Return To The Interwar Bucharest

excerpts  So closeSuddenly, the interwar people make the body visible: men are allowed to shave off not only their beards, but also their moustaches – a facial change that overthrows an aesthetic canon with centuries-old resistance – and women, punished and ridiculed in the last century through hair-cutting, cut their hair now willingly, taking one after another. Together with the cutting of their traditional ornament, idealized by the Romantics, they cut off the social and literary ties with the old: another feminine character will accompany the easy-going interwar men. In 1922, any husband can have, as Urmuz says, a "legitimate lover with a hair-cut". Men and women are practicing sport together, contemplating each other's body, hidden for so long by numerous garments. The novels lose no time to point out, for the first time ever, the strain of his muscles, when he is swimming, or the suntan, which the body of the loved woman still preserves from the last summer. Skiing, a sport at which the woman, smartly dressed, in trousers, can become man's instructor, or motoring, at which the man is the master and tamer of the car, as he once was of the horse, bicycle riding, regarded as almost an acrobatic exercise, compel men and women to a physical proximity unimaginable before. In two novels by Mihail Sebastian, Women and The Accident for instance, we have an almost complete content of winter and summer physical proximity between men and women, allowed, if not even claimed by the times. The everyday scenes from Camil Petrescu, Anton Holban, Calinescu (The Wedding Book), Sebastian, have, for the interwar readers, not only the flavor of novelty, but also that of savory boldness. A man steering a car, or piloting a plane, a woman in a tracksuit or lighting a cigarette, a body lying in the sun, on the beach, or the beautiful eyes hidden behind black sunglasses are not innocent scenes for those times, as they appear to the nowadays reader. They belong to the new vital upsurge of the young interwar people. The love scenes, as well, have different courage and different language. A decisive literary event contributed to the assertion of the new amorous code. Today forgotten, it preoccupied a lot of heads at the beginning of the fourth decade, and its echo resounded in the literature-loving public for a long time. The rescued loverIn the evening of December 12th, 1932, the hall of Roxy cinema on Lipscani Street, packed with people, hosts a literary trial. They judge D. H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover. The jury, presided over by the philosopher Ion Petrovici, former Minister of Instruction and university professor, is made up of Liviu Rebreanu, Felix Aderca and Camil Petrescu. The members of the jury, and several other speakers, try not so much to give a verdict, as to transform a potentially scandalous debate into a civilized literary debate. Speeches are made, questions from the audience are asked, live applause is heard. The lucky and hard-tried publisher of the novel takes advantage of the situation and increases his revenue, publishing a brochure after the shorthand notes, with the debates of the trial.It is known that the huge success of the book created a scandal. A police officer was asked to confiscate from the bookstore all the copies of the Romanian translation of this novel, regarded as pornographic, or "lewd", by the majority of the '30s readers. It is not the erotic scenes "per se" that produce so much shock, but the direct vocabulary, devoid of the common chaste volutes. It might also be relevant to remark that in 1932 the French translation of the same novel may be found in bookstores and that, also around that time, without any fuss, appears the first volume of Boccaccio's The Decameron, in Alexandru Marcu's translation. The literary magazines advertise, around the Christmas of 1932, the second edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover, announcing with span broad letters the victory of literature over the police and over the committees for public moral defense: "A temporary confiscation, intended by the higher educational bodies to stop its sale, did not succeed in demolishing D. H. Lawrence's book" the journalists write. The year 1933 begins with this triumph. On January 1st, The Universe, which, together with The Morning, is the most widely read daily among Bucharest people, publishes a less common advertisement: "Despite the chaste newspapers, which publish daily rapes and sadistic crimes and which refused to publish advertisements and reviews on D. H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover, this book has appeared in its second edition and can be found in all bookstores." With a lot of tact, with two or three concessions made to the conservative public, Ion Petrovici justifies linguistically, philosophically and aesthetically the novel discussed at the trial in Roxy hall. He looks for a cause of the "aggressive" terms in the historical evolution of the vocabulary