Another day, another story. It started in the cultural community center in Uzdin, Doina, up in the gallery of naive Romanian painters. This is where dancing, singing, theatre and festivals happen. Let’s not talk about the budget now. There isn’t enough money and there will never be. Much is done out of passion.
There is a lot of politics, of course. But that’s not what I want to write about. I’m talking to a young director, she runs the community centre, she dances, she acts in theatre plays, she’s also a souffleur, but she doesn’t want to get involved in politics, even if she sometimes has to. Her mother was born in Uzdin, her father in Pitesti, they met in Timisoara, at the Faculty of Medicine, and they got together.
My father came here and got married in 1989, in April. They lived in Zrenjanin, that’s where I was born, but I always used to come to my grandparents in Uzdin when I was little. I went to school and high school there, then I went to university in Novi Sad, I too studied medicine because that’s what I wanted since I was a child, but in the third year I gave up. The medical system in our country literally broke me, I couldn’t continue.
Doctors don’t care about patients here. My parents wanted to help me and decided to create a home for the elderly, one that would feel like home to old people. Very few children are born nowadays, young people move abroad, there is no one to take care of the elderly who are left here alone. That’s when I discovered the Faculty of Social Gerontology in Novi Sad. I transferred, I graduated, the degree was drama. I was detoured and made to turn back hundreds of times, but I resisted, I didn’t give up. Quality of Life, Old People in Old People’s Homes, that’s what the paper was called, and on May 25, 2022, the ordeal was over. I graduated. The old people’s home is under construction, it’s almost ready, it will be here, in Uzdin.
My mother and father were both gynaecologists, as well as actors. My grandfather, my mother’s father, was actor and director, he turned 80 this year. In Uzdin people used to learn how to sing, paint, act, you joined the orchestra, the dance troupe, it was mandatory. Two films were shot in Uzdin. Broken Youth and The Man in the Deserted House.
What else could I do? It’s 1:00 at night and I’m binge watching the films. They will help me understand better. Yes, you can find them on Youtube. Yes, featuring Dan Puric, Adrian Titieni, Carmen Trocan, I’ll let you find out who else. Love stories, land deals, arranged marriages, broken youth, like the title says. I don’t know if you’ll get around to watching them, there are many explicit scenes, even one of an abortion. Siminica has to get rid of a pregnancy and goes to an old woman, who rubs lard on her belly and then presses the abdomen with a bottle. Leave it to me, I’ll get it out! Let’s go out for a cigarette, I say. I notice that 131 people have watched the film Broken Youth.
I’m telling you all this because I don’t know if you’ll take the time to watch the film …but through me and the snippets of life I’m writing here, maybe you’ll create another world, which will swallow this one, and that universe you will have created will be, in turn, assimilated by another bigger story, because that’s how life is, a big story and yet too short.
Zina and Cola are two young people forced to marry. He is too young, she looks like something out of Sofia Ionașcu’s paintings. The wedding happens after two murders and a rape. You’d think life in the village is quiet. Any concession is worth making for land, any sacrifice for descendants, and all to be endured by the women. Once again, a word I heard in Uzdin grates my ears, but the meaning is different there: when they say a woman has given birth to a child, it automatically means she has given birth to a boy; when she gives birth to a female child, they say she has given birth to a girl.
Watch the film, it’s very explicit, often painfully truthful, it’s admirable that they didn’t put any makeup on reality.
The Man in the Deserted House. Ioța Vinca and Todor Crețu Toșa.
Another story, a theatre play written in Uzdin in the 50s and 60s, performed over the years in three different casts, also adapted for film. A cruel reality that existed in Serbia, families separated because of migration to America. Sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, siblings and parents who left everything and went to earn dollars in America. Some returned, many did not. Abandoned villages, forgotten customs, homesickness and missing the family, broken hearts, greedy women, the eternal chase for money and wealth.
I wonder how many more stories are hidden in Uzdin. Every day I discover a little more. To hear testimonies, recorded life stories.
The mother of the person I’m talking to starred in both the play and the film The Man in the Deserted House. This was in the 90s, and she, the mother, was pregnant with the woman we know today as Catarina Casandra Ecovoiu Rămianț. Catarina considers that this was her first role, still in her mother’s womb. When she was 7 years old, she appeared on the stage of Uzdin for the first time, the play being directed by her grandfather. It was called the Shaduf of the Well. According to her mother, Catarina would only behave at rehearsals, that’s where she found her peace and her place.
Around the age of 5, she was at rehearsals, the souffleur was missing, and she was able to whisper to the actors on stage entire lines. It was the same with dancing, love at first sight. My grandfather was an actor, my mother an actress, my father an actor, almost everyone in Uzdin acts or is passionate about theatre, dance, poetry, ping pong, handball, orchestra, they can’t live any other way. They organise festivals, they make time, they rehearse three months for a performance. Even if they can’t all come to rehearsals, Casandra fills in the missing roles, which is why she can recite the lines even if you wake her up in the middle of the night. She enjoys acting, she knows the stage is where she belongs.
By chance and out of luck, when she was still a child, she got a role which involved performing in drag and she managed to make the whole room laugh by pointing the shotgun at the audience. She has not forgotten that moment and always seeks and wishes for that closeness with the audience. That feeling when I’m on stage and when I have to be a completely different person and when I have to put aside my everyday life and become someone else, that’s what I like and that’s what attracted me to theatre. Every day we are all striving to be something we are not anyway. As long as I can remember, I’ve been taking care of the house.
