My big, big hope was that of finding documents on rural wages from some of the landed estates of pre-socialist Romania. I wasn’t lucky, of course: somehow you never find what you’re looking for. Instead of the much-needed accounts, there were just few family letters; written in French, coming from one of the big landowning families of the fin-de-siècle, the Furnarakis. Despite my better self, I did have a mild archival kick: putting aside my aversion to old-documents fetishism, I was fascinated by how most personal letters from the period were written in small, postcard format; something I had no clue about. The letters themselves, however, were hardly exciting or revealing in any way: just a handful of lives spent between Paris and some destitute muddy Moldavia. Somehow, from Bahia/Brazil to Bacău/Romania, the cosmopolitan rural elites of the fin-de-siècle seemed the same, experiencing the same unrecognized social dissonance: feeling comfortable both in Jardin du Luxembourg as in the poverty-stricken areas at home, dealing with this transition in the most matter-of-factly ways possible.
Socialist ravings aside, what I found essential, however, was this beautiful minimalist description of a Paris trip. It’s written by a family friend, Alexandre Pisosky [i.e. Alexandru Pisoschi], whose estates were in the same impoverished region of Moldavia. It is a curt blasé sentence, almost jaded in its phrasing, and probably unimportant. Its weariness, however, its emotional fatigue, seems to epitomize that era: “I was in Paris these last days, one of my cousins brought me there. I somewhat mildly enjoyed it [Je m’y suis médiocrement amusé.]”