Masked Ball

excerpts The formulae that announced guests to the Danielescus' meals were varied, appropriate to the guests.For example:"Tonight you're laying one more cover," told only to the maid a few moments before dinner by Mrs. Danielescu, meant that the same oilcloth was to remain on the table, as well as the same stained napkins used during the week.The new cover indicated the arrival of an unimportant toady accepted on an insignificant day at the table of the Professor. If, by any chance, Mr. Danielescu had bought caviar on that day, it was distributed before dinner as clandestine sandwiches only to family members. No effort whatsoever was made for the new cover. This guest was fed with the honor of dining at the Professor's table, which generally also spoiled his appetite, not with the food on the table of this Apostle who attached more importance to the spiritualness in his office than to the materialism in his dining room. "Iustin, remember, write down, bring tonight some ham, ghiuden*, and a can of sardines… Buy some Stirbey compote too, and a box of biscotti," meant Mrs. Danielescu wanted the guests invited to dinner to know that "anything may be found" in her house, in any circumstance. These guests were partners in card games."Ho there, girl, get washed tonight, and tog up a bit, I don't want you scruffy, in this dirty apron, and put some shoes on, you hear me? There's people coming to dinner," meant that the maid servant had to show up clean in the dining room of those humble, but civilized intellectuals (Mrs. Danielescu taught hygiene), who would not have their guests' appetite spoiled by the maid's Balkan odors.There were no remarkable dishes served at these meals, but "homemade" plates of a home whose mistress, although an intellectual, did not forget her obligations derived from the notion of "Moldavian housewife." Thus, the brushed maid, wearing shoes and a clean apron, would serve mamaligutza** with fried eggs, usually followed by either beef croquettes or sarmalutze made of beef and pork. Then came a homemade pie and Turkish coffee, ground at the grocer's, but prepared in the kettle by Mrs. Danielescu's own hands."Excellent! This is the only place for such good coffee!""Well, you know, the trick is to roast it at home, and the way you roast it; if you sprinkle it with a little genuine rum, if you don't overdo it, and if you know how to boil it, it'll turn out very tasty.""There's no place like yours. It's the quality of the coffee too, for sure, but mostly the art of preparing it! That's one thing money can't buy!""Would you care for another one?""This can't be refused. Thank you so much."To all these three categories of guests, with a subtle ascending gradation, the Danielescu family had to appear naturally "united," but living in intimacy, like all the families with children. Indeed, Bucharest terrorized him. Accustomed with the silence in Jassy, with the muffled buzz of Jassy, with the monastic pace of footsteps in Jassy, the Bucharest din filled him with constant fear. Everything was raucous, everything hollered: the automobiles and the carriages, the streetcars and the trucks. The passersby seemed to charge, instead of simply walk, with postures of attacking boxers. The lights that switched on in the dark had the same diffuse harshness as headlights bursting at street corners.At Jassy, an autumn day with cold drizzle would live on all the human faces, exist in all the houses, in everyone's words.The Jassy autumn was like a public disease, and would lend the city the air of a sanatorium for people suffering from lung diseases, fraternizing in pallor, silence, bent backs, and warm clothes, as rainproof, as quilted, as resemblant to the old women's traditional shawl as possible.In Bucharest, however, the autumn and its cold drizzle looked like they didn't exist; nobody paid it any attention, it was outside, not inside human life, as in Jassy.Passersby would rather crack jokes than cough or sneeze. They spoke loudly, without shyness, without sadness. The women who walked in the streets were not dressed in the overcoats required by the season, but in graceful tailleurs, without galoshes, in thin stockings, and were cheerful and nimble, as in the bright elasticity of a spring day. There was life, there was a common excitement in the dashing vehicles, in the shocking white light of shop windows, in the footsteps and voices of the pedestrians, while Andi's soul alone received the cold and drizzle of the autumn, like a gutter brought from Jassy, through which a rain was flowing that seemed to come straight from Jassy, with Andi, to show him how lonely is the sadness of autumn in that Bucharest that was living on one foot, without caring too much about anything: neither autumn, nor cold, neither today, nor tomorrow. Unwillingly, in the mental letter he was writing to his parents, the word "corrupt," applied to Bucharest, had turned up, as it used to in the mouth of every inhabitant of Jassy, who scolds, rather than the partial Bucharest of revelry, cafes and profitable politics, the violent impression of life it gives, offending him; and, as "life" means to Jassy dwellers especially night banquets, when, bolstered by wine and fiddlers, they become as vivacious as Bucharesters are in the street, the word "corrupt" applied to Bucharest is explained by the association "Bucharest life = Jassy partying" made by the Jassy mind facing the dynamic day-to-day rhythm of Bucharest life at any moment, not only during nighttime parties.But night had fallen. He had to look for shelter. He was cold and hungry. He felt dirty. He was drenched. He had given up both the telegram and the letter. He had taken to the streets. He had joined the simultaneous flow and ebb of people, vehicles, noises and lights on Victory Road; this sprawling shop window where all the provincials from the country gather to mingle verbal criticism against Bucharest and eyes mesmerized by the legs of Bucharest women, while the provincials' nostrils do not only asphyxiate, as they claim, breathing the filthy gas stench of the Capital, but also the perfume of the "corrupt women" in the same Capital which, true, has got lots of automobiles, but as many beautiful, elegant women.1929

by Ionel Teodoreanu (1897-1954)