Photo by Alex Tomazatos (37)
© Alex Tomazatos

Text and photos by Alex Tomazatos.


Of course I am full of uncertainty. So full of it, that I have reached the point of categorizing it in good one and the one transposed in hair pulling and nail biting. The good one materializes in a spinal downrush when, after a long ride, voyage or flight, I disembark alone without knowing what awaits for me – where I shall sleep, what I shall eat, where shall I go next or who shall I meet. My shoelaces are tightened once again, the camera strap is adjusted one more time around my shoulder and I am ready to exchange uncertainty for concentration and fear for rejoice.

Real and Imaginary Letters to Oana

19.09.2011 Sfistofca, Romania

I haven’t been here for more than 2 months and I miss it – the place and the photos I took there. I miss Egor in his two-wheeled cart, catching up with me just a short distance from his house. I also missed the fish soup, with the fish caught and prepared in the same morning and the comfort of their home. A strange, sublime comfort, which any traveler would long for after so much sand, sun and thorn-bushes. I wonder why exactly today, after 11 months, and 14-15 trips here, I started writing. I have “waves”. I have “phases”. I have crises; all figuratively and literally. Of restlessness, of confusion, of revelation: everything. All day I had one thing in my head – besides Amelia – intimacy. How to illustrate it, this word, intimacy, brings me to Rachel Mummey’s “For better or for worse”.

I passed by Ignat. He was at a neighbor. I raised my hand greeting the men and walked by. I did not recognized him because of his glorious new beard. This upset him.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (36)
© Alex Tomazatos

I cannot concentrate. If I would, maybe I would not call Ignat “Igor” (same as Egor). I am embarrassed when this happens and maybe you’ll say I don’t care about the people I photograph. I do care, but my mind is totally blurred when I come to this place. Maybe there are other causes…

Today I met Alenpe, Vasea’s cousin. He is a very intelligent man, this father of two who took up priesthood. For me, he is a little too intelligent to be the father of children who took up such carriers. I somehow got the impression that he is not very fond of religion, so I think he would agree with me. One of them is now the bishop of the Russian Lipovans. Alenpe and I discussed various topics, and Ignat got himself a Mona, a bottle of the blue sanitary alcohol the locals here consume with gusto. He got it from me… I broke my own code.

Aliosa, Petca, Adi and others started to build a stable. It seemed interesting, especially because is completely made of reed. I have never seen how the reed is turned into a structure before, with the exception of reed fences in Sulina, but then I was too young to care. Back then all I cared for was the perfect cane, to make the perfect arrow or the perfect spear. I brought a photo from last trip to Petca with him steering the boat full of church’s carpets. That was before the motor’s screws escaped the transom and the kid passed out from drinking next to the village priest in the boat, leaving me to row a boat full of carpets and two “sick” people (as described by some tourists) until close to Sulina when a boat came to pick us up.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (35)
© Alex Tomazatos

This evening the light was good, I took some shots, but I was not there. I could not connect. In front of me, unwinding was a brutal and brutalized world, with families gathering around the cheap “100% grapes” wine, the bottles of Mona. Added the chill of a September evening, easily I stepped back when shaking their wet, huge or dusty hands. My mind was filled with thoughts of the hot food, the high old bed with starched sheets, and the warmth of the two elders’ home that is now for me like the center of the Universe.

“This is not a hunt or race”, I thought, reminding myself that to relax. But on my way to my hosts Maria finds me whilst out talking with a neighbor. She stops me for a picture, like every time she sees me. I lied and said that I didn’t have battery or film. Still, she wanted a picture of herself basking in the September sunset. If I had taken her picture just for the sake of pleasing her, she would ask to have it printed next time. No problem, but I can’t really do all of them. As she gets closer I notice she is not wearing beige tights, but she is in underwear only. Maria is about 50 years old, 1.9 meters tall, and she has a slight mental handicap. She asks me for pictures every time she sees me since my first trip here when I gave her a picture with her and her foal. 

