Wep’s 1956 Romanian adventure: Remembering Stephania Rotaru 16 yrs on

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]

Dear Sir,

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.

IMG_9996

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.

Stefania Rotaru, Wep's interpreter and guide, looks out from anYou 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(?).

Stefanie Rotaru outside the Cabana Cioplea, Predeal, Romania; 12You 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.

Arrivederci.

Bill Pidgeon (Wep) outside the Cabana Cioplea, Predeal, Romania;
Bill Pidgeon (Wep) outside the Cabana Cioplea, Predeal, Romania; 12 October 1956
Bill Pidgeon (Wep), his sight failing, at work on what would become his last portrait, of fellow artist and friend Venita Salnajs Zusters in Dec 1971. Bill was diagnosed with glaucoma just months prior to his trip to Romania in 1956.

Wep’s 1956 Romanian adventure: Summer in Romania

Republica Populara Romina BUCURESTI – B-dul Nicolae Balcescu

SUMMER IN ROMANIA

by

W.E. Pidgeon
P. O’Shaughnessy
F. Hardy

“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).

Copy of Wep's Part One: An Artist's Impressions; 25 foolscap pag

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.

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. The building was named Combinatul Poligrafic Casa Scînteii "I.V.Stalin" and later Casa Scînteii (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. - http://www.flickr.com/photos/cristina_/336794051/ viewed 4 Jul 2011
Combinatul Poligrafic Casa Scînteii “I.V.Stalin” now known as Casa Presei Libere (House of the Free Press), Bucharest, Romania; 5 October 1956.

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.

Wep's interpreter, Stefania Rotaru, and possibly their driver, Ute, at a rest stop outside the Hotel Cota 1400, Sinaia whilst crossing the Carpathian Mountains on the way to Orasul Stalin (Brasov), Romania; 12 October 1956
Wep’s interpreter, Stefania Rotaru, and possibly their driver, Ute, at a rest stop outside the Hotel Cota 1400, Sinaia whilst crossing the Carpathian Mountains on the way to Orasul Stalin (Brasov), Romania; 12 October 1956

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.

TWO

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:

  1. Cantice Batrineste — historical or legendary ballads
  2. Doine — love songs and elegies
  3. Hore — lively lyrics and dances

The three principal dance forms being:

  1. Batuta — an ancient national dance performed by men only
  2. Pe-Picior — in which each man has from 2 to 5 partners
  3. 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.

THREE

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.

Men’s Lei Women’s Lei
Suit 500 – 1000 ready-made frock 120 – 230
Overcoat 400 – 800 Costume 400
Shirt 80 high-heeled shoes 380
Tie 20 – 60 flat shoes 140
Hat 60 costume jewellery 20 – 90
Pyjamas 120
Shoes 140 – 400
Potatoes (kilogram) 0.65 Lei
Cabbage (about 2 pounds) 1 Lei
Butter (kilo) 18 Lei
Pork (kilo) 10 Lei
Cognac (bot) 90 Lei
Vodka (bot) 22 Lei
Tzuica (bot) 31 Lei
Beer (bot) 8 Lei

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)

FOUR

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).

Wep’s 1956 Romanian adventure: 24-25 Oct; Paris – pounding the footpath

Wed 24-Oct-56: Wandered all round the shopping areas & saw Sacre-Coeur church in morning – went to Lido night club. Up very late.
Thu 25-Oct-56:  Longchamp – went to Longchamp race course in afternoon & cooked Chinese grub in Roley’s flat in evening.
[Longchamp Race Course, Paris 1956]
Longchamp Race Course, Paris 1956, painted by W.E. Pidgeon in 1957
1956 MM-DD WEP Romania_0065
Pullen’s Palace
33 Rue St Augustin [33 Quai des Grands Augustins]
Paris, France
Wed or rather Thursday
The 25th Oct 1956

