Wep’s 1956 Romanian adventure: 14-21 Oct; Cluj, Oradea, Bucharest and Vienna

Brasov Sun 14-Oct-56:  Saw the magnificent Biserica Neagu – the Black church – built 800 years ago – Driver of car missing all day – were to go on to Cluj – but didn’t.
Mon 15-Oct-56: Left at 8am for Cluj. Met an ethnologist Nicolae Dunare & went out near Oradea to a peasant potters house
Tue 16-Oct-56:   Met sculptor and two artists, discussed social realism. Returned to Bucharest arriving 1:30am. Got letters from home.
Wed 17-Oct-56: Went to Institute & talked with Baranga. Got presents, bought some records, had dinner with Charles & Victor.
Thu 18-Oct-56:  Cashed £5. Left Bucharest at 8am. Arrived Vienna about 1pm. Changed flight booking to 21 Nov. Phoned dear little Dorothy.
Fri 19-Oct-56:     Just wandered around all day – got pyjamas back from Stephanie Hotel [Hotel Stefanie]. Met Dr & Mrs Edgley & had dinner with Mrs E. at a Russian place. Was invited to stay with them!
Sat 20-Oct-56:   Went to Edgley’s and stayed. Was driven to Vienna Woods. Played Scrabble. Paid hotel, phone, rail fare. Cashed £7 & £10
Sun 21-Oct-56:  Visited art museum & large picnic park where we had lunch. Had dinner at the Balkan Grill.

1956 MM-DD WEP Romania_0057

Romanische [Roemischer] Kaiser Hotel
Annagasse 1 Wien [ Annagasse 16]
Sat 20 Oct 56

My darling girl.

It’s about 7.30am and is a bit on the cool side. I got out of bed ¾ hour ago as I found little comfort there. Now if I was out on the front verandah at 85 I reckon I could show you a thing or two. There’s nothing much to look at here. My old machinery is getting out of practice. But my thoughts are ardent – and, I hope acceptable. As all this doesn’t help one little bit. I suppose I had best carry on with the historical & geographical aspects of this one man caravanserie. But truly, I do miss you so very much. I’m getting a bit tired of gazing at churches, & public monuments, parks, rivers, street names, traffic policemen, food shops, dress shops, German phrase books, city maps, handfuls of all sorts of currency and foreign menus. I am not tired of looking at girls or book shops, although it is my much considered opinion that the latter are of much better quality. It seems surprising how few top line sorts one sees in Europe – so far. However, talking about that is preferable to writing. The book shops here are very good – really go in for art publications with German thoroughness, but I dare say that in Paris & London I shall find them as good – probably better. I have only just realised that my last letter to you was posted from Orasul Stalin in Rumania last Sunday. God, knows when you will receive it – possibly after this one. I have been a bit too busy travelling to give you much of myself. I did get a kick out of ringing you in Sydney and even if the connection was bad, we did manage to make some real contact. It was nice to hear you sweetie, although for the life of me, I can’t remember anything much about it except the important items of date of return – seeing the Edgleys – giving you the tip off to write c/o Roley Pullen, and hearing Graham too. I bet he gave the schoolboys & the neighbours an earbashing about a telephone call from Vienna. I hope you felt I was loving you very much. Because I was. I didn’t get the address of the street too well – so went to a travel agency & with their help found the Australian Commission’s premises. Edgley was away at Linz – and was due back at 6pm Friday. About 6.30 I rang his wife – she was delighted to hear a dirty old Australian accent & insisted I catch a cab straight out, which I did & while trying to find out, with my filthy German, which house they lived in – the doctor arrived home. Only to find his youngest child, a girl of 2 ½ down with pneumonia. Mrs E wanted to dine out, so papa stayed home to look after sick child. They have invited me to stay with them for the day or two before I leave for Paris. Quite a lively couple – she is 6 months gone again – making it her 3rd. They are getting pretty sick of the climate here – but have to stay on another 12 months or so.

