Strabunicul meu a fost unicul supravietuitor din familia sa in urma Genocidului armenilor din 1915-1920. Profund traumatizat dupa ce si-a vazut familia macelarita de catre turci reuseste sa fuga din Armenia de Est, azi Turcia, imbarcandu-se pe un vapor cu destinatia Constanta.
ENGLISH VERSION BELOW
In cautarea unui mijloc de trai, ajunge la Pitesti unde in vremea aceea exista o numeroasa comunitate armeneasca. Fiind de meserie cafegiu dar, bun cunoscator al bucatariei orientale, gaseste de lucru o perioada ca bucatar la doua luxoase restaurante pitestene. In cartea domnului Nicolae Paraianu – “Peisaj urban cu negustori armeni si o biserica“, il gasesc mentionat ca sef bucatar la renumitul restaurant “Berbec”, situat in Piata Episcopiei din Pitesti, detinut de un cunoscut personaj local pe nume Ioan Popescu Berbec, pentru ca mai tarziu sa fie tot sef bucatar la Hotel Splendid, situat in apropiere de primul, pe strada Plevnei, detinut de un anume Galaction Gabuz. Ambele imobile nu mai exista azi.
Reclama restaurantului Berbec – 1936
Fiind foarte apreciat pentru priceperea sa in arta culinara orientala si, probabil fiind remunerat pe masura, reuseste dupa un timp sa stranga o suma de bani si se stabileste in orasul vecin, Curtea de Arges, unde deschide o cafenea – ceainarie. Tot in cartea amintita mai sus, am gasit urmatoarea afirmatie: “Ovanes Agopian nu lasa sa dispara armenii cafegii. Parasind si pozitia de sef-bucatar, el deschide la Curtea de Arges, “Cafeneaua Pietii”, cafenea si comert cu cafea pisata, in anii 1927-1929″. Din cate cunosc eu, mai tarziu, in jurul anului 1937, s-a numit “Cafeneaua Ararat”. Afacerea a mers satisfacator o perioada dar, in timp a clacat din cauza precaritatii conditiilor socio-economice din acele timpuri. Aprovizionarea cu cafea si alte marfuri se desfasura greu, presupunea eforturi si riscuri mari dat fiind posibilitatile rudimentare de transport ale vremii. Cafeaua verde era adusa cu trenul uneori de la Constanta, alte ori de la Bucuresti ori Pitesti iar, de la Pitesti la Curtea de Arges (35km) era transportata cu carute trase de cai…va imaginati ce efort, cat timp pierdut si ce eficienta economica puteai sa ai in aceste conditii.
Cafeneaua era amenajata la parterul unui imobil situat pe artera comerciala a orasului, unde majoritatea caselor erau si sunt si azi, de tipul “pravalie la parter si locuinte la etaj”, cafeneaua avand intrare direct din strada. Era formata din doua incaperi, in camera din fata se aflau mesele la care sedeau clientii si tejgheaua la care servea, intr-un colt se afla o soba mare de fier in care ardea focul tot timpul iar, deasupra sobei se afla o tava mare plina cu nisip fierbinte, in care se ingropau ibricele de cafea. Deasupra sobei se afla un cuier in care erau agatate ibrice de arama de diferite dimensiuni cu numere imprimate pe ele 1,2,3, de o cafea, de doua cafele, de trei…si asa mai departe. Pe tejghea era o tava de tip oriental cu trei brate cu care se duceau cafelele sau ceaiurile la mese. Se mai servea si rom, pentru care paharele se inmuiau intai in apa, apoi buza paharului era bagata in zahar, asa incat zaharul ramanea lipit de pahar.
Unii patroni din vecinatate mai trimiteau pe baietii lor de pravalie cu cate o comanda de cafele sau ceaiuri si, comanda se ducea tot cu aceasta tava. Pe o polita mica in spatele tejghelei se afla un ceas de masa elevetian, stralucitor, cu cifrele fosforescente, marca Hippo, era una dinte atractiile pravaliei, era ceva foarte deosebit, ceasurile erau niste accesorii scumpe si rare in acele timpuri. Ceasul exista si azi, functioneaza impecabil si se afla in biblioteca mea iar, tic-tac-ul sau are pentru mine o rezonanta speciala, este aceeasi cadenta muzicala cu care se masura timpul in cafeneaua strabunicului meu cu multe decenii in urma.
