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175 MINUTES IN MIZIL
GEO BOGZA



TRANSLATED FROM THE ROMANIAN BY DIANA DUTA













TRANSLATOR’S NOTE


175 minutes in Mizil is a Perecquian reportage about provincial banality. Through a minutious description of his every step, Bogza leads us into a boring, quiet, infinitely dusty Mizil. He has one hundred and seventy-five minutes to spend there – from which he doesn’t expect much. He is at once protagonist and guide, audience and performer. Bogza’s tone is lighthearted and more self-referential than in his other reportage writings from the same period, such as The Book of the Olt River (1944) and Lands of Stone, Fire and Earth (1939). Here, he draws a portrait of Romanian history by following the course of the Olt River, or looks into the poverty, misery and desperation of people living at peripheries, facing forced industrialization or extremely harsh landscapes. The human, mineral and vegetal realms grow closer, intermingle, clash, and finally merge together in his striking observations.

40 years before young Geo Bogza stepped foot there, the ambitious mayor Leonida Condeescu was doing everything in his power to put his native Mizil on the map. Some of his plans included moving an Episcopate or medical school to Mizil, as well as turning it into a harbor. Apart from having paved the roads and built a school, barracks, and theatre, he fought for Mizil to became a stop on the very first express train Berlin – Bucharest. His victory, a real one, is celebrated in Caragiale’s sketch A Solemn Day, at once ode and mockery of the mayor’s tireless drive. In fact, Caragiale and Leonida Condeescu were good friends in real life and the latter didn’t hold it against him. In 1901, the express train Berlin – Bucharest did stop in Mizil station for exactly one minute. Ever since Caragiale’s sketch, Mizil has remained in people’s imagination as the epitome of no-man’s land. Hence the young journalist’s fascination with spending some time in this town that results in this earnest piece of experimental reportage. Geo Bogza’s work has not been previously translated into English.




D. Duta, 2017.




*




I haven't even the slightest intention of joking when I declare that one of the great wishes of my life has been to visit Mizil. In autumn last year, this wish finally came true.

Five years ago, when, for the first time in my life, I adopted a profession - that of a reporter - I thought that its main requirement - that of travelling through many different places - would eventually lead me to Mizil. During this period, every time the editors I worked for questioned me about an upcoming story, I answered with a nostalgic smile that seemed to conceal a greater secret: “There is one subject that I love dearly: Mizil. I'm sure that if I spent a couple of days in Mizil, I would come back with a sensational story.”

I confess that this thought made me happy on countless occasions. I pictured myself arriving in the town, checking in at the hotel, and heading out into the streets, carefree and curious, mixing in with the people, eavesdropping on their conversations.

Even when I tried to consider it from a less personal angle, the trip to Mizil still appeared extremely important. Let us see, I thought to myself with some solemnity, what the deal is with this Mizil. Mizil which Caragiale had once mocked and no one had paid any attention to since.1 It’s perhaps time that the whole country found out about Mizil - Mi-zil - how people live, how they think, what they dream of, how they love and how they die, there in their town, these people over which the grin of the great humorist has been hovering, derisively, for all these years. There were moments when no other action seemed more urgent or necessary than presenting a truthful, up-to-date image of Mizil.

For a long time, neither these plans, nor the personal happiness that came over me at the thought of being in Mizil - of sleeping and eating with its people - could come true. My profession gave me the chance to travel to many cities, some of them very far away, but never to Mizil.

Like many others, in the autumn of last year I received a travel sheet to Buzău from the recruiting office. On the train, I realized that for the first time in my life I was travelling on government money. It was under these circumstances that I came to know Mizil at last.

As soon as we passed Ploiești, the thought that I could stop in Mizil, even just for a few hours, took over me completely. I had planned this stopover a few times before in previous years while heading to Roman to see Blecher, but I’d never gone through with it.2 As the train approached, I began to feel hesitant. For a million reasons, my journalistic fervor had been diminishing lately. So what good would this do?

I decided to stop anyway, thinking to myself that visiting Mizil could become a historical date in my life.

I got off the train at 4.15 pm.

I can't say I was overly excited, however, a profound curiosity - with its share of emotion - had taken over my entire being. So then, Mizil! Finally, Mizil! Monday, 10th October 1938!

It was an autumn day, warm and nice, with a clear, blue sky (at 7.10 pm) when I resumed my trip to Buzău.

In the following, I will recount step by step, minute by minute, everything I did in Mizil; events that may be considered either lethally banal or truly sensational, depending on how the reader is accustomed to seeing and valuing the world.










Minute 1

(4.15 pm)

Therefore, Mizil.



Engineer Lungu, an acquaintance from the petroliferous region of Prahova, gets off as well. He's here to make an offer for the repair of the defective power station. He told me this on the train, where I happened to run into him. Are we both taking the same cab?3


Minute 2



I cross the first track, through the rubble towards the station building. The feeling that the train I came on, my train, will depart and I will be left here, in Mizil. What have I done? A vague feeling of anxiety, of remorse even, immediately followed by composure. I am sizing up the adventure to come.

