Around about 1972, Wep drafted the following letters. It is not known whether they were ever sent. It would be nice to think that he was able to re-establish contact with Stephania Rotaru but I suspect it never happened. There is a good chance Stephania is still alive (81yrs in 2016) and if so, I hope she learns of this blog and I get the chance to meet with her one day and share some of these old recollections – Peter Pidgeon
[Most likely addressed to the Director, Institutul Roman Pentru, Relatile Culturale cu Strainatatea, Bucaresti]
During Oct 1956 I had the honour of being a guest in your Institute. The charm and beauty of your country continues to grow in my memory.
Two charming young ladies met me on arrival from Australia at Bucuresti airport. Being a sentimentalist, I would like (after all these years) to convey to each a remembrance of thanks and appreciation.
Is it possible for your department to forward these remembered friends the enclosed letters. I suppose they have both married and changed names. Could you please go through the records and forward these notes? These were very nice to a lonely stranger from the Antipodes. If it is not possible to trace these girls after all the years, would you please return the letters (which are not important) to me or advise me that.
To the bossy little unabashed girl who loved artists.
For no reason at all, since I was looking at gloomy television forecast of the earthquake doom of San Francisco, I remembered my mica mamitza Stephania. How I must have bored you – yet you and Utzo were tolerant of me.
You will not remember my unexpressed enjoyment of a picnic lunch by the roadside of chicken and capsicums & what-here you. Or even my picking up of the old mother-in-law pears outside Aiud. Or the way the wine master made the motions of kissing your hand in the cellars after we had drunk & exulted about his collective brandy.
Can you remember (no, it was meaningless work for you) as I do in your new and strange land being up above Sinai, cold as frogs with snow all about and the (to me) silly little falsetto whistles from the express so far below in the valley where you made me get with the Perronts(?).
You will not remember Utzo bumping a mudguard & having to get it fixed at Orasul Stalin (Brasov) and you drearily walking with me all over town looking for him & eve(ntually) finding the villain near the railway crossing & the pigs squealing off in the trucks. No of course not. But I remember your charming boyfriend who broadcast in English. He was very nice yet I suppose you never got around to marrying him. So many things I recollect after sixteen years, so meaningless, so really unnecessary to any great communist purpose as you had at that time.
The remembrance of your Madonna almond eyes dissolved all the edges off your brittle independence. Why was your boyfriend so much softer and tolerant?
However, if I was too shy or too lousy to show it – I loved you for being my mamitza, still do.
No matter if you are fat and nearly forty – full of bambinos & polenta, please say one kind memory if you remember.
You must remember photographs I sent you, the magnificent church at Alba Lulia.
An excess of vino has occasioned all these sentimental reminiscences. If ever the message arrives to you, please send me a little note – tell me if you are happy – don’t, if you are not.
It may surprise you that I remember almost every day and every meal I had with you in Bucaresti & all over.
“Being the impressions of three Australians visiting Romania”.
[Transcribed from a draft of a proposed book in three parts by artist, William Edwin Pidgeon; writer, Frank Hardy; and actor, Pat O’Shaughnessy who were the three invitees to Romania and who were subsequently spied upon by ASIO for possible subversive activities. Wep’s archives contain several letters between himself and Frank Hardy in an attempt to get Frank to complete his section. In the end, Frank failed to live up to his end of the agreement and in 1958, Wep approached Clem Christesen, editor of Meanjin journal who himself had visited Romania in 1957. Clem advised he would like to publish it as a small book and urged to proceed without Hardy; perhaps even an article in Meanjin as well. Wep was reluctant feeling it was unfinsihed without Hardy’s contribution. Funding was also a problem and it is not yet determined whether it ever did get published.]
PART ONE – AN ARTIST’S IMPRESSIONS
Two girls who met me at the airport said it was a Romanian “Indian Summer”.
The airfield boundaries simmered and jingled in a brown haze of Australian like heat, and apart from the presence of the fancy buildings and the strange rapid speech, I could have been back home.
A re-emergence of summer had stretched right back over Europe-perhaps had heated the Hungarians into their disastrous autumn.
Beneath the photographically watchful eyes of Stalin and Gheorghiu Dej, my hostesses introduced themselves with the ease and grace which, I found later, was part of the charm of the Rumanians. Somehow they reflected this smoothness of the boulevarded approach of the city to come.
It was a nice city from the air-not over big-ringed by lakes and an easy countryside. Comfortable looking too.
But what can one see from 1000 m of the lives, aspirations, frustrations and despairs of a million people below?
Sleek, efficient Mrs Suteu, responsible for the care of English-speaking visitors, and young Stefanie Rotaru, with Italian Madonna eyes, did their best to explain.
Bucharest, founded on the site of a Roman Fortress, has had a long and chequered history, overrun often by Turkish, Austrian, German and Russian invaders.
Many armies, sweeping into Romania, carrying off the produce of its soil; but the people remaining; proud of their distant Roman connections; speaking a Latin language; maintaining their distinctive quality; an isolated group now associated with others of alien tongue in a common endeavour to achieve some measure of the theoretically perfect state of socialist welfare.
Down the broad tree-lined streets, through the swelling autumn leaves, past the showpiece parks, past the patient women sweepers, and squashing over the mongrel chestnuts which an occasional stooping figure is gathering for pig food. Past the Russian Memorial, its beds ablaze with red salvia, threading through the once ritzy embassy quarters, and down a long and narrow shopping street to the Athenee Palace Hotel which sits on the end of the square that fronts the ex-royal palace. The Athenee, main accommodating house for foreign visitors; in prewar days the stomping ground of elegant women, diplomats, officers and big commercial men; now a bedlam of tongues, skilfully unscrambled by the young interpreters. It is as though one were living under the clock in the Central Railway Station. It is all talk, meetings and appointments-interminable comings and goings. Rough red wines, beer, the inevitable tzuica (plum brandy) and the favourite dry white wine-a hock drunk with mineral water-and food! Mountains of food, at prices well beyond the average pocket. Tiny national flags brighten the tables, identifying this group as Bulgarians, that as Koreans, another as Swedes, there are Italians, and here Australians. Footballers, union delegates, poets, marksmen, painters and agriculturalists, anything you like, some on goodwill missions, others on jours of critical investigation, some merely competitive sportsmen from neighbouring Communist states, but all guests of the Romanian government which seeks to extend its relations with foreign countries.
I never had time to see the inside Bucharest. What lay behind the diverse facades, those plastered fillers that sat so discreetly behind the fading leaves. Many must have been built since 1918, for the population was then only 350,000. French culture dominated the city, influencing much of the domestic architecture with its delegates. The hierarchy appear to reside in the more well kept of these homes, while others with a tired look, are rumoured out to those of more humble status. No one seems interested in the maintenance of these often charming lodgings, for revolutionaries societies are inordinately proud of, and busy with, their latest and greatest projects. Over occupied mansions are falling apart at the corners, while the interiors of full of inhabitants who are seething with dialectical ideas on how to build the future.
Their enthusiasm is tremendous, and is apparently projected completely outward in terms of bigger and better edifices for the glory of the socialist state. The visitor is whisked off to the barren acres, whereon more and more monotonously designed workers’ flats in varying states of construction rise out of the ground like an overnight crop of our own seaside flats. But the new amenities are there-more light, better plumbing, more playgrounds, more space.
Whole suburb-the 23rd August suburb, brought into being as a celebration of the National Liberation Day (August 23 is the national holiday of the Rumanians. On that date the whole country celebrates the anniversary of the day in 1944, when the Romanian Communist Party led the outbreak of insurrection against the Germans). Everything is new and wonderful and breathtaking for the people, because it has been built by the people for the people.
The 23rd August Open-Air Theatre, which I would have liked to have seen in operation, but did not-a beautiful concrete shell, with a neo-Grecian concrete stage beneath a lovely autumn night. It is in projects like this that one senses the urge for the full life. People with scarcely a pants to their suit clamouring for, and getting, riches in the simplicities of art. Occupying considerably less space than a Drive in Movie, the theatre is quite elemental ineffective design (see illustration).
In a large recreation ground in front of the entrance to the theatre the more active and intrepid of the 23rd of Augustians can devote themselves to soccer, high jumps and sundry other death-defying sports. A steel tower 80 metres high caters for those who are too rugged for the Greek chorus. Just for fun one can climb up this glorious symbol and leap therefrom to the ground-with the aid of a small parachute, if you are so inclined. Fortunately, my interpreter Stefanie, was not an enthusiast. Behind all this the 23rd August Steelworks belches fourth flame for the future.
Also included in this terribly healthy suburb is the 23rd August Stadium. An enormous bowl, bulldozed out of the ground; a concrete saucer seating 100,000 people around a standard Olympic field.
But Bucharest’s real pride and joy is the Scinteia House Printing Centre, situated by the lovely Lake Herastrau at the edge of the city. Set in 98 acres of formally laid out parkland, this huge building, designed in typically Russian neoclassical style, is 220 yards in length and depth, and culminates in a tower 327 feet high. The central block accommodates the Cultural Administration offices and the literary workers. The wings, stretching to each side and behind, how’s the machinery which produces practically all Rumania’s newspapers, educational publications and cultural and scientific books. Begun in 1950, Scinteia had one rotary newspaper press in operation by 1951. By 1953 twelve presses were producing, on the average 2,500,000 newspapers a day. The building was completely finished 23rd August Day 1956. Daily production also includes 50,000 magazines and 80,000 to 100,000 books. The floorspace is vast, allowing more than ample clearance for all machines and the whole place is extremely clean; in fact, the working conditions could not be bettered. There is a concert hall, library, club, canteen and so on.
