Ion Ghica, Letters to Vasile Alecsandri: From the time of Caragea [i]

December 1, 2021 by Lucian Mogosanu

Bucharest, November 18791.

My friend,

The banishment of Ipsilant2 and Moruz3, one from the reign of Wallachia and the other from the throne of Moldavia, before the seven-year term stipulated in the Kuciuc-Kainargi treaty4, in addition to other pretexts for quarrel that the emperor Alexander5 was seeking with the sultan6, led to the 1806 war; and after six years of vicious fights, in which Russian victories were predominant, the European powers, going off on the Porte, compelled it to make peace only and only to free the Moskal's hands in the fight with Napoleon. As the Romanian saying "the Turk shall pay" goes, the sultan gave Alexander Bessarabia and a hefty piece of land in Asia on the shores of the Black Sea, thusly pleasing the British, and after the Bucharest peace7 the Metternich count, taking advantage of the troubles in which Russia found itself on the borders of Moscow8, pushed to the throne of Wallachia one Iancu Caragea9, the friend and protege of the knight of Gentz10. But, despite the insistence of the ambassador to Constantinopole, the sultan did not grant him the reign until he first ensured Caragea that he will resign after three years. On one hand, the liege was seeking to elude the clause of seven years of reign, and on the other, he wanted to have the Greek in the palm of his hand.

After many rattles along the lines of inshallah11, pekey12 and bakalum13, at the end of October, Caragea was able to exit Constantinopole, and in the day of Saint Spiridon of 181214 he made his entrance in Bucharest along with a royal retinue, riding a tabla-bașa15, in the sounds of bells, whistles and drums. After he dismounted16 at Saint Spiridon the New from the Beylik's Bridge (nowadays17 the Șerban Vodă Way), he went to be anointed at the Old Court church18, as tradition demanded.

To be continued.19

  1. The author of the initial Romanian text, Ion Ghica, was born in the year 1816 in Bucharest and died in 1897 in Ghergani, Dâmbovița (roughly on the way from Bucharest to Târgoviște). He was, in short, a man who did many things, some more notable than others, and went many places, wearing various hats. He was a diplomat, an administrator, a teacher and a politician -- how much he excelled in any one of these fields remains perhaps a discussion for another time. Either way, he contributed towards the birth of the first Romanian national state, which at its beginning was not even called "Romania", instead bearing the name The United Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, also known as The Danubian Principalities. Furthermore, he was involved in the administration of Romania after the departure of Alexandru Ioan Cuza -- a departure to which he also contributed as part of the so-called "monstrous coalition" -- and he was the first director of Bucharest's National Theatre, as well as a member and president of the Romanian Academy and so on and so forth.

    Had I had more space and (especially) time, I would have extended this humble footnote into a larger contextualization of the Ghica family on one hand, and their influence in the Romanian space; and on the other hand of Ion Ghica himself and his deeds and failures. Alas, I want to publish these materials before 2030, so instead I will limit myself to translating the man's own words and annotating them with my personal comments, thoughts and opinions, which the reader may skip if he or she so desires. After all, what would a translation on a personal blog be without these footnotes, as for me this is an exercise in both interpretation as well as understanding the past, present and future of this small and perhaps not entirely insignificant people.

    Anyway, I hope you will enjoy reading this text at least as much as I did putting it on paper! 

  2. Constantin Ipsilanti, Phanariote prince of Wallachia between 1802 and 1806, among others.

    What's a Phanariote, you ask? A Phanariote is someone from the Phanar neighbourhood in the Ottoman Constantinopole. Most Phanariote families, such as the (here mentioned) Ipsilantis (Υψηλάντης) and the Moruzis (Μουρούζης), were Greek, although some of the (Albanian) Ghikas and some Romanians (say, some of the Racovițăs) also lived there. Moreover, I cannot leave this paragraph without mentioning the name Kantakouzenos, which finds its origins in the Byzantine Empire and which left a deep mark upon the history of Romanians; furthermore, I cannot leave this paragraph without mentioning that "the history of Romanians" is much, much older than "the history of Romania", which wasn't a thing for quite a long while. Anyways, I mentioned Phanariotes in passing when I reviewed Aferim. Coincidentally, the movie takes place about three decades after Constantin Ipsilanti's rule, I for one judge it to be a pretty good depiction of those times, so maybe you're lucky and someone made subtitles for it.