Another familiar feeling, experienced many times before: standing on a station platform on my own, while strangers pass me by in all directions, and the train I came on is about to leave.



Minute 3



Engineer Lungu, who had walked to the exit, comes back and asks me what my plans are. So he does want to take the same cab. He helps me write down on a piece of paper the departure times for trains to Buzău, later in the day.



Minute 4



I look around for the ticket office, I walk in. Compared to the people inside, I suddenly seem elegant. A slightly confused station agent stamps my travel sheet. When I come out, the platform is empty. I can see the last carriages of the train that just left. Heads stick out from the windows of the 3rd class carriages. Suddenly, the scene reminds me of another, first seen during the war. I relive the same pungent anxiety of my childhood.



Minute 5



We cross the waiting room and exit on the other side of the station. A sensation of dust; lots of it, endless, like water along a seashore. We see three horse drawn cabs, terribly wonky. Others have already left, kicking up dust. We climb into the nearest one. The cab starts.



Minute 6



On the left, a fence slips away. On the right, sparse wooden poles with electrical lights. On the other side, the railway to Buzău.

Suddenly, I manifest an exceedingly loud, idiotic cheerfulness.

“Hey, boss,” I shout to the cab driver, “How's life in Mizil? Where can we find some girls around here?” The engineer laughs. The cab driver laughs.



Minute 7



Just as suddenly, the enthusiasm deflates. How stupid of me! The engineer will probably think that this is my main pursuit when I arrive in a new town, but I only asked the question because he was with me.



Minute 8



At what other point in my life did I ride in a cab with someone else from the station into town? Ah, yes, once in Bălți, with a Jewish merchant. I don't remember anyone else apart from him. Just then and now, with this engineer who's come to fix the power station.



Minute 9



An avalanche of questions for the cab driver. How long has the power station been out? Who is the mayor? How much does a litre of milk cost? How much does bread cost in Mizil? How much is a kilo of meat? The cab driver answers everything, thoughtfully. The carriage is rolling on a soft carpet of dust.



Minute 10



The road stops following the railway tracks. It turns left, towards town. Question to the cab driver: “Are there hotels in Mizil?” Affirmative answer.



Minute 11



A pleasant, very pleasant sensation, in the swaying of the cab on its springs. It's good to travel like this, at the pace of horses.

I feel wrapped up in the deep and ripe heat of a beautiful autumn day. It's so good to be alive, to live, to lie idly in a cab.

Ahead of us, in the distance, we can see the hills lit by the sun.

How do people in Mizil react to the Czechoslovakian conflict, where tensions are escalating?

It's so nice to ride in a cab in the autumn sun!



Minute 12



The town's first houses appear. They’re not too tiny, not ugly either, neither big nor beautiful. It can't get any more boring than this. Panic: what made me think there would be anything interesting to see in Mizil? A boring gathering of houses. That's all. It was to be expected, anyway. I am relieved: good thing I didn't come here with a commitment to write something.

No-one knows about my adventure (Sensation of happiness.)



Minute 13



The cab turns right: a street with small shops. To the left: a square. The cab driver stretches his arm: “See, there is the hotel...” It's a one-storey building. City centre.



Minute 14



To the right, we take a street wider than all the streets so far. After one hundred metres, the cab driver stops. The mayor's house. A man comes out from the yard, his clothes stained with industrial oils. The mechanic from the power station. He is sent to call for the mayor.



Minute 15



The engineer pays the cab driver 20 lei. Quick inner debate: Should I contribute with "my half"? Ten lei. That's ridiculous! But what if he’s expecting it? I don't know him that well. Will he think I’m taking advantage of him? I take out a ten lei coin. A surprised gesture from the engineer. He takes it, smiling indifferently.



Minute 16



The mayor shows up, accompanied by the mechanic. Captain I-don't-know-what. In any case ending in... escu. Deputy captain. Named by the government.



Minute 17



After a few smiles, the discussion starts right there on the road. The power station, the motor, the cables. A comprehensive offer. For the whole network, the engineer says. For the past four months, everybody’s been “burning gas”, the mayor says.4

Automobiles are driving past. We are on the highway connecting Ploiești to Buzău, on the stretch that goes through Mizil. The cab driver leaves, greeting us respectfully.



Minute 18



The voice of the engineer: “That's none of your concern. We promise that in the course of two months…”

The voice of the mayor: “All in all, about a million kilowatts a year.”



Minute 19



Maybe it’s time for me to go. It requires some physical effort on the part of my attitude and my shifting bodily posture to communicate the fact that I want to leave. In the middle of their discussion, the two of them notice the dissonance I am creating. I put my hand out and try to smile as widely as possible. A boot-smile. The mayor answers, surprised. He had assumed I was a colleague of the engineer’s.



Minute 20



I walk back to the market square. A slatted fence.



Minute 21



I step with a strange sensation of numb feet, after having sat in the cab. I've been familiar with it since childhood.



Minute 22



I reach the corner of the square. I stop and look for a while. I see a church surrounded by a big garden. I keep going.



Minute 23



I reach the centre of the square. I stand still.



Minute 24



Mizil!



