blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Timișoara on a wet Sunday

Such an interesting city. It was raining or drizzling all day long, on Sunday; we continued our explorations even so. First we walked up the street to Chris’ place of work, to see how far it was (less than 500m away) and this direction also took us to the Parcul Botanic that I’d wanted to see, although it seemed rather dreary in the rainy off season. The ponds were drained, seats stacked away and the fountains turned off. In all these city parks are dilapidated corners where the walls, covered in graffiti, have crumbled away. It seems that few repairs have been done since the 19th century. The inner city is like this too.

Next, wading through muddy potholes on the pavement, we found our way to the railway station called Timișoara Nord that Chris was keen to see. I was keen to see the Ladies WC, for which I had to pay 1 Leu, and it didn’t have a seat, but I was handed a more than adequate supply of toilet paper by the chap in the gatehouse. Reminiscent of China. When we looked at the departures board in the main waiting area --- with a food outlet but no seats! --- we realised that we recognised very few of the names of the destinations on display: Iasi, Budapesta, Jimbolia, Vrsac, Sannvicolau Mare, București Nord, Arad, Lovrin, Resita Nord, etc. Actually we had heard of Arad, because we had noticed it on the map; had the Lufthansa pilots continued to let us down by striking, it might have been our first waypoint on an equally long journey by car, or we might have had to change trains there on a long, long train journey to Vienna … and at other stops, in Hungary, with a several hour wait in the middle of the night. To judge by Timișoara Nord, the experience might not have been very pleasant. We did see a train with sleeper coaches parked at the station, the sort of train I used to take through France and Germany in the 1960s.

We made our way back to the inner city, lunching at an Italian spot, not the same place as where we eventually had supper, the Locanda del Corso --- a wonderful restaurant on Lazar Gheorghe, with an open flame pizza oven, steaks (beef, salmon) done to perfection and liqueurs on the house. Between the meals we visited the Muzeul de Arta on the Piata Libertatii, housed within the Baroque Palace. It was marvellous, but I wasn’t allowed to take photographs. All the art was, of course, new to us; fortunately, English translations were provided for the most part. Chris kept returning to a painting that had caught his eye in the lower galleries, entitled Taranca din Vlaici (Peasant Woman from Vlaici), by an artist called Stefan Dimitrescu who died in 1933.

Upstairs they were showing two special exhibitions, a retrospective of the art of Corneliu Baba (1906-97) on one side of the building, and of his contemporary Julius Podlipny (1898-1991) on the other. Both were great artists. I feel annoyed that I have only just come across their work. Both were obviously oppressed by the post war communist régime in Romania and their paintings / pastels / drawings convey suffering. I was so impressed by the Baba paintings that I went to look at them three times. I was not surprised to read that he claimed to have been influenced by both Rembrandt and Goya. The portraits and self portraits (the faces) are intense, often with open mouths as if incredulously appalled at what they have seen. In 1985, elderly Baba did a series of paintings called The Fright which seems to have referred to an earthquake, though it probably has political overtones as well. He did a Pieta, with the people standing around the corpse of Jesus almost backing away in horror. I also noted his portraits of Borges and the famous Romanian composer / conductor Ionescu. There was a painting of the poet Tudor Arghezi and his wife (1961) and of the actress Lucia Sturdza, a force to be reckoned with, by the look of her. The artist obviously looked up to her. I was touched by two paintings of his wife, one executed in 1953 in her middle age when she was already showing signs of strain, and another in the following room of her as an old lady (in 1982). Chris thought she can’t have been pleased with that picture, but I said, “It is truthful.” Sad or not, it was tenderly done. Baba kept coming back to his own face too, the first of these self portraits done when he was only 13, then some rather jokey, youthful ones of the 1930s, before progressing to the depiction of himself as a mature man with a thin, serious, rather crazed face, and long hair. I was struck with one he did of the archetypal Worker, in 1961, a face covered in coal dust, but a very handsome and muscular man, obviously done to please the communists. Then there was an astonishing oil painting of a cockfight, a violent but beautiful painting in swirls of colour.

I didn’t take many notes about Mr. Podlipny because I was getting exhausted, as I do in galleries, but I made a note of Un Suferind Autoportret done in 1978, which had the same intensity as the Babas, and a picture of a lonely beggar playing an accordion in the dark: Musikat batran, that reminded us of the Leiermann from Schubert’s Winterreise. In fact we have seen a few Leiermänner on this trip, both in München and in Timișoara.

I am also haunted by an old lady and a dog that we saw on Friday. The golden haired dog was curled up on a wall by the river, all alone, too lethargic to do more than raise its head and look at us as we went by. Was it abandoned, lost, dying of thirst, dying of some illness? We could do nothing for it. The feeble looking old lady was standing alone in the shadows by a building in the Victory Square, perhaps also sick or lost, or demented, ignored by all passers-by, holding out her hands and saying Ajutor! Ajutor! which I very well understood (it means “Help!”), but I’m ashamed to say we didn’t do anything for her, either.

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