When you leave you sign the Visitors Book saying how fine it is (which it is), you feel that it’s all happened before; this tagging round on some Good Fellowship excursion, through a new steelworks or the latest in synthetic biscuit factories.
Massive buildings, showpieces, impressive portents of the future they may be-but I liked better to wander alone early in the morning round the more ordinary parts of the city and to watch its life begin.
Down past the ex-Royal Palace, unimpressive and dead looking in the cool autumn mist, yet alive within, for it houses now the capital’s Art Gallery, with its superb El Grecos and carefully roped off Rembrandts.
Down to the bottom end of the town, passing some womenfolk queued up for short supplies. Round by the old massive Palace of Justice, a turn to bring you down by the river, the Domboditza, of which it is said, “he who drinks of the waters comes to drink again”. Not that one can imagine accepting any part of this now scruffy stream which seems to disappear beneath the bustling square, perhaps to re-appear somewhere further on in an even sadder state. Up the ancient hill to arrive at the heart of the old civic centre, and a short way on, the barracks alongside as your footsteps clatter over the cobbled streets, through which the laden tram cars run down to the city and a new day.
Back over the river, dawdling to watch the little stands offering their freshly cooked pastries and sweets. Through a fine park its drives and footways circling the lake, the skiffs quietly moored and the statues gleaming in the early light. Through a market square to which the outside peasants have brought, in their quaint carts, the daily offering of vegetables and fowl.
A cold snap has stampeded the proletariat into doing up their shirt collars, and an amazing collection of headwear comforts the hitherto hatless heads. Caps, berets, battered felts, and occasional homberg, and assorted styles in strakan bob up and down the streets. Now looming up a railway station to dole and dreary to be associated with the romance, fictional and otherwise of the Orient Express. It IS Bucharest Station and London is a whole continent off.
Later you realise you have got yourself bushed, for maps of the city seem to be unobtainable, and in the quiet residential area no recognisable landmark is in sight. It is impossible to ask where you are, or the way back. Nothing for it but to follow a tramline and hope it leads you to, and not from, the city itself. It is a lucky day and a couple of miles more place you nicely on the spot and just in time for breakfast at the pub. Such pleasant and completely unrestricted wandering sets you up in the receptive mood for the conducted round that starts at nine.
Museums, art galleries, Pioneers palaces, Houses of Creation-everything that is visible and tangible evidence of economic emergence. The sensing of it all as a national possession, makes the people feel that the construction, or whatever it is, is in itself unique, whereas it is the relationship of the thing to society, that is unique. Rumanians are building big-but so is every other country in the world. What is of real interest is the hearts and minds of the men and women; strange ways, remaining strange, because there is no easy communication with them; for even the most willing interpreter, as I had, leaves you with but half a tongue. You are seated down to a great deal of bones from which the meaty subtleties are gone before you start.
But you can sense the enthusiasm. Bookshops jammed with paper backed volumes on every cultural and technical subject. Foreign language books in English, French, German and Russian-above all Russian-the secondary educational language-all the scientific works copied straight from the Soviet presses. It is somehow moving to see these, until recently, comparative illiterate people taking such huge gulps of knowledge-it is a banquet, and all are feasting.
It was very pleasant to be driven 200 miles or more up country. Ute, the chauffeur, was twenty-three, Stefania twenty-one, so in good spirits, I stripped a few years and the picnic atmosphere was not altogether extinguished. At my least request we would pull up, either to paddle in the oil wells of Ploesti, contemplate the tobacco crops near Sibui, take a photo of Aiud, or scramble off the road near Sebes to gather the wild small pears which a passing peasant couple happily observed were, “Pere padurete pentru soacre” (wild pears for the mother in law). How right they were. But the chicken and ham and beer by a stream in the Carpathians had more than made up for that. In the night the high shrill notes of the locomotives bounced back and forth between the mountains until they slowly echo off and join the silence of the snow and pines.
In Orasul Stalin dear Ute, in our absence, had squeezed a mudguard, God knows against what other car. For cars were few and far between as the girl and I found out when we looked for him as we passed down the long dark street that had neither turning nor offshoot for a mile and whose houses were shuttered against the night and the dark silhouettes which moved in and file down the highway and who were the lifeblood and hope of the radiant town of Stalin to come. From the hills came this sweep of the chill winds bearing with them from the railway yards the grunts of the socialist pigs on the way to the proletarian ham. And still no Ute. But he turned up later, car and all, not a bump to be seen.
My mica mamitza (little mother-I had to call her that because I could hardly eat or drink without her help) was somewhat sour-but, being young, she forgot quickly when dear old Ute later at the Hotel dinner offered her his latest in the dancing line. Greatly emboldened, I asked a Hungarian lass for a dance. Beyond the marble floor, in the more reticent cubicles, sat the English ambassador, ginger-ish and impenetrable. I enjoyed my dance but neither of us could make any sense of my execrable pidgin German. But it made her laugh.
Transylvania-I suppose everybody has licked their lips in Ruritanian contemplation of princes and swarthy knights, of Draculas, werewolves, vampires and crosses of oak.
Transylvania-musical comedy-“the Gypsy Baron” and all that, perhaps true in the far off; but on to Cluj the road cuts through a plateau as commonplace as the Monaro complacently rolling its brown ancient plains against the Australian Alps.
And not a fence to be seen. All the land so carefully gone over and worked through the centuries that each square foot is recognisable, and forever placed in its relationship with its neighbour stop whole families of peasants stop of their timeless four wheeled carts, drawn by a pair of oxen, or more expensive horses, streaming out of the frequent hamlets, towards their known and inviolate plot, marked only by the mutually recognised boundaries invisible in the waiting soil. Here the cart rests, and the oxen go to the plough, the man to his furrows and the women to their cutting and sowing. All day in the fields with a break for the midday meal and a pull at the painted clay water pitchers calling in the shade of the wagon. At dusk, a heel to toe stream back to the village, the younger people exchanging carts-holding hands.
Compactly built villages reflect the native love of colour. Long continuous plastered walls, broken by the courtyard entrances arching over the sturdy wooden doors, are reminders of the days of fortification was more than a picturesque design. The individual residences gaily painted in pinks, ochres, greys, whites and ultramarine.
And the shepherds; older than revolution and war, dressed as you fondly hoped they would be. In tight white trousers, white aprons, embroidered waistcoats and sheepskin cloaks, they shout and batter the sheep (so many of them the black and long-haired dreams of fairy tales), off the road before the approach of the imperious car.
The small flock of bleating animals, three belonging to one of the peasants in the village, five belonging to another, to others, one, four, two or six, all slowly eating their way to the higher pastures with the community shepherd their guide and protector as in Biblical days. In the fenceless pastures they must be watched, in the mountains there are wolves, so their shepherd is always with them, and with him his flute and his folksongs.
The Rumanians are energetic in keeping their folk music vital and alive. Everything possible is being done to record and print extent tunes from every province in the country, and much encouragement is given to the emergence of new themes of folk song. Ballads like “The Song of the Tractor” or “The Light (electric) Has Come” extoll the symbols of the new life in the same way as other generations honoured the images significant to them.
The music which is collected by the Folklore Institute could nominally be divided into three categories:
Cantice Batrineste — historical or legendary ballads
Doine — love songs and elegies
Hore — lively lyrics and dances
The three principal dance forms being:
Batuta — an ancient national dance performed by men only
Pe-Picior — in which each man has from 2 to 5 partners
Hora — a round dance with swaying rhythmic movement embodying varying steps and tempo.
From Leon Feraru’s “Development of Romanian Poetry”, we learn that the doina is the lyric poetry of the Romanian peasantry, and expressed almost all emotions, but is usually offered as a song of longing, or sorrow. By some strange convention, perhaps derived from the peasant’s love of nature, or some primitive form of nature worship, the doina usually begins with the words “A green lead of a … (Rose, oak, or some other flour or tree)”.
“The doina tells of need, grief, textile and death. It takes the shape of threat against oppression, it celebrates wine and carousel, contemplates and worships the Creation. And persistently it intones love. The doina follows the peasant, step-by-step, from infancy until his end — from lullaby to elegy”.
Longing is the grand theme. An unknown author says, “Longing is the invention of the Devil. Longing torments the soul, clings to the soul like a rambler and puts the heart on fire.” The sign is equally disturbing: “I have side so much,” laments one doina, “I have side so hard, that my heart pains me, my soul burns. I have side so much that the Lord became angry, and not it no longer snows, it no longer rains and no longer falls the dew.”
