To Nora Iuga, literature, love, eroticism and death go together and even grow interwoven, becoming interdependent.
Nora Iuga speaks openly of her age – she is now 83 – but also of sexuality. Also of the eroticism of old age – a subject which many consider taboo, but which is absolutely real. She writes of all this in her books, but she also doesn’t shy away from speaking of it face to face. In fact, she rejects hypocrisy both in her literature and in everyday life. It makes her a remarkable writer and conversation partner.
An interview in Romanian paper Weekend Adevărul with the writer and poet Nora Iagu by Cezar Paul-Badescu, translated by Anca Bārbulescu, and commissioned by Anca Fronescu
Read an excerpt from Nora Iuga’s The Sixty-Year-Old Woman and the Young Man translated by Floran Bican in B O D Y here
Weekend Adevărul: You have written both poetry and prose. There are some who say one writes poetry when young and prose when one ripens a bit. How was it for you?
Nora Iuga: When I was a little girl of 13, I had a burning dream of becoming a writer, but in my mind that meant a prose writer, not a poet. I wanted to write novels. I actually started writing one at 14. I was the main character and I saw myself as a 40-year old woman with cancer. At the time, I was absolutely convinced that I would die of cancer at 40. Seeing, when I was about two pages into the novel, that this wouldn’t work and that I couldn’t think of anything, I picked up a book from the shelves – I can’t remember what novel it was –, opened it randomly, found a fragment and copied it as a continuation to my novel. I loved how it sounded, so I read it to my schoolmates too and, to my great disappointment, all the girls told me the second part was much better than the beginning. I told myself I just didn’t have the talent for it. A few months later, I wrote two poems. Even then I realized they were remarkably bad. I remember them to this day. One started like this: “All the meadows are now blooming/ And the trees are green and swooning / Long awaited in the glen / Great Prince Sun is back again.”
So you could tell from the beginning that they were bad?
I told myself: “No way, this actually sounds worse than Eminescu! You’d better quit, then.” I didn’t like Eminescu in high school. I didn’t like Bacovia, either, though he is liked by the students of today, or of 30 years ago, when my son went to high school.
THE FORM, THE COSTUME, THE MASK
Why was it you didn’t like Bacovia?
I couldn’t stand all that sadness on top of more sadness. I had my bouts of melancholy too, but I also felt the need for a bit of fun. Already, I liked the form, the costume, the mask. My mother was a ballerina, I saw her on stage and I was often in the ballerinas’ changing rooms. Maybe that’s why there was a transfer and why I also liked form in literature, figures of speech, colours, rhythms.
How about Eminescu?
I didn’t like him because I felt it was too heavy for me. I felt like he was taking me by the hand into a cavern of thought, into a very deep chasm where I couldn’t reach. Where there was not Bacovia’s human suffering, but rather…
He was from another planet.
Very well said! He took me to an entirely unknown planet. In fact, I still don’t like Eminescu, but now I don’t like him because he’s too poetic. I like the language of young people, this minimalism that you hear in people talking in the street. Maybe that’s why now I prefer prose to poetry. However, in high school, at a time when I felt like Eminescu was leading me into catacombs, my favourite poem by him was “Strigoii” [The Wraiths]. Then, after I got married and my Tiberiu was born, I wanted to name him Arald [after the poem’s protagonist]. But his father was against it.
“I DREAM WORDS”
What is unique to writing prose and what is unique to writing poetry?
My prose I make up mostly by representation, by remembrance, while I write my poetry spontaneously, wherever I happen to be. It comes over me like lightning, it’s like a coup de foudre. I can hear two women talking in the metro, one of them saying she’s seen a dog cut in two by a tram – and it can hit me so strongly, like a fist to my plexus, that something comes up in my mind to complete that line. I immediately write it down and start a poem. I’ve done that many times in the street. In any situation. Even in the kitchen, while I cook and a bumblebee slams against the window and makes me think of something or another, I immediately write it down.
Or at night… Lately, in my old age, I dream more in words than in pictures. I dream words. I wake up with a sentence on my lips and it feels like it’s something brilliant. Then I jump out of bed and write it down. What’s interesting is that, a lot of times, I find that I falsify what I thought to be brilliant when I try to put it on paper. Because, in fact, the words in my dream are not real, they don’t belong to any language. I have to decrypt them and, in doing so, I feel like I’m falsifying them.
