fugue in C Sharp
A Novel and Nine Stories
by Aurora Cornu
Angel that presided o’er my birth
“Little creature, formed of joy and mirth
love, without the help of anything on earth.”
does not command time, but yields under the weight of time.” Here,
time, or the
times, no longer implies duration; it means, very strictly speaking,
historical events. One of the very first writers in the Romanian
language, Vacaresco, defined
it as such, and several centuries later, another writer, Marin Preda, echoes
him: “Time was patient in the Danubian plain.” Yet as his novel ends
beginning of the war, he writes: “Time was no longer patient.” In those
countries wearied by history a man tends to consider his life crushed under
the burden of circumstances. But if an outsider were to tell the story
of this man’s
life after his death, history would only appear as a series of simple
episodes in his
existence. History would be nothing more than storms, epidemics or
calamities. The important things being the birth, the marriage, the
death, and sure
enough, schooling, children, friends.
August 23, 1944, Romania, who until then had fought against the
arms against her German allies. This act was precipitated by American
bombardment of the oil-producing region of Ploiesti, and by the
advance of the
Soviet troops toward the town of Iassy. It all happened at such a
rapid and lively
tempo that the one and only prostitute of Frasinet, Adalgisa, who
lived at the edge
of the village, was utterly confused. She never knew whether the
father of her
blond child was the German who, leaving, left her for exhausted, or
who, arriving, took her for rested. All this because the village is
situated in one of
the paths of the Moscow-Berlin-Moscow troops.
Geopolitics held little interest for sumptuous-hipped Adalgiza, for
she had no
political opinion. She worked for money but also for pleasure, and her
highly personalized. She only accepts those she likes. She has rules:
she lets herself
be courted for a reasonable period of a few days, or at least a few
hours, and then
would surrender her charms for a price that varies but always remains
higher than the client could afford.
numerous lovers she would require promises of love and fidelity. She offers
them a curl of her luxuriant black hair as a souvenir. She would be
them, their kepis on her head if they were military men, and she pins
those tokens on her walls. She proposes to each one of them to pack in
everything and marry him; although she would specify that what she
enjoys most in her
work is the opportunity to get to know people. She would even go so
far as to take
the client to church and light a candle for the soldier’s protection.
And if her lap
happened to be the door through which the West passed to the East and, later,
the East to the West, she could not help it; for a door is made to be
though its essence is not altered; it can only be, at the most,
off its hinges. Her lack of interest in these contingencies, her
detachment, gave this lap a unifying power which, philosophically, was
a humanitarian future when hatred would be abolished.
a comparison may be permitted, this was also the position of Frasinet, and by a
somewhat excessive extension, that of the entire country—but I
advance for speculations which I will force myself to illustrate. Towards
the middle of the Second World War, one year before this story begins,
the American Air Force attacked the objective which Churchill called
of German power.” This objective was the oil of Ploiesti, Romania. The
“Halverson Project” #63 took off from Florida with 23 new Consolidated
Liberator (B-24) bombers that were first to bomb Tokyo in retaliation
for Pearl Harbor.
They flew over China, Brazil, Africa, the Sudan, Abidjan on the Ivory Coast.
When they finally reached Khartoum they were told it would be wiser to bomb
Ploiesti instead. “Where?”
the name was known in chancelleries as the very nerve center of the
Hitlerian war, it was unknown to pilots. The
American Congress had only declared war on Romania on June 5, while General
Ion Antonesco, a former student of St. Cyr, and prime minister of Romania,
had made his own declaration of war nine months earlier.But now
Harry A. (Hurry Up) Halverson learned that oil refineries in Ploesti, Campina,
Baicoi were producing one third of the high-octane fuel for Hitler’s Stukas
and Messerschmidts and gas for tanks as well. Half of the fuel that
to tour around Mediterranean Africa came from there too.
therefore necessary to strike the Astra Romana and Steaua Romana
refineries. But Ploesti was far away and a hidden, but nonetheless
system had already been established by the German general,
Gerstenberg, who was
there lying in wait for his adversaries. The
first group of planes took off from Bengasi, Libya at 22:30 on June
and reached Constantza at dawn. The ancient Greeks had named this port Tomis
when they founded it on the Black Sea.
pilots were dazzled by a kind of Aurora Borealis, actually caused by
crossfire from the battle of the Crimea. The Danube had overflowed. How
could they find the island and the fork, which were to indicate the
direction of the
target? Approximately twelve planes reached the sector of Ploesti.
themselves to be directly over Astra Romana, they dropped their bombs,
insignificant damage in the cornfields, and dashed away over the Black
Sea, landing in
Aleppo, Syria. This story has been related at length by two war
and Stewart. Well
aware of the effectiveness of the German defense, the Americans, out
desperation, came up with the idea of a hedge-hopping air raid.
