excerpt Finally, one Sunday the old man decided that we should drive to the estate belonging to an uncle of mine in Arges, to Manesti, and spend three-odd days there. We had to leave early, so as to get there by noon. But since the old man had some kind of unexpected business, we left late, almost at noon. Still, we expected to get there by 3 o'clock. Due to the bad roads and old tires, because my father is always stingy when it comes to spending money for our car, we had a series of irritating breaks, so we were only able to get off the car at 5 in a village from where we still had to travel for one hour in order to reach Manesti. Our spare tires were used up and we were starved. On the highway we found an inn, an extremely shabby one, like the village. So what? We stopped for a while to get something and for the driver to prepare some spare tires in the meantime, just in case. The inn keeper immediately offered to prepare a princely meal for us, and until that was ready he urged us to watch the village hora, because he said there were really beautiful girls there and the hora was danced right in the yard behind the inn. Since he saw we were not enthusiastic about it, the inn keeper insisted: "Most of all," he says, "you must see Ciuleandra, they don't dance it anywhere like we do. We have our own fiddlers for that. It's so fine!" "Yes, Suleandra," whispered the doctor very softly, as he was listening calmly, his eyes cold. "Have you heard about this curious dance, too?," Puiu cut in suddenly, seemingly surprised and delighted at the same time. "Yeah…," said the doctor again, starting almost invisibly, as if he was sorry he had let the word out. Pause. Puiu was smiling confused and waited for the doctor to say some more. Then he was angered by the silence, and began to speak irritated: "Yes, Ciuleandra. Anyway, the inn keeper led us to a veranda from where we can really watch the hora, like from a theater box. At first maybe I was hungry too, I didn't think it was anything special. The hora was like all the horas, so-so, the boys, what can we say? In fact, they were dancing a usual hora, nothing great about it. "Then came Ciuleandra. Well, doctor, nobody can imagine what it means to get high on dancing!" (He was speaking ardently. His eyes were glittering in a hot smile). "It starts out just like any hora, very slowly, very cautiously. The dancers gather, join each other probably according to sympathies, or at random. Then, when it seems that the people have gotten a little hot, the music becomes restless and faster. The dance rhythm gets accelerated, of course. The dancers, their hands over each other's waists, form a compact wall of bodies being bent, twisting, and jumping the way the fiddlers order. "The more fiery the dancers get, the more the music is aroused, becomes increasingly jumpy, increasingly wilder. The boys' feet hit the ground like thunder, they trample it like horses, make fearful leaps, jerk merrily. Then, suddenly, all of them, jumping and very fast, they all start like a whirlwind. The living wall charges in this direction and then in the other one, the fiddlers vehemently pinch the strings, making their sounds harsher and higher with screams, and some dancer tries to answer that, but he is taken away and silenced by the rushing rhythm. "Now the row, bending and gathering like a fantastic snake, begins to coil, to cuddle, to gather up, until it seems to be transformed in a heap of hot flesh, struggling around for a while, and then, unexpectedly, it lets up, exhausted or pretending to be exhausted, in a slow rhythm, making the reddened, merry faces of the dancers visible. "But the fiddlers get angry because the dance has softened down, and they stir up their music again, more powerful, more persistent. The row of dancers, as if trying to defy and provoke the fiddlers, rushes on more stormily, their feet crush the ground, the roar stirs up again, more tight, more stubborn, coiling again and de-coiling, and, finally, its builds up as a heap of crushed bodies. There, still for a few minutes, I don't know for how long, to the same maddening rhythm, boys and girls, struggle, shake, trample. "Several times this passionate boil is stung by long yells, as if springing from time immemorial, or by a girl screaming, her breasts on fire by squeezing. So, the dance seems to go on until the souls of all the dancers will melt in an ultimate blaze of unleashed passion. But, suddenly, as if cut by scissors, the music stops and the crowd of young people dissipates in a wild laughter, like the groan of an enormous, gratified pleasure, so that even the valleys are filled up with an earthquake, as if the fury of the human passion had awoken the long-frozen amorous instincts of the earth." Puiu stopped. He