neighbourhood talked about it, and they found out, and they were both called in for questioning, but they didn’t start on the Fisie. It’s a catastrophe there.’

‘They both died last year!’

‘So, what’s the deal?’

‘They want to put flowers on their graves. Idiot kids’ stuff.’

Sepi raises his hand:

‘We want you to tell us your story, so those little ones can understand how things really are.’ Pitiu adds: ‘the A solution! That’s how I called it: from air.’ He turns towards the gang: ‘only he will ask Artie and the rest of you will just listen and write it down. Understood?’ Everybody sits down on the broken bed settees, under the thick linden tree:

‘Fabric you say! You were born here?’

‘Yes. In Fabric, but I grew up in Freidorf till I was sixteen.’

‘You grew up there till you were sixteen?

‘My father comes from an Armenian family, they went toYugoslavia, they were kicked out and that’s how they got toTimisoara.’

‘Right… Armenian you say. And your mother?’

‘German, half Hungarian, a mixture the way they are in Fabric.’

‘The Pheonix musical movement reached Fabric and I understood they were called The Saints in the beginning and that they played at a Cultural Centre. Do you anything about it?’

‘No, no… I’m not a music lover, I’m more of a wood guy, wood carver. Here in this yard I’m living is this rent house built by Jews, there are about forty tenants and they’re all accustomed with me fixing their things in the pantry, and their chairs, furniture, whatever each has.’

‘This is something you inherited from you family or what?’

‘Probably from my father, he was a gunsmith, jeweller, you know how it goes, Armenian and Jews back then were all about precious stones, jewels, trade, but as an inheritance, about thirty per cent, let’s say forty, everything else is from my mother.’

‘Yeah, yeah … yeah, and what’s your name, I only know you as Artie, and that’s it.’

‘Harriutiunian… it’s hard to pronounce, sometimes I can’t even say it…’

‘Wow, what a name, it’s great, really, but difficult… can you say it again?’

‘I’ll say it again: Harriutiunian.’

‘And this is only one name?’

‘Yeah, and the other one is Harriutiun.’

‘Fantastic, that’s quite a mouthful; I believe you must have had some trouble with it in school, when they were calling you out.’

Pitiu turns to his colleagues who are conscientiously writing down in their notebooks. There, under the old linden tree, in the middle of the yard, on the run down Iliuta Rosenstern’s bed settees, frowning, they all write down the name. Sepi continues his investigation:

‘Tough name!’

‘Only a few years ago I found out from my mother what it means, since my father was atheist and he never told me, recently mother told me that the name means ‘Christ is risen!’ And father never told me, he was a true atheist and he taught me the same, to be a little atheist.’

‘It’s ok, there’s plenty of room for everybody on this earth.’

‘What matters is what kind of person you are!’

‘Exactly!’

‘Now, I’m no longer like that, I’ve been through a lot, I see things differently now.’

‘Your father named you, how is that since he was an atheist?’

‘No, nooo… the name is a legacy from my grandparents, from where they came from, originally, fromSerbia, and then here in Fabric.’

‘Wait a minute; let me get this straight, this Harriutiun Harriutiunian name means Christ is risen?’

‘Right.’

‘Really, no offence, but this seems like some kind of a joke somehow…’

‘So tell me, you went to school in Fabric?’

‘I only went until secondary school and then I went to trade school. I learnt trade, sculpture, pottery. I was also a driver, I liked driving very much, I have a motorbike, car and truck licence.’

‘Good for you! Ok, ok, we’re closing in on the airplane stuff. How did you come up with the idea?’

‘It’s nearly three years since I tried to leave by plane.’

‘But why, how did you come up with the idea?’

‘Look, for me it did not matter the escape per say, how do I say this, it mattered more the chance to strike these thieves who thought they guarded everything, and saw everything, and that it is impossible to make any moves without them knowing about it. I wanted to strike at them, those vile security scums who terrorize people and if I had managed that trick of mine it would have been truly an uppercut!’ Everybody fidgets on the two bed settees as if they had fleas. Sepi steps in:

‘Keep it down; we don’t want anybody to hear us!’

‘I said: look, father, I’m not killing anyone, I’m not stealing, I’m not hitting anybody over the head, I’ll build a plane and I’ll give then a clean, honest hit, given by an honest man from all points of view, and that is what got me going…’

‘Ok, ok, but what did you know about airplanes? How they work, what’s the deal with them, things are not that easy.’