August 1, 1943, one year before our story begins, the “Tidal Wave”
operation was launched on Ploesti. It involved 29 of K.K. Compton’s
pink Liberdados, 39 green
planes from Addison Buker’s traveling Circus, Killer Kane’s 40 yellow
Pyramiders and 37 green aircraft from Leon Johnson’s Black Balls. In
addition, 26 Liberators, fresh from the factory, were joined with
Colonel Jack Wood’s
Sky Scorpions to bomb Campina. In all,
165 planes out of 178 reached Ploesti and dropped their bombs from an
altitude of a few meters, which was the only conceivable way to take
the German fire by
surprise and avoid radar detection.
German side were 90,000 Luftwaffe soldiers plus 70,000 Russian
prisoners, who did
all the fatigue duty, and 12,000 technicians. Dozens of anti-aircraft
batteries were buried in trenches, camouflaged behind factories,
haystacks. Despite General Gerstenberg’s complaints, quoting Marshal von
Mackensen during World War I: “I arrived in Romania with an army of
soldiers and I am
left with an army of merchants,” the quality of the defense in Ploesti
was never in question. As an antidote against the country’s mild
natural wealth, Gerstenberg kept his artillery men busy with daily
kilometers away, in Mizil, was the main German air base where there
were four squadrons of Messerschmidt-109—totaling 52 aircraft. At a
distance, in Zilstea, 17 night hunters, black twin-engined
clipped wings, were keeping watch. The
Germans wanted the “Gypsies,” as they called the native pilots, as
underfoot as possible. In their Romanian YARs they indulged in all
kinds of acrobatics and
tricks, and therefore were in charge of defending the capital,
was of no strategic interest for the war. “Rich brats out for a little
Germans said mockingly. From Pipera, on the outskirts of Bucharest,
in their chasers made in Brasov: IAR-80 and IAR-81, 34 in all, heavy
low-winged, armed with four Tommy guns and two machine guns; they had
much damage on the Russian front.
Fortunately for the civilians, the refineries in Ploesti formed a
circle around the
town. An emergency pipeline ran above ground, joining the refinery
together; if one unit had been destroyed it could be quickly repaired
in order to
Campina, the main target was Steaua Romana, located approximately 30
kilometers from Ploesti, property of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The
Scorpions that were to attack it preferred to fly in close formation.
They had at
their disposal brand new Liberators that could fly a little longer
than the others.
In successive waves of assault, they dropped delayed-reaction bombs on each
target three times. Three hundred ten American pilots never returned
base. The last
raid on the region of Ploesti took place on August 17 and 18, 1944, with 78
Wellingtons, Liberators and Halifaxes from the Royal Air Force. Ploesti
became a vision of the Apocalypse. After 23 bomb raids, 9173 sorties of
bombers, protected by fighters that dropped 13,709 tons of explosives,
and Baicoi were severely damaged. To the Americans’ credit, the
amounted to 268 bombers destroyed and 2829 men killed or injured.
Royal Air Force had lost 38 heavy bombers out of 924, and 36 RAF
Gerstenberg was to end up at the Headquarters of the G.P.U. in Moscow
to have a
little chat with Beria.
father had helped the old beggar, who was heading for the village,
into the cart. We
were far from the city. A polite and quiet fellow, the old man,
himself, curled up in the hay we were carrying. He gave the impression
lentils, so full was his mouth of small teeth. He was fairly well
dressed for that
kind of old man. He wore old-fashioned but clean clothes. We were
old-fashioned too. Our vehicle was this ancient wagon designed for
collecting heavy loads of the perfumed hay, growing on steep hillsides
village, with which we fed our cows. The
small cart that our neighbor had asked us to bring him was hooked up
wagon. The cobblestone road was jolting the wagon; it made a sound
reminiscent of the
staccato conversation of chattering young girls. Alongside of our huge
Swiss horse trotted a small bay horse, all flame and fire, who was
beginning to tire from trying to adapt his quick pace to the majestic
step of his
companion. Their mute rivalry had touched us also, but after a while
irritation had subsided into rest. Suddenly my father put his hand
collar where he had felt something moving; slowly he turned a
towards the old man.
