I’m simultaneously reading two books about Romania. By simultaneously, I mean I’m reading a fiction book, Athene Palace by R.G. Waldeck at night before I fall asleep, and Yesterday Was Mine, by Princess Anne-Marie Callimachi, which is non fiction. The latter I read during the day, if I have time.
Both books were in the bibliography of another book I just finished, a biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor, by Artemis Cooper. I often scan through the bibliographies of books I am reading for more books on the same subject. Fermor spent a lot of time in Romania in the 1930’s.
Yesterday Was Mine is quite fascinating. Anne-Marie Callimachi was born in the late 19th century and died in 1970. She was a member of the Romanian aristocracy of which there were a multitude.
Her book, an autobiography, describes her life in a very far away time — almost another entire world. Romania in the early 20th century was full of aristocratic families, all inter-marrying, giving parties, involved in politics, traveling from Bucharest to their country homes, and to Germany and France.
Callimachi is a wonderful writer and captures these long ago times with great detail about the people, their personalities, their foibles, and ultimately their challenges. The book is both other-worldly and very engaging and I ultimately wanted to know about who all of these odd people were. The web is a great resource. Here’s some of the people I was curious about.
Simky Lahovary, her stepmother’s cousin is described as “Possessing her kin’s acute political instinct, she used it skillfully, with a shrewdness occasionally verging on intrigue . . .”
Or, Helene Chrissoveloni, considered a great beauty as well as a “vivid intellect.” Unfortunately, she married “Prince Dimitri Soutzo, who shared none of her mental gifts. His presence, fine horsemanship, and faultless manners were probably the only assets he had brought into this match . . .”, writes Callimachi. Chrissoveloni later divorced that husband, married a Frenchman, Paul Morand, who was an avid supporter of Vichy France.
And then there is Princess Maruka Cantacuzne. “She dreaded daylight and crowds, loved seclusion, intimacy and eternal twilight.” She married a famous Romanian violist, Georges Enesco.
Something about all of this fascinates me. Is it because this world is so remote and foreign? Or the fact that these small countries — Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, for instance, have these big complicated histories, which are so unknown to us? Or the engaging and detailed writing? Or is the smallness of these lives set against a time of enormous turmoil and catastrophe?
Turns out, I’m not the only one who finds all of this “minutia” so fascinating. There are quite a number of blogs and websites filled with the small details (weddings, funerals, openings of some park, etc.) of these still “royal” families.
And, in the case of Romania, there are currently two royal families claiming the throne: one the descendants of King Carol II’s first marriage which may have not been quite kosher and the other the grandchildren and great grandchildren of King Carol II’s second marriage. In fact, the eldest son of that marriage, Prince Michael is still alive at age 93.
Interestingly enough, both claimants to the Romanian monarchy, Prince Michael and his family, and Prince Paul and his family visit Romania often and have homes there.
So, now you have it — everything you every wanted to know about Romanian aristocrats.