What happened in the winter of 1831 is worth being written down, not just as a fact, but for the lessons to be learned, regarding the behavior of a true man.
Alexis Barda lived like royalty. His word weighed like a ram’s bell did for the sheep. That autumn he decided: he and his family would winter in Casandra! And nobody dared to cross his word. When you’re on the road, submission must be blind and mute, democracy is for sedentary people.
Two times a year, storks and Aroumanians would incite to cries of joy and hope in Casandra. The white houses of the Greeks would absorb the smell of sheep and their dry wooden chests would swallow without chewing the silver coins of the tenants. “Calimera, calispera”… but communication would not be limited to that. When people mingle, their souls mingle.
Days passed by. The women, children and elders were living in the village. The men were tending the sheep or had gone far away, on business. One night, the wood and the pottery leaning on the doors flew like flakes everywhere. Caramiciu’s thieves swept the houses rented by the Aroumanians. In one move, they grabbed the gold and the silver and took six married women hostage, leaving notice that they were expecting 80, 000 silver coins as ransom.
It is of no importance how the elder Barda received the news. He took a couple of men and went after the thieves. I imagine him dismounting in Caramiciu’s cave and grinning like a samurai. “You monkey thief, he would shout in an emperor’s voice, it wasn’t right for you to take what you did and to break into six of my houses. I gave you sheep when your people were hungry, I gave you money to buy clothes and weapons and in turn, you robbed me, you lazy snake? Shame on your father, who conceived you!”
With a sudden, unexpected gesture, celnic* Barda slapped him twice, and then twice again. Then, he threw a bag of coins at his feet. “If you wanted money, why didn’t you ask for it?”
Considering the matter closed, he looked at the six women standing aside, with their eyes on the ground. Come on! And so it happened that the bags full of silver and gold, along with the women, took their way back to Casandra. Sometime after that, Alexis Barda died, poisoned by somebody who didn’t have the courage to attack him from the front. Those were the days when our people were beginning to give up life on the horse.
I personally met some of Alexis Barda’s descendants, in a time when they were called Badralexi. At first sight, you could have mistaken them for gentlemen. Now when I think about it, I understand they weren’t. Beneath the fine-cut clothes, their bodies were too alive, their voices were too strong. Thinking of them, I understand that the gentleman status is the reward given to somebody who returns after a long journey, one that refines the soul and makes the body thin. But when I say I don’t consider them to be gentlemen, I mean to say that they were something else, something just as good.
Our Godfather, for example, displayed the grandeur of a thorough-bred horse. Many considered him to be arrogant. In fact, a certain natural attitude of reserve, slow movements and something that resembles the relaxation of large animals, which makes the agitation of the little beings seem even more ridiculous, these were characteristics to be found with all members of the Badralexi family. When he met my mother at the wedding, in Galaţi, my Godfather Paul told her: “don’t be upset with us, Angela, we are the first generation to wear shoes…” and he added, laughing: “after all, you are the second one.”
If wearing shoes means having walked in them up and down schools all your life, Godfather Paul was right. But if you also count the celnics’ shoes, you discover that the Badralexis had been wearing them for a long time. To find husbands for his daughters, Sirma and Tasa, Alexis Barda travelled all the way to Avdela and Băiasa to find them, and he would have reached for the Equator if he hadn’t found men of his posture anywhere closer.
That’s why I find Caramiciu’s gesture – his theft in Casandra – hard to understand. Imagine him: short, rash, even reckless, a face with slightly asymmetrical traits, one eyebrow, cunning look… Imagine how he must have received Barda’s slaps, in his own “home”, the cave of thieves. Maybe the determination and the composed attitude that Barda displayed, as well as the momentary outburst and the immediate regaining of the master’s position were weapons he didn’t know how to handle. But then it only gets more difficult to understand how in the world he could think he would be able to touch Barda’s fălcare**. Barda, the man who had given him food and money. I tend to believe that all the thief did was to commit an act of sheer stupidity. Quite briefly, he just made a mistake.
Things get even more confusing when you look at the lists of Aroumanian captains drawn by Ioan Caragiani and you find the name of Caramiciu written down twice there. Who can tell if our character wasn’t the son of one of the people mentioned in the lists? Maybe the story of the theft was an isolated incident in his life, maybe he was in love with one of the women that he took hostage, or maybe one of Barda’s men had offended his father? It’s hard to figure it out today. Be that as it may, I firmly take Barda’s side, who, at the beginning of the last century, after the year 1831 to be more precise, placed a piece of wood in the ground and founded Călivele lui Badralexi, a hamlet near the village where my father was born.
But again, in what Caramiciu is concerned, I think that a silly, small time crook would never be able to cast a shadow on the image of an Aroumanian warrior from the mountains…
*To become a celnic, you had to own a **fălcare, which means to have men, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys. In the 11th century, Kekaumenos writes down the word „celnic” and translates it by using the term „stratygos”, which means: the man that leads the soldiers into battle. The etymology of the word is slavonian, celo meaning front, the celnic being more than just a simple leader. The word also incorporates the significance of scuteris (ecuyer), the title referring to a military authority. The gramosteni called the celnic – a chihăia. Up until the end of the 19th century, there were real celnics to be found. The role of a celnic was that of a leader, a judge, a healer, a priest, a translator for his people. When somebody wanted to know the importance of a certain celnic, they would ask: does he have a large fălcare? That’s exactly like asking today: does he have many subordinates?
(stay tuned for more stories)
© Eliza Zdru
foto credit: fratii Manakia
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