in literature, which "tends to enrich permanently with strong expressions, with graphic phrases, with words that have more impact than the refined and elegant words." The philosopher proposes to the listeners a comparison between the vocabulary of newspapers two decades before and that from 1932, the latter much more developed. Ion Petrovici holds out a hand for the conservatives as well: "But hasn't our author extended the vocabulary too much? I think he did. I think there are words that could have been completely left aside, without compromising the specific of the respective passage." Everybody knew, of course, which was the respective "passage." The one which exemplifies prohibited words in different centuries, to the public's delight, is Felix Aderca: in the drawing-rooms of stilted ladies, words such as face or mirror were regarded as vulgar, the word handkerchief was for a long time hardly allowed in literature, and cheese still disturbs many ears, even in 1932. The words seem trivial, says Felix Aderca, not because of their meaning, but because of the emotional load the reader adds to them. And in order to strike a blow at all those who reject D. H. Lawrence's novel in Romania (which was burnt in England, and confiscated in America), he groups chaste people in three categories. The first is the type of "retired army general with literary aspirations", the second is the category of ladies who turn up their nose in public at the too "basic" scenes of the novel, secretly regretting that in an over 400-page novel there are no more than eight, and the third is the category of parents and teachers concerned with their children's innocence, not knowing that the latter have read the novel before them. Present in the room, Jean Bart, who is preparing to publish Europolis, asks the speaker two questions that place him on the conservatives' side. His novel does not have such scenes. Love puts the narrator aboutA year of amorous grace for the characters of the books, 1933 certainly remains the most important year of the interwar novel. Significant in terms of impact on the public, novelty, variety, ingenuity and creative impetus. The narrative fervor is unprecedented, and the solutions proposed harmonize with those from the European novel of the time. Even letting aside Rebreanu's The Uprising and Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu's The Hidden Path, dated by the surveys of the time 1932, although the dictionaries mention it in 1933, there still remain: Camil Petrescu's The Procrustean Bed, Women by Mihail Sebastian, both published by S. Ciornei National Publishing House, in February, The Wedding Book by George Calinescu, published by the new publishing house The Truth a month later, Maitreyi by Mircea Eliade, The Russian Woman by Gib I. Mihaescu, Adela by Garabet Ibraileanu, The Golden Bough by Mihail Sadoveanu – and I am only mentioning the most successful ones. Almost all were commented upon and sometimes lively debated in the interwar literary magazines and a new edition followed them (with Camil Petrescu there was a revised and completed one). Gib Mihaescu, probably the closest to Lawrence in the erotic scenes, will publish six editions until 1935. Competing with other 50 authors, Mircea Eliade wins the Techirghiol-Eforie prize, worth 25,000 lei, financed by the banker Aristide Blank, and publishes thus a novel about his love story with an exotic woman. Even Women by Sebastian, now lying in a dark corner, had a second edition. How can one express in writing a love scene, without being scandalous, like Lawrence, nor chaste like those prudes that Kogalniceanu ridiculed almost a century before? Which is the most appropriate tone of the novel? Which are its most efficient strategies? How far can one go with innovation in everyday scenes? All these questions are implicit in the novels of 1933, which include, with no exception, love stories, and in reviews they often become explicit. The writer becomes aware that the "alcove" scene is a test, that here any fake note is showy and ruins the novel, and also that, if he passes this literary test successfully, the rest is a mere game. One thing is certain. No matter if their novels situate themselves in the tradition sphere or in the innovation one, the novelists of 1933 go beyond the big narrative taboos of the sexuality field. And Mister narrator makes himself conspicuous more than ever. He is reduced to a voice or turned into a character. He relinquishes the thread of the narrative and shares his part with other character-voices (feminine ones included) or controls, possessively and proudly, his narrative, from the first to the last word. He learns to say I, after almost all his forerunners had narrated in the 3rd person, and discovers the voluptuousness of this. The metaphor, the allusion, the diversion, the synecdoche of the kiss for the night of love, the moonlight, the theoretical abstractions are replaced, in the Romanian novels of 1933, the year of narrative explosion, by simple, direct