The Delta - Reality And Symbol

I've only been to the Danube Delta a couple of times in my relatively long existence: the first time was at the end of the 50's, when I dwelt in the Sfantu Gheorghe (Saint George) area, at an observation resort belonging to the Romanian Academy, a resort that was following the effects of the local food supply, based mostly, in the case of that rather remote human group, on fish meat and grease. I was mostly a tourist there, biding my time, basking in the sun on the vast sand beaches untouched by humans, going on boat trips for miles and miles, driven solely by my fantasy. The general impression I got from the first moments was that of the exotic, of the unique even, because the contrast with what I had seen in the Romanian landscape became clear right away. And not only the land, but all that was not land yet depended strictly on it, the people, the birds, the wild animals, the fish awakened interests that I hadn't tried before. Their constant fuss, during the day, but especially at night time, the thousand calls and alarm cries that I couldn't decipher although they made out a significant concert, attracted me towards the unknown. But the most unusual thing was the beach which spread before me, a beach to be envied even by California itself, which made me ask a local man why isn't this setting prepared for tourists, something that would bring incalculable benefits. He smiled and answered that if I am to come back the following year, I might not find it there anymore and yet another one would await for me, a few hundred meters further away. A simple change of season, an ordinary winter, with its blizzards and storms, would have covered or eaten everything so that this moving land could offer me a surprise even more attractive, thus bewildering me. We were witnessing a different geological era there and even the most meticulous and scientific maps couldn't offer anything but general indications.The second time I entered the Delta from a different point, through Tulcea, on a fancy boat, together with a group of traveling writers, a few years after the Liberation from communism. The boat was a historical relic dating back almost 150 years and it offered us the delights of civilization for hours on end, as well as the services of an excellent floating restaurant in the middle of the overwhelming wilderness… And yet did the Danube Delta still deserve this label which continued to be appealing to our world of the urban civilization?The idea of exotic had lost its priority in my mind; I had seen in the meantime numerous other swamps, ponds, lagoons, with their aquatic wonders; I had reactivated old childhood images when – and I believe this is the oldest memory of my life – I was taken to Oltenita, the area of the great Danubian spates with its fabulous number of fish that amazed me because they were jumping out of the water which seemed to be too small for them and they were not swimming like I had been told. I have visited the huge Geaca marsh before the "drainage" performed by the communists and the Braila swamp before it was attacked by the same communists; I realized the great importance of the Danube's spate which carries not only the waters of Tisa, Jiu, Olt, Arges, Ialomita, Siret, Prut and Dniester (Nistru); its waters carry people, and they have also been the opening towards the broad world for thousands of years.Little by little the image of our people as a Carpathian one which spread also way beyond the rock stronghold was formed in my mind: by the first internal testimonies, Romanians were thoroughly mastering, organizing and exploiting the ponds. Almost all the monasteries in the Carpathians had ponds on the Danube, as a major source of food and income; since fishing wasn't a solitary business for those practicing it a thousand years ago, nor some kind of sports entertainment using a fishing line. There were, on the Danube line, big human conglomerates, villages, settlements that are in dependence with the mountain people, organized in collectivities that share a complex division of labor. When I was up in the mountains, several shepherds told me that, in the summer time, on clear days, one can identify at the time a much larger area of the Danube, through the silvery glow; it was a part of their existential perimeter, more than what one could deduce from the geographical maps. It was an area that belonged to them and it was also an ideal border line, a frontier that didn't divide ethnic groups but helped them come into contact with each other.And the Danube Delta, which was born out of a still on-going process, regardless of its numerous attractions, is more than anything a symbol to me. For even though it is a final point, it continues to advance towards the East; although it was transformed by some people into an evacuation canal, it's not a dead area filled with interesting relics; the Delta attracts millions of living creatures that, provided the Delta hadn't been there, would avoid us. On maps, it suggests a deserted land, although it is probably one of the most dynamic regions of the earth, maybe even (in the hope that this shall stop) a point of international conflicts.

by Alexandru George (b. 1930)