Around about 1972, Wep drafted the following letters. It is not known whether they were ever sent. It would be nice to think that he was able to re-establish contact with Stephania Rotaru but I suspect it never happened. There is a good chance Stephania is still alive (81yrs in 2016) and if so, I hope she learns of this blog and I get the chance to meet with her one day and share some of these old recollections – Peter Pidgeon
[Most likely addressed to the Director, Institutul Roman Pentru, Relatile Culturale cu Strainatatea, Bucaresti]
During Oct 1956 I had the honour of being a guest in your Institute. The charm and beauty of your country continues to grow in my memory.
Two charming young ladies met me on arrival from Australia at Bucuresti airport. Being a sentimentalist, I would like (after all these years) to convey to each a remembrance of thanks and appreciation.
Is it possible for your department to forward these remembered friends the enclosed letters. I suppose they have both married and changed names. Could you please go through the records and forward these notes? These were very nice to a lonely stranger from the Antipodes. If it is not possible to trace these girls after all the years, would you please return the letters (which are not important) to me or advise me that.
To the bossy little unabashed girl who loved artists.
For no reason at all, since I was looking at gloomy television forecast of the earthquake doom of San Francisco, I remembered my mica mamitza Stephania. How I must have bored you – yet you and Utzo were tolerant of me.
You will not remember my unexpressed enjoyment of a picnic lunch by the roadside of chicken and capsicums & what-here you. Or even my picking up of the old mother-in-law pears outside Aiud. Or the way the wine master made the motions of kissing your hand in the cellars after we had drunk & exulted about his collective brandy.
Can you remember (no, it was meaningless work for you) as I do in your new and strange land being up above Sinai, cold as frogs with snow all about and the (to me) silly little falsetto whistles from the express so far below in the valley where you made me get with the Perronts(?).
You will not remember Utzo bumping a mudguard & having to get it fixed at Orasul Stalin (Brasov) and you drearily walking with me all over town looking for him & eve(ntually) finding the villain near the railway crossing & the pigs squealing off in the trucks. No of course not. But I remember your charming boyfriend who broadcast in English. He was very nice yet I suppose you never got around to marrying him. So many things I recollect after sixteen years, so meaningless, so really unnecessary to any great communist purpose as you had at that time.
The remembrance of your Madonna almond eyes dissolved all the edges off your brittle independence. Why was your boyfriend so much softer and tolerant?
However, if I was too shy or too lousy to show it – I loved you for being my mamitza, still do.
No matter if you are fat and nearly forty – full of bambinos & polenta, please say one kind memory if you remember.
You must remember photographs I sent you, the magnificent church at Alba Lulia.
An excess of vino has occasioned all these sentimental reminiscences. If ever the message arrives to you, please send me a little note – tell me if you are happy – don’t, if you are not.
It may surprise you that I remember almost every day and every meal I had with you in Bucaresti & all over.
“Being the impressions of three Australians visiting Romania”.
[Transcribed from a draft of a proposed book in three parts by artist, William Edwin Pidgeon; writer, Frank Hardy; and actor, Pat O’Shaughnessy who were the three invitees to Romania and who were subsequently spied upon by ASIO for possible subversive activities. Wep’s archives contain several letters between himself and Frank Hardy in an attempt to get Frank to complete his section. In the end, Frank failed to live up to his end of the agreement and in 1958, Wep approached Clem Christesen, editor of Meanjin journal who himself had visited Romania in 1957. Clem advised he would like to publish it as a small book and urged to proceed without Hardy; perhaps even an article in Meanjin as well. Wep was reluctant feeling it was unfinsihed without Hardy’s contribution. Funding was also a problem and it is not yet determined whether it ever did get published.]
PART ONE – AN ARTIST’S IMPRESSIONS
Two girls who met me at the airport said it was a Romanian “Indian Summer”.
The airfield boundaries simmered and jingled in a brown haze of Australian like heat, and apart from the presence of the fancy buildings and the strange rapid speech, I could have been back home.
A re-emergence of summer had stretched right back over Europe-perhaps had heated the Hungarians into their disastrous autumn.
Beneath the photographically watchful eyes of Stalin and Gheorghiu Dej, my hostesses introduced themselves with the ease and grace which, I found later, was part of the charm of the Rumanians. Somehow they reflected this smoothness of the boulevarded approach of the city to come.
It was a nice city from the air-not over big-ringed by lakes and an easy countryside. Comfortable looking too.
But what can one see from 1000 m of the lives, aspirations, frustrations and despairs of a million people below?
Sleek, efficient Mrs Suteu, responsible for the care of English-speaking visitors, and young Stefanie Rotaru, with Italian Madonna eyes, did their best to explain.
Bucharest, founded on the site of a Roman Fortress, has had a long and chequered history, overrun often by Turkish, Austrian, German and Russian invaders.
Many armies, sweeping into Romania, carrying off the produce of its soil; but the people remaining; proud of their distant Roman connections; speaking a Latin language; maintaining their distinctive quality; an isolated group now associated with others of alien tongue in a common endeavour to achieve some measure of the theoretically perfect state of socialist welfare.
Down the broad tree-lined streets, through the swelling autumn leaves, past the showpiece parks, past the patient women sweepers, and squashing over the mongrel chestnuts which an occasional stooping figure is gathering for pig food. Past the Russian Memorial, its beds ablaze with red salvia, threading through the once ritzy embassy quarters, and down a long and narrow shopping street to the Athenee Palace Hotel which sits on the end of the square that fronts the ex-royal palace. The Athenee, main accommodating house for foreign visitors; in prewar days the stomping ground of elegant women, diplomats, officers and big commercial men; now a bedlam of tongues, skilfully unscrambled by the young interpreters. It is as though one were living under the clock in the Central Railway Station. It is all talk, meetings and appointments-interminable comings and goings. Rough red wines, beer, the inevitable tzuica (plum brandy) and the favourite dry white wine-a hock drunk with mineral water-and food! Mountains of food, at prices well beyond the average pocket. Tiny national flags brighten the tables, identifying this group as Bulgarians, that as Koreans, another as Swedes, there are Italians, and here Australians. Footballers, union delegates, poets, marksmen, painters and agriculturalists, anything you like, some on goodwill missions, others on jours of critical investigation, some merely competitive sportsmen from neighbouring Communist states, but all guests of the Romanian government which seeks to extend its relations with foreign countries.
I never had time to see the inside Bucharest. What lay behind the diverse facades, those plastered fillers that sat so discreetly behind the fading leaves. Many must have been built since 1918, for the population was then only 350,000. French culture dominated the city, influencing much of the domestic architecture with its delegates. The hierarchy appear to reside in the more well kept of these homes, while others with a tired look, are rumoured out to those of more humble status. No one seems interested in the maintenance of these often charming lodgings, for revolutionaries societies are inordinately proud of, and busy with, their latest and greatest projects. Over occupied mansions are falling apart at the corners, while the interiors of full of inhabitants who are seething with dialectical ideas on how to build the future.
Their enthusiasm is tremendous, and is apparently projected completely outward in terms of bigger and better edifices for the glory of the socialist state. The visitor is whisked off to the barren acres, whereon more and more monotonously designed workers’ flats in varying states of construction rise out of the ground like an overnight crop of our own seaside flats. But the new amenities are there-more light, better plumbing, more playgrounds, more space.
Whole suburb-the 23rd August suburb, brought into being as a celebration of the National Liberation Day (August 23 is the national holiday of the Rumanians. On that date the whole country celebrates the anniversary of the day in 1944, when the Romanian Communist Party led the outbreak of insurrection against the Germans). Everything is new and wonderful and breathtaking for the people, because it has been built by the people for the people.
The 23rd August Open-Air Theatre, which I would have liked to have seen in operation, but did not-a beautiful concrete shell, with a neo-Grecian concrete stage beneath a lovely autumn night. It is in projects like this that one senses the urge for the full life. People with scarcely a pants to their suit clamouring for, and getting, riches in the simplicities of art. Occupying considerably less space than a Drive in Movie, the theatre is quite elemental ineffective design (see illustration).
