An introduction

Prior to 1989, the communist regime in Romania wouldn’t recognize the existence of homeless people, not even if threatened with a war. There was no news about the number of children taken in orphanages nor the real situation of such places. After 1989, there were numerous documentaries, articles in foreign media showing the miserable condition of many of the orphanages in Romania. Many people could not understand how it was possible that we, the Romanian people, didn’t know about this situation and were shocked by our lack of civic action.

“Civic” – a notion poisoned by communism since the very beginning of its existence.  The meaning of this word has grown fruits only to please “the great leader” in any country that suffered this regime. (Even if, if I take a careful look everywhere…) For example, a “civic” action meant to follow and collect information about your neighbors, sometimes even about your own family and to report that to the Securitate (Security), the force behind the Communist Party’s force. This organism, the secret agency similar to KGB or any other secret agencies of the world, spread other poisons in the air we breathed: fear, skepticism, discrimination, hatred, to mention just a few. We were taught to hate “the enemy”, which could be just anyone that could have attempted to illegally run away from here, not just the capitalist world. More critical, with severe consequences for people’s psychological development and their perception on life, was the idea that every one of us could be a potential enemy. So, when it comes to “we are all the same”, I dare to say no, we are not. All deeply rooted patterns of skepticism, of betrayal, mistrust and negative projection on absolutely everyone and everything out of the box of our cultural environment affected generation after generation. And it is a very, very hard task to change old patterns that live your life, that build your future.

Many generations had to pass to wash away the hidden resonance of “civic action”, its hidden mental representation, its effect on the conscious and subconscious individual mind. In my opinion, this notion is still in the middle of a cleansing process, redefining a paradigm of the collective consciousness of Romanian people. But there has been a great advancement in this field for the past 10 years or so.

When strongly and for a long time oppressed, humans tend to gather together and even help each other to surpass the difficulties. Either in little groups of two or more, or in larger groups of hundreds or thousands, humans unite due to their innate kindness. Music is the one most efficient tools to unlock this suppressed kindness, the loving and compassionate nature of a human being. Risen out of sound vibrations, emotions tend to create a coherent field of unity among people’s minds as well, due to the prior coherent field of their hearts.

For me, the change of millennia began with a book that changed my life: La Strada – Fragments of Life Between Fiction and Reality. This little book was not about the famous movie directed by Fellini, but about a band of street musicians and their orphanage experience.

When I met them, they had no name. They were simply playing together in subway stations or on certain spots of the main boulevards in Bucharest.  ‘La Strada’ seemed a very suitable name for them mainly because one of them had literally survived some of his childhood’s years living on the streets. Also, the word ‘strada’ in Romanian means street, and it is written and pronounced the same as the Italian word. (After all, the Roman Empire managed to conquer this region in 109 AD and blended its Latin into the natives’ language, the Dacians’ language. That’s why we can understand quite a lot of Italian and even Spanish and written Portuguese.)

The second part of this introduction will be posted but let me show you the first two chapters of this book, translated from Romanian. Due to the very dramatic experiences, some were transformed into fiction. Believe it or not, people would rather believe and accept fictional facts than reality itself. This was also the request of one of the members, to not publish everything he told me. But he accepted the fictionalization of his life story.

Chapter One

‘Where are you going, mom?’

As if it hadn’t been normal for him to ask her this question, startled, she needed a few seconds to overcome the fear.  She looked around over the child’s head at the people fussing up and down the street. Would anyone know? Then she caressed his head gently, took out a 10 Lei bill from her purse and handed it to him.

‘Here, you can buy whatever you want, bagels, soda, and candy. Make sure they don’t trick you with the change. … Take care … I am leaving now. You could stick around here. See you in two hours in front of the store, OK?’

‘OK, mom.’ answered the boy happily, staring at the money which could buy him so many bagels. He loved bagels. He loved many other things he couldn’t have. But now, with 10 Lei, he would buy-

‘Be good and take care, OK?’

‘Yes. What’s the time now?’

‘Eleven fifteen.’

‘OK, then, we’ll meet here at one fifteen, right? Bye, mom!’ and he rushed off to buy hot bagels with salt and poppy seeds, his mother watching him walking away. Then she turned around and left in the opposite direction, walking faster and faster.

‘I’d like three bagels … no, five, please!’

The vendor, a nice woman, could not suppress a smile at the sweet happy face in front of her.

‘How would you like them, salted or unsalted?’

‘Brown and salted.’

‘Brown? Shall we let them in the sun until they get a tan?’

‘No, I mean I’d like them well done.’

‘Well, then let’s look for five brown salted bagels.’

She picked the bagels and gave him the change.

‘Here you are and enjoy! Be careful, they are hot. And don’t eat them all at once!’

‘I won’t! Thank you. Bye-bye!’

