By Dan Lazar Trifan
English translation: Dan Lazar Trifan
English editors: Nancy Meshkoff (Vermont, USA) and John D. Powell (Vermont, USA)
Interview published in the book “At the roots, at origins … Talks at Subcetate” by Doina Dobreanu and Vasile Dobreanu, Publisher: Cezara Codruţa Marica, 2014
Romanian title: Dan-Lazăr Trifan –Despre Dor (Dor: Romanian word for longing, yearning)
DD: You exchanged the peace of a Transylvanian village for the bustle of Bucharest, and then you integrated into Canadian culture. A person’s place is where he can be natural and persuasive in everything. Similarities and differences between individuals, between cultures, bring beauty to life. Man is in a constant search, the search for the Self, and for the means to express himself. Did you find in Canada the possibilities for self-expression that you wanted?
DLT: Expressing yourself, manifesting from within yourself, you can do that anywhere. Well, almost anywhere. What makes the difference, however, is to be able to convince some people to listen and a few to follow. Otherwise, it’s like talking to the wall or preaching in the desert.
Every society, every culture, has both good aspects and aspects that are less good. After 1989, Romania was considered to be a new El Dorado for a certain category of businesspeople. African markets, economic booms in some African countries, created unexpected opportunities. The stability and financial strength of Europe also offered opportunities.
Canada, and Quebec in particular, had something different to offer, in social terms: freedom of expression, openness, tolerance, multiculturalism, social stability, a good level of social services, and support for initiatives in any field. These are things we do not find in Communist cultures or in the ironically-named Balkan spirit, such as having the right to be wrong, feeling good in your own skin, having a positive outlook on life, speaking out when you have a problem rather than hiding it out of pride or for some obscure reason; and then, civilized behaviour, courtesy, volunteering, a society where “It’s not possible” isn’t often heard, less corruption, or at least less obvious general corruption, openness to the new and to knowledge.
My daughter once missed a class. She called the teacher the next day and apologized, and the teacher said, “No problem, you have the right to miss a class or two,” and then sent her the course notes by e-mail, so that she could catch up. This tolerance, openness, and acceptance of error, of human imperfection, shows a certain level of social culture, social maturity.
The less positive aspects of the culture are everywhere. It’s not possible not to have them. Perfection is at best a direction, never a human reality. At one point, Quebec had a political slogan saying that “being different is an asset.” Although the slogan has a political flavour and a demagogic use, a society that is able to take advantage of differences has a great advantage in accelerating its progress. We live today in what is called the “global village”, and to integrate, rather than assimilate, to create something new by merging these differences in the social melting pot without destroying the individual flavours— this is an art of contemporary social policy that few countries have. Canada possesses it, for the most part. Quebec also has it, with its peculiarities of being a French island in this North-American, English-speaking world.
As to the place of each individual, there is a Romanian saying: “The man consecrates the place,” or, as the French say, “A good farmer makes a good farm.” Now, of course, we can argue about various points; some places are easier to “consecrate” than others.
Concerning cultural differences and social and cultural integration, I would say that the first condition for integration is to define the socio-cultural “place where you belong”. Once again, we are talking about integration, not assimilation. This is my own opinion on integration. Others might see it differently.
Many try to deny the past, to forget, to deny their origins, the culture in which they grew up and were shaped. I consider this to be a way of hiding an inability to be integrated into your own culture in the first place, even if the reasons and justifications for that are sometimes real.
Never in my life have I felt so strongly, so urgently, the need to declare and define my belonging to a cultural, historical and emotional Romanian space. Living in your home country, within the culture in which you were born, you take it all for granted. You do not even think about it. You aren’t aware of it and don’t appreciate it enough. You do not even know that you have it- all these values that define your own culture and ultimately yourself. But when you are opposed, faced with or placed in front of differences with other cultures, other values, other habits, when you are asked many times a day “d’où vous venez,”—where you come from—you cannot simply answer, “From Romania,” because Romania is not just a place on a map.
You feel the need to assert your membership, to present your personal cultural offering, so that you can balance what the local culture has to offer, to prove that you bring something specific, something new, and did not come here to forget your roots and pretend that you’ve become Canadian, or Quebecois, in a few days, quickly picking up the local jargon. Perhaps it works this way also, but I felt that this would not be my way of proceeding. I can offer much more, because I’m backed up by a solid, thousand-year-old history and culture—that is, if you know that culture, if you are part of it, and do not deny it. I felt the need to fill in the lack of information, to correct false images about Romania, associated for many only with the name Nadia and with perceptions of Ceausescu, or Dracula.
A young Romanian, a former schoolmate of Ileana’s in his late teens, won a scholarship to study in the US. In the first weeks, he said he felt a pressing need to immediately answer questions like: Who am I? Where do I come from? What am I doing here? He felt the need to define himself in relation to a new society. He began to ask for CDs, pictures, specific objects from home. He decorated the wall of his room with maps and pictures of Romania and listened to Romanian music. This is a phase of awakening, of the awareness of your own belonging to the cultural space in which you were born.