Do you believe in inspiration?
I believe in it blindly, I can’t write a single sentence without inspiration.
Where does it come from, then?
It has nothing to do with metaphysics, nor is it dictated to us by someone above, in unknown spheres. It comes from our bodies. I’m sure of it. The moment when you are overcome by that terrible wave, by that tickling, that hot desire is so similar to the desire of lust! To me, inspiration is almost the same as excitation. I’m sorry, you’re a young man, but I can’t help telling you openly that I feel this. Poetry fulfils an act, just the way an act is fulfilled in love. That is why literature is creation – and I mean that to also include bearing children and the creation of the Universe. The artist is God in their own way, creating the world. I don’t want to put the writer up on some pedestal, but the writer does the same work as God.
When you speak of God, is it metaphoric or do you actually believe in him?
I believe in a higher mechanism that rules over everything. I give it the interpretation of God. It’s hard for me to call it God, because, since I can’t picture it to myself, I can’t name it, either.
THE AGES OF LOVE
Where do you get all this energy?
I said something in Germany at some point, and people talked about it later. It was something rather shameless – at least to our Romanians it was… I said that I was convinced that sexual instinct is more intelligent than intelligence. Herta Müller loved it and she made it public. The engine which sets the world in motion and which continues to produce people is sexuality. And, since we were talking about God, I think He likes it first of all and He is the first who feels the need to look after this engine.
Yes, but some also say that it was sexuality that brought us death, that we pay pleasure with death.
I wonder if the poor planets that die have known sexuality or sexual pleasure.
While we’re on such complicated, grave subjects: have you thought of death?
Yes, lately I think of death a lot. In fact, I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. As a teenager, I thought I’d never die. I thought a miracle might happen in my case. I quickly grew out of that idea about dying of cancer at 40. In fact, I think it was a literary suggestion, I must have read about something like that in books. It didn’t come from inside me. I started to think about death more seriously after turning 30, when I realised everyone must die. Then I started to become aware of it. That was also when I picked up an obsession of sorts, which I have to this day. The obsession of cancer. Often I find myself feeling myself here or there and thinking that any trifle I find could be it. Now, since I’m so old, when I wake up not feeling well I think I must have metastases. (Laughs.) And now I’m laughing, I really find this obsession funny. Anyway, I know I wouldn’t do anything about it even if I found out it was true. At 83, it would be quite absurd to subject yourself to surgery or treatments.
MOTHER AND FATHER
Still, let’s speak of nice things! Of love, for instance. Is there such a thing as ages of love?
In my case, it started very early. I wasn’t one of the little girls who fall in love with their fathers. I’ve never liked my father, because I thought he was too plump. My mother was like a china figurine, it was her I loved. I could sit quietly for a whole hour watching her applying her make-up in the mirror.
Didn’t you want to become a ballerina yourself?
Yes, I did, a lot actually, but my mother wouldn’t let me. Later, when I was 12 or 13, she actually told me to my face that she wouldn’t want me to be a ballerina for the world, that she could see the kind of temper I had, that I was like my father and that she was afraid I’d become an easy woman. Imagine the mentality! She, who was a ballerina and at the same time a family woman!
A LITTLE BOY OF 6 OR 7
Let us return to the ages of love…
My first love was at 5, when we were living in Germany. I fell in love with the boy of the cook at the restaurant of the hotel where we stayed. My father was playing in the restaurant orchestra. The little boy’s name was Eugen and he was 6 or 7. I remember at some point I visited him in his house and told him: “Do you know my Mommy is a ballerina? Want me to show you how she dances?” And I danced for Eugen for almost an hour. We had a great time. When we left Germany, a month later, Eugen’s mother saw us off at the station and told us her boy hadn’t slept all night because Nori was leaving. After Eugen, I didn’t have time for other loves. The second came much later.
PLEASURE WITHOUT AN OBJECT
As a teenager, I suppose.
