Exile as Inadequacy
Constantin Eretescu

I would start with a literary case. Vladimir Nabokov, one of the important writers of the last century is, among other things, the author of a novel in which the main character is an exiled of this kind. We must mention that Nabokov was himself an émigré and he had met many of his co-nationals scattered all around the world. Born in Petersburg in an aristocratic family, he left the country shortly after the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution. He first settled in Germany, went then to the United States and spent the last moments of his life in Switzerland. The title of the novel I am referring to is Pnin. Pnin is the name of the hero of this novel. Pnin is an intellectual, a professor in a small college on the East Coast of the United States. In the few years spent there teaching Russian, he manages to gain the reputation of a strange man. During the lectures he delivers in an approximate English and which are attended by just a few of students, he enjoys making puns and recounting literary anecdotes, such as the story about the words Puskin?s wife was telling to the poet while he was reading his poems to her. He is the only one enjoying these puns. His students had no idea who Puskin was and they knew even less about his wife. Otherwise, he is a meticulous guy. Due to the fact that life had played tricks on him before and things hadn?t turned out the way he wanted them to, he always took the necessary precautions in order to avoid surprises. Oddly enough, surprises keep happening to him, as if he is haunted by them. Once, after carefully examining the train timetable, Pnin goes to another city to deliver a conference. But something comes up. The timetable he had checked was outdated. The train didn?t stop in the city of the conference anymore. He realizes that later, when he is already on the train. He finds out that he can get off and take a bus which could take him to the desired destination. And he does so. Because he?s running late, he decides to leave the luggage at the train station and take a walk in the park. When he returns, the clerk he had entrusted the luggage to was no longer on duty. His colleague refuses to give him the luggage without seeing first a receipt. Useless to mention that at the conference, when he takes the floor, he realizes that he had brought with him the wrong text. The same happens with everything he does. He doesn?t take his driver?s license because he refuses stop in order to make sure no vehicle is coming from the opposite direction. The instructor tells him that he should have stopped. Pnin?s answer is that one must be an idiot to stop when it is clear that there is no car coming. The otherwise common-sense comment doesn?t help him in any way. With a smirk on his face, the professor in the house of whom Pnin lives retells to all the other colleagues in the department how Mr. Pnin refuses to accept that his wife?s name is Joan and has been calling her John for over a year. The unintentional errors accumulate and the poor professor cannot shake them off.

In a way, Pnin is the prototype of the archetypal exiled. He is trying hard to make thinks work. He wants to be liked, to adjust, to keep a low profile, to stop being a pain in the neck for the others. It?s useless. Nothing he does comes out right. His efforts are not rewarded.

Things are different for those who don?t losing sleep over such trifles. An enthusiasm close to lunacy takes possession of them and takes them through life. Its wing equally touches the celebrities and the nameless. Paul Miron, one of the writers of the Romanian exile, described such human types. One of them is Costache, a sergeant in the Second World War. He got all by himself to Germany and got to be a trader of synthetic fuel on the Oder. He is disguised as a bartender and is selling fuel, by the quarter of a pint, to the American soldiers. After his activity is found out he is forced to go down for a while. He loses himself in the wide world and the one who is retelling the story meets him on a Corsican beach. Naturally he went and talked to him: ?Costache, remember me? Costache, Roumanie?? He was silent, scrutinizing the dance of the waves. ?Dad doesn?t talk much? said one of his daughters. And then whispering, ?He is a Caucasian prince, you can tell it, can?t you??

The feeling of personal grandeur troubles the peace of many of us, the exiled. In 1991 I was in Montreal. There was a congress of the Romanian-American Academy. The workshops were over and it was the time of the farewell banquet organized in the restaurant of one of the fanciest hotels in town. The guests were starting to arrive. Before the official opening of the banquet they were chatting in small groups that kept on recomposing. In a corner, on a sofa under a chandelier one could see a massive man sitting. He obviously was a Church person, dressed up in a purple surplice and with a massive gold cross on the chest. He was all alone. He was looking around with the serenity and detachment of a saint. I was wondering who that person could be. I hadn?t met him during the congress. He looked familiar, though. I had seen him before. Later, and completely by chance, I figured it out. Undoubtedly he was Constantin Virgil Gheorghiu. But why was he disguised as a bishop? I couldn?t answer to this day and the former clergyman went to Heavens meanwhile. All I know is that the writer cultivated his difference. I found an accurate description of what I saw in Paul Miron?s Past Imperfect.The Short Stories of Policarp Cutzara. The book was published in 1998. ?Picturesque character, the writer notes, dressed up in a large, Greek Surplice, with a big gold cross hanging on his neck, C.V.G. can be seen in many places of civic clustering. These outings are sometimes fatal. For example, during the 1968 student protests in Paris, seduced by the TV mirage, the Devil made him get in an argument with the protesters who had occupied the Sorbonne. The result was that he got beaten up black and blue and had to recover in bed for days. In his house he built a chapel where he was officiating various divine services, always assisted by his faithful verger Cocutza.? After the success of his novel The 25th Hour, the famous writer was invited to discuss about the future of the western world. He was always in the company of his wife. We were in the beginning of the 50?s. The Iron Curtain had just split the European continent. The war had ended a few years ago, but there was talk of a new one starting. This was the context in which, the Romanian exiled would express his opinions in one of the classrooms of the Paris University. ?Is there any chance left for us? Ask the humble interlocutors. C.V.G. asks for the permission to consult with Cocutza. They talk for a while and then he proclaims in a sweet Moldavian-Wallachian accent ?Pas de chance? (No chance at all!). The audience moans, notes our biographer.

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