The Black Church in Orasul Stalin (Brasov), Romania; 13 October 1956

This rushing around is tiring and confusing – for the life of me I can’t remember where I was up to in my travels. Did I tell you about a beautiful old church in Orasul Stalin. It was over 800 years old. The stone of its exterior quite fretted away like rocks by the sea, so dark grey as to have occasioned its name of Biserica Neagra which means Black Church. It was very big and the interior all around the bottom end where the altar was placed was painted white. The towering shafts of stone appeared to radiate a purity of light – the altar itself nicely proportioned & with just the right amount of gold. It gave me rare pleasure. That white – unbelievably effective. The churches in Vienna, are even blacker in surface appearance – and more huge. But inside is all the original grey aged stone – & the effort is gloomy. The old black church had spirit – plus buoyancy. The maniacal driver managed to bash a mud guard in & that held us up for ½ day at O. Stalin. On the Monday morning we took off for Cluj at 8am. Transylvania! A country in everyone’s imagination – full of werewolves, bats, vampires and horrifying mysteries. Ruritania – with princes on sombre missions. Pine trees – dark recesses of the mountains & snow. And the whole damn place looks more like Australia than anything I have seen since I left home. It is a twin to the Monaro district. Autumnal brown grass rolling slopes, very few trees, and the Alps in the distance. Tell Price Jones to tear the word Transylvania out of his accumulated imaginings. It just ‘aint so. I am afraid I disappointed Mrs Edgley, too, with my account of it. Visited a vineyard on the way up & had a couple of quick snorts. They seem to only make white wines up here & pretty sour Riesling at that. Crumby stuff – which everyone drinks with soda water. Breaks your flaming romantic heart. To save something from the wreck you can tell Bill that the peasants do wear white trousers & white aprons – with great shaggy sheep skins coats to cover. They do carry long sticks & lead the flocks to various pastures. The only thing that was un-Australian was the complete & utter lack of fences anywhere. The peasants all live in clustered houses in the villages & at early morning set out in their carts drawn by horses or oxen for their plot which may be anywhere between one village & the next. Apparently they know their own ground backward & there is no dispute as to where one man’s lot begins & ends. The peasants give their stock (sheep or cattle) to the shepherd & he takes them all out to grass.

Believed to be at a studio for artists and sculptors in Cluj, Romania; 15 October 1956
Unknown artist at work. believed to be at a studio for artists and sculptors in Cluj, Romania; 15 October 1956

Met some artists and sculptors in Cluj. They were being very well done by. Storybook studios & apparently adequate money. Also met a director of a folk lore museum who suggested we nick out & see some peasant potters. We did so – found out, was about 35 miles out. Practically on the Hungarian border – near a town named Oradea. Quite interesting. Next day returned to Bucharest – got in about 1.30am.

Possibly taken at Wep’s final meeting with the Director of the Cultural Institute (Institutul Romin Pentru Relatiile Culturale cu Strainatea), Bucharest, Romania; 17 October 1956

Had a meeting with the director of the Institute. All very amiable. Asked what I thought about Rumania, what I didn’t like, etc. Received a present of a little bit of folk art. An old Rumanian custom I gather. Was happy to be able to reciprocate with the books. When I got back to the pub – found that more books & records had arrived. Such was the enormous weight of books – the Institute are sending them out. I hope they all arrive safely. Was explained to me that the early departure was due to the fact that it was the only booking they could get me before the Olympics.

All very pleasant – a great pity the country is so poor. Also wrote a little piece about Australian art & did a short talk for the air, this they took on tape in the hotel room. Heard it played back.

Got to Vienna about 12 noon. Where I thought to let you know immediately. Got the bright idea of ringing – not much more than a cable. To confirm our talk – I catch a BOAC plane at Zurich on 21st Nov. at 10.30pm & should arrive in Sydney on Sunday 25 at 7.20am. You can insure me for the trip if you like. I was shocked to read in a German magazine – I stumbled through it in German – of the unfortunate crash of the Vulcan Bomber as it returned to London. It is now 9am. I better dress & have some rolls & coffee.

Picnic with Dr Robert Edgley and family at Franzensburg Castle in the grounds of Schloß Laxenburg, Vienna; 21 October 1956
Picnic with Dr Robert Edgley and family at Franzensburg Castle in the grounds of Schloß Laxenburg, Vienna; 21 October 1956
Picnic with Dr Robert Edgley and family at Franzensburg Castle in the grounds of Schloß Laxenburg, Vienna; 21 October 1956

Sunday [21 Oct 1956]. 3pm. I am sitting in a lovely park out of Vienna. In the middle is the Franzensberg Castle built by Franz Joseph early last century. The castle is set in the middle of a fine artificial lake which has no water in it. The autumn trees are beautiful colours & in the distance a group of school girls are singing. The weather is most indulgent. A mild gentle setting sun. The Edgley girl made a magnificent recovery, playing like mad in the trees behind us. We had a picnic lunch.

Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts), Vienna; 21 October 1956
Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts), Vienna; 21 October 1956

Went to the Vienna gallery [Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts)] this morning & saw many fine paintings including Tintoretto’s Susanna & the Elders, Holbein’s Jane Eyre [Jane Seymour], Vermeer’s famous Painter & model. Wonderful Titians and 14 Brueghels. Pity I am leaving in the morning but I suppose I had better move on. Paris & London will take time. I telegrammed Roley Pullen to ask him to get me some cheap accommodation – I am going in the Arlberg Express from Vienna to Paris – via Zurich. Leaves at 9.10 in the morning & arrives Paris 8am the next day. Fare is about £7-10.0 against £17.10 by plane – also I will see up to the Alps in daylight. I stayed with the Edgleys last night & tonight – they seem to be a very happy coupe with two nice little girls. The Viennese are wandering up and down the lake – Yesterday, Rob took me for a drive through the Vienna Woods.

I shall have to finish now as we are about to return to Vienna, and I want to post this letter before I leave in the morning. Lots of love my darling. Give Graham my love & a pat for Trellie. Tell him I liked receiving his letters. I hope he gets all the different stamps that are coming over. A big thing for you. XXXXX for all. Your old loving roue [?]

Bill

[Apparently Wep’s visit to Romania was cut short as the people in the Institute wanted to get him out before trouble over flowed in Hungary. Five days after leaving Romania, widespread revolt erupted in Hungary against the Soviet backed government leading to its fall from power. On November 4, the Soviets invaded, crushing the revolt, and by November 10, all resistance had ceased.]

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View from the Carpati Hotel overlooking Nicolae Titulescu, Orasul Stalin (Brasov); 14 October 1956
Primaria Brasov (Town Hall), Bulevardul Eroilor 8, Brasov, Romania; 14 October 1956 (Note the possible KGB agent in the light trenchcoat)
Looking southwest towards Biserica Catolica outside 28 Strada Muresenilor, Brasov, Romania; 14 October 1956
Piata Cuza Voda with the Catedrala Ortodoxa (Orthodox Cathedral) in the background, Aiud, Romania; 15 October 1956
Cetatea Aiudului, Aiud, Romania; 15 October 1956
Cetatea Aiudului, Aiud, Romania
Cetatea Aiudului, Aiud, Romania
Cetatea Aiudului, Aiud, Romania; 15 October 1956
Cetatea Aiudului, Aiud, Romania; 15 October 1956
Piata Cuza Voda with the Catedrala Ortodoxa (Orthodox Cathedral) in the background, Aiud, Romania; 15 October 1956
Piata Unirii, Cluj, Romania; 15 October 1956
Orthodox Cathedral, Cluj, Romania; 15 October 1956
Orthodox Cathedral, Cluj, Romania; 15 October 1956
Strada Regele Ferdinand 8, Cluj, Romania; 15 October 1956
Strada Regele Ferdinand 33, Cluj, Romania; 15 October 1956
Votivkirche (Votive Church) viewed from near Schottengasse 9, Vienna; 19 October 1956

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Wep’s 1956 Romanian adventure: 4-5 Oct; Bucharest – Scînteia printing works, Village & Folk Art museums

Thu 4-Oct-56:     Saw Baranga at Institute & heard Aida
Fri 5-Oct-56:       Saw Scînteia Printing works [See some current pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cristina_/336794051/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/38737290@N06/5723590216 ]. Heard Rumanian Folk songs at concert.

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Bucharest, Athénée  Palace Hotel Friday 4 Oct [5 Oct] 7.30 am

Darling,

The pace is killing me. Yesterday I saw a Mr. Baranga, a director or something of the Institute & through the girl interpreter a program of activities was arranged in which my wishes were to be considered and about where we may get to in the country. What I want to see, etc. Naturally it is to do with the artistic culture – also asked me if I could give a lecture or write a paper, on Australian art. I said I could hardly lecture, but I would try and write something. It was all very cordial, and they expressed the desire for me to enjoy my visit here, and hoped the program was not too strenuous, & if I thought so, please to cut it down. I was to let my interpreter know whatever I wanted – Also they asked could I let them know within a few days when I wanted to return, as plane bookings were very heavy & they wanted to secure me my passage. Well, you couldn’t ask for better treatment could you.