words, by physical descriptions in the lamp light. The boldness is not only aesthetic, but also extra-literary: the receptivity still implies risks. You may at any time find that some consider you immoral and the Ministry of Instruction incriminates you, especially if you teach Romanian, you may be sued following the complaint made by the RomanianAcademy, or crushed by the indignation of decent people who haven't read a book since high school graduation. However, among the narrators from the novels of 1933, there are significant differences, and both the success and the failures are equally surprising. Camil Petrescu's favorite and privileged narrators studied Bergson and Husserl with certain diligence and read Proust with an expert eye, which is bizarre for the part they were assigned to play: Fred, a pilot and a diplomat, Mrs. T., cultured indeed, but with no excess of bibliography, with her independent woman financial worries. Precisely Ladima, who, being a hermetic poet and a journalist, should write splendidly in the 1st person narrative, evinces, in the letters to Emilia, a barber's sentimentalism. Although in The Procrustean Bed are the most detailed and basic descriptions of the woman's naked body, the narrator still seems to be in love more with philosophy than with woman. With Mihail Sebastian, in Women, the discrepancy between the narrator and the character is of a different nature. Stefan Valeriu, from the first scene of the book, portrayed as a Don Juan, recounts his amorous achievements. He practices his conquest tactics, has known "for a long time" the power of "polite impertinences" and all women in a mountain guest house, from an open-minded virgin, to a rather old lady, from European blondes to chocolate-like Arab women, all give themselves, without hesitation, to this jeune homme. But the love scenes are almost chaste, described with the delicate traditional stylistics. Both the lady and the girl "lose themselves" into the arms of the charming young man, either with "small, bristling screams", or with a "clear" scream which "walks out of the open window towards the woods, (…) to wake up a squirrel or to meet in the air with the faraway scream of a wild cat, just as free," the girl's thighs "open up like two wings, docile," etc. A genuine Don Juan, like, for instance, the one created long before by Barbey d'Aurevilly, has another type of stories and brags differently. In Don Juan's Proudest Triumph, the former recounts to his past lovers the love scene that stirred him, the one who stirs, the most: sitting in the armchair from which he had just stood up, an enamored girl feels fire in her womb and then tells her confessor, full of remorse, that she got pregnant. And this Don Juan knows how to persuade his listeners – whom he had persuaded before through other means as well – only with words that "in love, everything's true and everything's a lie". In so far as the character from Mihail Sebastian's novel is concerned, there might be an extenuating circumstance, which reconciles the narrator with the character: youth. At a different age, the same experiences would probably sound more convincing. It's strange that precisely in a novel whose value was rather questioned by the critics, The Russian Woman, by Gib Mihaescu, there appears a perfect agreement between the narrator – the story is told in the 1st person narrative – and the character. It is perhaps in this that the intensity of the novel resides, the only quality the critics did not dispute. Lieutenant Ragaiac, a passionate reader of an imaginative nature, betrays in his stories a mixture of bawdiness, even soldierly brutality and bookish romanticism, which are extremely credible. The vocabulary and its rhetoric are typical for the Bovary-like character who quotes Horatio, flattering himself: Odi profanum vulgus et arceo…, but who is part of the crowd from which he dissociates himself. He uses unsophisticated metaphors and similes: "…the two black eyes were burning like two candles, anywhere I looked, and out of the darkness of the small plank room, an alluring laughter shrilled." An authentic style, without embellishments. The success of this type of authenticity is better highlighted if we compare it with the first phase from the novel of the "anti-aestheticist" Camil Petrescu: "Your reprimands are useless, like the hand of one who knocks at the neighboring door, which is closed, instead of the one they are looking for…" One cannot imagine a more elaborate simile, a more "beautiful" one. The love scenes from The Russian Woman – one of the reasons for which the communist censorship banned the book, the other being political – are often narrated with the vocabulary of a serial novel, and with a man's bragging self-importance, but they don't lose anything because of this: an officer fond of 19th-century literature would have described them just the same. Gib Mihaescu is not at all spoilt by the columnist-writers from the interwar Literary Romania, the same people who praised the