Elena Văcărescu: An Unforgettable Character Of Bucharest

Special attention should be given to Elena Văcărescu, whose outstanding personality and whose life contributed greatly to the revival of the Romanian spirit, inherited from her forerunners. Until not long ago, mention was often made of the four Văcărescu poets and the famous slogan: "to you, my Văcăreşti heirs, I bequeath-", regardless of the individual value of each one of them. The Văcărescu poets were always lumped together. I never quite understood why, in the last several decades, a fifth name has not been added – that of their descendant, Elena Văcărescu, a poet in the truest sense of the word, rising to great heights and matching the two Ioans while, undoubtedly, surpassing both Alexandru and Nicolae. If any Văcărescu descendant heeded Ienăchiţă Văcărescu's injunction, especially regarding love of one's country, it certainly is Elena Văcărescu, a worthy bearer of her forerunners' name. She was fated to be born a woman and also fated never to become a wife. This may have happened so that she, the last in the family line, should carry on the glory of the Văcărescu name, so famous for the poetic beginnings of the country and well known abroad, too. Elena Văcărescu was born on September 14, 1864 into an old Romanian indigenous family, whose history could be traced a long way back. She was the daughter of Ion Văcărescu (also known as Enăchiţă), officer in the war of 1877, adjutant of the court, politician and diplomat, son of Iancu Văcărescu, the greatest of the Văcărescu poets, descendant of Stanciu, marshal of the Court at Văcăreşti, owning land under this name since the 16th century. Elena's mother was Eufrosina Fălcoianu, descendant of the 16th century Petru Logofăt, also known as Fălcoi. Before going into further details about the life of Elena Văcărescu, it may not be altogether superfluous to mention several facts about the Văcărescu poets, although too much has already been written about them. What I have to say will support the theory of inherited family traits and vulnerabilities, which, in the words of the French doctor Cullerre, is "the great power that rules the world." In the case of the Văcărescus, this axiom, if I may call it so, proves abundantly true. Love of the country manifested itself with each generation of this family, which was deeply rooted in the Romanian soil. Well-rounded people of great culture and great wit, possessing both diplomatic sense and strength of opinion even to the point of life sacrifice, pleasure seeking, sentimental and, as legend would have it, sometimes involved in murky financial deals – all these good and bad traits merged together and passed on from generation to generation.A certain coincidence of life events brings us to the poetic link between Elena Văcărescu and her forerunners and I will show that this descendant did not, for one single moment, move away , either while in the country or when abroad, from the Romanian spirit that so much inspired her forerunners, although she was forced to leave the country by very painful circumstances. Elena Văcărescu was not a beauty. Ever since she was a young woman she had had a tendency to put on weight and her nearsightedness did not help her appearance, either. On the contrary, as de Saint Aulaire notices, it gave her eyes a certain sharpness, which increased with age. Her complexion was as white as a lily, which is quite unusual with Romanian women. Yet her youth, her keen intelligence, her culture and, to a certain extent, the charm of her spirited spoken and written word, which she possessed in abundance, handsomely compensated for the passing appearance of a beautiful face, which, once faded, loses all fairness. In early 1890, when Ferdinand, the prince heir, came to the country, he found Elena Văcărescu at the RoyalPalace, where she had been a maid of honor ever since 1888. He was a young man of twenty-five, a bachelor only one year younger than Elena Văcărescu, and he would come into daily contact with her, under the benevolent eyes of the dreamy, rather exalted Queen Elizabeth, whose poetic soul likened the birth and budding of such an idyll to a sunny spring day. It was thus only natural that Elena Văcărescu, urged on by her youth, should ardently desire that the Queen's wish for their union may come true. Her parents were in Rome in 1890, where Enăchiţă, her father, was Romanian Minister in Italy, recently settled there after occupying the same post in the Hague. From Rome the family moved to Venice, which they were forced to leave for Paris. They remained in Paris till 1894, when they returned to the country. As they did not own a home in Bucharest, they rented two apartments on Calea Victoriei, across the street from the Ştirbei residence, in a building that belonged to Moisescu, the rich owner of the Luvru department store. It is in one of these apartments that Elena Văcărescu opened a literary salon, where besides her relatives, people from a wide range of fields, men of letters, artists, scientists, diplomats and other liberal professions, would come together. I was young in those days, yet I was one of the regular guests there. I even remember that Elena Văcărescu was going to write something on faithful animals, dogs I think it was, and she asked me to do the illustrations for the book. I used to be quite good at drawing at the time. The project never got under way so I would never know whether I would have met her expectations. By the time she returned from Paris her reputation as writer and poet was already quite solid. Even before she went to the Palace, as early as 1886, she had published her first poetic work, "Chants d'Amour" in Paris. Then, during her exile abroad, she published "La Rhapsodie de la Dambovitza" and translations into French from Carmen Sylva, which, I seem to recollect, received a prize from the FrenchAcademy. Elena Văcărescu wrote in French but felt in Romanian. Based on the songs and legends of the fiddler she wrote a libretto for an opera, which was put on in Paris, with the tenor Muratore playing the main part of the fiddler and with all the characters wearing the beautiful Romanian garb. And then, in quick succession, she wrote novels and poetry. Some of her poetry was chosen, over the work of other well known French poets, for inclusion in an anthology of contemporary French poets. While the family was in Romania – they were in the country for a number of years – in 1897, after intense preparations and finally persuaded by his relative, Teodor Văcărescu, then Marshal of the Palace (certainly acting upon the secret orders of King Carol), Enăchiţă Văcărescu requested an audience with the Sovereign. As it was to be expected, the latter received him with great honors and on this occasion Văcărescu