MY ROUMANIA

by Princesse Bibesco
Vogue Magazine
15 June, 1925



In the following article, the Princesse Bibesco gives two vivid, but contrasting pictures of Roumaniaóone of MogosoŽa on the plains, where a large part of every year is spent, and one of Posada, in the hills, where she goes with her family during the hot months. Princesse Bibesco is well known as an author in French circles, and her book, "The Eight Paradises," has been crowned by the French Academy.



From the Venetian scala, at MogosoŽa, the Princesse can look over her lovely garden, where an army of irises bloom every spring. (Photo Princesse Stirbey)


At Posada, one looks over peaked housetops to the hillsides where the tallness of the trees piles itself upon the tallness of the mountains.



THE heart of Roumania, my native land, hangs forever in the balanceóhalf Orient, half Occident. Hers is a dual nature, two distinct faces, and two opposing elements which yet powerfully attract each other. Land of contrast, of flame and of frost, she is one of the infinitely sensitive points de rťsonnance of the universe. It is to show these two faces, the shadowed and the sunlit, that I have lightly sketched these familiar scenes.

Plainsóendless soft distances melting into the horizon; marshesóplains which lie under water; and the skyóblue plain of the sun: that is the country which surrounds MogosoŽa. From my terrace, only eleven kilometres from Bucharest, there is all the illusion of the desert, of repose, the calm of an Oriental country. Like every land of sleeping waters, it is also a land of dreams, where the trees are phantom shapes and the reeds grow mistily, like a low-lying haze.

MOGOSOňA OF THE PLAINS

There is no need here to present a monograph on the subject of MogosoŽa, already admirably described in the Bulletin de la Commission des Monuments Historiques, by Monsieur Virgile Draghicťano, and, also, by Professor Iorga, in his fine work, l'Art Roumain. It is enough to say that it was the spring pleasure palace of Constantin Bassarab Brancovan, Prince of Valachie. A contemporary of Louis XIV., with whom he carried on a diplomatic correspondence, he had the love of architecture and of beautiful gardens characteristic of the seventeenth century.

During the reign of Brancovan, one of the longest in the history of Roumania, an art was born, the expression of a people who, after long centuries of groping, harassed by barbarians, in the hour of happy respite had found themselves, at last. This art allies itself quite naturally with that of Byzantium, of Granada, of Ravenna, and of Veniceóother impressible meeting-places of East and West.

This mingling of two opposing currents, which, to-day. gives rise only to keen aesthetic emotion, constituted mortal danger to those who lived long ago. Brancovan, a prince of the Holy Roman Empire who wished to preserve Christianity, and his sons were taken prisoners by the Turks and beheaded at Constantinople. Thus, the honour of reigning over this country torn between Europe and Asia ended in martyrdom.

MogosoŽa, the restoration of which was begun in 1913, has kept no trace of the "beautiful ceilings and rich paintings" that Monsieur A. de la Mothraye, a French traveller, saw there in 1727, nor of the furniture lost to "the soldiers of the Sublime Porte, who carried it away." The palace stands in a country which, from time immemorial, has never been more than forty years without invasion. The history of every old Roumanian dwelling is a long list of vandalisms, and the spirit of destruction must still linger in the beautiful colonnade of MogosoŽa; although harmlessly, since none of the bombs dropped over the palace by German aviators in 1916 achieved their object, falling instead into the lake where the King of Thule flung his famous golden cup, or among the ancient willows on the bank.

Now, however, as I walk beneath the magnificent vaulted arches in the echoing chambers lately restored, I can not help feeling a premonition, a fearful dread of the kind of furniture which they may some day contain. Between the extremes of "historical restoration" and "modern comfort," there is room for every fault of taste. And so I repeat, as a sort of exhortation, the words which Prince Edmond de Polignac addressed to the unlucky owner of a restored mansion, refurnished in a manner which shocked the Prince's taste. On leaving, he remarked: "Very good furniture, my dear, but tell me, why not have put nothing?" This speech contains a whole lesson in aestheticism and merits the consideration of all those who assume the difficult task of remodelling an old house.


Princcsse Bibesco, at the left, and Princcsse Valentine Bibesco, at the right, heap their canoe with water-lilies gathered on the Colentina at MogosoŽa, a lake of languorous waters that suggest the "Eaux Douces" of the Bosphorus.