1956 Cultural Exchange_0062-3

My very dear darling, I have made three attempts to write to you about the Tyrol which I think must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Each time I get started some interruption occurs & the Tyrol is up the spout. I can’t force myself to write about it – I love it too much – I will tell you on the 28th of November when you are in my arms, and there is no tensions anywhere in the world, and for the little while we have some appreciative peace. I want to tell you so much about it. I cannot write much when I am staying with people. Please forgive the aimless scrawl – I have put the drop in the eyes & am not seeing very well. – Plus the feet too [?]. I have been to the Ritzy-est nightclub in Paris which means anywhere. The story is too long. I was where I was, with an English photographer from the Daily Express & it cost plenty just to sit at the bar counter & look over the shoulders of those who paid more than real money. I do not forget my darling girl. You are my wife and I your husband and its very silly, and it’s also very true and there is not much that can be done about it expect think of each other. From the Lido we went down to the Market’s area where we had a couple of beers. For 7 hours I have been pounding the foot path and now, really couldn’t care less about the sight & hide of the dopes who look after them.

At this point your poor dear erring, but loving husband, took the knock. He had a lot to tell you, but was breathless, and too slow on the draw. All I want is for Roley to get his washing away from hanging over the bath, so that I can get some of mine into the same position. Me – I’ve been washing too! I got very loving towards you (not that I am not always in that state when I’m 12,000 miles away) because you are the earth I put my anchor into and you take it & have not to leave it. I think you are quite the nicest girl – and also, the most forgiving little bugger – in the whole of the southern hemisphere – and the northern too, for that matter – And no amount of scolding, or disappointment in me will alter that sad fact. I love you. I wish you were here because I am now very cold & am shivering like a leaf (aspen). Part of this fatal affection for is maybe put down to the fact that I walked around for seven hours yesterday on only a bit of a bun and 1 ½ cups of coffee. You remember Georges Simenon, the Belgian author who wrote those short novels I sometimes got you to read. Novels about the gloomy French & their problems. He often talks about his lousy, unhappy heroes leaning against, or upon, a zinc lined bar, listening to the rain beating on the pavement outside whilst they drown their sorrows in a glass of Calvados. Well, I have never had a glass of Calvados, and didn’t know what the hell anyone could find to drown in it. So I ups and bought a flask of it for only 175 francs which is 4/3. There is still 2/1 worth left in the bottle and it is a very pleasant sort of fire water, made I am told, out of apple juice. Only goes to show, doesn’t it? Look, if you don’t forgive me, I won’t ever be the same. I’ll do a Blunden on you and regret it for ever afterwards [Wep’s friend, journalist Geoff Blunden deserted his wife Micky and married another woman]. I wouldn’t be writing to you if I didn’t think more of you than my actions indicate. Yah!

Yesterday afternoon, I was gloomily looking in a shop window on the Rue des Capucines, when a voice said “Do you think they are nylons or orlons?” I. quick as a flash, replied “I wouldn’t have a clue”. (Smart, eh?) Then he says – “I don’t think I come from too far away from you”. Me – “Could be, Lane Cove, Australia,” Him “Bondi, Sydney, what are you doing?” Me – “Contemplating a beer”. Him – “Oright, we can we go?” Us – “Let’s see”. And so, one of the world’s fleetingest friendships was formed between W. Edwin Pidgeon, late of Northwood, NSW and Ron Watson, not a Sergeant of Detectives, Bondi, NSW. He is over here on some business for Hoyts & has invited me to accompany him to a movie taking, involving the newest French glamour puss, next Monday. He says “come out with me & have a free lunch with the director”. So by the time you read this letter I shall have been irrevocably seduced by the vision splendid – I hope. In any case you are not too bad yourself – much slicker than most of the Frogs I have seen. At your age too, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Remember the nice happy beer we had together at Bulli – the day after we were married. I liked that. Still do. I spent all day looking at the shops which had nothing on Sydney’s. Funny thing is that the shop keepers move great quantities of their stock out on to the foot paths – and you see washing machine demonstrations – cooking exhibitions – bundles of clothing, meat, fish, & God knows what, all displayed halfway across the street. Enough to make the civic fathers of Sydney turn in their graves. I tell you, it’s crazy. Everybody tells me it is nutty to buy goods in Paris. And on looking at the prices I’m inclined to agree. They say wait till you get to London. There is nothing much in the stylish line around. Perhaps because winter is just around the corner. I still love you. I am one of most contented goons, you are ever likely to meet up with. I think you are a bit sappy too. Enough of this love talk. Roley is getting his secretary to take me to a big time fashion parade. I hope I can remember what to tell you – about the details & who’s there & what have you. This Paris is quite a [place – even if it is only the tourists who play. Roley says most of the Parisians have never seen the Folies Bergere [history of], and to prove his point, immediately asked his cleaning up woman (not a bad line of about 40) if she had ever seen the show – she had not.

