On the floor below lived Major Mihailescu, who had two children, Mircea and Coca (the daughter had an air I now recognize as Japanese), with whom I didn’t become friends. The major had an orderly he called Zachariah, with whom the maidservant who used to take me for walks had fallen in love, calling him “Zakarias” and singing a pitiful song that ended with the words “Zakarias szép eletem.” One day, the major had a conflict with Mr. Borescu, apparently having to do with the beating of carpets at unauthorized hours. When the insulted concierge leapt up to hit the major, the latter rushed into his house, from which he appeared in a martial pose, brandishing a saber in the air like a fencer, threatening the head of the typographer, who didn’t know how to respond to this unexpected invitation to a duel. I remember that during the 1940s, as a discharged general, Mihailescu was named inspector of the casino in Sinaia.
In the back of the courtyard lived Doctor Valeriu Negrila, married to a beautiful Polish woman. I was friends with their daughter, Valerica, while I was little, but later, as often happens, we drifted apart and hardly even greeted each other when I became a “Şagunist” and she a student at the Princess (Elena). One day when I was returning from a walk with the maidservant, I saw two people dressed in white carrying a stretcher on which lay a body covered with a sheet, with locks of black hair hanging out from under it. The maidservant later told me that Valerica’s mother had been found to have “taken poison,” but after a few days I saw her passing through the courtyard with Valerica in tow. I don’t recall the other neighbors, but I cannot forget the entrance hallway in the evenings, with gilded metal bars glittering in the light of the bulbs, and marble veneer shining in a way that seemed fairylike.
Just outside the alleyway, on the right and left were two shops: Lischka, men’s clothing; and Books Cooperative Enea, Stinghe, and Ţigoiu, one of whose owners, Professor Sterie (Sterica) Stinghe, had written a few books about the history of Brasov, and whose wife, named Lucia I think, had the habit of strutting around haughty and elegant, the tapping of her high heels audible from far off.
I lived on Customs Street, I believe, until around 1928–29, when I finished primary school, thus eight or nine years, maybe ten. The fact is, I cannot recall exactly when we moved from Spitz Palace, just as I cannot remember exactly when we left Prundul Florilor.
But I have some vivid memories of the building, which during the early years did not yet have electric lights. I recall those autumn days when Mr. Stroescu, the father of my primary school classmate, Elena Stroescu, used to set up his machine in the Graft Valley, beyond the walls, and cut whole cartloads of wood, which after being chopped up was hauled into the cellar on a kind of wooden stretcher by backwoodsmen hired by the day, who at lunchtime would pull out of their knapsacks “pită şi slană” [bread and fatback, usu. slănină] eating slowly and silently.
I recall going with the maidservant to the first silent films I saw at the movie theatre Modern (a wooden shack sitting on the site they later made into the city park), where I enjoyed watching Lia Mara, Maciste, Zigoto, Fatty, Harry Piel, Pat and Patachon, with little Patachonel, and then returning at nightfall to find at the entrance to our apartment dozens of galoshes and overshoes belonging to the “students” at the night classes Father used to teach in the years after unification [of Transylvania and other territories with the Old Kingdom of Romania]: bank directors, officials, attorneys, merchants, who were keen to learn Romanian in those first years of Greater Romania. About that time, Zeidner Books had come out with a grammar of Romanian for foreigners, whose authors were Father and Michael Teutsch. It was a bit slapdash, of a type the Saxons called Zwinkelmisch [lit. ‘twinklemix’], but it sold well and was reprinted several times.
After the students left, Father used to amuse himself by telling stories about the mistakes his “students” would make. Carved in my memory are words like “Berger-leţkia” (lecţia) [lesson], or “tratavitele” in place of tratativele [‘negotiations’], which the Hungarians and Saxons had trouble pronouncing, as they did â as opposed to a. Other friends that I remember from the age of 4 or 5, besides Puiu Borescu and Valerica Negrila, were the sisters Takáts, Tony and Baba, somewhat older than me.
On the Promenade, where I went with the maidservant, I had “friends” who seemed at that time to be over a hundred years old, if not older: “Old Man Snow,” gone completely white, who talked with me as if I was his age, whom they used to call Cipu (Cipariu) or Ţipu, and who I believe was a judge on “penzie” [pensie ‘pension’]. One “friendship” that my parents did not regard well was that with the doctor of law, Aurel Olteanu, who wore a shiny clip on his tie, patent leather shoes with laces, and a long, sturdy cane, with whose handle he would hook my calf, while glaring at me with bulging eyes and shouting: “I’ve got you, you knave! I’ve got you, you bandit!” To me, the words were amusing, as I knew what bandit meant (Tomescu and Munteanu were famous bandits at the time), but I had no idea what knave [şnapan] meant and my parents showed themselves to be less than enchanted by this “enrichment” of vocabulary. The third “friend” was a little, or rather a short, elderly man, Patruţ Pop, wrapped summer and winter in a long overcoat, something between a blanket and a frock, wearing a black hat, who would stroke my head without saying a word. I vaguely remember having heard that Patruţ Pop was from the family of someone who had played a leading role on the Field of Liberty, at Blaj [in 1848]. As I grew and entered primary school, I lost track of those friends of my early childhood.