There now exists a considerable number of popular folk music orchestras, the most famous being the Barbu Lautaru ensemble (lautari meaning village fiddlers). This group was formed some years ago for the purpose of experimenting with the further progression of folk music, which to these people, is a living art, capable of greater expression and expansion. These groups present airs from the most remote areas and generally help to keep the Rumanians keenly aware of their own rich musical heritage, as against the pop and bepop of overseas infiltration. The peasants are being taught to make their flutes and suchlike instruments in a standard pitch-they are taught ensemble work, and the tutors in turn, learn from the peasants who are often extremely individualistic in their musicianship. It is, in fact, a two scheme of education.
In the Athenee Concert Hall I heard the Barbu Lautaru group give a most exciting two hours concert, playing the whole time with seemingly inexhaustible vehemence. Forty-five musicians-tarragots-all playing in ruthless fury. The emotion flowing in controlled and canalised perfection-faster and faster and faster to an atomic cessation. The great seething vibrance cut dead, with the precision of a guillotine, by the downbeat of conductor Budisteanu’s baton. Soloists were many who had been proclaimed laureates of their craft at different musical festivals, the most popular being Maria Tanase, a slender good-looking girl who sang Gypsy songs with passion. The great cries of “Bis! Bis! Bis!” (which means encore) were ignored only by sheer physical exhaustion.
This is not intellectual music. The innumerable dances and laments that poor fourth from all the provinces of Romania come from the heart the erstwhile illiterate peasant. His grief, his Geordie, his dancing, and his history are all put to music, and passed on in the most indelible way father to son, and from mother to daughter. Music without the complications of intellectually constructed form. As elemental as the earth, and the people who grew and died on it.
More serious music is not neglected. At the concert Hall I heard a visiting Yugoslav conductor give a combined classical and modern performance; and a few days later, a chamber music recital led by a leading Italian artist.
Apart from the two hot months August and September, the opera houses in Bucharest and the bigger provincial towns are open every night to full houses. Prices are not low, although there are concession nights for youth and factory worker groups. The Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Romanian People’s Republic in Bucharest was built in a few months for the World Youth Festival of 1953. Much involuntary labour was incorporated in the building. The interior is most comfortable, and largely elegant with its sweeping stairways and marbled paved foyers and bars.
Being largely of Latin descent the Rumanians are quite at home with the emotionalism of the Italian Opera. I had the good fortune to see performances of Aida and Rigoletto, but missed seeing any of the works of the Russian composers.
Presentation of both these works was on spectacular and traditional lines. There was none of that portable stage ware one associates with touring opera companies. Egyptian gods (albeit papier-mâché), so tall their heads were lost in the heights of the stage, really moulded gates, columns, stairways and triumphal arches, and lavish costuming contribute to the sumptuousness of the production. I am not qualified to add that the music and singing was on the same plane. Possibly not. And almost nightly change of program over ten months of the year would, I imagine tax the resources of the greatest of artists.
As most of these operas and concerts begin about 7:30 p.m., and you cannot have your dinner at the hotel before 8:30 p.m., you are often distracted by the thoughts of food. But at 10:30 p.m. the artistry is over and the eating begins. The Athenee Palace Hotel Orchestra plays tirelessly-folk songs, Viennese waltzes, German Polkas, English ballads, and even an occasional American hit-sad to say the musicians confessed complete ignorance of Waltzing Matilda-but if I could have hummed the tune with any assurance at all, I am sure they would have played it.
Confronted with a lavish menu, and surrounded by gargantuan eaters, you give due consideration to the right dish. There is no hurry, for the dining room will not be closed until 2:30 a.m.. Lots of people are fond of your interpreter, and you are not altogether isolated because of your linguistic disabilities.
I have long wondered at the curious differences in prices on the menu. Not that it matters much anyway, because it is all on the house so to speak, and if you and your interpreter invite guests to join you, they too, are on the house. It is months now since I started to marvel at this menu, and I have not yet ceased.
Before me is a copy which quotes (as part of the cold buffet preceding the main courses) Sardines a L’huille Jugoslave — 22.50 Lei-the dearest dish in the place. Sardines, mark you!
Taking the Lei as a unit we get the following comparisons:
Salade cavaire carpe is only 5.40, and you get more than you can eat-very good too, even if it is not the high and mighty sturgeon.
3.50 for 100 grams of lemon when it is only 5.85 for the best part of ½ pound of ham. And 5.40 for a great plateful of wonderful smoked pork. 7.50 for an omelette aux fines herbes, and for a mere 9.40 a whacking huge plate of roast pork, or 11.80 for half a chicken; 11.40 for vol-au-vent financiere.
Only 1.55 for pickled whole capsicums, 1.25 for cucumber with a dressing: that 7.40 four filtered coffee. But then coffee is a distant import and is paid for in a hard currency market.
So you can see not too many Rumanians eat out of their own purse in this establishment-especially when they know that one meal will set them back the best part of a week’s wages. But it is no worse than eating at the Ritz.
Speaking of prices, I suppose everyone likes to know what people behind the Iron Curtain can buy with the money they earn. It is extremely difficult for a stranger to form any idea of what the standards of living are. By and large the Rumanians are not well dressed. They spend a lot of money on food because they have the great appetite. Their rents are fixed at a low normal rate of 5 – 6% of their weekly income. With the unskilled worker’s wage at 600 Lei a month, the figures I quote from shop windows in the provincial town of Cluj may give you some idea of what he can do with his earnings.
500 – 1000
120 – 230
400 – 800
20 – 60
20 – 90
140 – 400
Cabbage (about 2 pounds)
Bicycle 860 Lei
Motorbike (imported) 16,000 Lei
(FOOTNOTE – on the foreign exchange market the Lei is held at about ¼ to 1/6 Australian this may not be a real value rate for no foreigner could exist for a week paying on this basis)
As an artist I was primarily interested in the conditions and functions of the artist in a socialist state.
It is apparent that given the necessary ability, and the willingness to accept theory of socialist art, he is very well off indeed. In fact, he enjoys, relative to his society a much more exalted position in the social scale than does his counterpart in the Western world.
As a unit of promulgation of socialist consciousness he has special privileges and responsibilities of which I will speak later. Like all other workers, he belongs to the Union, in his case, The Plastic Arts Union, which looks after his social welfare, supervisors and commissions his work.
The youth who desire to become artists are selected from the final school grade, and are admitted to the Institute of Plastic Arts where they are given an allowance during thorough six-year course of training which lies ahead.
The Institute in Bucharest, which teaches hundreds of students (among them some Chinese and English), places a great emphasis on draughtsmanship in the academic manner. This is understandable, as art as officially conceived in Romania, as a tutorial aim, and is to be clearly understood by the populace. Drawing is emphasised in pencil and charcoal, pen and ink, in lithography, wood engraving and etching.
Sculpture, or more precisely, modelling in clay, dominates the final year of the course. Ceramics and allied arts are taught to a high standard. The quality of painting was generally disappointing. During the sixth year the student is fully supported before his examination for graduation into the Artists’ Union. After graduation he is under no direction for two or three months, during which time he may go where ever he chooses (still under full allowance) to gather material and ideas for the commencement of his career.
Those students whose aptitude is not considered worthy of continual encouragement by the Union may apply to some other union admission to its particular craft. Failures at graduation may apply for enrolment in allied artistic cooperatives in which a measure of artistic feeling is combined with craftsmanship-the Artisan trades, such as stonemasonry, woodcarving, decoration, etc.
To get back to our young artist.
If he has an idea for a painting, or a series of sketches he approaches the Artists’ Union suggests his ideas and is well received, obtains a loan from the Union to enable him to complete his project.
Having completed his work, he submits it to a committee appointed by the Union, and if approved of, is purchased, and a deduction is made in respect of the loan advanced.
If he should happen to sell his work to an individual, or some unattached co-operative, he still repays the Artists’ Union the sum advanced
If he is on the ball, our artist is now established.
Usually sells his work through the Union, and its local committees; much as if he were to sell through, the commission by, the various selection boards of societies of artists which exist in Australia of course there is nothing to stop him selling his work to individuals, from what little I could see, I doubt whether any individuals were either willing, or economically capable of doing so.
The fundamental patron is the State-or, if you like, the Unions, and other bodies associated with the apparatus collective management. From here we move into the consideration of what all this works out in terms of the living wage.
In Romania, all major buildings and projects, in, or under planned, production are obliged to allocate a certain percentage (I was informed by a sculptor it was equivalent to a minimum of 10 shillings per £1000) of the total cost to the Plastic Arts Fund, which discusses the artistic problems involved, how they should be distributed, and to which artist or artists. Unfortunately I neglected to ask whether these allocations were made on a competitive, or roster basis.
This is undoubtedly constant and practical support from artists from governmental levels.
The Plastic Union also stages exhibitions (the works in which are for sale), encourages discussions between artists and laymen, and generally makes every attempt to synthesise their often opposed points of view.
To give a better idea of how successful artists may become, I quote a few figures from Mr Maxy, Director of the Bucharest Art Gallery, and well-established artist.
As the average wage for an unskilled labourer would be the vicinity of 600 Lei a month, and for a skilled worker, such as a typesetter, 1000 Lei a month, Mr Maxy’s figures seemed to me to suggest the height of affluence. Nevertheless, they received corroboration in other parts of the country so I suppose it does apply to the top man, at least.
An established artist, having made an approved suggestion to the Artists’ Union, will receive 2000 – 3000 Lei a month during the period of his idea’s incubation and appearance.