20.09.2011 Sfistofca, Romania

Egor and I checked his fikenets, a type of tunnel-like fish traps. It seemed like I was his lucky charm today: we found one pike, 3 tenches, a small crucian carp (I have never seen one up-close), a small carp, some Prussian carp and perch. This catch comes after a period when no fish were seen here.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (34)
© Alex Tomazatos

At about 10 a.m. the soup was ready. A tench and a chunk of pike each, plus, for the guests, sunfish and the small crucian carp. Then we go grape harvesting. The light isharsh, but besides taking photos I fill a few times the bucket prepared by Zenovia, Egor’s wife, especially for me. On the way back, I don’t know what took my mind to Oana, but it gave me some swift, hard-hitting flashbacks. I still have them. Still, I sometimes think of answering “Do you miss her?”

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (33)
© Alex Tomazatos
Photo by Alex Tomazatos (32)
© Alex Tomazatos

The thought of going tomorrow to Letea at the church’s patron fair is thrilling. However, I felt I should stop thinking of everything as a “picture harvest”, something with a quota from which I have to come back with good photos. This is detrimental to the quality, the sincerity. Thinking like this, I felt little better than a hunter, or worse, a scavenger. I should learn to relax. 

I don’t know how, nor can I guess, a day or two is enough to think of how good is at home with my family. Here nobody messes with my head, no phone rings and I don’t think about emails. My only distraction is school, because today Laura called to tell me she got into a new master program, and we’ll be in the same university again, but different years of study. I didn’t know what to think; when I am at home it seems to take so little to be close to raging hell.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (31)
© Alex Tomazatos

I paid a visit to Aliosa, Petca and their father while they were working on their new stable. I snapped some frames of the reed construction and then Aliosa and Octav Postolache, a retired art teacher from northern Romania who moved here with his wife about 10 years ago, posed for me on the field between the crumbling houses. I found out that the community center – the club, as the teacher calls it – has now a PC and a printer, besides TV and stove. I have also learned that a communal chess competition with contestants from Letea, Sfistofca, Rosetti and Periprava took place in the community center here in Sfistofca. Petca finished on second place. I began to realize the efforts the old teacher has made to get the villagers off the bottle, something which seems so attractive here where life unwinds in poverty, dust and isolation.

21.09.2011 Letea, Romania

After I took some pictures of Zenovia picking grapes from yesterday’s harvest for the church’s communion wine, I set on foot to Letea. On sandy roads, through forests, I listened to and recorded owls and cowbells luring me from the misty woods. In one and a half hours, admiring and recording included, I reached Letea. There I met the most photogenic children of the village: Alexandru, Catalina and Constantin. Their mom seemed pregnant to me, a fact confirmed by the French filming crew that already finished their film. The woman was five months along, even though her husband only got out of prison in August, a month ago. Anyway, they liked the photos I brought for them, and the poster from my first real solo exhibition poster, where Catalina features. That was exactly 2 years ago – at the same holiday.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (30)
© Alex Tomazatos

As I do every time I go shooting, I ask myself if I will be able to pull it off this time. It’s like this every time I get somewhere, especially in a new place. This is not a new place, but still… My day in Letea was spent at the church taking pictures, talking with the villagers, playing with their children and taking more pictures. The youth were circulating a rumor that that night at the local bar there would be some kind of special event.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (29)
© Alex Tomazatos

I decided to follow my intuition which, based on previous experiences, told me that not so much would happen (now as I am writing this I realize how stupid this was, and how much in contradiction with my normal practice it was – be there first, leave there last). So, I hitchhiked home, with a boat. Contrary to the custom around here, I got the ride for free.

