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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 [?]
[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.]
I stayed over night in the room marked with a cross. This is a big hotel in Orasul Stalin which means Town of Stalin. Yesterday we motored over the Carpathian mountains and there was a lot of snow on them, although it wasn’t very cold. I am going on to a town called CLUJ.
These towns are in a part of Rumania, a district named Transylvania. It is all very nice.
Fri 12-Oct-56: Sinaia 2:30pm through Ploesti & top of mountain
Sat 13-Oct-56: Orasul Stalin had picnic lunch just below snow line. Staying at Carpati Hotel [now the Aro Palace]. Cabaret night at hotel
Thurs, 10 Oct [11 Oct 1956]
Dorothy – I write it that way because I sometimes say it with affection. Tonight I don’t need and dear or darling, to go with it. I say it, the way, maybe seldom, it can be said over your shoulder when you least expect it. When for the simple reason that my barriers are down and I realise that you and Graham are all I have and you are smothered in zut. This corn makes me embarrassed, possibly sick. But there is nothing like a bit of corn at times for sentiment. False or true is for you to decide. I worry about Graham – Are you & he getting on smoothly? I hear roundaboutly that I leave on the 18 Oct. [Unrest was brewing in Hungary and they wanted to get Wep out before the Soviets swept in.] How & in what direction I don’t know but will advise you later. Tomorrow or Friday I am going to Siniai, & other odd centres finishing at Cluj. We are going in a car, which is a real luxury. My stomach has finally rebelled against the excessive quantities of food. I have got to the stage where I could scream for nothing but a plate of bacon & eggs for dinner. I have been treated like one of the ex Arch Dukes – nothing is too much for the Institute to arrange. Tonight I met about 6 – 8 newspaper cartoonists in their Artists Union Palace. All very trying at first, but finished up like newspaper men anywhere else in the world. They gave me, on behalf of the Union about 6 massive volumes on Rumanian Art. I shall have to trust to chance with the Rumanian post or charter another plane to bring them all home. Their ignorance of Australia is abysmal, as is ours of Rumania. Am dreading the plane trip back, but am looking forward to being home. How Beryl Whiteley, manages to stick all this time away, is beyond me. Just near the pub is the gallery [The National Museum of Art of Romania], where this afternoon, I found 3 Rembrandts, I was disappointed in, 2 Brueghels, so, so. But all in all there are so many artists who speak a message across the years. That is something of the sublimity of the human spirit. No one is alone if they can see & feel what other humans (with all the same problems) have managed to transmit through the ages, since they were conceived. It is a direct contact with any other, possibly, important being, but most of all, a human trying to communicate something of wonder, & mystery, of being. The newspaper artists have asked me to do a drawing for the paper. I shall oblige in the morning. I have met no artists (fine) of any sort. If I don’t report the good gen on Rumania it is not my fault. I have done my best to find out what Socialist Realism means to these people. I believe I have arrived at an approximation of the truth. Once again, spare the mother, and spoil the child. I’m 12,000 miles away, thinking of you, & your nicest points – of Graham, and his unknown problems, and of what Sydney is looking like. Goodnight my dear folk,
Sinaia 11pm [Fri 12 Oct 1956]. I am up in the hills where King Carol & such dynasty had one of their 142 castles. Socially, it would be like Moss Vale or Bowral. You know the palace & all the wealthy hangers-about. Many fine & expensive homes all in the most appalling taste – the palace [Castelul Peles (Peles Castle)] probably being the worst – a bastardised mixture of Tudor & Renaissance with many statues & stairways onto the lawns. All horribly expensive – and rather sad when you think of the draining out of the peasant lives that went to its building. I, perhaps thinks only that way because it was late in the afternoon, getting dark, & the forest surrounding, silent & sombre in its autumnal death. Just now a train whistle blew & its echos resounds in the valley – even the initial blast was nothing like ours – Quite different – like a high pitched squeal.
The driver took us further up the mountain this afternoon – and we visited an hotel [Cabana Cioplea near Predeal, now the Complex Verona Predeal Hotel] for the worker built at about 4,000 ft. Wonderful skiing country. Even this afternoon there was lots of snow around the building & on the road & pines leading to it. Higher, the mountains were completely covered – It was very beautiful – Sinaia, below in the valley, the fine crisp air & the trees all gold & red – with pines still holding snow.
The palace [Peles Castle] is now a museum.
