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

October 15, 2022 by Lucian Mogosanu

Caragea liked women. In this regard, his behaviour, and his son's, beyzade1 Costachi, was a perpetual outrage. When he eyed a wife, he would send her man on a faraway business, and if needed in exile, and then he would take with him a few guards and introduce himself to the patient's woman, with or without permission.

Beyzade Costachi, a handsome young man, had no occupation other than looking to provoke the young and pleasant ladies. He ganged up with a few sons of boyars with whom he would roam the hood day and night. Once, while being chased by the husband of one of his conquests, whom he was carrying along with him in his carriage, and seeing how he was about to be caught, he pulls out the pistol and aims to shoot the betrayed man; the bullet however hits one of his own horses, the horse falls out of the harness and the beyzade gets his ass kicked. The next day, the unfaithful wife was banished from the conjugal eaves2 and the fiddlers improvised the song:

A whore you were, a whore you'll remain,
I don't want to see you again!3

Back then gallantry wasn't easy and not just anyone would dare be courting. When a young man sought a girl, he risked stumbling across her father or her brother, and then no question about it, the priest would immediately sing the dance of Isaiah4 and marriage, although forcible, was valid. If the poor youngster5 had affairs with a married woman, things got more serious, as the retribution depended a lot on the guild to which the outraged man belonged. The butchers had the habit of swelling the offenders with a pipe like rams, and then they'd send them home in a carriage. The tailors made use of the large scissors on their workbenches6. A grocer who found the mister under the stairs, at his wife's place, stripped him naked, then greased him with tar from head to toes, placed a pair of horns on his head, tied him to a piece of iron, gagged him and then flogged him on the bridge, and so everyone avoided him like the devil, such that not even his servants would let him into the house. Next day the coachman found him hidden in the stable trough. Another mister was greased with honey on the naked skin and left the entire day as prey for flies and wasps.

There were no such things as sidewalks or boulevards back then!... Women were surrounded by all the prophylactic precautions; the windows had jail-like bars7; the gates were hard to open, since they were equipped with heavy bolts; and when a wife went to a relative, to a friend or to the baths, she was accompanied by two-three old and faithful mistresses. Girls were held even more drastically; they could barely get out in the garden, and the gardens were surrounded with tall walls or with stakes made out of oak planks. Not even the suitors could see them until marriage negotiations were through, such that the groom wasn't always sure that he took a good look at the face of his fiancée.

The daughter of a high boyar, returned from a cloister from Vienna, where she was raised and where she acquired an extraordinary musical talent on the clavier, brought with her the precious instrument to his man's house. One evening, the boyar, catching sight of a few folks who were hidden behind the planks to hear the beautiful songs played by the young dilettante, got so jealous that the second day when the young woman woke up, miserable girl!... she found the clavier axed into a thousand pieces. Her sorrow was so bad that in a few weeks they brought her to the grave. She wished on her deathbed for her coffin to be made out of boards from the clavier, but the priest was against it, saying that it was the Devil's vessel.

Art was largely unknown. In all Bucharest there were a single piano and a harp. Music belonged to fiddlers and church singers. The only person with artistic inclinations was miss Ralu, Caragea's small daughter, a distinguished kind, posessing the taste of aesthetics in its highest grade, admirer of Mozart and Beethoven's music, nourished with the writings of Schiller and Goethe. She had found in a few Greek folks, relatives and friends from the Greek school from Măgureanu8, student admirers of Euripides' and Sophocles' tragedies, an element towards staging a few plays. With a bit of tailored fabric and with encrusted paper, the lady organized in her apartments a small scene on which they would play in Greek Orestes, the Death of Brutus' sons9 and a few idylls such as Daphnis and Chloe.

Later she built a theatre at "The red fountain", at the intersection of Victoriei and Fântânei10, in the place where today one can see a lamp hidden behind an iron curtain; a theater in all its form, with a ground floor, with stalls, a stage and multiple rows of boxes. The ruins of that edifice, burned in 1825, could still be seen circa 1840, when they burned down in the walls of Ioan Carătașul11.

Miss Ralu dreamed of raising the Greek theatre12. For this purpose she sent Aristia to Paris13, to study the famous Talma. She also brought from Vienna a troupe of German artists who played operas and dramas. One member of that troupe was the famous Dilly, singer and tragedienne of great merit, who came to Bucharest for only a winter. And falling in love with one of our young boyars, she remained in our capital until her death, giving birth to one of our elder generals.

