Long Autumn

In our parts, at Jassy, autumn starts late in May and lasts until Christmas. There is no summer in Jassy. If from time to time, winter did not come we could say we have only autumn over here. Nice weather begins with foul smells, green flies and heat. Then it turns nasty. And then it gets warm again, like in the most crowded villages of central Africa so that you could swear this is the real thing, genuine summer; but if you look closely you will see it is only autumn, after all… There is a sort of old-fashioned melancholy about the entire configuration of the Jassy sun which does not suit the season at all. When you walk in the upper streets, the houses look at you from across the fences as if they had never before seen a person in this city. Besides that, in the public gardens you will meet a fallen leaf here and there, blown away aimlessly, no matter how fallen. And it is so peaceful and quiet that you are tempted to think that all the townspeople have plunged into the memories of the historic past and only two or three meager vines have remained alive just like a handful of spiders hanging head down under balconies. For the rest, no matter where you look everything is green; green with thick dust on top, like the grass bordering the national highways. And this deceitful autumn disguised in summer lately no longer has the strength to make believe: actually, it has begun to show its true mettle… In a matter of a week everything changes. A young and merry autumn, like a little widow that for too long has pined in the half-mourning dark green of yesterday and now leaves her severe garb and begins to frolic. The gardens put on light silk kimonos, and the walls and balconies rags of vegetal purple. Hues of bronze and lackluster French gold alternate everywhere with a pale orange of high flame, with the diaphanous citron of a spring butterfly, and the sweet putrid red of a ripe sour-cherry. Each of the big trees welcomes autumn according to its ritual, inherited from time out of mind. Tall poplars send off tiny swarms of butterflies, the oaks sound off leaves of rusty tin and the maples in the graveyards devotedly lay big gold stars at the feet of autumn. By people's houses, in gardens, sweet grass and pear trees lit up impatiently. Quince trees lean over towards fences, dressed up in gorgeous attire, and the apricots await it adorned with living circles of beads that all of a sudden fall down into your lap when the proud Lady has vanished. Scared by so many bizarre apparitions surrounding them, the acacia leaves quiver, put their heads together with a puff of wind and start whispering among themselves until those more hysterical lose their minds for fear, leave the branches and set straight to Socola. In the candelabra of the chestnuts a few forgotten banners of damp brown paper flutter until late in the year. When all the leaves have become artificial and have fallen off the trees you wonder how autumn flowers can still stand on one leg, straight and proud, at the height of this disaster.Tall dahlias and curly chrysanthemums, spread in all the gardens, watch carelessly this universal disaster around them as if nothing has happened. Their belated splendor, in the sonorous light of the last sunny days does not pale with fear at the approach of the cool night. At dawn, when the stratospheric balloon of the full moon descends from the azure to the west and abandons them in the sky, their petal meat does not shudder, does not shrink and does not die at the touch of frost, like a vulgar leaf. It appears that flowers are more cunning than leaves. Their sumptuous army parades timely, along the seasons, according to a plan and to sound reckoning. In early spring, when the cold no longer threatens them directly, all the flowers are delicate and dwarfish, so much so that they can hardly rise their heads from the grass; now, at the end of autumn, when their hereditary enemy is around the corner, the heroic rear-guard of the flowered tribes must be recruited only from vigorous, tall amazons that do not let their eyes wonder after butterflies but can instead hold it to the end. That's how their queen, who lives in paradise, decided. No wonder then to see now in a little garden, no bigger than one square meter, a dahlia two meters and something high standing guard at the gate like a pedestrian gendarme in a royal retinue. The flowers of autumn are not real flowers; they seem to be missing something…If you closed your eyes and looked at them only with your nose you would not even notice they are actually flowers. With their femininity they have also lost their perfume, being left only with a certain smell. And this smell gets sharper, more precise by the end of autumn when chrysanthemums begin all to smell the cow like cucumbers and asters. At this time, from all the corners of the country, Jassy is invaded by flights of Christian student boys and not so Christian girls who seem to take less care of the holy things, settling in hostels and furnished rooms until summer comes… One day the streets of the city get filled with trucks loading, tables, sofas and other shameful pieces of furniture that for a year waited peacefully in various apartments and now seem to no longer know what's good for them. Hidden in gangways and pubs, the street cleaners of the old historical municipality keep watching from morning to dawn and when they reckon there are enough