In a large recreation ground in front of the entrance to the theatre the more active and intrepid of the 23rd of Augustians can devote themselves to soccer, high jumps and sundry other death-defying sports. A steel tower 80 metres high caters for those who are too rugged for the Greek chorus. Just for fun one can climb up this glorious symbol and leap therefrom to the ground-with the aid of a small parachute, if you are so inclined. Fortunately, my interpreter Stefanie, was not an enthusiast. Behind all this the 23rd August Steelworks belches fourth flame for the future.
Also included in this terribly healthy suburb is the 23rd August Stadium. An enormous bowl, bulldozed out of the ground; a concrete saucer seating 100,000 people around a standard Olympic field.
But Bucharest’s real pride and joy is the Scinteia House Printing Centre, situated by the lovely Lake Herastrau at the edge of the city. Set in 98 acres of formally laid out parkland, this huge building, designed in typically Russian neoclassical style, is 220 yards in length and depth, and culminates in a tower 327 feet high. The central block accommodates the Cultural Administration offices and the literary workers. The wings, stretching to each side and behind, how’s the machinery which produces practically all Rumania’s newspapers, educational publications and cultural and scientific books. Begun in 1950, Scinteia had one rotary newspaper press in operation by 1951. By 1953 twelve presses were producing, on the average 2,500,000 newspapers a day. The building was completely finished 23rd August Day 1956. Daily production also includes 50,000 magazines and 80,000 to 100,000 books. The floorspace is vast, allowing more than ample clearance for all machines and the whole place is extremely clean; in fact, the working conditions could not be bettered. There is a concert hall, library, club, canteen and so on.
When you leave you sign the Visitors Book saying how fine it is (which it is), you feel that it’s all happened before; this tagging round on some Good Fellowship excursion, through a new steelworks or the latest in synthetic biscuit factories.
Massive buildings, showpieces, impressive portents of the future they may be-but I liked better to wander alone early in the morning round the more ordinary parts of the city and to watch its life begin.
Down past the ex-Royal Palace, unimpressive and dead looking in the cool autumn mist, yet alive within, for it houses now the capital’s Art Gallery, with its superb El Grecos and carefully roped off Rembrandts.
Down to the bottom end of the town, passing some womenfolk queued up for short supplies. Round by the old massive Palace of Justice, a turn to bring you down by the river, the Domboditza, of which it is said, “he who drinks of the waters comes to drink again”. Not that one can imagine accepting any part of this now scruffy stream which seems to disappear beneath the bustling square, perhaps to re-appear somewhere further on in an even sadder state. Up the ancient hill to arrive at the heart of the old civic centre, and a short way on, the barracks alongside as your footsteps clatter over the cobbled streets, through which the laden tram cars run down to the city and a new day.
Back over the river, dawdling to watch the little stands offering their freshly cooked pastries and sweets. Through a fine park its drives and footways circling the lake, the skiffs quietly moored and the statues gleaming in the early light. Through a market square to which the outside peasants have brought, in their quaint carts, the daily offering of vegetables and fowl.
A cold snap has stampeded the proletariat into doing up their shirt collars, and an amazing collection of headwear comforts the hitherto hatless heads. Caps, berets, battered felts, and occasional homberg, and assorted styles in strakan bob up and down the streets. Now looming up a railway station to dole and dreary to be associated with the romance, fictional and otherwise of the Orient Express. It IS Bucharest Station and London is a whole continent off.
Later you realise you have got yourself bushed, for maps of the city seem to be unobtainable, and in the quiet residential area no recognisable landmark is in sight. It is impossible to ask where you are, or the way back. Nothing for it but to follow a tramline and hope it leads you to, and not from, the city itself. It is a lucky day and a couple of miles more place you nicely on the spot and just in time for breakfast at the pub. Such pleasant and completely unrestricted wandering sets you up in the receptive mood for the conducted round that starts at nine.
Museums, art galleries, Pioneers palaces, Houses of Creation-everything that is visible and tangible evidence of economic emergence. The sensing of it all as a national possession, makes the people feel that the construction, or whatever it is, is in itself unique, whereas it is the relationship of the thing to society, that is unique. Rumanians are building big-but so is every other country in the world. What is of real interest is the hearts and minds of the men and women; strange ways, remaining strange, because there is no easy communication with them; for even the most willing interpreter, as I had, leaves you with but half a tongue. You are seated down to a great deal of bones from which the meaty subtleties are gone before you start.
But you can sense the enthusiasm. Bookshops jammed with paper backed volumes on every cultural and technical subject. Foreign language books in English, French, German and Russian-above all Russian-the secondary educational language-all the scientific works copied straight from the Soviet presses. It is somehow moving to see these, until recently, comparative illiterate people taking such huge gulps of knowledge-it is a banquet, and all are feasting.
It was very pleasant to be driven 200 miles or more up country. Ute, the chauffeur, was twenty-three, Stefania twenty-one, so in good spirits, I stripped a few years and the picnic atmosphere was not altogether extinguished. At my least request we would pull up, either to paddle in the oil wells of Ploesti, contemplate the tobacco crops near Sibui, take a photo of Aiud, or scramble off the road near Sebes to gather the wild small pears which a passing peasant couple happily observed were, “Pere padurete pentru soacre” (wild pears for the mother in law). How right they were. But the chicken and ham and beer by a stream in the Carpathians had more than made up for that. In the night the high shrill notes of the locomotives bounced back and forth between the mountains until they slowly echo off and join the silence of the snow and pines.
In Orasul Stalin dear Ute, in our absence, had squeezed a mudguard, God knows against what other car. For cars were few and far between as the girl and I found out when we looked for him as we passed down the long dark street that had neither turning nor offshoot for a mile and whose houses were shuttered against the night and the dark silhouettes which moved in and file down the highway and who were the lifeblood and hope of the radiant town of Stalin to come. From the hills came this sweep of the chill winds bearing with them from the railway yards the grunts of the socialist pigs on the way to the proletarian ham. And still no Ute. But he turned up later, car and all, not a bump to be seen.
My mica mamitza (little mother-I had to call her that because I could hardly eat or drink without her help) was somewhat sour-but, being young, she forgot quickly when dear old Ute later at the Hotel dinner offered her his latest in the dancing line. Greatly emboldened, I asked a Hungarian lass for a dance. Beyond the marble floor, in the more reticent cubicles, sat the English ambassador, ginger-ish and impenetrable. I enjoyed my dance but neither of us could make any sense of my execrable pidgin German. But it made her laugh.
Transylvania-I suppose everybody has licked their lips in Ruritanian contemplation of princes and swarthy knights, of Draculas, werewolves, vampires and crosses of oak.
Transylvania-musical comedy-“the Gypsy Baron” and all that, perhaps true in the far off; but on to Cluj the road cuts through a plateau as commonplace as the Monaro complacently rolling its brown ancient plains against the Australian Alps.
And not a fence to be seen. All the land so carefully gone over and worked through the centuries that each square foot is recognisable, and forever placed in its relationship with its neighbour stop whole families of peasants stop of their timeless four wheeled carts, drawn by a pair of oxen, or more expensive horses, streaming out of the frequent hamlets, towards their known and inviolate plot, marked only by the mutually recognised boundaries invisible in the waiting soil. Here the cart rests, and the oxen go to the plough, the man to his furrows and the women to their cutting and sowing. All day in the fields with a break for the midday meal and a pull at the painted clay water pitchers calling in the shade of the wagon. At dusk, a heel to toe stream back to the village, the younger people exchanging carts-holding hands.
Compactly built villages reflect the native love of colour. Long continuous plastered walls, broken by the courtyard entrances arching over the sturdy wooden doors, are reminders of the days of fortification was more than a picturesque design. The individual residences gaily painted in pinks, ochres, greys, whites and ultramarine.
And the shepherds; older than revolution and war, dressed as you fondly hoped they would be. In tight white trousers, white aprons, embroidered waistcoats and sheepskin cloaks, they shout and batter the sheep (so many of them the black and long-haired dreams of fairy tales), off the road before the approach of the imperious car.
The small flock of bleating animals, three belonging to one of the peasants in the village, five belonging to another, to others, one, four, two or six, all slowly eating their way to the higher pastures with the community shepherd their guide and protector as in Biblical days. In the fenceless pastures they must be watched, in the mountains there are wolves, so their shepherd is always with them, and with him his flute and his folksongs.
