I was a boy around thirteen when I first learned how to wield a rifle – though I confess that, ever since, I have made no progress in this craft, quite the contrary, I dare say! I had accompanied my old man to Whitepond Baths, that had seen the cream of the crop that year, as recounted by V. Alecsandri Esq. himself with the utmost wit. It was then and there that I first caught sight of that gentleman, young, convivial and, even at that time, known for the sterling Romanian charm of his inspiring muse – whilst I, a child, thought that all that glittered was gold.We were living in a village on the left bank of the Buzau, Gradistea, under the same roof as old Colonel Enghel. This man, through the kindness of his heart, the jocular boisterousness of his nature, the funny kraut-ness of his Romanian idiom, has left pleasant and cheerful memories amongst his subordinates, presently all veterans of the army. Polkovnik
Enghel, who had taken a Romanian lady for a wife whose large dowry included a band of Gypsy bondsmen would, at times when one of these unfortunates happened to croak, tell his wife: "Weep
Anicutza! One ov dein
dowries has tied an
you!"Colonel Enghel gave me a double-barreled shotgun, stout and easy, tailored and thought out according to my very own body and brawn; he also taught me how to load it, take aim and shoot. Since that day, woe betide the poor sparrows on the fences! Day in, day out, I would waste on them one priming horn and one bag of pellets. Still, what pilafs
would master-chef, dowry
of Lady Anica, cook us for our meals!Meseems that within this narrow scope lie the laurels I was able to cull in my hunting career. As you may observe, they are not even enough to cook one boar iahnia
, as illustrated in your book.Should I be more boastful by nature – and not being thus, let this be strong evidence that I am neither a good hunter, nor can I be one, not even one like our fellow Buduroff! – should I be, as I said, more boastful, I might wish to add that, on the same banks of the Whiteponds, I have also tried my good fortune at gunning down those crested lapwings, constantly swaying in the air and on land, crying like a Jew's brood in the alleys: 'Kibrit! kibrit!' Likewise, I have often shot at: '...the joyful lark swaying in the skies',
let alone that I dared wield my rifle at the flocks of wild geese that were constantly flying in umpteens along the Buzau!Had I not been stopped by the village cowherd, I would have most certainly hit one of those starlings busy amongst the herd cattle that, together with the crows, are jestfully mounting the backs of oxen; these beasts, in a philosophical indifference, are enduring such ridicule. I wonder what the oxen be saying in their minds about those naughty fellows? And what thoughts would they be ruminating, while they fall pray to such humiliation? Huge is the oxen tongue, a pittance that it cannot speak!I do not know how and in what manner our chat led us to starlings and herein, dear friend and author, forgive me if I take you amiss, as, in your book, you have said nought on this game, and, most notably, on another bird, mistaken thereabouts by many for the starling, as, in French, it bears a name one might fancy its fit.Go you one morning to the Capsa and tell them to prepare, for breakfast, a paste of what is called pâte de grives
, then, the next day, have your meal prepared at Hugues'; it will be presented to you in a delicate while vellum boxlet, under the name of grives en caisse.
Upon eating, thou shall undoubtedly feel the pangs of conscience, for you have overlooked and despised the game called grives
, deemed in Romanian as thrushes
Here you must, nilly-willy, follow me – and this shall be your punishment – into a long controversy, where philology will be brought together with natural history, and produce a heap of confusion, as learned and scholarly as it can be. Take you heed, sir, for you are dealing with a member of the Academy!The Romans (we, great grandchildren of Trajan, always begin with the Roman times) – were, amongst many others, acquainted with these two species of birds, and praised them according to their just value; the ones they called turdus
, the others, sturnus
were a variety of birds highly praised by our ancient gastronomes. The poet Martial, a fellow not very much favored by Trajan, said that, out of the winged species, the best food he deemed turdus
, and out of the four-leggeds, the rabbit. 'Inter aves turdus, si quis me judice certet, Inter quadrupedes, mattea prima lepus.'
Leave it to what Martial says on the bird! But for the rabbit, may his Lordship forgive me, I am on Father Trajan's side and do not condone the poet's utterings. Moreover, if I weren't compunctious of speaking Romanian in the fashion of the late Costache Facca's Frenchified Ladies
, the ones making such utterings as: '
cloak amour sans-fin'
, I would, not entirely deprived of ought skills, insert the Romanian saying: 'It's as like as chalk and cheese!' (verbatim, tr. n.: 'Far be the thrush (i.e. la grive
) from the rabbit!')Horace, however, seems even more enthused by turdi
and, verily, is not surprised that some will gobble their fortune away on plump turdi
; for nothing, he adds, is better: '...non, hercule, miror,Aiebat, siqui comedunt bona, cum sit obesoNil melius turdo...'
Terentius Varro, in his book on agronomy, extensively recalls the rearing and fattening of this avian family, in houses purposely built for the winged species, ornithon
, he minutely describes. What he also adds is that an aunt of his – in her villa on the Via Salaria, the Sabine region, 24 miles away from Rome – used to have such an ornithon
, that, throughout the year, would sell five thousand turdi
three dinars apiece, yielding her an annual income of 60 000 sesterces, i.e. in our current money, 12 000 new lei.Why then hesitate any longer, my friend? Let's try and catch some turdi
and secure ourselves one thousand gold pieces per year off them, like Terentius Varro's aunt. But where to find them? Ay, there's the rub.In truth, Roman naturalist Pliny tells us that turdi
, like merulae (blackbirds) and sturni (starlings) fly, without casting their plumage, into the neighboring countries; in winter, an abundance of turdi
are to be found in Germany.Modern naturalists, spearheaded by the famous Buffon, ascertain that the birds called turdus
by the Romans, bear the generic name of grive
in French, and that they resemble the blackbirds, from which they differ in the plumage by several regular spots invariably placed on their chest; this kind of fowl they break down into four species, whose French name is: grive
-proper, draine –
which is more bodied than the rest of them, litorne
, and mauvis
. These latter two are the most preferable in foods.The diverse species, as well as their varieties, are distinguished by size, color of the plumage and even by some habits; albeit, generally, these birds are wild, not very playful, rather dull; they dwell in isolation, their nests are very neatly put together, and their small eggs, beautifully colored in hues of blue or green. They live in the northernmost countries and, especially towards autumn, they descend to southern parts. They are very gluttonous; Horace himself attests it: 'Amite levi rara tendit retia, Turdis edacibus dolos...'