people in the street they rush ahead together, wielding their brooms, and start purging the air… Eventually, everything calms down. Heavy clouds of cement lie heavy at the horizon; autumn becomes gray and hydraulic. One good day, the eaves of the second capital start weeping big rivers of tears leaking through all the creaks of the wood, for the sake of the despondent town. In the presence of the communal authorities that are pleased to promote this charity, the water from the sky cleans the city for free of all the dirt accumulated over the year…It washes and scrubs and washes so good that you suddenly feel like going out in the world and not stopping until you reach deep into the Sahara! – for over there water stays nice and easy where it should, underground, not soaring up in the sky and then falling over one's head. Because the water of Timisesti that from time to time feeds the city may be seen more rarely than rain water, but its taste is beyond compare! According to the people of Jassy, you won't find water tasting better than rain water. Spring water is smelly. Besides, drinking water has another drawback: it is no sufficiently brackish, sufficiently greasy and flat, like for instance that of the Dead Sea where they say no microscopic creature can live because they all drawn. In our parts, in each and every molecule of drinking water there crouches a microbe of typhoid fever with the wife and six babes in swaddling clothes. And nobody can help it, nobody can disturb them from their crystal nook; they won't leave, not even if boiled! The town hall tried to treat them to some kind of very strong poison, just like that, out of curiosity, to see who will croak first, the microbes or the inhabitants of the city. It seems that the microbes have adapted to the situation very swiftly and that poison no longer causes them any harm, but has even begun to agree with them. As to the inhabitants, nobody knows for sure what is happening to them: one may die, another could make it… For this reason the water of Jassy now smells from a distance like brimstone and exhausts, more powerfully than all mineral waters of Europe. Every autumn, all the waters falling over our county run down the hills and are collected into the Bahlui. When it can no longer help it, this river without water, which is one of the oldest in Moldavia (being mentioned by the medieval chroniclers, too) starts giving signs of life: it swells like the Egyptian Nile and breaks out of its bed. In this stage it is called the Yellow Bahlui because its color resembles the Christian name of a smaller river that flows into it somewhere downstream and just by hearing about it you get so noxious you don't want to even talk about any geography. The yellow Bahlui that every year floods the lower slums down to the smallest details cannot be said to bring only mud and damage to these places but also a sort of abundance. Its rich waters bring from upstream, from Targul Frumos and Podul Iloaii, all sorts of useless things that can still serve you in a way, and all sorts of domestic animals that once lived by man's house and now are good for nothing. Then the river begins to withdraw into its bed and at that time it is called the Green Bahlui. This continues to be its name for two or three days until its waters run dry. And when it gets to this it is better not to speak about it any more. When the Bahlui has dried out nothing else happens in this town that is sleeping standing. Very rarely you can read in a newspaper that in the hall of the University a local professor gave a conference on "The unfathomable secrets of the universe seen from the vantage of Einstein's theory" or that the 09:10 fast train met with a sheep on the rail and cut off a hunk of it… Out of the window you see a liquid light trickling down from the sky, and slowly getting greasy and quivery like a thick gelatin curtain. The air is filled with the strident melancholy of many murders of crows. The nights are getting ever longer and the days ever shorter: it is hardly the break of dawn now and the break of night cannot be far behind… So you don't even notice when autumn passed and Christmas has set in with a view flakes of snow in its morose, sparse beard. …A token of belated love occurring on a deceitful summer day, a tiny egg, deposited in a peaceful fold of a curtain, slowly turned into a maggot: then it shut itself for a long time in a chrysalis armor from where a delicate little butterfly emerged too early, gray like clouds of snow, and with a silvery cabalistic sign on its wings. After mysterious instinctive calculations that mattered not at all in such a long autumn, deeming that out there spring must have arrived, the miserable creature broke out of its sheltering prison into the light and it went out right on the eve of the New Year. Through the creaks of the old window the blow of the cold wind got to it right away (for in our parts, in Jassy, every winter there happens to be a cold wind like you have not seen in the last thirty years!)… "So spring is not here?" the poor creature says holding with two slender legs to the edge of the cylindrical shelter from where it broke out.And without futile laments it shrinks its other two legs, folds closely its wings to its body and with eyes opened opaquely into the light if gusty spring, it goes for the second time into the eternal world of darkness.

by George Topîrceanu (1886-1937)