The Rumanians are energetic in keeping their folk music vital and alive. Everything possible is being done to record and print extent tunes from every province in the country, and much encouragement is given to the emergence of new themes of folk song. Ballads like “The Song of the Tractor” or “The Light (electric) Has Come” extoll the symbols of the new life in the same way as other generations honoured the images significant to them.
The music which is collected by the Folklore Institute could nominally be divided into three categories:
Cantice Batrineste — historical or legendary ballads
Doine — love songs and elegies
Hore — lively lyrics and dances
The three principal dance forms being:
Batuta — an ancient national dance performed by men only
Pe-Picior — in which each man has from 2 to 5 partners
Hora — a round dance with swaying rhythmic movement embodying varying steps and tempo.
From Leon Feraru’s “Development of Romanian Poetry”, we learn that the doina is the lyric poetry of the Romanian peasantry, and expressed almost all emotions, but is usually offered as a song of longing, or sorrow. By some strange convention, perhaps derived from the peasant’s love of nature, or some primitive form of nature worship, the doina usually begins with the words “A green lead of a … (Rose, oak, or some other flour or tree)”.
“The doina tells of need, grief, textile and death. It takes the shape of threat against oppression, it celebrates wine and carousel, contemplates and worships the Creation. And persistently it intones love. The doina follows the peasant, step-by-step, from infancy until his end — from lullaby to elegy”.
Longing is the grand theme. An unknown author says, “Longing is the invention of the Devil. Longing torments the soul, clings to the soul like a rambler and puts the heart on fire.” The sign is equally disturbing: “I have side so much,” laments one doina, “I have side so hard, that my heart pains me, my soul burns. I have side so much that the Lord became angry, and not it no longer snows, it no longer rains and no longer falls the dew.”
There now exists a considerable number of popular folk music orchestras, the most famous being the Barbu Lautaru ensemble (lautari meaning village fiddlers). This group was formed some years ago for the purpose of experimenting with the further progression of folk music, which to these people, is a living art, capable of greater expression and expansion. These groups present airs from the most remote areas and generally help to keep the Rumanians keenly aware of their own rich musical heritage, as against the pop and bepop of overseas infiltration. The peasants are being taught to make their flutes and suchlike instruments in a standard pitch-they are taught ensemble work, and the tutors in turn, learn from the peasants who are often extremely individualistic in their musicianship. It is, in fact, a two scheme of education.
In the Athenee Concert Hall I heard the Barbu Lautaru group give a most exciting two hours concert, playing the whole time with seemingly inexhaustible vehemence. Forty-five musicians-tarragots-all playing in ruthless fury. The emotion flowing in controlled and canalised perfection-faster and faster and faster to an atomic cessation. The great seething vibrance cut dead, with the precision of a guillotine, by the downbeat of conductor Budisteanu’s baton. Soloists were many who had been proclaimed laureates of their craft at different musical festivals, the most popular being Maria Tanase, a slender good-looking girl who sang Gypsy songs with passion. The great cries of “Bis! Bis! Bis!” (which means encore) were ignored only by sheer physical exhaustion.
This is not intellectual music. The innumerable dances and laments that poor fourth from all the provinces of Romania come from the heart the erstwhile illiterate peasant. His grief, his Geordie, his dancing, and his history are all put to music, and passed on in the most indelible way father to son, and from mother to daughter. Music without the complications of intellectually constructed form. As elemental as the earth, and the people who grew and died on it.
More serious music is not neglected. At the concert Hall I heard a visiting Yugoslav conductor give a combined classical and modern performance; and a few days later, a chamber music recital led by a leading Italian artist.
Apart from the two hot months August and September, the opera houses in Bucharest and the bigger provincial towns are open every night to full houses. Prices are not low, although there are concession nights for youth and factory worker groups. The Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Romanian People’s Republic in Bucharest was built in a few months for the World Youth Festival of 1953. Much involuntary labour was incorporated in the building. The interior is most comfortable, and largely elegant with its sweeping stairways and marbled paved foyers and bars.
Being largely of Latin descent the Rumanians are quite at home with the emotionalism of the Italian Opera. I had the good fortune to see performances of Aida and Rigoletto, but missed seeing any of the works of the Russian composers.
Presentation of both these works was on spectacular and traditional lines. There was none of that portable stage ware one associates with touring opera companies. Egyptian gods (albeit papier-mâché), so tall their heads were lost in the heights of the stage, really moulded gates, columns, stairways and triumphal arches, and lavish costuming contribute to the sumptuousness of the production. I am not qualified to add that the music and singing was on the same plane. Possibly not. And almost nightly change of program over ten months of the year would, I imagine tax the resources of the greatest of artists.
As most of these operas and concerts begin about 7:30 p.m., and you cannot have your dinner at the hotel before 8:30 p.m., you are often distracted by the thoughts of food. But at 10:30 p.m. the artistry is over and the eating begins. The Athenee Palace Hotel Orchestra plays tirelessly-folk songs, Viennese waltzes, German Polkas, English ballads, and even an occasional American hit-sad to say the musicians confessed complete ignorance of Waltzing Matilda-but if I could have hummed the tune with any assurance at all, I am sure they would have played it.
Confronted with a lavish menu, and surrounded by gargantuan eaters, you give due consideration to the right dish. There is no hurry, for the dining room will not be closed until 2:30 a.m.. Lots of people are fond of your interpreter, and you are not altogether isolated because of your linguistic disabilities.
I have long wondered at the curious differences in prices on the menu. Not that it matters much anyway, because it is all on the house so to speak, and if you and your interpreter invite guests to join you, they too, are on the house. It is months now since I started to marvel at this menu, and I have not yet ceased.
Before me is a copy which quotes (as part of the cold buffet preceding the main courses) Sardines a L’huille Jugoslave — 22.50 Lei-the dearest dish in the place. Sardines, mark you!
Taking the Lei as a unit we get the following comparisons:
Salade cavaire carpe is only 5.40, and you get more than you can eat-very good too, even if it is not the high and mighty sturgeon.
3.50 for 100 grams of lemon when it is only 5.85 for the best part of ½ pound of ham. And 5.40 for a great plateful of wonderful smoked pork. 7.50 for an omelette aux fines herbes, and for a mere 9.40 a whacking huge plate of roast pork, or 11.80 for half a chicken; 11.40 for vol-au-vent financiere.
Only 1.55 for pickled whole capsicums, 1.25 for cucumber with a dressing: that 7.40 four filtered coffee. But then coffee is a distant import and is paid for in a hard currency market.
So you can see not too many Rumanians eat out of their own purse in this establishment-especially when they know that one meal will set them back the best part of a week’s wages. But it is no worse than eating at the Ritz.
Speaking of prices, I suppose everyone likes to know what people behind the Iron Curtain can buy with the money they earn. It is extremely difficult for a stranger to form any idea of what the standards of living are. By and large the Rumanians are not well dressed. They spend a lot of money on food because they have the great appetite. Their rents are fixed at a low normal rate of 5 – 6% of their weekly income. With the unskilled worker’s wage at 600 Lei a month, the figures I quote from shop windows in the provincial town of Cluj may give you some idea of what he can do with his earnings.
500 – 1000
120 – 230
400 – 800
20 – 60
20 – 90
140 – 400
Cabbage (about 2 pounds)
Bicycle 860 Lei
Motorbike (imported) 16,000 Lei
(FOOTNOTE – on the foreign exchange market the Lei is held at about ¼ to 1/6 Australian this may not be a real value rate for no foreigner could exist for a week paying on this basis)
As an artist I was primarily interested in the conditions and functions of the artist in a socialist state.
It is apparent that given the necessary ability, and the willingness to accept theory of socialist art, he is very well off indeed. In fact, he enjoys, relative to his society a much more exalted position in the social scale than does his counterpart in the Western world.
As a unit of promulgation of socialist consciousness he has special privileges and responsibilities of which I will speak later. Like all other workers, he belongs to the Union, in his case, The Plastic Arts Union, which looks after his social welfare, supervisors and commissions his work.