22.10.2011 Istanbul, Turkey

I got off the bus at 2:30 am, found a crayfish on the street in front of the fish market in Kumkapi, while scouting for the fishing vessel where I stayed last year. I froze on a bench until around 5 am. After that, I set out on foot, crossing Eminonu and Galata Bridge. I stayed there until 7 am. To my surprise, during the night the bridge is filled by roughly the same number of fishermen as in daytime, who keep themselves warm by lighting every kind of litter they can find. By around blue hour those fires looked great. When the light was bright, I went back to find my fishermen from last year. Fish auction are still at around 9:30 am. I did not find the crew from Barracuda 2, but I did find the two other fishermen on a small boat I met last year as well. I gave them the pictures and left to swell my right tonsil some more by waiting Barracuda 2 in the wind by the port’s lighthouse. Two sandwiches and a few apples later (from my mother) I leave Kumkapi.

It felt really good crossing the historical district in the middle of the day, again. I met Michel, a German student sent here to teach Turks GIS for at least a month. I know him from home, in Sulina, where I met him in front of my house. He was with his girlfriend, Ines, and a Polish traveler named Jed. Back then, we partied with barbecue and electric guitars as my part of town had never seen or heard. I took him through the most crowded market I have ever seen since I come to Istanbul and we stayed for juice and tea in 3 different places.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (28)
© Alex Tomazatos

23.10.2011 Istanbul, Turkey

Initially I was going to set my alarm early to catch the fires on Galata bridge, but because of my cold and the back pains which now are spreading to my feet, I could not refuse myself a good sleep; especially after forty hours without sleep with about twenty of walking with a backpack.

Every time I reach my destination, be it new or familiar, the same question runs through my skull: will I manage to do something this time? Every time I ask myself if I will find situations from which to return with good pictures. I gave up the hunter’s approach because it is not good for me. But sometimes I feel I am one. And every time, I try to find perseverance and patience that eventually make it all pay off.

Here is increasingly hard for me to find something. In this gigantic city, it is hard to find something to make mine, something to photograph. So I am not going after my fishermen and decide to wait more. I only paid for 3 nights at the hostel because I never know where I wind up. I went to Taksim Square thinking that, being Sunday, I might find something different to what I had so far. And I did. After about 10 minutes, a group of demonstrators appeared with flags, headbands, and scarves, shouting nationalist and anti-PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) slogans.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (27)
© Alex Tomazatos

Immediately, everything concentrates around the monument in the square, where I was surprised to see small children waving the huge flag with adults and shouting the hymns and slogans. For me, a non-, maybe anti-patriot, this is intriguing. When I start to shoot near the immense flag, a man gestures in sign of invitation for me to take photos from under the flag. I stay there until I go numb on my feet and lower back; so concentrated that I forget about the back pains. What was good was that the demonstration started with me there, meaning I had 40 minutes alone before the press showed up. After that, 4-5 cameras started shooting and, of course, chimping under that same flag. I stepped back pleased. Looking for water and stretching. I followed the rally only to make sure I don’t lose other shots. After that, though, I hardly took any photo at all. It all looked too newspaperish to me. The crowd disbanded and I left to Karakoy looking to buy a shawl for Laura and a lunch for me.

26.10.2011 Istanbul, Turkey

I did nothing for a day, and another one I spent on the Asian side searching for a bazaar, which is only open on Tuesdays. I found it. Pictures ok, but I enjoyed eating a pomegranate the size of my head even more.

I got back to Kumkapi, without a trace of Barracuda 2. I meet a man who speaks English and knows the crew I seek. He is the captain’s cousin. And guess what: Barracuda has left to Izmir – for good. One of them is in Samsun and another quit fishing. I don’t know what to think or how I feel. The absence of the Barracuda 2 leant a lot of instability to my plans, since I wanted so much to see them. I am sure they would have been happy to see me. Uğur was happy to see me. Last year he invited me on his boat to smoke a joint, as big as on a Bob Marley caricature t-shirt. I turned him down, sadly; firstly I was there with work in my mind and secondly I did not want paranoia with pirates in the middle of the day.

