Blizzard In Bucharest

a fragment from "The Blind," Chapter Two of Corpuri de iluminat/ Dark Bodies Through Sfântul Ştefan, beyond the old Height and over the tramline in Bărăţiei, a phanariot and decayed Bucharest drained under the snow; a balcony fallen onto its side reminds you that once, yesterday or the day before yesterday, there was a breath of air, even a movement. Fences of rusty spears swallowed by snow drifts, dogs scuffling cheerfully around a lamp post somehow still lit, a dark, elongated passage with the sound of an accordion breaking through, a marquee illuminated by an agonized bulb spreads lilac shadows over some old bowed walls and narrow windows-a century of dirt. Sandu and Pia advance, one behind the other. Bent by the blizzard, they slide on a narrow footpath crossed by an old woman with dinner pails. A sled loaded with a gas cylinder, four dogs wandering like ruffians, and the heavy paw of the blizzard and the longish, oily vehement sound of the bells fallen from around a hundred deserted churches, half-buried in pavement in the mean courtyards of Old Bucharest. The blizzard blinds you, crushes you in something unseen and hard, it shuts your eyelids, it covers your sight. Here they are groping blindly, barely feeling vague, milled contours, the big houses, the inclined roofs, a carriage without horses left in a ruined enclosure like a vacant lot in a princely quarter, drained and emptied. A late-goer intersects their silhouettes, thinned out and cold-filled, reeling in the raked masses of the snow. Pia and Sandu are blind-you remember the passages with the sevenths, mhm, Eroll Garner, Misty, si flat mi flat, there is nothing more perishable, more… She doesn't hear him, sheltered by his back she sinks in a snowdrift. Get me out of here! He goes further without hearing her; she gets scared for an instant, Hey! Get me out are you deaf? The sky fills with blimps: aerial theatricality; meanwhile, the snow locks you in reality. It gets you far out beyond fiction, a tale with female cranks, blind fools, and mental affliction, with Phanariots who take good care of their houses, cold amber globes and functionaries in blouses. You still pass, I still pass under the old bells in brass, without nose throat and ears, alas. It snows white, white unbegrimed, only this world is a pit with lime. Sandu improvises on a simple afternoon theme in all its guises. As for Pia, she refuge-izes for as long as a hundred years, from one wonder into another: there, where gravity disappears, the canteen hands out angled cans and beers, ignoring ration cards, cashiers. They are the same, superb: they love each, madly glowing under a snowfall that keeps on growing, fumbling for something like the blind, the blind, the blind. There you are: one of them makes a reverence; as if from a straw, you'd sip a bit of essence. He gets close and she says get me out! He chuckles without bluster. He makes another reverence, his clothes have luster. Someone smiles foolishly, buster. I don't know… it's the same presence that enters the room when they're oppressed and stressed by a buyer ready to pay the price of their rented paradise. The blind one buys. He'll evict them. Waving money around, he speaks, and a beautiful fear constricts him. Through his fingers, money unpurses, but first he cracks his knuckles with curses, then he flashes his signet and finally disperses fear in small pieces, like dice. Confetti, some flakes drop down from something outside-nature-over civilian shoulders, roof tops, heaps of rubble and little wheels that go wandering under your looks. Protected you enter the shelter. Blizzard gripped, bluish from another century, on Bărăţiei, the end of tramvai 21, Pia and Sandu hold each other in the crowd of blind men: stiff, transparent cold. You mirror yourself in them from Bărăţiei, to Sfîntul Gheorghe, and beyond to Ghica-Tei, sliding on boards, on ball bearings gliding, miniaturized, huddled in stations of the tramvai, ticking hai di hai di hai: with all their hearts the blind unhealed by Jesus carry, as in a pocket, between their shoulders the image of Sandu and Pia, each in his socket from which the sight has drained, on the left, on the right of darkness, each cast out to starkness, also known as nothingness, pulverized, and the whisper, uttered in a chorus by the blind: get me out, get me out, burn me. Voices cloaked by the roar of the snowfall, avoiding the headlights of a bus and a frost-bitten militiaman, Sandu and Pia cut across the boulevard. Under cover of some scaffolds, they get beyond the church of Sfîntu Gheorghe. Over there, the tramcars turn simultaneously with the blizzard in the narrow curve bordered by buildings, their snow covered windows ready to collapse under the weight…The sun and moon on the sky: yellowish white over brick-colored edges. The force of the storm glues them to a hardware store. Windows with keys, wash basins, postal boxes, agricultural tools propped on bales of copper wire. They try to detach. A fresh blast nails them down. They laugh. She's caught cold and squeezed into