The youth who desire to become artists are selected from the final school grade, and are admitted to the Institute of Plastic Arts where they are given an allowance during thorough six-year course of training which lies ahead.
The Institute in Bucharest, which teaches hundreds of students (among them some Chinese and English), places a great emphasis on draughtsmanship in the academic manner. This is understandable, as art as officially conceived in Romania, as a tutorial aim, and is to be clearly understood by the populace. Drawing is emphasised in pencil and charcoal, pen and ink, in lithography, wood engraving and etching.
Sculpture, or more precisely, modelling in clay, dominates the final year of the course. Ceramics and allied arts are taught to a high standard. The quality of painting was generally disappointing. During the sixth year the student is fully supported before his examination for graduation into the Artists’ Union. After graduation he is under no direction for two or three months, during which time he may go where ever he chooses (still under full allowance) to gather material and ideas for the commencement of his career.
Those students whose aptitude is not considered worthy of continual encouragement by the Union may apply to some other union admission to its particular craft. Failures at graduation may apply for enrolment in allied artistic cooperatives in which a measure of artistic feeling is combined with craftsmanship-the Artisan trades, such as stonemasonry, woodcarving, decoration, etc.
To get back to our young artist.
If he has an idea for a painting, or a series of sketches he approaches the Artists’ Union suggests his ideas and is well received, obtains a loan from the Union to enable him to complete his project.
Having completed his work, he submits it to a committee appointed by the Union, and if approved of, is purchased, and a deduction is made in respect of the loan advanced.
If he should happen to sell his work to an individual, or some unattached co-operative, he still repays the Artists’ Union the sum advanced
If he is on the ball, our artist is now established.
Usually sells his work through the Union, and its local committees; much as if he were to sell through, the commission by, the various selection boards of societies of artists which exist in Australia of course there is nothing to stop him selling his work to individuals, from what little I could see, I doubt whether any individuals were either willing, or economically capable of doing so.
The fundamental patron is the State-or, if you like, the Unions, and other bodies associated with the apparatus collective management. From here we move into the consideration of what all this works out in terms of the living wage.
In Romania, all major buildings and projects, in, or under planned, production are obliged to allocate a certain percentage (I was informed by a sculptor it was equivalent to a minimum of 10 shillings per £1000) of the total cost to the Plastic Arts Fund, which discusses the artistic problems involved, how they should be distributed, and to which artist or artists. Unfortunately I neglected to ask whether these allocations were made on a competitive, or roster basis.
This is undoubtedly constant and practical support from artists from governmental levels.
The Plastic Union also stages exhibitions (the works in which are for sale), encourages discussions between artists and laymen, and generally makes every attempt to synthesise their often opposed points of view.
To give a better idea of how successful artists may become, I quote a few figures from Mr Maxy, Director of the Bucharest Art Gallery, and well-established artist.
As the average wage for an unskilled labourer would be the vicinity of 600 Lei a month, and for a skilled worker, such as a typesetter, 1000 Lei a month, Mr Maxy’s figures seemed to me to suggest the height of affluence. Nevertheless, they received corroboration in other parts of the country so I suppose it does apply to the top man, at least.
An established artist, having made an approved suggestion to the Artists’ Union, will receive 2000 – 3000 Lei a month during the period of his idea’s incubation and appearance.
If his production is satisfactory to the Artists’ Union (which virtually means that it will be accepted by the State), he will be paid anything from 15,000 – 20,000 Lei for and heroic historical picture or 8,000 – 15,00 for a significant landscape.
It is possible for him to earn as much as 40,000 Lei for a grandiose project, or even to name his own fee for what he submits. Mr Virgil Fulicea of Cluj, is one of those who reap the benefits of these arrangements. A sculptor strong, fluent and acceptable concepts, he had in his studio a major work of three peasant girls from the Fagaras region wearing costumes that survive from the Daccian (Roman) days vigourous and optimistic in design, this over life-size work was worth, in the plaster cast, 35,000 Lei to him. It represented six months work and the State pays for and arranges the bronze casting of it. One could hardly grumble at that.
He told me that for the big works it was usually he, one day or month, so to speak, and someone else, the next.
Of course, he does not get this fee all the time. I understand there are certain fixed prices-minimum, average and maximum and that juries consider the necessity, appropriateness and value of the ideas submitted.
On top of all this the living and creative conditions of the artist are given special consideration, for it is the accepted thing in this society that the artist should be spared all possible distractions.
If the artist’s work and ideas are well received he may be allocated special quarters in one of the numerous Houses of Creation, which resemble private hotels housing a community of interests. He is given accommodation, congenial working quarters, and dining and assembly facilities.
I visited two such establishments in Bucharest.
Firstly, the Magosoaia Palace which had been taken over for sculptors, although at the time I saw it, it was not completely ready for occupation. The beautiful palace, built byBrancoveanu in 1724, is small gracefully designed and overlooks formal gardens which lead down to the river lined with rushes alive with the sunlight and the wind.
The architecture with its warm bricks and slender pillars has a Muslim touch, probably influenced by the Turks who dominated the country from many generations. Byzantine gold mosaics paves the main foyer where now the proletarian artist treads and meditates.
House of Creation number two was a much more modest affair, set in a nice clump of trees in the best residential area of the town itself, and is the workplace of painters and top sculptors, Medres and Baraski. Monstera Deliciosa was set in pots around the veranda facing the lawns.
Heroes of Romanian history were lying dismembered in the studios. A plaster head of Balcescu, two feet six from the neck up, lies alongside an equally gargantuan shin and foot of Eminescu. All these bits and pieces awaiting dispatch to the foundry, from whence, assembled and in bronze, they will brave the elements in noble and optimistic city squares.
Newspaper artists working for the daily press get 500 – 600 Lei for each cartoon that appears. They are not on the staff, and are a body of freelance men who make themselves available at extra short notice, like their colleagues anywhere else in the world. So we see that even three or four drawings of week puts these men in the upper crust bracket.
I did not have time to find out how the Artisans, like ceramic workers, woodcarvers, wrought iron workers, embroiderers and the like were paid, but their productions had the technical excellence, and were quite as skilful in design as those of the traditional folklore masters.
I attended the opening of the Biennial Exhibition of Romanian Decorative Art in a new modern Gallery in Bucharest. 280 artists had sent in over 2000 exhibits, most of which were on show, and extremely well done in a form of modernised traditionalism.
The exhibition’s sponsors were the Ministry for Culture, the Union of Plastic Arts, the Ministry for Light Industry, and the Artisan’s Cooperatives. In his official speech Mr Mac Constantinescu sculptor, and Professor of Decorative Art, made the following points.
“Romanian art faces now social aspects of life, and if there are many difficulties to be contended with, it is for us to find a way to surmount them.
There is no doubt there are still great problems, but if all creative forces are stimulated, the artist, or Artisan, knows that in overcoming them he will be able to do something for society, and will be aware of the importance of his work in the decorative ensemble.
If we fight for the development of artistic personality and creative imagination, our decorative arts will be a great success in our days.
Experiments and innovations in the technical and conceptual points of view, which are presented at this exhibition are, and must be, welcome. The task of the exhibition is to submit the exhibits to the critical appreciation of the public. Only thus are we able to choose or select the most worthy from the exhibition, and only thus can we progress.”
I think that within these few remarks one finds the central problem of social start. Or, to be more explicit, the essential contradiction in Socialist realism which has not yet been synthesised. On the one hand we have the demand for “experiments and innovations from the technical and conceptual points of view,” on the other, that these experiments and innovations the only worthy when accepted by the public.
This is a fine and forward-looking thought inferring the best of all possible publics. But no one could seriously dispute the insufficiency of the general public as the final arbiters of what is, and what is not, valid in art at the immediate time of its production. The public has always been a generation behind in the appreciation of the great revolutionaries in any of the arts. Can one imagine how a Cézanne would fare under the critical direction of the masses? Genius is inevitably ahead of contemporary thought and cannot be conditioned by. That genius is rare, so it doesn’t matter, is beside the point. Even the talented artist must have the right to experiment in terms of vision beyond the immediate comprehension of the public.
