“It’s a farce! Someone told you, I’m 80 years old? I’ve heard that rumor’s going around town myself, but I’m telling you, it’s not true! I haven’t hit 80. If you want to believe I’m 80, that’s your business or the newspaper’s.”
You turned 80 on January 23, 2008. How is it at 80?
Unbearable and worthy of being lived.
In the end, signals get to you that turn themselves into embarrassing diseases—diseases that start from the scaffolding of bones and go all the way to lapses in orientation, courtesy of the automatic pilot. What can you do? You accept this lack of comfort. I foresaw such a situation in Bibliografia generală, when I put in the entry called The Imprecise Art of Hunting with Dogs. In the same way I’d like to do an art of the powerless, if I still can—and line them up. I’m obsessed with the idea of finding virtues in the miserable situations in which events land you. No longer having the power of youth, you luxuriate in powerlessness. You place yourself in a position of satisfaction and you say: ah, that’s a gain! You’re powerless physically and you can talk or you can laugh at powerlessness.
You want to make an art of the powerless?
Yes, I would make an art of the powerless, an art of the impotent, of those who have no appetite, and if such a thing were possible, an art of staying still. Look, for example, a friend from
Are you going?
No way. I can’t keep it together with belts and suspenders. I can’t afford it, physically. I’d have to tote along a suitcase of five kilograms. That’d be the minimum. I can’t. I’m not allowed to carry. Nota bene: three years ago I was carrying sacs of cement on my back, 50-60 meters, on the hills. Now, I’m marking out the geography of my own existence on an increasingly restricted area.
The young lady leaves, puzzled
How did you spend these 80 years?
Ah, you’re asking me about that farce again? I tell you: a young female specialist in contemporary literature, Gabriela Trifescu, sustained a doctoral thesis on my collected oeuvre: MHS-A Monographic Study, a work of 500 pages. And I was at the University, at the defense, at the instance of the candidate. Of course, some things aren’t clarified even by me, so how could someone else clear them up?...Maybe it’s early yet for them to be defined, cleared up, contoured by a reader, however good and qualified he might be.
Give me an example of something not clarified.
A lot of expressions / situations aren’t understood by the coming generations. I didn’t use foresight. These automatisms, these little stupidities, these commonplaces—should be clarified. For example, again from Bibliografia generală, I have a half-funny story without clear political direction that does a take on what was in the head of my generation—the formula “and so on” that Stalin worked to death in The Short History of the Communist Bolshevik Party. This recurrent “and so on,” was so irritating. If I use the phrase “and so on,” today and I repeat it now in the way Stalin did, being ironic about it, no one will get it. In my day, this “and so on” got overused not only in the verbal space of party activists but even among friends. I remember Alexandru Piru, who was recounting something about Călinescu and his loves during a walk on Bulevard Magheru. And he stopped, near the
How did Călinescu fall in love, in Piru’s version?
Piru tells us: Călinescu summoned his beloved to the house, under the guise of giving a report on her studies at the Institute for Literature that bears his name today: the G. Călinescu Institute of Literary History and Theory. In his office Călinescu took a violin out of its case and played. There were just the two of them. Madam Vera Călinescu, the master’s wife, wasn’t allowed close to the Mestro’s door. It seems that Călinescu’s tastes in the matter of music were the same as Arghezi’s: sad airs... the protracted melody of the old songs, of the village musicians. Călinescu would say to his beloved: Listen! and he’d play her one of those pieces that sound like a cat in heat, seventeenth century-ish, with a Turkish sound…Then, all of a sudden, the Maestro would stop and say: Enough, pick up your things and leave! Good day! I’ve finished!
And the young lady, what did she do?
The young lady left in a puzzled state, but vibrating from her meeting with the Maestro.
That was it?
Yeah, that was it.
Did she listen to him in a state of veneration?
No, in a state of docility, as the subordinate of a Professor of the Institute, a toilsome Tillie who makes a big deal of her studies.
Where’s the eroticism?
Ah, yes. That’s a beautiful question. The eroticism pushes through the way those materials from the bottom of the earth push through in volcanoes or the belching swamps we have around
Columbina sent me the first copy via the driver of a locomotive
Do you know why I got into this erotic zone?