In a doua camera se afla o masa de biliard unde clientii organizau adevarate campionate iar, scorul se tinea cu creta pe o tabla neagra. Masa de biliard ca si restul instrumentelor de la cafenea au fost confiscate de comunisti la nationalizare. Tot aici se purtau discutii interminabile despre politica, veneau si cunoscuti politicieni locali sa savureze o cafea buna si sa dezbata ultimele noutati. Bunicul meu, sa fi avut vreo 6 – 7 ani, casca gura la discutiile lor, era curios. Strabunicul il vedea si-l mustra, ii spunea “ Ii vezi ? Ei fac politica, tu sa nu faci niciodata politica cand o sa fi mare !”.
Iarna, pe soba cu nisip se facea si tuica fiarta cu zahar si doua-trei cuisoare pentru aroma. Strabunicul, cumparase de undeva un ibric nemaivazut pana atunci, avea pereti dublii in care se turna apa printr-un fel de fluier iar, cand tuica incepea sa fiarba, incepea si ibricul sa fluiere, totul spre deliciul clientilor din cafenea care, sa nu recunoasca ca vin sa bea tuica fiarta, spuneau ca vin sa auda cum fluiera ibricul.
Cafeneaua era situata in apropierea garii orasenesti si pentru ca atunci trenul era principala modalitate de calatorie si transport, dimineata orasul era asaltat de comis-voiajori veniti in special din Pitesti dar, si din alte orase, in varianta moderna li se spune agenti de vanzari. Acestia uneori carau dupa ei niste geamantane pline cu mostre de produse sau vindeau diverse marfuri sau reprezentau diferite fabrici, ateliere si, in principal, cautau clienti, luau comenzi pentru materii prime sau marfuri (incaltaminte, imbracaminte, materiale, scule etc). Trenul sosea in gara la primele ore ale diminetii, cafeneaua strabunicului era deja deschisa si toti voiajorii se opreau sa bea cate o cafea sau un ceai si sa manance un corn adus cald de la o brutarie din apropiere. Unii dintre acesti voiajori, ii aduceau anumite marfuri chiar si strabunicului si, imi amintesc o scurta intamplare pe care o auzeam povestita pe cand eram copil:
Intr-o zi, strabunicul se tot uita nervos in zare din usa pravaliei dupa un voiajor care trebuia sa vina cu ceva marfa. Unul dintre vecinii sai, un evreu, domnul Hirsh, care avea o pravalie de scule si obiecte de uz gospodaresc, il intreaba:
– Dom`le Agopian, de ce esti dumneata asa suparat azi ? Strabunicul ii povesteste ca asteapta voiajorul cu marfa, si ca l-a incurcat de multe zile si nu mai apare. Domnul Hirsh rade si ii zice:
– Pai si, pentru atat lucru te superi ? Pai, trebuia sa te gandesti ca netrebnicul asta daca era ceva de capul lui, avea pravalie peste drum de dumneata, nu era voiajor…
Ultima camera a pravaliei, unde se afla si masa de biliard, avea o usa care dadea in curtea din spate a casei, acolo se prajea cafeaua. Strabunicul avea un fel de cutie mare de fier cu o usa pe unde se bagau boabele de cafea verde. Cutia era fixata pe o bara de fier sub care se facea focul si, cutia se rasucea incontinuu deasupra focului pana se prajea cafeaua. Cand se deschidea usa cutiei, mirosea a cafea prajita de la patru strazi departare. Tot in cutia aceasta se prajeau si alune de pamant in coaja iar, dupa ce se coceau suficient se scoteau pe o rogojina la racit si erau sterse cu o carpa inmuiata intr-un amestec de faina, apa si sare, asa ramanea sarea lipita pe ele cand se raceau. Tot aici in curte se pregatea si mancarea, o mancare necunoscuta si neinteleasa de localnicii nefamiliarizati cu fineturile bucatariei orientale.