‘Here’s how it is, you see sometimes that things fit together as if you had connected them yourself, you even have a neighbour that know a little about it and… how should I say this? Several coincidences contributed to my decision, as I said, I had just met a neighbour of mine down the street who knew about aerodynamics, stuff like that, the first time I saw him he was riding his bicycle and he had a small engine with a propeller in the back, and he was peddling…’

‘And what was his route, through parks… where did he go… downtown…’

‘No way, he was on Ion Creanga, onEcaterina Teodoroiu Street… and when I saw him, I said – this cannot be real, check this guy out the way his riding his bike with a plane engine!’

‘Is your father still alive?’

‘My father is dead. He didn’t live to see this tale; it would have probably killed him on the spot.’

‘Oh, poor guy!’

‘You know how it goes, he was a great Communist, well… he kind of realized, during the last few years…’

‘That things were not going well!’

‘Oh yeah, he realised that he was in with the enemy!’

‘There were a lot of true believers.’

‘My father was like that. He was devoted to it, not like those jackals. My father was one of those idealists that only saw the system – how it will be, and how good it will be, stuff like that.’

‘Sooo, Artie, you saw the guy with his aerodynamic bike.’

‘… and we became friends. Harri Holinek’s his name- …he still lives in our rented house, still there.’

‘Harri Holinek you say?’

‘Yes, that’s his name. He was a fine craftsman.’

‘Is he German…? You know, the name.’

‘Czech’

‘Well what do you know! And he’s also from Fabric? Or not?’

‘Yes, he’s from Fabric, but I don’t know where he was born, maybe in Freidorf like myself. I didn’t ask him.’

‘And how did you meet him, you saw him with his bike with the small plane engine and you said: how are you, tyke?’ Everyone laughed .

‘No, I didn’t meet him then. Some other time, I don’t know. A year passed by, two until someone took me to meet him. And after that, through visiting  Harri’s I started understanding the aerodynamics phenomenon, engines.’

‘Is he an engineer?’

‘He’s not, no, but he had a lot of papers on it, and he reads about aerodynamics, and talking to him I realized that: ‘wait a minute, it’s not that hard to build as I thought.’

 

***

 

It is a cold April morning;  certainly in the afternoon it will be warmer. Harriutiun Harriutiunian, also known as Artie, goes early in the morning to Harri’s house to grab the replica of a wing measure, a model, and to take it to Cornel, his friend from synthetics from Solventul factory, who has matrices over there and could make a fine job, but they need the exact measurement. They cast it out in plastic in the required dimension. He told him: ‘Cornel, look, I’m making a plane.’ ‘You’re making a plane’ he stared at him ‘man, you’re losing it, what do you mean you’re making a plane?’ Anyway, Cornel liked the idea and didn’t ask any more questions, ‘you’re making a plane and that’s it, it’s made, there are many craftsmen who think all kinds of things, how to build this or that. ‘This Artie is a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic and  makes all kinds of crazy stuff. Harri’s passes by in his aerodynamic bike. The propeller makes a buzzing sound one just loves to hear and the engine is purring. It’s a wonder the Police and the Security don’t get wise to this.  How can someone to go around in one of these things ? He’s lucky they can’t check every one; they can’t check each and every one. Half a year ago Artie’s father died and he didn’t get to see the craziness he and his buddies are doing because that would have broken his heart. Old Harriutiunian believed in Communism, he used to tell him of the Greek Communists and Tito’s partisans.  His folks originated somewhere around there. Artie’s grandparents were fromTimisoaraand over there the sickle and the hammer were very popular, not like over here, with these tykes from the party here in the county who only flap their mouths and steal everything and smokeKentand drink whiskey all the time. Old Harriutiunian died, and he didn’t get to see what his son is doing in the workshop on Musicescu corner with Hebe, where he was building his house for the past years.  He has a big workshop there, fifty square meters, he’s even walking around in it as we speak. He kept talking with Harri and Ispas: ‘we build the plane, we don’t steal anything from anybody, we build the plane and we leave by it’. Artie is so happy when his buddies agree with him: ‘it’s a deal Artie, if you say so, we do it, but we have to study the problem, it’s not that easy’. Those were the words of both Harri and Ispas and they kept getting all kinds of magazines with models they would build up to scale, it wasn’t that simple, they had to take into account their weight, on the whole they were three of them, each with his own weight and the wings were determined by this, they couldn’t do it any other way, it had to lift off, man, the problem was not that simple.’