Preparing myself for this interview, I read several unimaginably beautiful stories written by yourself. Stories tinged with eroticism. They are included in Tales of Gallantry (Povestiri galante), in the BPT (Bibliotecă Pentru Toti) edition of 1994. I liked How the Bed Fell and Other Licentious Events (Cum a căzut patul şi alte întîmplări licenţioase), for example, in which you tell about the love of the Captain for Columbina and about how, in love, “you present yourself with this baggage of prowess, delicacy and cleanliness.”
Mr. Şimonca, I could make you a confession, as I consider you a friend. This story is real, old man. It comes from the time when I was spending many months a year at Pietroşiţa and I was working hard with my hands to get my house built. This house has a resemblance to my work. It has a child-like, playful, innocent facade, like The Dictionary of Proper Names (Dicţionarul onomastic). It’s a stately house. It has lines of force. If you go inside, it inspires force. I was at Pietroşiţa with my lover who was coming from
Your lady knew about these so-called extra-marital relations?
Sure, never simultaneously, though—when it was over.
And this Colombina actually existed?
Of course. She would come to Pietroşiţa. In some situations, I take occasion to celebrate. Sometimes, she would arrive with the first copy off the press of a book that bore my name, or when she couldn’t come, she’d send the book with the train driver.
What a wonderful thing! To go the station to wait for the train and to receive a tiny little packet from which you take a book smelling of printer’s ink.
You shouldn’t get used to that business and tell yourself it’s enough. Columbina has to come too from time to time, or why did I write that story, old man? Columbina was in the fire of love, the embrace beyond the clouds when the earth began to shake. It was the earthquake of 1986. In the ecstatic situation in which she found herself, she began to cry: “Earthquake!” I wasn’t cottoning on too well…It was summer, it was warm, I took her by the hand and I dragged her onto the terrace, out of an access of misguided manliness, otherwise said. I instinctively went out on the terrace, in the least dangerous place. The most amusing thing was this: the teluric forces weren’t able to raze our ardor or love. We were naked. The earthquake came. The earthquake passed, and we loved each other just as passionately
You said at a certain moment that you are a bit of a misogynist. This story and the others don’t show you to be that at all. I think you are a great lover of women.
Woe is me, of course. I wasn’t a skirt chaser, but I liked the ladies. I was always in love, and I discovered early on the stimulating quality of periods of love. My God! They were a Boeing engine. They were fervent, not tyrannical, and they pulled me forward. They allowed me to go forward. Look, even now, at 80 years old, I till appreciate “woman.” I was at an eye checkup, as I’ve been seeing double for some time. It seems I have a knitting needle in my head that presses on a nerve. Mama mia, what a doctor I consulted. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. And she said to me: look into my eyes. And I broke out laughing: I’ve been doing that since I came in.
I didn’t wish to eulogize the family
Let’s get back to the characters in your books. Columbina, Brigitta, Alina, Helga are some wonderful beings, believe me! Reading about them, I imagine them going by on the street. I would have liked to know them too.
Mr. Şimonca, You are telling me something that overwhelms me and makes me glad. I felt I didn’t feel in shape for two things, to create theater and describe love passages.
I have to contradict you. In The Endless Perils, a novel recently republished by Cartea Românească, there are wonderful pages of eroticism. You can get the shivers reading them now in 2008, but you can’t help imagining reading the novel in 1978 when everything was very sober, while you would come with a love story praising adultery
The Family Code was in function, and the moral code and ...what the hell was it called...
How did it come to you in 1978 to write a love story involving an adulterer?
I’m full of hell! I wasn’t longing to eulogize the family as Ceauşescu saw it. I wasn’t longing to eulogize sobriety. And you should know that the two Helgas, who overlap, exist in reality. I still talk with them by phone. We don’t see each other anymore—it would be bad for us to see each other in the state to which age has brought us.
Extraordinary! Helga is real as well as Columbina?
Yes. We can call her on the telephone. Would you like to speak with her?
No. It’s better she remain a character.
There were the two Helgas. One was a doctor, the other a ballerina at the Romanian Opera. [To create the character] I appropriated these two women and “separated out” or “divided up” their traits. But the adultery remained real, although I took out some explicit “bed” pages. [In creating this novel and this character,] it wasn’t a matter of the “official” censorship’s] working on me. It was the characters around us, publishing directors. So I created this variability and elasticity of faces in such a way that [a single, real] Helga couldn’t be “caught.”
