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

December 23, 2021 by Lucian Mogosanu

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.

There had been many instances of plague registered in the country, but the annals of Romania do not mention a sickness more terrible than Caragea's plague! Never before did this scourge make so many victims! The daily death toll reached as many as 300 people and it is believed that the total number of deaths in the country was higher than 90 000. The contagion was so dangerous that the smallest contact with a contaminated house would bring death in an entire family, and the violence was so big that a man hit by the plague was a dead man4.

Terror entered all hearts and made disappear any feeling of love and devotion. The mother would leave her children and the man his wife into the hands of undertakers, who were people without conscience and without the fear of God. All the drunkards, all the scum would hang a red cloth around their necks, they would jump in a cart pulled by oxen and they would set off to pillage from house to house, from court to court. They would introduce themselves day and night into people's homes and would put their hands upon whatever they could find, they took money, silverware, clocks, tools, shawls etc., without anyone daring to oppose them. People ran away from them like death, since they took the sick or the dead on their backs, they piled them up in their carts and they set off with the full carts towards Dudești or Cioplea5, where the lot of plagued lied. The meat would curl on one's body upon hearing the terrible and cruel deeds wrought upon the poor Christians that would fall into the hands of these scoundrels.

Only rarely the ill would reach the plagued's camp alive. Many times a bludgeon to the head did in a second what the illness would do in two-three days!... And maybe those so killed were less miserable, since the more pitiable among them were those thrown in the fields, without sheet or cover, on wet and frozen ground. For a half an hour's walk one would hear the screams and wailings of the unfortunate souls from the fields of Dudești!...

After more horrible, inhuman and brutish scenes that took place at the lot, where one of these wretches was torn to pieces by a young man who defended the dignity of his wife, who was hit by the plague right on the day of their wedding, and after the uprising of the plagued, who jumped with sticks and killed ten undertakers, the authority finally took the measure of organizing a sort of sanitary service6. She7 established a few foremen tasked with accompanying the undertakers from house to house, and these would shout from the gate: "E'rryone healthy in there?" One of them, in a report to his superior, said:

"Today we gathered 15 dead, but we could only bury 14, since one of them fled and we couldn't catch him."

Above the town there would rise a yellow and sour smoke, the smoke of manure burning in the boyars' courts, while the town would echo with the miserable howl of dogs bereft of their masters.

Near each gate one would find a sort of a booth sheltering a servant placed there in the role of a broker8 (for deals involving bread, meat and vegetables). Nothing would enter the court before first being purified through smoke and passed through the water bucket or the vinegar bowl.

The undertakers, when they were passing near a wealthy house, would not abstain themselves from throwing rags from the plagued, in order to spread the contagion. They were not afraid of getting infected, as most among them were among those who had already suffered twice or thrice from that terrible epidemic. The plague, much like other mortal and sticky illnesses, such as the pox, the typhus or the black languor9, very dangerous the first time, eases its violence towards those who was previously hit by it it.

The robberies and mischiefs of people who were supposedly servicing the plagued were unprecedented. Many fortunes and great houses were raised in Bucharest after Caragea's plague, from the tools and money of the poor diseased10.

After a year, around December, the illness started softening up and people slowly gathered back into town. Those who rediscovered each other would hug, lose a tear to those lost on the field of Dudești and set off with their lives ahead of them, forgetful of life's sufferings and thirsty of its pleasures11.

To be continued.

  1. Michael the Brave, one of the short-lived rulers of Wallachia, Moldavia and Transsylvania at the end of the sixteenth century -- imagine that! some random dude from (debatably) Mehedinți, fucking with the Ottomans and then with the long-lived Hungarian Báthory family in Ardeal, under the very eyes of the Habsburgs themselves! for those times, that is no small feat, mkay? of course, he wasn't just some random dude, as his mother was from the aforementioned Kantakouzenoi -- in the year 1594 founded a monastery in Bucharest, on the shores of Dâmbovița. It still stands today, although the communists have carefully hidden it behind their central "apartment blocks", as they naïvely expected that that alone would trump Christianity. The obscuration of course didn't do much, much like today's pantsuit tactics don't achieve much, as most Romanians today still adhere to Orthodox Christianity, for better or worse. 

