The Third Transylvanian Book Festival

13th to 16thSeptember, 2018

Welcome (Bine aţi venit) to the Transylvanian Book Festival 2018

The sun shone on Medias and the villages hosting the festival, permitting at least eighty of us to eat ‘au plein air’, even in the evenings.  The meeting and chatting over delicious food is an important part of the festival, where staunch friendships are made and new books and journeys planned.  The patrons, film makers, musicians and volunteers adding as much, as the official speakers, to the mix.

The Unglerus restaurant below the Biertan citadel

Following the pattern of past festivals, the Mayor’s dinner in Biertan opened proceedings.  This is Mircea Mihai Dragomir, Primar of Biertan’s private gift to the festival. It also saw the first of the enriching musical interludes by the gifted trio of resident musicians. In place of a day-to-day record which can be found on the programme on the website I thought to look at the different facets of the festival.  The speakers, the music, the films, the visits and the food.

One hundred years on, 1918 loomed large, a subject treated with sensitivity by Professor Iorga. A major player in all this was Queen Marie, English-born queen and wife of Romania’s German-born king. Dr. Maria Berza spoke of Marie’s life and love of her new country and also spoke of translating, into Romanian, her letters; bringing home how important to this sort of English-speaking event good translation is. Preface to Marie, Queen of Romania, The Country that I love, Memoirs from the Exile. Humanitas 2016. The Queen was distinctive in her looks and dress and was instrumental in protecting the ancient crafts in her country. International designer, Andra Clitan kindly lent some of her interesting clothes, influenced by the Queen, to the festival. Ruxandra Nemteanu picked up on the ethnic details of the mix that was Romania, visible in the architecture, post 1918, with a pinch of Bauhaus added.

Lilian Thiel’s appliqué

The unique appliqué work of Lilian Theil, working with recycled textiles, was the subject of a powerful exhibition in the hall. Unable, under the communists, to continue her art studies she has now turned her extraordinary powers of design and intellegence to hangings. These patchworks depict, in the most succinct way, ideas that have plagued 20thcentury. In her accompanying book, Transylvanian Patchwork Art, Schiller Publishing house 2017, she has an imaginary conversation with her late husband. This was read by Andrea Rost and Willy Schuster. Romania in the Cold War was brought further into focus by Ramona Mitrica who is about to publish the real story behind the 1960s best seller, The Lost Footsteps of Agent Victor,the biography of Silviu Craciunas, known to his Securitate bosses as Agent Victor.

There is something extraordinarily moving when you are witness to a family member speaking of their past. There were two such moments during the festival. One was Tamas Barcsay on his great uncle, Miklos Banffy; a Renaissance man in the true sense. Here Tamas spoke only of Banffy’s politics which reflected the complexity and horror of 20thcentury statescraft. This was done brilliantly without a note. The second was Ion Florescu taking us through the rise of his family from Hellenized Vlachs, looking most exotic, to the Europeans of the Revolution of 1848 and family tragedy.

Philip Mansel and the Sun King

So much of Transylvania’s past affects its politics today but the festival reveals how international it was and is the raison d’etre of the festival. Philip Mansel’s The Sun King and Ference II Rakoczi brought us insight into the late Court of Louis. The links and trade with the East are most evident in the great collection of Armenian rugs in the Protestant churches giving colour to their austere interiors in spite of the fact that many were Moslem prayer rugs. Levent Boz came from Ankara to speak about their great importance in Medias church to the delight of Father Servatius who had a copy of Levent’s research papers in Turkish.  Maria Pakucs pointed out that the great crown of Stefan Bacsay in Vienna was a one off and what was more important were textiles, metal work and foodstuffs although it was a fraction of what went through Venice, sea being so much easier than land.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters

Other travellers in the 20thcentury from abroad never disappoint. Michael O’Sullivan’s Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters brought to life the houses, their libraries and their inhabitants that Leigh Fermor fell in with on his walk. Alan Ogden wrote of the love interest in his The vagabond and the Princess about the affair with Princess Balasa Cantacuzino. A very different life was described, movingly, by Arabella McIntyre-Brown who has chosen to come to Transylvania to live and to write A Stake in Transylvania. Garlic Press.