As if in some cheap, but somehow cute comedy, the same episode from last year happens again. I walk a few meters after leaving the pictures for Barracuda to the captain’s cousin and greet three fishermen on a boat. “Ḉai? Tea?” was their reply. I am not that stupid to say “no” and there we go again. This way I get to know Ali, Dursun and his son, Tolga. They also left their town, Ordu. Just like last year, one of them was speak a bit of English. Dursun worked on cargo ships almost 10 years. Then again, this year my Turkish is not so bad either.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (26)
© Alex Tomazatos

Accepting tea is enough to be asked if you’re hungry. A few hours later we go to Kumkapi to watch the game of their local team from Ordu with Bursa. We cannot find any place to see the game so we stop undecided in front of a tea saloon where men play cards, backgammon and drink tea. The fishermen disband, one of them left in search for a public phone. Probably there were not enough seats in the saloon. Later I went back to Sirkeci, and checked in for another 3 nights. The next day, I decided to come back again.

27.10.2011 Istanbul, Turkey

Over the past few days I have been thinking of clichés, and indeed how I am perpetuating them. I am the worst person with whom to have a discussion on the theory of photography. I’ve heard that photography has already been “smoked” and now is only being rearranged. However, I have started to feel that the balance is inclined towards the hours of drooling on the net rather than to the days and weeks on the field with the subject. I don’t know…I really don’t. I apply formulas, I improvise, I imitate.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (25)
© Alex Tomazatos

Some of them are commonly know, some are more my own. And I get rubbish, nothing more. Decisive moments, reflections in the windows, strange mix of faces in the frame, cut busts, taken from above, taken from below…long exposures and nothing else. Wherever I turn to, images come to my head, but they are not mine.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (24)
© Alex Tomazatos

29.10.2011 Istanbul, Turkey

I went back to Rustem Paşa mosque in a place I found yesterday. A narrow alley guarded by the high stone walls. There are big arched iron doors, windows with heavy grids and a corner for me to wait around. I frame, focus – talk about hunting – and gnash my teeth in the current whizzing through the thick beanie I bought yesterday near the Egyptian bazaar. The old man from the other corner already knew I was not a tourist passing by just to see the mosque. The shutter snaps metallically several times and… I’m done. Time to go and eat.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (23)
© Alex Tomazatos

Later I hop on the ferry to Kadikoy with my last token. I take it three times, watching how the person beyond the window in front of me changes every half hour; only the reflections of the train station, shipyard, cruise ships and tall minarets are the same on their faces. A waiter cleaning the deck of teacups interrupts my freeze from the bow of the ship and I get down in Kadikoy. It couldn’t be the other side so I won’t have to go into my last ten lira bill!… Luckily it was not necessary though.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (22)
© Alex Tomazatos

Back at the hostel, I was more at ease. I was waiting for the sun to get a bit lower before going out – but I fall asleep on a couch up on the rooftop terrace, enchanted by the muezzin’s call for prayer echoing from the minarets all around.

30.10.2011 Istanbul, Turkey

Err 99 Shooting is not possible. Turn the power switch to and again or re-install the battery.

My camera died and left me just hours before hopping on the bus back home. I was shooting in live-view mode on a bridge and the last few frames carried the “symptom”: a quarter of the frame had light leaks and the last shot had the same portion darkened. Not surprised and I wasn’t expecting that.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (21)
© Alex Tomazatos

14.11.2011 Sofia, Bulgaria.

I checked in at the hotel and I’m dying for a photo. The green, polka-dotted armchairs and curtains are on the sides of the big square window revealing the city at dusk with its lights and smog. The small table, the lamp guarding the large window at the 12th floor in this grand communist hotel, they all compose a scenery long time hidden in my subconscious. I accepted being brought here, but not for a photographic business. Still, it’s the first time in 8 years – no it’s the first time in my life – when I go somewhere without a camera. I could not find one before leaving Iasi, so I won’t come back with pictures on hard drive disk, but on mental one, recalling how I used my eyelids as shutters when seeing something that was worth raising the camera to the eye. I always thought is a good exercise…