 

***

‘… and I started to understand aerodynamics, the propellers… all connected with this flying stuff, and slowly, knowing my craftsman capabilities, and considering the facilities we had in the house we had built, with the tools and everything, having everything I needed I started working on it.’

‘And where did you say the house was?’

‘On Musicescu, corner with Hebe.’

‘And I understood everything from Harri, from the drawings, from our talks, he always explained how he did things, overall I really enjoyed working with him… there was another one, poor guy, his name was Ispas, he was an engineer, he killed himself eventually.’

‘You don’t say! He killed himself?’ Sepi turns to the other who sat crouching on Iliuta’s bed settees and warns them again that that wasn’t easy.

‘He probably crumbled under arrest. So, you said you had good conditions to take care of the problem?’

‘Yeah, yeah, they were great…’

‘But in your house, over there on Hebe, you must have had a big workshop, because you can’t snap your fingers and build an airplane.’

‘Of course, of course, I had one in my house. It was pretty big, about fifty square meters, it was enough, and a big hallway, it was enough, and as I was saying, talking with this friend of mine, and with Ispas, I wanted for us to build the airplane together: ‘look’ I kept saying ‘we can make a good job together, run away in the plane, man, no stealing, no nothing, we build and we run, man, and that’s it.’ And they all said: ‘of course, obviously!’ I was so glad… there was this engineer that committed suicide, he was very good at math, the best, he knew his numbers, that you couldn’t build a propeller just like that, if you wanted to make the propeller, how should I say this… work, anyway, it wasn’t that easy, there were some calculations, after some diagrams, and he knew how to make them, and so we got started.’

‘You made blueprints, or what?

‘Man, we started drawing; we also had a lot of magazines at his house.’

‘And you needed the wing’s span, it wasn’t that easy…’

‘We had several choices; we had to pick a certain type of airplane.’

Sepi turns to the obedient class of frontier students sitting down on bed settees and who were writing down in their notebooks conscientiously. He says:

‘Write down that they needed a plane for three people.’

Artie raises his hand:

‘That’s what I kept saying, even if it was pretty tough, imagine building a plane that can take three people, it was complicated as hell. Anyway, shortly I realized that I didn’t stand a chance to do anything with them because every time we started working more seriously, they backed off, and this and that, that they have families and they realized they were the family type… and cowards!’

‘Ok, ok, and what did that mean? You kept saying: let’s get this started, let’s lathe them, and bring in the materials…’

This time Artie turns towards those on the settees and yells at them like a teacher who discovers that none of them had made their homework:

‘This can’t keep on going, man, only with stories, and drawings, and figuring out diagrams. We have to put them in effect at some point. And then we got into a fight, you know how it is; many don’t have that practical side very developed. Especially when they’re taking chances, then they don’t even have that practical side developed at all! Look, I’m not saying that Harri didn’t do many of the things that needed to be done, but every time important things came up, he was either busy, or with his family. For me, the worst part was that they were state employed and I was an outlaw, I didn’t have a job, I was a rake, I made doors out of plywood, made a good living, had orders, but I was freelancer, illegal! And since they were either busy with their job and with their families, I quickly understood that we can’t make it between the three of us.’

‘And you didn’t tell them anything…’

‘Didn’t say much and I started getting busy.’

‘Working on it!’

‘By myself… I kept in contact with Harri, asking him this and that.’

‘You started gathering materials? What did you need?’

‘Want to know how I got started? With stuff that I could find out in the field, there were some irrigation pipes lying around there, abandoned.’

‘On the outskirts ofTimisoara?’

‘Yes! I also spoke to a buddy of mine and I paid him and he found me some pipes that I needed for the plane and I bought thirty meters, but of a certain kind, those with 3 millimetre walls, there were others thinner but they were no good.’

‘And how did you know you needed a thickness of 3 millimetres?’

‘How should I say this? The wind has an aerodynamic profile… Harri had several catalogues where several types of these here profiles were shown, and I chose one that on lower speed lifted more, that is it lifted off the ground more rapidly.’

‘The wing is important?’

‘Everything depends on it. And then I started designing it…’

‘And did those pipes need welding?’