Just inside the entrance to the Village Museum in Bucharest, Romania; 4 October 1956
Stefania Rotaru, Wep’s interpreter and guide, looks out from an early 18th Century house from Chiojdul Mic village, Cislau District, Ploesti Region; The Village Museum, Bucharest, Romania; 4 October 1956
Stefania Rotaru, Wep’s interpreter and guide, at the Rasinari display, the Village Museum in Bucharest, Romania; 4 October 1956
Stefania Rotaru, Wep’s interpreter and guide, outside a homestead from Suici (a wooden house with two pairs of rooms on high stone foundation; cellar and hen houses); The Village Museum, Bucharest, Romania; 4 October 1956
Near the Jurilovca house, the Village Museum in Bucharest, Romania; 4 October 1956
House from Jurilovca, (cellar and entrance to storeroom); The Village Museum, Bucharest, Romania; 4 October 1956
House from Jurilovca; The Village Museum, Bucharest, Romania; 4 October 1956
Stefania Rotaru, Wep’s interpreter and guide, at the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum in Bucharest, Romania looking across the lake towards the Scînteia Printing works; 4 October 1956
Stefania Rotaru, Wep’s interpreter and guide, at the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum in Bucharest, Romania; 4 October 1956
Ref: Fosca, Gheorghe; The Village Museum in Bucharest, Foreign L
Ref: Fosca, Gheorghe; The Village Museum in Bucharest, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Bucharest, 1959

Yesterday, all day, we had a car at our disposal & I was taken around to various galleries. Seems like my time of arrival was inauspicious, as two galleries were closed, being renovated – and the biggest gallery (the ex Royal Palace, which by the way is facing the same square as this hotel) all the best contemporary Rumanian paintings are absent in various European capitals. So we went to the Village Museum. A fine place, set in the big park by the edge of the lake. In this village 32 buildings each from a different area of Rumania (Transylvania, Moldavia, Banat, Cluj regions etc). They have taken down an actual dwelling from these parts & re-erected it in the park. The house, its granary outside & gates & fence – are placed amongst the trees here. The contents also have been brought & clothes, pottery, cooking implements are in place in the interiors. The embroidery, those peasants did was fantastically sumptuous and the pottery lovely in the sturdy peasant manner. It was in the afternoon, after lunch, we visited the Royal Gallery, where I saw the 19th Cent. Work, excepting that they did peasants, whereas we did settlers. That period in art seems quite international. The modern period seems (I mean world wide) to be getting pretty much the same international flavour – except in these red countries where the emphasis seems to be on heroic emergence of the worker – realistic presentation of stirring events, etc – all easily readable to the masses. A visual encouragement – so to speak. After the gallery, Stefania seemed to be flagged out, as the Rumanian custom is to knock off between 1 & 4 or 2 to 5 for a rest from the heat. Factory workers transport etc, caterers of course work through. So from 4 to 6, I trudged the town. Could be very very attractive – but is pretty crumby now. The people are poor, & while consumer goods, in very ordinary quality are there, don’t seem to be able to afford them. The main streets are kept very clean, others, any old how. At 5 the shops opened & I browsed through the books shops, which are very numerous. There is a obvious passion for learning. It is a bit hard to adjust oneself to the fact that these people are only just emerging from a period of great oppression & greater poverty – Only as late as 1907 the peasants revolted & were ruthlessly suppressed. Now they are organising the state alone & I guess it takes time.

At 6.30 p.m. I was whisked off in the car to the opera Aida. Held in a small but fine Opera house. Perfectly intimate like. Opera is on every night except in summer when it is too hot. I don’t care for most of the music in Aida, but this presentation was superb. The décor & settings were really magnificent – done by a Stalin prize winner, a Russian named Cemodurov. Nothing like it will ever be seen in Australia as these settings are not transported all over the country. They are stacked away behind the Opera house. Great statues of the Egyptian Gods. Huge gates with the figure on them in relief, not painted illusion. Different levels – enormous cast behind the principals, good wild ballet work in it – sumptuous costumes colour & lighting. Sweetie, it was quite a spectacle! You know, or have heard of how the Russians can conceive these things. Place packed – yelling Bravo! Bravo! It was sung in Rumanian which is closely allied to Italian.

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Advertisement for a Concert of Popular Romanian Music from the orchestra of Barbu Lautaru to be held 5 Oct 1956

Tonight, I am going to see a concert of Rumanian music & songs. After the opera, we returned to the hotel at 11.15 for dinner. Found it difficult to get a seat, the place was packed. It’s an old Rumanian custom. The orchestra was going full blast – the girl had had it & asked to be excused to go home for sleep – so I had Rump steak sauté Lyonnaise, & crème d’aubergines. The orchestra playing fast as hell Rumanian music got me in. While I was fumbling for a match – the drummer leaped down with a lighter. I must have been obviously interested because the pianist beamed at me. The violinist seems inexhaustible. When at last they finished I gave them the last but 2 of my long Chesterfield cigarettes – there was one each for the 7 of them. They liked that (because these European cigarettes are bloody awful.) The pianist came over & affably spoke to me in English & said they’d play anything I liked. English, American, German, Hungarian, Rumanian – so there! Also today I bought 4 gramophone records of Rumanian music. Farewell for the moment dearest girl.

