I clearly recall the day I first became truly aware of myself, I mean of myself as something that everything else was not. As a boy I liked best those dead intervals of the year when one season had ended and the next had not yet begun, and all was grey and hushed and still, and out of the stillness and the hush something would seem to approach me, some small, soft, tentative thing, and offer itself to my attention. This day of which I speak I was walking along the main street of the town. It was November, or March, not cold, but neutral. From a lowering sky fine rain was falling, so fine as to be hardly felt. It was morning, and the housewives were out, with their shopping bags and headscarves. A questing dog trotted busily past me looking neither to right nor left, following a straight line drawn invisibly on the pavement. There was a smell of smoke and butcher’s meat, and a brackish smell of the sea, and, as always in the town in those days, the faint sweet stench of pig-swill. The open doorway of a hardware shop breathed brownly at me as I went past. Taking in all this, I experienced something to which the only name I could give was happiness, although it was not happiness, it was more and less than happiness. What had occurred? What in that commonplace scene before me, the ordinary sights and sounds and smells of the town, had made this unexpected thing, whatever it was, burgeon suddenly inside me like the possibility of an answer to all the nameless yearnings of my life? Everything was the same now as it had been before, the housewives, that busy dog, the same, and yet in some way transfigured. Along with the happiness went a feeling of anxiety. It was as if I were carrying some frail vessel that it was my task to protect, like the boy in the story told to us in religious class who carried the Host through the licentious streets of ancient Rome hidden inside his tunic; in my case, however, it seemed I was myself the precious vessel. Yes, that was it, it was I that was happening here. I did not know exactly what this meant, but surely, I told myself, surely it must mean something. And so I went on, in happy puzzlement, under the small rain, bearing the mystery of myself in my heart.
Was it that same phial of precious ichor, still inside me, that spilled in the cinema that afternoon, and that I carry in me yet, and that yet will overflow at the slightest movement, the slightest misbeat of my heart?
Mi-amintesc cu claritate prima zi când am devenit cu adevărat conștient de mine însumi, vreau să spun de mine însumi ca altceva decât restul. Nimic nu-mi plăcea mai mult în copilărie decât acele perioade amorțite, când un anotimp se încheie și următorul nu începe încă şi totul e cenușiu, tăcut și neclintit, iar din liniște și tăcere părea că se apropie ceva de mine, ceva mic, moale și ezitant, care s-ar oferi atenției mele. În ziua despre care vreau să vorbesc mergeam de-a lungul străzii principale a orașului. Era noiembrie sau martie, nu era frig, ci neutru. Dintr-un cer care se cobora cădea o ploaie măruntă, atât de măruntă încât abia se simțea. Era dimineața devreme, iar gospodinele ieșiseră cu baticurile și plasele lor de cumpărături. Un câine ȋn căutare trecu aferat pe lângă mine, fără să privească în stânga sau în dreapta, urmând o linie dreaptă invizibilă desenată pe trotoar. Se simțea un miros de fum și de carne de măcelărie, dar și cel sălciu al mării și, ca mai mereu în oraș în acele zile, miasma fadă şi dulceagă a lăturilor pentru porci. Ușa deschisă a unui magazin de bricolaj avea o respirație maronie în trecerea mea pe lângă el. Absorbind toate acestea, am simțit ceva ce nu putea fi numit decât fericire. Ce se petrecuse? Ce anume din scena banală, priveliștea obișnuită și sunetele și mirosurile oraşului a făcut acest lucru neobişnuit, orice ar fi fost el, să înmugurească brusc în mine precum posibilitatea unui răspuns la toate năzuinţele fără de nume ale vieții mele? Totul era acum la fel ca înainte, gospodinele, câinele ocupat, la fel, și totuși într-un fel preschimbat. Odată cu fericirea veni și o anume anxietate. Era ca şi cum aș fi cărat un vas fragil pe care aveam datoria să îl protejez, ca băiatul din povestea citită nouă la ora de religie care ducea pe sub tunică cuminecătura pe străzile destrăbălate ale Romei antice; în cazul meu, însă, părea că eu eram preascumpul vas. Da, asta era, era sau se întâmpla aici. Nu știam ce înseamnă mai exact, dar cu siguranță, îmi spuneam, trebuie să însemne ceva. Și uite-așa am continuat să merg, înr-o stare de confuzie fericită, sub ploaia măruntă, purtând misterul sinelui meu în suflet. O fi fost oare aceeași fiolă de sânge divin, care încă mai era în mine, cea care se vărsase în cinematograf în acea după-masă, și pe care încă o mai port cu mine, dar care va da pe dinafară la cea mai mică mișcare, la cea mai mică bătaie greșită a inimii mele?
