[From Berlin ist Mein Paris]
by Carmen-Francesca Banciu [Germany]
translated from German by Elena Mancini
It was. A garden on hilly ground. At the edge of the village. Behind it the mouth of the forests. And the wilderness. And the acacia and the elder pollen in early summer. The village was high up in the foothills and the summer heat parched the fountain. We retrieved the water from the spring on the mountain. The freshness beat against the glass. It was precious. The water. The heat was unbearable, and the dust of the parched earth would scratch your throat. Burn your eyes.
The heat was unbearable. During the day, you’d have dreams of being a snake. Or a lizard on a rock. Sprawled out in the splendid sun. The garden was very big. The harvest rich. And the day unending.
The whole summer long, we would live under the pear tree. In the pear tree lived the woodpecker, the squirrels and the many bees. The pear tree was a fragrant dome. The pears hung heavily over us. Boxes and boxes of honey fragrance. So many pears. We made marmalade and juice. And we distilled the most ambrosial schnapps. And despite all of that, half of the pears on the tree would be left over. For the birds. The squirrels. For the ants. For the earth.
My children lived in the pear tree and would eat breakfast there. The tree was a dome. Our roof. Our protection. From the rain. From the annihilating sun. And from the spring nights. From the spring nights when one would come from the city and the moon would look like silver magic over the bent boughs. The moon would suffocate in its blossoms. The blossom fragrance would float in the air. And they would fall to the ground like snow.
In autumn, the village would sink under the sharp odor of the goats. The billy goats seeking mates. An odor that rose up into the high mountains. It was the season for weddings. In winter the landscape would rest. But the village would be bustling.
The schnapps would burn and spread the smell of summer on the tongue. Then it would slide into the limbs and into the heart. Pain would transform into a dormant island. And that hurt.
It was. A garden on hilly ground. The cherries. The apples gleamed. The precious water. The wash on the mountain by the spring. Schlepping the wood from the forest. Cooking in the blazing heat. We would exchange the bread and batteries that we brought with us from the city in a big rucksack for eggs in milk in the village. When the bread was gone we bought ourselves a goat. We’d take potatoes with us to the city. Cheese and quinces.
Dried prunes and fruit preserves. For the long winter. We’d bring back summer warmth and a piece of hope that would help us get by until the following spring.
We’ve lost the survival garden. It was sold. Even so, it’s still ours. We take it with us everywhere we go. And we tread it with reverence. We can never go back to the actual garden. This is our chance. Our chance to make ourselves at home in Berlin.
I come to Berlin with a manuscript in my suitcase. The most precious things in my life arrive later. My family.
Since we’ve been here, we’ve been able to leave everything behind us. No books. We didn’t even take our family photos with us. This is our chance to make ourselves at home here. We don’t busy ourselves, cleaning our family silverware and shedding tears over its previous owners, our ancestors. Unencumbered, we buy ourselves new silverware from Zillemarkt. We receive furniture donations from our friends and strangers. Pieces that are filled with the life stories of others. Of those we don’t know. We are curious about the stories of others. And curious about our future stories.
We feel at home. That’s a grounding feeling. And when we did finally bring our photos, books and silverware here, it had a different meaning to us. It carried a different weight. The objects were liberated from their emotional weightiness.
Elegance is important to me. Elegance is not a question of money. Rather a question of attitude. Imagination and the ability to combine things. Harmony. The ability to be in tune with oneself. And with the cycles of nature.
In Romania, we lived without giving thought to the cycle or the environment. We ate strawberries in spring and apricots in the summer. In winter we ate quinces, apples and dried prunes. We peeled the vegetables and gave the remains to the chickens. That was a necessity. We lived in the big city. We lived at the edge of the city. On the fringe of society. We survived. Staying far away from ideology. In Berlin, we didn’t know what to do with our vegetable peels and our left over bread. We asked ourselves what happened with nature’s cycle. We became conscious of the environment. The environment, die Umwelt, is a word that I have not gotten for some time. [So many words related to it in the German language begin with “un.”] All the time I hear about “the Unwelt.” Like Unwetter, meaning storm, Unkraut meaning weeds, Unmensch, meaning barbarian. I don’t understand how it’s possible to for one to stand up for something that he or she rejects at the same time.
Elegance is important to me. As is harmony with nature’s cycles. With the environment, die Umwelt. With the world around me. I learn to understand the world environment. And other words. I learn that life is different here. It’s also become my life. Since then I avoid left over bread. I eat strawberries from Brandenburg, when they ripen in Brandenburg. I scrape my vegetables with care. No longer do I peel them. I adapt by doing that which I hold to be right. There’s a lot here that I deem to be good. But sometimes I don’t know right away, what’s good. I learn to not to put my reason before my intuiton. Even in the big city, there is a life that is in harmony with nature. Even in Berlin.
My children were born in a big city. In Bucharest. On whether we’re homesick?
There is no homesickness, when there’s no inner conflict. And I’ve not been in conflict for a long time. There is a place in Romania that I sometimes miss. It’s a garden on hilly ground. In a village in the mountains. In this place we spent our last two summers in Romania. Two horribly hard summers. It’s a time of our lives that only our memories will preserve for us. The place itself we’ve lost. We don’t even have photos from this time. But nothing can erase this place from my heart.