No doubt a free Socialist art is possible. But there is little evidence that socialism has yet brought forth anything of universal significance in the plastic arts. It is possible to sympathise with the aspirations of socialism yet be completely unmoved by its artistic lecturings. I feel that the Rumanians, and artistic race, are somewhat ware of this, although at the present stage of their social development they are overburdened with official Soviet dogma on such matters. In theory the Rumanians are free to paint in any manner they choose so long as they are sincere and passionate in their interpretation of life (Mr Mircea Deac, who is Director of the Fine Arts Department, a member of The Plastic Arts Union, and art critic, informs me that there is nothing to stop an artist painting in any style whatever, that official recognition is given to those who are sincere, and present the socialistically conceived realities of life. The artist is expected to describe life passionately, and the form in which the artist elects to do so is left to him.) But who was the adjudicator of passion and sincerity?
In practice, the artists reflect the official directives of the optimistic and heroic socialism in terms of naturalism that is to be understood by the dullest of wits. Art is used as an instrument in the education of the masses, and in this respect much of it is scarcely different in essence (although it is in aim) from the insinuative commercial artwork produced in the West.
It is interesting to note a few remarks in “The Literary Gazette” (Romanian) by art critic Petru Comarnescu. Speaking of world-famous abstract sculptor Brancusi, a Romanian, long resident in France, Cormarnescu says; inter-alia…
That Brancusi enriched universal culture by his works which had their roots in the primitive forms of his own country’s folk wood carvings
that although he worked abroad he never forgot his formative background Gorj, where he was born; and always maintained relationships with his homeland although he is now 80 and lives in Paris.
that he went to Paris in 1904 and followed the classical sculptors from Michelangelo to especially Rodin will stop in 1915 became influenced by Romanian folklore and woodcarving, and while he was now placing less stress on naturalistic human form, the abstractions which were emerging Web-based, not on cubist theory, but on Romanian folk art and symbolism.
That his work was not empty of human content, and that his imitators followed only the abstract and decorative surface elements of his work, and that their work is null and void, because they missed the inner convictions of Brancusi’s art;
that he was striving to seek for the essence of the subject and that it was not easy to understand the abstract portraits which pretend to express human form;
that he was mainly influenced by Romanian peasant and Byzantine art which is not concerned with human form;
that present art critics (I presume Comarnescu means Romanian critics) say Brancusi is presenting reality in an archaic way, insofar as he maintains geometric form rather than humanistic appearance;
that Brancusi, well appreciated in the West and in India, is universally discussed, and should be discussed in Romania because his work is inspired by Romanian folk art-art which is polished by the hand of a great contemporary sculptor;
that we (Rumanians) must observe that Brancusi’s art not only expresses the old primitive times, but is an example for our own young artists to find new ways of expression appropriate to their feelings, and with the new demands of their contemporary life.
There it is. Partly a nationalistic claim, partly an acknowledgement of the greatness of his art. And while appreciation of such formers admitted, one, casually at least, finds little tolerance of this style in practice.
However, the artistic Rumanians may yet find room for another innovator, such as Brancusi, one who, while not immediately intelligible to the public, will not be constrained by official thinking.
I excuse myself quoting Russian sources, but I think they indicate generally the socialist idea.
In Bucharest I read in the “Soviet News” (Oct. 16. 1956) an article entitled “Granting Indulgence to Modernism?” by Mattias Sokolsky. Speaking of musicians, which we can equate with artists, he says; “As for dodecafonia, it was never prohibited in this country and is not prohibited now. Even if the idea should it ever occur to anyone to do so, the fact remains there is nothing to prohibit. Dodecafonia has never presented any temptation to Soviet composers. Dodecafonia is something alien to their aesthetic tastes, their ethical views and their creative aspirations.
Soviet musicians write for the people-that is their credo, the force that unites them. In this they strive to carry on the traditions of the classics. Dodecafonial music, on the other hand is egoistic. It is music not even for a chosen few that at best for a single person. The platform of the dodecafonists can hardly hope to unite musicians, for by its very nature it estranges the musician from life, turns him into an egocentric. And it is not a question of the individual inclinations or good intentions of the dodecafonist. It is a question of a whole system of views, the very essence of dodecafonia, which is divorced from the life and interests of the people.
Slonimsky is therefore wrong in thinking that the indulgence will be granted to Modernism.”
NOTE: (“today Modernism in music means dodecafonia. True, this tendency dates back to Arnold Schenberg, is 12 tone system is usually considered the beginning of dodecafonia.” Same article).
Earlier I. Moskvin has said, “The prime maxim of Socialist Realism is that Art shall be true to life. We learned to see life in its movement, in its development, in its endless variety. In the USSR new human relations are developing on the basis of a totally new socialist attitude towards labour, property and the home country. It is its mission to reflect this new outlook. Its fulfilment requires a deep insight into human psychology, emotional power and monumental form.”
Also Karl Radek said, “Socialist Realism means not only knowing reality, as it is that whether it is moving. It is moving towards socialism, it is moving towards the international proletariat. And a work of art created by a socialist realist is one which shows wither that conflict of contradicts is leading which the artist has seen in life and reflected in his work.”
Soviet author Yuri Clesha, thus, “When we speak of art, we sometimes forget that there are in the world to irreconcilable social systems… That the difference between our country and Europe is immense, not only in the economic and political system but in spirit, in ideas-that is to say in the very things which are expresses. We forget that the artist of the West and the artist of this socialist land of ours expresses different ideas and that there is more essential difference between them than between economists and soldiers because the artist not only defines what has taken place but also conjectures what will occur, foretells the future.”
This Socialist Realism is an emotional concept not easy to define-and because of my inability to read the Romanian literature about it-and the inadequacy of non-specialist translation-I feel at a considerable disadvantage in attempting to explain convincingly the attitudes involved.
Suffice it to say that what appeared to be the most acceptable artistic subjects almost invariably spring from an illustrative idea. Pictures of modern and ancient protagonists in the drama of struggle against oppression-genre pictures of workers building and making a new society, and peasants in various rural occupations.
In sculpture, much the same story, although done with more conviction; the heroic figure lending itself more aptly to the massive and elemental forms unadulterated by the atmospheric detains which weaken the impact of the paintings.
An element of expressionism appears and within certain realistic limits is well handled will stop abstraction and the incidental ‘isms’ seem to be completely absent. Art becomes the somewhat bread-and-buttery diet of the many rather than the marijuana of the few.
For a well balanced and simplified outside viewpoint on socialist realism, the words of Professor Radhakamal Mukerjee, eminent Indian sociologist, could scarcely be bettered. I quote at length:
“all authors, painters, sculptors, actors and playwrights receive an encouragement unknown in any other country in the modern world. The State gives regular orders to painters and sculptors for the purpose of decorating public institutions, parks and factories, and also arranges for the cheap supply of materials they use. Artists are relieved once for all of the anxiety lest the products of their art should find no sale-so wide has become the demand for works of art. There are also special cooperatives for authors, painters, sculptors and other artists which also help them on a new and lavish scale. On the other hand the artists must be true to the proletarian ideal, and view life as the proletariat view it. In the first place the artists and public are readily brought into intimate touch with one another. Thus a painter, a sculptor, the novelist or a dramatist are expected and encouraged to meet their audience and to discuss with them the principles of artistic production and obtain their criticisms and suggestions. If the artists do not follow the generally prescribed path of Socialistic Realism, the ruling party in Soviet Russia is strong and resolute enough to discourage any individualistic deviations. Ideological opposition as well as the withholding of orders and ostracism are enough to check the erring spirit. In painting, for instance the object of proletariat art is to give pleasure and regard life with optimism, and the dominant themes are modern life with its fresh possibilities and strong wave of optimism as well as neutral subjects. Landscapes, still-lifes, interiors and above all portraits, are still permissible themes for Soviet painters. But strenuous resistance is offered to ‘painting which distorts the lines of reality and pictures chaotic fragments in place of landscape and people; which shows humdrum and insipid themes instead of joy and heroic reality.’ The majority of good Russian painting is a revolution of the new landscape the new people expressing the sincerity, joy and aspirations of a people working towards a higher social integration and harmony. It is also significant that many of the master artists are coming from the working class. At the same time the danger of the working class, who have not obtained adequate artistic education in such a short period of emancipation, suppressing stylistic distinctiveness of individual artists is not small. If new styles of mass art cannot obtain free expression due to the verdict of the proletariat which is apt to develop standardised artistic outlook and tastes, Soviet art may degenerate into a mere pictorial representation of the environment without any profound implications in emotional experience and form of expression.
