ABOUT: a recent drawing, Romania and beards.
(read in a thick eastern European accent):
“Don’t cry now, cry later, sweetheart.”
My first lesson with Denisa was when I was nine years old, and despite having learnt the violin and viola for three years until that point, I still could not hold the bow properly (and was genuinely scared that she was going to hit me with it). She has been the most exceptional and lovely teacher, who (with an immense passion for music, and requisite weekly tea and chocolate) saw me through my eighth grade certificate, symphony orchestras, quartets and many performances along the way.
I have known Denisa for ten years now, and was at her home as she planned international performance tours, organised kitchen renovations, when she sadly heard of the passing of her mother, and when she commemorated twenty years in Australia – a day cast with undertones of grief as it also marked what would have been her husband’s birthday.
Denisa emigrated to Australia in 1990, after a year and a half spent apart from Bogdan, who was detained in a Serbian immigration centre. As a remnant of World War II restrictions, emigration to and from the Eastern block was strictly limited, and Denisa thankfully travelled to the Australian consulate in Belgrade the day before the city was put on lock down; no one in and no one out. The two arrived in Sydney from Romania, which during the 1980s had faced immense food shortages, and where living standards in the country were amongst the lowest in Europe. Denisa remembers that it was not money that was hard to come by; the people were not poor, but they were hungry.
Wide scale rationing had been implemented by 1984, and most people did not have access to staple foods or general goods. Romania’s protoleum products were also strictly rationed through curfews, methane substitutes in vehicles, rationing street lighting, and limiting television broadcasting to a single channel for two hours each day. The rationing of food and staple goods was enforced through the austerity policy, as imposed by Romania’s President Nicolae Ceausescu, with the intention of paying out debt incurred by the state during the previous decade, and to meet the demands of rapid industrialisation. At this time, Bogdan worked as a psychiatrist, and Denisa, as a music teacher. Through their connections with families and students, they were always able to get food, however Denisa often came home to find the cupboards empty, as Bogdan regularly rushed home during his patient’s visits to kindly provide them with much needed food.
It is no secret that Denisa has an immense love of art – though it is impossible to describe her gallery-home, so here is a sample of just some of her collected artworks (all original) from around the world. Seated at the table, and next to the portrait, Denisa turned to me and said: but you are an artist, you must do something with your art.
Since being given Bogdan’s photograph in 2011, I have started and restarted this drawing many times – always hoping to make it better than the last. In previous attempts I always worried about rendering the hair (we were told last week that his beard was cut every five years) – and maybe the beard in this portrait was more refined than in the first, or perhaps it wasn’t. But what I worry more about, and what is so much more challenging, is trying to capture the light in someone’s eyes, the kindness behind their expression, or the warmth with which they are remembered. Unfortunately, that never seemed to get easier with practise, but as Denisa looked at it she said with conviction:
Yes, it is him just as he was yesterday.
His presence is, of course, continually felt throughout their home; in photographs, objects, and memories – as slight as the bloom of snowdrop petals at the first whispers of spring.