by Doina Ruști
No story begins on the first page of a book. The Phanariot Manuscript is no exception. A possible beginning could be in the Sarai’s library, where Sultan Selim III came across some scores, written so cautiously that the musical notes looked like mosquitos drowning in coffee.
Selim hummed the tune, as usual. It was something cheerful. It started off with some short pattering and continued in an ample manner, which made it impossible not to realise how many had put their heart into that song. He felt the paper, ignoring the tiny signature found in the corners. The same hand had written under the notes, in a fine language, as if especially to remind him of the flawless bead-like figure of his first teacher. The tune flowed with the words. There were three stanzas that praised a city of all types of happiness.
The song went to his heart and by evening the entire palace had learned it and from there it spread to the streets and, moreover, to the taverns. Firstly, because it came from the great Selim, but also because it was a lively tune, which made your heart flutter from its very first bars. The city from the song was like the hidden whisper in the linden flower. Between its walls all suffering melted away, erased from the Book of Destiny or from other books copied after that. And the city, that city of light hearts, was none other than Bucharest.
Then the rumours began to spread, supported by the hissed whispers of the Greeks of Phanar, the only ones who had travelled the roads beyond the Danube, where the Wallachian city lay. For instance, everyone knew that, as soon as you cross the bridge, which is also the only entrance to the city, you realise that your whole life up to that point is worth nothing. On the streets paved with oak wood, steam swirls around fromthe silver stoups in which elixirs, perfumes and ointments boil all the time, for the city doesn’t live off the labour of the land, nor off its numerous shops, but off a continuously renewed off that warm breath which invades all pores and makes any newcomer forget everything they’ve lived before as they are instantly transformed into an emir with sapphire eyes, into a nabob with carriages and palaces, into a governor, a polkovnik or at least into a clear of the lordly suite.
But there were also many who spoke of people walking dazed around the street, drunk in love or stuffed with the goodies that they dreamed of, tortured by their own desires which eat through their flesh’s most fragile part, teaching them to enjoy the pains of passion and the poison of a sigh.
But no matter the changes they go through, there is no one who can resist falling into a prolonged euphoria. In Bucharest there are no worries, nor any lengthy melancholia, which explains even the name of this happy town, like a bell in winter snows.
[n.t. București – from bucurie = joy]
Translated into English by Liana Grama
(an introduction by Bianca Zbarcea)