Yet there is no doubt that there has been a gain to art to the world in that at least in one country art is a social inspiration, is far removed from a filling in the abstract that subsists on the support of a small coterie, but expresses the emotional experience of the community at large whose restrictions to it have an immediate effect on the attitude and style of the artist…
No state in any other country has been so active in both the encouragement of artists and the diffusion of artistic education and culture among the people. Only where art ceases to be an individual experience and a luxury for the few, but represents a mass experience for the enjoyment of all can it play its due role in the organisation of society. (The Social Function of Art — Radhakamal Mukherjee. Hind Kitabs Ltd. Bombay 1948).
Tue 27-Nov-56: Got train to Harwich, boat to Holland & down the Rhine by Lorelei Express, arrived Zurich about 9pm
27 Nov 1956
My ultimate darling,
This is positively my last word on the whole of the matter. I am finally, definitely, irrevocably, finished when this letter is completed.
I have just come out of the Georges Chirico station of Deutschland Bâsle.
The interminable station – grey in its extended length, no one on it to say or wave goodbye to whoever may have been committed, like me, into the night’s dark care. Overhead the great vaulted roof which in the dismal gloom took on the quality of a cathedral without its soul, and as the train pulled out, the greyness stretched into a memory of parallel lines which hoped to meet but never did & under the disappearing single row of lights a solitary figure, an official of some sort, keeps pace with the train until he too, fades off into the gloom of memory.
I am now changed from the comfortable Lorelei Express into the local Swiss train to Zurich and the seats are wood and feel like concrete under the behind. I am in proud and solitary splendor – one dame having just fled from the presence into a ladies non-smoker. All of which is as it should be.
I assure you this is the evening’s finale. It has been a long day & I think I have just about said everything that has entered my head during the first leg home. Do you still think being together has its delights? If so, when? Now?
I don’t know when God is going to stop looking after me. I’m tired and unshaven but I am very happy because people have been nice to me & I am now lying down in the second bridal suite I have been in since I left home. The first was at Grünwald near Munich, remember. I hope I dream about you tonight. When I got to this Hotel Italia in Zurich, King’s friend had gone the last 4 years. There was no room but somehow someone moved & here I am in a perfect spot for a thing or two, the way I am, three. Anyway darling, I am happy after an exhausting day all told. And I will be on a plane towards you both tomorrow. I know that I will be home before this letter but I can’t help wanting you now – and the only way I can have you is by writing. As I hear the footsteps padding off up the road, or street, I have not seen. I think it becoming to say goodnight, my very dear, and completely, honey chile.
While this train is slowing down I will explain that it is impossible to write legibly when it is going full bat. It rocks around worse than a Northwood Bus so do your best to decipher it all.
The Rhine! Not so impressive as one would want – give away history and its accompanying romance, leave away the towns, and you have only a moderate river finding its own way to its level. But who can leave aside its Romance. That is the Rhine, surely. Not the great bombed out areas for the really dreary German grey flats & dwellings. The inevitable bare trees – ghosts of the past sit by the edge with their feet in the continuity of time. What’s wrong with the Germans! They look docile enough, but some mad concept is behind their being. Gas chambers, mass destruction – Valkyrie & the rest. It is all there – seemingly invisible, but I am sure just waiting for another prototype to emerge.
Here I fall to sleep.
Sweet dreams my sweet one.
Later still on the Rhineland
You ought to think yourself something quite out of the box! Who else gets their man never to rest without worrying about having his missus near him – or wanting her to be as well off as he? I know you are an old dragon, a nagging wretch, a frigid image, a frustrated schoolmarm – but still unique & quite out of the box in all categories. In short, for the practically last time – I am telling the European air – you have a man who loves you – take him as he is.
Still later. It’s dark now, and I have just finished dinner or supper (pork chop & 1/2 bottle very good light claret – midday – had steak & mushrooms & chicken soup & by mistake 1/2 bt. white wine which was very good too. Today, I am eating just what I want & its good for me morally – but not financially.
Outside the rails are slippery wet now & the puddles on the station floor are put like pools of remembrance. I am at Offenbach – and it all gives me a feeling of the Man Who Watched the Trains Go By. There is a more definite feeling of going somewhere into an unknown future when you are on a train & it is dark & wet and you never can tell what will eventuate – like getting into an underground railway system & coming up for air with a completely foreign & new born vision. The sheer immediacy of never having seen moving life in its place – its actually suddenly confronting you as you walk out of the subway is an extraordinary & unique experience. One that I would like to share with you because you would depend on me to know where & why and what – and you could look freely because you know that somehow I would find you your place in that little part of the world and that I would try and look after you. I am writing this better because I am at the eating table – am more comfortable. I might even have some more claret because I feel sentimental – but hope I do not sound too disgustingly so. I need your faith – it is a great help.
Not long ago we passed nearby to Heidelberg. Romantic eh? The Rhineland & its vineyards – but the dull dreary German houses, stodgy – grey – box like & inevitably the same. But the name – and the evocative images (which are always wrong & phoney) – Listen London – Harwick – Hook of Holland – Rotterdam – Kaldenkirchen – Köln – Coblenz – Mainz – Carlsruhe – Baden oos – Freiburg – come off like a string of pearls don’t they? Or a length of Heinz Spaghetti? My darling, I would like you to be with me. Perhaps you would have had greater pleasure than I out of seeing & sensing the different ways of man. I know, fundamentally in my heart that I don’t set a great deal of store on this sightseeing – that everything is really where it is right under your own nose – as it is for the people of Mainz or Brashov – Venizia or Paris – or Brompton & from that matter, Paddington where I first learnt the glories of the visible world. When I used to sit at the top floor bedroom window & watch the sun die in glory over the roofs of the tenements that frinhed the Brougham Rd near the Cross. When the narrow alleys were full of winter smoke from the fireplaces of the poor. And the gas lamp man would round his already completed task of illuminating a tiny corner of the streets. And what of the bamboos, so tall and strong enough for a doyen of monkeys, singing with locusts, & ablaze with the gold & blue of the Christmas & Blue Monday beetles. Yeah? I don’t suppose anything has ever really penetrated me since I was small and in a constant state of wonder. In the castor oil trees, on the fences, smoking bamboo stalks, burrowing tunnels in the school yard banks & reading goggle-eyed the naughty words in the latrines.
Please don’t think I have retrogressed to a second childhood. It is so dark & the train jigs too much for me to read. I find a relief in exploding myself on paper – I have done so little work – none at all – since I left home. I am bottled up & probably need your warm clutch on my creature member.
This really is going too far. If I keep this up, letters will be coming in for a month or two after I get home.
God, when you look out of the window see cars & houses, you wonder how anyone could settle down so far away from Northwood Rd. But I guess it all depends on what is home – your family, I think is home.
I have been thrown out the Spiesenkarten car because the Swiss Customs men are due aboard. I am back now in the rickety carriage with my sole & worldly European possessions.
I look forward to loving you both with spirit and flesh. I don’t think we make a bad pair together.
Mon/Tue 26/27-Nov-56: Got train to Harwich, boat to Holland & down the Rhine by Lorelei Express, arrived Zurich about 9pm
Andernach on the Rhine
Tues. 27th Nov.
I am just sitting here in the eating carriage & we are whizzing alongside the Rhine. It is a marvellous day – as a German said to me “sehr frühling” (very spring). Sun and clouds & blue sky – I just looked up and saw my wrinkled old mug in the mirror & thought “well, well, there is a lucky man, and just look at him!”
I am too lucky to last. But please keep your fingers crossed because it is very nice to be lucky in love & most else!
Mon 26-Nov-56: Bought book on Picasso. Saw Royal Camden Portrait exhibition. Had drinks with McNulty, Gladwynn & Noel Monks at Press Club.