Midnight – Everything is unreal or very common place. Even the most unexpected things are; when experienced, acceptable without surprise. I’ve just heard a Rumanian & Gypsy orchestra with 50 performers in the loveliest little concert hall [Romanian Athenaeum].

Romanian Athenaeum (Concert Hall), Strada Benjamin Franklin 1-3, Bucharest; 17 October 1956 – Stephania Rotaru, Wep’s guide, in foreground. Taken from Parcul Ateneului on Strada Episcopiei

About as wide as the Town Hall but circular, & with the orchestra projecting. It has a dome roof & Parisian spiral marble staircases leading from below up to the seats & boxes, which are all on the same level as the stage. 2½ hours of Rumanian music played by the best in Rumania – Gypsy singers – violinists – pan pipers – cymbalos – all this activity. Without you, to remember it with me. At dinner with a couple of Englishmen (11.30pm) things liven up a bit. This character I met, apparently a supporter, spares no horses in what he charges the proletariat for dinner. The whole thing is like living in a foyer. However, within a few days I hope to make some contact, somewhere. The Rumanians are fundamentally very gracious – as I found out from a pidgin French German English conversation with the lift driver. I am quite happy and am seeing many things of interest. I guess I am missing the home-and-master touch. Your feet wouldn’t stand it anyway. I’m driving the Stefanie girl to the ground – God knows why – I’m doing only half or a quarter of the walking I have been doing over every day since I arrived at Rome. Stephanie is a nice little girl – can’t do enough for you in the way she thinks it should be done – you know, the mother type – reminds me of you – I don’t mind. But one needs a few hours off sometimes. – I met an Englishman tonight – an ex-union executive or something who is studying art in Rumania & living & working here on a sort of extended grant. All very earnest artist – I shall find out if any good.

Went to the Folk Art gallery today – Peasant work – found the Ikons & cake & butter mould carvings more interesting than the embroidery, which is over powering – The density of decoration on their costume stuff is stifling. Wonderful work – but unusable in the modern world.

I could not be looked after better _ I am very comfortable but I miss you – probably need your contact – but must say – so far am too tired even to get an early morning spring – no matter how urgent the call is. I want to talk to you – not listen – I want to see you do your hair over & over again. I want to smell that perfume as I lean over your neck. (Zut! Zut!) I want to see the flowers you have put in the hall – and I want to hear Graham practising in the same old uninspired way. Trellie on the lounge and you bellyaching to Graham in the morning – lay off him will you. What’s it like living without a big blow – top?

Don’t expect too many letters from me from now on – the rate of exchange is loaded against foreign currency. On my travellers cheques a letter airmail to you costs 24/-, so you can understand the graciousness of the Institute in giving me 550 Lei (their unit of currency) to use for pocket money. That cable, I must admit, by mistake, went at full rates – 95 Lei costing about £6. (£5 st = 82 Lei on the open market.)

Enough of problems – It’s only a fortnight since I was about to leave Australia. One is less isolated in the bush in Borneo or New Guinea. Soon I hope to meet some artists and perhaps find something in common.

Lots of love to Graham – I can’t write to him separately – & with my love,

Bill

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Combinatul Poligrafic Casa Scînteii “I.V.Stalin” now known as Casa Presei Libere (House of the Free Press), Bucharest, Romania; 5 October 1956. Construction began in 1952 and was completed in 1956. (Scînteia was the name of the Romanian Communist Party’s official newspaper). It was designed by the architect Horia Maicu, in the style of Soviet Socialist realism, resembling the main building of the Moscow State University, and was intended to house all of Bucharest’s printing presses, the newsrooms and their staff. 
Combinatul Poligrafic Casa Scînteii “I.V.Stalin” now known as Casa Presei Libere (House of the Free Press), Bucharest, Romania; 5 October 1956
Combinatul Poligrafic Casa Scînteii “I.V.Stalin” now known as Casa Presei Libere (House of the Free Press), Bucharest, Romania; 5 October 1956
Scînteia (The Spark) printing works, Bucharest, Romania; 5 October 1956 – The paper was the official voice of the Communist party of Romania
Scînteia (The Spark) printing works, Bucharest, Romania; 5 October 1956
Scînteia (The Spark) printing works, Bucharest, Romania; 5 October 1956
Scînteia (The Spark) printing works, Bucharest, Romania; 5 October 1956