22.12.2011 Sfistofca, Romania

My brain turned on instantly when the alarm rang. I was just on time to catch the ride to the village. From C.A. Rosetti until here took longer than usual. I left the road a few times for the woods. My rucksack is heavy, but small and compact. My boots feel tight and impenetrable to the cold because of my two pairs of socks, and my fingertips have just the right amount of freeze. I feel good. It’s my first trip since the camera visited the doctor – it needed a new shutter. It seems slower than before, but perhaps is just an impression. The air is frosty and the hoarfrost decorates everything on the ground. The water-soaked sand is like concrete now. I missed the frozen fields, the ghostly ringing of cowbells in the forest, the croak of pheasants. I don’t know what day is, but I remember when my phone starts ringing. I could not turn it off, even if until 8 a.m. I already spoke with my brother (he called me at 6 a.m.) and my parents who call to wish me “happy birthday”. As the conversations finish, my lapsing back into temporality is both welcomed and inevitable.

I spent more time on the road because I started to explore what I think could be a new chapter. The award from COPY while I was inactive has motivated me tremendously. I want now to experiment, to do something different, but complementary. The influences are obvious, but the other part of “Homeland” (my biggest, never-ending project about Danube Delta) has its origins in my subconscious, perhaps somewhere back in my childhood. I went into the delta with something in my mind…maybe unpeopled? Question marks have always tormented me. I always searched for human presence in my photographs. But now, at least for the moment, I see this parallel as some kind of “after”, if the current series in colors is “before” or “now”. What would happen “after” people are no longer in my pictures? I borrowed a film camera from Daniel, a good friend and colleague, but it’s the digital still then one I use now.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (20)
© Alex Tomazatos

I don’t have money for film and it would take a few rolls just to see how things work. I do not know what film is, and the thought of lacking the “discipline of film” has always made me feel incomplete. On digital I used to have 2000 shots at the end of the day. Maybe for commercial shooting is okay, but for me it is the reflection of occurring impatience, invasiveness and lack of discernment; a fear that the decisive moment would escape me if I stay on “single shot” and not on “burst mode”, thus making me a visual Gatling gun with less discernment than intended, driven by the images of my models that got stuck in my head.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (19)
© Alex Tomazatos

I start the above-mentioned “parallel” in digital, though. I can’t wait until I can afford some film. I feel like I start all over by doing this. My photos are amateurish and with a high dose of uncertainty, and it’s a cross I bear with pleasure, I must say. Black and white photography on film, not to mention developing processes, has always seemed to me something unattainable…

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (18)
© Alex Tomazatos

Egor and I went fishing – seven fish this time. Now I grope in an abandoned house, I reach for some food in my rucksack and I head to C.A. Rosetti through the forest. I try an alternative way, which leads me to the village cemetery, and from there I find my way back, out of the village. I roam through the woods following feral horses. My simple and safe mental map shatters when I make my way out in the field and I see in the distance, in the direction of my destination, the village I just left from not so long time before.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (17)
© Alex Tomazatos
Photo by Alex Tomazatos (16)
© Alex Tomazatos

Back in Rosetti and then Sfistofca. Two perches and a Prussian carp, all fried and…done – I’m back to base. In the room, the heat makes all optics unusable and torpor sets in as if I have stacked hay all day. Today was not so bad. I did not photograph so many people, and the result was the same for me. I did exactly what I considered “artistic” in a mild fulsome way. I did not hunt. I walked and gave each shot some thought. Maybe what I want to do next is a counterweight, the dreamlike “parallel”. Or perhaps this will destroy the balance (is there any?) of what I have so far.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (15)
© Alex Tomazatos

It suddenly came to me that I don’t have any finished body of work. Something concrete, solid. I still have moments of doubt about what is best of my work. Impatience and confusion are draining the life out of me. Same for exhaustion. It’s just past 6 pm and I feel all my bones broken. After more than a month of successfully doing nothing, I start to feel guilty.