La cafenea veneau si alti armeni, erau niste aparitii exotice, imbracati in porturi populare armenesti, cu caciuli mari, rotunde, de astrahan. Printre ei era un armean batran, copiii ii spuneau “Mosu`”. Era imbracat numai in straie aparte, camasi albe cu poale lungi, purta o vesta rosie si brau lat de piele iar, la brau avea o pipa lunga, ornata cu pietre mici colorate si legata cu un lantisor auriu iar, in mana framanta necontenit un sir de matanii. Mosu` statea mereu retras, era trist si ofta din adancul sufletului… Bunicul sa fi avut 5-6 ani il intreba “Ce-ai Mosule, de ce esti suparat ?” , el nu vorbea bine romaneste si zicea “…mi-a omorat baiatu` tata, eu avut baiat bun, omorat turcii in fata mea, tot familie omorat, tata …” Mosu era unul dintre supravietuitorii Genocidului facut de catre turci, restul familiei sale fusesera omorati de turci in fata sa, printre ei se afla si fiul sau la care tinea foarte mult. Cand venea de la scoala bunicul, se oprea la pravalie ca era in drumul spre casa si, Mosu` il lua pe picior si il invata: “…apa – giur, paine – hatz… tu zi acum…”. Strabunicul, care nici el nu vorbea bine romaneste, il vedea, il lua de ureche pe bunicul si-l scotea afara din pravalie “Cana, cana (arm.pleaca), du-te joaca ! Tu trebuie uita ca este armean, tu roman ! Turcii omoara la tine daca stie armean ! “ si asa bunicul nu a reusit sa invete limba armeana.
Am gasit mentionata cafeneaua strabunicului meu si in cartea “Amintirile unui comisar de politie”, editura Prisma, Rm. Valcea -1983, scrisa de Costila Nicolae, fost comisar sef al Politiei Curtea de Arges in perioada 1941-1945. La capitolul “Institutii, scoli, intreprinderi, meserii existente intre anii 1933-1944, acesta aminteste si de cafenelele din oras: “Cafenele: Vartan Vartanian avea o cafenea in casele lui Mitica Branza. Mai erau cafeneaua lui Agopian, iar pe strada Decebal cafeneaua lui Nicolae Enescu. Cafenelele erau frecventate de mai multi “pierde vara” si de pensionari.”
Discutand pe aceasta tema cu venerabilul meu conational, domnul profesor Emanoil Sterescu, argesean de origine si bun cunoscator al istoriei orasului, cu referire la afirmatia ca in acea vreme cafenelele ar fi fost frecventate de “pierde vara” si pensionari, domnia sa a dorit sa faca urmatoarele precizari:
“…aici as vrea sa adaug parerea mea: cafenelele erau frecventate si de elita orasului: functionari ai primariei, avocati, medici etc. Afirm aceasta in cunostinta de cauza, copil fiind si tatal meu avand librarie, duceam periodic creta alba la cele trei cafenele, creta folosita pentru scrierea pe tabla a punctelor castigate la biliard, table, poker, tabinet etc. participantii fiind consumatorii de cafea. Eu eram recompensat de patroni cu bomboane sau cu cate un rahat (lokum) cu apa rece. Dupa cel de al doilea razboi mondial, cafenelele au disparut treptat-treptat.”
Povestite de Paul Agopian
OVANES AGOPIAN – ARARAT COFFEE SHOP
My great-grandfather was the only survivor in his family following the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1920. Deeply traumatized after seeing his family butchered by the Turks, he manages to flee from Eastern Armenia, today Turkey, boarding a ship bound for Constanta. In search of a means of livelihood, he arrived in Pitesti where at that time there was a large Armenian community. Being a coffee shopper by trade, but a good connoisseur of oriental cuisine, he found work for a while as a chef at two luxurious restaurants in Pitesti. In Mr. Nicolae Paraianu’s book – “Urban Landscape with Armenian Merchants and a Church”, I find him mentioned as head chef at the famous “Berbec” restaurant, located in Piata Episcopiei in Pitesti, owned by a well-known local character named Ioan Popescu Berbec, for that later he would also be head chef at Hotel Splendid, located near the first one, on Plevnei street, owned by a certain Galaction Gabuz. Both buildings no longer exist today.