  2. "Dealul Spirii", home at some point to a so-called "New Court", built by Alexandru Ipsilanti in 1776. Most likely it sat in the place of what is today known as the Izvor Park, near Ceaușescu's House of The People, if not precisely in its stead. 

  3. Slavic name for Constantinopole. 

  4. What "asymptomatic" cases?! Bubonic plague does not forgive. 

  5. Eastern town outskirts, nothing particularly interesting about those. 

  6. If you think Romania is that much different in the Lord's Year 2021, you are well beyond naïve. Nowadays, good folks are brought into hospitals with them covids, only to die of... I mean, surely, their condition is not in any way aggravated by the lack of proper heating, nor by the miserable condition of hospital rooms, they're killed by the utter meanness of the virus, which (who!) simply "knows better".

    Romanians, ever the stupid, unthinking orcs... Anyway, read on! 

  7. The authority. For some reason, the author prefers to use the feminine here. 

  8. The original word here is "pazarghidan", i.e. from the Turkish "pazar" ("bazaar") and "giden" ("going to"), that is, one who goes to the bazaar. Another word for the Arabic "samsar"/"simsar", that is, a broker, that is, one who buys here and sells there. In the parenthesis, the author also mentions the particulars that are dealt with by this broker. 

  9. No idea what the author refers to here. In popular Romanian speak "languor" ("lungoare", in the original) is another name for (lingering) typhoid fever. 

  10. Not much has changed today, only now they'll just forcefully sell you overpriced shit under the guise of, what did he call it? "sanitary service". For example, do you even remember how much a medical mask was worth before the great fuckdemic?

    Oh, "supply and demand", you say? Demand, sure, but what the fuck supply are you even talking about? Don't come preaching to me about equilibriums in broken markets that you so obviously do not understand. I guess in retrospect that fuckwit Taleb was sorta right in his own way, you know, in that he'll readily admit that the virus was not a black swan; yet he is indeed a fuckwit, as for some reason known only to himself, he will readily omit that herd stupidity was the most unexpected multicoloured swan of 'em all. Nope, panic is never a proper response. To anything. If history is any guide, the only proper response is plundering the weak and the stupid, irrespective of anything, including nowadays' pretenses to decency, civilization and what have you.

    In other words: sorry, but you deserve it, more so than the unfortunate souls from 1810s, and whatever ills or misfortunes may befall you from now on, the fates themselves won't help but laugh their asses off at you. Totul în viață se plătește

  11. Perhaps I am known to exaggerate from time to time, such as, when I ask myself whether nowadays' kids still know how to profit from life's pleasures. Nevertheless, I hear that some mayor or the other insists upon being a Grinch, or better yet, a Scrooge who hates Christmas, as well as this already sad little town and its inhabitants. Otherwise, if democracy were anything but an old whore on crack, they'd have sent him spinning by now, but things being what they are... see my previous footnote. 

Filed under: olds.
RSS 2.0 feed. Comment. Send trackback.

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

  1. [...] Following an epidemic, as well as after a war, humankind always looks to regain its level; apparently life becomes easier, lads' wealths and girls' dowries improve through inheritances and through the death of brothers and sisters with whom they would have otherwise shared the parently possessions, had the latter lived. When a great mortality occurs, people say that the bread grows cheaper -- and this belief had some grounding back then, as the country was back then lacking in exports and thus grains were only used for internal consumption. Under these circumstances, marriages had to become numerous, moreso as evil had plagued more beings. Thus, as soon as the plague ended, people started wedding. [...]

  2. [...] Turkish influences run so deep that back then no one in Rahova used the word "petrecere". It was either a bairam, i.e. [...]

  3. [...] ii: Caragea's covid the Great [...]

Leave a Reply