The Litter Pit

excerpts At the end of every winter, in a hall illuminated by electric lights and covered by wooden floors, near the Central Station, at Locomotiva, the Craftsmen's Ball was the event of the season. Craftsmen from all over Bucharest brought their wives to party and have a good time. At the end, when the dawn cracked, the lottery was announced and they named the Queen of the Ball. She was then invited to the official waltz by the President of the Trades' Federation or by the President of the Workers' Union or by some courageous man. They guarded the door, so that no one that could have ruined the party should have access. Furriers, ironsmiths, carpenters gathered here every year with their wives or mistresses to spend their money. They booked a professional folk music band, put on their best clothes and around 9 o'clock in the evening they would show up in carriages, their pockets full of money, talkative, cheerful and willing to spend. They were accompanied by their fat wives, all in sweat, feeling uncomfortable in their new, fashionable patent leather shoes with low heels. They wore cotton and silk dresses trimmed in ribbons, that crumpled in the heat of the hall, colourful glass beads around their bulky necks. They would watch their husbands who were already tipsy and ready to pick a fight. This was the time and place to ruin a marriage or to fall in love. Young apprentices lost their hearts and heads over some slut present at the ball. One year, the daughter of a tailor spread vitriol over a man's wife, another time a shoemaker trampled his wife because she dared to dance with another man. And the stories they told about those things… Who was counting them, anyway? Starving people came there, feasted and got drunk really quick. That night at the beginning of spring waved like the wind and no one could forget it… On the way back home, Bozoncea remembered his youth and the balls he had attended…Where did they all go? The party at Gib or at Bragadiru, the Gypsies' Ball, where the room was teaming with gypsies, all dressed to the pins, tuxedoes and rigid collars. Or the Officers' Ball held at the Military Hall? How about the Florists' Ball? How many years ago?One night like this, he stole somebody's wife and took her to Tei, in a rented room. What a woman! He made her his lover and stole for her. Some other time, he was caught in a knife fight with several thieves in Dudeşti, over a 15 year old girl, so tender and passionate…The merchants ate well, enjoyed the strong, cool wine and at midnight they took their wives by the waist and danced together, happily and carefree. Sometimes, they spotted a woman they did not know and kept their eyes on her all night long. They loved this part of the ball. They would leave their wives, go outside on a terrace above the railways and touched the woman's breast, promising her money. But the wives were aware of this. The craftsmen got mad and yelled or hit them because they sensed the smell of fresh flesh. Furriers went crazy for the sluts in Griviţa, brought to the ball by their pimps. They would spend a bunch of money without blinking. This was the day when the fornication cried its rights, when they afforded to pet other women, too… Didina was one of her kind. Paraschiv read the coloured posters, stuck on the wooden fence:ZAVAIDOC SINGS HERE! HE IS A FOLK SINGER OF LOCAL AND NATIONAL SONGS. SUPPORT ROMANIAN ARTISTS!YOU DRINK, YOU DIE. YOU DON'T DRINK, YOU STILL DIE! SO BETTER DRINK 'CAUSE LIFE IS SHORT!POT-BELLA INVITES YOU ALL TO EAT!EAT THE FAMOUS HOMEMADE VEAL SAUSAGES!A waiter brought a menu and handed it to Bozoncea. The dishes were written on glossy paper in indelible pencil, in a funny way: MENU POT-BELLA, restaurant and terrace. ZAVAIDOC and his orchestra sing and play here. SNACKS:Radish, cheese, fresh cheese, tomatoes on the rocks, cacciocavallo, Swiss cheese, fish, lobster, oysters, sturgeons, salted roeŢuică1, secărică2, yeast brandyGREEK SALADDo not use the toothpicks over the soup!If you don't like the salad, listen to Zavaidoc's songs! SOUPS:Oily soup with garlic sauce! The famous tripe BRACE YOURSELVES, ROMANIANS! Pork bone soup! Feed the bones to the dogs! MAIN COURSES:Garlic stew with veal and saladChicken meat with white sauce and riceMeat stuffed peppersCrayfish Today: SIPPETSDRINK OUR WINES: Muscat-Ottonel, Saba, Valea DosuluiSTEAKSGrilled Pork "Quickly Down the Throat!"Veal with French friesFAST TRAIN RadishesLamb friesSpinach steaksMititei3, veal sausages, German sausages on requestRed wine, Oh, my dear motherLager beer and ale, draught or mugTip the waiter and don't forget the musicians!LOTS OF FUN!Coffee, homemade cakesLiqueurs, cigarettes Bon appetit at POT-BELLA! The menu ended with a picture of the owner, a 40-year old woman, fat and merry who smiled to her clients from that photo.Nicu-Piele read the menu once. It was confusin'."What it'll be, my friends?" Bozoncea asked everyone.Mână-Mică set his mind on salted roe. The master called for the waiter and ordered. First booze, make it a big one, and put some red wine in ice, to have it for when its time comes. Then cacciacavallo with tomatoes and mititei, as many as you can crowd on the grill, and we'll close up with overdone stakes, cooked over a mild fire, smoked, to make the wine go down smoothly. The band took their place on the wooden stage and played a soft tune that floated over the terrace. Didina and Sandu were served salted roe and beer. All jailbirds ate in silence. They were starving and craved for good food. Their master laid before them everything their heart desired. That's why Gheorghe always love to serve him. His master never counted the pennies and he always partied when party was the call of the day.A fat, grey and dark skinned man got up the stage. He was wearing a very dotted tie, with a knot right under his chin. The merchants clapped their hands. This was Zavaidoc. He had a pleasant voice and he was in a good mood. He started in a soothing voice:When I was a crying babyAnd my mom on breast just fed meNot with milk or with warm stewBut on red wine I simply grew… Nobody carried on with their dinner. Everyone was watching the singer. Even the waiters stayed besides the street lamps, listening to his song. Paraschiv looked up. Didina kept a thin trace of beer foam on her lips. She licked her wild mouth with her tongue and closed her jaws. Damn, she was beautiful! A whole stud farm hopped under her skin. He felt fevers down his body. His mistress sensed his passion and she was playing with a fork as if she didn't care. But Bozoncea noticed the game. The gypsy woman leaned towards him and gave him a smile. That was it. The young man knew then this moment was his and felt overwhelmed by endless joy. He started drinking wine heartily. This needed celebration! The song ended. The merchants gave the singer a big hand. The violins played their sweet sound and the singer began: Gone I am from the armyLa, la, la, la'cause I love my sweet baby La, la, la, la "All right now!" the thieves began to shout.The waiters took their plates away since they stopped eating. The wine left icy marks on the tall, transparent glasses. Its colour reminded them of the dark plum and they were happy they were alive, free and celebrating.1957
1 Romanian spirit, made out of plums2 another Romanian spirit3 Romanian meatball, cooked on a grill, made out of pork minced meat mixed with garlic and other spices

by Eugen Barbu (1924-1993)