If his production is satisfactory to the Artists’ Union (which virtually means that it will be accepted by the State), he will be paid anything from 15,000 – 20,000 Lei for and heroic historical picture or 8,000 – 15,00 for a significant landscape.
It is possible for him to earn as much as 40,000 Lei for a grandiose project, or even to name his own fee for what he submits. Mr Virgil Fulicea of Cluj, is one of those who reap the benefits of these arrangements. A sculptor strong, fluent and acceptable concepts, he had in his studio a major work of three peasant girls from the Fagaras region wearing costumes that survive from the Daccian (Roman) days vigourous and optimistic in design, this over life-size work was worth, in the plaster cast, 35,000 Lei to him. It represented six months work and the State pays for and arranges the bronze casting of it. One could hardly grumble at that.
He told me that for the big works it was usually he, one day or month, so to speak, and someone else, the next.
Of course, he does not get this fee all the time. I understand there are certain fixed prices-minimum, average and maximum and that juries consider the necessity, appropriateness and value of the ideas submitted.
On top of all this the living and creative conditions of the artist are given special consideration, for it is the accepted thing in this society that the artist should be spared all possible distractions.
If the artist’s work and ideas are well received he may be allocated special quarters in one of the numerous Houses of Creation, which resemble private hotels housing a community of interests. He is given accommodation, congenial working quarters, and dining and assembly facilities.
I visited two such establishments in Bucharest.
Firstly, the Magosoaia Palace which had been taken over for sculptors, although at the time I saw it, it was not completely ready for occupation. The beautiful palace, built byBrancoveanu in 1724, is small gracefully designed and overlooks formal gardens which lead down to the river lined with rushes alive with the sunlight and the wind.
The architecture with its warm bricks and slender pillars has a Muslim touch, probably influenced by the Turks who dominated the country from many generations. Byzantine gold mosaics paves the main foyer where now the proletarian artist treads and meditates.
House of Creation number two was a much more modest affair, set in a nice clump of trees in the best residential area of the town itself, and is the workplace of painters and top sculptors, Medres and Baraski. Monstera Deliciosa was set in pots around the veranda facing the lawns.
Heroes of Romanian history were lying dismembered in the studios. A plaster head of Balcescu, two feet six from the neck up, lies alongside an equally gargantuan shin and foot of Eminescu. All these bits and pieces awaiting dispatch to the foundry, from whence, assembled and in bronze, they will brave the elements in noble and optimistic city squares.
Newspaper artists working for the daily press get 500 – 600 Lei for each cartoon that appears. They are not on the staff, and are a body of freelance men who make themselves available at extra short notice, like their colleagues anywhere else in the world. So we see that even three or four drawings of week puts these men in the upper crust bracket.
I did not have time to find out how the Artisans, like ceramic workers, woodcarvers, wrought iron workers, embroiderers and the like were paid, but their productions had the technical excellence, and were quite as skilful in design as those of the traditional folklore masters.
I attended the opening of the Biennial Exhibition of Romanian Decorative Art in a new modern Gallery in Bucharest. 280 artists had sent in over 2000 exhibits, most of which were on show, and extremely well done in a form of modernised traditionalism.
The exhibition’s sponsors were the Ministry for Culture, the Union of Plastic Arts, the Ministry for Light Industry, and the Artisan’s Cooperatives. In his official speech Mr Mac Constantinescu sculptor, and Professor of Decorative Art, made the following points.
“Romanian art faces now social aspects of life, and if there are many difficulties to be contended with, it is for us to find a way to surmount them.
There is no doubt there are still great problems, but if all creative forces are stimulated, the artist, or Artisan, knows that in overcoming them he will be able to do something for society, and will be aware of the importance of his work in the decorative ensemble.
If we fight for the development of artistic personality and creative imagination, our decorative arts will be a great success in our days.
Experiments and innovations in the technical and conceptual points of view, which are presented at this exhibition are, and must be, welcome. The task of the exhibition is to submit the exhibits to the critical appreciation of the public. Only thus are we able to choose or select the most worthy from the exhibition, and only thus can we progress.”
I think that within these few remarks one finds the central problem of social start. Or, to be more explicit, the essential contradiction in Socialist realism which has not yet been synthesised. On the one hand we have the demand for “experiments and innovations from the technical and conceptual points of view,” on the other, that these experiments and innovations the only worthy when accepted by the public.
This is a fine and forward-looking thought inferring the best of all possible publics. But no one could seriously dispute the insufficiency of the general public as the final arbiters of what is, and what is not, valid in art at the immediate time of its production. The public has always been a generation behind in the appreciation of the great revolutionaries in any of the arts. Can one imagine how a Cézanne would fare under the critical direction of the masses? Genius is inevitably ahead of contemporary thought and cannot be conditioned by. That genius is rare, so it doesn’t matter, is beside the point. Even the talented artist must have the right to experiment in terms of vision beyond the immediate comprehension of the public.
No doubt a free Socialist art is possible. But there is little evidence that socialism has yet brought forth anything of universal significance in the plastic arts. It is possible to sympathise with the aspirations of socialism yet be completely unmoved by its artistic lecturings. I feel that the Rumanians, and artistic race, are somewhat ware of this, although at the present stage of their social development they are overburdened with official Soviet dogma on such matters. In theory the Rumanians are free to paint in any manner they choose so long as they are sincere and passionate in their interpretation of life (Mr Mircea Deac, who is Director of the Fine Arts Department, a member of The Plastic Arts Union, and art critic, informs me that there is nothing to stop an artist painting in any style whatever, that official recognition is given to those who are sincere, and present the socialistically conceived realities of life. The artist is expected to describe life passionately, and the form in which the artist elects to do so is left to him.) But who was the adjudicator of passion and sincerity?
In practice, the artists reflect the official directives of the optimistic and heroic socialism in terms of naturalism that is to be understood by the dullest of wits. Art is used as an instrument in the education of the masses, and in this respect much of it is scarcely different in essence (although it is in aim) from the insinuative commercial artwork produced in the West.
It is interesting to note a few remarks in “The Literary Gazette” (Romanian) by art critic Petru Comarnescu. Speaking of world-famous abstract sculptor Brancusi, a Romanian, long resident in France, Cormarnescu says; inter-alia…
That Brancusi enriched universal culture by his works which had their roots in the primitive forms of his own country’s folk wood carvings
that although he worked abroad he never forgot his formative background Gorj, where he was born; and always maintained relationships with his homeland although he is now 80 and lives in Paris.
that he went to Paris in 1904 and followed the classical sculptors from Michelangelo to especially Rodin will stop in 1915 became influenced by Romanian folklore and woodcarving, and while he was now placing less stress on naturalistic human form, the abstractions which were emerging Web-based, not on cubist theory, but on Romanian folk art and symbolism.
That his work was not empty of human content, and that his imitators followed only the abstract and decorative surface elements of his work, and that their work is null and void, because they missed the inner convictions of Brancusi’s art;
that he was striving to seek for the essence of the subject and that it was not easy to understand the abstract portraits which pretend to express human form;
that he was mainly influenced by Romanian peasant and Byzantine art which is not concerned with human form;
that present art critics (I presume Comarnescu means Romanian critics) say Brancusi is presenting reality in an archaic way, insofar as he maintains geometric form rather than humanistic appearance;
that Brancusi, well appreciated in the West and in India, is universally discussed, and should be discussed in Romania because his work is inspired by Romanian folk art-art which is polished by the hand of a great contemporary sculptor;
that we (Rumanians) must observe that Brancusi’s art not only expresses the old primitive times, but is an example for our own young artists to find new ways of expression appropriate to their feelings, and with the new demands of their contemporary life.
There it is. Partly a nationalistic claim, partly an acknowledgement of the greatness of his art. And while appreciation of such formers admitted, one, casually at least, finds little tolerance of this style in practice.
However, the artistic Rumanians may yet find room for another innovator, such as Brancusi, one who, while not immediately intelligible to the public, will not be constrained by official thinking.
I excuse myself quoting Russian sources, but I think they indicate generally the socialist idea.
In Bucharest I read in the “Soviet News” (Oct. 16. 1956) an article entitled “Granting Indulgence to Modernism?” by Mattias Sokolsky. Speaking of musicians, which we can equate with artists, he says; “As for dodecafonia, it was never prohibited in this country and is not prohibited now. Even if the idea should it ever occur to anyone to do so, the fact remains there is nothing to prohibit. Dodecafonia has never presented any temptation to Soviet composers. Dodecafonia is something alien to their aesthetic tastes, their ethical views and their creative aspirations.
Soviet musicians write for the people-that is their credo, the force that unites them. In this they strive to carry on the traditions of the classics. Dodecafonial music, on the other hand is egoistic. It is music not even for a chosen few that at best for a single person. The platform of the dodecafonists can hardly hope to unite musicians, for by its very nature it estranges the musician from life, turns him into an egocentric. And it is not a question of the individual inclinations or good intentions of the dodecafonist. It is a question of a whole system of views, the very essence of dodecafonia, which is divorced from the life and interests of the people.
Slonimsky is therefore wrong in thinking that the indulgence will be granted to Modernism.”
