Virginia Woolf here:
“Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light…it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature. Novels, one would have thought, would have been devoted to influenza; epic poems to typhoid; odes to pneumonia, lyrics to toothache. But no; … literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear.”
It is over: she is dressed, steps gently and decently down from the table, looks for James; then, turning to the surgeon and the students she curtsies—and in a low, clear voice, begs their pardon if she has behaved ill. The students—all of us—wept like children; the surgeon happed her up.
–John Brown describing a nineteenth-century mastectomy
This short piece lives now at Fictionaut. I wrote this originally for this site many many years ago (2005ish?) and it was much shorter, maybe 300 words. (It’s 633 now.) It’s a sort of “memoir” but not really. It’s fiction. But then again, isn’t all memoir fiction. Isn’t it?
I was lucky enough to tour Romania by car at a very young age, before I left it for good in my 10th year alive. It’s a beautiful country geographically. Although I haven’t been back since I left at the very end of 1979, it’s definitely a land that needs to be seen by more people. A simple Google image search will yield wonders; it’s a cross between Germanic influence, Greek influence, Roman influence, and Middle Eastern motifs…even in cuisine…and better yet, even in the salaciousness of our curse words.
To this day what strikes me about having briefly lived in a communist regime were the contradictions. We were an atheist country, yet it was littered with Orthodox monasteries. Priests were informers, yet people still went to church and lit candles. Maybe they wanted to be heard. The Marxist doctrine was about sharing, yet everyone fought like mad to survive…everyone for himself. Everyone (or nearly everyone) informed on one another. Sons on fathers, fathers on sons. People lined up in queues and had no idea what stores were selling. Usually it was nothing. Or they ran out of whatever little they had. But citizens lined up for that, too. Nothing was often worth waiting in long lines for.
One day I’ll go back; I owe it to my daughter and my wife. Before I get to east Europe, though, there are many many other countries I’d like to see. And therein lies the problem. My country’s geographic location puts it at a disadvantage with me.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the piece.