Minute 25



I am in Mizil. Here, everything I see, is Mizil. Mizil! I feel perplexed and disoriented.



Minute 26



A dog walks by on the road.



Minute 27



I am in Mizil. (Already an encounter, in any case. But disorientation continues.)



Minute 28



What do I see from the stillness I find myself in, alone in the middle of the square, like a human poplar tree? To the left, I see a monument in a garden. Further away, beyond it, the field. And even further in the distance the hills. Here, in front, on one side there is the church, and on the other the hotel. It has a sign. I look at the sign for a while. I read it. Ho-tel. That's it. It doesn't say which hotel. Behind it, a pharmacy. Next to it, a house. A sign: Merchants Association Mizil. On the other side, a little white house, with a large sign: TELEPHONES. To the right, further back, a street with small shops.



Minute 29



So here I am, in Mizil. I take a few steps, I stop again.

I read the hotel sign again: Ho-tel.



Minute 30



What now?



Minute 31



The dog from a moment ago passes by again. He looks bored. Apart from him, the square is completely deserted. Ho-tel. Hotel.



Minute 32



I feel like I'm done with Mizil. I start walking anyway, moving slowly towards the street with shops. Let's see what happens next.

I suddenly think that it would be nice to buy some postcards and send them to my friends. “Greetings from Mizil.” Oh, yes, maybe that is an idea.



Minute 33



No, my presence in Mizil is way too important an event to be signalled merely through postcards. I need to send a telegram. It must absolutely be a telegram.

I scan my mind for a friend who would find this amusing. Whom should I send the telegram to?

The dog passes by again towards the church. He looks extremely bored.



Minute 34



I stop at the corner of the street. A grocery store is displaying lots of identical packages in the window. Candy: 505 with a stripe. I've been obsessed with this for a few days now. 505 with a stripe. Candy! A candy with a stripe! Merchants can come up with some terrible concepts. 505 with a stripe. The candy of Europe. That's fantastic! The candy of Europe. Minor thought: What do they even taste like? Horia Bottea comes to mind.



Minute 35



I go up the street, to the left, in the direction of Buzău. Of course, Horia Bottea is the one who would enjoy receiving a telegram from Mizil the most. Good that I have his address. It's in Ocna-Sibiului.



Minute 36



I try to picture his face when the postman brings him a telegram from Mizil. What will he think? And suddenly: It would be best not to sign the telegram. So that he won’t know who it's from. Make him rack his brains: Who could've sent me a telegram from Mizil? A name flashes through my mind: Caragiale.

What if I sign the telegram Caragiale?



Minute 37



This thought stops me in my tracks for a minute.



Minute 38



Here is, truly, something that deserves to be done: a telegram sent from Mizil and signed Caragiale. What will Horia Bottea say?

Mizil. Greetings, Caragiale. No... Heartfelt greetings, Caragiale.

This revelation almost makes me happy.



Minute 39



Suddenly another thought kills my enthusiasm and paralyses me: What will the people at the post office say?

In all fairness, it is impossible to send a telegram signed Caragiale from Mizil. They can't not know that Caragiale mocked their town.



Minute 40



How to send the telegram without raising any suspicions? I can almost see myself in front of the counter. Greetings, Caragiale. Horia Bottea will crack up! It’s impossible to let go of this plan.



Minute 41



I decide to head to the post office anyway. A passer-by gives me directions. It's on the opposite side of town. I turn around. Again 505 with a stripe. Greetings, Caragiale. I have to do this.



Minute 42



I walk up to the square.



Minute 43



I turn left on a very narrow dirt road with some features that could qualify as unsanitary. Maybe this dirt road is the ghetto of Mizil... At the other end, the sound of hammers in full swing. On the left corner, a carpenter’s workshop. Outside, arranged in rows by the door, seven rudimentary coffins. Boards barely shaved, everything done in a rush, like packaging for cheap merchandise. Mizil coffins. I stand and look at them for a while. Impressive. I would've had some material for a reportage after all...



Minute 44



I cross a square roughly paved with boulders. This must be a cattle and grain fair.

Idea: I will sign the telegram Caragealis. Caragealis could be the name of someone passing through Mizil. A grain merchant, for instance. The gentlemen in the post office will have nothing to comment on that. If they do, I'll make a scene.

I open a gate and go in. You must cross a garden to reach the post office. The building is at the back and rather big.



Minute 45



The telegram counter is closed. I knock. A spectacled gentleman appears, dressed in black. Fairly old. I ask for a telegram form. He gives it to me. He doesn't suspect anything. I look at him attentively. He will accept it! He has no choice.

I go to the writing desk to write the message on the telegram.



Minute 46



The message: Horia Bottea, judge, Ocna-Sibiului. Heartfelt greetings, Caragealis.

Of course, at first he will be perplexed. Will he suspect me? I haven’t been in touch with him for a year.

I wait for the ink to dry.



Minute 47



Now is the moment. I put on a casual, just going around my business look. Heartfelt greetings. Won’t he wonder what that means? That's not my problem. I approach the counter.