Peasants in such-quaint costumes as this are to be seen in the park at MogosoŽa. (Photo Julietta, Bucarest)



HOW MY GARDEN GROWS

Palade Primovara, Palace of Springtime, is a name everlastingly deserved by MogosoŽa, in its setting of weeping willows, the first trees to show green, and of irises, blooming in legions as they must always have bloomed, since one finds them everywhere, conventionalized in the carvings of ancient stone balconies. In one night, in this magical climate, great armies of irises unfurl their banners to the breezes; all earth and water turn purple every spring at the feast of Saint George. In the garden at MogosoŽa, countless numbers of the blue and violet standards cluster on each side of the stepsóthe Venetian scala which leads from the lower flower-beds to the terrace above. In only a few days, alas, the ruthless sun strikes these opalescent tents and lowers the lovely lances, and the charming army is put to rout. It is then replaced by scarlet ranks of Oriental poppies and by the white chalices of the water-lilies which have lain hidden in the languorous waters of the Colentina, needing only the warmth of June to draw them out like the magically multiplied cup of the King of Thulť.

This is the time for long boating trips in Canadian canoes, which, guided by paddles, glide like shadows over the quietly dreaming surface. And, over the quiescent land, the sun sinks to rest each day with majesty, with leisurely magnificence, and with increasing splendour. The lake of MogosoŽa makes one think of the lagoons of Venice, the Eaux Douces of the Bosporus, of Mourdab, the long water-lane which leads into Persia from the borders of the Caspian Sea, as though it had some secret communication with those far-off, drowsy waters. Often, one does not come back, arms filled with closed water-lilies which the early light will reopen, until after the first star has appeared. Then, the spirit of Byzantium, of Torcello, haunts the colonnade and the balconies of flower-fretted stone; the frog chorus proclaims the rising of a new moon; the nightingale sings a paean in prelude; and it is night.

Truly, an Arabian night. In the moonlight, MogosoŽa redoubles its loveliness, as do all beautiful dwellings proudly placed above a mirroring lake, and recovers its lost splendour. Reflected in the dark pool, it seems to wear the rapt expression of a building that has become the amorous slave of its own image. Erect, one sees there the former grandeur of MogosoŽa, and, below, its grandeur reversed, in time, in space, and in water.

On such nights as this, according to the legend told by the old women of the village to their grandchildren, a princess, youngest of the daughters of Brancovan, sets herself to spin with her golden distaff. All night, she spins, in the light of a golden lamp, guarded by a vulture. She spins the winding-sheets of her father and brothers, and, when her labour is finished, the time will be ripe for the prince and his sons to return and take possession of their land.

THE SPINNER OF THE NIGHT

No human being, however, must see the spinner as she works, for this would break the charm. If a stranger, attracted by the light, should approach the subterranean chamber, the vulture would instantly put out the lamp with his great wings. The daughters of the family alone have the privilege of seeing the princess, once in their lifetimeóon the night of Saint Georgeó, and it is a sight they disclose to no one.

Anna de Brancovan, Countess of Noailles, might have seen the spinner if she had lived at MogosoŽa in her childhood; the vulture might not have extinguished the lamp, and the old tradition might have passed forever into her songs

One wonders if all the townspeople in search of coolness, all the diplomats whose duty it is to follow the King, all those who, like us, leave Bucharest for Sinaia, going from the low country to the mountains, know that, in taking the road to the royal residence, a road which passes through the valley of Comarnic and the village of Posada, they are but imitating the great migratory movement which, for so many centuries, has led the Roumanian people, a shepherd nation, from plains to mountains and from mountains to plains, according to the swing of the seasons. All social life is, after all, modelled upon the sheep of Panurge, and the modern motor is simply treading in the footsteps of the flocks in the valley of Prahova.

Each year, I "return to my muttons," and, each time that I revisit Posada, with its green mountains, its beech-trees and its pines, its rains and ice-cold rushing waterfalls, it is like being transported from the Orient to the Occident, a thousand miles from MogosoŽa. How far away is that land of dreams, although it is but a short journey of a hundred and twenty kilometresótwo hours and a half on the roadófrom house to house, from world to world! But the change in altitude is equivalent to a change in latitude, and, in consequence, in climate. In drawing near the mountains, the year rolls, and the shadow of the sun-dial is reversed. The flowers at Posada mark April in June and May in July. The abrupt change of temperature, of course, necessitates a change of costume (even the colour of one's skin changes, after the third day of rain), and who does not know that to change one's type of dress is to change one's soul a little? The moment a woman has replaced a white frock and fragile, dainty shoes by heavy clothes and thick boots, it would be absurd to imagine her the same person.