The momentum given by miss Ralu to the dramatic arts ceased along with Caragea's escape, but subsequently a weak imitator was found in Smaranda Ghica from Gorgan, in whose house, after the 1821 revolution, Aristia entered as a teacher for the kids. There Iancu Văcărescu looked to place the Romanian language on the stage; he tried to play Britanicus and Molière's L'Avare, but the exile, the war, the Moskals and many other calamities postponed the work until 1833, when Câmpineanu14 founded the Philarmonic Society.

The disorders around the country, as well as the revolt of Caragheorghe and Pasvantoglu, the incursions of bandits15, the Greek Eteria and the revolution from 1821 caused a twang in the string of bravery of Romanian youth. They started enjoying weapons, hunting and riding; the sons of boyars took an air of cabadai16, a term adopted by them signifying a stout man.

During the time of Grigorie-vodă Ghica, circa 1823-1824, the lads didn't miss any chance to dress with poturs17, with a mintan18 and cepchen19; to tie their hands with tarabolus20 and to fill their sileah21 with pistols and a yatagan22, as well as hanging their pala from their necks23. For the smallest thing they would pull out their weapons, so that, from how peaceful they used to be before, they became quarrelsome and troubling. Among them, the most infamous were Iancu, the son of beyzade Costachi Caragea and Ralița24 Moruzi, the Bărcănești brothers, Bărbucică, a grandson of the ban Barbu Văcărescu25 and a few others who went rogue and became the dread of the hood26. They would party all day in Cișmigiu with fiddlers on the green fields and, as the moon rose, they would leave with guitars and flutes to serenades under the girls' windows and beautiful wives. All night long until sunrise, the hood was full of song, squabbling, fights and barking dogs27.

One night the young Palama, while attempting to drive away the donjuan Bărbucică Catargiu from the windows of his betrothed, found himself with a knife in his belly. The poor man, bathed in blood, could barely utter the name of that who stabbed him; and his mother ran in desperation to the palace and woke up vodă with her yelling. Grigorie Ghica summons the baș-ciohodar28 Măciucă29, who brings Bărbucică to the court, slams him to the ground, and by the prince's bidding pulls out one of his fingers, then sends him to exile at the monastery. From there the poor suffering donjuan30 went to Paris with the thought of studying painting, an art for which he thought he had a great vocation.

Anarchy was reigning everywhere, and the ease of shooting people was in such fashion that the victim being always presupposed to be shot during hunting, the killed was left unpunished.

During one of the parties attended by many youth, while they were returning to Bucharest, in a carriage with four horses there were three lads: Iancu Caragea, Dimitrachi Bărcănescu and Iancu Crețulescu, later nicknamed Ursu, after a she-bear fondled his cheek with her paws. The former two, starting to fight, shoot each other and the carriage goes into the court of the Moruzoaie31, sending her son and her nephew drowned in a bloodbath. After three days, two hearses were following one another, bringing on their last road two of Bucharest's most elegant and finest youth.

A strange time!... Only the coming of the Moskals in 1828 put an end to this flippant life of the young boyarlets32, who were taken as commissioners (mehmendars33), to help supply the armies with provisions and carts. In 1831 most of them fastened their swords and enrolled in the national militia.34

  1. Turkish word -- "bey" ("lord") + "zade" ("son"), hence: the prince's son. 

  2. Also see the discussion regarding Romanian Orthodox Christian mores pertaining to the institution of marriage in nineteenth century. 

  3. The interpretation is my own. There are probably more accurate translations, but for the sake of rhyme and poetry... 

  4. Hymn sung during religious matrimony

  5. Not sure what the author's rambling about here. If the "poor youngster" dares to fuck my woman, then he'd better be aware of the risk of getting his balls cut off, swiftly and with no remorse. 

  6. I've called it, haven't I? 

  7. This was also the case with some of the schools that I've known, so... I guess it's somewhat of a tradition in the protection of what socialists nowadays call "at-risk groups". 

