The Sabine Amphora

excerpt  THE IRON PALM TREE In front of the Burebista eating inn stops one of those tiny automobiles that no one notices, a "frog" Skoda or a small Fiat, one doesn't know exactly what model, because the respective car raised a huge amount of dust that the Dobrogea wind is now blowing and heaping over the metallic bug. Leon Gaspar, bored to death, gazes at it and, hitting an apparent fly with his towel, enters the inn, disappointed that until that hour of the day, no Mercedes or some other significant car has showed up. This is how this man with vulture eyes and acknowledged intelligence is missing out on the essential; he's not paying attention to the two tourists stepping out of the vehicle by that time reborn from the dust cloud (it is a little Skoda, indeed), and he's not even curious as to what are these two doing there. And I'm assuming these two who have brought the dust with them (literally and in a figurative sense) have some interest in the area, because they have no thought of parking the car there where it says "parking space" and they're not interested in the museum's ticket desk either. They're slugging, for the time being, in the field filled with reddish herbage; they're shaking out the dust from their clothes and taking large steps into one direction or another, as if they were here to measure and buy the deserted land. They finally stop not too far away from the inn, but even closer to the outside wall of the fortress, where they take off their plastic Canadian coats, get down on their knees and start burying hooks into the ground using a small wooden hammer. It's easy enough to presume that these people will spend the night in their double bell tent, an orange colored tent that one enters on four feet and in which one sleeps beautifully. This is how one finds refuge even during the cold months like October, when the first hoar-frost falls. For now it's a warm September and our drivers have raised their small and practical refuge within ten minutes. Now they're unpacking their small touristy luggage, the pneumatic mattresses, the bags stashed with food supplies, the spirit lamp, the folding chairs and… stop! More and more things will appear from the luggage and the shape and size of some of them will arouse great interest. But let us hastily describe the characters first. The one who was driving is a tall, athletic man, with harsh features and yet a certain sweetness about his face, something that inspires kindness and a sincere way of being, some sort of an inner peace, specific to a wag person. He's a brunet, in his forties, he moves with small gestures and sometimes he exercises a pleasant laughter which smoothes out his forehead and shows his healthy teeth; he's in the habit of holding between his teeth a pipe whose root is too big compared to the short ending, a pipe which he lights only in moments of extreme nervousness. For the rest of the time, he's just playing with it, he bites its end and he runs it in his mouth just to pass out the time. The guy's clothing is original enough for the present season and place: he's wearing baggy, very baggy trousers, almost shalwar-like in size, tailored out of brick-red fabric and basketball shoes (what an idea!), and through the dark, tightly fit sweater one can easily see his muscles. Under his white, narrow-brimmed small hat, his big black eyes shine intensely. The athletic guy is accompanied by a fifteen year old girl. Her clothing is a mixture of Beatles-hippie, very fashionable amongst teenagers, black velvet frock-coat, hippie trousers, high-flapped jacket, slender waist and a pile of metallic buttons everywhere. The prankish hat, vividly colored, gives the flapper a Gavroche-like appearance, as the clothes underneath (an orange tee-shirt and stockings of the same color that fit the shiny, bulky-heeled mauve shoes) enhance her feminine grace. So the boyish girl is in tone with fashion and with the trials of this time in which youth surpasses itself. The presence of the two unfolds its mystery as the guy in baggy pants and black sweater uncovers a paper roll that he unwraps and then fixes on two sticks, thus making a banner which reads: "Dimos the Greek, Itinerant Photographer." The objects of his trade start to be revealed: photographic cameras in various types and sizes, projectors, tripods and, of course, the always present silver-nitrate bath for instant made photos. The boyish girl's responsibilities reveal themselves very quickly as well; obviously, the girl helps out the master photographer. More precisely, she deals with all the trifles and the arrangements of the photo-shooting; she's the director of the little spectacle. "Where's the palm tree?" asks the man in the baggy pants, using his authoritarian voice. The little director exits the orange tent dragging along a palm tree almost naturally-sized, which she fixes a few steps further into the ground invaded by sorrel grass; it's a beautiful, green palm tree, one might say that it is a natural one and that it spreads around coolness and rustle if one forgets that it a piece tailored in iron, giving the photo a touch of life within a landscape that pleasures the eye. The trick is successfully used by all photographers. Soon the other tricks of the photographic art come to light. The kid reveals two period attires that look as if they had been borrowed from the movie "The Dacians" (a patrician one and a plebeian one), a cardboard shield, a whisked yellow copper helmet and a Corinth colonnade embellished by acanthi leaves, a plant resembling the Baragan thistle. Before long, the athletic man gives up on his pipe that he has strongly held between his teeth and switches to a metal funnel called speaking trumpet (which amplifies the voice by a few times), and says these words, thundering over the wilderness: "Here at Dimos, the Greeko, we take pictures worth a dime!" People flow in like into the circus; most of them are tourists visiting the fortress, a cluster of pupils from Dobrogea, brought there by their teacher, a few fishermen, a few English saleswomen, two Italians who could have used a haircut and, finally, the day-laborers group involved in the archaeological digging under the fortress wall. "Go see what's going on out there," says Aurica Pasat to Leone, astonished by the fuss outside. "Right away, boss," promises the clever Leon Gaspar, disguised as he is as a humble country waiter. His running in the fields looks like a bird's flying; the waiter's apron is swelling like a couple of white wings, and the great detective lands in the bustle near the orange tent like a heavy puddle bird. Ion Creangă, 1970

by Simion Pop (b. 1930)