    Anyways, as you can see, the text starts in full force, which does not make it easy for me at all. Quite a few Ipsilantis were born around that time, which forces me to piece together people, dates and events so that you get at least a hint of what the author is discussing here, which is why I can't omit these long footnotes this early on. 

  3. Alexandru Moruzi, Phanariote prince of Moldavia between 1802 and 1806, among others. On some other occasion, Moruzi ruled Wallachia while Ipsilanti ruled Moldavia, what's the problem?

    By the way, have you wondered why exactly these Phanariotes were placed -- yes, placed, not "elected", or in any case, not by the peasants -- on the seat of these small and perhaps not very significant states? Well, things weren't entirely different back then from today, only the geopolitical game was played by different actors. You see, the relationship between the Ottomans and the Russians wasn't especially good at the time, so the two empires held a buffer zone so they'd forego jumping at each other's throats for a while or two. The influence was split, in that some boyars liked sucking Moskal cock while others (fewer and fewer) preferred the more traditional Porte, so sometime during the eighteenth century the two empires, or at least the Ottomans settled on Phanariote rulers, which did not make the boyars too happy, which made most Phanariote reigns short and shitty.

    If you're a Romanian reading this in the twenty-first century, then tell me (I mean it; please, leave a comment below, don't be shy!): how does it feel to know that 2021 Romania looks more like the cocksucking Wallachia of 1800 than the free and independent Romania of 1918? Because you cannot deny that it does, no matter what naive bullshit they feed you on the tubes. 

  4. Signed between the Russian and the Ottoman Empire in 1774, in the aftermath of the Russian-Turkish war of 1768-1774. 

  5. Alexander I, crowned Emperor of Russia in 1801. He fought Napoleon and lived to talk about it, so the author correctly identifies these wars with the Ottomans as mere quarrels. 

  6. Selim the Third. Not much to say about him, he ran a deeply troubled empire that was slowly but surely losing ground to the Russians. 

  7. The Bucharest treaty of 1812. 

  8. He means the French invasion of 1812. 

  9. Ioan Caragea, Phanariote prince of Wallachia between 1812 and 1818. We'll find out more about him in a bit. 

  10. Friedrich von Gentz, a friend of von Metternich and apparently an influencer in the Danubian space. Let us recall that back then the Austrian Empire was bordering both Wallachia and Moldavia. 

  11. Turkish/Arabic for "God willing". 

  12. I'm far from a connaisseur of Turkish, let alone the Ottoman variety, but from what I understand, this is a composite word, made up of "pek" (very) and "ey" (good, ok).

    Just for the record, for my research I am using an excellent Turkish-French dictionary available on the website of the French National Library

  13. This was an absolute bitch, as I could not find it in any of the Ottoman Turkish dictionaries that I searched, probably because nobody bothered to transliterate the expression into Latin. However, modern Turkish has bakalım, which means "we'll see", which I'm pretty sure is what the author refers to, on account of... the mere familiarity with such annoying postponements of important matters, as the Romanian saying goes, când ți-i lumea mai dragă. I never deemed it to be a Turkish custom, but it makes sense. 

  14. The twelfth of December, by the Orthodox calendar that I have. 

  15. An ornate horse received as a gift from the sultan. 

  16. This tradition of "dismounting" dates back to the foundational legends of the Romanians, in which the Wallachian prince Negru Vodă -- here "Wallachian prince" and "Negru Vodă" are absolutely redundant, since Wallach/Vlach/Blach has the same etymology as "black", while "Vodă" is a shortening of "voivode"; a-ha! right? -- establishes his territory and state through a so-called "dismounting". 