23.12.2011 Letea, Romania

I left Sfistofca on foot. I passed through Rosetti and reached Letea. The village is ghostly – I have hardly seen a person. I roam aimlessly looking for “trouble”. I did not aim my camera too much on people these days. I photographed Zenovia and Egor because I stayed with them more, but for the rest of it… still searching without knowing what for.

The delta has something that hardens a man. It reveals more of his wild nature, accustoming him with her isolation. As someone said, here, man limits himself to what he sees – water, reeds, bulrush, nothing more. Compared to the rest of the people, he is like the feral beasts that sniff the dirt in the woods and were, some time ago, in his homestead. Thinking of this, I start asking myself why when I am at home is like walking on burning coals and after two or three days on the field it does not seem so bad returning home. Only a couple of days! The landscape and atmosphere have some oppressive. It’s a marvelous land nonetheless, but it has its own spookiness. The truth, admitted only in my heart and mind (and now in these rows) is that since Oana and I parted, I haven’t been the same ever since. And the spookiness is spookier and harder to bear. I am totally changed, maybe in good, maybe in bad, but I incline for the first. This happened years ago and since then Sulina is a place I can hardly stand. It’s not that I did not get over it, I did, but walking through her parent’s villages I feel the loss of something inside me never to be found. Maybe it’s better this way and time is the only one needed. To “marry” photography this time seemed the best and most normal outcome. To put my work which does not even provide me with a living in front of my relations with family and others; to submerge myself in what I do, to be constantly on the road, so I won’t have when to think of something else. And the more hurdles I leap, the more sucked I get. This cannot last forever and I have to look for some balance. My photographic dilemmas are too many and too big to leave room for others. And what is more difficult is being unable to distill my dilemmas into words, words to form sentences, sentences with any kind of punctuation at the end, if that matters.

A mother with three small children were on their way to school. From their discussion I understood that there was a Christmas show where children sing carols and recite poems to Santa Claus. I knew that was the place I wanted to be. Outside it was very cold, inside it was very hot, and my camera got fogged to the core. Wiping my lens or viewfinder was useless, and the last time I was at this kind of event, I was the same age as the ones on the stage.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (14)
© Alex Tomazatos

I met Constantin in front of the school. His sister, Catalina, the girl on my first exhibition poster was participating in the show. From Constantin I found out that their brother, Alexandru, works for a neighbor chopping firewood. Both boys dropped out of school, and Catalina is back in the first grade. After the show Constantin took me to a shop I did not know, but because it was closed we visited the graveyard. I ask him about his father who got out from prison less than six months ago. I was also curious about his baby brother, Luca Andrei, who was only one or two months old. In his purple thin jacket the boy shivers in the whipping wind. I feel sorry to hear they dropped school. There is no future for them here, and they, with the help of their parents, have thrown away their last chance to pull themselves out of the hardships to come. A villager appears and easily sets a bargain with the boy who follows the man to work.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (13)
© Alex Tomazatos

Frozen and waiting for the minibus I saw dusk’s usually consistent blue sky succumbs to darkness faster than usual, because of the clouds. The car arrives; the terrace of the shop where I am waiting is lighted, so I think I can get something out the dark sky. I set my camera on a high ISO, maximum aperture, long exposure, handheld. The strange, beautiful, mix of people, bags, carts, bicycles and playing children, that unwinds every day at 5 p.m. when the minibus is ready to connect the villages north of Sulina, made me forget about the cold and lit a fire under me. It is one of those combinations of artificial and natural light that is visually stimulating.