face was transfigured, his eyes were on fire, his check wet with some invisible sweat, his lips burned by a thrill. A few moments on, as if he had just discovered the doctor's presence, he was shaken, passed his fingers through his hair, and went on, trying to control his ardor: "I don't know what you think of this Ciuleandra, you just said you know it, but me, I confess this directly, even today, after all these years, I feel overwhelmed by a terrible passion, at the mere thought of it. Even my father, who is too old to get impressed by no matter what, said almost in ecstasy and in French, because he can only express his enthusiastic definitions in French, he said 'It's like a collective tarantella, or like the war dance of a savage tribe!' "Anyway, to this day I believe that of all the dances I know, only Ciuleandra can explain the ecstasy of dancing, of dancing as supreme adoration, even of religious dances that end in mutilations or human sacrifice. Anyway, I was enthralled and terrified. I waited for the dance to begin again in a painful exhilaration, and I was afraid it would not be resumed, because the dancers were exhausted. The inn keeper, whom I couldn't help asking, assured me laughing cunningly that Ciuleandra is danced here until nightfall, that this is the custom, but the fiddlers had to relax for a while now. I was nervous, as if before a test I was not prepared for at all. "And, all of a sudden, the fiddlers' call: the instruments were being tuned! Ciuleandra was about to begin again. I was no longer patient. I whispered to my father: 'I'd like to try this dance, dad, what do you think?' He answered smiling: 'Go!' I had already rushed on, before he answered."I got hooked in the hora at random. I have always had a fanatic faith in the power of chance. I deeply believe that chance, with its whims, is the real promoter of all the great deeds in human history, of the entire human civilization I'd say, even the real master of the entire universe. "Well, that mysterious conductor of our destinies gave me an extraordinary partner on my right hand, a girl about 14 years old, an inexpressibly delicate brunette, as if descended from a painting by Grigorescu, with blue, wet, and hot eyes, which glanced at me so weirdly, that all the depths of my heart were suddenly turned upside down. She was kind of tall, well built, her hair was bare, parted in two tails on her back. I put my arm around her waist. Her flesh was like stone. She put her left arm around my neck. I felt her rough hand, it burned me and caressed me, like a stroke. "I turned my head toward her. Her white ia blouse with flowers was hiding two blooming breasts, whose buds shyly struggled under the cheap cloth. She looked at me too and laughed bizarrely, with a wonderful, slightly contemptuous mouth. Then, fast, she turned her head away, as if she was ashamed of me or of the people, because she had looked at me. "But the dance had begun. I didn't know it, and neither did I need to. The music rhythm and the others' scuttle led me like an irresistible tide. Sometimes, the girl's body touched me, and then I would squeeze her waist even more strongly. She put up with my squeeze, but slightly grimacing, as if trying to prove to herself that she didn't like it. That stirred me. A little peasant girl like that rejected me, the man who had the reputation of a great conqueror of women in Bucharest salons? In the dancing fury, she ended up sticking to me so closely, that I felt her breath. I was dizzy with Ciuleandra whirling and with the greedy enticement that this devilish girl had aroused in me. I stretched out my mouth and kissed her quick on the corner of her lips. "Surprised and unable to defend herself in any other way, she bit my cheek with her little teeth, like an angry cat, then she let out a short, satisfied scream. A boy yelled lowly: 'Don't give up, sir!' I laughed like a fool, the girl, reddened, laughed too, lit up by her fatigue. And a few seconds later, in another whirl, I kissed her again, and she was unable to respond, she just frowned angrily. "Later, when Ciuleandra was over, while all the people were getting scattered away, I remained hand in hand with her. 'What's your name, beautiful girl?' 'Madalina!,' she whispered ashamed, watching me from under her eyelids. 'Madalina who?' 'Madalina Crainicu," she whispered shortly, snatched her hand from mine, and rushed away under a tree, where a bunch of girls were giggling in the shade. "I stood there for a while, fascinated, watching her. Fascinated by the dance and fascinated by the girl. When I came to my senses a little, I climbed on the veranda where my father was and I told him decisively and enthusiastically: 'Dad, I found what you want.'"1927

by Liviu Rebreanu (1885-1944)