A Romanian memoir: Catalina George

Continuing our current life-writing series, Catalina George describes memories of writing her first poem from a flat in Romania one New Year’s Eve…

We lived on Stars Street, and that is an approximate translation as in Romanian we would have another, more poetic word to name the celestial bodies.

Our flat faced a corner where one long road, crossing the neighbourhood nearly from one side to the other, met another narrow street leading towards the industrial estate and the end of the tramlines.

Sitting at the square brown table facing the windows in the main room of the flat, my eyes on the snowfall whirling graciously under our faint streetlights, I wrote my first poem.

It was New Year’s Eve and we watched the television until late at night. Our communist channel broadcast the most loved show of the year: a few hours of traditional music and dancing, a big batch of comedy sketches all about family and friends and holiday preparations, and a powder of quite romantic Romanian pop music.

Catalina 1I watched the show with my grandparents; we skipped the President’s speech, burned the hand-held firecrackers which every household stashed for the winter holidays, had some cookies and probably hot cocoa milk – I was nine years old at the time.

And the poem grew inside me like a firefly born out of a single sparkle of light, a concoction of dreaminess, emotion and images all coming together.

My first poem talked about the joy of New Year’s Eve, a time out of time when nothing felt restricted, or impossible, or unreachable. I wrote it in the soft light of my desk lamp, the black and white television screen humming in the background, and I remember my excitement as I showed my grandparents the words shaped on paper.

“I could not live without writing,” I told my mother later that year. She treasures my declaration to this day: to her it holds the same meaning as her choice for my name. She loved reading poetry and she knew the name of her future daughter long before she had even met my father – Catalina, the princess in the romantic epic poem Luceafărul, by Mihai Eminescu, a classical Romanian writer. The fair maid falls in love with the Evening Star, an immortal soul who would need to take human form to be with her.

One could suspect that mum raised me to be a poet, planting in me her ideals and wishes, which is probably true to a certain extent. She most certainly put the first books in my hands, and she tells me my first word was a baby-talk version of Cenusareasa (Cinderella in Romanian).

An image takes contours in my mind: a dark majestic castle raises as you open the pages, right in the middle of the book. Mother says I had such a book at a very early age, about 10 months old, and they would hide it on top of the wardrobe, out of reach and out of sight. One day I reached my hands up toward the magical object and cried ushasha with such persistence that they realised it was my first word, it was the name of the book, and there was only one way to make me stop crying.

 

Biography

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Catalina George is a Romanian writer who has lived in the UK for seven years. She currently writes poetry and fiction exclusively in English, and attends events around the Black Country. She publishes regularly on her own website www.landinside.co.uk and is working on her final project for an MA in Online Journalism.

She has produced a video for the local Romanian community and is vlogging about her story in the UK. Catalina lives in the countryside near Wolverhampton with her partner.

 

 

The photo in the main body of the article is Catalina on holiday with her mother. It was a custom for tourists to be photographed with stuffed wildlife, hence the bear on the left… The image above is Catalina on her birthday.

All images:  © Catalina George

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Last week of the Diaspora exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery!

Make sure you see the best exhibition in town before it finishes on 29 April… painfully topical, it is sure to make you think.

Read our Arts Foundry review, written as one of a series to emerge from recent art writing workshops at Wolverhampton Art Gallery…

 

Diaspora Pavilion | Venice to Wolverhampton

Nat Jones

 

I always hold my breath before entering an art gallery. There are overwhelming memories of being marched mercilessly around them as a child by my mother who would order, “Hands in pockets.”

But now I’m an art student and on a new journey, so as I enter the Wolverhampton Art Gallery I defiantly take my hands out of my pockets and head to the first work in the Diaspora exhibition.

The first installation, a reformulation of MANNA: Machine Aided Neural Networking of Affect (2017), is in a small room resembling an empty traditional English parlour.

There is a television screen propped up at floor level. The soundtrack, like the video itself, is disjointed and jarring, causing confusion between alternating scenes which take you from Abbas Zahedi’s native Iran to the domesticity of family life, and a saffron drink he has brewed especially for the installation.

Upstairs in the Georgian and Victorian galleries I find an alternative telling of African history. Five large-scale paintings by Kimathi Donkor are bold in their choice of subject and in their size and use of colour. They have been set alongside the permanent collection and stand out and create conversations.

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Also on this floor is a reflective piece The River Asked for a Kiss (To Pateh Sabally) by Paul Maheke. He uses water as a theme to explore issues of connection, migration and immigration.

Translucent green floor-length drapes capture the essence of flowing water, and are printed with the words of a poem written in response to the watery death of a refugee.

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The gallery also contains two empty fish tanks. It must be my imagination that creates the smell reminiscent of the spring clean of the fish pond from my childhood days, but imaginary or not I can smell it. The piece leaves me feeling reflective, and a little melancholy.

These feelings are soon banished upon entering the Michael Forbes display, which is a riot of colour and texture. The works consist of sculptures and paintings: a mismatch of cultural artefacts, china ornaments, fake designer handbags and defunct computer parts held together with expandable foam and further decorated with spray paint in gold pink and black. These are in turn mounted on black plinths.

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Like a child, I need to touch to understand this work – looking is not enough, but the works are fragile and so my hands stay firmly in my pockets.

In the room next door is The ‘Forgotten’ Weaver (RETURNS) by Erica Tan, which consists of an oversized weaving loom in a dimly lit room with video projected onto and through the threads. Standing at different angles alters how much of the image you can see.

There is more than one soundtrack playing and the noise and filtering of light through the loom is entrancing, the effect added to by the repetitive drum beat featured in the soundtrack, which reinforces the sounds of the loom.

Back on the ground floor is Susan Pui San Lok’s ‘Golden’, an installation of five slashed stage curtains manufactured from golden foil. At first glance this looks like a pound shop purchase or leftover Christmas decorations. At last there is a piece that I can touch.

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I walk through the rows of shimmering gold, listening to a soundtrack reminiscent of cabaret. Whilst I am there a young child strays in to the room and runs gleefully through the installation. There is joy in that room.

The last exhibit is a video installation, ‘Sunday’s Best’ by Larry Achiampong. The only light in the room comes from the projection screen, and this makes for an immersive experience but also creates an atmosphere of stillness. Sitting on the hard bench is suggestive of wooden pews and I could be attending a Catholic church, except that the audio does not marry with the video at all. and instead concerns a Ghanaian church congregation. The artist narrates his experience of religion and the Sunday meetings in a community hall where there were no crosses, but where worship and family formed the church. It is a thought provoking piece which sits well in the space.

As I emerge from the gallery into the bright sunshine and yellow daffodils of St. Peter’s Gardens, I contemplate the very different pieces that form the exhibition. What I hadn’t anticipated is that a collection of works such as those in the Diaspora exhibition could be experienced by all of my senses, and not just touch.

 

Biography

Nat Jones is a final year student studying Fine Art at Wolverhampton, exploring aspects of public, political and community art. She is interested in nature and the environment and has become increasingly frustrated with commercialism and the effect of consumerism on our natural environments. She tries to reflect this frustration in her own art.

 

Banner image: Michael Forbes at the exhibition launch. The Diaspora exhibition runs until 29 April.