This was the second time that Marius Crisan has spoken on Dracula this time about his new publication‘Dracula: An International Perspective 2018. So little was known about Bram Stoker until the files were opened in the eighties. The communists made no mention of the character.

Publicity poster for ‘About Life’

Film previews were a privilege. There was a short interview with King Michael about his thoughts on his country and morality and the way forward. The King died in December 2017. Also by Pinkstripe, a short preview of the film on the life of Queen Marie of Romania, this is to come out in November. On Sunday night, complete with ice cream, we were treated to the Last Transhumance; the end of millennia of shepherds walking with their flocks from the summer pastures to the winter grazing. The shepherds, and often their families, stay with their flocks all year round. This  fascinating, unique film has taken Dragos Lumpan 10 years to make and covers Albania, Turkey, Greece, Romania… and Wales. This is a feature of pastoral life now dying.

Levent Boz speaks in Medias

The music was a golden thread weaving its way thoughout the festival and all thanks to the suggestion of George Cooke in the Medias church, before the talk on the carpets by Levent Boz, Jorge Vartparonian introduced the Armenia composer, Komitas which was played in front of the great altarpiece.

The musicians’ programme for the rest of the festival is at the end of this document.

The Medias choir treated us to a fine programme including work by Georg Meyndt who lived in Richis. They sang in the lovely church in Richis where the organ has been restored with a fine Anglo-Romanian cooperation which has taken six years. Memorable was the arrival in the hall of the gypsy musicians and a dancer. The dancer gave tutorials to most of the hall led by David Abel Smith and a team who were having a stab at an eightsome reel but with the addition of much stomping and slapping of legs.

Pre-dinner drinks in Copsa Mare

The villages are at the heart of the festival although it makes the logistics more complicated. In Copsa Mare, Sabine Haranza spoke of her passionate wish to restore the church and then onto drinks and dinner at the Priest House thanks to Paolo and Giovanna Bassetti with ice cream by Moritz Fried. Our samale was cooked in huge cauldrons over open fires. Medias has such a fine church, often overlooked, with a beautiful chapel of St Mary given over to those who did not wish to change to the new Protestant faith. It is not usually open.

A fabulous spread in Mosna

In Mosna, Marianna and Pamella laid on a feast of great beauty and deliciousness. Mr Sotopra who has been the school head there for many years talked about the museum and the visit of Prince Charles. The Prince’s first fortified church visit to which there is a plaque. Lucy Abel Smith and Willy Schuster, who has a farm in the village, talked of the village and the influences from Prague. We were then taken to the new Orthodox church built by the villagers themselves and given the local brandy and wine.  The soil is considered very ‘sweet’ there. Then Mr Sotopra opened the tiny simple Uniate church.  There is no congregation left of this fascinating mix of Orthodox and Catholic mix invented by the Habsburgs.  They suffered greatly under Communism. It is now used as a store which is a pity.

For those who had not been before Lucy, Willy Schuster and Andrea Rost did a lightening visit to Biertan, surely one of the finest churches in Transylvania, completed a few years before the Reformation and showing signs of not only Bohemian Gothic, but the Renaissance, paid for by the well-travelled, educated priests. This stunning valley was home to international movements. Richis was the centre, too, of fine dining with Tony Timmerman’s memorable goulash, and extraordinary buffet in the Village Hall courtyard. The wine almost ran out.

Musical programme

After lunch in the Schuller Haus, Medias, they played:
Shostakovich, Cello Sonata, Op. 40
Bartok, suite paysanne hongroise for flute and piano
Mendelssohn, Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 49.

In Richis:
Dvorak, Silent Woods for Cello and Piano, Op 68
Enescu, Cantabile et presto for flute and piano
Bach, Flute Sonata in E major, BWV 1035
Bartok, Romanian Folk Dances for piano, Sz. 56

Before Philip Mansel’s Court of Versailles:
Rameau, Pièces de clavecin en concert No. 5 in D major put us in the mood.

Before the look at Architecture 1918:
Prokofiev, Tales of an Old Grandmother, Op 31.

They accompanied Marius Crisan on Pe Murăş si pe Târnavă, the subject of Lucy Abel Smith’s Blue Guide now in its second edition as a treat before his talk on Dracula.

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