SINGING UNDER WATER
Mihai Vakulovski interviewing irodiacon Savatie pentru “Vatra” Magazine
Question: Dear Savatie, you were a very young and – as they say, very promising poet when I met you by the name of Savatie Bastovoi. You made your debut with “The Promised Elephant” which brought you “ women and glory” – as the song says, and several prizes : the Soros Prize, the Writers Union Prize, the prize of The Litterature Fair of Iassy and others, and then “the Book of War” – again long discussed both by critiques and readers.What do you still recollect of that tim eof beginning?
Answer: It may seem bizarre, but the first word that crossed my mind as I made efforts to give you an answer was “Vietnam”.I sometimes startle when I hear a truck ridind the road or a dog barking from the mists of my past. Then I instantly realize that the fights have been fought and the truck is not a tank, the dog does not predict sadness, nor peril. I realize that I actually lie in my very cosy, confortable hammock like a member of the middle class of the spiritual league. I mean that, I am part of the middle class of the spirit, as I would call the nowadays monks. I say that because this type of person – from the middle class, as presented by propagandists in my country, always look to me like very narrow-minded people with very few goals, not necessarily minor, but few. I also have one goal – I sit in my room and I curve.Do you remember the little middle class man in “ the Chairs” by Eugen Ionescu who wanted all the personalities of his town invited in his home and carried chairs around for the all day long? I also would like Somebody invited in my home but I don’t have a chair.What I have in my room is a treestump and I curve it all day long.I curve a chair for God.I miss that, do you understand? When I was little,having heard from grown-ups that the Earth is moving, I would watch at night from beneath my--------so I would catcht a glimpse of the earth moving. This is what I do now, I sit and watch - is coming God to visit?And this is taking almost all of my time. So, I rarely take the time to think aboaut the past.All I have left of that are some unrelated words out of a song I don’t remember where I heard.
Q: How did you begin to write, do you remember your first compositions?
A: The first poem came to me while I was holding a sheep my father was milking.You know, my father was a propagandist, a preacher of scientifical atheism.And I don’t know what came to me – to dedicate him a poem, as I was looking at him milking that sheep.I remember it even even now: “my father is a philosopher/And he reads lessons/ of Adam and Eve” I was a born existentialist, that is true. After that, I stopped writing until I was in the 8 th grade, when I compose an epic. I was fascinated with Cosbuc, especially his songs of bravery, because they fulfilled my aspirations as a patriotic “pioneer”.I don’t know if I ever told you, but I did o lot of crazy stuff as a kid.No, I was not the type that throws balls at windows or spills ink on the chair, I didn’t like that.But I was crazy enough to stage the disasters of mankind at o small scale.For example, I got myself into a brook during the winter as if I was being hunted down by Germans, to see how I would manage in case of war. Once, I put one hectare field of reed on fire, as if Germans were burning the fields of my country and I had to save them and put the fire out with my shirt.I seduced others kids into doing this and we had our hands full all night, there was not funny putting fire out of a whole hectare-wide field of reed. I came home early in the morning, black and burnt, but fully satisfied by the accomplishment. I went to bed, but the greatness of my doing would not let me sleep .I felt this should become history.Then I got up and wrote the epic- “ Smells like burning” and it was about this horesman who dies in flames as he rescues a village from fire.These are two of my first poems. Then I went to Iassy and there I wrote more but that is o longer story.
Q; I know you have lots of childhood memories, many of them integrated in your developping novel; which of the negative or positive facts of that time have influenced you or are still haunting you?