  8. Schitu Măgureanu -- "schit" standing for a small monastery -- is a church on the street with the same name, very close to Cișmigiu. Măgureanu was, I suppose, the name of a boyarly family in Bucharest circa seventeenth-eigtheenth century, of which the most notable member is Mihail Cantacuzino-Măgureanu, who founded the church. Further down the street as one walked towards the river Dâmbovița, on the same side as Cișmigiu, which was founded circa 1850, I can only guess that earlier during Caragea's time stood the so-called Greek school. Sometime during Caragea's rule, one man from Sibiu known as Gheorghe Lazăr started reorganizing this school -- and others, including the school at Saint Sava Monastery, a bit to the north over Știrbei Vodă --, and although he died a few years afterwards, the school eventually got developed into a high school, which today stands in that same place as the Gheorghe Lazăr National College.

    Unfortunately, from what I see the current admins don't bother too much talking about this history, instead opting to embellish the name Gheorghe Lazăr with empty slogans. 

  9. Unfortunately I know jack shit about ancient plays, so I don't know what exactly he's referring to here. Some say he in fact mentions Voltaire's piece, but I doubt it. 

  10. Is he referring to the Sărindar fountain? Anyway, if there was a Fountain street bordering Victoriei, it's gone nowadays. 

  11. I have no fucking idea what he's talking about.

    Other than that, Ioan Caretașul/Carătașul was a chariot/carriage maker, supposedly from somewhere in the Habsburg Empire. 

  12. It took quite a while for the Renaissance to reach the Romanian Principalities. But more importantly: Ralu Καρατζάς was of Greek origin, yes? and so she was maybe one of those idealists dreaming of a renewed Hellenistic culture, a sort of Ancient culture hopping happily over the millenia and into the nineteenth century. Unfortunately no such thing was possible, as a great deal of things were lost meanwhile, and one cannot simply resurrect the dead other than to observe the mediocre results of such necromancy.

    Sure, no one blames her for trying, though. 

  13. Costache Aristia, Romanian actor and a friend of the Greeks, with ties to Eteria, and also a participant in the '48 revolution.

    Do you think his trip to Paris was a coincidence? I think not. He was a friend of Heliade Rădulescu, so who knows, perhaps he was a minor Freemason. 

  14. He refers to Ion Câmpineanu (the father, not the son), born in 1798, a participant in Romanian political affairs at the end of the 1830s, in the 1848 Revolution and so on and so forth. There's a street bearing his name starting near the University, crossing near the Palace Hall and ending in Știrbei Vodă, where the Lutheran street begins. 

  15. In the original, "cărjaliilor", referring most likely to "cârjaliu", which comes from the toponym Kardzali. A "cârjaliu" is Romanian slang for a robber. 

  16. From the Turkish Caba Dayi, an "uncivil stalwart fellow". Today's Romanian was left with another word denoting a similar item, the so-called "haiduc": a sort of cross between a rebel and a thief, the Robin Hood of Central and Southeastern Europe. 

  17. From Turkish: peasants' pants made from sheep skin. 

  18. Traditional peasant's vest, it's still worn today at celebrations in some villages. The word's origin is Turkish, of course. 

  19. Also of Turkish origin, a short boyarly vest worn on the shoulders. 

  20. This comes from the Levantine Tripoli, perhaps it was a sort of bandana? 

  21. A belt for carrying weapons. 

  22. A Turkish sword. 

  23. Not sure what he means here. Presumably, a "pala" (Turkish) is what Romanians call a paloș, that is, a sword thicker than the yatagan. How they were hanging it from their necks is beyond me. 

  24. Raluca. 

  25. Bărbucică bărbește! Or how did that go

  26. I guess 1990s Bucharest was somewhat close to the mark, huh? 

  27. Believe it or not, that sounds exactly like 1990s Bucharest, including but not limited to the haggling and the blood. 

  28. From Turkish, "first ciohodar", or the first among princely lackeys. 

  29. Although it's a proper name, it literally means "bludgeon", which I suppose evokes the image of a big guy who was barely waiting to kick some ass. 

  30. What is it with this guy?! Is he being sarcastic? 

  31. Raluca Moruzi, previously mentioned. 

  32. In original, "cuconaș", a diminutive of "cucon"/"cocon", which means "domn". I couldn't find a word to signify the sons of boyars, so I invented one and I think it's right and proper. 

  33. Also: "mihmandar", certainly taken from Turkish, but probably of Persian or some other Eastern origin. 

  34. I guess I will use this footnote as an ad-hoc post-scriptum table of contents:

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

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

  1. [...] To be continued. [...]

  2. [...] "started to awaken" in a very violent way, I might add, which indeed mirrors that of the French [...]

Leave a Reply