NOTE: (“today Modernism in music means dodecafonia. True, this tendency dates back to Arnold Schenberg, is 12 tone system is usually considered the beginning of dodecafonia.” Same article).
Earlier I. Moskvin has said, “The prime maxim of Socialist Realism is that Art shall be true to life. We learned to see life in its movement, in its development, in its endless variety. In the USSR new human relations are developing on the basis of a totally new socialist attitude towards labour, property and the home country. It is its mission to reflect this new outlook. Its fulfilment requires a deep insight into human psychology, emotional power and monumental form.”
Also Karl Radek said, “Socialist Realism means not only knowing reality, as it is that whether it is moving. It is moving towards socialism, it is moving towards the international proletariat. And a work of art created by a socialist realist is one which shows wither that conflict of contradicts is leading which the artist has seen in life and reflected in his work.”
Soviet author Yuri Clesha, thus, “When we speak of art, we sometimes forget that there are in the world to irreconcilable social systems… That the difference between our country and Europe is immense, not only in the economic and political system but in spirit, in ideas-that is to say in the very things which are expresses. We forget that the artist of the West and the artist of this socialist land of ours expresses different ideas and that there is more essential difference between them than between economists and soldiers because the artist not only defines what has taken place but also conjectures what will occur, foretells the future.”
This Socialist Realism is an emotional concept not easy to define-and because of my inability to read the Romanian literature about it-and the inadequacy of non-specialist translation-I feel at a considerable disadvantage in attempting to explain convincingly the attitudes involved.
Suffice it to say that what appeared to be the most acceptable artistic subjects almost invariably spring from an illustrative idea. Pictures of modern and ancient protagonists in the drama of struggle against oppression-genre pictures of workers building and making a new society, and peasants in various rural occupations.
In sculpture, much the same story, although done with more conviction; the heroic figure lending itself more aptly to the massive and elemental forms unadulterated by the atmospheric detains which weaken the impact of the paintings.
An element of expressionism appears and within certain realistic limits is well handled will stop abstraction and the incidental ‘isms’ seem to be completely absent. Art becomes the somewhat bread-and-buttery diet of the many rather than the marijuana of the few.
For a well balanced and simplified outside viewpoint on socialist realism, the words of Professor Radhakamal Mukerjee, eminent Indian sociologist, could scarcely be bettered. I quote at length:
“all authors, painters, sculptors, actors and playwrights receive an encouragement unknown in any other country in the modern world. The State gives regular orders to painters and sculptors for the purpose of decorating public institutions, parks and factories, and also arranges for the cheap supply of materials they use. Artists are relieved once for all of the anxiety lest the products of their art should find no sale-so wide has become the demand for works of art. There are also special cooperatives for authors, painters, sculptors and other artists which also help them on a new and lavish scale. On the other hand the artists must be true to the proletarian ideal, and view life as the proletariat view it. In the first place the artists and public are readily brought into intimate touch with one another. Thus a painter, a sculptor, the novelist or a dramatist are expected and encouraged to meet their audience and to discuss with them the principles of artistic production and obtain their criticisms and suggestions. If the artists do not follow the generally prescribed path of Socialistic Realism, the ruling party in Soviet Russia is strong and resolute enough to discourage any individualistic deviations. Ideological opposition as well as the withholding of orders and ostracism are enough to check the erring spirit. In painting, for instance the object of proletariat art is to give pleasure and regard life with optimism, and the dominant themes are modern life with its fresh possibilities and strong wave of optimism as well as neutral subjects. Landscapes, still-lifes, interiors and above all portraits, are still permissible themes for Soviet painters. But strenuous resistance is offered to ‘painting which distorts the lines of reality and pictures chaotic fragments in place of landscape and people; which shows humdrum and insipid themes instead of joy and heroic reality.’ The majority of good Russian painting is a revolution of the new landscape the new people expressing the sincerity, joy and aspirations of a people working towards a higher social integration and harmony. It is also significant that many of the master artists are coming from the working class. At the same time the danger of the working class, who have not obtained adequate artistic education in such a short period of emancipation, suppressing stylistic distinctiveness of individual artists is not small. If new styles of mass art cannot obtain free expression due to the verdict of the proletariat which is apt to develop standardised artistic outlook and tastes, Soviet art may degenerate into a mere pictorial representation of the environment without any profound implications in emotional experience and form of expression.
Yet there is no doubt that there has been a gain to art to the world in that at least in one country art is a social inspiration, is far removed from a filling in the abstract that subsists on the support of a small coterie, but expresses the emotional experience of the community at large whose restrictions to it have an immediate effect on the attitude and style of the artist…
No state in any other country has been so active in both the encouragement of artists and the diffusion of artistic education and culture among the people. Only where art ceases to be an individual experience and a luxury for the few, but represents a mass experience for the enjoyment of all can it play its due role in the organisation of society. (The Social Function of Art — Radhakamal Mukherjee. Hind Kitabs Ltd. Bombay 1948).
Sun 25-Nov-56: Walked along south Embankment – saw end of service in Abbey. With Marian Anderson, Jean Ure at Royal Festival Hall
25 Nov 56
London Sun 8:30 p.m.
How nice to sit down with you again-even though it be only with an inadequate letter. How little a substitute for the real thing, when this time next Sunday night, I will be (God willing) with you and Graham incomplete and satisfying reality-slightly gorged with good food and drink and completely overflowing with the wonderful serenity of being in my own home and with my own, very, very, exclusively, my own people. I hope I handle this wonderful reunion, with the grace it deserves, and that we all will find nothing discordant in the whole day and the whole wonderful night. I am frantic to be there-now!
This day began very smoothly for me. Perhaps because I was relaxed and really didn’t care much what it brought. I rang an earnest English lass who teaches Romanian here (I met her in Bucharest with John St John) and made arrangements to meet her this afternoon for a look around. Being my last lingering look so to speak. Anyway after looking at The Times I noticed Marian Anderson was giving a farewell concert at 3 p.m. at the Royal Festival Hall. So I decided I’d stroll peacefully over the Hungerford Bridge and see if I could get some tickets. Got a couple of 10 bobbers. The Thames almost like Paris this morning-mild and misty enough to etherealise the fine north side buildings-and the trees lining the embankment reminiscent of those alongside the Seine. A limpid autumn, though practically sunless, morning. After getting the tickets I idly watched the seagulls in their leisurely Sabbath diversions-their graceful landings-fine, and abrupt take offs into the wind, then veering in side slips like fighter planes over the body of the river-poised almost motionless-ray and white, the breathless curving of their wings fluting through the air-and turning into the smoothest glides. Beautiful, unspoken poetry, movements carved in air, and left engraved in the mind. Relaxing-and in a sort of inverted way, exciting just because one so seldom spends that available and rewarding time. A further sauntering taking me past the huge Italian Renaissance style county council buildings with steps running down onto the Thames and looking like some miss placed and darkened Doge’s Palace. Across Westminster Bridge past the Houses of Parliament, past Westminster Abbey, when something made me retrace my steps and enter while the morning service was on. Then a wonderful choral singing-filling the ancient walls with sound so that is seemed to come out of the very pores of the stones. The two sections of the choir throwing back the themes one to the other-and silvery and sombre voices weaving a pattern throughout the whole. With the music of the goals and the almost visible design of this most magnificent singing I felt the day could hardly bring more or comparable delight. And it didn’t.
Having some little time to spend until I met this Jean Ure (who was some relative, cousin, or niece of Syd Ure Smith) I thought I’d try some draught Guinness at a pub called the Villiers, pubs being open too on Sunday here. Found the stout very good and settle down with my paper alongside a dame on a bench. She was as Irish as they came and started talking to me. Asked me if I’d have a drink with her-naturally I had reversed the salutation and buy her drink. Then she up and she’s sorry she couldn’t buy me one she was short. Well I bought another and then she tried to touch me for lunch-no! Then 2/- no. I got up and changed 2/- and gave her 1/-. Fortunately that got rid of her-but sadly dented my benignity.
Walked back over the Thames and waited 20 minutes for this dame, who is un-humorously earnest about socialist good works. I don’t know whether it was my disintegrating ecstasy or the workings of the Guinness but I enjoyed the show less than my walk across the bridge back to meet the girl. The Thames still looking fine, fitful sunlight and through the pearly atmosphere a single gleam of gold, high keyed-from the distant dome of St Paul’s, and behind me the occasional train chuffing over the bridge, it’s bellowing is fading off into the sounds of church bells somewhere in the south.
I am not very keen on these contralto sort of voices and they don’t seem eminently suitable for Mozart to me. But, she really was magnificent in the Negro spirituals. Perhaps because they were simpler, and I could follow the theme and emotion better, I went from them in a big way. So did the rest of the house-she got a wonderful reception from the enormous crowd present.
The Royal Festival Hall, built in 1951, very modern, and quoting my guidebook “a concert hall which such great conductors as Toscanini have declared the finest in the world. The exterior has met with some criticism, but the acoustics and amenities, the planning and the decor of the interior have received almost universal praise.” This could hardly be disputed-the exterior is a cross between a factory and a hangar but the interior is quite fabulously successful in appearance and function. Huge foyer with glass walls and all round vision, alongside, are found bars, restaurants overlooking the Thames, the lower coffee lounge and cafeteria-fine slick glass and wood stairways and an enormous concert hall-lined below with padded red leatherette, above on the second flight with a well designed fabric. Fine acoustically waved roof, studded with many lamps like stars. You would have loved it-what a pity. Anyway, we had a light tea and I got back here about eight. Well content with the day, and now about to give up the good fight.