I don’t need any money – I still have £210 left. I can’t see any point in spending it on shows & things. After all – they fundamentally the same in Sydney – if not as well done. I’m sick of gaping at notable buildings – I find the flavour of a town in its shops & its people. The way they go out – the way they work – The slums & the shops – the devil take the equestrian statues. Just now I wouldn’t mind being home or having you & Graham here with me. Yesterday morning I had a little pleasure in doing a note of the Pont St Michael [Pont Saint Michel], took a photo too, so may be able to get something out of it. The Pont Neuf is the next one up on the river & can be well seen from the windows of Roley’s flat. He & his secretary usually eat out but think it a good idea if I cook them a Chinese meal. I’d like to have a go, & see how the old form is. I still love you.

 

I have suddenly lost my punch – and find it hard to write any more. Although I am too lousy to let this letter go without filling up the back of this page. Looks as if I’ll finish off a bit half cooked. Which reminds me, that I bought some books by a yank named Henry Miller – strictly banned in England & USA – and no wonder too. King would know of him. I bought the extra books Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller (1952)because from what I read in his, which I bought in Rome, “Tropic of Capricorn” he has approached a sort of Indian Tantric, (i.e. sexual union) form of mysticism. Half of this book is straight out surrealist writing – the other, & really vivid half is devoted to an extraordinarily detailed, and enthusiastic account of fucking. It will make your eyes pop out. I can’t quite work out just how much exhibitionism is involved, or whether it is a purposeful contrast between the flight from self & the submergence in self. Seems like a contest between the flesh & the spirit. Tropic of cancer by Henry Miller (1934?)Anyway – in whichever vein he writes, he is equally moving. Needless to say his books are on the banned list but it is possible that I can get them in. You know, by just walking through Customs with them in my hand – or pocket, etc. Funny thing – Every country I have been through, just accepts your word that you have nothing to declare. Not once has my pack been opened. The bag, incidentally is getting a bit of a bulge in it. Packed pretty solid. Have had the jumper on only 3 or 4 times. Extraordinarily warm over here. Dearest, dearest [little love heart illustration with arrow through it]

 

Even if it kills me I’ll finish this page. You would (please say yes) wouldn’t you, rather have a letter of nothing, than wait for some Baedeker description of Paris?

How is Graham? I hope I am more understanding when I get back. Something has been missing. Am finding it hard to know what to get him. The limitations of plane packing have to be considered. I’m glad to hear you are all well. I still haven’t got your measurements – but any letters from Bucarest haven’t been sent here yet. I am very glad you know that I am out of the satellite countries. I think it may have been somewhat worrying if you had thought I was still there whilst the big blue is going on between Poland & Hungary & Russia [Hungarian uprising and the Russian invasion].

Au revoir & auf wiedersehen to you, dear wife, and terribly earnest thoughts for Graham. Am looking forward to seeing Trellie – 2 months difference – I won’t know her, nor she me.

I cannot, without complete collapse of gentlemanly restraint, tell you all how much I miss you.

Am getting to the stage of looking forward to my return home. Not that I’ll be any better, once I settle down. But there it is – Many hugs, restrained & otherwise, ditto for these xxxxxxxxxx

X – this one for the female hound, Nortey Trellie.

If I had the space I’d bring her back a piece of French fence post to sniff at.

(P.S. Our entrance to the Lido cost us 25/- each for 1 Scotch. We sat at the bar & looked on. We only had the 1 Scotch.)

