(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program blog; the views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cornell Blajan: He was a good and honorable man; may he rest in peace.

 We came home from our recent Prague/Italy trip to discover that our landlord, Cornell, had passed away quite suddenly.  The graveside service was the morning after I returned, a day before Nancy and the kids returned. 
Cornell always had a twinkle in his eye

One of the last conversations I had with Cornell, he invited me for "o mic," a little tsuika, he said with a twinkle in his eye while holding two fingers about a centimeter apart.  Of course, he always served me more than a centimeter of tsuika... and a beer and water to chase it all down.  We sat in the kitchen and talked about his life, in Romanian, of course.  I've learned enough of the language that I could understand and keep him talking ("înteleg...sigur...da da").
He pointed out to the garden and around the house and said, "this is my life.  Everything that is important to me is right here, my family, my garden," and pointing around the neighborhood, "and my friends." He talked with pride about how successful his daughter and son have become, and how big his daughter's new home is, and how proud he was of his two granddaughters. He talked about how he could walk around the neighborhood and say hello to everyone he meets because they are all good people and he knows them well.   I wanted to ask him to introduce me to his friend who makes the tsuika from the apples in his garden, but I thought that could wait until later (after I practiced how to say that in Romanian).

Thanksgiving Dinner with Cornell, Luci, Bailey and Paul
We invited Cornell and Luci for Thanksgiving dinner with two American students who are learning Romanian.  They had heard about American Thanksgiving and knew that it was a big deal, but Cornell was worried about spending an entire evening together without having conversation (we couldn't do anything in Romanian then).  The students were capable translators and conversationalists.  When we shared what we are thankful for, all three Ratliffs  told Cornell and Luci how much living next door to them has made our experience of Romanian culture enriching.  I can confidently say that knowing Cornell and Luci and being included in many of their family customs has been the highlight of my cultural exchange.  Living in some apartment in the center of the city, I never would have harvested grapes and apples, grilled sausages in the fire pit, fed the chickens, killed the Christmas pig (well, actually they killed it at the farm and chopped it up in the kitchen), celebrated birthdays Romanian style, shoveled snow.

One of the "Cornell-isms" that I won't forget is his playful sense of humor.  He had a way of ending a story about "Romanian life that didn't quite go as one would want things to turn out" with a gesture: a shrug, his palms would turn up, and his eyes would bulge out, which seemed to be a gesture of resignation, "What do you expect?" or "So what can you do?"   One of my favorite stories he told went something like this: The Turks came in Romania and took what they could; the Hapsburgs came and took what they could; the Soviets came, now the EU and the the multinationals come... Then the shrug, "What can you do?"

The last conversation we had with him was when he came over to the apartment to ask us if we could help him with a surprise for his two granddaughters.  He asked our advice on how to buy laptop computers, a sizable purchase by Romanian standards, and we planned to go shopping when we returned from our trip.  He wanted to surprise his son and daughter with the gifts as much as his granddaughters. When we asked if his daughter could help us translate some of the technical details when we went shopping, he responded, "No, then it wouldn't be a surprise!"

Cornell's birthday party
Pressing grapes on the back porch
Cami enjoying the fresh grape juice

Cornell, Luci and family

1 comment:

  1. Dan,

    Thanks for letting me know. I'm really sorry for your loss and for Luci's loss as well. I hope you are enjoying your time still, even in Cornel's absence. I miss Cluj very much and of course your family.

    Cu drag,