Welcome Judita, and thank you taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me. I suspect we will have an engaging “tea time” conversation filled with anecdotes, recollections, life lessons and wisdom. To start, we know that you grew up in Transylvania, Romania and became multi-lingual. While popular culture masks Transylvania as a dark, brooding place of castles and “things that come out at night,” how was it growing up there as a child and what are your fondest memories of that time? How old were you and how many of your family members left for asylum? Why did the family seek refuge in Athens, Greece versus other parts of the non-Communist world?
My pleasure, Bill. A “busy schedule” is perhaps not a fitting term for one such as me. My space and time are subjective (where else could I access the doors to poetry and painting?). I gladly open this door to welcome what may enfold as an engaging conversation.
We all have our mythologies that shape us and inform the way we see and experience the world.
I have spent my adult life in Canada and although the Transylvanian years seem now quite remote, there is no doubt that they are the formative steps in my life’s journey. The popular North American stereotypes about Transylvania are not far from the core-truth.
Only the “things that come out at night” were not eccentric, red-cocktail sipping vampires but the communist secret service henchmen driving in their black limousines, raiding the private lives of a terrified population.
I was a child then, but a sense of foreboding remains even as the details are now fading. Yet, in spite of the “fabric of anxiety” whose texture permeated a whole society, there were opportunities for joy, hope, and creativity!
People who live in a totalitarian culture tend to compensate and offset their fears and frustrations through humour and the creative impulse.
We did dare to laugh and create and share the fruits of our works with kindred spirits, in spite of the obvious risks.
To use a “green” analogy, we were like a plant twisting and warping in order to find a source of light! And that we did. The human spirit is remarkably malleable and adaptable. And more: triumphant! The ability acclimatize under duress has served me well as I started my new life in Canada some thirty years ago. We sought refuge (my ex husband, and our baby daughter) in Athens, Greece where we landed as political refugees through the intercession of the International Red Cross.
I perceive in your words that creativity is borne out of struggle; maintains one’s humanity, and serves as a physical, spiritual, and emotional mechanism against tyranny, fear, and persecution. I will return to these themes later in our discussion. How did you manifest your creativity as a child or did the fulfillment of imagination come at a later age? Was there a magical moment or memorable stimulus that ignited your need to fully express yourself in words and visual images? How did you guide your daughter to give her the opportunity to investigate her creative explorations as she grew up?
I am trying to circumvent the myth of the long suffering artist. I rebel
against it because intuitively I KNOW that the artistic source lies in a space of wholesome joy that can be accessed through an ego-less receptivity. In dire circumstances this source has helped me sublimate fear, anxiety, doubt, confusion. Through it, I was able to transmute the physical, spiritual, emotional turmoil into words and colours that made SENSE and brought relief and comfort.
As a child I was surrounded by people who very much appreciated and encouraged the arts. Our walls were lined with books and paintings by local artists. My father was a published poet. Our home was a “salon” of sorts for friends and relatives who relished poetry, the visual arts, and chamber music. My mother was a Holocaust survivor. She tried her hand at painting and I believe that the arts were a great succor for her as she tried to mend the hurt she carried for the rest of her life.
My earliest memories of language are in the metaphor mode. I took flights of fancy from what I often perceived as an incomprehensible, inhospitable reality and words and colours were my magic means of transportation. I still catch myself when in company speaking in “tongues”, a tad too symbolic and cryptic for the unsuspecting interlocutor!
As to my daughter, that is another story, another interview perhaps. During her childhood we were newly settled immigrants, in a strange new land whose language was completely inaccessible to me. I learned English alongside my daughter, watching Sesame Street and Mr. Dress Up! She grew up in a dissimilar system and she internalized a different paradigm of thinking and relating. Her love of reading was more diverse than mine. She was reaching out to the culture that was shaping her while I was trying to protect my private scaffolding of books, paintings, and music: my shield and stronghold. She was forging her Canadian identity while I was attempting to preserve mine. It was not a deliberate intent. In retrospect, I realize how important it was to protect my former identity before I had the chance to grow a new North American skin!
Have you grown that North American or rather Canadian skin, and has that presented issues of “belonging” for you in terms of reconciling the ambiance and culture that shaped you as a young adult, an identity that you protected in your new country? And have you been back to Transylvania? If so, what were your reactions; and if not, why?
The new skin was grafted on the old, so per force I am a hybrid creature. Neither fish nor fowl? The French have a lovely expression “on est bien dans sa peau” (one is at ease in one’s skin) referring to a state of relaxed well being. I suppose a measure of emotional maturity is the capacity to be able to tolerate and even savour ambiguity and uncertainty. My identity’s centre happens to be at the border between two contrary cultures: I have surrendered to this quasi marginality a while ago. In the late 80’s at the peak time of my “identity crisis” I sent an S.O.S. letter to Robertson Davies, a then distinct voice and one of the most distinguished Canadian men of letters. He answered and his reply to me appeared in Robertson Davies For Your Eye Alone, Letters 1976-1995 (Edited by Judith Skelton Grant).