Minute 48



The counter is closed again. I knock once more. It opens. For a moment I am confused. Instead of the older clerk, another, younger one. I wasn’t prepared for this. I close the telegram, determined. I even feel a little bit like my name is Caragealis. A grain merchant. Why not? I can play the part if need be. He closes the counter abruptly.



Minute 49



A few tense moments. What if they’re all gathered around the telegram now, debating?

The counter opens. I take the receipt and the change.

I leave. I feel a bit like someone who just lit the wick to a barrel of dynamite. At some point in time, one that I can't predict, the explosion will take place. Horia Bottea is in for something! A telegram from Mizil!



Minute 50



A servant, seemingly Transylvanian, stops a wagon drawn by two splendid horses right in front of the post office and shouts desperately at a passer-by, asking where the post office is.5 When he spots it, he gets off and goes inside, with a box under his arm. It feels like a scene from Laurel and Hardy.

I walk to the other side of the square. A long line of butchers’ shops. Some are open. Disgusting slabs of meat. And flies. I haven't seen that many flies in a long time.



Minute 51



Fantastic contrast. I am in the courtyard of a church, with flowers and soft grass. Peace.

On the door, a sign in violet ink reads: The church has ten hectares of land to rent. Enquire at the office. I see the office to the right, a low house with a veranda.

A thought: I go in, I say I'm interested in the land, how much for a hectare? I meet new people, hear how they speak, find out what they think.

Inner commandment: Come on, don't be lazy, go, that's the only way you can find out something about Mizil. Go and pretend to be a farmer!...



Minute 52



Dramatic inner struggle: I'm lazy, I'm lazy, I don't want to talk to anyone.

I leave the church courtyard with a slight feeling of regret. I wish I hadn't been so lazy. I could’ve put on an agricultural voice: "I'm interested in the ten hectares advertised on the church door..." And they would've thought: "Here's our man!"



Minute 53



I pass by the seven coffins again (inside I can hear the hammer constantly hammering in nails) and take the narrow dirt road. A few people are gathered at the far end. A woman is quarrelling with a man, they are shouting curses at each other. The man is drunk; he is staggering.



Minute 54



I watch the group and listen to the quarrel. They are red in the face and angry. From the man's side, the usual insults, on religious and genital themes. Mother, God and the Saints. The woman is cursing him: “Burn your…” “Dry your…”



Minute 55



Nothing new happens during the quarrel. I decide to leave.



Minute 56



I turn right and continue, in the direction of Buzău; I am on the road I started on before going to the post office.



Minute 57



The street is crammed with shops. Clothing, shoes, exotic products. Signs: The Bride, The United Principalities, Oituz.

All the grocery stores have nothing but the 505’s with a stripe on display. Clearly the factory representatives wrecked havoc here one afternoon. Dumping 505’s with a stripe.



Minute 59



I'm walking. Clear sky. Beautiful day.



Minute 60



I turn left on a narrower road.



Minute 61



On a corner, a little house. Outside, on a lit barbecue, hideous black sausages. Inside– a party. At a table, a few howling teenagers. One of them has an accordion. Several older people are looking at him from a distance, with envy.



Minute 62



I continue on my way. All of a sudden, I notice that the houses I'm passing are no different to those in a village. Everything looks like a village. First of all, the fences. Then the very small houses, with verandas and minuscule windows. Outside in the yards there is sometimes a woman, or a child wearing only a shirt.



Minute 63



The same rural landscape.



Minute 64



I can see the empty field nearby. Perfect; I was feeling the urge.



Minute 65



I'm in the middle of the field. But from the last house, a woman who saw me pass by keeps looking back at me. This is ridiculous. I keep going, up to an old, blackened haystack.



Minute 66



While I sprinkle the ground, I look calmly at the landscape. The yellow field of autumn stretches all the way to the hills which are rising up on the horizon. Didactical thought: We are at the feet of the Carpathian mountains.



Minute 67



I come back on another street, parallel to the one I came from. I have the feeling that gypsies live around here. As I pass, I am watched by women and children from outside their houses.



Minute 68



My feet are starting to ache from the boulders I've been stumbling over.



Minute 69



A pig is squealing in a backyard, like it's about to be slaughtered. But no one slaughters it.



Minute 70



I turn right, towards the centre. I regret not having bought some bread.



Minute 71



It's twenty-five minutes past five. The train leaves at ten past seven.

I still have some time to spend in Mizil.



Minute 72



I’m on the street with shops again. Coming from the other direction and on the opposite sidewalk. 24th of January, Podgoreanu's, The sheep herd.



Minute 73



The light is starting to fade and the evening air suddenly feels cooler. I feel lost, somewhere in the world. I recall, not through my mind but something deeper in me remembers how I used to walk at dusk, alone on the streets, after primary school. It’s been so long since! And after all this time, after all these people I've known and loved, I find myself alone again, on the streets, in an autumn dusk.

The world feels like a fog, something nebulous, unclear, which in this moment is also cold, like raindrops carried by an autumn wind.



Minute 74



The light fades another notch.



Minute 75



I’m walking on the same road in Mizil, alone, somewhere in the world on a cool autumn evening.



