Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing Ciprian Istrate’s exhibition A’TOPIA at Galateca in downtown Bucharest. His portraits are arresting—which is no surprise given that he painted church murals for twenty years. Have a look for yourself! I could see speed, assurance, and “mirror eyes,” as the curator Iulia Gorneanu dubbed them, eyes which draw our attention in so many ways, and every time with a vigorous intensity which both pulls us in and keeps us at a distance as if in awe of their presence.
Ciprian Istrate, A’TOPIA, Galateca
Bride in Times of War
Angel During War
Marian Ionescu of the band Direcţia 5 has had his first painting exhibition this year at the largest contemporary art fair in Romania, Art Safari. He then exhibited at ARCUB. Here’s one of my favorite paintings of his show there. It’s titled Urban, and for some reason reminds me of Keith Haring’s lines. It also speaks to me of how we try to impose rational lines onto a city to oppose its organic growth, and how at the end the fabric of that city is a jumbled mixture of lines that make up a palimpsest of its urban history.
Urban, 200 x 180 cm
“And now the living room,” Pamfil invited. . . . Ela found it a particularly welcoming environment, not only because it was nicely tidy and clean, but also because everything in it was old, worn-out, and, as such, not strident but rather self-effacing—a notion Ela embraced in her work as a piano teacher even as she sometimes felt it had been an obstacle in her life, keeping her from becoming, if not a concert pianist, then maybe an accompanying pianist for a violinist like Pamfil, or for one of the musical talent shows on TV.
She was good, or better said, she had been good once: now that she was in Pamfil’s home to show her prowess, she felt inadequate. True, she often spent extra hours after teaching keeping her fingers nimble, but somewhere along the way she stopped teaching herself new pieces, and to her that meant she stagnated in the interpretation of the old pieces too, for so often when you’re confronted with the challenge of interpreting a new work, you realize how you may improve an old one. But such thinking was not helping her much at this moment. She had to muster whatever confidence she could and get on with it. She decided to rest a little—and calm down—on the settee before playing, so she wiped her hands on her thighs and spent a few moments studying Henriette, who sat down at the desk, herself too in the throes of anticipation, trying to decide how to approach their act.
With Pamfil and his music, Anca discovered a different intensity of being alive. She twirled in the room like a girl turning into a woman by magic as she listened to The Doors to her heart’s content, and several times she took that energy outside the dorm while playing their songs in her head. She didn’t know what to make of Jim Morrison’s poetry, but, like koans, his verse left her hovering in a space where she could receive new meanings and feelings.
She also fell in love with Joan Baez, and at noon, when Pamfil was selling his tapes and his friends were away for lunch, she went with determination after the folk musician’s soaring inflections, besotted with her purity of voice, richness of tone, the joy that swelled and ebbed in her music as she tackled sad stories, and her talent as a guitar player.
And then there was Led Zeppelin. Anca played their ballads over and over again, feeling them weave their way in, more beguiling with each turn and return, until they erupted from the pit of her stomach in bursts of guitar, voice, and drums. She couldn’t have enough of Jimmy Page’s guitar-plucking and Robert Plant’s whispering and caterwauling, of all the drumming, strumming, screaming, and wailing.
Anca’s soul was metamorphosing in contact with this new music, and Pamfil kept the process going by supplying her with information and new songs. In the mornings, as she did stretching exercises, he provided the aural background, and in the evenings, as they took walks together, he introduced her to stories from the lives of her newly favorite musicians as well as from Woodstock—that four-day festival of August 1969, with its hundreds of thousands of flower-power hippies and an amazing lineup of musicians in their midst entertaining them with the best rock and folk music on offer, and capturing, as they did so, much of the spirit of the period. Anca soaked it all in, feeling, in turns, entranced, excited, and achingly happy. Anca soaked it all in, feeling, in turns, entranced, excited, and painfully happy.
“It is so intense, it makes you want to stay alive. To keep going. To keep chasing it or trying to make it last. We call it something indefinable that goes by the name of love, but, essentially, it is a puzzle we can’t work out. I’m not sure I’d want to work it out either.”—Amrita Sarkar, Of Opinions
Fellow WordPress blogger Amrita Sarkar of ofopinions.wordpress.com has expanded her blog posts into a book of the same name, Of Opinions. With thoughts ranging from beauty to emotion and memory, anxieties, and relationships and social media, this book is a map to how a gifted twenty-something experiences and judges the world.
The essays are a sort of distilled college compositions, imbued with the insights of a student who wants to own each thesis statement. While I would have preferred conversations structured by their antecedents, there’s an urgency and freshness in Amrita Sarkar’s writing that would have been lost in a more academic essay. And it’s that approach that leads the author to some pleasant moments of discovery, and the older reader to a reconsideration of how to frame certain age-old questions and some new ones, like what is beauty, what do give and take when we’re active on social media, and how millenials engage with other people, the media, and their aspirations.
“The Thinker and the Lover,” Henriette mused as her eyes glided over the movie poster. “Interesting. ‘Inspired by the novel Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse.’” She turned to Ela and Pamfil. “Have you read this book?”
“No,” they both said in unison.
“So does this mean the thinker doesn’t love, and the lover doesn’t think?” Henriette quipped, heartily amused at the notion.
“We’ll see,” Pamfil said. “I imagine it’s probably about personality dominants than a clear-cut dichotomy. I read somewhere that the ‘lover’ is an artist, so he clearly thinks a bit,” he added with a smile.
Some two hours later they were outside again, walking down Dacia Boulevard to Romana Square.
“So how did you like it?” Pamfil asked.
“I liked that the artist was also a wanderer. Many artists are wanderers at heart,” Henriette said.
“I felt sad for the scholar,” Pamfil said. “He helped Goldmund find his path in life but couldn’t help himself. He died unfulfilled, unloved.”
Henriette shook her head in disbelief at Pamfil’s way of showing his soft side. “But Goldmund loved him,” she countered, even-tempered, keeping her gaze ahead.
“But are they separate people or just separate ideas?” Ela put in.
“What do you mean?” Henriette asked, turning to her friend.
“Maybe Narcissus and Goldmund are facets of the same personality, complementary aspects of one’s psyche rather than opposite characters,” Ela said. “Forces that struggle to express themselves, seeking fulfillment of the mind and the senses.”
“Mediated by the mysterious soul, perhaps,” Henriette interjected with a smile.
“Perhaps.” Ela took in the amber light around her, in the sky and on the beautiful late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century villas of French and Neo-Romanian eclecticism.
Henriette looked at Ela looking at the city at sunset.
“My place?” Pamfil asked. “You could humor me and play some piano,” he added, turning to Henriette. “You and Ela.”