A Romanian Rhapsody - The Life of Conductor Sergiu Comissiona


(the authorised biography)

            At the Comissionas’ residence, the two children’s respectful and disciplined conduct would be persistently under the scrutiny of the parents. Dressing up for occasions, going to the synagogue on Saturdays or playing music there, at social gatherings, accompanied by the dedicated pianist Nelly Vertenstein, was an expectation to be obediently fulfilled. From the synagogue gallery, with Milly at her side (adorned as if for a window display), Jenny Comissiona, with a coquettish little hat, would lovingly watch her “men” – her presentable husband, in an elegant black suit, and her son, dressed alike.
            On ordinary days, the children’s outbursts of sibling rivalry would sometimes need round-the-clock mediation from the parents, the young “brat” being usually favored, to Milly’s obvious discontent. The gap would deepen, consequently, for all sorts of major reasons. For instance, why would “Freckled Face” poke his nose into his sister’s business whenever she and her girlfriends would have a chat? Moreover, is he “nuts” to stand in front of the radio and swing his arms like crazy, eyes closed, as if possessed by whatever music-making forces from beyond? Is he picturing himself as dressed in a tailcoat with a baton in his hand? With his freckles? Just fancy that!
            Never synchronized, due to the different gender preoccupations and age gap, there would be little room for communion between brother and sister, especially when, as an emancipated teenager, Milly would resent having an elementary school student following her around. Besides, unlike her, he isn’t quite fond of school, though he would conscientiously do his homework, followed by the daily lengthy music practice. But, still…How can she be so good, making her parents proud of her school achievements, whereas he wouldn’t bother much? What will he do later on, in life, for God’s sake?
            Actually, aside from the school strictness, what the image-conscious little boy hates the most is the compulsory uniform, so offensively girlish looking – a black pinafore, with a starched white collar and a red bow. As if ready to “shake paw”. A hard-to-bear effeminate disgrace, altogether! Only later on will he realize that the positive aspect of the matter is that in a system where uniformity is imposed upon people, they would strive to be original and that endeavour would translate into a personality gain proportional to the individual’s resourcefulness. On the contrary, in a Western country, where freedom often makes one feel insecure of his choice, young people especially, willingly choose a certain uniformity, for the sake of proving their belonging to a clearly distinct group. That also explains the peer-pressure phenomenon, so strong in the West. Another disgrace that the image-conscious boy resents is being “branded” with the school logo, “Lucaci Elementary School” that students have to wear on the uniform sleeve in case a student’s “inappropriate public conduct” has to be reported to the respective school. God forbid! If so, his days would be doomed! A severe teacher as Mrs. Paraschivescu is - doing the daily check-up of students’ clean hands and cut nails with a menacing slapping ruler in her hand - would immediately impose on “the culprit” the disastrous punishment of a shaved head (versus the one-centimetre hair length that boys are otherwise allowed by school regulations). Life is tough.
            Not too easy at home, either, when you are ten years old and have to take your grandmother to the movies - her choices, of course!) Or to the Cishmigiu Gardens…There, she would pay one leu for a seat on a bench, nearby the Buturuga Bistro, fromwhere she would get and savour (forever!) a glass of buttermilk and a hot bagel, while listening to the fanfare band performing in the kiosk.
            A rich “parade” to be watched around: young soldiers in training, on their Sunday leave, their arms around the waists of pretty, clumsy maids, “fresh” from the countryside and too soon caught up in the whirlpool of the city lifestyle; mothers with babies in strollers or with toddlers trying their first steps and falling like ducklings on their behinds; elderly men playing chess or backgammon, with their wives patiently knitting or crocheting beside; high-school lovers whispering to each other, hand in hand… Then, that antique-china-looking old lady feeding the pigeons at odd times of the day, followed by them like a feathery escort, long after she has finished the breadcrumbs in her worn-out bag….
            Here and there, colourfully dressed gypsy women are pushily selling seasonal flower bouquets to dating young men (“For ‘the French woman’ in your life, you, handsome!”), or trying to impose their Tarot fortune telling or palm-reading on passers-by. A photographer with a twisted up moustache and a Panama hat on keeps busy immortalizing on demand “Souvenirs from Cishmigiu” by his shoe-box-like camera obscura – just black-and-white images of a colourful scene to be framed or sent back home to the family’s delight.
            People would buy hazelnuts from hot trays, or pumpkin and sunflower seeds in newspaper cornets from dubious-looking vendors. Others would try a “lucky” fortune-telling slip drawn by a fresh-green or ripe-yellow parrot hopping lamely on a barrel organ. The bird looks as old as its handler, who is tirelessly turning its crank to produce the same repetitive tune forever, and ever, and ever.…No scratches on a record, but definitely on the owner’s brain, in the long run….
            It’s only after hours on end that Grandma Dora finally wants back home.














With Maestro Comissiona, on the last work session for the biography project..(Athens, GREECE - February 2005)

Cecilia Burcescu

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