Old And New Squires

excerpts Chapter XV. Scenes of Social Life The beautiful autumn days of the year 1817 had already flitted along with the joys they bring to pass for the inhabitants of Romania. Winter had made quite an early appearance and the western wind had by now started to blow in puissantly a coolness that numbed nature all through, bared trees and enwrapped fields and towns in a veil of melancholy and monotony. The city of Bucharest, so boisterous and fickle nowadays, looked mighty different at the time of Prince Caragea. Its middle-class inhabitants, long wont to the much slothful and poetic life of the East, gathered in summer in the gardens of Breslea, Barbalata, Cismigiu and Giafer. There every tradesman or family head would lay a table and together with their familiars and friends they would drink and eat; then they began to trot the ancient round dance and other merry dances little different from the Naples tarantella so deeply cherished by the entire Latin populace. It was particularly odd to see the comical gravity with which the grass roots performed their dance of predilection. The challenge came almost every time from the youths; the elderly lay prone on the green grass in the thick shadow of the trees, and they smoked. Slowly a kind of unbeatable attraction carried to the hearts of people of all ages: the dancing of the youth electrified the old patrons; then they rose from the grass, they took off their long coats, turned up the tails of their robes and dashed exultantly to the scene of entertainment. It was funny to watch the gestures and the moves by which they forced themselves to prove to the young people that they shouldn't make lightly of old men. The four-cornered hat of the terzi-basha seemed to claim pride of nobility over the slim sheepskin Russian-style furrier's headdress, which in its turn appeared to look down on the draper's wheel-like cap and the fur hat of the Armenian silk merchant. When the dancing craze was over, the entire company delved again into the vittles and the beverages, and to lend more distinction to the merriment they enhanced the fête by all sorts of jokes, pouring wine into men's hats and women's shoes, making each other drink, laughing and gesturing like madmen. All this while the Gypsy fiddlers played their bows no end or sang mellifluous love songs meant to elicit passion and longing from the heart of the listeners or merry dancing tunes, alert and sprightly.While young and old men of both sexes indulged in the pleasures already mentioned, children, in small groups, also took part in the general divertissement, gorging on plum cakes, cheese cookies, roasted peanuts and popcorn, and not forgetting the pitchers filled with red sherbet and braga*. Boys would throw a ball or play ninepins, while the little girls played hide and seek, running like deer in the green, soft grass, to catch butterflies or pick flowers.Towards evening, all these gleeful groups, men and women, after smoothing their long coats, sent their servants ahead with the flasks and food dishes, and then left for their homes, in hordes, according to class or trade.That is how time went by during the summer festivals; but when the drab winter time came, all these people remained indoors and spent their long evenings in silence; hardly did some gather in a place to chew the rag about what was happing in the narrow circle of the neighborhood or to play some games of cards.Then just like now, boyars and people with great fortunes differed very much in their diversions from the rag-tag.Boyars used to ride in coaches and buggies with polished springs in order to stand apart from merchants. The MogosoaiaBridge and the Outer Fair were the principal promenades of the well-to-do. They dined and made merry together, several families in a place; seldom did they eat out in a garden; and then it was Scufa's Garden that they preferred, the Brancoveanu vineyard of Spirii Hill and Belu's garden near Vacaresti to keep the rabble at bay, and make it impossible for the common herd to learn any of their indiscretions that could have led to a loss of prestige.The younger boyars, because of their close relations with the princes coming from Constantinople's Phanar District and with other depraved aliens, had already acquired a host of vices, entirely contrary to the living style of the old boyars. The mythological sledge of beisadeh** C. Caragea, in the shape of Apollo's chariot and the six reindeer drawing it, the cloth hat lined with white Moscow sable, the dagger encrusted with brilliants and the sable cap with a white top of this handsome prince, as well as the peerless gowns, the shawls and the woolen coat of Princess Ralu had so much turned the heads of young boyars and of ladies that they often went so far as to sell highly valuable estates only to copy the luxury and resplendence of these profligate princes. The harm could have been lesser had it stopped there; but the scandalous life and the depravation had waxed so strong that they had infested and demoralized to a great extent the entire society.Of all these vices, it was the game of cards that spread most destitution; it turned boyars and clerks poor and prompted them to all sorts of abuses.One of the biggest debauchees and lechers of those times was court marshal Andronache Tuzluc; he defrauded and stole like a highway robber, and spent like crazy. It was in his house that took place the most engorging diners, the most attractive soirees, the most ruining card games that made the fortune of the poor go from one pocket to another, well, in short it was in his residence that all this happened. Arghira, Rozolina and Calmuca, the Phrynes and Messalinas of then Bucharest ruled his house, put into the grave all pure, steadfast love, all conjugal faith.Every year, on November 30, the Phanariot would throw a big party and fête to celebrate Saint Andrew, his patron. At the peak of princely favor, the year of our story he resolved to render the festival even more shining. To this end he brought from Constantinople what was the most expensive in fish, fruit and wine, which he put next to the gastronomic delights of the country: trout and other fish, as well as all sorts of fresh, juicy food. For that party he had prepared a feast that would have teased the palate of our most illustrious ancestors in greed: Lucullus and Heliogabalus.Time seemed to play at cross-purposes with the Phanariot's mania of luxury and opulence, for on the 30th of November there blew a crisp western wind, bringing mounds of thick snow and darkening the sun's light at midday; but the court marshal's guests did not scare easily. Suffice it for them to know that in their friend's house they would find excellent opportunities to commit three or four deadly sins that they would surpass every difficulty, the cold, and heavy snow included.The room prepared to accommodate and nourish the guests was a kind of square salon, white-washed and with a circle of Arab motifs in the middle of the ceiling, in relief but absolutely tasteless and inartistic. The furniture consisted in two plank bends, covered with mattresses and cushions, on top of which Bursa wool bedspreads had been thrown, bordered with Venice tassels. Against the garden wall stood a big chest, upholstered in blue deerskin and bound in white iron. Above it there was a smaller chest in walnut wood with nacre flowers. The middle of the room was taken by a three-foot fir chair with four yellow copper holders with tallow candles in them and a pair of brass candle snuffers with which a pretty Gypsy woman removed the candle snuff from time to time, to make the light brighter.Finally, at twelve and a half, Turkish hours*** the guests started to arrive. The first to climb the stairs of Andronache's residence was chief of police Costache Scarab, a handsome youth, yet spiritless, rotten to the bone, an intimate friend and partaker in all the debauches of beisadeh Costache. Next came sword bearer Dimache Flimflam who strove hard not to give the lie to his name, then treasurer Stamate Ace, Lord Steward Ionita Broome, cup bearer Dimitrache LongHand, and baron Nichita Niggardly. In the end came the beisadeh, accompanied by third chancellor Iordache Goldenit****, a man very well known at the time for his satiric spirit and extreme originality.When the guests had seated themselves on the two beds, a well-dressed Gypsy woman wearing a short fur-lined coat, collar up, came before them with a tray full of all sorts of jams. Chapter XVII. Music and Choreography in the time of Caragea Voivode Paturica called a Gypsy and after whispering a few words in his ear, he too joined the round dance in progress.Strange thing to watch our squires with the tails of their coats lifted so that their feet could be free to dance as required: wearing red shalwar, yellow boots or slippers, girdled with striped cloth belts over their bellies and part of their chest, with vests in various kinds of cloth slightly loose on their back; their heads clean shaved, they wore their fezzes pulled back to the nape. Strange thing, I said, to watch the grotesque effect of these disgraceful costumes especially that the pose of the dancing men, slightly leaning backwards, and their serious air made them look much more ridiculous than in reality. The wine, the chit-chat, and eventually the music of the fiddlers had arisen in Paturica's guests a taste for reveling that can never be complete when women, the sweetest of all delights, are missing from men's entourage. "A party without women is like a wedding without a Gypsy band!" said Meatloaf, his entire face shining brightly. "Yes! Yes! We need red slippers," the others added. "I have provided for that, too, don't worry," replied Paturica. "Right, but we want the good stuff, not harlots from Scaune.