The Eternal Return

An interior made for appearance, fitting the extravagance of some poems In the beginning, gazing at the photos, I stood in the doorway and had the feeling of entering a house deserted by its owners, where I was left with the secret of its nature hidden inside the still objects. At a first glance, the exultant dance of lights, outlining the objects in shades of black and white, the shimmering of furniture and the heavily adorned carpets, embroideries and tapestries made me feel Maica's strong temper and her insatiability for art objects. The magic charm that wraps me exhales from a secret placement of all these objects in perfect harmony. They don't look as an impersonal amount of fancy objects piled up by some rich fellows, but they breathe the overflowing passion and sublimated emotions into sensual pleasure for art. Everything bears the mark of rational positioning in space, a thing that does not make me feel guilty for being indiscrete, but for paying homage to Maica's frenzy, fantasy and temper. She turned into the prisoner of the rational arrangement of objects, just like in the pictures taken only with the purpose of being shown. I cannot recover here anything of the charming simplicity that floated around the house in Florica – stylish furniture, strictly functional, covered in linen and Romanian embroideries – the house that took me to another step along the evolution of the Brătianu family.When I asked Pia, Dinu's sister, to tell me about Sabina Cantacuzino, she wrote to me the following: "She lived isolated in her beautiful house, richly adorned with wonderful furniture and curios. This was not a dead and sad house, like Maica's, but instead it wore wonders, just like a cave full of treasures, purposely arranged in a certain order for a child like me who imagined entering a new dimension every time she passed through the salons and small rooms stashed with large objects, a world even more real than the real one, than any solid present I was living."I remember entering Maica's house in a lucid enchanted and puzzled frame of mind.In the library I can see a shaded window, half covered by a thin curtain – light pierced the invisible windows and wide open doors in all the other rooms, casting a mother-of-pearl tinge over the rooms that looked like shells.If I don't pay too much attention to the glass windows and to the shelves holding fancy curios, jades, silver plates, lacy and painted fans loosely scattered all over the place, not crammed as in an Annunzino interior, I can unveil the perfect functional plan of arranging furniture. The symmetric counter balance, on both sides of the bed- sideboards and chairs in the French Biedermeyer styled bedroom, the rigidity and simplicity of the few pieces in the living room whose door was "art nouveau" styled, the logical disposal of armchairs and sofas in the Louis XVI salon, in three separate groups so that guests could gather up to talk in groups that shared the same opinions. The furniture in the library is heavy, sumptuous, in Brumărescu taste. Books are held captive, like in a cage, by the shelves vertically separated by twisted columns, trimmed in the upper part by arcades. Volumes fastened in leather come in a certain order. Thus, on the upper shelf sit the dictionaries, the encyclopedias, and The History of Romanians by A.D. Xenopol. Hence, I believe they stopped making the object of study. The complete works of the French classics follow on the next shelves – in the same order they had been registered in this library's catalogue, now preserved by the National Library. Many of the volumes had later passed on to Ion Pillat and I recognize them by their ornamental counterfoil. With Ion Pillat, the bottom shelf of his library held the dictionaries, the encyclopedias, atlases, albums with Impressionist painters, and the album of Goya's engravings – Disasters of War and Don Quixote, with illustrations by Gustave Doré, Arabian Nights translated by Mardrus with expensive illustrations. On the upper shelves, the special preferences and considerations of the poet himself aligned the books. In Maica's library, books followed her own order and not the poet's. A massive ink-pot laid on the framed table by the library shelves, displaying a bronze adornment of Moses holding the tables of the ten commandments, inspired by Michelangelo's statue. While wandering inside the rooms, I indulge myself in the elegant dance of Sèvres statues, in French porcelain pots, painted with delicate swaying lines gathering in soft flowers and bouquets, in the Persian bowls with blue drawings on a milky background, in the twinkling of the bronze Buddha statues. The table and one of the walls in the living room are covered in Bukhara embroideries, displaying purple haloes surrounded by creeping stalks and blue leaves. Down the walls of the Japanese chamber overlooking the green house, there hanged colourful engravings portraying samurais. The pearly silks covering the armchairs, the screens supported by bamboo strings and the heavy curtains framing the greenhouse entrance are adorned with Japanese gardens and birds. The violet drape hanging above the doorframe, which is now in the possession of the Art Museum, depicts an entire legend along a frieze. The green house ends in a stoneware wall, with beautiful white haloes on a turquoise background especially designed for Maica by the French artist André Methé. A graceful marble arch goes round a small fountain made up of a cup on top a column which rises right in the middle of another cup. The fountain is dry. The coziness of the green house, the veiled bluish reflection of the stoneware wall reminds me of gracious lyrics from Ion Pillat poems: "In the blue-green mosque/ Marble flows into the fountain/ "Let it spring!" the Moslems say/ All your life you will be listening/ Without knowing if it laughs forever/ Or forever it shall weep/ For one thousand years passed/ Melting laughs and weeps together."The