Minute 76



I’m close to the centre. A bakery with a full stall. Suddenly I see a piece of flatbread on its edge. I haven't seen flatbread in a while. I reach out my hand and quickly grab it. A woman sitting behind the stall wearing an apron - a white apron with grey stripes - is watching me. I ask her to cut it in half.

“How much is it?”

“One leu.”

The answer stirs up an incredible emotion in me. It's been a long time since such a craving, like this craving for flatbread, has cost me so little. I look at the baker surprised, almost incredulous. One leu...



Minute 77



I walk holding the flatbread.

Minute 78



I arrive at the square in the centre. I sit on a bench in front of the pharmacy, facing the church and the hotel. I feel tired; my feet especially are aching from walking on the boulders.



Minute 79



I start eating the flatbread.



Minute 80



I'm thinking: I'm eating flatbread which costs one leu.



Minute 81



I finish the flatbread.



Minute 82



My feet ache. I stretch them as much as I can, to help them rest.



Minute 83



Sitting on a bench by myself, feeling like I’m unemployed or a vagabond.



Minute 84



I recap the people I’ve seen pass by since I've been sitting on the bench.

From left to right:

A man with a horse.

A police officer.

A woman who went into the pharmacy.

A barefoot girl.

A wagon.

Two gentlemen with overcoats.

A child.

From right to left:

A tall, badly dressed man.

An electrician.

A middle-aged priest.

A dog.

A wagon loaded with hay.

A woman with a mirror.

A group of geese.

A carriage.

A gypsy.



Minute 85



All of a sudden, I notice an extraordinary scene. Under the trees in front of the church, a man has collapsed. The man he was with is arguing with him at the top of his voice. Then, with a dreadful stagger, he sits on a bench and starts to shriek.



Minute 86



One man is lying on the ground, motionless. The other one, possessed by a desperate merriment, shrieks at the top of his lungs. He looks at his friend and laughs.



Minute 87



A few children have appeared around the two men. They look on, both frightened and amused.



Minute 88



The number of children thickens. There's over twenty of them in total now. They form a circle around the drunkards. They bully each other by pushing themselves towards the man on the ground. Short, sharp cries. The noise of school children during recess.



Minute 89



A pot-bellied man appears, with a long, yellow moustache. He must be the church preacher. Two more men dressed in shabby clothes appear. They’re all looking at the fallen man.



Minute 90



(A quarter to six)



A new character enters the scene. As soon as they spot him, the children start chanting:

Costică the moron

Shoots his field gun...

He starts chasing them with a wooden stick in his hand, and the children run away frightened in all directions. The ones who got away regroup and start chanting.

Costică the moron

Shoots his field gun...



Minute 91



Suddenly, I decide to approach this theatre of events. I leave the bench and start walking.

I get there exactly at the same time as a woman who is bending over the fallen man: "Tănase, come on, get up, Tănase!" Tănase doesn't answer.



Minute 93



The woman looks around her, aghast. She gets up and starts wringing her hands. The nuthead is chasing children away in all directions.



Minute 94



Judging by the way he is lying on the ground, I sense Tănase is heavy, like lead. His drinking companion is continuing the festivities, giggling the whole time. He’s laughing carelessly, seemingly undisturbed by the events around him.



Minute 95



Urged by the preacher, the two men help the woman lift Tănase up and put him on the bench. They manage but with great difficulty. They hold him by the armpits to prevent him from collapsing. Tănase shows no sign of life. The woman shakes him and calls his name, seized with a despair that makes her turn pale. Tănase's head sways heavily from side to side.



Minute 96



A cab with a sort of gentleman inside traverses the square. The woman shouts to the driver to come back, and take Tănase home. "I'll pay for it, I will..."



Minute 97



Tănase's friend is pushing on with cheerfulness. He seems to be about fifty, a sort of old slacker, a man of no trade. He giggles constantly: "Hee, hee, hee."

Tănase, on the other hand, looks like a hardworking man. He's a gigantic fellow, wearing enormous boots. Wide, strong shoulders. His wife looks just as strong. She takes his head between her hands, to stop it from dangling.



Minute 98



With the grave expression of a priest performing a ceremony, Costică the moron uses his stick to shoo the children away from this spectacle.

He's a boy of about twenty, with an appallingly dirty appearance. He’s so dark and greasy, as if he was first dragged through a garbage bin and then through a coal bin. His whole face is stained with ash. His bare feet are so black, that at first it looks like he’s wearing shoes.

On his head, he’s wearing a hat with rims well pulled down over the ears, and tied under his chin with a rope. Under his left arm, which doesn’t move, he's carrying a pile of magazines, frayed beyond recognition. With his right arm he’s waving the stick, chasing the children away. They turn around and shout:

Costică the moron

Shoots his field gun...



Minute 99



I’m thinking: "What a name for a madman: Costică!" A moment later, a sentence forms in my mind, as if I’m about to tell someone: "The madman in Mizil is called Costică..."



Minute 100



Tănase moans a few times. The woman calls his name, in a rustic, hoarse voice: "Hey, Tănase! Tănase! Hey, Tănase, hey!"