authenticity of Camil Petrescu or Mihail Sebastian's novels. Nevertheless, he exemplifies, inadvertently, their theories and, had they read him a little more friendlily, as they read each other, they would have had great surprises. Reasons to be upsetNeither does G. Calinescu receive Literary Romania's appreciation in 1933, for The Wedding Book. His critic will be Sebastian, and the main reticence is the one linked with the night of love scene between Jim and Vera, the wedding night, which was actually published by the same magazine with much trumpet blast, on the first page, with a title to match the topic: In my bed, at night, I looked for the one who loved my soul… Sebastian's cruelty is exorbitant, he gives the author advice such as: "Should he go on writing novels, he will have to give up such facile and arbitrary devices" and he criticizes harshly the very core of the book: "The Vera-Jim marriage chapter, written with so many obvious and useless reminiscences from Lawrence, is artificial: I don't remember having read before love passages so much lacking in sensitivity. There is something mysteriously inert in the 'passionate' nights of the young married couple. The passion tinge capable of enlivening and legitimizing the alcove episode is missing. If by any chance, as the title indicates, Mr. Calinescu wanted to turn his novel into an epic hymn to sexual love, then the main reason of the novel was not carried out." In another article, on the same page, as if stuck to this one, Petru Manoliu praises Mircea Eliade who had bewildered the knowledgeable readers with Maitreyi. It couldn't have been worse: a failure near a success seems, for the defeated, a double failure. In fact, what probably bothers Mihail Sebastian is the narrative formula, clearly different from that imposed by Camil Petrescu & Co., which is to be found with a generation-colleague, with a young man (Calinescu was only 34 when the novel appeared). Calinescu's narrator is, in The Wedding Book, traditional, rejects the prevalence of psychologism and introspection still, he is not at all less daring in describing the love scenes than the rest of the novelists of the year. His protagonists are classical, in so far as they are young, beautiful and healthy – a meaning that he himself establishes for the notion. A tinge of humor – when Jim and Vera contemplate, in turn, their naked bodies – tones down the feeling, and what Calinescu's narrator succeeds is to recount naturally and deliberately unemotionally, without an excess of feeling. He evinces, as compensation, the optimism and the joyfulness of narration. Mihail Sebastian the critic had struck a ruthless blow at the novelist G. Calinescu, comforting him with the success of "background characters" and of some solid resources that validate the waiting. Calinescu the critic will not be more lenient with Sebastian the novelist either, nor with the literary critic who demolished the alcove episode. Sebastian and Calinescu are both novelists and "manipulators of the critical foil", hence, they play a double role. About Sebastian the critic, Calinescu writes in his History of the Romanian Literature from Origins to the Present three lines exactly: "Mihail Sebastian wrote literary reviews as well. His aesthetics is nothing but the typical one for Jewish critics, that is: love. The critic is generally either too friendly or incredulous and formal." The Cartesianism of the novelist is identified by the critic "especially in the sensations area. Hence, a cold, lucid sensualism, cultivated with a geometrician's exactness." In the short chapter dedicated to him, the critic points out that "artistic talent seems to be missing", that the author is still "too young to distinguish his personality", that in Women, one can notice "the lack of imagination" (it goes without saying: erotic imagination), that The City of Acacias is an "arid" book, and The Accident "seems to invalidate the novelist calling" of the author. The analysis of the two "solid" books by Sebastian, For 2000 years… and How I Became a Hooligan, although more detailed, ends by defending Nae Ionescu. This is how love clouds critical judgment. There is however a good side to all this: the literary life of the thirties is more lively and free from complexes than ever before, and Lady Chatterley's love story, widely-known, did not remain without echo. Rhymes, advertisements, statisticsLady Chatterley's love story, widely-known, did not remain without echo: women and magazines talk openly about forbidden love affairs, and men do not hide their lovers anymore, walk with them arm in arm, in sight of everybody. Some emancipated ladies have a small "carpetbag" with them, with everything they need so that the thing, which takes place "en ville" and which men are not ashamed to name in French, could confirm that life is pink. In fact, the taboos that are related to the pleasures and displeasures of physical love were swept away not only literarily, but also medically. The pharmacies stick on the walls and