The second excerpt had a more natural-sounding tone, even eager about its own heightened self-awareness, which is why I tried to mimic its rhythm without dragging the sentences on too long. For example, “as something that everything else was not” would, in a literal translation, sound somewhat lengthy (“ca ceva ce nu erau toate celelalte lucruri”), even exceedingly pedantic, and therefore impeding the flow of the sentence. For this reason, I have chosen an alternative that is brief and to the point, more fit for the suggestion of a sudden epiphany, namely “ca altceva decât restul”. The next sentence did not allow for such rhythm, since “As a boy I liked best” needed to be expanded into “Nimic nu-mi plăcea mai mult în copilărie” to retain its potency and to preserve the natural flow of the sequence. The intervals are “amorțite” rather than “moarte” to remove macabre implications and focus on the perceived uneventfulness, even expecting inactivity. The “lowering sky” can be made into “cerul care se cobora” to preserve the combined sense of agency and movement, while the “fine rain”, with its suggestion of size and texture, becomes “ploaia măruntă”, a common set phrase blending in the banality of the background. I have preferred maintaining the sought naturalness of tone by having “housewives” translated not as “casnice”, but as “gospodine”, also localising the image, in a sense, by having “headscarves” equated with “baticuri” and “shopping bags” not with “genți”, but with “plase de cumpărături”, also inverting the order of the two to avoid repeating the possessive “lor” which would have segmented the end of the sentence and made for an awkward rhythm. Describing the smells against this backdrop of very material embodiments of everyday life demanded a different quality of the language to indicate the difference in perception, which is why I insisted on rather less often used and more specialised words which give, together, an image of faint contours, such as “sălciu” instead of “sărat”, “fadă” instead of “slabă”, but more tellingly in my choice of “miasmă” over “duhoare” so that it can also collocate less strikingly with “dulceagă”. Since “breathed brownly” poses several issues in terms of grammar because of the form taken by the adverb when transposed into Romanian, I have simplified it without watering down its dramatic effect by describing the synaesthesic effect in terms of a “brown breath” (“respirație maronie”). Given that the fragment is devoted to an epiphany, it would have been almost improper to downplay it as “Ce se întâmplase?”, as it would have inadvertently made it seem less substantial and more coincidental given the tonal difference between “întâmplare” and “happening”, so I have preferred phrasing it as “Ce se petrecuse?”, with an almost archaic suggestion of significance. Given the loaded nature of ”yearnings” in this context of sudden discovery, I have attempted to capture both its sense of longing and desire into the word “năzuințe” rather than opt either for “doruri” or “dorințe”, therefore also keeping the rather old-fashioned yet dramatic line opened by “petrecuse”. For the same reason, “transfigured” has taken on the almost magic quality of “preschimbat” to highlight the sudden intrusion of the meaningful into the otherwise plain and unremarkable. This sequence has a more pedantic turn of phrase, especially when speaking of the “precious vessel”, equated with the inversion “preascumpul vas” to maintain the quality of the language around it. Its end is marked by the conversational tone of “Și uite-așa”, an approximation of the lively “And so”. While the narrator carries the mystery “in my heart”, the Romanian version has to be “în suflet” so as not to stick out unnecessarily if the phrase did not in the original. Two other difficulties posed by this fragment were “ichor”, which the context indicated to be the divine blood rather than a wound’s bodily fluid, both severely removed from its Romanian false friend, and “misbeat”, whose brevity could not be “replicated”, yet which could be expanded into “bătaie greșită”.