18.01.2012 Iasi, Romania

I went to Laura. She was working, and she asked me to pay her tuition fees, because otherwise she wouldn’t be able to attend the exams. A bit of frost is good for me and I can have some time with myself on the way. This way I hoped to clear my mind of the thoughts that got crammed between four walls during the last few days.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (12)
© Alex Tomazatos

I tried to take photographs of the student life – again. I failed, obviously. I got one or two good pictures, but nothing solid. This because I hated it, I did not belong to that kind of life. It does not matter why. I hated pretty much everything that comes with it. I did not enjoy being a student. I got good grades, even though I hated my faculty, and living in Iasi.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (11)
© Alex Tomazatos

Obviously I have a fair share of guilt. But since I started my last academic year in October things changed a lot. I started to like Iasi, but only in my room and around my roommates. That’s why I take pictures, without any intention of showing glimpses of student life. What is here is, for us, outside time or space. It’s like living my subject.

2.02.2012 Sulina, Romania

I arrived home yesterday. Even though I had plenty of time, I forgot to write. From Tulcea to Sulina instead of 4 hours, it took me 8. Not with the ferryboat, but with a beacon carrier. I was not alone, many people had to reach their homes. The Danube is not navigable and the ferryboat is blocked at shore. Everything is paralyzed, and here in the delta, isolated too. What I saw during those 8 hours was really spectacular. Such a hard winter had not visited these places for a long, long time. I do not feel sorry for coming, although I might get stuck here. I like what I see, but I don’t like the possibility of not getting out in time for my last exam. Without it, I can’t apply for the internship in Turkey and with the complications will come in a cascade effect.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (10)
© Alex Tomazatos

Two and a half years ago I started a multimedia project about the Greek community from Sulina. For that I visited Vanghelie and Alexandra Marcari, the eldest couple in town, twice. On Monday, January 30th, Vanghelie Marcari turned 99. Two days after that, yesterday as I write, his wife Alexandra died. I visited him today at noon and in the evening at the vigil watch. There were no people. It is too cold.

6.02.2012 Sulina, Romania

On the other end of the town, across the Danube, things look different. There, behind the houses stretching on a single street on the river’s bank, it is hidden a small channel connected with the one leading north, to Cardon. On the far end, it reaches the Danube one mile upstream from where the town ends. People are poor, and isolated; the landscape portrays the relative poverty of Sulina on its left bank. I walk across on frozen water, and meet Petre Ujei who is going to his father for some firewood. Since it was such a hard winter, people’s stocks of firewood were already dwindling. This led to the cutting of many willows from nearby. Later, walking on the ice, I meet Marius, who was “sewing” his gillnets under the ice with great skill. I get acquainted with Mr. Mihai too, after helping him to carry a sheaf of reeds he cut near the channel.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (9)
© Alex Tomazatos

After that we discuss various topics while sipping something one can hardly call “wine”. Our topics range from the history of our town, to the genesis of the delta, to our national poet; 40 delightful minutes that freeze me to the core, there, in the middle of the frozen channel.

Marius kept “sewing” his nets nearby, lightly dressed, like Mr. Mihai. Both men had been with their hand in the ice holes for the whole morning. Marius’ worried wife appears when he has already finished and asks me if I want to warm up a bit. Of course I do and once we get home, the couple with their youngest son, Sorin, and their smallest dog, Maia, start to defrost and talk.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (8)
© Alex Tomazatos

He was a fisherman until 7 years ago when he had to quit when the law changed and he had to do it on his own with authorization. Without money to afford the taxes, he gave up fishing. Now he fishes for subsistence, but the law not so long ago changed again and such practice is allowed only with fishing rods, not with net gear – making it impossible to feed a family. This is the reason for which the border police confiscated his boat, something he was only able to afford after two years of hard work in Greece with his wife. You hear a lot about the abuses of the authorities, especially the border police in these parts.