*" "Don't worry, we'll have only select cheeks. Arghira, Rozolina, Calmuca…**""Bravo, Sieur Paturica! May you live as long as the Tower!" Before long, a coach pulled in the yard nosily. Paturica listened carefully and once assured, he said to the squires emphatically:"There, my good boyars, there come the ladies, and to be a better match for uncle Neculaita I even ordered German music." "Bless you, master Paturica! You are not the man for half measures." The door of the room opened to let in three women, their heads wrapped in white shawls and dressed in fur-lined coats, to beat the harshness of the cold. After saluting the squires and exchanging a few light words, they took off their coats and unveiled their heads. Removing those wraps that made them look like women coming out of Turkish harems, they stood before the assembly as God had made them, young, and pleasant like fairies. Arghira, the most beautiful of them, wore a silk amber-colored dress with three layers of lace at the hem, tight-fitting sleeves and covered breast. She was girdled with a belt in red wool with small gold buckles, and had a delicate scarf round her neck; her hair was covered by a white fez with a black silk ribbon, and tied with a white veil sewn with thread, in a knot forming on the right side an original flower; in her feet she had very white stockings from Leipzig, and black leather shoes with red silk bows. Round her neck hang three rows of choice coral, and her ears were decorated by a pair of golden earring with diamonds. On top of her dress, she had a black velvet cape, all embroidered, down to her waist.Calmuca was dressed about the same, only that she did not wear anything on her head, her tresses going down on her back like a young girl's; Rozolina, faithful to the tradition in her homeland, wore the German costume of the time. Right after them walked in the eighteen Gypsies that represented Niculescu's German music***, who, after having accorded themselves, began to play first the so-called march of Napoleon and then other recreational pieces very much in fashion at the time. Next, they attacked the minuet.**** The squires, inviting the ladies in turn to dance, proceeded to all the choreographic exercises characteristic for the time. The monotonous minuet, the classical dance of the European salons, the sprightly Krakowian of the Poles, the French cotillion, the German waltz, and the Ecossaise brought from the far-end of Britain; all these ethnographic dances allowed the guests to display their mastery. It seemed though that these foreign novelties had not become sufficiently popular in this country or that our squires were not too adapt, for they tired very quickly and, for a diversion, they asked the Gypsy band to play some Romanian dances and even some Gypsy tunes. And then you should have seen the pathos and zeal! The court marshal's house resounded under the steps of the bailiff's guests. The women's laughter, the merry shrills, the men's boisterous talk, the sharp music sounds, the rhythmical trots of the dancers' feet – all this amounted to an infernal Sabbath sending echoes down to the deserted apartments of court marshal Andronache, like an omen boding ill for the absent master. It was only towards dawn that the party at Dinu Paturica's ended, and his guests went to their homes.
* Millet beer** Son of a sultan or hospodar, prince*** Two in the afternoon (author's note).**** This original man whose name I have changed a little eventually lost his marbles and lived to this day in a deplorable state (author's note). * At that time and even later the most degraded and basest women came from the slum of Scaune. (Author's note).** Those were the Aspasias and Ninons de Lenclos of Caragea's time. Arghira in particular, thanks to her extreme beauty attracted like a magnet every youth in town; some maintain that even Prince Caragea paid her secret visits. (Author's note).*** According to my information in Caragea's time there existed two European bands in the country: that of Niculescu in Bucharest and that of Crisoscoleu at Buzau. Each of the members of these musical troupes had a Panpipe (fistula panis) before their lips, and they played the tunes or the harmonious major thirds and sextets of the piece to be executed. Besides that instrument every artist carried to play a string instrument, that is a first violin, a second violin, viola, cello and even bass, big and small drums; only the conductor was free from this obligation. He played only the violin and showed to the other the timing and the various nuances. The sound produced by the assembly of instruments did not correspond broadly to what is asked of a good orchestra nowadays but served very well as a dance accompaniment. (Author's note)**** During Caragea's time many foreign dances were in fashion; the balls given by the big boyars began with a Polonaise, and next came a tampetta, matradou, manimasque, waltz, mazurka, the English, the Krakow, etc. (Author's note)

by Nicolae Filimon (1819-1865)