Minute 101



An empty cab arrives. (Another one, not the one that passed by earlier.) The woman and the two men stretch Tănase out to carry him to the cab. It's hard work. The children gather around tightly, like at the circus. Costică shoos them off with the stick.

Futile attempt to get Tănase into the cab.



Minute 102



Tănase is on the ground, by the cab wheels. The three of them are pulling him desperately.



Minute 103



With a lot of difficulty they drag him into the cab, but on the bottom part, where you put your feet. After a few attempts of raising him onto the chair, they leave him there, lying across the floor. The woman stays on the step, propping his head with one foot. The carriage starts.



Minute 104



A puddle of reddish vomit is left on the ground where Tănase had laid.



Minute 105



People are dispersing. Tănase's friend releases a terrible shriek and sets off, staggering and trying to sing. He's dressed in rags from head to toe; nevertheless his greasy hat has something dignified about it, like a hunter's hat.



Minute 106



I cross back to the other side of the square.



Minute 107



I reach the house with the Telephones sign. It has a large window, like a shop window. I approach the shop to see what's inside. When I get to the window I see a thin girl with dark hair, wearing a dark blue sweater. At the same moment she lifts her head and looks at me. I walk away to the right side of the square.



Minute 108



I reach the street with shops again. This time I head towards Ploiești.

Reflection: "Why did I leave? I should have opened the door and walked in!" A feeling: She was so lonely! A girl from Mizil. I could have talked to her.



Minute 109



Aha! So it's the same here as in every town. A cafe which is probably the place to be in Mizil.6 Boxes of candy, cakes, tables outside. Sign: We have ice-cream. Probably the competition between the two cake-makers is an exciting chapter in the life of Mizil.



Minute 110



Of course, I should have opened the door. Everyone has the right to enter the call shop. How stupid of me to leave. Should I go back? Oh, it's too late now. She saw me looking through the window and leaving. I should have gone in from the start, determined to act like I had some business in there.



Minute 111



The telephone operator girl in Mizil! Now that would have been useful. To talk to her. I'm an idiot.



Minute 112



A few more stores. Then a newspaper store.



Minute 113



Should I go in? Should I not? I'm bored. What will I find out?

The inner voice, full of energy and sneering at the same time. Come on, take action, do something for your job too. Get informed!

I decide to go in.

I go in.



Minute 114



A counter with newspapers and crime novels. I examine them one by one, asking if they have a particular newspaper.

“No, we've stopped getting that one.”

“How come?”

“I don't know, we were not selling a lot of them, so they stopped sending it.”



Minute 115



“Do you sell this magazine?”

“Two copies.”

“And that newspaper?”

“Five, six.”

“So little.”

“Well, it's not really newspaper season.”

“What do you mean, not newspaper season?”

“People read a lot in winter here. Now they are away picking grapes. They don't have time for newspapers.”



Minute 116



Reflection: I did feel like the city was empty in a way that couldn't be normal.



Minute 117



“Thank you very much. Good evening.”

“You’re welcome. Good evening.”



Minute 118



Further, in the direction of Ploiești. The sky is bruised and cold. It really is evening now.



Minute 119



A taller building which I suspect is a windmill.



Minute 120



To the right, I can see the field again. Anyway, Mizil is pretty small. I go around and head towards the centre again.



Minute 121



I could have asked, for instance, until what time it is open. Or if I can call Oradea Mare. Oh, but I could have found so many reasons...



Minute 122

(A quarter past six)



I have almost an hour left until the train leaves. Should I go now? Anyway, I’m walking towards the centre.



Minute 123



The telephone operator girl in Mizil! That is someone I need to speak to without a doubt! And besides, I think she is pretty too.



Minute 124



I will go in, I will say: "Good evening, Miss. Please tell me, until what time can I call Bucharest?" I’ll just take it from there...



Minute 125



I will go!



Minute 126



I turn the corner. I pass by the pharmacy. I'm there. I open the door.



Minute 127



"Good evening, Miss. Please tell me, until what time can I call Bucharest?”

She answers: "Until ten."

I look at her: she is a lot less beautiful than she seemed through the window. And the sweater is faded and old. She looks like a provincial, petty civil servant.



Minute 128



Am I disappointed with the girl's appearance? I am not disappointed, but I feel sorry for her.

I ask if she has the phone book for Bucharest. She looks for it among others and gives it to me. I sit on a bench, next to the wall.



Minute 129



For now, I will just leaf through the phone book. I look for different numbers and write them down in pencil on a piece of paper. My friends' phone numbers, which I’ve known by heart for years. Still, when I find them here, during this afternoon in Mizil, I am a little touched.



Minute 130



My eyes rest on a name, different from the others. A name, a few numbers. My emotion grows and becomes sadness. I look out of the window. I feel tired again.



Minute 131



I carefully fold the paper on which I pointlessly scribbled the phone numbers. The girl’s voice: "Hello, yes, you are connected to Buzău."



Minute 132



I find out that in Mizil there are thirteen phone numbers. Ten belonging to the authorities and three private.

“Just three.”