My location
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Rue Muller, Montmartre, Paris; 24 October 1956 (Looking down Rue Muller on the right and Rue Feutrier to the left from the lower steps of Rue Maurice Utrillo. The cafe on the left remains a cafe today)
Rue Maurice Utrillo, Montmartre, Paris; 24 October 1956 (Looking down to Rue Muller from about halfway down the stairs of Rue Maurice Utrillo)
Pont Saint Michel and Notre Dame, Paris; 24 October 1956
Pont Neuf, Paris; 24 October 1956
St Paul Metro Station Rue de Rivoli, Paris; 24 October 1956
Possibly Boulevard Poissonnière, Paris; 24 October 1956
Looking west along Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle at the corner of Rue d’Hauteville, Paris; 24 October 1956
Street art along Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle near the corner of Rue d’Hauteville, Paris; 24 October 1956
Looking southwest from Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle at Porte Saint-Denis, Paris; 24 October 1956
IMG_6208
Junction of Boulevard Saint-Denis and Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle, Paris; 31 December 2013

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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: 6-9 Oct; Bucharest and its monuments

Sat 6-Oct-56:      Saw Pioneers Palace [Cotroceni Palace]. Did some washing in afternoon. Had fair bit of claret with dinner with Charles Grant.
Sun 7-Oct-56:     Nothing much done. Somewhat seedy. Saw Rigoletto in evening.
Mon 8-Oct-56:   Met Deac at Ministry of Culture – Acamadic library – Maxy artist. Much moi.
Tue 9-Oct-56:     Palace by the lake. Decorative art show. Big walk about Bucharest. Got pushed. Followed my nose out. Missed my mummy

1956 MM-DD WEP Romania_0045

This endearing note was written on Saturday night 6 Oct.

Dorothy – It means you so close – then it goes away. A symbol of sound that is a life line to – oh go and pull your big head in! I can’t be bothered about a resume of what I see & do. What people do & think is more important than anything in the world. When I see a Englishman who has spent 4 years in Rumania learning art abasing himself before a girl – any girl – perhaps she was tired – she deserved to be escorting Chinese through Rumania. However this character loves this girl and it is very trying because she has had him. Personally I’d give them both away. Please do not be jealous of my Stephania – She is only 21 and always delighted to be away from me. My conversation is so gay. Yet she’s kind and the affection I need to project must go to her. You know what a girl of that age thinks of an ancient like me. I am not Freddy Thomas O’Dea the pincher.

I wish I was getting as hot (that means weather heat) in Northwood as I am here. I have just washed all my socks & thingamys. I am strictly informed that the femme de chamber will do all these unnecessary chores – Like Hell. Little Willie gives none a nylon garment. I have done them.

Sunday morning [7 Oct 1956], in the cold light of day. 8am. This overseas travelling can get very tiresome. I have got to the stage where, looking at buildings & scenery, becomes as interesting as a stranger’s photographs of his backyard & family. When all the impressions are simmered down, the things I shall remember most, will be the paintings I have seen. They give out to the heart directly – They alone have the commodity of spirit – the intimacy, one so urgently needs.

Yesterday – in a funny old cellar, I together with a practically deaf painter from Iceland, were shown quite a collection of French masters. Renoir, Utrillo, Dufy, Marquet, etc. They were all in this cellar because the house was being redecorated to exhibit them properly. They belonged to a wealthy man named Zambaccian, and have been given to the State. His son showed them to us – and when we had finished very generously gave us 2 volumes on the Rumanian masters Grigorescu & Petrascu, of whose works, we also saw many. Very good too. The Institute has given me 2 magnificent volumes too. Christ, my luggage is getting heavy. I love you. I love you. I love you. I was not as bad last night as the above script suggests. Must have been the reaction from all this English talk. I gave my little mother time off from midday Sat. till tonight at 7pm when we go to the opera again.

Sunday night. [7 Oct 1956] Saw Rigoletto & it was very good indeed. The costumes were beautifully worked – I suppose there are plenty of good needle workers in this part of the world. The Opera House itself is a lovely building & was put up in a very short time during 1953 – in order to have its opening night coinciding with the World Youth Festival held here that year. The opera house has fine spacious lounges & gracious stairways. Had dinner at 11 o’clock and am now about to wash a shirt & retire to the cot. Good night, sweetie.

Monday night. [8 Oct 1956] 9.30pm. Have had dinner – went in at 8pm when the dining room opened. Am very tired – probably bored – living the life of a sponge – sopping up this & that – and giving nothing out. Perhaps it is a reaction from a flat afternoon – most of the galleries & cultural centres are closed to allow staff the time off for weekend work. We just sort of mooned around. The lass doesn’t like leaving me alone because it’s her job to interpret. And consequently there is nothing much I can do about dicing her. I’d have felt better if I had gone for a couple of miles walk. I don’t like getting too far off the beaten track because of the complete lack of oral communication – and the absence of a map of the city. It really is a nicely laid out place. I can imagine that when the consumer goods are coming through & the general standard of living rises this Bucharest will be as beautiful as its layout & buildings deserve.

