MAIA’S EMBRACE by Bianca Andreea Marin
Bucharest, November 2007
The train arrives in Bucharest at 10.15 a.m. The schedule is set, the maps are bought, the watch is carefully inspected for accuracy. The last train leaves at 11.45 p.m., and we have to be on it. The itinerary has been carefully planned by my husband, who was born in Bucharest, whereas I, an outsider, a province girl, have to trust his better judgement. However, we decide together on the theatre play we want to see. ‘You cannot come to Bucharest and not see a play,’ he says, as he is an absolute theatre maniac, capable of seeing the same play more than thirty times. ‘It has to be with Maia Morgenstern,’ I say, and he instantly agrees, ‘I want to see her live.’
I have been fascinated by this woman since I was a child. I remember whispering her name carefully, and wondering about its strange sounds. One night, my mother said to me that Maia Morgenstern was to perform on the scene of the small theatre in my native town. Her tone of voice gave me the impression that she was talking about the most impressive and wonderful thing ever to happen in our small town. It was the event of a lifetime. I kept her name in my memory for years, only to discover her later, in films, to reject or to adore her on TV, to let my eyes linger on her images in magazines, to let myself be conquered by the enchanting modulations of her voice when speaking in her native tongue, to ponder on her particular beauty, without ever resolving to myself the question: is she or is she not a beautiful woman?
He asked me whether I liked her. I didn’t know what to answer. All I know is that she seems to be a fascinating woman, a natural born actress, a mix of sensuality and motherhood, and the toughest person I have ever seen. I have watched her speak in many interviews, and she has always shocked me with sharp, harsh answers whenever she dislikes the questions, which cut the flowing of the interview like a knife. I fear her and, am attracted to her at the same time. Poor journalists who have to interview Maia Morgenstern!
We go straight to Laptaria lui Enache, to buy the tickets for the show which will start at 7 p.m.,“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”. Of course, nobody is there, and after a long walk on the streets of Bucharest, between Cismigiu and Stirbei Voda, we come back for the tickets. The elevator presents us with the strange reality of a communist relic: the elevator woman who is sewing a cloth inside it, sitting on a small chair, whilst her only job is to push the buttons between the floors, instead of letting the visitors do that by themselves. I almost want to take her picture. I think there are only 4 floors so her job seems even more ridiculous.
The place, the famous Laptaria lui Enache, disappoints me from the start: a dark, small room with a low ceiling, a claustrophobic cave. We arrive late, after walking for more than seven hours on the streets of Bucharest (‘You have to see this, and this, and that. You cannot leave without seeing …,’ my husband kept on dragging me, on the streets of his native town, my feet sore, my back aching, only granting me two short coffee breaks), and we cannot find front seats. The view isn’t great, the small, dark cave is full, people sitting everywhere, at the tables, on the tables, on the chairs, on the floor, almost entering the improvised stage. At a desk, at the back of the room, Maia is reading thoughtfully some papers. Our eyes are focused on her but we seem to be the only ones aware of her presence. The other people in the audience are drinking and talking, perhaps accustomed to her presence in a way that we can never become. She walks to the bar, gives directions, passes by us whilst we are both holding our breath. Nobody watches her, nobody bothers her. I look at her, and realize that I see her first as a Mother, secondly as a Woman, and only then as an Actress. And I am sure that she does all of them to perfection; she cannot be something without being that something perfectly.
At last, the show begins, and the nice lady at the desk transforms herself. She announces, in a voice of thunder that the dance contest is to begin, and that she is the Master of Ceremonies. She walks, she jumps, she cries, she moves, she dances, all with such a power and frenzy that our eyes are glued to her. Maybe the other actors are also good but they are swollen by the monstrous flood that has erupted on the small stage. Her black wig falls down in the frenzy, revealing her beautiful gray hair but she doesn’t seem to mind. She is not Maia Morgenstern anymore, a mother of three, a sensual woman, but MC, Master of Ceremonies of a barbarian contest. She is the Ultimate Actress. Tough, unjust, despicable, hateful, mean, arrogant, she is all that her director wants her to be, with a cruelty that makes my blood clog in my veins. The significance of her name, the flow of her energy makes me imagine her as a river. She is a deep, powerful river with blasting waves, during a howling hurricane, she is an icy blue ocean with rough-edged icebergs, she is the primordial feminine principle of the water that gives birth, in screaming pains, to everything. We all draw our forces from her.
The plot unravels in front of us and keeps on going. The tired dancers are sweating. I can almost feel their tiredness in my own hurt body, the sore feet, the torn muscles, the stiff joints. The pain. It seems to me that the entire day spent on the streets of Bucharest has only been a pre- figuration of this show, that the actors are suffering from the same pain as mine. The chair is uncomfortable, and I can’t move my back. I lack the forces to keep my back straight because of the stiffness of the spine and the pain but there she comes again, forcing me, forcing the actors, to stand up again, and again, to go on. She is torturing me with her torrents of energy as she is torturing the poor dancers. I close my eyes during the dance breaks only to wake up suddenly to the cry of her voice. She drains me of all my energy. We are all, audience and actors alike, a wreckage in her arms, pulled away by the flow of her waves. I am no longer in the audience. I am on the stage. My head resting on my husband’s shoulder, I feel part of the dance contest, slowly moving my tired, exhausted limbs, unable to utter a word against her. I haven‘t come to a theatre play that evening, I have become part of one. I have become one with the mass of speed-walking dancers who stumble and groan whilst their muscles scream in agony. Dancers fall to the floor, their limbs convulsing. The music won’t stop. We have to keep on going, her voice urges us, she has no pity for our glassy eyes and clenched jaws. She pours a bucket of water on an exhausted competitor.
Suddenly, she rushes into the audience and whispers something to a girl who is sitting at the table in front of us. I exchange glances with my husband: ‘What is this?’ He has no time to answer. She comes directly to us, embraces both our shoulders and asks me, looking straight into my eyes: ‘Would you like me to tell the man in the coloured shirt to come to you?’ I smile stupidly and utter: ‘No, thank you,’ and turn my head away from her glance. My only memory is the thought that she has such a tender smile. In the intimacy of the encounter, the river has turned into a peaceful, maternal spring. No, I haven’t imagined it. I am a part of the play. We all are, even if we don’t realize it. But SHE knows it.
Some pairs leave, others change their partners. One dancer collapses. In the midst of all this insanity, two people find a ray of love. A delicate, thin man with big, dreamy eyes and a dark-haired young woman who is the only one who dares confront the frightening MC. The end is near, the disillusion – great. There is no prize, the dancers have drained their forces for weeks for nothing, it is all a scam. I don’t have time to realize that the contest is over. I am still dancing, letting my husband’s body to support my trembling moves.
A blast startles me. The dark-haired woman is dead. ‘Why?,’ I ask. The fragile-looking young man answers me: ‘They shoot horses, don’t they?’
There is no curtain in Laptaria lui Enache. If it were, they would have had to lower it with me on the other side. After all, I have always liked horses.
The train leaves at 11.45 p.m. We say our farewell to the beautiful city, after a final walk on Kogalniceanu Street. We vow to come back to it one day: he loves this city, and I have fallen in love with it, too.