place in newspapers big advertisements with everything that can be avoided, if you know what to buy from Mr. Pharmacist, and everything that can be prevented or cured. The diseases that Venus, the beautiful goddess of love, brings are now, due to the new medicines, among which the famous Salvarsan, curable. They can even be avoided: "Don't cover your eyes in front of such an important problem", says the advertisement which shows a pharmacist with glasses and a blindfold lady, "SEMORI has bactericide power, killing gonococci in a minute, SEMORI in pharmacies and drugstores"; "Hygienic Sergeant kills infectious germs before they enter the body. 15 lei a box, at the Pharmacies and Drugstores". About antibiotics, the specialists begin to talk as early as 1929, but there will be quite a while until penicillin becomes available for sale, so that tuberculosis will still claim victims and will continue to be an inspiration for poets. The youngsters are very careful to put down the date of their first sexual experience, which happens roughly at the age of twenty: "10 June 1929, Monday. For the first time, I had a woman! What a psychological shock out of a simple fact. A new experience. But I miss the woman whom I could love and who would love me back."Bucharest is full of "Cupid's roundsmen", the messengers that lie in wait at every corner of the street and can be recognized by their red cap. They belong to some specialized agencies, are reliable messengers, and are rushing with urgent letters all around the neighborhood. And nothing is more urgent than love. They carry with them tens of words, but they are deaf and dumb like a mail box. The bell is, in the interwar period, a good sign: the letter one is waiting for, the hat from the bonnet-maker or the fresh buds among which an elegant business card is hidden. If needed, the messenger will wait for the answer, if not, they will be satisfied with the few extra coins swiftly passed from the hand into the pocket. And the little gypsy children who yell "special, special" (which in the current language of the Bucharest paper reader is translated as "special edition") sell to the lovers jocund statistics about the situation of the lovers throughout the world, according to sex and temperament. Although fictitious, this data says a lot about the matters of the heart which quickly replaced the war concerns. In 1928, in one of the states marked with anonymous stars on the patch of blue sky from the American flag, 635,204 women and 789,531 men are allegedly in love. Of these, 250,000 women and 125,076 men – out of pure interest. 100,000 women and only 50,000 men out of curiosity. The statistics mark off, one by one, love out of imitation, the one from the desire to be trendy, from the desire to have a tennis partner, or a partner when crossing the Channel (a fashionable sport, like tennis), from the desire to brag with one more conquest, or from the desire to "have useless worries and sufferance". Men love also "from the desire to wear …you know what", an enigmatic you know what nowadays, which in the language of that time is easily translated as "cuckold". Out of pure love, from the sample chosen, love 7,200 men and 0 adult women. The comment of the "translator", Paul B. Marian: "The reader can easily see how the above mentioned statistics would have looked like if instead of Mr. Mack Sennett" this research "had been done by Mrs. Sennett". Solemn statistics show that Bucharest has, on December 29th 1930, 60,440 buildings, 142,606 homes, that is households, 17,166 enterprises, and the stable population is of 564,575 inhabitants. Solemn statistics don't say how many of these abstract inhabitants of the capital are in love.Instead, from the magazines, one can find out that a pair of lovers kiss every 4 minutes, that the woman asks, usually every 10 minutes, "Do you love me?" and has three-to-five jealousy crises per week, and the man has two-to-three fits in the same interval. The excuses for not coming to the date or for missing from home are: for the man – "a friend that kept him", for the woman – "a dentist or a seamstress". To the Americans, ridiculed by the interwar journalists about everything regarding the scientific examination of the soul, is also ascribed the invention of a special device which calculates the heartbeats, in order to quantify passion. The experiment looks like this: "A blonde and a brunette, each equipped with a special device, are placed in front of a screen. They are watching a romantic film. Impassive, the blonde is watching the movie, while the brunette, her nostrils trembling, her cheeks and eyes ablaze, finds no rest." A few years after, the American doctor makes his conclusions public: "the blondes are cold and the brunettes are warm." The way in which the hierarchy of the feminine capillary ornament changes after this scientifically proven conclusion is detailed by Alex. Bilciurescu, the author of the comment, in a genuinely black – or more precisely brunette – utopia. Meanwhile, and as a