He went off idly biting heartily from one bagel. He loved that crunchy crust, that smell of scorched salt and poppy, nowhere else to be found. He really loved bagels. First bite was always from the salted part, but then, he used to save the rest for the end. He could hardly hold the rest of the bagels in the other hand. A stray dog started to follow him, staring like a beggar at the hot steaming goodies in the boy’s hand, taking side leaps, wagging its tail with hope.

‘Hey, doggie, are you hungry? You’re hungry, right? Here, this is for you!’

The dog caught the morsel in the air and swallowed it almost without chewing and then leapt again, waiting for another morsel.

‘You’re really hungry, aren’t you? Up!’  

‘Good job! Here, one more!’

‘Here, doggie, you ate almost one bagel! That’s all! Now I’m gonna enter this store. You aren’t allowed inside, do you understand? Go now, go! Go, stop wagging your tail, I can’t help you. I can’t take you with me. You must stay here. But if you wish, you can wait for me. And then you’ll meet my mom, OK? I’ll see you later, in one hour or so. Bye now!’

He climbed the front stairs feeling so proud of himself. Alone, having money in his pocket, he was going to enter this big store he visited last year with his mom. But now he was going to climb the escalator by himself and if he had enough money he could buy a water pistol or a plastic car. There were also those cars with batteries and a wire, but they were expensive, he knew that. He had five Lei left. But, wow, there’s a truck! And it’s really big, and you can load and unload it…

‘Miss, how much is that truck?’

Twenty-five Lei’, answered the shop assistant sourly because she had been interrupted from her knitting.

‘Too expensive. I don’t think mom has the money to buy it.’

The shop assistant looked up again from her knitting.

‘You want something?’

”Yes, well, I don’t know … Do you have a water pistol?’

‘Yes.’

‘How much is it?’

‘Three fifty.’

‘Yeah? Then I’ll buy one.’

‘Do you have the money?’

‘Sure!’

Feeling proud of his new status- a serious customer, he put the money on the counter, not before saving one Leu and fifty cents. He looked at the shop assistant which was still ignoring him, continuing her knitting. He pushed the money a little farther on the counter hoping that she would notice. When she finished the row, put the knitting needles on the counter and stood up heavily, her feet numb after sitting too long in that chair. She fumbled in the shop window for a while and produced a green pistol.

‘You wouldn’t happen to have a blue one?’

‘No.’

A bit scared by the harsh voice of the woman, he took the pistol and went away. The stationery department was just across. He saw a pencil sharpener; exactly like the one his schoolmate had.  A Chinese cat-shaped one. The lady behind the counter seemed nicer and she wasn’t knitting.

‘How much is this one, please?’ he asked pointing to the yellow ceramic cat.

‘Three fifty.’

‘Oh, I don’t have this money. Thank you!’

‘You’re welcome.’

‘I bought a water pistol and I’m short of money now.’

‘But you’ve got yourself a pistol!’

‘Yes, I always wanted a pistol. All my classmates and pals have one and they always splash me. Now I can splash them back.’

‘And you splash the girls, too, right?’

‘Not me, but my friends do. But I won’t do that. I will fight only with the boys.’

‘Good, that’s what you should do.’

‘Can you tell me what the time is?’

‘Ten to twelve.’

‘I’ve still got one hour and … twenty-five minutes. I’m meeting my mother in front of the store at a one fifteen.’

‘You’ve got plenty of time!’

‘Yes, but I don’t know how to use it.’

‘You could walk around the store.’

‘That’s right. But I don’t have money to buy anything.

‘Just take a look and if you find something that you want, you tell your mother when you meet again.’

‘ You are right. Thank you. Bye, now.’

‘Bye-bye!’

Very proud of his pistol, he placed it under his arm and started to enjoy the third bagel. Colder, it tasted differently. And it was even more crunchy. Definitely these bagels were much better than the ones from the place near his school. 

He headed for the clothes department. They had new school uniforms. After all, it was the end of August, and school would start soon. He needed one, too, and in a couple of years he would get another type of uniform, the fancy one, blue shirt with no polka dots, just like the older kids. A blue shirt with the red scarf. Now he had to wear that polka dots shirt that looked like a table cloth. The coat was covering most of it, thanks God. Mom should buy him a new suit. His trousers were short now and the coat was so tight that he couldn’t wear a T-shirt underneath. One hundred and thirty-five Lei! Wow, that’s a lot of money! One hundred and thirty-five bagels! And another thirty Lei for the shirt … that’s one hundred and… sixty-five Lei.

He went away, a bit nervous about climbing down the escalator. That was a different feeling he wasn’t comfortable with. But on the first floor they sold TV sets, radios, recorders, vinyl records, tape and he was fascinated by such things. Someone was just testing a pop music record. They also had radios that worked with batteries. You could take them anywhere. You didn’t need to be tied up to a plug. Victor, his neighbor, had one; his parents had bought him one last year and when Victor was ill and stayed at home, and he went over to help him with the homework. That’s how he saw that magic radio. At first he thought it was a cassette recorder, but Victor told him that it was a portable radio, with batteries. It could also be plugged in. It was incredible! You could take that radio  anywhere, in front of the block, in the park, just anywhere.