This very big hotel [Hotel Palace Sinaia] is full of workers on a free holiday. The very fine casino [Casino Sinaia] across the park from my window – now a clubhouse for the proletariat. All rather funny & just somehow. The peoples who were pressed to build these really quite amazing flamboyancies are now roaming around all over them like flies. As yet, they don’t look like they belong. More piercing whistles from the trains – sound rolling down & around the mountains like wine on the palate. After dinner I sat and watched the crowd dancing on the marble floor to the accompaniment of a dreadful German dance band played back on tape recorded from a German broadcast. Later a Russian band music – which, anyway was better to dance to because of its less sentimental quality. During the re-playing a Russian (people mixer) dance called a Pearinita was played. Jolly to watch – somehow charming – they are all in a moving ring & one person in the centre has a handkerchief which he or she places before one in the ring. The one chosen drops out and both kneel with one knee on the handkerchief & kiss. The partner chosen then chooses someone else – and so on.
Was lovely to see & walk on the snow – These Carpathian Mountains are beautiful – Its all like a dream – but the flaming dysentery I have copped for the day spoilt it a bit. I miss you both very much – even the lovely cool (cold to some) weather, hardly makes up for it all. Tomorrow I hope to take some photographs of the village. The way up did not seem real – It is the first I have really seen of European dinkum country – All somehow most intangible – & strange – something for the memory to hold.
Saturday night – (Orasul Stalin) [13 Oct 1956]
Dear Girl. These cities look so nice by night – all the lovely silhouettes of the churches & ex municipal Halls have an unreality of sight. When you have a perfect half moon & 1,000 ft of mountain coming straight up your backyard things are not the same. I am in Orasul Stalin, nee Brashov and I don’t care for it. Most depressing. Not so much the town as the inhabitants. It’s a thing I can’t get accustomed to. During the day the inhabitants look like something out of the tip. In the evening they dress up & look & act normal enjoyable folk. I shall work it all out with your help. This place is only about 80 miles out of Bucharest yet the people are different in appearance & attitude. It’s like going from Sydney to Marulan and being in another country. Here, mostly Hungarian or German is spoken and the people have a different look. The hotel orchestra, for one thing, is sharper & keener & so is the service in the pub. I am on the eighth floor of this place & have a beautiful room with bath, etc. All these places seem to be mad with the horror of cold air. Despite the fact that winter temperatures get below 20°F zero they put on woollies. Sheepskin coats, overalls & eiderdowns when the temperatures are only 56° – 60°F cool (that is). Why do I try to keep on beefing out information about this trip. It is obvious to you I cannot cope with the multitudinous aspects. I will remember this night sitting in the best of rooms in the pub [Carpati Hotel] of Orasul Stalin (Brashov) mostly because it is cool & I can see the lights of the city and there are absolutely no motor headlights and I needed you here to keep remembrance with me. I fear that there may be some sourness between me & the driver & interpreter. I have been not arrogant. Manners may be mistaken. Wendy could be just the same. They are not old enough to realise the impoliteness of speaking their own tongue amongst their colleagues who can speak English too. That is when I can’t it simply at the moment!
I came over the Carpathians (Alps) today & struck quite a bit of snow. Took some pictures but doubt if they will be any good. I got a couple taken of me just to prove that I have been here.
You know, it’s very odd to think that I am sitting in the 8th floor of a hotel in Orasul Stalin (which no one in Australia has heard of) & the room is over steam-heated (I have all the windows open) and there is an occasional horn blowing & probably quite a few people walking around somewhere – and all this rather dreary & old world city is the centre of many lives & deaths & aspirations & frustrations that one has never heard of, and that in Djataka [Jakarta?] in Java, the same relationships between failure & success, (as in Singapore & Rome & Venice) are all going on – and what does one do about it? Or can, for that matter? Millions of them living, hoping, and failing and dying, – some of them blessed with one who abides, many of them so completely alone. It does matter. I am convinced that the problem of living is dreary, anywhere in the world. People are the important units. The landscape is adaptable & suits all types. God, so much of this country looks like Australia. But the mountains are covered in autumn trees, golden & yellow leaves everywhere & whole thing like a photograph of it. It is all so bloody park like – give me the bush with its hard & mystic quality. The more I see of this park land the more I would like to suddenly transport its natives to beat the impact of our aridity & subtlety of colour. Dear Girl, I don’t expect how, to get any letters from you. But I hope you are getting along happily with Graham. I don’t speak much of him, but he is constantly in my thoughts. I know you understand. I wish you were with me. It would be very gay and sympathique. Much love & absence make the heart grow fonder; to you and the squab.