No, much later. As a teenager I didn’t have any loves, I found something else then. Around 12 or 13, the feeling of love was born in me together with the feeling of poetry. I was in Sibiu, going to the school of the Ursuline nuns. Maybe, because of the nuns, there was some interdiction in my subconscious about the attraction I may have felt for a boy. However, as I was saying, something happened to me about poetry. It was in spring, my father was practising Jenő Hubay’s “Zephyr”, which I loved. I was in the kitchen, with my homework notebook, studying the notes I had taken in class. Then, suddenly, I started to write that poem I told you about, the one with “all the meadows are now blooming”. That’s how it happened… I also remember another similar event. My father had forgotten his rosin at home and my mother told me to take it and run to the restaurant where he was playing. Well, that running made my breath ragged, the blood must have run to my cheeks and I felt this extraordinary warmth, accompanied by a joy like I had never felt before. Everything made me happy – the air, the shop windows –, something had happened. And I felt an immense pleasure all throughout my body, not knowing what that phenomenon was. A phenomenon which started to repeat itself. Only later when I fell in love for real, as a university student, did I recognise the sensation. And I realised that, in puberty, you first experience love as a feeling of mad pleasure without an object.
You feel this tremendous desire, accompanied by an insane pleasure, but you don’t know where from and what for.
LOVE BY REPRESENTATION
At the opposite end there would be love in old age.
It’s the greatest and the strongest love, but maybe I feel that because it’s the one that’s nearest to me. The deepest, most pure feeling of love, I think, is the one you experience in your old age. It has something very similar to the beginning. I mean it’s the same terrible desire and pleasure. Because pleasure is greater in desire than in the fulfilment of the act of love. That was how it was in our teens, that is how it is now. Women are embarrassed to admit it. It’s mostly men that voice it. I remember something Nina Cassian told me at some point. I was about 38, my first book had recently come out, and she was seven years older than me. We were at a table with several other people, including some young writers, and I was horribly rude. I asked Nina: “What do you think? When a woman reaches an age when men no longer sniff at her– I do remember I used this verb, without thinking it at all inappropriate –, what does she feel? Does she still feel any attraction to men? Doesn’t it hurt her to see that they no longer turn their heads after her?” Nina looked at me in the most nonchalant way possible and told me: “Oooh, Nora dear, you really are so silly! Nothing is lost, love is lived until death by representation.” That was the term she used. Only now do I understand what a terrible thing this representation is. You can’t understand, you’re young, and maybe I’m telling you some rather embarrassing things coming from an 83-year old woman, but once I turn off the light and am alone in my bed, I doubt I’ve lived a single night without remembering and reliving those extraordinary moments. When the thought becomes very intense, you can believe me, the body responds too. It relives its pleasure. You lie there, as motionless as a stone, and there’s something like divine grace pouring over you. That desire from your youth flows into you like into a chalice and you relive it.
Poet, prose writer, translator
Name: Nora Iuga (literary nom-de-plume of Eleonora Almosnino)
Date and place of birth: January 4th, 1931, Bucharest.
Marital status: Formerly married to poet George Almosnino, who died in 1994. Has one son, ballet dancer Tiberiu Almosnino.
Studies and career:
– Graduates from the German Studies branch of the Filology Faculty of the University of Bucharest in 1953.
– Has her debut at 37, in 1968, with the poetry volume “Vina nu e a mea” [The Fault is Not Mine].
– Has published 17 volumes of poetry, among which “Captivitatea cercului” [The Captivity of the Circle] (1970), “Inima ca un pumn de boxeur” [The Heart Like a Boxer’s Fist] (1982), “Fetiţa cu o mie de riduri” [The Little Girl with a Thousand Wrinkles] (2005), “Câinele ud e o salcie” [The Wet Dog Is a Willow] (2013).
– Has published 6 volumes of prose, among which “Săpunul lui Leopold Bloom” [Leopold Bloom’s Soap] (1993), “Sexagenara şi tânărul” [The Sexagenarian and the Young Man or The Sixty-Year-Old Woman and the Young Man] (2000), “Hai să furăm pepeni” [Let’s Go Steal Watermelons] (2009).
– Has translated dozens of books by authors such as Herta Müller, Günter Grass, Aglaja Veteranyi, August Strindberg, Knut Hamsun, Paul Celan.
– Her books have been translated and have received awards in Romania and abroad.
Currently living in: Bucharest.
Read the original interview in Romanian here