That having been said, there are several passages of wonderful eroticism in The Endless Perills, highly successful passages.
I have many things to reproach myself with, however. Rereading it, I imagine what should have been here on page…that sensation...that experience…that despair…I have to tell you that I have had many reasons for depression, which landed me in madhouses too. A schizoid condition. There were amorous reasons: I didn’t have reproaches to make my wife to counter balance my behavior. Then there were political reasons. And, afterward, reasons that had to do with writing, this fanatic and stupid idea of writing: I used to tell myself I had to choose myself another trade because why torture myself so much with writing… I was always in a situation to choose my own way. I knew my own way, but I always took a detour. Barriers kept springing up: writing is a matter of options. I could have very easily climbed the ladder of political hierarchy. But I didn’t want to. For some good few years I was in no man’s land, in a place of doubts. What should I do, I asked myself? How can I go on?
Isn’t this confusion beneficial to a writer?
I agree. My conviction is that the artist does not need peace and quiet. He needs to be in a subdued conflict or in a permanent state of irritation. Humiliated, avoided, not taken into consideration. When I hear so much motivational talk on the television and radio, think positive!, I say, you’re a bunch of idiots. These motivational remarks annoy me terribly. You need a conflictual state, to be confronted with the unforseen, which brings you, by chance and through a mechanism that you don’t master, to palpable accomplishments. What is that? Think positive and stay calm! In that case, life goes by without you or beside you!
George Pelimon, the hero of The Endless Perils, discovers “an inoxicating perfume of liberty—and the incredibly seductive taste of anxiety.”
Yes, there’s need of that. A few times I got myself into really wild stuff. I even lived among pickpockets.
You even stole?
I didn’t steal, but I kept watch. I acted as a screen. What bothers me is that I have no more time. What I’ve written till now were replies, polemical things, irritations, responses to irritation. I didn’t go looking for adventure, but adventure showed up.
And I’m still waiting for that truck today
I’ve been wanting to ask you something: with so many beautiful women around you, prime material for writing, why did you want to commit suicide?
I’m still suffering now with this leg of mine from that failed suicide attempt. You see how I walk. It was in 1970. Ceauşescu and Popescu-the-God, for whom I was working as chief-of-staff, had left for the UN in
Why did you want to kill yourself?
My “banckruptcy” was the cause. I no longer had time to write. Measures from the office of Popescu-the-God—art and propaganda were conducted from there—showed me the failure of my projects. Hard times waited for me as a writer. I was fed up with everything I saw around me, and I wanted to finish with everything. Do you know what Scînteia was? It wasn’t only a newspaper, from which you could transfer to leave for another place, to hang your tin pans by the tail. Scînteia was above the Central Committee. The theses that the party propagandized in gatherings and speeches were sent out from there. It pressed down on me very hard as I was with the Scînteia newspaper. Before the suicide attempt, I had many more conflicts smoldering inside; there was my love for Helga. I was thinking of divorce. I was telling you, I wasn’t a skirt chaser. Maybe there were seven occasions, seven women. My record was having a connection with one of them for 13 years.
What did you say to yourself after your suicide attempt failed?
I put a passage from Mateiu Caragiale on the wall facing my bed of pain: “For me the alternative was simple then: I would have to have either the energy to firmly stand my ground until the end—and deceiving myself alone consent in this way to the moral failure of my life, to be fraudulent—or have the elegance to sound my retreat. I had that elegance.” It was soothing. After that, I said that I had done something enormously stupid. Suicide is a great foolishness although I have been tempted about two times since them, but I put it aside. I blew out the temptation the way you blow out candles.
You told me before that you are waiting for that truck even now.
That truck comes when it needs to, when God turns the screws and closes the faucets.
The world should have been made in a single day
Do you think of your own demise?
At any moment. I’m not terrified of the end. I’m terrified of being an invalid. Maybe tomorrow you’ll here that it’s over. At a given moment, the heart goes tsak, as it did with my brother, as it did with Petru Creţia. I have countless examples. Until my heart goes tsak, I’d like to write a large treatise of jokes, which I’d dose with irony turned on myself and irony in general—to describe the errors of the world through which I have passed.
