A warm summer evening. Peace reigns in the city of Ploiesti. A constellation of glow worms lights up the public park, rises above the lindens, gets jumbled up with the stars. From the edge of town comes the barking of a dog. In the language of the dogs, which feel uneasy in the darkness, every question finds an immediate answer. Decent folk are sleeping at this hour. But in Ploiesti not all folk are decent, and that is why in many buildings there are lights in the windows. It is like the calm before the storm, as if time were about to give birth to a child, and as if the night, in which people toss and turn in their sheets because of the sticky summer heat, were in the throes of labour. The hour is past midnight ; the lateness is measured neither by silence nor by lights. And nevertheless, a traveller arriving right now might think that peace reigns in the city. How should one read the signs of silence ?
Far away in the heavens, the falling stars sense the mingling of human destinies. Many of them rudely interrupt the orbit of the planet Uranus, but from Ploiesti that distant celestial body is invisible.
On Earth, the people toil, each according to his own conscience, each in his own way ; they toil for a better world. On Annunciation Street there is an oil refinery. Thence comes the oil to light the lamps, and in the neighbourhood the smell makes itself felt even at night, when the city is asleep, when the workers are not at work. From the bowels of Prahova’s black earth comes true fire, and the people have learned where to find it. Good money comes from the flammable black gleam.
Crickets can be heard in the stillness of the night, however. It is a symphony for crickets and a summer night, a bas relief of delightful declamations carved on the monument of darkness. The burning air augments the febrile songs, and they do not disappoint : they are like telegrams transmitted in the night. A romantic soul cannot help but wonder : do people feel the same ? Are there souls that move in unison, like the wonderful orchestra of crickets ? Are there hopes that bind with each other, like bunches of stalks that interweave and together soar to the zenith ? Can such a thing be possible ?
The spire of the St Venera Church dominates the city from a stand of poplars, which tower around the place named Serbian Square, in honour of the Bulgarians from Bereasca, who fled Turkish persecution in Sliven and settled in this welcoming city at the edge of the hills. For the inhabitants of Ploiesti, St Venera is the centre of their world, not just a neighbourhood church. Its bell, with the silver clapper, can be heard from afar. To every viewer, whether on earth or in heaven, the urban panorama is sheer poetry.
Not far from St Venera is Ghita Calup’s grocery store, which has so many good things that the light flows differently inside. The air shimmers around the chunks of bacon and the smoked sausages, around the wonderfully scented Rucar hard cheeses, around the soft cheeses preserved in rosemary tinged brine. At Ghita Calup’s you can buy the best kvass, the coldest, purest beer, and the most authentic red wine, with its monastic aromas, wine perfect with sweet cheese cake at any hour of the day or night. You would not expect that at Ghita Calup’s you can also buy gentlemen’s hats and ladies’ silks, which are kept in the shop window, so that they will not absorb the smell of the good things kept inside. But the most wonderful things to be found in the shop are still the pork products. Ghita Calup has fresh bacon rind, cutlets perfect for flinging on the grill, and marinated ham just waiting to be roasted to the customer’s order. Things must be like this in heaven ; it would be impossible otherwise.
CEZAR BOLLIAC (alone on a dark stage, speaking with pathos, with the exaltation intrinsic to a character who quite simply cannot speak otherwise) : The news that comes to us from Paris is unbelievable. The news must be retold in an editorial for The Trumpet of the Carpathians. That newspaper is my home ! How often have I unburdened myself on its first page ? I shall postpone the article about the archaeological dig I carried out last summer and I shall write about the recent adventures of the extraordinary Léon Gambetta. The man is a true immortal, endowed with nine lives and perspicacity worthy of St Paul ! Listen to what happened ! We have all read about how he declared the Republic from the roof of the Hôtel de Ville, that wonderful place dear to every European. After the battle of Sedan, Emperor Napoleon III was captured by the Prussian Army. In Paris, that was Gambetta’s moment, although he had not sought it. Thus came to pass the prophecy made by Victor Hugo, who said that the fate of the imperial regime would be in keeping with the stature of its emperor. And so it was ! The Second Empire ended in squalor, and in its final political moments, who was at the Emperor’s side ? Nobody ! Victor Hugo said so eighteen years ago ! What perspicacity the wonderful Hugo showed, whom our writers ought to take as their model, both in terms of conscience and at the level of artistic respiration. But to return to Gambetta ! How many wise counsels he put forward ! And how little was he heeded ! Because of the nearness of the enemy, Gambetta asked the provisional republican government to withdraw to Tours. But they would have none of it, because he who leaves Paris loses France, so they said. And when Prussian troops encircled Paris, Gambetta left the city in a hot air balloon, whose name was communicated to all the world’s press ; it was called the Armand Barbès. Yesterday, 7 October 1870, Léon Gambetta soared above the enemy lines, amid the malevolent bullets of his enemies, and away to Tours, whence he will try to organise the resistance. What a wonderful fatherland to have such sons ! How inspired is Gambetta ! The present age knows no other statesman of such heroism, of such scope. Six or seven years ago, everybody was talking about Cinq semaines en ballon, the wonderful novel of the inexhaustible Jules Verne, with describes with a watchmaker’s precision all the places in the world where he has never set foot, all the tribes of savages inferior to us that he has never seen. Well, there were voices in France that said Jules Verne’s story was incredible, that it is impossible to cross Africa in balloon by the route suggested in the novel. Who would have expected that the evangelist of the republic, Gambetta, would make such a flight over enemy lines ? True, it all depends on the wind, one might say he was lucky, but there is also a great deal of science in it ! Why do our writers not come up with stories of hot air balloons and African adventures ? That is imagination ! That is the future of literature : both Victor Hugo and Jules Verne ! Whereas in our country, what news can you publish ? The day after tomorrow, Monday, 10 October, in Tirgoviste the forty one republicans are to be tried, who rose up against the government on 8 August this year. Chief among the accused is former captain Alexandru Candiano Popescu, who proclaimed himself the republication leader in Ploiesti. Second among the accused is the head of the so called republican police, Stan Popescu, a larger than life character, known to our readers from the account of his adventures in various countries of Europe. The prosecution is headed by Mr Jacob Lahovary, none other than the brother of the Minister of Justice. How about that for impartiality ! He will be seconded by two natives of Ilfov, Mr Simion Populeanu and Mr Nicu Dimitrescu, also known as Coco, and by Alexandru Liunaru of Ploiesti. The forty one accused are defended by lawyers Ion Cimpineanu, Anastase Stolojan, Nicolae Fleva, Alexandru Papiu Ilarian and their assistants. On the very same day as the trial begins in Tirgoviste, his excellency, our ruler, Carol, will be visiting Ploiesti. Does it not require a certain amount of courage to make such a visit on that day ? We find it hard to believe that he will not be booed, at least when the official gaggle passes through the workers’ district. True, he will be escorted by an entire regiment of the guard, that there will be horsemen and foot soldiers, and even troops from the border guard, since Ploiesti is built from flammable materials and the more aristocratic a person, the more he has to fear. And so there it is. On the one hand, adventure, soaring flight, politics conducted at the level of levitation, and on the other hand, our slithering, which it will be hard for us ever to relinquish. Who will be the one to bring together all these in a single format, in an overview of our times ?
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth