On Mountain Paths

excerpt THE WAY TO PIPIRIG Half an hour later we had taken up lodgings in father Ionica's house in PipirigValley.I ignore why, but as I lay on a bed of freshly cut, fragrant grass and watched the stars that were beginning to come out in the clear evening sky, my thoughts wandered off to times bygone, long bygone: in my imagination there passed lordly patriarch Abraham with his long beard and his sacred whiskers; the blossoming, sun-bathed biblical valleys opened before me like so many thresholds of heaven; while among the green folds of the hills white flocks grazed loose the tender grass of the hummocks. I saw the peregrine angels stop and knock at the blessed door of the father of the Jews; while old Sarah I pictured walking hurriedly and kindling the fire for the night's supper...And yet I was but in the poverty-stricken Pipirig Valley, devoid of all legendary aura, in the house of father Ionica, a short, fair-haired priest who bore no resemblance whatever to the fabulous proto-father of God's people; in the house also of the good father's wife, a sturdy woman with a pure Romanian face who had been fortunate, without any blessing, to bear five healthy and hardy children, none of whom had it occurred to her to sacrifice to the greedy cunning of some God. What about us?... Even less do we resemble the peregrine angels; I, particularly, would have hanged myself rather than be taken for an angel; and yet, my imagination persevered in tracing some bond between the legendary greatness of the past and the crippled smallness of the here and now. And who can tell where my thoughts might have strayed to if hunger, the accursed hunger, had not dragged heavily earthwards. Father Ionica came and summoned us to dinner. What a picturesque table father Ionica's! In the middle of a round, three-legged, lime wood table, there rested a huge, handsome, golden polenta and steam, grey and hot, rose from it straight towards the heavens, as from Abel's offering; while around it the yet unused clay bowls, enamelled in blue and red, filled with mutton borsch and fitted to our number, had each by its side a white wooden spoon, also used for the first time. "The blessing, father," I said, sitting down at the table."Blessed be the kingdom of the Father, the Son..." and the end of the blessing, the Holy Spirit was lost down father Ionica's deep throat.Some of us crossed ourselves, some again did not and we all got down to sipping the hot borsch each at a pace set by his own hunger, with ever a rising of the eyebrows and a wrinkling of the forehead. We had no forks and so sought to give the morsels of polenta the shape that would make them go smoothest down the throat. The sipping and the gulping followed one another in a regular, monotonous pattern. We felt full. We got up from the table: not a moment too soon, for our leaden eyelids drooped heavily by their own accord; lazily, the blood had slowed down and sleep was overtaking us..."Et misit soporem in Adamum."[1]Only that, upon waking, I was not to find an Eve where there had been a rib.And though father Ionica's entire house was at my disposal with all its blankets and its benches, I nonetheless made up my mind to sleep outside. I have from time to time the softened impulses of a Sybarite only that I usually get them when I can least satisfy them...Thus, instead of the silky rose petal sheets I was content with a thick blanket of fragrant grass, cut the day before; I changed the soft Bithynia cloth for a clean, white blanket of prime wool woven by the good woman herself; under my head I laid a vigorous woolen lace-brimmed pillow, the case newly changed. I covered myself with another blanket over which, to feel even warmer, I spread the starry sky. I had no time to intoxicate myself on that evening's magnificent panorama. The moon and the stars, floating in the black and remote depths of the boundless heavens, were watching me with so many fiery eyes lined with shadow... but what did I care for all that? I felt sleep coming over me and I slumbered off. I slept like a log. Night was over in a blink of the eye.

by Calistrat Hogaş (1847-1917)