A; My first memory dates from when I was 1year and 4 months old. My father inhamase the horse on the slay and was getting ready to leave.I sneaked to the back of the slay and climbed a barna I felt like such a man and prepared to invade through this journey the life of the grown-ups. My father was a ranger then and we lived in a house in the woods.You could not see houses, nor people around. It would’ve been my first time in the valley, I had no idea of what lay bellow, of what I shall see beyond the tall trees I could not look through.In one word, I prepared myself for an expedition, I was to descover the world. But, when the slay s-a smucit din loc, I fell o my back in the snow and by the time I got on my feet, the slay was far.I felt it was pointless to yell or cry. Right then , all of the sudden, I became a grown-upand I don’t think I grew more ever since.Whe I fell the endless, frightening sky sor of burst into my face,.For a few moments, everything was a melt-- of sky and snow.It was the first time I ------th elonliness we people zacem in.There was me, the sky and the snow. I put my hands into the pockets of my –and I slowly walked into the house.I turned into a true man, an adult, because I beared my first defeat.This was the memory that put a mark on my life, a postiveone-I think.I also have a negative one – my father made me a whip and I stroke mom with it and she cried.
Q:How did you come toRomania, to the art school?What kind of experiences did you live during the adjustment period/
A: I told you I was a patriot.This is why I left to study in Romania, it was the toi the natonalis movement in my country.I thought I would descover a great people, my people. But it was not so.I discovered a cowrd, fearfull people, a people of lingusitori.My people. I kept oscillatind evesince between my Russia depths- in a dostoievskian way, because I have ucranian origins – you coulod tell by my name, and this reality that saddened me. I am no longer troubled by my ethnic and national apartanence. Now I have doubts: I am a man without country, a stray wolf that wanders in the gardens. Crestinism set me at rest, it is a religion that excludes nationality. Don’t be surprised, all that talk about the Romanian, Russian or Greeck orthodoxism are political spit that disgust me because it attacks the freedom Chist has brought into the world. And I am a lover of freedom. Of course there was an adjustment period – long and difficult, actually. The most difficult thing to do was to accept the lack of honesty and warmth Romanian have beyond lots of a polite lines and plastic smiles, which we don’t have. During the four years of high school, I can’t say I turned into a duplicitary person. On one hand I was the most hated and despised pupil of the entire high school. The director, teachers, educators kept scolding me every time they lay eyes on me. They threatened to expell---me, because I eat away the Romanian State fonds for nothing, on educator even beat – me .I did not learn anything - that is true, I did not even have notebooks or books and I flunked all courses except for sports and painting and later romanian.I didn’t come to school much.There was this girl that perfectly imitated my handwriting
And at the end of the semester she wrote my notebooks so I could show them to teachers. She must have loved me, I never responded. In one word, I messed around a lot, it would’t be decent of me to give examples. You never saw in a bohemian movie a crazier mind than mine. I was not locked up in a menthal hospital for no reason. On the other hand, there were many that understood that my madness sprang from rebellion, cause I would not cope with the torpor of the world. Those loved me, many even admired me and thought I was a genius. So I began to live for two. One was mocked by all, convinced I was retarded, the outhers was praised by the great personalities of the city, college professors that were admired by the teachers that paint me. They found about it after I finished the school.
Q: You were a student of the faculty of philosophy in Timisoara, you were one of the best known writers, everything was going great for you…but you became a monk…
A: Yes, that was the climax of my madness, the maddest thing I ever did. When I realized this is the greatest insanity of man, I could’t help myself to do it. Know that in this matter I tapped Tzara and Salvador Dali on the shoulder. I was crazy enough to tear myself apart, which they could’t do. I remember the burden I felt when I first saw a Lenin monument thrown in a pile of junk outside the city. It was as if I saw my own life thrown away like a piece of used paper. I had to start over, but I have no idea of what was to come. This is the way I look upon the promising writer that Stefan Bastovoi used to be – o monument in a pile of junk. A Nobel price could have been lying there, I don’t know, I didn’t bend to pick it up. Many are still waiting for my comeback, but I was never tempted, like Arghezi was. I realized that the need I used to have to assert myself to the world did not spring from careerism, but from my belief I had something to say to the world. Now that I found out that Somebody has said everything there is to say, I rest myself. I am so happy Christ exists. You jnow,wheni was little, I loved Leninvery much and my biggest regret was that I did not live during his time so I would be one of the children hre petted and spoke to.And I hurt because I knew that would never happen I actually felt my life was a failure because I had no chance to fulfiil the dream of my life; meet Lenin .That is not the case with Christ, we are contemporary. That is the essence of my insanity, I can’t have enough of being contamporary with Christ.What is so surprising in my becoming a monk? I assure you that everyone, in fapt h efelt contemporary with Jesus, would become a monk without hesitation.I did what seeme impossible to me before: I saved my own life from failure.