‘No, no, I tested the pipes with two tons of bags of sand, I put them on the spots where they leaned, you understand? And I filled them with bags of sand and I noticed that on two tons the pipe curved. But it didn’t break. It was good enough for me, I didn’t need any math, and this was a one to four, almost one to five factor, so I didn’t have to be scared, there was no danger of curving, even less of tearing. And once I convinced myself of that, I got even more excited. If I had any serious doubts… you understand? There was no room for doing something without thinking it through, this was serious, otherwise you didn’t stand a chance!’

Sepi nods and turns to those who sit on the settees and write down in notebooks.

‘Obviously, no doubt about it.’

‘I was building something that I was about to leave in, not something I was doing just because! Anyway… obviously I didn’t know how to pilot a plane, there was no way of me knowing that, I had made some tests on the ground but that was as wholesome as a shoulder of mutton to a sick horse. Now I have the courage to say that if I had managed to fly, I would have died. No doubt about it!’

‘You would have died, wouldn’t you? We thought the same. You would have fallen out of the sky, tumbling down!’

‘Obviously, no doubt about it. I would have died on the spot.’

‘Ok, carry on with the building process. What other materials did you need? You had the pipes. What else?’

‘I had slicker from Dermatina, I don’t even know what use it had at Dermatina.’

‘And how did you find out that this slicker was at Dermatina?’

‘I had friends, buddies all over, man… that wasn’t a problem… and I talked to them. I also found an engine, from an old Volkswagen Variant bus, which had the spare tire in the front, those were good engines, and I saw in a magazine how a German built an airplane with that engine.’

‘Aha, so you knew it would work on an airplane?’

‘Of course I did! I didn’t make it up, it was all out of Harri’s papers, and he also had many magazines fromRussia, because Russians are good at aircrafts. For instance, I didn’t put ailerons on my wings!’

‘Ailerons you say?’

‘Yes, ailerons! Everybody kept saying when they saw me: Well, but you don’t you have any ailerons?’

‘And ailerons are those…?’

‘Rear flaps that lift… like this… and then, the big wing… when you turn has to lift, when to go right, you lift the wing, you understand? This one didn’t have aileron!’

‘And you saw this in a magazine, this business with the ailerons?’

‘I saw it in a Russian magazine, the Russian didn’t install ailerons, twisted the wing, you understand?’

‘I understand you.’

‘The whole wing… and one of those half a meter wing when you twist it at one end to make the turn… it’s a manner of saying you twist it, only a little and there… you already got direction…’

‘Yeah, yeah and it takes you where you want! And did Harri speak any Russian?’

‘No, he didn’t.’

‘Fine, fine, but how did he came across those magazines?’

‘He had subscriptions, he was passionate about aircraft.’

‘Of course he was passionate about it, if he even installed an engine with propeller on his bike! You know, I thought since he was Czech, he might speak Russian.’

‘He has aircraft magazines fromCzechoslovakia, but the Russian ones are better.’

‘Fine, and you spoke with someone from Dermatina…’

‘He brought me the slicker…’

‘Did you pay him?’

‘Of course, I paid for everything; they earned a few tips down there at the factory. I took the engine from some private business, near this business there was a gasoline station, over there, how should I say this? Across the street from Electromotor. If you’ve heard of it… on Beghe’s bank.’

‘Right, right, I know where it is.’

‘And the funny part was, that there, at Electromotor, I had a friend that lathed for me some very, very complicated parts, so I had everything I needed right there, in that place…’

‘And what did you need? The propeller transmission… this, that…’

‘A lot of parts, lots of them… collars… what can I tell you, lots and lots of part! For suspension, for the wheels, for bearings…’

‘Right, you need wheels too. How did you get them?’

‘Well, I had some wheels from some wheelbarrows, you know the way things were back then, and I didn’t need anything special. Anyway, because I didn’t have access to aircraft materials, the plane was a little heavier than it was supposed to.’

‘But did it look like a plane?’

‘Of course it did, it wasn’t perfect but I upgraded the compression bearing on the engine and I got more power, instead of the gearbox I put in the bearing that had the axis for the propeller. Soooo… and with the engine thus assembled I went out in the field about five times, with a special support, I had a dynamometer, I anchored it to a tree and I switched it on to see how it pulled.’

‘It means that you had the propeller attached to the engine.’

‘I had the engine with the propeller and the axis, but I couldn’t very well come out into the street by plane, you can only imagine what would have happened on the street, and so I only took the engine on the field.’

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: www.egophobia.ro Bătrînul Harriutiunian credea în comunism

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.