His epistle (his pen had the sway of a prophet’s foresight) was the decisive catalyst in helping shape my “Canadian identity”. In so many gentle yet firm words he shifted my standpoint vis a vis what I perceived as an alien and austere land. We need your talents and you have to gift them to your new country generously! was the gist of his message. From a passive, misunderstood victim I slowly morphed into an active participant, contributor.
I have returned to Transylvania on several occasions since the 1989 revolution. The thrust towards the democratic dynamic is obvious and hopeful. Most of the historical Transylvanian towns have been restored with ample financial support from the International Council of Monuments and Sites. Business is thriving and there are noteworthy cultural events. Some of the old entrenched prejudices still linger.
The old corruption mentality operates still overtly or covertly at all levels of society.
But the overall impression was optimistic. Rome was not built overnight.
And it is from that distinct “Canadian identity” strengthened by your Transylvanian resolve that I want to return to an earlier point. When I lived in Toronto back in the Seventies, as an American, I was sensitive to a Canadian national psyche that all too often existed in the shadows of the United States with a somewhat different worldview often influenced by the political thought of the province in which one resided. Flash forward 4 decades, and I sense a “new” Canada. With your world view and understanding of global socio-political dynamics, what is your sense of the global community today especially in light of the conflicts ranging in the Middle East? Are there global influences in your written work or visual images in addition to the sublime, emotional subtlety that pervade the artistic gifts that you have given “to your new country?”
In spite of or because of my socio-historical background I am not a political animal (Flashback to Animal Farm?) I am still trying to have a comprehensive grasp of the Canadian political scene. While I appreciate the overall climate of civility, law and order and the penchant for negotiation over violence (although that maybe shifting in view of the recent Middle Eastern engagements), I am also aware that often the predominant force is a business elite. A far cry from Plato’s Republic.
Although I am a willing participant of various worthy causes, I cannot affirm that I am an “engaged poet”. I prefer the “spotter’s box” with a bird’s view of the particular and universal patterns of our bewildering, spectacular planet!
So from your particular and unique position as sitting in the “spotter’s box,” where is your current writing and art evolving towards in terms of narrative and visual depiction?
If I could predict the thrust of the Muse I would have the gift of prophecy! Sitting in the “spotter’s box” I prick up my ears for whispers that come from far and near, and try to discern their pattern while finding the most congruent and evocative words in order to convert them into thoughts and emotions. Unfortunately I cannot be more coherent in conveying what for me is a nearly inscrutable mystery.
And as that mystery unfolds, I am sure the creativity expressed will still captivate and challenge our imaginations. With that said, where do you see your life going over the next several years; what are your short, and/or long range plans as a person and as an artist?
The person is personal and perhaps rather pedestrian. A few teaching assignments (art history seminars) and grandmotherly joys.
The artist anticipates a hiking through a creative process that will perchance thrust her on to a higher rung of the life-force-ladder.
Amen to that! Thank you for your graciousness and taking the time to chat with me. I appreciate your generosity of spirit, and in closing, I ask that you answer the following ten questions without giving much thought to how you want to respond. Answering random questions is becoming the tradition when I have to bring a conversation to closure. Take care and thanks again.
Ms. Pamfil’s responses are in red.
roast chicken or fried pork chops?
Neither. I am vegetarian.
TV or radio?
Radio! I do not own a TV set.
comedy or drama?
As the mood dictates.
text or telephone call?
As the situation requires.
opera or ballet?
Either. Providing it is an exceptional production.
day or night?
Day for dreaming…night for dreaming 🙂
graffiti or abstract art?
Graffiti is often abstract. Both.
heart or soul?
The soul within the heart.
pizza or hamburger?
Vegetarian pizza or vegetarian hamburger.
doctor or lawyer?
Neither. I prefer a healer!
When aaduna started, I did an interview process titled “E-Viewpoints” with contributors. The purpose was to construct a wider audience for aaduna writers and artists while providing our readership with a better understanding and glimpse of the individuals who penned the poetry, fiction, and non-fiction and created the diverse array of visual arts. For a variety of unplanned reasons, I took a hiatus from that initiative. But now, I am back with “Conversations.” The plan is to chat with current and previous contributors and delve into aspects of their background that you may find intriguing and uplifting. I hope you become a regular follower of this series of “Conversations” and continue to enjoy the work of the individual that I have a chat with. The intent is not to be “in your face” but enable you to savor the nuances, expectations, and challenges that aaduna contributors face as people, just like you and me. I think you will find “Conversations” interesting, maybe provocative, and enlightening. I hope so.