I asked Casandra if she loves herself, if she respects herself, because she seems like a serene, content person. She tells me that acting has helped her be serene. That’s where she grew up. With her mother’s gang which was made up of actors. A theater troupe that’s been alive since 1972. The Todor Cretu Toșa troupe. Adam Dalea is the oldest actor at the moment. I wonder what stories he has to tell.
Adam Monciu and Irimia Șămanț are the only ones left from the original troupe. Șămanț no longer performs, but Adam has no choice, since his whole family, from granddaughter to daughter to son-in-law are on stage. I thought of how much he could tell me if I caught him in the right mood. Selfishly enough, I even thought I could get an honest, unfiltered acting lesson for myself. But life gives you lessons that wipe the smile off your face. There’s no comedy without tragedy. I talked to Casandra about her grandfather, Adam Monciu, about his contribution to the cultural life of Uzdin, about his hard work and dedication. But life takes you by surprise and gives you too much grief to manage to overcome or forget it. You are no longer able. Or you are able, but you no longer want to. Cheerfulness doesn’t come as easily anymore.
It’s the story of Octavian, Casandra’s uncle. He died young. He needed a healthy kidney and he got it from Casandra’s grandmother, Adam’s mother. It was the first kidney transplant in the country. Octavian has two boys, they are now all grown up, they were 5 and 6 years old at the time. Their father woke up, made his coffee and collapsed. He had a heart attack. Cassandra was there. She was 16. It was her first brush with death and the first death in her family. Her great-grandmother had died when she was 6, but now, with Octavian, she could understand and grasp what was happening.
But it wasn’t easy when her great-grandmother died either, there was no chapel in the village, the open coffin was kept at home, she wanted to be close to her great-grandmother, she didn’t cry, but when the priest came and the coffin was closed, that part she didn’t understand. Why should great-grandma leave home and where would she go? She doesn’t remember what she was told, what explanation they gave her.
It’s been 13 years since Octavian passed away. Cassandra cries. Some goodbyes cannot be healed or forgotten. Casandra chooses to ease the pain and loneliness of old people. She knows that’s her purpose, but she also knows it won’t be easy. People are not made of stone.
I did my internship in old people’s homes. It was ok, but I cried too. I cry even when I see a dog on the street. But there was this one time. I went out for a smoke, and the most painful thing happened. We were standing there, hiding. The daughter of an old woman had come to visit, and they went outside because it was a nice weather. The mother was sitting with the daughter at the table and the daughter says: … and what did I say my name was? And I realize that the old woman had dementia and she just looked at her daughter… Jelena, that’s what I said my name was. Yes, yes, Jelena. And what did I say I was to you? At this point I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I’m your daughter, my dear mother. And I’ve seen a lot in my life.
One man died and two hours later he came back to life. The doctor had just pronounced him dead, but they wiped some alcohol on his eyelids and he started to blink. He lived for another week and then he died. I’m aware that I’m going to get attached, that’s me, but I think that’s the essence of it. There will be a boundary, but I think that if I start to care, only then will I be able to help them. That’s important to me. What I’ve seen in homes, children bringing their parents and abandoning them there, that’s what always hurt me. I can’t understand it. My grandparents on my mother’s side are still alive, but I couldn’t take them someplace and not care how they are treated. That’s why I want to work hard and give my all to make them feel good here. That’s why I named the home Zlatne Godine. Golden Years. Motto: Give life to your years, don’t give your years to life.
I would never leave my parents in a nursing home, I couldn’t, I would do anything to make them comfortable at home. Still, we are opening a home for the elderly. There are 17 beds, the house is big, we want our elderly to be comfortable. My parents will also have their gynaecological practice there. They want to stay in Uzdin, I’m also still here because I got married here.
Casandra’s love story also took place in Uzdin. She used to dance at the community center, her husband to be was the director of the community center, he was handsome and they fell in love with each other. They have been seriously in love since 2013. They got married in 2019. A love story that’s been going on for 13 years and she still missed him dearly as I was talking to her. And Casandra knows that the time is coming to have a child of her own.
As a child, I was very beloved by everyone in the family. I was also the first child. And for Octavian, my uncle, I was his cure. Whenever he was not feeling well, both physically and mentally, I healed him with my presence, I helped him charge his batteries. I had a very close relationship with him, at times maybe even closer than with my father, although I love my father very much, he only has me.
I had the opportunity to visit the future home, to meet her parents, her grandparents, to have breakfast with them… and I wish I could have lunch with them. They are a really beautiful family. Casandra was overjoyed to hear that I would love to be a souffleur, that I love the elderly and taking care of them. Uzdin winked at me, honest and sincere. I don’t know what’s next. For now, all I know is that I can’t wait to go back, to sit on a bench in Uzdin’s church park, to dream of a show I would put on there, for the people of Uzdin, or maybe even with them.
You have to meet everyone who has anything to do with culture in Uzdin. There’s also the The Baron, Vasile Barbu. It wasn’t meant to be to meet him in June 2022. I met him by accident at a funeral reception in August 2022.
And a little secret from 2022. If you arrive in Uzdin and need wi-fi, you’ll find it at the community centre and I’ll disclose the password. This password wouldn’t have existed if the beautiful Cassandra hadn’t fallen off her horse, Hannah. She was riding quietly, accompanied by her grandfather on his bicycle, when she fell off her horse.
And now the password: fracturaulnarisetluxatioradialis (the ulna broke, it snapped and pushed the radius out of the joint.) Don’t tell anyone!
We decided to go to Timis river. To see the holiday homes by the water. The next day. Until then, Padina and Pavel Sampor were waiting for me. And now, we change language.
Photo credit: Diana Bilec
English translation: Cristina Chira