“Yes, three.”

I find out the names of the three people in Mizil who have a phone number.



Minute 133



The girl is simple, kind, modest. She sits on a chair behind some wooden bars, above which I can still see her head.



Minute 134



Her makeup is tasteless, typical for provincial girls. Long hair, pulled back. The room we are in is full of evening shadows. It's almost dark. I'm talking to her and, at the same time, realizing that I’m resting my feet better than on the bench outside.



Minute 135



I find out she's only worked there for two months. She's not originally from Mizil. She's from the province. Astonishment.

“What do you mean, from the province?”

“I mean from the countryside, from a village.”

“Ah, yes!”

She came to Mizil because there was nothing to do in the province. Here, she’s a telephone operator.



Minute 136



Did she follow a course in order to work there? No, she didn't follow any course. She came, and the boss trained her for two days. It wasn’t hard. They needed someone.

“And how much do they pay you per month, Miss?”

Answer: “Two thousand three hundred.”



Minute 137



The back door opens and an old lady walks in with a gas lamp. Aha! The defective power station, engineer Lungu, the mayor.



Minute 138



We are under the light of the gas lamp. I feel it's evening, a provincial evening come early.

The girl shouts down the funnel of the telephone... “Hello, Ploiești, Ploiești?” She shouts as loudly as she can and she chokes. It's completely dark outside. I will go soon.



Minute 139



A line by Tudor Arghezi comes to mind:



"Never before was the autumn more beautiful

To our soul happy for death."



I am reminded of it every autumn.



Minute 140



I need to be at the station in half an hour. I say good evening to the girl and she answers with a tired voice, after her earlier shout-call to Ploiești.

Out again, in the by now so familiar square. I head right, and pass by the pharmacy once more.



Minute 141



Inside the house with the Merchants Association sign, a few dozen people seem to be engaged in a discussion. The door is ajar. Intention to go in, quickly abandoned.



Minute 142



I still have some time left. The hotel is in front. How about I go in and see what the hotel in Mizil is like? Project: I go in, ask for a room, in case I don’t finish what I need to do and would like to spend the night in Mizil. How can they know that I will go straight to the station from there?



Minute 143



The entrance to the hotel is through a bar. I approach the counter behind which a woman is standing. When I open my mouth I hear my name called out. Surprise. I turn my head: Engineer Lungu, at a table in the back. I am forced to give up the idea of asking for a room. I regret it.



Minute 144



Conversation with the engineer.

“So what about the power station?”

“At this moment they are discussing their decision.”

“Ah yes, at the Merchants Association.”

“Yes, at the Merchants Association.”



Minute 145



The bar is ample. A lot of obscure corners that the gas lamp doesn't reach. The engineer waits here for the decision of the council. There is a glass of wine in front of him.

“Is it good?”

“It’s bad.”



Minute 146



I get up: I have to go to the station. The engineer: “Goodbye!”

It’s completely dark outside. I will walk there.



Minute 147



The street with small shops. All illuminated by gas lamps. To the left, on the road which leads straight to the station.



Minute 148



I am walking.



Minute 149



A grocery store. I've already passed it when I realize it would've been good to buy some soap, to have at the hotel in Buzău. I slow down, hesitate, want to go back, but I keep going.



Minute 150



A meeting with some cows. They are probably coming back from their grazing.



Minute 151



All of a sudden, I can see the moon in between the houses and trees. It is just rising, quietly, from behind the field of Bărăgan. I feel the rustle, mystery and immensity of the night that is beginning.



Minute 152



I am walking. From time to time I get a glimpse of the moon. Deep and restless joys.



Minute 153



Another grocery store. Stop for a few moments, hesitation. Then I go in. "Good evening." I look round the grocery store. Lots of things on the shelves. I ask for a bar of Cheia soap.



Minute 154



A man who is in the store continues to talk to the shopkeeper. I listen, surprised by the violence of the language. He bad-mouths the liberals on the issue of the power station. The shopkeeper approves.



Minute 155



I stand in the shop, listening. The man addresses me too. I nod my head, confused.

A woman walks in and asks for a kilo of flour. The discussion is cut off. I leave the shop.



Minute 156



Suddenly, to the right of the road I am walking on, a majestic spectacle. In the darkness of the night, a blacksmith's workshop. Fiery tongues erupt from the hearth in which the bellows are blowing. I cross the road and go closer.



Minute 157



From the entrance to the blacksmiths, I look in. I love what I see. The blacksmith hits the piece of iron on the anvil. Sparks and the noise of the hammer, so familiar, not heard in a long time. A blacksmiths at night is an extraordinary thing.



Minute 158



I carefully watch everything that happens at the blacksmiths. The master is helped by two apprentices. They are fixing a wagon. Fiery tongues, short, but dense, spring from the coals. In truth: a blacksmiths at night is an extraordinary thing.



Minute 159



I can't get enough of the flames, I can't bring myself to go, but I don’t want to be late and miss my train. With a lot of regret I part with the blacksmiths. I speed up. I see the moon.



Minute 160



I reach the railway. I turn right along it.



