Delight In Barbu Slătineanu's House

After six years' work in the Sanitary Technical School I was admitted to the History of Art Institute. I was a researcher and I wasn't yet allowed to research the monuments of our medieval art I was so attracted to. Going through the pages of the history magazines to file the studies concerned with ancient religious art, I happened to find the travel diary of the metropolitan bishop Neofat the Cretan, former teacher of Nicolae Mavrocordat's princes, from his journeys at the monasteries in Romania dedicated to Mount Athos. I immediately wrote an article about the condition of the religious monuments at the beginning of the 18th century and Mr. Voiculescu, to whom I had read it, told me that, before presenting my paper at the Institute, I should show it to his friend Barbu Slătineanu, a specialist in mediaeval ceramics who had a big filing cabinet about the feudal monuments in Romania. I couldn't fancy visiting, soon, together with Dinu, the beautiful house with classical Romanian architecture in Dr. Obedenaru Street; being friends with the Slătineanu family was one of the charges against Dinu at the trial. Together with Dr. Voiculescu I entered the courtyard of the house with short, thick grass, a carpet that revealed the mosaics of Nora Steriade, sustained by the white façades, and which represented Adam and Eve in heaven. As you entered the house there was a spiral staircase that led to the first floor where "Master Barbu" had arranged the museum to which three generations contributed; his father, the famous physician Alexandru Slătineanu, his son Barbu and Ion Sturdza, the husband of his daughter Sandra. I liked to look at rustic French pieces of furniture, Norman and Provençal, at the Spanish chests with artistically crafted mountings, the tables and chairs with ivory intarsia, belonging to the Renaissance, and at the stylish way in which Barbu Slătineanu associated them with rustic Romanian pieces of furniture: the sofas, the three-legged stools, the dowry chests, the benches and the painted Saxon wardrobes. There were walls decorated with exquisite Bessarabian or Oltenian carpets or oriental praying mats, and on others ample Turkish shawls and Indian embroideries were placed. As by marvellous fairy tales my imagination was enticed and the eyes bewitched by the white plates with a soft and precise drawing of the Delft craftsmen, by the depth of the blue-green charmed venom-like colour of the Persian plates, and by the golden fantasy of the china porcelain pieces. The blue foliage on the Transylvanian dishes, the fresh green of the enamelled dishes of Corund, the simplicity of the ornamental motives from Maramureş, and the nimble delicacy ordering the profundity of stylised motives on the Horezu dishes, set near the dishes painted in the West or East, made up a rich and surprising decor. On a wall hung, arched in a studied sequence, swords: Japanese, Turkish, a few with the blade sharpened at Toledo. The golden patina of the icons painted on wood by the masters of the Brancovan school, the pure colours of the naïve icons, painted on glass, flickered like votive lights on the walls. We were immediately invited, Dinu and I, to the literary circles improvised by Barbu Slătineanu. In the large room the importance of things blurred, and the embroideries, the carpets and the tapestries hung on the walls formed an exquisite background in which we were enclosed like in a magical circle. We sat in a semicircle in the armchairs spread on the golden parquet and we waited for the magic of the readings to get us out of the immediate reality. The poet V. Voiculescu read his stories with wild animals, in which the sensational interwove in everyday life itself, and The Last Alleged Sonnets of Shakespeare worked us up. Some members of the audience like I and father Anania were barely in our thirties, but the others like Barbu Slătineanu and his wife Pici, Mioara Minulescu and Miza Creţeanu, Şerban Cioculescu and Vladimir Streinu, together with their wives, were long past the middle of their lives. But for us as well as for them the passion for the sonnets, transformed into the cold incandescence of a diamond, had a moving effect. The drama of the sonnets was the desperate search and the irrepressible longing for God, imagined as a desperate love, in turns haughty and humble. But for each of us the sonnets corresponded to some hidden spiritual conflicts and had a charming influence. I can even see, still, Alice Voinescu with the black, embroidered, straw hat covering the whiteness of her hair and with her ecstatic smile, putting her hands on her chest ornamented with white lace, with a brooch that sparkled. She seemed lost in the feeling that the Platonic heights of the verses produced. V. Voiculescu was reading the poems without being emphatic, filtering them through his fine voice. Sometimes Şerban Cioculescu did the reading and he was delighted. But he couldn't leave aside from his slightly sour voice the ironical tones corresponding to his personality. Only Vladimir Streinu hid the troubled depths of his soul as he read, declaiming and detached from his own feeling as if he was watching himself from outside. Master Barbu was moved presenting to us as at the movies, historic short stories from the Middle Ages, valiant deeds imagined on the basis of real facts and which in my imagination made him look like a Romanian Walter Scott. Stroe Slătineanu, the son, recited from his poems, and once, Dinu read a chapter from his novel Waiting for the Last Hour. In the desert of socialist realism directives, Master Barbu Slătineanu's house became an oasis for us all, who oxygenated for a few hours our asphyxiated brain.

by Cornelia Pillat