Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Addendum to Day Two in Bucharest

Here we are, enjoying an apple-flavored tobacco hookah!

Tuesday, July 13, 2009: Bucharest, Romania

Michael has posted something about the first half of the day, with Anca and Mihaela--so, although that meeting was the main focus of the day, I’ll leave that description to him. I’ll focus on the after-meeting biz.

In the second half of the day we searched up some bookstores and looked for nonsense in them. Ultimately, however, the later part of the day found us in tourist mode--walking for miles with a map and a camera in hand. Bucharest is a fascinating mixture of traditions and history. For me, it was my first experience with “the East.” In the morning we heard roosters (in the heart of the city) and a Muslim prayer chant echoing though the alleys. There were ornate, North African screens and designs in the windows on some of the older buildings, and we stopped for a beer at an Egyptian restaurant that came fully equipped with apple flavoured tobacco hookahs, which we smoked.

There were hints of the communist past in some of the deserted buildings, and in some of the rather distinctive, extremely huge buildings left behind by the executed dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. But there were also neighbourhoods that spoke of the opulence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire--and then there were all the people--the kind, warm and handsome Romanian. There is casualness, or coolness you might say, to Romanian women and men that I have never really noticed in my travels other places. There is simply a relaxed confidence in so many people here that it just makes you feel good.

One way I have tried to understand places I visit is through the graffiti that you find on a particular city’s walls. Bucharest strikes me as peculiarly interesting in this regard. The graffiti in this city is unusually comical, nonsensical at times, and is filled with stylized representations of absurd or extreme situations and people. Michael has likely already posted a few of the photos we took of this local art. To me, this graffiti represents something about Bucharest; its existentially confused 20th century history--and the need for the people to write a new story in a new way. I hope you like the photos.

Late in the evening we found ourselves sipping Romanian beer and eating local game for dinner. There was a sort of Romanian mariachi-type band that was wandering about the restaurant. Oddly they were playing Elvis Presley songs. They asked me if I had any requests and I happily obliged by asking for a Romanian country-dance song. They dove into it with enthusiasm. It was great. By the way, I am not kidding when I report that we ate bear for dinner.



PS. No kidding. Not boar--bear.

PPS. We got an email today from Wim Tigges, eminent scholar of nonsense literature in The Netherlands. Professor Tigges is probably the only person who has ever published TWO books focussed on the academic study of nonsense literature. He is HUGE in our field. We were very excited to get his email, and to accept his invitation to visit him at The Hague, in Amsterdam, on August 13.

PPPS. Michael wore a funny hat today and looked like he was on safari.

PPPPS. Michael eats much more--and more often--than I do.

PPPPPS. I am not “obsessed” with the idea that flowerings of nonsense occur during times of social unrest. It’s just that it’s all I ever think about--and it’s the only thing that matters. And Michael discussed this with me and I think he said something that sounded like "it sounds like a healthy attitude.”

Day 2 in Bucharest

This morning I photographed one of our most significant nonsense finds yet: the graffitied bars in front of some doors near our Villa. I particularly like the “Nu” fellows and the terrified sheep-creature, but I’m sure you will all find favorites. Perhaps in the comments you might describe the bits of narrative depicted here? All I can tell you is …BASE! (All your base belong to us?). Click on the photo below to see the gallery...

Bucharest Graffiti

We had our first official meeting today with two Romanian children’s literature scholars, Anca Dumitrescu and Mihaela Mocanu, both professors at the Romanian Institute for Educational Sciences, who very kindly offered to help us in our quest. They brought up figures such as Tudor Arghezi, Urmuz, Ionesco, Marin Sorescu, and Paul Celan. Romanians seem to have a strong tradition of nonsense, though most Westerners have only heard of Ionesco (who himself is usually thought of more as French). We suspect that the revolution will also be a source of nonsense—and if this proves to be true it would, for better or worse, further encourage Kevin’s obsession with the connection between civil strife and the proliferation of nonsense. I was reminded of the time that I spoke in his nonsense class at Winnipeg, when all of the questions his students asked of me were suspiciously drifting in the direction of this, his thesis topic. Hmm.

I was also slobberingly delighted that we heard back from Wim Tigges (as Kevin wrote about in his piece), whom we will be meeting in Amsterdam. Tigges was my first real introduction to the discipline of nonsense scholarship, and, it might be said, that I have shaken my theoretical salt not too far from his nonsensical pork chop.

PS Kevin never eats. We wandered the streets under the hot sun for hours, and it was my bad luck that we took his bag along rather than mine (which holds my store of emergency provender). The only sense I can make of it (which also confirms some of the rumors I’ve heard) is that he is able to photosynthesize. He does sometimes appear slightly, and surprisingly healthfully, greenish. Or perhaps that was the bear.

PPS What I said was that it was a stealthy platitutde. Nothing healthy about it!

PPPS The bear was fantastic.