Q; What do you feel about what you wrote before you became a monk/
A: I can’t even remember, I never thought about it. I forgot the man I was. People remind me from time to time of a poet – Stefan Bastovoi. I heard some of them quote me when they tallk about contemporary Romanian litterature, but I don’t recollect exactly what I wrote. I remember, with effots, a few titles and lines. I must have been a bad poet - if even I don’t remember myself, the easier those who come after u s shall not remember me.
Q What are writing now?
A: I write about things you writers have no interest in, because I no longe write litterature in the sense critiques give it. That is why I will not even tell you what I write so I will not bore you. Now I feel I am helping people, I descoverd the bless of communicating. They print thousands copies of my books and they sell, which proves they are read, that I am alive, my words are not “flowers ofmould” as Arghezi aspired, they are alive, people sip them like water, they don’t just contemplate their beauty. You know, I realized I am the type of person that would rather drink out of the hollow of his hands than pose with a golden cup filled with wiskey that would not end his thirst. I became sort of an orthodox journalist, some think of me as an essay writer. Yes, I remember, I am working on a novel you will also like, it is called - “Madness in saints and artists”. I will give to Caesar what belongs to caesar. Musin awrote to me he wants to publish my novel about soviet childhood. So I will have to make efforts and read the other part, I have been reading it sine may and I bearly went through half of it, so difficult it is to read the work of other.
Q: Did you put together , in Chisinau, a religious magazine, what was its purpose?
A: I probably wanted to get people to give up prejudice, christians or not. I descovered how many people are out there, I used to think there were fewer. I wanted to tell the world the news – “ there are so many people!”. Truely, there are so many people!
Q: In what way did your litterary vision has changed?
A; It hasn’t changed, I still feel that litterature must be of quality. The guiding principles, on the other hand, are different – simplier. If a read a book without getting bored , if I perceive beyond it a man who generously invades my life and canges it for the better, that means I read a good book, I met a person, I lived another life. I wouldn’t read ather types of book. If I feel from the first lines that I am holding a bad book, I never make another attempt to convine myself it is a good one, may all the critiques in the world praise it. I preffer praying than reading. I have always been an annoying reader, I hope mediocre writers don’t have such readers like myself. I make no compromise.
Q: How do you feel about litterary life in the monasteries?
A: I didn’t notice any litterary life in the monasteries, maybe it should not be one of their purposes – in the sense you care about.There are very few contemporary christian writers who have talent.Of all those who are apreciated, I see that Romania has not given any – I mean people that express a destiny beyond words. Russians seem more plastic and expressive when they tell about Jesus Christ. They know how to give you a Christ that forces himself into your life.This cannot happen without some talent. We are not, of course, talking about litterature in the technical sense of the word but it is a art of communication. Although I think that the power of asserting youself as a destiny, of sharing one vision, even more to convince is the most true expression of value. You know, most authors used their lifes not litterary means to say what they have to say. Figure a 60 year old Rimbaud giving autographs after receiving the Nobel prize and you will feel his poems lose some of their power, so, there is more to litterature than that, it can be a man’s life or it can be nothing.
Q: How do you feel about the litterature the young people write?
A: I never read lay litterature. Nevertheless when I meet a friend writer that gives me some literrary novelty to read with much
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