lamps are extremely charming, with their silky shades, embroided or rippled veils, tightened with velvet ribbons or in thick stripes held up by twisted columns lathed in wood or marble, or formed by Persian ceramics flower pots, or French or Chinese pottery. They are specifically arranged so that their light should be cast over some armchair with its coffee table, wrapping in their light the person who might be reading at that time or the groups sitting on sofas or in the armchairs enjoying their cups of tea.I rest my eyes on the golden and silvery bulgy ornaments spread over the piano in the Japanese room and over the bedcover in the sleeping room. At the end of the bed, there lies a Renaissance tapestry, in soft faded grays and golden shades. It tells the story of Hannibal's enslavement by consul Claudius Nero. I still remember Levi, the antiquary, rolling the tapestry and leaving the house after Maica died and when every inheritor showed up to claim their part of the heritage. I gaze at the glimmer of the cloths and of the brocades cladding the armchairs and sofas in the living room. At the freshness of the joyful gerberas and other flowers spread all over the carpets and on the Oriental rugs, untouched by the time's fatigue, pieces which had also been sold to Baraghian, the Armenian merchant. One of Maica's portraits painted by French artist Ernest Laurant hangs on the wall in the living room. It depicts Maica sitting in an armchair, in her flowering maturity, her dark curly hair, gathered at the back of her neck outlining her graceful cheeks, attracting you with her mysterious eyes. Her swaying waist is clad in a golden silk dress that perfectly reveals the curves of her body. The delicate flounce of a jacket touches her shoulders. She holds her thin arms gathered in her lap as if she was taking part in a conversation.Ion Pillat's first volumes abound in the joyful lyricism produced by knowledge, in the need to hide behind different topics and frames of mind. Once these masks assumed, he could try revealing his own emotions and impressions or offering a bookish answer to the questions that tormented him. All his poems denude Ion Pillat's inner reality, simplifying imaginative feelings so true to what the poet fed on, more or less consciously. Or it could go the other way round that these impulses transfigured into borrowed masks, so necessary to an elevated spirit who yearned for melting his obsessions into poetry, holding back his character.The poems' settings and topics, perfectly arranged in cycles, reflect the eclectic interiors designed by his mother. Nevertheless, the abundance of themes or exotic and learned motives is interrupted by the native inspirational frame of mind, collected in poems such as Old Odes and The House of Memories. They incubate the embryo for the volume Upstream the Arges. Whenever I pass through the door of this house, like a cave full of surprises, I feel at ease contemplating the family photos scattered all over the house. Forming a fan on the walls with their diversity of frames, or scattered on chests and tables, each screaming out its individuality, the characters in the pictures give dynamism and animate the lonely rooms. "The Grandfather," I.C. Brătianu's portrait, the father who grew a beard, his head covered in white heavy curls is exhibited in the living room, next to Queen Mary's portrait which depicts her with a gem tiara, adorned with Greek meanders. On a small table in the bedroom, there is a picture of Pia Brătianu when she was 16 and about to get married. She has that strange deep and calm eyes. Next to this one, another photo shows her in her old age, around the year 1918, on the lawn at the house in Florica. She sits on a wicker armchair, her white hair is hidden by a black scarf, tight at the back of her neck. The eyes sank under her forehead, but her mouth gives away the shadow of a smile that softens her tired cheeks. Oni, Dinki, Dan and Vintilica, her four grandsons, sit around her, dressed in white sailors' clothes. They are the sons of her own sons, Dinu and Vintilica. She holds Pia in her lap, her great granddaughter. Pia is Ion Pillat's daughter, her grandson. Sandu, the son of her grandaughter, Pia Danielopol, leans against her knees. She might be compared to an old doe, surrounded by her cubs. There is another photo of Pia, at the side of the bed, dressed in casual dark gowns, resting on a wattle chair on the porch at Florica, reading the newspaper with her glasses on the tip of her nose. Her brother's photo, Ionel Brătianu, hangs on the wall on the other side of the bed. Pictures of her children cover Maica's chest desk: Ion, Pia and Nicolae, dressed as young peasants along with her great grandsons, Pia and Dinu.In 1928, the date on the album, Maica and Gradpapa were alone in the world and dangereously sliding toward old age. In the loneliness of these rooms, only the pictures span the yarn of their life. Before I leave the room, I take a last glimpse at the painting hanging above the chest that Maica used to contemplate when she was lying down on her bed. The painting depicts white and soft roses, at the very peak of their blossom. One of the flowers leans tired on the brim of the vase, but the whole bouquet preserves its splendour, romantically singled out by the dark background. I imagine Maica resembling this rose bouquet in her glorious times.I wrote to Pia about the album, which had been dedicated to her in memory of the years she had been brought up by Maica. I wrote her about the elegant sobriety of the bedrooms which never inspired any love, about the greatness of saloons and about the oppressing atmosphere in the living room, despite the magic of Bukhara embroideries, about the hostility of the library where all the books seem prisoners of the shelves and about my intriguing thought that those marvellous vases never held any flowers. Pia replied with her own letter on February, 23rd 1918. 1996

by Cornelia Pillat