Minute 161



I walk quickly through the field. I can't see the station yet. I hear a faraway sound. I hope it's not the train. I still turn my head around to look at the moon.



Minute 162



A building next to the tracks. I thought it was the station. But now I can see it's only a cabin. Luckily the noise stopped. It wasn't the train. I still have some time.



Minute 163



Of course, it would be stupid to miss the train. That's why I should hurry up.



Minute 164



I walk quickly along the train tracks.



Minute 165



Pale lights in the dark. Finally, the station! Good thing I got there.



Minute 166



I'm right in front of the station. There is no sign of the train. Complete relaxation. Submerged in a compact darkness, a cab waits under the trees. I hear the bells around the horses' necks. To the right is the field, heavy with darkness. The newly risen moon does not give much light.



Minute 167



I take a few steps into the field. Tempted by the dark more than anything else, I sprinkle again so I can be relaxed on the train. A very pleasant feeling stemming from the certainty that no-one can see me. I am surrounded by darkness on all sides.



Minute 168



I follow the lights of an automobile that crosses the field far away. Maybe that’s the road Ploiești–București. The two lights appear, disappear, appear again, piercing the night with their beam, pushing further into the dark, shaking, like an antenna which is feeling up the walls of darkness.



Minute 169



Behind, the moon turns whiter and whiter. I turn around. I stand directly in its rays, looking at it. The bells around the horses' necks are still jangling. The metallic sounds count the small depths of the night.



Minute 170



I enter the station. Five minutes past seven. A few travellers. The cab drivers. All with whips in their hands. I go and have my travel sheet stamped.



Minute 171



The platform is lit by petrol lamps. Beyond the tracks there is an endless field, slightly silvery in the moonlight.



Minute 172



I can hear the metallic roar of the train. It's growing with each second. The travellers crowd on the platform, looking in the direction of Ploiești.



Minute 173



The engine breaks the night, entering the station apocalyptically.

Metallic moan of the carriages breaking. Rectangles of light in which I can see men's and women's heads.

I step onto the carriage in front of me.



Minute 174



Summary:

I spent three hours minus five minutes in Mizil. During this time:

I sent a telegram.

I ate a flatbread for one leu.

I saw two drunk men.

I talked to the man in the newspaper store.

I talked to the telephone operator girl.

I bought a Cheia soap.



Minute 175



The train starts. I move to the opposite window, facing the field. In the moonlight, the field of Bărăgan seems endless, growing murky in the distance. It's Monday, 10th October 1938, my name is Geo Bogza, I am thirty years old and I have visited, for the first time in my life, Mizil. Life and the world seem fantastical, inscrutable.



POSTSCRIPT 



In the direction of Buzău,
the train crosses the field like a dragon,
eerily illuminated by the moon.




1940









NOTES



1.

Considered as one of the most important Romanian playwrights, Ion-Luca Caragiale (1852 –1912) wrote in a realist and satirical way about provincial corruption, petty ambitions, and the malfunctioning society of late 19th century Romania. His sketch A Solemn Day portrays the over-enthusiastic mayor of the anonymous town Mizil.

2.

A city in the north-west of Romania

3.

In Romanian, trăsură is a two or four wheeled vehicle used in the transport of people, usually drawn by horses. We have used cab and carriage to refer to this means of transport.

4.

Apart from referring to the village’s actual use of gas during the electrical outage, this expression also carries the meaning of “idling about” in Romanian.

5.

In Romanian căruță conveys a vehicle smaller than the oxcart, used for the transport of people and goods, usually drawn by horses. Still present in the rural landscape of today. We have used wagon to refer to this means of transport.

6.

“en vogue” in original


*

The aerial images are satellite representations of the roads in and out of Mizil, lifted by the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive SIIF (Office International de l'Eau, Romanian National Node)









Geo Bogza (1908-1993) was a poet, journalist and theorist closely connected to the avant-garde and surrealism movements in Romania. He was born in a village near Ploiești, the main petroleum hub of the country, known as “the capital of black gold”. The unusual landscape of oil wells had a strong influence on the young Bogza and inspired him to write his first reportage pieces. Before settling in Bucharest, Bogza lived in Buștenari where he briefly ran a seltzer factory together with his brother. There he wrote the poems included in his first volume, Sex Diary (1929) and edited the journal Urmuz (Vitrine for New Art) paying for it from his own pocket. It featured contributions by Ilarie Voronca, Geo Bogza, Victor Brauner, Tristan Tzara, Marc Chagall, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Paul Éluard, with a nod to Dadaism and Constructivism. After being arrested and tried for pornography, Bogza made obscenity his aesthetic credo and included his fingerprints on the cover of his second poetry volume, Offensive Poem (1933). His main accusers were members of the Romanian Academy with extreme-right and nationalistic views. In his defense, Bogza wrote: “My book is not pornography in any way, but an infinitely more powerful attack on the neatness and coziness of the world.”




Diana Duta is an artist and interpreter based in Brussels. Recent translations include Jonah (Iona, Marin Sorescu), also produced as an audio play in 2014, and Petroleum Poem by Geo Bogza (2017).












2017.