7 am. The usual heavy breakfast and a new meeting. The NGO too chatty English lady.
Completely disregarding the sacred silence that should always reign in the morning, the old lady started to tell us about her life. And since she was quite old, her speech went on for quite a while. It was the tale of an enthusiastic woman, who decided to consacrate her life to volunteering for the less fortunate. Ok, all great and admirable. But then she began asking questions about us.
What do you do in life?
Ok, nothing humanitarian. We are just regular human beings. We study English Literature and Germanic Philology, which do not fall in the category of “useful to thy neighbour.”
Oh, interesting, but what use is it? I mean, what use is it for society?
Obviously it does not have any. It’s like asking what’s the use of art, especially of modern art! My thesis on contemporary Scottish theatre will not put an end to world hunger, and to analyse the writings of Chaucer will not bring relief to the afflicted. But you could have inferred it from the beginning, by the keywords “philology” and “literature.”
After this lovely morning meeting which left us ill-disposed towards the new day, we set out to reach the not-so-much-relevant-to society Faculty of Languages, to hear a lecture on James Joyce rather than on world peace.
The University of Cluj-Napoca is the largest in Romania, and its central building is one of the most peculiar I’ve ever set foot in. From the outside it looks like a large building of beige bricks, while on the inside it looks more like a Renaissance mansion, where the painter made its point to dare with colours. Three giant white marble staircases lead the students to the top floor. There we entered the offices in the rectory walking on a red carpet (yes, like the red carpet for celebrities, but more modest), while all around us the walls caught the eye for their combination of green and orange. The Romanian professor who was guiding us decided that we had to learn all about the life and death of all the rectors of the university since its foundation, so we spent most of the afternoon in the corridors, looking at busts. So many of them!
After leaving the rectory, we went to visit the Department of English, which for our tutor was like a leap into the past. The building was once a convent of nuns, and while we were seated on the benches in its beautiful garden, where the scent of flowers was carried around by a warm wind, it was really hard to imagine that not that many years before, during the Ceausescu regime, the courtyard and the garden were used for military exercises. Our tutor told us something about the days of the regime, when even studying foreign languages, and English in particular, was considered suspicious. Students of English were isolated from the others and they were assigned to the oldest and most crumbling classrooms on the top floor. They called it the “Eagle’s Nest,” thus conveying a slightly more epic image than it actually should. Our tutor still remembered their uniform, with the hated Soviet overcoat, incredibly heavy to wear, and perhaps made even heavier by what it meant, especially for those who, like her, belonged to the Hungarian minority.
To lighten the mood, before leaving she told us a really weird story. Each Monday she had to attend to the much detested military exercises. The university had hired specialised female coaches to train the girls and, apparently, was paying them a huge amount of money. During the exercises, these ladies liked to gossip, seeking the approval and perhaps the envy of the poor students. Each time they had something new to show off and boast about. In particular, they had a thing for wigs. Apparently wigs were a huge fad at the time… (seriously, I really can’t imagine it!). Anyway, they had wigs of all kind, cut, hairstyle and colour! They were able to spend an entire month salary on them!
They were so caught up in this hairy craziness (I’m not judging, huh!?), that they stopped training the students in favour of some sort of “beauty classes-oh, please-tell-me-how-fabulous-I-am-with-ma-nu-hair!” I guess it’s better than harsh military training…
How did it end? Tired of the weekly charade, the male superiors decided to put a ban on wigs.
Aaaand, I suck at reporting anecdotes. wigs, wigs, wigs, wigs, wigs, blaaargh!