Being highly appreciated for his skill in the oriental culinary art and, probably being adequately remunerated, after a while he manages to raise a sum of money and settles in the neighboring town, Curtea de Arges, where he opens a cafe-tea house. Also in the book mentioned above, I found the following statement: “Ovanes Agopian does not let the Brown Armenians disappear. Leaving the position of head chef, he opened in Curtea de Arges, “Cafeneaua Pietii”, a cafe and shop with ground coffee, in the years 1927-1929″. As far as I know, later, around 1937, it was called the “Ararat Cafe”. The business went satisfactorily for a while, but in time it collapsed due to the precariousness of the socio-economic conditions of those times. The supply of coffee and other goods was difficult, it involved great efforts and risks given the rudimentary transport possibilities of the time. The green coffee was sometimes brought by train from Constanta, other times from Bucharest or Pitesti, and from Pitesti to Curtea de Arges (35km) it was transported by horse-drawn carts… imagine the effort, how much time wasted and what economic efficiency you could have in these conditions. The cafe was set up on the ground floor of a building located on the commercial street of the city, where most of the houses were and still are today, of the “houses on the ground floor and houses on the first floor” type, the cafe having a direct entrance from the street. It consisted of two rooms, in the front room there were the tables where the customers sat and the counter where they served, in a corner there was a large iron stove in which the fire burned all the time, and above the stove there was a large tray full of with hot sand, in which coffee pots were buried. Above the stove there was a hanger where copper kettles of different sizes were hung with numbers printed on them 1,2,3, one coffee, two coffees, three…and so on. On the counter was an oriental-type tray with three arms with which the coffees or teas were taken to the tables. Rum was also served, for which the glasses were first soaked in water, then the lip of the glass was dipped in sugar, so that the sugar remained stuck to the glass.
Some patrons in the neighborhood sent their boys from the shop with an order of coffees or teas, and the order also went with this tray. On a small shelf behind the counter there is a shiny Elevetian table clock, with phosphorescent numerals, Hippo brand, it was one of the attractions of the shop, it was something very special, clocks were expensive and rare accessories in those times. The clock still exists today, it works flawlessly and is in my library, and its ticking has a special resonance for me, it is the same musical cadence with which time was measured in my great-grandfather’s cafe many decades ago. In the second room there is a pool table where the customers organized real championships and the score was kept with chalk on a black board. The pool table as well as the rest of the instruments from the cafe were confiscated by the communists during the nationalization. Endless discussions about politics were also held here, well-known local politicians came to enjoy a good coffee and discuss the latest news. My grandfather, he must have been about 6-7 years old, opened his mouth during their discussions, he was curious. The great-grandfather saw him and reprimanded him, saying “Do you see them?” They do politics, you should never do politics when you are big!”.