a nearby recess-we repair heating stoves and drain pipes; we make… hee hee hee hee… laughter swirls from the deserted sidewalk where the old administrator also appears, always wiping his glasses on his sleeve, and Jienescu the ex-air-minister, and the beggars sheltered on the stairs of Holy Trinity Sunday mornings, and a former lady for sale, hee hee hee hee, and pushing some crates of pepsi on a wagon: friend Mituş in his cherry leather coat with huge pockets. Spare, atonal sounds ooze from Charlie Parker's sax, and the pack of Shakespearean dogs square off over the remains of some meat from the canteen, and it snows. The snow falls in huge hunks, vast agravitational blocks of cement over the deserted city, over their corner of the world; sheltered in the Sfîntul Gheorghe passage, they laugh; they search each other's glances, afraid, waiting for something; they won't ever get out of that passage. Wait peacefully. That's how it comes to them to leave having had enough. She looks at her watch, Kind of late Sandu, when does it begin? My hands got frozen. I'm good for nothing; let's go home-what do you say about the child? Who spoke about the child? We'll do something and escape. Later, she'd look into the future gently: I want it so much, but you're right, the way we live we won't do anything but torture a child. Pia, forgive me: it's something that escapes me; maybe we aren't good enough. You're talking nonsense; hold me little: I'm numb. Let's get out of here. Don't you see how crazy it is outside; we should have gotten there. They're waiting for you. The recital's going on. No one's coming in this weather. It weighs on me: I don't know what to say. It's your right to have a child. I don't want to hurt you. Pia tears herself away from Sandu, pulls him into the street-you blame yourself foolishly, she tells him; it was meant to be. She pulls his funny cap down over his head, unties the earflaps and ties them under his chin, hee hee-you look like a picture, the siege of Leningrad, hee hee. Her small laugh makes itself heard through the howling of the blizzard that's dashed into the narrow defile among the flat blocs, ravaging the empty stands, demolishing the garbage bins, bending the black trees barely sketched on the white of the snows by a hesitant and hurried pencil. Oh God. They advance with difficulty going one behind the other, stopping all the time. Its mouths nearly shut by snow, the passage under the boulevard is over there. A quick descent. The passage has collected a number of reckless people. Down here there's a sense of anti-aircraft shelter. The bombardment goes on above. All that's lacking is the sound of sirens. Near the lottery dealer's underground shop, a few people warm at a bucket of lighted coals. Sandu and Pia stop to draw breath, brush each other off, lean against a wall-eh better, no?! With a placard around his neck and a white cane hung close by, a blind man blows into a harmonica. He has his head thrown back on his shoulders, and he's shaking whisk brooms above his ears. Sandu asks him how much-you're two, pretty hungry-the blind man tells them between two blows in the harmonica before adjusting the weights and balancing the scale-How do you know?-Eh, you think I don't see? Sandu ransacks his pockets for change-look, here you go. The blind man refuses: throw it in the box. -You love each other, but that doesn't take the place of other things. The blind man goes back to his melancholy waltz. They look at him for another instant, the way he lolls his head on his back, how he shakes his tufts of tousled hair. Scared by the roar outside and holding each other tightly, they move away. Nice th' old guy, no?!...they all take on these prophetic airs as if they were hiding some miraculous science, but no, nothing!...the roar covers his voice, a gust dashes stormily down the passage stairs and keeps them from climbing for a while. They exit among beige wall tiles. The underground shine of the passage lingers on the retina till they pass beyond the hovels on Lipscani, through the long corridor of the old Linden Tree Inn. In that decayed and Phanariot atmosphere, they morph into townsfolk of other days: she'll inherit a quarter of the Giorgi Flamaropolu's lumber business; for himself, he's already knocked together a shop, he's a linen draper on the corner; they'll marry before Spring, around the name day of the flowers before Holy Week, when Jesus enters Jerusalem. Club A, they pound the heavy iron ring on the snowy door. She pushes lightly: it's open; come on. Another underground, Sandu laughs. He makes a few gymnastic movements; he manipulates Pia too: raises her arms, massages her, makes her hop-come on, come on, one two three four, hands behind the neck-he turns, counts, shoves her hands under her coat, gets her stirring-so you don't freeze-he's her puppeteer. The instruments are still being arranged inside, someone's opening the piano-looks like they're preparing my scaffold Sandu remarks toward one of the guys with a nametag on his collar. Translated by Jean Harris 

by Stelian Tănase