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Horror at its best

Mircea Pricăjan

Publicat Duminică, 8 Octombrie 2006, ora 10:08

      Last time we’ve talked about art and art’s nature. We have stated a few basic things that relate art to the real, concrete aspect of human existence. – I feel that time has come for us to dwell a little bit on the letter element of that distinction.

      And what better starting point than a real happening?

      We’ve discussed the warlike polarity of a work of art, haven’t we? Well, it just as happens that, last week, I’ve been summoned for ‘clarification of the military situation’ at the nearest barracks.

      It would be a pertinent mentioning that in Romania the military service is mandatory! Thus, before or after graduating university, every Romanian male must pass through a period of 12 to 6 months of military training. Those who try to elude this stage are seen as enemies of the state and can even suffer imprisonment.

      My experience now─

      It happened during a rainy day (the story tells); one which followed a string of shiny days and after which came another string of shiny ones; an island of a day you might say; a crack in the calm realm of events ─ from whence the surrealism of the whole situation. We were gathered in front of the barracks gates at 7 a.m., as the announcement slip we’ve all received proclaimed. Lucky for those who happened on a friend; they had someone to talk to; it killed the time. I myself had such friends. And we talked indeed. And the time, nevertheless, did not pass. It must have been for the sad rain. Or for the early hour. Or for the delay. Because I forgot to mention that one of the Romanian’s most important ‘qualities’ is the lack of punctuality (I’m ashamed and I hope for forgiveness when I give myself as an example in this respect: the present editorial had to be published three days ago – shame on me!). We were let inside the building at half past seven. Not such a big deal, yeah, I tried to tell myself that too, but no long after that I reminded myself that it’s the army I was talking about, not the pizza delivery boy. Half an hour can save a nation’s destiny in times of need…

      We entered a large deserted yard. Only the high barbed wired fence gave a sign that we were inside a barracks. We were led by a husky middle aged man dressed in uniform along a winding sidewalk to a two story building. The rain continued to pour on us and the only relief we felt when we entered the construction was that we escaped the ‘heavenly’ water. Inside there was solitude all around, there was dampness in the chilly air and there was an echo with every footstep. We got to the first level, where the husky man told us to divide into two groups: those attending a faculty would go straight ahead; those who don’t would enter the room on the left. We went ahead. We were told to sit down and wait for another person to come and tell us what to expect. We did as required. Talks fallowed among us. We started getting acquainted with each other.

      Time passed. More than twenty minutes.

      After that, a somehow youngish and better structured man entered and recommended himself. Not being accustomed with the military hierarchy I didn’t get his rank; as for the name, I’m sorry to report that I have a slight tendency to overlook a person’s name if I’m not particularly interested in memorizing it. He told us that we were supposed to take two tests; a standard psychological one and a brand new personality one. I have to admit that I still have doubts as of what the difference between the two resides in. Anyway, our new tutor said that the second is some newly introduced one, a test specially designed for the forthcoming NATO integration of our beloved country. We said: OK, let’s do them and be free as soon as possible. ‘No, don’t be in such a hurry!’ the military guy told us with a grin and scratched his forehead. ‘We still need you to undergo some physical check-ups and we will also arrange for each of you a personal meeting with our psychologist.” We accepted that too. After all, we were in their power, we had no other choice.

      The brief introduction finished, we were left again to wait. And the wait prolonged for another half an hour. When this interval of time had elapsed, the first army guy we met at the gates came in and asked us to follow him. We did as required once again. We were all starting to feel like pets at a training field.

      We were led to another building, much colder and more isolated that the first one, it seemed. The whole barracks, to be honest, looked to me as after a bomb threat. The room we entered reminded me of the gas chambers at Auschwitz I’ve seen in pictures. ‘The secretary will soon be here!’ the husky fellow let us know.

      And, indeed, he was there ‘soon enough’. After a quarter of an hour. Damn’, these military guys surely know how to surprise you!

      I won’t go through the whole procedure (which consisted of checking some papers and adding them to a file they had had already prepared for each of us). I’ll skip directly to the interesting discussion we had with the younger uniformed man.

      Let’s not mention the stiffness that seemed so familiar with him and the fixed look he gave us when we asked something. Let’s not mention the bad use of language (most annoying of all being the use of the so called ‘wooden language’: some used-up phrases, reminiscent from the long demised communist propaganda) and let’s not mention also the patronizing tone of voice. Let us skip to the basic elements.

      And these elements came directly in their conclusive form, no other words needed.

      1. Who doesn’t attend the military service is an unfinished man.

      2. Who chooses to continue his studies is spared of the military service for the period in question, but will be summoned to duty after that without any hesitation.

      3. Military service is a relaxation; it is like a trip. We will all have fun!

      4. Even if the Constitution will be changed and the military service will no longer be mandatory, those who will not attend it will not be able to work but with a shovel and a pick.

      Of course, the list could go on and on. And the examples are among the funniest I’ve ever heard. Or perhaps among the saddest? Who knows!




      I should have also mentioned here the nature of the test we have been subjected to. – The brand new 300 questions NATO-proofed one proved to be a test published in 1998; the paper on which it was printed had gained a yellowish color – should it be because of the passing of time? – I should have also mentioned the long wait for the physician to arrive and the quick note he took of our height and weight in his book. And the two-question psychological test (1. What high-school did you graduate? and 2. What are you planning to do in the future?)─

      The result of that day – and it really was A DAY, when you think that it took more than 7 hours to get it finished with – is that our beloved nation has us in its books. It can now come at any time, banging at your door, demanding that you follow the middle-aged husky uniformed guy. And it would be our patriotically duty to follow him. It would be a pride to do it. He’s only guiding us to a relaxation camp. He’s our tourist guide. He’ll give us uniforms like his and he’ll teach us to speak like he does. Yey-ho!

      Coming back to seriousness, I’m not so much enraged because they have taken a day of my life – I’m willing to think of it as community service –, but because, after everything was over, we didn’t receive a mere ‘Thank you’ phrase.

      We were patriotic enough to come at their orders, and all we got in return was a sour throat for the next three days.

      Have I told you it was really cold in there?


      Talk about art, huh? Horror at its best!


© Copyright Mircea Pricăjan
Sursa :   Imagikon
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