Saturday and Sunday the multitudes come out in the Sunday best & roam all over the city – greatly improving the tone of the joint. Am getting to the stage of an affection for it. The climate & colour of the buildings remind me of home. In a few days I shall be going up to Sinaia & Transylvania & will visit a city named Cluj. I was wrong about the letter cost, it is only 5/6. Showed Stephanie your photo & Graham’s and photos of the paintings – she seemed to like them – and said you were very nice (what else could she do? P.S. I know she meant it.). She introduced me to her boyfriend, a nice looking young German who has been living in Rumania quite a few years, and he is an announcer on the radio station – knows 5 languages. My girl when she is not shepherding the dumb oxes like me also works for radio, as a translator & reader in English. These people are very keen & avid for study. You really sense them building something. Sitwell’s photos of the Rumanian women may be authentic for the peasants, but in the city there is a minority of really good lookers. Not presented at their best, an absence of lipstick & smart clothes. Waiting for the letter from you and Graham which I know should turn up soon. One does get lonely even in the midst of plentitude. Bought Graham the treble only tunes of 225 Rumanian Folk Pieces – dance, etc. They were collected & collated by the Institute for Folklore, etc. Didn’t seem to be able to get any two hundred piano collections. Seeing that none of it is played on the piano in the native habitat – I don’t suppose it matters much. Some day he may be able to transpose the tunes with his own bass & elaboration. At least the genuine fiddle line is clear in selection. Too tired darling to continue. Keep on being fond of me & pray added strength to my failing bones.

Tuesday night. [9 Oct 1956] 12.30am. I have arranged to be left alone for a day – that is tomorrow. I awoke at 5am this morning – had some drops & tried to sleep – but at 6 o’clock decided to get up. At 7am. Went for a walk over Bucharest without a map (and a dull, promising rain, morning) – sufficient to say that I got bushed for about ¾ hour but by the cunning devices of following a trolley bus wires (in the right direction) I contacted civilization & managed to get back to the pub only ¼ hour late for my appointment to see things. For nearly 2 ½ hours I walked Bucharest, in all sorts of quarters. Poorish indifferent, grand & flamboyant. I think this place has got it! It has individuality – all the residences are different. I’ll do it again with a camera. The parks & boulevards are superb & very grubby. My mother and I run out of conversation fairly quickly because she is too young. I regard her as a favourite niece. I wish you were here- as much as I wish you were with me anywhere else I have been. The things I have seen that I can never talk to you about, or make you see them with my amazed eyes. Sometimes, please darling, let me get drunk and tell you how I have felt about these sights. I don’t want to talk to others – to you, I wish to give a picture, with you beside me – although I know it won’t work. Rome has already become a sort of dream one would think up from a postcard. St Mark’s Square in Venice is still pretty real. One of the sights of the world. The huge Irrawaddy River spilling all over the low lying land in the Calcutta Delta. I shall not forget. Or – for that matter any other God damned thing I saw. I’d like to be home now telling you with my head on your lap, and you going to sleep, before I had finished. Wished you could have been with me out at the Maraseojowc(?) Palace this morning – It was the residence of the last Prime Minister, King Michael had. Fan Fuming –tastic. Has been turned into a sculptural museum & part of a hotel for creative artists where they can rest their poor weary brains in a couple of months beatific contemplation. I’m sick of stuffing food down my gullet. I’m sick of eating at 12 o’clock in the night. (I’ve just heard a Jugo-Slav conductor presiding over the local Philharmonic) I’m not quite sure whether I was not happier alone. I’ve seen so many things I’m not at all certain if I shall ever get them in the right sequence. Apart from the fact of going there – and the must of seeing their galleries, I feel as if I couldn’t care less about Paris & London. It has been very hot but now is cold & wet. When you get this letter on a spring morning – think a message to me across this way. My love to you darling & Graham,

from your husband Bill

Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidetified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same
Believed to be a sculptural museum and hotel for creative artists, Bucharest, Romania; 9 October 1956 (Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidentified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same.)

Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidetified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same

Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidetified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same

Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidetified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same

Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidetified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same

Believed to be a sculptural museum and hotel for creative artists, Bucharest, Romania; 9 October 1956 (Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidentified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same.)

Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidetified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same

Lake Cismigiu, Cismigiu Gardens, Bucharest, Romania; 10 October
Lake Cismigiu, Cismigiu Gardens, Bucharest, Romania; 10 October 1956
Strolling around Bucharest, Romania; 10 October 1956
Strolling around Bucharest, Romania; 10 October 1956
Strolling around Bucharest, Romania; 10 October 1956
Strolling around Bucharest, Romania; 10 October 1956
Bucarest, la ville at ses monuments by Grigore Ionesco; c.1956
Bucarest, la ville at ses monuments – Grigore Ionesco; c.1956

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

Wep’s 1956 Romanian adventure: 3-4 Oct; Bucharest – first impressions

Wed 3-Oct-56:   Left 9am arrived Bucharest 2:30. 2 girls met me. Staying at Hotel Athénée Palace.

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Hotel Athénée  Palace
Bucarest 3 Wed 56

Darling Dorothy

It was sweet of you to send a cable for my arrival. Two lasses from the Institute met me at the airport. We had hardly completed the formalities establishing our identity when they, with, I think, real pleasure, said they had a cable for me. It did me a lot of good, and on the strength of it, I will never say a harsh word to you again. Thank you little wife.

A car brought us to the hotel at 3 pm after getting my room for me, the lasses left & I had a sleep & a wash. At 5 pm, one of them, who has been assigned to me as an interpreter, returned with the car & we did a trip around the city.

I’m too tired to do this letter justice, so will go to sleep & finish it in the morning. It’s a treat to think that I will not be packing & frantically worrying about catching planes. Goodnight darling & thanks again.

Bucaresti - B-dul Nicolae Balcescu, Republica Populara Romina; 1956
Bucaresti – B-dul Nicolae Balcescu, Republica Populara Romina; 1956

6.20 am. [Thu, 4 Oct 1956] The weather is warm to hot. Somewhere in the 70’s – They are having an Indian Summer, I am told, after a cold September. The leaves have just begun to fall off the thousands of trees which are in this capital. The Bucharestians are extremely park conscious and in addition to what were obviously many fine parks & practically all tree lined streets. The Republic has extended the park lands & playing fields. God what a sentence!

This city has for the past century been under the influence of French culture, which has resulted in a lighter & more elegant approach to architecture & city layout. Practically all the streets look like ceremonial drives. The approach in from the airport is really fine. Two, single way broad streets flanked by trees, parks, and ritzy ex-bourgeois homes (now legations & what not). This hotel happily in the classiest centre & almost alongside the art gallery, is obviously a posh reminder of the pre war days. High class & kept in good order, good service. Telephones in rooms, H & C water, bidets, service call buttons, nice carpets. Just so. A fine dining room, good menu, with many items orchestra, good wine. All is provided, & whatever we do, or have, is fixed up by the girl who signs a chit. They even gave me an envelope with 500+ something lei in it, for spending money. (The average wage for a month here is 600 lei.) Am getting treated like a fighting cock. I like the city – in appearance, as I said, much gayer, most of the buildings light in colour, off whites & cream etc, rather like Sydney. Nice sight from the air too with lakes & a river. Most noticeable is the absence of motor cars. There are singularly few and these constantly blowing horns to clear the myriads of pedestrians who seem to swarm all over the streets. The cars they have are mostly Russian made. Plenty of trams full to the eye teeth. Great contrast in clothing. Some very unkempt – some extra spruce. However, more of that later. I really haven’t seen anything on foot yet. Last night we went for a walk round the shops. Big crowds. Practically all the shops are state owned & show a variety of utilitarian goods. Some few of the state shops are now beginning to feature more individual & better quality stuff, which naturally becomes dearer. A few privately owned shops specialise in hand made wear with the style improved & also the price.