In a London bar in Soho
26 Nov 56
Dearest thingummy girl,
Received your last two letters all in good time this morning-after I had taken my two bags down to the luggage department at Liverpool Street station. I was wandering about the city end-and while passing the great St Paul’s Cathedral, I settled into your letters. I’ll have you know they bucked me up considerably-it is quite remarkable how firm I felt about them all. There was not a trace of softness in my make up-my very being hardened when I contemplated the situation that confronts me on my return. You can rest assured that I will handle the matter ruthlessly and expediently. After the first encounter with the problem, I hope to negotiate it with equal firmness, but perhaps, with more subtlety and grace. I hope you will find my attitude to it all, meets with your approval, and that we can continue the negotiations together-towards a successful conclusion-although I do not think we should show any willingness to finalise the issue for some considerable time. Indeed I rather fancy the idea of greatly prolonged negotiations-gives us a chance to play the one against the other. Taken all in all, I am very much in favour of firmness, combined with fluidity.
I thank you for the information on how my advances are likely to be received.
Have been to a few shops to find Partos bras and there is not a great deal about-style 283 is finished in any case-nevertheless bought the only three styles they had-cheap enough 16/-, 12/, 11/3 or something like that.
Later about 4 p.m. Am back at Consol Press office to go out and have a drink with McNulty. Spent some time at a Royal Academy exhibition of 800 English portraits from early times till now. Went back to Hotel to get odds and ends and find I am too late to have another look at the National Gallery. Anyway I too tired to worry about seeing more godamm pictures. In another three hours I’ll be on my way home-and very happy about it-really want to see you both and have a rest for a few days. I hope you get this letter on Saturday instead of Friday afternoon. I want to keep you hot and strong for my homecoming. God bless you and Graham and Trellie.
Your very loving and homecoming husband and father
Monday night in the bar for the sake of anywhere else to sit
26 Nov 56
A very filling day – which is much better than sitting around wanting for something to happen. I am at a disadvantage to say what I would like because this place is bedlam & I can’t move or even sit down anywhere else.
I want to tell you that leaving a country in a ship is not what I like – I prefer to leave in a plane with all its possibilities of death – but when off, clean and away – none of the terrible slimy wasling(?) stuff running around the edges – the darkness of the water – and above all no one – because it is so slow away. One half hour & the lights get a bit dimmer – a red light in the middle of nowhere tolls a bell and the sea starts to spray into your face & it is much colder & the stars (believe it or not) are out just like in Australia. And I ask some gink – of course he is a Norwegian or something – & he doesn’t answer the question I ask but points out a star & says “North”. Then I point out an obvious shape & he says “Orion”. So now I know because I have often heard of it.
It is obvious most of the second class travellers are going to spend the 4-5 hours in the bar. Most of them speak Dutch – possibly German. I love you. I would like you down on the very windy deck getting covered in sporay & holding my hand and not even saying much at all. Please excuse this writing – people are falling all over me & I am doing it on my lap because I know it doesn’t matter in the slightest for I will be home with you before this arrives. But still. When you go down to the letter box there will be a reminder of what I was thinking during my passage home to you & Graham. I may as well finish the Odyssey & you can ask me something about the news that arrives after I get home.
This boat rocks plenty. Enough for you to say “pull your imaginative head in”. So what? Here you have a perfectly amenable husband and you’re trying to straighten him up. This boat is rocking like the devil and I get pushed around. Out of the blue a drunken Scotch dame starts singing “Here in my heart” & immediately everything becomes false & phoney. Her companion sings “I walk beside you” in a sort of Londonerry air tune.
There is a certain fascination about this, sweetheart, I wish I could take you out into the biting air, that sharpens your whole existence. If I had you with me it would be purposeful – but now – what is the point? I may as well sit & observe this humanity & their particvular type of unity. I never need you more than when I see the things that should be seeing & I am alone. Not that it is fundamentally different from being in the Lane Cove Hotel when they are giving off. The only difference is that they are strangers & one is more tolerant.
Later (they closed the bar at 11 o’clock).
I haven’t the foggiest what I have written but now, when I had found a quiet little place in a corner, 3 half naked boys come around & ask me where the women are? Wouldn’t it? Apparently you can get one for 3 – 4 – or (hours) or minutes? And yet I see the same types getting brushed off by the score on the open deck.
I have had this ship. It throbs and rattles & is not worth thinking about. I don’t like the sea it sails in. It stinks, the North Sea is horrible grey, has no ozone anywhere within a thousand miles of it. It is the crumbiest end – like the terrible poor red mullet I see in the shops. Like very, very dead nanegai (nannygai). I don’t like any part of Europeans. Stinkers who like all the windows closed. Pommies who are no better than they should be, Cockneys & Liverpool seamen, half-baked second class travellers who have the effrontery to wear striped trousers & black split arsed coats & homburg. Probably messengers acting fine for a day. Open up their suitcase & what is in it but a bloody pillow & another brief case, shit! 3 Germans are installed in the so called cabin. It’s alright I guess – but I want to see what goes on.
Do you really know what I want? I tell you. It is to go up on the ship deck with both of us in a decent coat – to have the harsh salt in our faces & for me to kiss it off your cold lips – and to hold hands – and not say very much at all – just to be there – and together in the North Sea.
I have seen the constellation of Orion and I suppose the Dog Star & Christ knows what (which I didn’t recognise). I still want you with me, because you are one who can be alone and undemonstrative with me. Even if you felt that you needed companionship I would be only too happy to break my own reticence & join with you in some unity of – well put your own words to it. I am apt to get too hypocritically devotional.
This ship is the end – shakes like a Pontiac over the horror stretch of Lane Cove Rd.
You Dorothy, have got me now, I have become adjusted – and that is a silly word. I have become in love with what you have given & still offer me. Irrespective of the knowledge that there are many more violences to come (but do you really think that, after our long separation, that we should be as violent as we have been. Surely if either one of us, should have sense enough to suggest that there was a time when we were both (and I believe this) practically, physically & mentally dying for each other, that we shouldn’t be able to say just the one word that would fix us? (Either of us.) It is still better not to have had a terrible sundering row than to consider its rather anti-climatic finish. I get so buggared up about the relationship at times. Perhaps I like (sadistically) the rows, which ultimately throw you back into my arms.
In some respects I am very much younger than the people of my own age. They seem all so responsible, & in England quickly prone to a sentimental fullness which is suspect in Sydney.
That sea – this broken down old ship, the stinking sea – the cold fresh, air of the North Sea. Perhaps being apt has something to do with it – the badly fixed propeller thrashing beneath us.
Anyway, I still love you. Will you please come back to bed with me? now? after you read this? You said you liked it, and I am sure you do.
I have had another go on the deck but still have a deep seated horror of the slimy sea. I want no part of it – at least alone, in my lifetime.
If you can’t read this letter – which I can forgive – you can ask me what it is all about because I, having written it, am about the only judge & interpreter. But, you old & well established paragon of a wife, forgive me for the need of you. Just come into me wherever I may be, and give me a kiss because, I have needed you so very, very much.
Sun 25-Nov-56: Walked along south Embankment – saw end of service in Abbey. With Marian Anderson, Jean Ure at Royal Festival Hall
25 Nov 56
London Sun 8:30 p.m.
How nice to sit down with you again-even though it be only with an inadequate letter. How little a substitute for the real thing, when this time next Sunday night, I will be (God willing) with you and Graham incomplete and satisfying reality-slightly gorged with good food and drink and completely overflowing with the wonderful serenity of being in my own home and with my own, very, very, exclusively, my own people. I hope I handle this wonderful reunion, with the grace it deserves, and that we all will find nothing discordant in the whole day and the whole wonderful night. I am frantic to be there-now!