reply, the Bucharest people are humming in pubs: "blondes or brunettes, it's all the same to me…", falling in love in a democratic way, without statistical concerns or dichotomic classifications, and smoking voraciously blond and black tobacco. The illustrated magazines, leafed through by women, publish staves with notes from the tangos in the most popular films and translate, as much as possible, the words: "My lovely Miss / Your sweet ravishing figure / Slowly makes me feel / Love's thrill". The love life of Hollywood stars is pursued in breathless anticipation in Bucharest, and their smiling faces are published black-and-white, in pictures made at the M. G. M. studios. In the same magazines, one can read daring aphorisms such as: "Women rarely find in their man the ideal; but their ideal is always man." Short stories from the illustrated magazines show that Bucharest youngsters are emancipated, and aware of it. In two columns, Adrian Maniu's Magazine, read especially by ladies, publishes a comparison between two worlds: the 1900 moment and the 1930 moment. It's obvious that the heart holds the stakes in both stories. What's important is, as always in love, the details. 1900: A hansom stops in front of a cloth store on Lipscani street. With calculated and graceful gestures, a lady, tight in her corset, gets off. Out of the dress that starts at the neck and ends at the heels one can only see the tip of the shoe, "a square centimeter of black patent-leather shoes". The lady enters the store to buy six meters of velvet for a dress. The shop assistant welcomes her as an old acquaintance and offers the best merchandise. At the exit, the lady runs into her husband's colleague. The gentleman is in a cutaway and with a cylinder "with reflexes of gramophone record", which he takes off to greet the lady. Then he engages in small talk with her for thirty minutes "showing an attitude of great deference". At home, the lady finds an eight-page letter from her lover, who proposes a date. She answers on eight pages as well, saying that she accepts. In the evening, the gentleman and the master of the house learns by accident that his wife has a lover, but he is too well-mannered to start a scandal. He shrugs his shoulders "wisely" and thinks of his lover. After 30 years: a lady with a cigarette in her mouth, in her little 5 h. p. automobile in which she goes downtown, goes to a store, where she buys, quarrelling with the shop assistant, 80 centimeters of cloth for a little dress. She meets her husband's colleague at a bend, where automobiles stop "because of the one-way traffic". The man, bare headed and with turned-up collar, shouts Hallo! and blows her kisses. At home, the lady finds a typed note from her lover: "Come at 5. I love you." She picks up the receiver, quarrels with the switchboard operator for ten minutes, and then tells her lover that she accepts. In the evening, discovering that her husband has a lover, she shoots him."Even if the lady from the second sequence could be the daughter of the one from 1900, their worlds show no continuity. Between them lie not only several decades, but also a Great War and, after this, nothing can be like before. Everything becomes shorter: time, dresses, letters and life. Love crimes are not rare in Bucharest and the daily papers publish various "love dramas", or "horrible tragedies", stabbings, shootings, as well as small ads that, beneath the transparent cover of job offers, hide less innocent proposals. They are looking for "girls" or "very young ladies". Thus, for instance, "being alone", a gentleman who promises or requires (one cannot tell exactly from the telegraphic style of the advertisement) "absolute discretion" looks for a lady or a girl "absolutely young" and "trust-worthy". The seeker for the absolute needs nothing more than a "trouble-free cohabitation", the harder part not being mentioned in the text from The Universe. But most of the love stories after the World War are, in Bucharest, much quieter, and the elegance and good manners are not missing, although naturally they do not resemble those of 1900.  Love options of the men of lettersEngrossed only in the moment, the lovers ask vital questions such as: when kissing a lady's hand, do you bend over the hand or do you take her hand to your lips? You meet a lady. Do you wait for her to hold out her hand or do you hold out yours first? You are in a restaurant with your wife or your fiancé and her friend. The flower girl comes. For which of the two ladies do you buy flowers, or to which do you offer them first? How do you take the olive pip out of your mouth, at the table? You have met a friend and his wife in the street and you walk on for a while, next to them. On whose side will you walk? These are the questions that the gentlemen are invited to answer, when they fall in love, in order to test the elegance of their manners, as any clumsiness might cost them their love. In the twenties, love and good manners are directly proportional. When politeness is suffering, love