handed the King all the correspondence between Ferdinand and Elena, a pile of letters carefully folded and tied with a colored ribbon. He also returned the engagement ring Elena had received from Ferdinand. To show his gratitude, King Carol offered Văcărescu the post of Romanian Minister to the Danubian Commission. In a very dignified way, the latter declined the offer. Many years passed, time flew by and so many outstanding events came to pass and then receded in the distance. Chronos brings about forgetting and quenches the fire of passion. Here is an example: in 1926, when King Ferdinand and Queen Maria went to Paris, the king sent word to Elena Văcărescu, through his personal assistant, my brother-in-law, Marine Commander Koslinski, that the Queen and he would very much like to see her asked if she could set a time for them to visit with her. As it was to be expected, Elena Văcărescu said she was happy to be honored this way but added that she would be the one to pay the visit to their majesties. The next day she was received in the quarters occupied by the Sovereign at the Ritz Hotel. The royal couple spent quite a great deal of time conversing with her. After some time the Queen excused herself for having to leave the two of them by themselves for a while, as she had some shopping to do, but, she added with a friendly smile, she knew they had a lot to talk about. Upon the Queen's return, Elena Văcărescu said good-bye to them and departed. This encounter, after 30 years of separation, was the first and the last of the former lovers. A year later, in 1927, King Ferdinand died. What went on during that encounter, what was shared, what memories were recalled, only the two departed ones could have told us. The Queen, an artist and writer herself, thought very highly of Elena Văcărescu's works, which, whether on purpose on not, were lying on her writing desk, Years later, in 1937, in a speech delivered at the RomanianAcademy, Elena Văcărescu, in beautiful Romanian, reminisced about her life and spoke about what it meant to her to be in the service of her country, while far away from it. I feel I have to quote some excerpts from her speech. "Though I was fated to live far from my country, I have never ceased to feel Romanian, through and through, one with the mind and the heart of my country and intimately connected to it. Spellbound since birth by this earth, I grew up enchanted with the old tales of our land, always found my soul in this rustic poetry and stayed in intimate communion with the patriarchal charm and our treasure chest of feelings. Nowhere else did I hear the rippling sound of our rivers just as no other sky in the world, North and South, can match the color of this sky. The Romanian soul, of which I have always been so proud, is a plenitude of feeling, breathing in the wise glory of nature and life. I also love my country for its uniqueness and originality, which is the source of my own originality. I was, however, destined to be 'uprooted', fated to feel tremendous longing for my life-giving native land and forced to sing of it in a foreign tongue. And yet the word 'uprooted' does not seem to apply to me. For if I was not in the country, the country was with me and in me, carrying her in my heart and in my soul. My home in Paris was a piece of the Romanian land, a shrine to the Romanian spirit, a place of genuinely Romanian atmosphere, dedicated to the Romanian soul in the capital of France. I can say that in my life I have paid service to one idea, the Romanian idea, and I believe that I have truly followed the legacy of my forerunners, contributing to the growth of the Romanian language and the glory of the country." And the rest of the speech is delivered in the same spirit. Towards the end, she makes a beautiful but rather gratuitous gesture, born of her strong sense of solidarity with things Romanian – she makes the apology of Anne de Noailles, a panegyric which attributed to the latter a Romanian sensibility. She concludes thus: "I tried to reclaim for the Romanian patrimony part of the poetic prestige of Anne de Noailles." Like others, Elena Văcărescu disregards Anne de Noailles' origin and talks about her descent from the Brâncoveanus. Now in her eighties, after long years of fruitful endeavor in the realms of literature and politics, after fighting to defend vital interests of her country, Elena Văcărescu begins to contemplate the end of her life. In September 1945 she draws up her will, in which her country is mentioned from first to last, a kind of ode to the country. She states that although unfortunate circumstances in her life have compelled her to live far from Romania, her heart never ceased to beat for it. "I die in the Orthodox religion of my parents and my wish is to be buried next to their graves, next to the grave of the Father of the Romanian poetry, next to Iancu Văcărescu's grave, near our great Ienăchiţă, whose unworthy descendant I am." Disregarding her blood relatives, she bequeaths, for cultural purposes, to the RomanianAcademy the Văcăreşti estate and the farmhouse, so touchingly sung by Iancu Văcărescu, in hopes that the Văcărescu legacy will be carried on. In her will, she does not forget the Romanian chapel in Paris and the Văcăreşti church, to which she leaves money and icons. In 1946 she is appointed member of the Romanian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference but in February 1947, she breathes her last, far from the country she so much loved but with her soul at peace. On September 5, 1959, the same month in which she was born and wrote her will – quite a strange coincidence – her earthly remains were buried next to her parents', next to Ienăchiţă (himself brought here when St. John the Great Monastery was demolished to make room for the Savings Bank), next to Iancu Văcărescu. Finally her arduous wish came true – she was laid to rest for eternity in the earth of her native land, which she so much loved and glorified.After her death, her cousin Fălcoianu attempted to continue the gatherings at the Rue de Chaillot salon, but in the absence of its sustaining spirit, it is no wonder that the endeavor failed. If Ienăchiţă Văcărescu, the pioneer of this Romanian poetic cycle, left, as he would say, to his heirs a legacy of honoring the language of the land and loving its soil, Elena Văcărescu, the last offspring of this family and their worthy descendant, closes up the poetic family cycle which endured for almost two centuries with the last words of her will. These words bear the imprint of a mystic spirituality that guided her whole life into glorifying her country. "I ask God's help for my country and when I am in Heaven I will pray for Romania." April 2, 1961Excerpt from Bucharest – Memories of a City

by Emanoil Hagi-Moscu