Going to school through the Cișmigiu park

In the short time he was director general of the C.I.S., my father had to use the official car more often than usual. He had to get quickly from one of the buildings of the Institute, the one in Strada Brezoianu, across the Cișmigiu park, to the others, the headquarters in the Splaiul Unirii, or to the one in Șerban Vodă, where the Archives and the garage were lo- cated. The driver, the austere Mr. Chelu, showed up every morning at No. 7, Strada Dr. Lister and from then on my father would no longer walk me through the Cișmigiu park to school—which was on Strada Christian Tell (whose name jingled for a long time in my head like a tiny bell: cristiantel)—and send my brother to kindergarten by car, but he submit- ted instead to the grown-up discipline of sullen, motorized efficiency.

When we walked together to school, the amusements that my father invented were not few. These were the years in which we ate maize mush in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. Maize mush with jam in the morning. Maize mush with potato stew or cooked beans at noon. Maize mush fried in fat or maize mush with milk in the evening. The left-over maize mush was wrapped every morning by my grandmother for us. We took it to the beavers and the deer in the Cișmigiu park, not far from the exit towards the Con- servatory. The beavers would hardly let them- selves be seen, busy as they were with their woodcutting on the small island on the pond. We would throw clumps of dry mush and watch to see how they got them. Where the deer were, there was a sour smell, from the neighbouring foxes. I would stretch out my hand with cold mush, their lips took it from me delicately, my father looking on.

To get to Cișmigiu we would cross the Elefterie bridge, leaving the Dâmbovița river to our right. On the Dâmbovița quay, more precisely on the slope leading to the muddy water, poppy flowers were growing, and we would talk about the probable number of petals; for me every flower had at least five, four said my father, five I would insist with conviction. I remember how I once saw him jump with ease over the metallic fence and run down the slope, he stumbled a little, reaching for a poppy that I could make out round and full and most certainly having lots of petals. He came back triumphantly, there were four, all crumpled on top of each other. That is how I learned that common poppies, unlike the double ones, indeed have only four petals.

We walked on Bulevardul 6 Martie to Piața Kogălniceanu. Entering the park by the rose alley, right after the Lazăr High School, we would look at the statues of writers. Then we went out by the Conservatory exit, where in springtime an elegant little tree blossomed in pink, crêpe-paper tassels. I remember how once, seeing that I was pining for them, my fa- ther broke off a twig and offered it to me. It had been a royal gift, he had assumed a serious risk, I thought, by breaking off a branch from a tree that was not ours, and, ever since, each time I pass by that place (where the tree lives on and probably blossoms just as wondrously), I remember the joy and terrified pride I felt one far-gone spring. He had won, in one second, my life-long devotion.