Saturday, October 01, 2005

On Not Joining the Circus

At the beginning of my not-yet illustrious graduate school career, which may already be over, I decided to blow off the Modernist Studies Association conference to go to Romania. Friends and acquaintances were either shocked or not shocked, depending.

Some asked, “But isn’t it important that you give papers in your field, aren’t you a modernist?” I didn't tell them that I hadn't even written my paper yet.

Others said sternly, “Resist the urge to join the circus, Lorraine.” I sulked and said nothing.

My advisor was skeptical but not unwilling to help. “What are you going to do in Romania for two weeks? Is it relevant to your thesis?” He had his pen poised to sign a form that would eventually force the department to pay for my plane ticket.

“It’s a translation studies conference,” I said. “And maybe I’ll give a reading there.”

My flight to Bucharest left from New York, so I took a bus up from Washington, DC the night before and stayed with friends in Green Point, Brooklyn.

Here’s the part where I noodle a bit:

Four or maybe five months ago for work, I attended a reading by a well-known and influential poet who said that there had been no good American poets since W. H. Auden. He’s wrong, of course. I probably only care about Auden because of the sense of energy and humor he brought to New York. I can’t fathom the arrogance needed to dismiss, for example, “Beat” poetry, the San Francisco Renaissance, Adrienne Rich, Jerome Rothenberg, the New York School, the Nuyorican Poets, and many many other individuals and groups about which I’ll have to write later.

I don’t know what kind of narrative historians and literary scholars of the future will construct to define and judge the many kinds of poetries being written and performed in the United States. But I can analyze the present, and at present there are a lot of poets. The friends I stayed with in Brooklyn are poets.

Rarely do I exist in a public context where being a poet is relevant, and it's never OK. My partner, Mark, tells a story about traveling in southern Portugal after being at the International Meeting of Poets at the University of Coimbra. He was with the performance artist and writer William R. Howe (although when Mark tells the story it is just “Bill”). Mark and Bill are tall men. At the time Bill was sporting a stiff purple mohawk. They checked into a hotel in a small walled town. They filled out cards with their name, nationality, passport number, and profession. Next to profession they wrote, “poet.” The woman behind the desk didn’t speak any English, but she recognized the word poet.

“Ah, Poetas!” She exclaimed, and gave them a twenty percent discount.

This kind of thing doesn’t happen in the United States. If anything, people want to see cash up front when they find out you’re a poet.

As it turns out, being a poet in Romania is OK, although it has its difficulties. Florin Prodan, poet, critic, and kind host, is often between jobs. When I was in Romania, his friend was making some money by writing an article about garlic.

“Ah,” Florin said, “there is an annual festival of garlic in Bucovina.”

“Tell me, tell me!” His friend replied.

I spent my first three days in Campulung Moldovenesc, a town in Bucovina, nestled in the “foothills” of the Carpathian mountains. I stayed up until 4 in the morning most nights drinking homemade afinata, a liquor made, I think, from a berry similar to blueberries. There was something in the afinata that allowed me to talk all night about poetry, politics, and art. Each morning I woke up at 7:00 am, hyper and excited, without a trace of hangover.

"Afinata is organic," Florin said. "It does not make you sick."

My hosts in Campulung Moldovenesc gave me a large plastic jug of afinata to take with me, since I seemed to like it so much. I lugged this jug on both train and bus rides. In Suceava, the provincial capital of Bucovina, I was starting to feel sentimental and lonely, which meant I haden't had enough sleep. When poet and journalist X showed me a series of achingly lovely unpublished translations of his work, I cried like the Green party/sometimes Democrat I am.

“It’s OK,” he said through a translator. “It’s not your fault you didn’t know of us. But you know us now.”

By the time we arrived in the university town of Iasi, I was strung out and overwhelmed by the number of talented writers I’d met, and had decided once again that I know nothing about anything. I like this feeling, it’s why I travel.

One evening, we retreated to the rooftop balcony in the home of poet Radu Andriescu. Radu is one of the few contemporary Romanian writers to have his work translated into English. On his bookshelves he has a complete set of Sulfur, the magazine edited by Clayton Eshleman dedicated to engaging “multiple aspects of innovative contemporary poetry in the context of international modernism,” etc.

Dizzy, I headed back up the spiral staircase to the roof and complimented Radu on his magazine collection. He looked at me and took my half full glass of Greek (yes, Greek) whisky.

He smiled and says, “let’s put on some Frank Zappa!”

I don't like Frank Zappa, but I like some of Radu's poems. Any man who uses the verb "rape" ironically in song lyrics is not OK. OK, so maybe "Little Rubber Girl" and "Bobby Brown" are ironic, but I don't identify with their glee, and I'm not supposed to, and I don't want to listen to them. But I'm glad that Zappa opposes censorship.

That night, there were no less than five wedding parties at the hotel where we were staying. The music and dancing lasted all night. I called Mark a bit drunk and lonely.

I managed to bring my plastic jug of Afinata back to Washington, DC to share with friends.

“Will it make me blind?” One asked.


Here’s a recipe for Afinata, in Romanian. Anyone who can tell me exactly what "afine" is/are...please do.

5 kg afine, 3 kg zahar, 3 I votcă

Mod de preparareSe aleg afinele si se spala, se scurg si se pun in damigeana cu zaharul presarat in straturi, deasupra fiind stratul de zahar. Se leagă damigeana la gură cu tifon împăturit şi se pune la soare cca 4 saptamini. Cind afinele s-au macerat si-au lasat un sirop care acopera fructele, se adauga alcoolul. Se inchide damigeana cu un dop de pluta si se mai pastreaza la macerat cca 3-4 saptamini. Se strecoara prin tifon sau printr-o strecuratoare deasa, se pune in sticle si se pastreaza la rece. In aceleasi condiţii se prepara si zmeurata, cornata si capsunata.


Anonymous said...

Hi! I wondered if you had the translation for the Afinata recipe?

thank you tons!

Anonymous said...

"afine" are almost the same like blackcurrant, just a littlebit smaller

Anonymous said...

afine are wild bluberries.