In Fever: Diary Notes, 1963-1971, you say: “God has known for a long time what I want and what I should do. He’s only waiting for me to show a sign of good will.” Have you shown him a sign of good intentions?
No. I’ve had sufficient decorum to interrupt this possible communication with God. I haven’t given him [sic] a sign of good will. If you’ve read my recent poetry, you’d have discovered that they’re blasphemous. Personally, I gather my forces and say: he should have slept for six days! He had the power to make the world on the seventh day. He should have done what he wanted for six days, and on the seventh day he should have made the world.
If he made the world in a single day, would it have turned out better, more beautiful?
If he had made the world in a single day, it would have come out better. Had he known there remained only a single working day, he would have been in a state of tension, and it would have turned out better. As it was...he stretched things out over six days...it was too much... he dragged it out. I should tell you something else. I’m an Aquarius. In a zodiac made by the art historian Ion Frunzetti, but in others as well, it is said of Aquarius: he toils without winning anything for a long period, around three quarters of his life, and he conquers in the last part, at the last hundred meters.
That’s clear from the attention paid to the new editions, those that have appeared in the last year. People are rediscovering you, valuing you. There are now new editions that allow your readers, and even very young ones, to take account of your presence in Romanian literature.
I’m glad of the gestures by publishing houses. Look, my Well-tempered Wise Guy has been published now by Humanitas. I went to Gabriel Liicceanu [publisher and editor-in-chief] and I spread the books on the table, and he said: Mr. Simionescu, I’ll republish your books—and he pointed toward the tetralogy, The Well-tempered Wise Guy. The first three have appeared in the author series that Humanitas dedicated to me, and in several weeks the Onomastic Dictionary [which forms the final part of the tetralogy] will be printed. With The Endless Perils, it was like this: I was at a book fare. Silviu Lupescu came to me. I was seeing him for the first time, and he said to me: Mr. Simionescu, I heard that you have a very good novel, The Endless Perils. Wouldn’t you like us to republish it at Cartea Românească? My legs gave out from under me. I didn’t change a line in the second edition of The Endless Perils. At this point, I’d like to republish some stories, like those published in the BPT edition [Bibliotecă Pentru Toţi / Everyman’s Library]. Tales of Gallantry, went out of print right away. It was a small print run at the end of the collection.
And why are you blasphemous with God?
It’s a state of revolt. Shall I tell you what happened? My father died at the age of 41. He was ill with laryngeal and pulmonary tuberculosis. After I tell them the symptoms, some doctors say it might have been cancer. I don’t know what it was. I know that I was scared that I’d lose him. When my father was sick, I prayed at length, with penitence, with self-flagellation, with tears, just to keep him alive.
How old were you then?
I was nine when he got sick. He died after I turned ten. Then I said with the virulence of that age: I defy you. You aren’t able to do a thing, and I never made peace after that.
What was your father? What did he mean for the child Mircea Horia Simionescu?
He was an authority that manifested itself with kindness and severity. Of course, he hauled off with the belt he used to sharpen his razor. I took a licking. But there was a balance there, a cordiality, and love...I didn’t love him for any particular gesture. He had a sense of fairness, justice and humanity. He was an officer. As such, he had an orderly. He never set him to working at other jobs than to stay with his boys. We were two brothers. Our father had wanted his boys, and to play with us fit to bust stones.
I received letters starting “Dear Father”
Did it seem unjust to you that you were fatherless at ten years old?
Yeah, sure. And I’m still living that injustice today.
Haven’t you ever come to terms with this situation.
No. No. No. As I haven’t made my peace either with the situation when, last year, in June, my oldest daughter died. She was 62. When I was seventeen—at the age when you’re looking to go to bed with someone, nibble, press up against, take some girl...You know, it’s also the age of that platonic love when you’re going with the girl from high school, to give her a little March favor [as is the custom in Romania on March first]. At 17, I had a short relationship and—speaking as among men—totally inconclusive, with a girl from the neighborhood who was a servant at my grandmother’s. Then the bombardments came on April 4, 1944. Our mother pulled us out of school and brought us to a place near Tîrgovişte. The girl had left for the country. She’d quit my grandmother. I didn’t know that she was pregnant. And I found out that she gave birth to a girl, my daughter, after 17 years. Her illiterate mother, a very simple woman, had raised her. Then I received letters from her starting “Dear Father.” I have her letters.