Have got the radiator on trying to dry out a shirt and handkerchiefs as I want to get all my luggage down to Liverpool Street station early so that I can get back to the city and have a quick look at the Royal Academy and a final run through the National Gallery.
Am getting restless about my return. Once I get moving-well, I should be something or other-I don’t know-have given up thinking.
Much love, my very dear one.
Monday morning 8 a.m. [26 Nov 56]
well, this is it, sweetie, I’m about to take my first tottering steps on the homeward journey. I packed and everything is beautifully squashed down for five days-“God help this” all screamed the new suit, dressing down, and female odds and ends. Nothing to be done about that-but forward into the night! Whoops Dearie-I’m practically there-get yourself into trim-cleanse the fatted duck, pat Graham and Trellie-I’m on the way!
Love, love, lovey, from your bird on the wing — Bill.
Fri 26-Oct-56: Chicken. Walked around generally from [Maurice] Utrillo’s church [Notre-Dame de Clignancourt] all through city. Went back to city (?) later & bought a hot chicken for tea.
Sat 27-Oct-56: Roley worked at Daily Express office & I saw Musee d’Art Moderne. Went to Joan Harrison’s place for evening meal.
Sun 28-Oct-56: Walked around Isle near Notre Dame Chartres. Went for drive & dinner at Remy St Chevreuse & went on to see Chartres cathedral – Had dinner at a café in St Germain. Saw Picasso film.
Saturday night – 27th Oct
I wanted to write to you very much & thought that I was fixed for an evening in which to do it. Roley’s big day in an office is on Saturday and I did not expect to see him until later tonight. But he rang up & said that I was expected as an extra guest for a meal he was going to. We have not long returned and it is pretty late. In any case, there is so much to tell of Paris – that one hardly knows where to begin – even if one has the time. I have covered quite a lot of this city & there is still much more than I can contemplate coping with. It is huge. And with millions of people & cars running madly all over it like ants. The weather has been mostly dull, which I gather is commonplace enough – But the city looks like many pearls against a grey velvet background. A very beautiful place, which is everything that you could expect from it. The number of cars around is fabulous.
The price of culture is high here. On a visit to the Museum of Modern Art [Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris] – I saw a specially collected exhibition of Matisse. About half a dozen of the pictures were superb. The old gentleman seems lately to be doing nothing but cut out bits of coloured paper & stick them down. I cough out money for entrance of Galleries & fork up for expensive catalogues. 2 shows & their catalogues cost me 200 Franc each to enter (i.e. 5/.-) plus 350 francs each for the catalogue. The other exhibition was by a sculptress named Germaine Richier. Fantastic stuff. Some of it most impressive – lots of it screwy. I’ve been walking about 6 hours a day and get really too tired to do justice to my need for you. I got your letter dated 22nd today and was highly delighted to realise your desire for me is as great as is mine for you. I am looking forward to our reunion in the warmth. It is very cold over here at the moment, but I am keeping warm enough – I leave for London next Friday for about a week – and before I know what is what will be on the plane home to you and Graham. I have done my best to make the most out of this trip despite the fact that I am getting heartily tired of buildings & pictures. Roley aims to have a day out in the country tomorrow – which should be a welcome change. I am too sleepy to continue writing so will go to bed with your need alongside me. It is very helpful to be getting some letters from you so quickly. Nothing has turned up from Rumania yet. I guess it is a relief to know that I am out of the Red area. The insurrections in Hungary could have been very disturbing for you had you not known I was already beyond the Iron Curtain. I am closing this part of the draft with very much love. And I mean it my dearest Dorothy wife. Kisses for you & the junior Pidgeons. While Roley goes out to play the organ for the English Embassy service in the morning, I am going over to Notre Dame for a walk with his secretary – a nice Aussie girl [Margaret Murray].
Sunday [28 Oct 1956]. [One paragraph typed] Roley bought this machine in Italy for only 17£ St. Got some sort of journalistic rebate on it. A brand new Olivetti. Can’t quite get used to the feel of it myself as the keyboard seems a little jammed up to me. Still it’s a nice clean typeface. Very expensive in this city, so I shall hold my horses until I get to London, where I will see what is available, and what to get here on the last lap home. I’ll come back for a day or two before I take off for Zurich. Listen darling, you’d better send me again all your measurements in both inches and centimetres. Also glove sizes. Please do it immediately and post to me in London, Aust. Consolidated Press, 107 Fleet St, London EC4.
Darlingest Dorothy – my dear girl. I have had the most wonderful day. I was breathless about it an hour or so ago but have tired off – Nevertheless, I want you to know, & for me to remember, something of it. I hope to write myself into a regained enthusiasm as I go along. I had not long finished playing around with Roley’s typewriter when his secretary came & took me off for a walk to the little island behind the Notre Dame. It is called the Isle St Louis and we wandered through the pearly grey veil of atmosphere which seems to shroud Paris in an intangible net of beauty on the rising of the day. The Seine greyly yellow, sluggish through the black trunks of the trees by the river – the light tones of the retaining walls & the wonderful Japonise lines of the steps and ramps leading to the waters edge. Grey – not a black keyed up – but a viridian & crimson mixed hue of lustre off-white. Luminous – and not substantial. An image on a screen, without a seeming reality, except that one can see the movement of the lime green leaves as they fall before & behind where you stand. To put your hand out and hold one for a second in its suspended and inevitably beautiful pattern in the almost too inviolable harmony. The leaves just acid enough to save the whole from a cloying death. I think I can still see it – I know I will – so many things to remember – So many things remembered – Beautiful grey & lime. Fluid lovely lines of river, trees & bridges. Came back & went into Notre Dame, which was crowded because some special service. Impressive enough church, but somehow disappointed in it.
Met Roley at 12 after his church service playing & we three started off to the country to one of the best restaurants in the environs of Paris. I remember Roley writing a story about the Prince of Gourmets, a fellow, named Curnonsky, & eleven others, of which Roley was one, eating a whole pig at one meal. We had a magnificent omelette – a specialty called Omelette du Curé de Mennessiar. Made as far as we could find out – with a filling of cream & tuna & carp & herring sperm. I think with a little mornay sauce – sprinkled with chives & served in a long ramekin with melted butter & a little lemon juice – Boy! – I mean girlie! It was smooth. We made a mistake with the second dish – not that it was not good, but that it was not their extra hot specialty as we found out later. A fine white wine, although a little sweet for me – & tres bon claret. So many of their wines are good. Nevertheless you start paying for them. – A Beaujolais, which is apparently a reasonably good wine costs about 4/6. The vin ordinaire which one can get for 2/3 is quite good but no better than that Murrumbidgee Red we had. Of course you can get the vintage classes & pay what you like. We have not gone to the extent of having really expensive meals. Roley is a bloody goon, & won’t let me pay when we eat out – so sometimes I buy a chicken (cooked) & we heat it u & fix up in the flat. I help out a little by doing bits of plumbing – cleaning his sink out etc. & bits & pieces. He is helpless as a babe. God knows what all this living in Paris would cost. I know the lunch cost 4750 francs which is nearly a £5. Cheap hotel accommodation without meals is 1700 francs a night. £2 Australian. I’ll try & do a painting to send back to him. He insists that Jess & I gave him much hospitality in Australia. You’d like him very much.
Had a street photo taken near the Notre Dame & hope to get it soon. I love you. Xxx.
This little village St Remy les Chevreuse about 16 miles out of Paris, was very charming & very new to me – different, more intimate, than Paris – little angles on village lanes & doll like houses. Gay with the grape, Roley screams out (he always screams) we’ll take the bloody Boche (that’s me) to Chartres to see the cathedral. Bingo & with hurry to get there before the light is too full to come through the grand illuminated windows.
Lovely little town – medieval – everything in the book – All of us gay & enthusiastic – the beautiful cathedral, Roley reckoned the finest in France & I believe him. Knocks the Notre Dame Paris, into a cocked hat. Perfect Gothic stone figures guarding the entrance to the Lord. 700 years or more since the western soul soared through the immobile stone to seek a mystic union with the things that move us all. The front right & oldest tower embodying a simplicity & perfection of line, not to be recaptured in the rest of the building. – (These things took generations to complete). The setting light – the grey – It must be a French grey – perfectly holding the form without shadow. Inside, so dark, and the last light filtering through the coloured jewels in lead. Windows that shone like neons in a sea of midnight velvet. Behind us, out of the interior murk silhouetted figures & a mother with a pram silently as a photograph passing through the stations of the filtered light. On the right in equal & untouchable gloom – the epiphany of the lighted candles – and the bended devout. High up – high as the seeming sky – in the radiant windows. Jewels – seeable – memorable – and indescribable. All of which had a terrible effect on my high animal spirits. The flesh abased made you realise something – damn it all – It’s hard to describe without getting too precious on paper – I could tell you darling, when I have my head in your lap, and against your breast, and you ask me to ramble on, & you’ll understand, because you’ll feel my heart, and I’ll mean it, even if it is incoherent & sooky, to anyone else. But you, who love me, and know that I want to get it all out before it chokes me & I must get some of it to you tonight even if it is 3 o’clock in the morning. I want you to be me, & have it too. Right inside me – In my heart – I can put you there because, now I know you belong there, and that somehow, no row will ever be bitter again. Because I have learnt I need you. And love you. This has made me quite shaky. And I’m not even high. Chartres Cathedral de Notre Dame shook me. I was just in that uninhabited state to be perfectly timed for it. It’s about 45 miles from Paris, but before I go to London I am going to get the train up there to spend a day. I want you very much indeed.