is questionable, and the ladies are redoubtable semioticians. For them, everything is language and sign: the way in which they are greeted, the way in which they are kissed, the color of the flowers they receive, the way in which a man carries the champagne glass to his mouth. All these are speaking and telling the truth about the relationship between the two: if a man shoves the knife into his mouth when eating cheese, he doesn't love her, if he greets taking off his hat and bending, he loves her, if he sends her a twig of white lilac in January, he loves her, if he climbs, at the Athenaeum, on the wider side of the stairs, leaving her on the narrower side, he doesn't love her at all, and it's time for her to leave him, especially if there is someone else who knows how to accompany her in the hall by climbing on the narrower side. In their turn, women answer in a coded manner and learn quickly the new extra-linguistic communication systems: "Several Parisian women have recently set up a secret women smokers club whose purpose is conceiving the means to communicate to a man, by the cigarette, the impression he makes on them." The actress Loulou Savu from Cockchafer Theatre reproduces the new code for the Bucharest ladies. The cigarette held straight between the made-up, tight lips, with the heart-shape contour looking sulky, means "I don't like you", while if you hold it between your fingers, with a musing smile coordinated with your gaze, the chances are high, as the gesture means "Let me think." Also with the cigarette one can suggest "I am interested in you", "Maybe", "I am not interested in you", "I like you", "Wait for me, anyway" and even "Are you moneyed?" The young man Octavian Sulutiu falls in love with the same woman as his friend, Anton Holban. The diary from 1935 opens with her name: "Lydia! She rived everybody out of my heart. I have no feeling for anyone any more, except for the passion for her!" In his heart, a little earlier, there had been the feeling for Kitty. In 1930 he published in Parakeet Tickets a few Lines for a New Song, resembling Eminescu's tonality, written explicitly for Kitty: "There broods in me my longing for thee. The pond of my soul, crossed by streams, striped by reeds. The meadows will carry you to me, on willow's arms, bestowing on you gifts of poppies and grass. How can I render the scent of your siblings? Lady's delights leavened in your flesh: it became ethereal and gave them its whiteness. And the lips will caress the soft repose of both." But literature doesn't place Octav Sulutiu and Kitty together, for posterity, but Octav Sulutiu, Lydia and Anton Holban, in the same way as the concerts in 1935 gather the three of them together, in the Athenaeum hall. Sulutiu writes for Lydia a novel: "I'm working at our novel: Lydia's and mine. For, if it hadn't been for her trust, for her impulse, her admiration, her permanent encouragement, I wouldn't have written it. But she spurred me so much, watched over me, got so much involved in the development of this novel, that I was forced to write it and I wrote it for her sake… Epicene. It will finally come out. What will its destiny be?" Lydia's projection from Epicene is called Eveline. At the same time are also written and published fragments from Dania's Games, by Holban, in which Lydia becomes Dania. Some scenes from the two novels are almost identical. On April 19th 1935, Sulutiu considers Holban a "sensitive and sympathetic spirit" and is surprised at "the rare kindliness that struggles inside him and offers itself to you warmly!" On May 8th, he feels the danger: "Holban entered my life like a calamity howler. I don't know what he is orchestrating. (…) Could she be in love with him? God, for several days I have been living like a madman, my brains are burning…" And ten days later, after a meeting with the rival novelist, he writes: "I talked to him for about half an hour. I don't know what kind of strange feelings mingled inside me: I loved and hated him at the same time. I mean, I can't say I loved him. But I cared for him, knowing that he was something close to Lydia. And I concomitantly felt a claw gripping my heart, and the hatred invading me at the thought that he loved her and that she might love him, too." The three of them are followed by a hostile destiny: Lydia, a beautiful and educated Jewish lady, a motherless child, has to emigrate, for fear of persecutions, Holban dies at the age of 35, and Sulutiu at the age of 40. Friends are Camil Petrescu and Mihail Sebastian, as well. Many things bring them together: they are intelligent and have a complex sensitivity, they love the same kind of literature, are responsive to the new, and keen on Proust. Strangely enough, the love for the same woman, which could have functioned as a separation factor, bonds them as well. And the woman is called Leny Caler and is, just as Lydia, Jewish. For the interwar Bucharest people, the actress Leny Caler is one of the best-known characters. Humanitas, 2003

by Ioana Pârvulescu