  17. Nowadays too! And Saint Spiridon's church is still there, alive and well, visible as one goes from the Union Square to Budapest Square via the Dimitrie Cantemir Boulevard. Șerban Vodă runs parallel to the boulevard, nowadays it's a melting pot of decaying old architecture (maybe with the notable exception of the church itself), postmodern "office buildings" and post-hruschebas. I even lived in the area (closer to the Carol I Park) for most of 2019, before moving

  18. Also alive and well today, right across the alley from Manuc's place in the Old Centre, where kids nowadays go to get drunk and (hopefully) laid.

    I haven't visited the place in a while, so I can't help but wonder: do kids nowadays still get out of the house to drink and look for fucks? I for one can only hope that they do, and sure, on Sundays maybe they go to Curtea Veche to listen to the service and admire the Roman ruins dug up by the archaeologists in the last few years. 

  19. I myself did not expect to develop the commentary into a staggering nineteen footnotes while translating these first two paragraphs. On a first glance it might seem to the reader that I'm doing superfluous wankery, but believe you me, it was absolutely necessary for the contextualization of the initial text -- that is, I would have ended up doing the same had I made the exercise in Romanian rather than English. To my eye at least, the difference between historical texts and fiction is that the commentary serves to enrich rather than merely provide critique, and thusly this humble translation of Ghica's text shall remain on my blog.

    Hopefully the upcoming paragraphs will be blessed with fewer and more succint annotations, on account of their being more specific; but maybe not. Either way, have patience, dear reader.

    P.S.: Not entirely coincidentally, I am posting this just a few minutes before Romania's national day. Sometimes I get way too sentimental about these things, so what can I say other than... wake the fuck up

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10 Responses to “Ion Ghica, Letters to Vasile Alecsandri: From the time of Caragea [i]”

  1. #1:
    spyked says:

    Fun fact, tying footnotes #2 and #17 together: the Șerban Vodă Way bears the name of none other than Șerban Cantacuzino, Wallachian prince who ordered the first translation of the Bible in Romanian... among his other deeds.

  2. #2:
    spyked says:

    It's been a year since started this project, and while this particular translation is finished, my work is far from done. 1st December wasn't chosen on a whim either, given that it marks Romania's national holiday, which without mistake finds me searching through old and new texts in the language, which yet again confirm my belief that history's just an age-old drama repeating itself.

    This year I went through some of Eminescu's newspaper publications and lo! the very same characters, albeit with different faces and names, went back then through the very same old and tiresome reenactment of the very same piece that we see unfolding today. It was truly a pleasure to revisit this and who knows, I may find some more time to translate some of his stuff before 2030.

  3. [...] The arrival of this prince in Bucharest was the signal of great calamities for the country! Right during the night of his installation, the royal palace near Mihai-Vodă1, from Spirea's Hill2, burned to the ground and the Royal Court became known as the Burnt Court up to this day; and on the following day, the 13th of December, the plague appeared among the courtiers arriving with vodă from Tsargrad3. [...]

  4. [...] all its beauty the valley housing the townlet of Bușteni, as well as historical landmarks such as Cantacuzino's [...]

  5. [...] reminder: Caragea, not unlike many of the Phanariote princes before him, was placed there by the Porte, with [...]

  6. [...] i: Introduction and Caragea's ascension to the throne [...]

  7. [...] For those interested enough in the subject, some humble context on the beginning of the nineteenth century is provided by my 'umble translation of Ghica's posts on the times of Caragea. ↩ [...]

  8. [...] century, while the so-called Romanian culture was still budding. He was a few decades younger than Ghica and at the same time a decade older than [...]

  9. [...] of this year have shown us... well, now they're doing the new new fiscal laws! just like in Caragea's [...]

  10. [...] of supermarkets and it's still under development, despite hosting one of the former homes of the Kantakouzenoi, and despite the view of the Bucegi from that side of the village being much more spectacular. To [...]

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