Against the whitewashed walls of the outbuildings at Posadaówhere the Princesse has lived since the great house was demolished, during the Waró, plants bring in some of the loveliness of the garden.



A STIMULATING LAND

Activity succeeds a life of contemplation. In Posada, high in the mountains, existence does not even remotely resemble life in the flat country, with its soft, extended distances. The hours for walking are different; so are the soil, the air, the water, the light. Long before the sun sets, it is hidden from view behind a mountain set like a high Coromandel screen between the house and the evening sky. There is no sunsetóonly sunrise.

Here, life is exhilarating; below, in the plains, one loves the pervading sense of disintegration. Here, everything chants a sort of "Gloria in excelsis." The roofs are peaked, the roads ascend, the water rushes, the forest trees climb the hillsides, and the tallness of the woods piles itself upon the tallness of the mountains. All Nature darts forward in a vast movement of attack; and the little brown squirrels that scurry up the high masts of the beeches seem the living expression of this intense upward tendency in all things. In such a landscape, with its rocks, its torrential waters that flash like leaping trout, softness has no place. One can only ascend and descend, act and react, and the soul accustomed to the nocturnes of MogosoŽa feels itself in exile. These forests are too cold to know the voice of the nightingale; they only hear the call of the tomtit and the dry tap of the woodpecker's bill, striking in their hearts.

But, without doubt, the courage to rebuild our hearths, already twice destroyed, has been gained from the strengthening air of these mountains. Our own resolution has been inspired by this resolute landscape. We have just recovered (after the fire which destroyed Posada in 1915 and the invasion which, in 1916, annihilated whatever furniture and pictures the fire had spared) a precious Renoir of 1870 acquired by my father-in-law, Prince Georges Bibesco, which had been saved from the flames. It had served as a target for a Hungarian regiment quartered in what shelter was to be found among our ruins. The painting was of a war subject, "The Emperor's Guide"óand perhaps the soldiers of Franz Joseph thought they were warring against soldiers in shooting at this particular horseman.



In Posada, high in the mountains, the green of April does not come till June, and the cool weather stirs one to a far more active life than in the plains.


Long before the sun sets at Posada, it is hidden from view by the high mountain that rises like a screen between the house and the evening sky.



POST-WAR NECESSITIES

Since 1919, we have lived in the great outbuildings of the demolished house. Yvonne de Beauchamp and Elizabeth Bibesco came to see us there the following year, and together, we discovered that the formula for houses to let, so dear to the hearts of vaudevillistsó"Six servants' rooms, of which two may be used for friends"ówas very applicable to our new domicile. No one would have believed before trying the experiment how easily kitchens could be transformed into dining-rooms. A garage, a saddle room, a scullery became modern living-rooms, furnished with that "nothing" suggested by the Prince de Polignac. Whitewashed walls, chintzes in gay colours, of which the flowers in the garden give the noteóand the comedy is played, the comedy which enables us to go on living where we believed there could be nothing but death.

The doors of the dining-room are the same colour as the geraniums which blossom at the windows. The shades of one little sitting-room match the violet and crimson fuchsias which hang their Chinese bells over the balustrade of the terrace. An interior where nothing is grey has arisen from grey ashes. To react thus against misfortune, we had to find in these mountains the thing which says "No," the will to persevere, the stern decree of a soul without which we also should be a fatalistic Eastern people like so many others.

But that is the secret of Roumaniaóher profound resource, the key to her dual heart. Whoever judges her by only one of her faces mistakes her. Whoever loves her only for one of her beauties does not truly love her. Whoever criticizes her for her faults does not know how to offset them by her redeeming qualities. And if I had to say which I would choose, the shut-in country of Posada or the wide, open spaces of MogosoŽa, I should reply as I did when I was a schoolgirl obliged to establish vain parallels between Turenne and Condť, Racine and Corneille, Lamartine and Victor Hugo: "What luck that there are the two!"



Wikipedia: Marthe Bibesco