The govt. is really out to raise the cultural level of the people. Books are very cheap, plenty of exhibitions, concerts and plays. I did see an open air theatre & was quite impressed – must attend a performance there. Sport too is intensely catered for. They have built a big concrete Olympiad bowl with a fine field & running tracks etc. They have bull dozed the earth up into a great round ring & poured concrete seats all around the field. 100,000 people capacity. Nearby is the nuttiest thing ever. A high tower with a desk on top. The tower is nearly 300 ft high & is for those who like to try a parachute jump. My interpreter is not of these. Quite a few cinemas showing Russian & Continental films. I am to meet the gentlemen from the Institute this morning – and will then know what’s what.

Most likely looking out over the rooftops and courtyard below fr Most likely looking out over the rooftops and courtyard below fr

[Believed to be the view from Wep’s room on the fifth floor of the Athénée Palace Hotel, Bucharest, Romania; Oct 1956]

It is a lovely morning with sun streaming over the roof tops beyond the courtyard below. I am on the fifth floor of the hotel. There’s not much to add at the present except to say that I feel quite relaxed although tired. I’m happy about my quarters & the city, and am sure everything will be very pleasant.

Lots of love darling – for you an imagined kiss & a frolic – for Graham a big affectionate pat on the head – and for Trellie a vulgar tickle.

Bill

P.S. Am getting the lass (Stefania Rotaru by name) to help me get Graham some music of Rumanian folk songs & some records.

The Rumanian cookery is based on French lines.

Another, & some more of the aforementioned thoughts.

Bye now!

At the moment I am standing in the street in the sun outside the hotel. There is a late American Chrysler standing here – and the folk are around it like flies. Got an American No. plate on it too. ODD.

 1956 MM-DD WEP Romania_0034

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Wep’s 1956 Romanian adventure: 3 Oct; Heading off for Bucharest, Romania

Budapest
Budapest, Hungary showing the Houses of Parliament, 1956

Dear Graham,

This is the river Danube which runs through Budapest. The city on the side of the river nearest you is Pest. The city on the other side is Buda. Hence Buda-Pest. I haven’t had time to look at the place, and I am now out at the airport spending Hungarian forints (that’s the name of their money) as fast as I can because they are of no further use to me. Lots of love to you & Trellie. I am off to Bucharest.

Love dad.1956 Cultural Exchange_0041

1956 Cultural Exchange_0042
Budapest, Hungary, 1956
Halaszbdstya, Budapest
Halaszbdstya, Budapest, Hungary, 1956
Ceskosiovenski Aerolinie; Praha - Budapest - Bucaresti
Ceskosiovenski Aerolinie; Praha – Budapest – Bucaresti

Wep’s 1956 Romanian adventure: Wep travels behind Iron Curtain on cultural exchange

Orbit Travel Service, Sydney Australia - preferential passenger

In 1956, acclaimed Australian artist, William Edwin Pidgeon (WEP) was issued with a visa for travel behind the “Iron Curtain” to Romania as part of a cultural exchange program.  This series of posts includes extracts from letters he sent back home to his wife, Dorothy and son, Graham, describing his adventures and depicting the places, people and life as he witnessed them. Included with posts will be some of the photos he took and art work inspired from his trip. Earlier that year Wep had been diagnosed with glaucoma in both eyes, a secret closely guarded for years to come for the potential impact it could have upon his ability to obtain painting commissions. Within his Romanian papers is a handwritten note; “My eyes are troubling me very much.”

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Invitation to Wep from the Romanian Institute for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries to visit Romania; 17 July 1956

Wep’s travel arrangements came to the attention of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) with a consequence that he was monitored by ASIO for the next three years. Two other Australians were also invited; actor, Peter O’Shaugnessey and author, Frank Hardy.

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Wep left Sydney on September 22, 1956 with stopovers in Darwin, Singapore, Rome, Venice, Munich, and Vienna. He arrived in Budapest, Hungary on October 2nd, travelling to Bucharest in Romania the next day. He spent two weeks in Romania, returning to Vienna on October 18. Five days later a cloud fell over Hungary when widespread revolt erupted 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.

From Vienna, Wep traveled to Paris where he planned to stay with his old friend and journalist, Roley Pullen. It was here that he met Roley’s assistant, another fellow Australian, Margaret Murray, with whom he formed a lifetime friendship. He remained in Paris for for just over two weeks, then a similar amount of time in London, finally arriving back home in Sydney on December 2, 1956.

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