and they have developed an utmost liking for the grapes; therefore, the French have created the saying: 'soûl comme une grive'
, applicable in our realm to fellows who be three sheets to the wind.In the City of Danzig in Prussia, roughly ninety pairs of the species called mauvis
are feasted upon, per annum. The ones called litorne
spend their winters in Lower Austria and Poland, and, in some parts of the latter, the percentage of the grive
species is so significant, that they are caught in large numbers and freighted off in crammed boats, brimful of the game.Nonetheless, if there are so many of them in neighboring lands, in Poland and Austria; if, in their yearn for grapevines, they are born aplenty in the kingdom of hops and beer, would it be possible that, ravenous, they could have long time ago sailed already, whence, in our days, the plague of German brethren came to hit us with iron and fire? As for these new gendarmes in the country, we know full well their kind, and know their names more exhaustively than we wished for; much more difficult is it to guess the less illustrious of their be-feathered brethren.I have, in this matter, consulted all our dictionaries, even with that that was written under the Romanian Academic Society's umbrella, and here's all that I could winnow, notably from the French-Romanian Vocabulary by P. Poenaru, Aaron F. and G . Hill: 'Grive
is called Sturz
(thrush) in Romanian; Draine
is called Cocosar
(fieldfare) in our language; Litorne
is a kind of Fieldfare, with a grey head, and Mauvis
is a kind of Thrush.' The authors of the Academy Dictionary do not have an entry that readeth: 'cocosiariu'
– perchance be it a word not of Latin origin? As for 'sturdiu'
, they have not as yet covered the letter S.In a nutshell: la grive
in Latin, is not at all the Romanian graure (starling),
albeit, judged by their likeness, these two names appear associated.Mr. Littré, in his monumental dictionary of the French language, does not know what origin to attribute to the word grive
. May this name be, by any chance, derived from the Latin adjective gravis –
' heavy', 'fat' – to be found in reference to turdi
in the following verse of Martial: 'Sylva graves turdos exagitata dedit?'
This would be a derivative cloaked as a synecdoche, to which the Romanian word 'starling' would affiliate as a metonymy. The latter name, given to another bird, is, again, placed by Martial into contrast with the turdi,
masted on olives of the Picenum: 'Si mihi Picena turdus palleret Oliva,. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Nunc sturnos inopes. . . . . . . . . . . .'
About the sturni
, not many commendable things have been said. Martial, as we could notice, labels them good-for-nothings, inopes
. Pliny merely speaks about their habit of flying in circling swarms crammed one against another. Buffon dwells on this idiosyncrasy even more and shows that, in their hasty and loud flight, starlings seem to be obeying tactics plied with a military discipline, under the orders of a leader. Even Dante took the boisterous flight of the starlings, huddled in large and full flocks, as a term of comparison, to, in immortal stanzas, describe how the unfortunate souls are borne listlessly on the breath of infernal blizzards: 'E come gli stornei ne portan l'ali Nel freddo tempo, a schiera larga e piena, Cosi quel fiato gli spiriti mali Di qua, di là, di giù, di sù li mena: Nulla speranza gli comforta mai, Non che di posa, ma di minor pena.'
It is beyond any doubt that Dante's stornei
, Buffon's étourneaux
, along with Pliny's and Martial's sturni
be our starlings, blackish feathers, sprinkled with white or greyish spots, living in Europe, from the depths of Sweden to the island of Malta, and even in Africa, down to Cape of Good-Hope. These birds, after, in the months of June, they have hatched their ash-grey eggs in stray nests in hollows of trees, come and while together in flocks, slumber in the reeds at night, bicker at one another in the evenings and, in the morning, wake up all at the same time, causing much stir; then they shoot like a dense, black cloud, mingle with pigeons and crows. Domesticated well in a cage, if put through boarding school, they even learn French, rolling the 'r', just as they do in Paris.It seems that Buffon – and he himself acknowledges that – has heard starlings speak German, Latin, Greek, and other languages. As for myself, I have not been in that fortunate position as to ascertain the multilingual skills of this intriguing family of birds de visu et auditu
. All I can say thereof is that the contempt mouthed by the conniving Martial as he declared them good-for-nothings – inopes
– urges me to take an increased disliking towards this servile and disheartened poet, and, in doing so, follow therein anew the paragon of my august ancestor, Marcus Ulpius Trajan.I, every time it came to pass that I have eaten starlings – that is, Latin sturni
or French étourneaux
, not Romanian sturzi
or French grives
– have found them to be of very good taste and, notably, of a smell of the most enjoyable kind in games. Therefore, do not look to what authors have to say and, should you come across flocks of starlings, gun down, without ought shame, as many as you can. As for myself, you may rest assured I should remain very much in your debt for such gravy! Translated by Andreea Călugăriţă
by Alexandru Odobescu (1834-1895)