This day began very smoothly for me. Perhaps because I was relaxed and really didn’t care much what it brought. I rang an earnest English lass who teaches Romanian here (I met her in Bucharest with John St John) and made arrangements to meet her this afternoon for a look around. Being my last lingering look so to speak. Anyway after looking at The Times I noticed Marian Anderson was giving a farewell concert at 3 p.m. at the Royal Festival Hall. So I decided I’d stroll peacefully over the Hungerford Bridge and see if I could get some tickets. Got a couple of 10 bobbers. The Thames almost like Paris this morning-mild and misty enough to etherealise the fine north side buildings-and the trees lining the embankment reminiscent of those alongside the Seine. A limpid autumn, though practically sunless, morning. After getting the tickets I idly watched the seagulls in their leisurely Sabbath diversions-their graceful landings-fine, and abrupt take offs into the wind, then veering in side slips like fighter planes over the body of the river-poised almost motionless-ray and white, the breathless curving of their wings fluting through the air-and turning into the smoothest glides. Beautiful, unspoken poetry, movements carved in air, and left engraved in the mind. Relaxing-and in a sort of inverted way, exciting just because one so seldom spends that available and rewarding time. A further sauntering taking me past the huge Italian Renaissance style county council buildings with steps running down onto the Thames and looking like some miss placed and darkened Doge’s Palace. Across Westminster Bridge past the Houses of Parliament, past Westminster Abbey, when something made me retrace my steps and enter while the morning service was on. Then a wonderful choral singing-filling the ancient walls with sound so that is seemed to come out of the very pores of the stones. The two sections of the choir throwing back the themes one to the other-and silvery and sombre voices weaving a pattern throughout the whole. With the music of the goals and the almost visible design of this most magnificent singing I felt the day could hardly bring more or comparable delight. And it didn’t.
Having some little time to spend until I met this Jean Ure (who was some relative, cousin, or niece of Syd Ure Smith) I thought I’d try some draught Guinness at a pub called the Villiers, pubs being open too on Sunday here. Found the stout very good and settle down with my paper alongside a dame on a bench. She was as Irish as they came and started talking to me. Asked me if I’d have a drink with her-naturally I had reversed the salutation and buy her drink. Then she up and she’s sorry she couldn’t buy me one she was short. Well I bought another and then she tried to touch me for lunch-no! Then 2/- no. I got up and changed 2/- and gave her 1/-. Fortunately that got rid of her-but sadly dented my benignity.
Walked back over the Thames and waited 20 minutes for this dame, who is un-humorously earnest about socialist good works. I don’t know whether it was my disintegrating ecstasy or the workings of the Guinness but I enjoyed the show less than my walk across the bridge back to meet the girl. The Thames still looking fine, fitful sunlight and through the pearly atmosphere a single gleam of gold, high keyed-from the distant dome of St Paul’s, and behind me the occasional train chuffing over the bridge, it’s bellowing is fading off into the sounds of church bells somewhere in the south.
I am not very keen on these contralto sort of voices and they don’t seem eminently suitable for Mozart to me. But, she really was magnificent in the Negro spirituals. Perhaps because they were simpler, and I could follow the theme and emotion better, I went from them in a big way. So did the rest of the house-she got a wonderful reception from the enormous crowd present.
The Royal Festival Hall, built in 1951, very modern, and quoting my guidebook “a concert hall which such great conductors as Toscanini have declared the finest in the world. The exterior has met with some criticism, but the acoustics and amenities, the planning and the decor of the interior have received almost universal praise.” This could hardly be disputed-the exterior is a cross between a factory and a hangar but the interior is quite fabulously successful in appearance and function. Huge foyer with glass walls and all round vision, alongside, are found bars, restaurants overlooking the Thames, the lower coffee lounge and cafeteria-fine slick glass and wood stairways and an enormous concert hall-lined below with padded red leatherette, above on the second flight with a well designed fabric. Fine acoustically waved roof, studded with many lamps like stars. You would have loved it-what a pity. Anyway, we had a light tea and I got back here about eight. Well content with the day, and now about to give up the good fight.
Have got the radiator on trying to dry out a shirt and handkerchiefs as I want to get all my luggage down to Liverpool Street station early so that I can get back to the city and have a quick look at the Royal Academy and a final run through the National Gallery.
Am getting restless about my return. Once I get moving-well, I should be something or other-I don’t know-have given up thinking.
Much love, my very dear one.
Monday morning 8 a.m. [26 Nov 56]
well, this is it, sweetie, I’m about to take my first tottering steps on the homeward journey. I packed and everything is beautifully squashed down for five days-“God help this” all screamed the new suit, dressing down, and female odds and ends. Nothing to be done about that-but forward into the night! Whoops Dearie-I’m practically there-get yourself into trim-cleanse the fatted duck, pat Graham and Trellie-I’m on the way!
Love, love, lovey, from your bird on the wing — Bill.
Sat 24-Nov-56: Bought ticket to Zurich – sent off books to self & S. Rotaru. Tate Gallery in afternoon.
Sat 24th of Nov 56
Oh girl, oh girl, oh boy! Is is good is sit down? Have had it again!
Bustled round Oxford St and Piccadilly trying to buy some string, get books all cleared away-went to Thomas Cook’s and got my ticket to Zürich. Pretty near all set-must go through all the bits and pieces of paper etc.-to see what I can clear out to make space and save weight. There seems a lot of fiddly little things I want to arrive back with to save all the filthy delay of surface post. Superficial odds and ends-just to have something to show what’s been doing. Oh-perhaps fell finish up getting posted like the rest of the stuff.
Went to the Tate Gallery after a few Guinness and sandwiches and spent the best part of three hours there, and left completely wrung out. It is very difficult to take all these pictures in-so many one has seen reproductions of. And rarely do the reproductions have the soft and convincing atmosphere, or colour relation, that is inherent in the originals. Somehow they always harden up and become more aggressive, more blatantly colourful than the paintings from which they were taken. Van Gogh’s sunflowers have so much more vitality and tenderness. Saw the original of that painting in our hall too, incidentally. A couple of Gauguin, much more impressive in reality. Dozens and dozens of things you’d recognise, I have seen. It gets tiresome. I’ll get it back stop all very much to the good I think, because you get the feeling you’d like to experiment and get at it a bit yourself. But apart from making some contact with Ampol (if the commission is still available) I want to sit down for a couple of days. I haven’t done so, except in a plane, or a train, all whilst eating, or writing, since I got off at Rome. I warn you, I am only 11 stone with sports coat, jumper, and overcoat on. Anyhow I am sure you will spoil me-and fatten me up for the Xmas killing. I love you.
Talking of Xmas-Regent St and Oxford have now got all Xmas trees, coloured lights, and Father Xmas out, and the place is quite bright, but bloody cold. It makes me glad that Xmas will be at home with my highly specialised family-would be the very end to get stuck here (or anywhere else) alone when all the spirit is building up, and the half crowns are jingling in your pocket. A very great number of 2/6 pieces here-more than florins. Never quite sure whether I am planking down 2/6 or 2/-. In any case they hardly last long enough to notice. Grog is a colossal price over here-Sherry 3/- glass, claret 2/6 small glass, Scotch 2/6 or 2/9, gin and tonic 2/4 or 2/10. 1/3 bottle (they make beer in little bottles like the tiny Guinness Stout you might have seen) beer 1/1 -stout 1/5 – 1/6 equivalent to about 3 glass to bottle. Consequently everybody is very sober over here.
I’m not very verbose tonight but want, very much, for you both to get a letter are day practically up till the day before I arrive-that way you will not be stamping about the unpruned rose bushes wondering what has happened to your errant (hah! hah! That’s a laugh) husband. I should be in bed with you before you finish reading my last note-and you had, very definitely, be prepared to like it.
Enough for now, I’ll see if I can squeeze a number drop out of this pen in the morning, when the alleged daylight arrives. And with that I give you another consignment of good old home spun love. Kiss, kiss, SAOH.
Sunday morning [25 Nov 56]. Woke early, about 4:30-and read till 5:30-thought I’d give Morphens another visit and stayed with him till 8 a.m. when breakfast brought me to. I am about to wash ½ doesn’t handkerchiefs, one day for the way home-have a horrible pile of dirty ones. Roley’s place was the only opportunity I have had to boil them up and iron them. Nevertheless we manage along and I hope to get home reasonably clean. I’ll diagnose my dirty stuff when you are not looking. It has been raining during the night which seems all to the good as it is now warmer and not so foggy. This is my second last letter as after tomorrow nothing can beat me bringing personal tidings of joy and affection for my two very dear people. I send you a great deal of love darling, and for Graham a great anxiety to see how he has grown-and how long, if not taller, young Trellie has grown. Love, love and more love from your very close at hand husband,