It was the daughter you made with that servant-girl.
Yes. And she looked for me. Se wrote to me. We saw each other for the first time seventeen years after her birth. She didn’t need material assistance. It was a matter of moral support. She was finishing high school, and she wished to know her father. And I met her. She was living in Tîrgovişte. She looked just like me, the spitting image. It was a Sunday. She was coming from a walk, and when I saw her, I started trembling. The spitting image of me. I brought her to
Mr. Simionescu, you’ve spoken about two events that shattered you: the death of your father and the death of your daughter “born in the flowers.”
Yes, that’s how it was, from the flowers. Her name was Florina.
Don’t you think that all these things are trials? Isn’t someone testing us?
Maybe so. I am in a continuous state of searching. What do I do? I have a tape recorder at my head. I wake at night. I record. Then I transcribe. There are signs, a heap of them. That’s the main problem of my life: failure to understand. Does God direct or not direct the world. Of His existence I have no doubt. I’m an Orthodox Cristian.
How beautifully you ask! Does God direct or not direct the world?
Yes. Look, take an ordinary case: a husband who beats his wife to the point where he puts her in the hospital with all her teeth broken, and the doctors save her. And you say: the Devil was in opposition, but God saved her. The same arguments have estranged me from the idea that God guides us. What? He guides each and every one? God saved her, even. He even intervened and took her from the hands of the one who wished to kill her, and he left her with only her teeth broken? It’s something else. Shall I tell you what I think?
Please, tell me.
God is in us and He is also the necessity of a state of hesitation. God is the most profound hesitation. If God would appear here, in the place where we’re talking, and if he would say, my son, consider yourself wrong! I direct the world. And he’d prove it to us with arguments. See how it is, he might say to me: I didn’t want to save your father and daughter. I was putting you to the test. I would interject: allow me, Lord, to contest you, to be in a debate with you, to be vis-à-vis myself. We have something to dispute. Maybe he sleeps, maybe he got tired, maybe tiredness comes over him from those six days of labor back when he made the world. Wouldn’t it have been better to make it in one day to have resources for later on as well? And I’d send him a smile, which he would understand, as he understands my opposition too. God made me a concession: he sowed in me the power to contest him. If he’s the supreme judge, I think that he’s also my colleague. I can tell him in a low voice what I’m unhappy about, dissatisfied with, as if I were talking with someone I know. I have this power of making daring affirmations. I can judge him. I can recant. Ah, you sent the Son? And here I have some objections: why, when he was on the cross, why didn’t you intervene? Did you want to carry on the sacrifice to the end? And through this sacrifice, were you making a program that I am bound to repeat? I should endure as well. I should save myself through sacrifice. And why, if the Son came to redeem our sins, why do we have to repeat them?
Isn’t that a piece of madness?
We’ll leave these questions and I’ll bring you back again to the side of your life that’s more...
...adventurous and beautiful. How did you succeed in staying together with your wife, Dorina, for 55 years. You dedicated How It’s Done, your novel of 2000 to her. You said as follows: “For Dorina, at 50 years of readings together.”
You know how it was. She was renting a room near where I was living. I was renting a room in an apartment as well. Although I was at Scînteia, I hadn’t used my position as an editor to obtain a house the way the others had. I stayed in a rented room near the Silvestru church, in a place, Oh Lordy...Near my bed there was a big splotch of urine. There was a pub toilet on the other side of the wall. I was getting on Tram No. 5. Tram No. 5 circulated by Dorobanţi toward Casa Scînteii. And every morning this same girl got on. Dorina. I was travelling with my friend Costache Olăreanu, who was sleeping at my place. And I said to him: “Hey, Costache, you see that girl? Look, I’d marry a woman like that.” And Costache said to me: “Well, she’s at the faculty with me, a year younger. It wouldn’t be hard to introduce you.” He introduced me. As I told Costache: That will be my wife!
And Dorina put up with all your adventures?