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© Alex Tomazatos

Two years ago he underwent surgery on his spine, but his wife is a very fierce woman. She told me that in case Marius gets incapable of fishing, she would go and work in his place with his brothers. As I later found out from my grandfather, an old pal of Marius, his wife comes from a family where the members have been fishermen for many generations. Well warmed after a mug of hot, spiced wine I leave with Sorin, who offers to lead me back in town.

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© Alex Tomazatos
Photo by Alex Tomazatos (5)
© Alex Tomazatos

10.02.2012 Sulina, Romania

It was 1:19 am when I noted that I had been on a tugboat, Gheorgheni 2, for one and a half hours. It reached the port not long ago, it waits for the local stores supplies to be unloaded and then it leaves again to Tulcea. It’s my only chance to leave Sulina these days. I don’t know when, but I will get to Tulcea. The 72-73 kilometers can take a day or it can take three. We are about 10 persons who hope to reach Tulcea. The moon is almost full, and its light is strong. No one has seen this kind of ice blockade. The ship shakes with a rumble sound when it hits the ice banks that plug the Danube once every few miles. Gathering pace, it climbs the thick ice, which breaks under the tugboat’s weight.

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© Alex Tomazatos

After my eyes got used to the dark, I could really see for the first time what lies ahead: ice that was compact enough to walk on, sparkling under the moonlight. Oana’s father, Gheorghe, was working on this shift, below in the engines room somewhere…

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© Alex Tomazatos

At 9:15 am we docked in Tulcea. I spent Eight hours between the deckhouse, cabins and the three decks where the cold felt like pliers tearing at the flesh on my face. I did not sleep, there was no space for that, but others have managed to do it in the engine room, where you couldn’t even hear your thoughts if you tried. This was the most interesting part of the journey.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (2)
© Alex Tomazatos

Next is my brother’s flat in Galati, where all that impresses the camera’s sensor looks like creepy paintings. The trains are canceled too. One had a delay of sixty hours, time that people froze, hungry and could not use the toilets in the middle of a white, endless field. I had no idea when I would reach Iasi.

Photo by Alex Tomazatos (1)
© Alex Tomazatos

15.03.2012 Somewhere on a train between Iasi and Bucharest, Romania

The two phone’s alarms rang simultaneously, waking me up instantly although something of a deep, narcotic sleep still clung to my head and eyelids. I hate sweet, greasy “goodbyes” so a “Good night, see you when the summer comes” was all between me my roommates before going to sleep. They understand me…

I have left to Turkey. In fact tomorrow I am departing – to Eastern Anatolia to be precise. It was nice in the room, but not very active for me. I had almost no schoolwork, nothing. This state of things would eventually drive me crazy, so I decided to do something before leaving university for good. I leave in great disgust for my university and faculty, which by now cannot surprise me any longer. I shall see Iasi again, after 3 months when the hell of my un-equivocated exams and final thesis will break loose in my last days as a student. By then, it is possible that the mud and puddles filling the streets and alleys will be gone and the tram will reach my campus as it did last year until fall. Or I might be too optimistic. I do want to leave that blasted place, but it will be great to come back in the room and then have at least one barbeque down the ski trail with Roberto’s boom box cassette player blaring out. If not, the summer is long and my house is enough for everybody.

What’s next? I don’t know and I don’t think I am supposed to; a lot, of that I am sure. Next is life – real, adventurous, hard-punching life. The world that lies ahead is waiting for me to take a dive. I imagined many times how I would feel in those moments. It will be the moment when I’ll be seeing myself on the edge of my highest cliff, bracing and saying, “Let’s jump. Let’s fucking jump, man!!” Joy, fear, good thrills, bad thrills, good trips or bad trips, new friends, old friends, adventure – anywhere, love, death…I am waiting for all of that. And I hope my camera won’t leave my shoulder for even one instant.

I would like to express my gratitude to Ronan MacDubhghaill and Mark Byrnes for helping me bring this story to its present form. Their time and effort is greatly appreciated.


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