We had a couple of beers before coming back but Chartres had fixed us. The party was over. After returning we picked up a woman journalist from the Daily Express & had a light meal & went to see a hour long movie [Le mystère Picasso] on Picasso & how he works. This show really did me to a turn. It was completely fascinating. With some new techniques (movie) it showed through the back of his (say canvas) the lines & colours as he put them down – Also later how he composed & decomposed a full time serious picture – Showed all his trials & errors & erasures & final destruction of a painting. It was the most illuminating piece of movie reporting it is possible to imagine. A bloody superb picture – am going to see that again too. Darling, I must finish & get to bed. Even Paris has not been able to support the showing of this picture on Picasso to the extent it deserves – so probably it will never get to Australia. It is highly esoteric & technical & marvellous. So you can see, all in all darling it has been the moistest day I have had since I left home – and it has left me very taut indeed. I am tired, but my mind is going madly like a cretin clock. Forgive me for writing this darling but it will help unwind me and I’d so much like to give you a fuck full with a great deal of love. From your Bill. XXXX
Please translate some of this for Graham. Tell him I know he will understand I can’t write separate letters, more love
It’s about 7.30am and is a bit on the cool side. I got out of bed ¾ hour ago as I found little comfort there. Now if I was out on the front verandah at 85 I reckon I could show you a thing or two. There’s nothing much to look at here. My old machinery is getting out of practice. But my thoughts are ardent – and, I hope acceptable. As all this doesn’t help one little bit. I suppose I had best carry on with the historical & geographical aspects of this one man caravanserie. But truly, I do miss you so very much. I’m getting a bit tired of gazing at churches, & public monuments, parks, rivers, street names, traffic policemen, food shops, dress shops, German phrase books, city maps, handfuls of all sorts of currency and foreign menus. I am not tired of looking at girls or book shops, although it is my much considered opinion that the latter are of much better quality. It seems surprising how few top line sorts one sees in Europe – so far. However, talking about that is preferable to writing. The book shops here are very good – really go in for art publications with German thoroughness, but I dare say that in Paris & London I shall find them as good – probably better. I have only just realised that my last letter to you was posted from Orasul Stalin in Rumania last Sunday. God, knows when you will receive it – possibly after this one. I have been a bit too busy travelling to give you much of myself. I did get a kick out of ringing you in Sydney and even if the connection was bad, we did manage to make some real contact. It was nice to hear you sweetie, although for the life of me, I can’t remember anything much about it except the important items of date of return – seeing the Edgleys – giving you the tip off to write c/o Roley Pullen, and hearing Graham too. I bet he gave the schoolboys & the neighbours an earbashing about a telephone call from Vienna. I hope you felt I was loving you very much. Because I was. I didn’t get the address of the street too well – so went to a travel agency & with their help found the Australian Commission’s premises. Edgley was away at Linz – and was due back at 6pm Friday. About 6.30 I rang his wife – she was delighted to hear a dirty old Australian accent & insisted I catch a cab straight out, which I did & while trying to find out, with my filthy German, which house they lived in – the doctor arrived home. Only to find his youngest child, a girl of 2 ½ down with pneumonia. Mrs E wanted to dine out, so papa stayed home to look after sick child. They have invited me to stay with them for the day or two before I leave for Paris. Quite a lively couple – she is 6 months gone again – making it her 3rd. They are getting pretty sick of the climate here – but have to stay on another 12 months or so.
This rushing around is tiring and confusing – for the life of me I can’t remember where I was up to in my travels. Did I tell you about a beautiful old church in Orasul Stalin. It was over 800 years old. The stone of its exterior quite fretted away like rocks by the sea, so dark grey as to have occasioned its name of Biserica Neagra which means Black Church. It was very big and the interior all around the bottom end where the altar was placed was painted white. The towering shafts of stone appeared to radiate a purity of light – the altar itself nicely proportioned & with just the right amount of gold. It gave me rare pleasure. That white – unbelievably effective. The churches in Vienna, are even blacker in surface appearance – and more huge. But inside is all the original grey aged stone – & the effort is gloomy. The old black church had spirit – plus buoyancy. The maniacal driver managed to bash a mud guard in & that held us up for ½ day at O. Stalin. On the Monday morning we took off for Cluj at 8am. Transylvania! A country in everyone’s imagination – full of werewolves, bats, vampires and horrifying mysteries. Ruritania – with princes on sombre missions. Pine trees – dark recesses of the mountains & snow. And the whole damn place looks more like Australia than anything I have seen since I left home. It is a twin to the Monaro district. Autumnal brown grass rolling slopes, very few trees, and the Alps in the distance. Tell Price Jones to tear the word Transylvania out of his accumulated imaginings. It just ‘aint so. I am afraid I disappointed Mrs Edgley, too, with my account of it. Visited a vineyard on the way up & had a couple of quick snorts. They seem to only make white wines up here & pretty sour Riesling at that. Crumby stuff – which everyone drinks with soda water. Breaks your flaming romantic heart. To save something from the wreck you can tell Bill that the peasants do wear white trousers & white aprons – with great shaggy sheep skins coats to cover. They do carry long sticks & lead the flocks to various pastures. The only thing that was un-Australian was the complete & utter lack of fences anywhere. The peasants all live in clustered houses in the villages & at early morning set out in their carts drawn by horses or oxen for their plot which may be anywhere between one village & the next. Apparently they know their own ground backward & there is no dispute as to where one man’s lot begins & ends. The peasants give their stock (sheep or cattle) to the shepherd & he takes them all out to grass.
Met some artists and sculptors in Cluj. They were being very well done by. Storybook studios & apparently adequate money. Also met a director of a folk lore museum who suggested we nick out & see some peasant potters. We did so – found out, was about 35 miles out. Practically on the Hungarian border – near a town named Oradea. Quite interesting. Next day returned to Bucharest – got in about 1.30am.
Had a meeting with the director of the Institute. All very amiable. Asked what I thought about Rumania, what I didn’t like, etc. Received a present of a little bit of folk art. An old Rumanian custom I gather. Was happy to be able to reciprocate with the books. When I got back to the pub – found that more books & records had arrived. Such was the enormous weight of books – the Institute are sending them out. I hope they all arrive safely. Was explained to me that the early departure was due to the fact that it was the only booking they could get me before the Olympics.
All very pleasant – a great pity the country is so poor. Also wrote a little piece about Australian art & did a short talk for the air, this they took on tape in the hotel room. Heard it played back.
Got to Vienna about 12 noon. Where I thought to let you know immediately. Got the bright idea of ringing – not much more than a cable. To confirm our talk – I catch a BOAC plane at Zurich on 21st Nov. at 10.30pm & should arrive in Sydney on Sunday 25 at 7.20am. You can insure me for the trip if you like. I was shocked to read in a German magazine – I stumbled through it in German – of the unfortunate crash of the Vulcan Bomber as it returned to London. It is now 9am. I better dress & have some rolls & coffee.
Sunday [21 Oct 1956]. 3pm. I am sitting in a lovely park out of Vienna. In the middle is the Franzensberg Castle built by Franz Joseph early last century. The castle is set in the middle of a fine artificial lake which has no water in it. The autumn trees are beautiful colours & in the distance a group of school girls are singing. The weather is most indulgent. A mild gentle setting sun. The Edgley girl made a magnificent recovery, playing like mad in the trees behind us. We had a picnic lunch.
Went to the Vienna gallery [Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts)] this morning & saw many fine paintings including Tintoretto’s Susanna & the Elders, Holbein’s Jane Eyre [Jane Seymour], Vermeer’s famous Painter & model. Wonderful Titians and 14 Brueghels. Pity I am leaving in the morning but I suppose I had better move on. Paris & London will take time. I telegrammed Roley Pullen to ask him to get me some cheap accommodation – I am going in the Arlberg Express from Vienna to Paris – via Zurich. Leaves at 9.10 in the morning & arrives Paris 8am the next day. Fare is about £7-10.0 against £17.10 by plane – also I will see up to the Alps in daylight. I stayed with the Edgleys last night & tonight – they seem to be a very happy coupe with two nice little girls. The Viennese are wandering up and down the lake – Yesterday, Rob took me for a drive through the Vienna Woods.
I shall have to finish now as we are about to return to Vienna, and I want to post this letter before I leave in the morning. Lots of love my darling. Give Graham my love & a pat for Trellie. Tell him I liked receiving his letters. I hope he gets all the different stamps that are coming over. A big thing for you. XXXXX for all. Your old loving roue [?]
