Ms. Nerissa Susana Bramble

                                         and the Post-blackout New York


                                                                                                            by Mona Momescu


Ms. Nerissa Susana Bramble sings in Grand Central. She carries all of her possessions in a cart and dresses only in black. She is black and she looks like a spell of neglected history, slavery, homelessness; invisibly, she casts this spell onto the hurried commuters. They are well aware of her, their awareness has been carefully raised like a well-baked dough. I have never been able managed to make out what she sings. The powerful voice humiliates the semi-crippled fake cowboy who leans against the polished brass rails, always bumped into by those who need to catch the shuttle to Times Square. She is as short-sighted as a mole and sturdy, an epitome of black fertility and maternity. She proudly advertises herself: Ms. Nerissa Susana Bramble, native woman of New York. Probably she is one of the very few who can call themselves “natives of New York”. She is authentic and sad; in other times, she would have become famous; now Toni Morrison and her novels have deprived her of her very essence. She is there at 8.30, she is there in the afternoon; last winter she was there, silent and menacing, not reluctant to unveil her identity. Simply pushing her cart like a baby carriage. Clothes, a broom, paper bags from the famous 5th Ave. stores and boutiques. She is now the native, as black as the blackout itself.

…Twelve days after the blackout, an Indian taxi driver tells me how it was. He knows it all, he is not a native of New York and so he is not afraid of the paralyzed citadel of the world. He doesn’t care about the merry-go-round of the Hershey chocolate cup in Times Square, nor is he interested in the national debt and in the quota assigned to his family. After all, he is here to make money and to sneak around, to get to the other end of the journey as perfect as an Italian macaroni. Pushed, threaded, despised he won: Y’a know, piple hir starved; no cooking, no traditional life, stores closed, they had noting to eata in de’r home. It’z about normal live, no cooking, no life. He had the nightmare of a starving New York, of 8 million human termites attacking the city or simply expiring in their air-conditioned dens. Anyway, it would have been a good deal for the Indian restaurants and delis owners. Once and for all, they would have spiced this bagel-bun-croissant city properly!

It is probably and obsession of the Orient and of those being contaminated by it that proper eating develops civilizations; or protects them from peril. The Ottomans believed the same, and the orgies of their sultans were accompanied by orgies of food. Sweet, too sweet. Or too spicy. Excruciating pain and pleasure provided simultaneously. Replaced here and now by the fabulous portions and the painful gym hours afterwards. Probably the last western eating epoch was during the last century of the Roman Empire. Since then, the West has refrained from believing that a good meal prevents the nations from evil. A good meal is just a necessary pain taken when you want to sign a treatise; or to convince the interlocutor; or to chase him/her; or to abandon him/her. Meals have lost their “intermediary” and constant role in people’s lives; they are the sign of beginning or of the end. According to the outraged Indian taxi driver, New Yorkers’ meals forecast the approaching doom.

The city has been tinged by a September air, and it is nice to see how the fashionistas return to their sandals and slippers. In August, when the air was unbearably hot many of them wore leather boots. It is a good sign, winter will be here shortly.

…I haven’t seen many expatriated Romanians since I returned. I am not very convinced that I want to know more of them. I met a few of them last year. Some are poised people, well integrated here, humorous, nostalgic (with a well-balanced nostalgia, without the mamaliga and sarmale syndrome). Others are economic immigrants who barely speak English after more than 25 years here. I never thought such a thing would be possible. They married here, they work here, they have raised children here and they barely understand what happens around them, beyond their yard of their house or their doormat. That’s why New York is so damn’ perfect! Or that’s why Romania is so damn’ picturesque and poor. Others have, as all humans do, an exquisite capacity of inventing a convenient biography. I remember last year, when I was invited by such a Romanian “tycoon” to dinner. He wanted to show me around and he ended by showing off like an adolescent. Of course he was very rich, of course he was a supporter of Romanian culture; of course he had Joop and Cindy Crawford as tenants in one of his buildings(!!??). Of course that he was happy to invite me to dinner. I fantasized about someplace in Manhattan and we ended up in a sleazy Romanian restaurant in Queens…Where I was stubborn enough not to touch anything. He had brought me to a smaller Romania where he felt like a king. In the real country he would probably be another émigré who came back to show off with his Gold American Express card and his simpering teen-age female escorts.

To them, we must seem as strange as they seem to us. Living in the building of the consulate makes me a possible spy for the Romanian government; that’s what they think and that’s why some of them overtly refused my invitations for a coffee or for dinner. Invitations accepted by my American colleagues. They are afraid of being “tapped” and spied; they work as doormen or bar singers and they truly believe in their role in modern history.

Some of them were writers or engineers before and they found themselves obliged to accept humiliating positions because they did not speak the language. Communism or not, people had very little interest in their literature written against the régime. With very few and notable exceptions, they live in this paranoid cocoon of being somebody, thus a potential victim of past and future officials. Because they wrote a courageous line in a poem 20 years ago and used this to get out of the country. For a better life. The real persecuted people have the solemnity of their acts and of the epoch they really embody. They are Romanian natives and can be decent citizens of everywhere. And that’s because they stood against abuses that were committed to people, to humans, not to political denominations.

What it is to be a native of New York? Maybe Ms. Nerissa would give us the answer. 



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