University of Rochester

Romanians Meet at University to Discuss Their "Jewel"

July 17, 1998

Most people know Romania as the home of the Dracula legend, as a gymnastics powerhouse that gave the world Nadia Comaneci, or as the site of Dickensian orphanages, sickening pollution, extreme food shortages and other horrors reported during the 1989 overthrow of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Charles Carlton of the University of Rochester knows Romania as a "green mountain state" like his native Vermont and as his spiritual home, a country with a rich culture and history.

He and dozens of Romanians and "adoptive Romanians" like himself will share that culture through readings, papers, exhibits, musical performances, and discussions during the 23rd annual convention of the American-Romanian Academy of Arts and Sciences, August 6 through 9 at the University's River Campus.

One of the guests is Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.D. Snodgrass, who'll read translations of Romanian ballads and poetry. Snodgrass won the Pulitzer in 1960 for Heart's Needle and has written more than 30 volumes of poetry and translations, including translations of Romanian ballads. He taught at the University of Rochester in the 1960s and has lived in upstate New York since retiring from the University of Delaware.

For three decades Carlton has been a champion of Romania. He has translated Romanian literature, published an annual linguistics bibliography, helped found the Society for Romanian Studies, co-edited a Romanian studies journal, talked to local groups about Romanian culture, and sponsored symposiums at the University, where he is professor of French and romance linguistics.

He also keeps an alphabetical up-to-date list of Romania-Rochester connections with names of students, academics, speakers, and visitors as well as trivia notes: tennis "bad boy" Ilie Nastase played in the city in the mid-1970s; Van Cliburn competition winner Radu Lupu appeared twice with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.

That catalog will grow with next month's convention. Carlton's call for papers elicited more than 200 responses. Participants will be coming from across the United States and Canada, from Romania, Moldova and elsewhere in Europe. They'll include professor emeritus Constantin Corduneanu, who is completing his three-year term as Academy president. President-elect is Ion Paraschivoiu, J-A Bombardier Aeronautical Chair professor at Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal, Canada. Thomas LeBlanc, dean of the faculty of Arts, Science and Engineering, will welcome participants on behalf of the University at the opening session. Opening speakers are Stefan Stoenescu, a professor of English and Romanian who defected in the late 1980s and is now on leave from the graduate program at Cornell University; and historian Dinu Giurescu, formerly professor at the University of Bucharest and a member of the Romanian academy who'll provide an update of events in Romania.

Romania established a parliamentary republic following the revolutionary upheavals throughout Communist eastern Europe in 1989. The restoration of religious, press, travel and other freedoms has fostered a revitalization of Romanian heritage.

The country's culture is a unique blend of East and West, owing to its location on European and Middle Eastern trade routes. Over the centuries the Romans, the Ottoman Turks and the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires ruled Romanian lands. As a result, Romanian is the only Latin language in eastern Europe, but folk arts, music, and architecture show oriental influence.

Exhibits in the University's Rush Rhees library during the convention spotlight Romanian history and influences. Carlton has assembled pictures of pre-Roman Dacian pottery and of Trajan's column. He's also put on display newspapers, journals and books, including two volumes from Snodgrass that have been reprinted by BOA Editions, an award-winning literary publisher in Rochester. A collection of photos by filmmaker Lawrence Salzmann presents a collage of Romanian shepherds' life immortalized in Mioritza, a ballad about a lamb that overhears a murder plot against its master.

A video on Trajan's column will be screened at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6. Other highlights include a piano recital by Emerita Lory Wallfisch, a professor of music at Smith College who will also discuss the work of composer Georges Enesco at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6; a performance by local dancers Da Igramo at noon on Friday, August 7; and readings by Snodgrass at 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7.

Among the convention speakers is Ernest H. Latham Jr., a retired Foreign Service officer who served in the Balkans and Central Europe and has written and presented work on Romanian history, foreign relations, and culture. In addition to papers, discussions, performances, and exhibits Academy members will conduct formal business.

All of the convention activities are open to the public.

The American-Romanian Academy was established in 1975 in Berkeley, California, by a group of clergy and scholars to foster Romanian culture and provide opportunities for cultural and scientific exchanges. Carlton has been a member almost from its inception.

Carlton's fascination with the linguistics of the Romanian language grew into a devotion for all things Romanian while he was on a National Defense Foreign Language fellowship at UCLA in 1970. There, his contact with a Romanian professor whetted his appetite to learn more.

"My whole life turned on this -- it's been like a religious experience," he recalls. He lived in Romania for nearly three years teaching and conducting research, falling in love with the picturesque countryside of tucked-away villages, old wooden churches, and shepherds tending flocks. He learned more about the culture in art museums and theaters in the cities, and from the warm and hospitable populace.

"Romania is a jewel of a country," Carlton explains. "The variety of the culture says a lot about the history of Europe in general. We hope the public will attend the performances and look at the exhibits and see how it's an island of romance in a sea of Slavic countries."

For more information about the conference, contact Carlton at (585) 275-4258.