[Apparently Wep’s visit to Romania was cut short as the people in the Institute wanted to get him out before trouble over flowed in Hungary. Five days after leaving Romania, widespread revolt erupted in Hungary against the Soviet backed government leading to its fall from power. On November 4, the Soviets invaded, crushing the revolt, and by November 10, all resistance had ceased.]
I stayed over night in the room marked with a cross. This is a big hotel in Orasul Stalin which means Town of Stalin. Yesterday we motored over the Carpathian mountains and there was a lot of snow on them, although it wasn’t very cold. I am going on to a town called CLUJ.
These towns are in a part of Rumania, a district named Transylvania. It is all very nice.
Fri 12-Oct-56: Sinaia 2:30pm through Ploesti & top of mountain
Sat 13-Oct-56: Orasul Stalin had picnic lunch just below snow line. Staying at Carpati Hotel [now the Aro Palace]. Cabaret night at hotel
Thurs, 10 Oct [11 Oct 1956]
Dorothy – I write it that way because I sometimes say it with affection. Tonight I don’t need and dear or darling, to go with it. I say it, the way, maybe seldom, it can be said over your shoulder when you least expect it. When for the simple reason that my barriers are down and I realise that you and Graham are all I have and you are smothered in zut. This corn makes me embarrassed, possibly sick. But there is nothing like a bit of corn at times for sentiment. False or true is for you to decide. I worry about Graham – Are you & he getting on smoothly? I hear roundaboutly that I leave on the 18 Oct. [Unrest was brewing in Hungary and they wanted to get Wep out before the Soviets swept in.] How & in what direction I don’t know but will advise you later. Tomorrow or Friday I am going to Siniai, & other odd centres finishing at Cluj. We are going in a car, which is a real luxury. My stomach has finally rebelled against the excessive quantities of food. I have got to the stage where I could scream for nothing but a plate of bacon & eggs for dinner. I have been treated like one of the ex Arch Dukes – nothing is too much for the Institute to arrange. Tonight I met about 6 – 8 newspaper cartoonists in their Artists Union Palace. All very trying at first, but finished up like newspaper men anywhere else in the world. They gave me, on behalf of the Union about 6 massive volumes on Rumanian Art. I shall have to trust to chance with the Rumanian post or charter another plane to bring them all home. Their ignorance of Australia is abysmal, as is ours of Rumania. Am dreading the plane trip back, but am looking forward to being home. How Beryl Whiteley, manages to stick all this time away, is beyond me. Just near the pub is the gallery [The National Museum of Art of Romania], where this afternoon, I found 3 Rembrandts, I was disappointed in, 2 Brueghels, so, so. But all in all there are so many artists who speak a message across the years. That is something of the sublimity of the human spirit. No one is alone if they can see & feel what other humans (with all the same problems) have managed to transmit through the ages, since they were conceived. It is a direct contact with any other, possibly, important being, but most of all, a human trying to communicate something of wonder, & mystery, of being. The newspaper artists have asked me to do a drawing for the paper. I shall oblige in the morning. I have met no artists (fine) of any sort. If I don’t report the good gen on Rumania it is not my fault. I have done my best to find out what Socialist Realism means to these people. I believe I have arrived at an approximation of the truth. Once again, spare the mother, and spoil the child. I’m 12,000 miles away, thinking of you, & your nicest points – of Graham, and his unknown problems, and of what Sydney is looking like. Goodnight my dear folk,
Sinaia 11pm [Fri 12 Oct 1956]. I am up in the hills where King Carol & such dynasty had one of their 142 castles. Socially, it would be like Moss Vale or Bowral. You know the palace & all the wealthy hangers-about. Many fine & expensive homes all in the most appalling taste – the palace [Castelul Peles (Peles Castle)] probably being the worst – a bastardised mixture of Tudor & Renaissance with many statues & stairways onto the lawns. All horribly expensive – and rather sad when you think of the draining out of the peasant lives that went to its building. I, perhaps thinks only that way because it was late in the afternoon, getting dark, & the forest surrounding, silent & sombre in its autumnal death. Just now a train whistle blew & its echos resounds in the valley – even the initial blast was nothing like ours – Quite different – like a high pitched squeal.
The driver took us further up the mountain this afternoon – and we visited an hotel [Cabana Cioplea near Predeal, now the Complex Verona Predeal Hotel] for the worker built at about 4,000 ft. Wonderful skiing country. Even this afternoon there was lots of snow around the building & on the road & pines leading to it. Higher, the mountains were completely covered – It was very beautiful – Sinaia, below in the valley, the fine crisp air & the trees all gold & red – with pines still holding snow.
The palace [Peles Castle] is now a museum.
This very big hotel [Hotel Palace Sinaia] is full of workers on a free holiday. The very fine casino [Casino Sinaia] across the park from my window – now a clubhouse for the proletariat. All rather funny & just somehow. The peoples who were pressed to build these really quite amazing flamboyancies are now roaming around all over them like flies. As yet, they don’t look like they belong. More piercing whistles from the trains – sound rolling down & around the mountains like wine on the palate. After dinner I sat and watched the crowd dancing on the marble floor to the accompaniment of a dreadful German dance band played back on tape recorded from a German broadcast. Later a Russian band music – which, anyway was better to dance to because of its less sentimental quality. During the re-playing a Russian (people mixer) dance called a Pearinita was played. Jolly to watch – somehow charming – they are all in a moving ring & one person in the centre has a handkerchief which he or she places before one in the ring. The one chosen drops out and both kneel with one knee on the handkerchief & kiss. The partner chosen then chooses someone else – and so on.
Was lovely to see & walk on the snow – These Carpathian Mountains are beautiful – Its all like a dream – but the flaming dysentery I have copped for the day spoilt it a bit. I miss you both very much – even the lovely cool (cold to some) weather, hardly makes up for it all. Tomorrow I hope to take some photographs of the village. The way up did not seem real – It is the first I have really seen of European dinkum country – All somehow most intangible – & strange – something for the memory to hold.
Saturday night – (Orasul Stalin) [13 Oct 1956]
Dear Girl. These cities look so nice by night – all the lovely silhouettes of the churches & ex municipal Halls have an unreality of sight. When you have a perfect half moon & 1,000 ft of mountain coming straight up your backyard things are not the same. I am in Orasul Stalin, nee Brashov and I don’t care for it. Most depressing. Not so much the town as the inhabitants. It’s a thing I can’t get accustomed to. During the day the inhabitants look like something out of the tip. In the evening they dress up & look & act normal enjoyable folk. I shall work it all out with your help. This place is only about 80 miles out of Bucharest yet the people are different in appearance & attitude. It’s like going from Sydney to Marulan and being in another country. Here, mostly Hungarian or German is spoken and the people have a different look. The hotel orchestra, for one thing, is sharper & keener & so is the service in the pub. I am on the eighth floor of this place & have a beautiful room with bath, etc. All these places seem to be mad with the horror of cold air. Despite the fact that winter temperatures get below 20°F zero they put on woollies. Sheepskin coats, overalls & eiderdowns when the temperatures are only 56° – 60°F cool (that is). Why do I try to keep on beefing out information about this trip. It is obvious to you I cannot cope with the multitudinous aspects. I will remember this night sitting in the best of rooms in the pub [Carpati Hotel] of Orasul Stalin (Brashov) mostly because it is cool & I can see the lights of the city and there are absolutely no motor headlights and I needed you here to keep remembrance with me. I fear that there may be some sourness between me & the driver & interpreter. I have been not arrogant. Manners may be mistaken. Wendy could be just the same. They are not old enough to realise the impoliteness of speaking their own tongue amongst their colleagues who can speak English too. That is when I can’t it simply at the moment!
I came over the Carpathians (Alps) today & struck quite a bit of snow. Took some pictures but doubt if they will be any good. I got a couple taken of me just to prove that I have been here.
You know, it’s very odd to think that I am sitting in the 8th floor of a hotel in Orasul Stalin (which no one in Australia has heard of) & the room is over steam-heated (I have all the windows open) and there is an occasional horn blowing & probably quite a few people walking around somewhere – and all this rather dreary & old world city is the centre of many lives & deaths & aspirations & frustrations that one has never heard of, and that in Djataka [Jakarta?] in Java, the same relationships between failure & success, (as in Singapore & Rome & Venice) are all going on – and what does one do about it? Or can, for that matter? Millions of them living, hoping, and failing and dying, – some of them blessed with one who abides, many of them so completely alone. It does matter. I am convinced that the problem of living is dreary, anywhere in the world. People are the important units. The landscape is adaptable & suits all types. God, so much of this country looks like Australia. But the mountains are covered in autumn trees, golden & yellow leaves everywhere & whole thing like a photograph of it. It is all so bloody park like – give me the bush with its hard & mystic quality. The more I see of this park land the more I would like to suddenly transport its natives to beat the impact of our aridity & subtlety of colour. Dear Girl, I don’t expect how, to get any letters from you. But I hope you are getting along happily with Graham. I don’t speak much of him, but he is constantly in my thoughts. I know you understand. I wish you were with me. It would be very gay and sympathique. Much love & absence make the heart grow fonder; to you and the squab.
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
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,
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.
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.