Monday, January 16, 2012

From the Chronicles of Tescovina

You'd have a tough time recognizing that this is not an excerpt from Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities.

"The Province of Tescovina, which is comprised of Tertiary Hill country rich in loess, has no natural eastern defenses and lies exposed to the Podolian Steppe, so that for thousands of years the land wa ssubject to the invasions of barbarian nomads."  That was the sentence we had to commit to memory as one of our first lessons in local history and geography under Herr Alexianu, who worked for a while as our private tutor--one part of our vsry checkered and highly unsystematic education. The purpose was to acquaint us with the idea that running through our veins was the blood of Dacians, Romans, Gepids, Avars, Pechenegs, Cumans, Slavs, Magyars, Turks, Greeks, Poles, and Russians: "a strong mix of ethnicities" was how the book described Tescovina.   In the fourteenth century some landed gentry whose names struck our ears like the curses we were always hearing--Bogdan Siktirbey, for example--founded small states, known as "voivodates," which soon came under Turkish rule.  In 1775 the Sublime Porte ceded our homeland to Austria, which first annexed Tescovina to Galicia, and later declared it an independent Crown Land. Her Alexianu spoke about this historic episode with the greatest reluctance.
 In fact, it is a selection from an introductory chapter in Gregor von Rezzori, An Ermine in Czernopol (NYRB ed. 2011).  Sounds like he is  once again remembering his youth in the lost world of pre-War (which war?) Eastern Europe, as he did in Memoirs of an Anti-Semite and The Snows of Yesteryear--though this time, perhaps more explicitly in the form of a fantasy. I'm advised that "Tescovina" is Romanian for "rape."

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