He went away, a bit nervous about climbing down the escalator. That was a different feeling he wasn’t comfortable with. But on the first floor they sold TV sets, radios, recorders, vinyl records, tape and he was fascinated by such things. Someone was just testing a pop music record. They also had radios that worked with batteries. You could take them anywhere. You didn’t need to be tied up to a plug. Victor, his neighbor, had one; his parents had bought him one last year and when Victor was ill and stayed at home, and he went over to help him with the homework. That’s how he saw that magic radio. At first he thought it was a cassette recorder, but Victor told him that it was a portable radio, with batteries. It could also be plugged in. It was incredible! You could take that radio  anywhere, in front of the block, in the park, just anywhere.

He drank half the glass breathlessly and then asked the vendor what time it was. There was still a quarter of an hour to spend. He will tell his mother about the uniform and maybe she will buy him that sharpener that cost three fifty. After he finishes his drink he will go in front of the store and wait for her, though he could see her from here, too but she was very specific about the meeting place: the Crane store. He tried to stuff the two bagels into one pocket and thought he could ask the man at the soda stand to fill his pistol with water. But he gave up the idea. The man would have refused him anyway. His eyebrows looked exactly like mom’s ex-boyfriend’s.

CHAPTER TWO

IN:   Do you perform only on the street?

FS:   Mostly. But we have also performed on stage when we’ve been invited.

IN:   How long have you been busking?

FS:   Since we left the orphanage in ’95. Well, we began playing in ’94.

IN:   Do all members of the band come from the same orphanage?

FS:   Yes, that’s where we met, where we became friends and started to perform together. While we were still students, there was a larger group, there were about forty people in the mandolin band, even after the revolution there were still many of us, but we realized that in order to perform on the street we had to split up, and so we came to this formula with five members.

IN:   I know that there are two other bands busking – they also have mandolins, a double bass, and guitars. Do they also come from the orphanage?

FS:   Oh, yes.

IN:   What made you choose to do this?

FS:   What other choice did we have? When we left the orphanage we realized that we had no place to live, no jobs, and no other way to earn our living. OK, each of us had graduated from a school, and apparently we had a profession, but who would hire us?

Anyway, we love music and this is what we wanted to do. When our teacher got us invitations for concerts in Scotland and Ireland, I mean the big band, right after the revolution, we saw people singing on the street there and earning their living that way. This was the best chance we had suddenly become aware of. We had no idea that people could perform on the street and receive money for their performance. When we returned to Romania we thought we could give it a try.

IN:   Did you meet any obstacles with the police? Were you allowed to busk?

FS:   There were some situations, not too many. It was up to each policeman. It also happened that people in the street stood up for us and didn’t let the zealous policemen confiscate our instruments and fine us.

IN:   How do passers-by react?

FS:   Some smile, put money in the box, others just pass by and don’t even look at us, but there are very few people who seem to be disturbed by our music.

Maybe those who look at us in a strange way think that we make a lot of easy money. Many times we’ve told that we are good, that we do a good job, congratulations, and stuff like that. But there were some, very few, who swore at us and told us to get out of there.

IN:   Now that you have released two albums, that your career becomes more and more promising, do you feel happy, fulfilled?

FS:   We are very happy. A lot of influential people promised us a lot of things but nothing has happened so far. So when this label called us for an audition and they told us that they agreed to release a cassette we couldn’t believe it. One week later we went to the studio for recordings and we still couldn’t believe it. We signed a contract that stipulated rights and obligations on both sides, and we couldn’t believe it was going to happen, that we were about to produce our own album and that there were people who really believed in us and offered us this enormous opportunity. We are proud that we managed to get it all by playing only, that we can impress people with what we do and not with our past. Yes, it is impressive to learn that children who grow in orphanages can achieve something, too, but there are many people who think that such a place can produce only thieves, bums and criminals.

IN:   What is your story? How did you get to the orphanage?

FS:   My mother abandoned me on the street.

IN:   How old were you?

FS:   I was nine.

4 thoughts on “An introduction

  1. Very touching, a story that reminds us why we are human and that all the people should be respected and cared. I will certainly search the book you mentioned, Daniela. I’m looking forward to read it. And this story… deserves as many shares as possible. Thank you so much! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Mihai! I am honored to see that you liked this translation so much, that you reblogged it. Thank you! I still have some Romanian copies saved from a little flood that occurred years ago. I’ll send you one.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Colțul Cultural and commented:
    Prior to 1989, the communist regime in Romania wouldn’t recognize the existence of homeless people, not even if threatened with a war. There was no news about the number of children taken in orphanages nor the real situation of such places. After 1989, there were numerous documentaries, articles in foreign media showing the miserable condition of many of the orphanages in Romania. Many people could not understand how it was possible that we, the Romanian people, didn’t know about this situation and were shocked by our lack of civic action.

    Like

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