must be one of my snakes,” said the latter as if excusing himself.
panicking in the least, my father pulled out from under his shirt a garden
snake he handed to the old man, who stuck it in his jacket. My
father remained thoughtful in the midst of the discordant hammering of the
hooves and metal wheels. "You
don’t happen to have an adder also?” he said at last. The old man,
unintelligible words, looked for and finally found a beautiful adder,
colors of which were not due to age. On the contrary, it looked young.
He gave it
to my father, who held it by the neck.
careful,” warned the old man, “it’s not mean, but with adders, one
snake was drowsy. It writhed lazily, without conviction, trying to
bite my father’s
thumb. You could tell that it intended no harm, but was, rather,
trying to live up
to its legend. My father was playing with it, caressing its head,
seem to displease it.
do you come from, old man?” asked my father.
Dobroudgea,” he answered
almost asleep. “Dobroudgea.” The word echoed in me: the dust, the heat,
the winds eroding the oldest mountains in Europe, the poverty; but
also the swamps
and reeds of the Danube delta. I had heard the tale of a traveler for whom the
night had prepared a surprise there.
Fishermen had been hospitable, but the atmosphere in the shack where
he was lodged
had been too stifling, and he had voiced the desire to sleep under the
stars. “Do as
you please!” his host had responded as the other fishermen exchanged amused
glances. The traveler had a night of sleep, a deep and drunken sleep
as if in the
forgotten cradle of his childhood. He was awakened by a tender ray of
the last dreams from his eyes. Happy, he stretched his muscles; they
stiff, but swollen, as if doubled in size. And then it happened: on
his chest, darting
out between two buttons of his shirt, an inquisitive head appeared
periscope. A water snake, a green snake, gently unfolded its segments,
hissing slightly, and left to go about its daily occupations. Then, it
was like a blanket
of intertwined snakes detaching themselves from the traveler’s skin.
for the warmth they had found in the cold of the night, they unraveled and left
has bitten me,” said my father showing a drop of blood in the palm of his
beggar seemed preoccupied. He stood up and placed his frail hand on my mouth:
“Bite it, little girl,” he said. I was
carried away by a sudden wildness. Fiercely I clenched my teeth until
broke. Then reluctantly I let go. The old man gathered a drop of blood
father on a straw. He plunged it into his own wound. Next he bent over
the venom from my father’s hand. After which, he tore out the adder’s teeth,
one by one, and threw it toothless by the side of the road; he
abandoned it to its
it’s precisely at this spot that the road opens onto a prairie where
girls of the village lead the cows for the day. The color of the sky
was rapidly becoming
a more somber blue. The silhouettes of the girls, who were standing silently
scrutinizing the heavens, wondering if perhaps it was going to rain,
curiously touched me.
here, brother!” said the old man. My
father protested with all his heart. “What are you going to do in the
along then and spend the night at my home.”
is no more home for me,” said the other in a tense voice. We stopped.
man had a strange authority. He jumped out of the wagon.
the snakes, sir!” I cried to him. “They are all over me.” And I
by the tail a long, scaleless serpent, which had left on my ribs a
which nauseated me. I threw it in the grass. And I pulled two others
obviously—which I threw out, under the opaque gaze of the old man. As
latter, he calmly laid down all the little people swarming over him.
was calm and still. The old man had, I believe, the melancholy of a
the appearance of someone who has left behind the things he loves to
vision. Why did these lands fulfill his soul’s yearning? His eyes
took on a distracted expression, became dim, were covered with a gleaming
veil, as he showed his teeth with the smile of a happy father; small
circles bordered in black, real serpent’s teeth, I realized at last.
He’s dying, I thought,
my heart full of pity. He paid for the fault of the adder. And also:
milk, it’s true. In my half sleep, I was given to this prosaic
explanation, for I saw the
tribe of serpents gliding in the grass. Shuddering, I closed my eyes.
On the legs
of the cows, ivy on a column, the snakes climbed, coiled, their mouths
innocently reaching for the milk. Poor serpents of Dobroudgea!
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