She did. Our life was rather abbreviated by my nights at Scînteia. I was doing various irksome jobs at the editorial office just to keep from writing. If there was snow outside, as there was with the great blizzard of ’54, I offered to shovel the snow in front of the editorial building. Just not to write. Who ever shoveled snow was exempt from an article. I don’t even know what article I was avoiding writing, probably either against Blaga or against the Bacovia’s “deceptionism.” The gazette wasn’t full of those discourses yet. Some writers could permit themselves to not write and to speak and to fall back on funny stories: but about Blaga? As for me, if I said that I didn’t want to write, I’d beS taken seriously. I could be put into discussion with the Union of Communist Youth. Dorina worked for the [national and only] radio. She was reading the news, and in the evenings she went to rehearsals. She sang in the Union of Communist Youth choral ensemble, lead by Marin Constantin, who went on to lead the Capital City Hall Chorus. So we saw each other very little. I was coming home from work after midnight. She was asleep in bed. Dorina woke up first and ran to the radio to read the news. I was sleeping a bit more. I was able to get to the office around 9:30. As such, we had a badly consummated marriage. After ten years, our child arrived, to whom we were both very much attached. For Dorina, the child was in the first place an overwhelming event. She didn’t have eyes for me anymore. And I made off with my conjugal obligations.
How did these events show up in writing.
Not to tell you again how useful this experience of infidelity is...for writing. Personally I was interested in the knowledge: femininity and woman were the object of my study. It seems that you’re not complete if you haven’t passed through such matters. I lived through a train accident as well. I was in the mountains too. I was accompanying two girls. They were in my care, nothing else, going toward Piatra Arsă, in a blizzard. We looked down the precipice. We could have died, all three. Everything that happened to me was useful for my writing. All the adventures, all the accidents, the suicide attempt. Everything. But I’d ask you, Mr. Şimonca: isn’t that madness?
To hell with school, Mama said
With this writing. You don’t go to parties with those your own age...you don’t hit a ball at the age of 13, at 16, you stay at home and read and write. You edit literary reviews into a single number...then you want to know...Woman, Femininity...you laugh all the time, maybe to escape from pressure...you want to feel, to paw the real. And you write...Isn’t that a form of madness? I was always invited to different places. To excuse myself, I would say: I have to write!! Isn’t it a madness? Geta Dimisianu made me look like two cents one time after he did an interview with me. I was saying in the interview: at the point when I was grasping a woman in my arms I was thinking about how to describe the thing. Isn’t that madness? And Geta Dimisianu came, boiling mad, after a launch at the Writer’s
But this handwriting that’s so calligraphic, where did you inherit it from?
The people in my family were all “scribes.” They all wrote beautifully.
Is it genetic?
I think so. I didn’t make special efforts to write this way. I found myself with this handwriting. It was meant to be. My mother wrote beautifully. My father used to write very beautifully. My aunts, the same. But from my mother I inherited something more. After the death of my father, she had a very important role in our formation. She wasn’t one of those pious types to make us go to school, study, grind away. My brother and I would start saying, Mama, we’re going to school, we have finals! Help us find our caps, Mama, where are our shoes... But mama kept pushing us: Where do you keep hurrying off to like that. To hell with school! Have you ever heard tell of a mother like that? It was during the war. We were wearing cut down clothes from our uncles with the fabric turned inside out. We had broken shoes. It was snowing, and Mama didn’t want us to get sick, so she kept us at home and we did French lessons with her. She was a pretty good speaker. She helped us converse in French, ordinary French. Afterwards, she used to bring us books to read. Some she acquired, others she begged for or even stole. She was stealing books from our grandparents’ library and bringing them to us so we’d have what to read. When I got almost to the end of high school I realized that our mother was offering us more solid fare in terms of books and knowledge than the things we were getting at high school. In a way, our stay at home taken care of by our mother was more useful to us that if we had gone to school. When the American bombardments of
What would you like in the upcoming years?
To regain the physical integrity I had ten years ago before the infarct. You know how I was working ten years ago, even five years ago? At 11 at night I’d rub my hands, drink a large, powerful coffee and write until morning. Isn’t that lunacy. Don’t you think I could have done better things with my time? What is this business—to sit writing in front of a typewriter all night? Even when I was returning from my lover Helga, happy and worn out, the thought would come back right away that I had a strong coffee waiting and a page to write.
 In this portion of the interview, Simionescu refers to the Communist newspaper Scîntea/
The Spark and to Casa Scînteii / Spark House. An enormous building, Casa Scînteii housed the newspaper’s editorial offices along with the rest of Party controlled publishing in