In winter, on the sand stove, boiled tuica was also made with sugar and two or three cloves for flavor. The great-grandfather had bought a kettle from somewhere that had never been seen before, it had double walls into which water was poured through a kind of whistle and, when the kettle started to boil, the kettle also started to whistle, all to the delight of the customers in the cafe who, not to recognize that they come to drink boiled tea, they said that they come to hear the kettle whistling. The cafe was located near the city station and because at that time the train was the main way of travel and transport, in the morning the city was attacked by traveling salesmen coming especially from Pitesti but also from other cities, in the modern version they are called sales agents. They sometimes carried suitcases full of product samples behind them or sold various goods or represented different factories, workshops and, mainly, looked for customers, took orders for raw materials or goods (shoes, clothes, materials, tools, etc.). The train arrived at the station in the early hours of the morning, the great-grandfather’s cafe was already open and all the travelers stopped to drink a coffee or a tea and eat a warm croissant from a nearby bakery. Some of these travelers brought certain goods even to my great-grandfather and I remember a short incident that I heard told when I was a child: One day, the great-grandfather kept looking nervously through the door of the pravalia for a traveler who was supposed to come with some goods. One of his neighbors, a Jew, Mr. Hirsh, who had a storehouse of tools and household items, asked him: – Mr. Agopian, why are you so upset today? The great-grandfather tells him that he is waiting for the traveler with goods, and that he has confused him for many days and he does not appear anymore. Mr. Hirsh laughs and says:
– Well, are you upset about that? Well, you had to think that this idiot, if he was up to something, had a shop across the street from you, he wasn’t a traveller… The last room of the laundry room, where the pool table was also located, had a door that opened into the backyard of the house, where the coffee was roasted. The great-grandfather had a kind of large iron box with a door where the green coffee beans were put. The box was fixed on an iron bar under which the fire was made and the box was continuously turned over the fire until the coffee was roasted. When the box door was opened, the smell of roasted coffee from four streets away. Also in this box, peanuts were roasted in their shell and, after they were sufficiently cooked, they were taken out on a mat to cool and were wiped with a cloth soaked in a mixture of flour, water and salt, so the salt remained stuck to them when they got cold. Food was also prepared here in the courtyard, a food unknown and misunderstood by the locals unfamiliar with the subtleties of oriental cuisine. Other Armenians also came to the cafe, they were some exotic apparitions, dressed in traditional Armenian costumes, with big, round, astrakhan hats. Among them was an old Armenian, the children called him “Grandpa”. He was dressed only in special clothes, white shirts with long sleeves, he wore a red waistcoat and a wide leather belt and, on his arm, he had a long pipe, decorated with small colored stones and tied with a golden chain, and in his hand he was constantly kneading a string by the matani. Grandfather was always withdrawn, he was sad and sighed from the bottom of his soul… Grandfather must have been 5-6 years old asked him “What’s wrong Santa, why are you angry?” , he did not speak Romanian well and said “… he killed my boy, my father, I had a good boy, the Turks killed me in front of me, all the family was killed, father…” Grandfather was one of the survivors of the Genocide committed by the Turks, the rest of his family they had been killed by the Turks in front of him, among them was his son whom he cared about very much. When grandfather came home from school, he stopped at the pravalie on his way home and Grandfather took him by the leg and taught him: “…water – giur, bread – hatz… you say now…”. The great-grandfather, who didn’t speak Romanian well either, saw him, took the grandfather by the ear and pulled him out of the ravine “Cana, cana (arm. leave), go play! You must forget that he is Armenian, you Romanian! The Turks will kill you if they know Armenian! ” and so the grandfather did not manage to learn the Armenian language.
I also found my great-grandfather’s cafe mentioned in the book “Memories of a police commissioner”, Prisma publishing house, Rm. Valcea -1983, written by Costila Nicolae, former chief commissioner of the Curtea de Arges Police during 1941-1945. In the chapter “Institutions, schools, enterprises, trades existing between the years 1933-1944, he also mentions the cafes in the city: “Cafes: Vartan Vartanian had a cafe in the houses of Mitica Branza. There was also Agopian’s cafe, and on Decebal street Nicolae Enescu’s cafe. The cafes were frequented by many “missing the summer” and pensioners.” Discussing this topic with my venerable countryman, Mr. Professor Emanoil Sterescu, originally from Arges and a good connoisseur of the city’s history, with reference to the statement that at that time the cafes would have been frequented by “losers of the summer” and pensioners, his lordship wanted to make the following statements: “… here I would like to add my opinion: the cafes were also frequented by the city’s elite: city hall officials, lawyers, doctors, etc. I state this in the knowledge of the cause, being a child and my father owning a bookstore, I periodically took white chalk to the three cafes, the chalk used to write on the blackboard the points won in billiards, backgammon, poker, tabinet, etc. the participants being coffee consumers. I was rewarded by the patrons with candy or a piece of shit (lokum) with cold water. After the Second World War, the cafes gradually disappeared.”
Narrated by Paul Agopian