To capitalize on cultural similarities and differences, historical traditions, and differences in customs, lifestyles, and moral values, you must first identify them and accept them. Integration takes much longer for those who emigrate at an older age, and it’s a process that sometimes fails. Many remain hung up somewhere in between the two cultures, between two existential spaces, oscillating, hesitating, and sometimes no longer able to find their place in either what was or in what currently is. Others, more fortunate, have learned to find that “home place” in their soul and take it with them everywhere, no matter where they go. They are the ones who feel good, who feel like they’re at home, no matter where they are. You call them “uprooted”? Hmmm! I’d say, rather, that they are those able to take their roots with them! Lorena McKenna, in the foreword to her album The Visit, says something like, “Life is like visiting. And when you are visiting someone’s house, you should know who you are, where you live, and what you do, and pay attention to what impressions and memories you leave behind.” You care about the person you are. We are, generally speaking, visitors in this life, in this world, but applied to the immigrant condition, with a change in countries. That need for self-identification and self-awareness, (“la conscience du soi” (fr), « conștiința de sine » (ro)) is much stronger. We know where we come from, where we are, what we seek, and what we do. If you make from this a way of life, without tension, effortlessly and naturally, you will feel “at home” anywhere. There may be people who do not feel comfortable “visiting” because they perceive some constraints, and this destroys or alters, most often unconsciously, the beauty of humanity. What can I say? Each one feels good in his own element: fish feel good in the water, birds in the air … You can continue with some bi/quadrupeds and understand what I mean.
Where do I feel the best? Is that what you wanted to ask me? The answer is: among people. Yes, among people.
DD: What is your life besides family and profession? What do you enjoy, what are you passionate about?
DLT: I am passionate about people, first and foremost. I am fascinated by their individuality, uniqueness, and personalities, their culture, history, and individual values, how they evolve in response to the challenges and trials life brings. I’ve had the chance to meet many people, around the globe, very different people, and I was lucky enough to gather a few valuable ones amongst those whom I consider my closest friends. Soul friends. It is interesting to learn, in 10 minutes, the life story of a taxi driver, who was a horticultural engineer; or, in a few hours on a plane, the life story of a girl, a beautiful girl, used by smugglers to transport jewellery; or, in a work week with a mixed team of experts, the story of each- one from the Canary Islands, another an Arab living in Ontario, another Senegalese living in Quebec, or a former African prime minister and expert in poverty reduction programs.
It’s exciting to learn about them also through the languages they speak. I have played, let’s say, with languages: a year of Russian, retaken at university because you could easily find books translated into Russian; French for 12 years; some English, which I’ve been polishing lately with my family; one year of studying Arabic; Hungarian, which I learned in high school so I could impress a girl with long love letters; German, which I practiced a little in the nineties, while doing some business in Germany; and I can read and write Greek.
Language defines people. Their personalities and mental constructions are built around linguistic elements. My stepdaughter, Ariane, was born into a bilingual family, and you could say she has two different personalities: one when she’s in a French environment and speaks French, (Quebec dialect, of course!), and a different one when she’s in the English-speaking world.
For pleasure, and to gather together a diverse group of people, we used to have periodic gatherings, for example, once a month, holding a small party in a space made available to us by Mr. Radu Jorj, a Romanian “vigneron” or vintner, one of the best in Quebec, the owner at the time of the oldest vineyard in Quebec, one of those exceptional people I had the chance to meet and become friends with. We gathered around the table: Europeans, North Americans, Africans, Quebec residents, or visitors. These meetings brought us great intellectual satisfaction.
Yes, social and cultural diversity and diverse origins are interesting, enriching, but it depends on how and to what end they are used. In preparing a TV show, a Romanian director from Toronto once launched a discussion on Facebook with the question, “How much can we accept compromises with or breaches of our own values in order to integrate into a society whose values we do not completely share?” How we make our incompatibility compatible and reach a “modus vivendi” in this amalgam of cultural, religious, social, and moral values? This discussion could go on and on, from the extremes of isolation that may result in small communities, to the abandonment of integration, to the terminological and factual invention of what some Quebec politicians call “reasonable accommodation”. Is this humour, or drama?
Otherwise, as to my interests, my family comes first, then my profession, but I have many other interests, from music to gardening, from travel to cultivating flowers, from taking pictures to spending time in the company of interesting people in interesting discussions, generating new intellectual perspectives.
I do follow the evolution of the virtual world and what is happening on the Internet. It’s fascinating to discover how people adapt and reinvent themselves, their relationships, their socializing, their individual personalities, everything, including love, including crime, including poetry, including lifestyles. Everything is reinvented in this virtual space without limits.
I like “tinkering”, handcrafting things. I am a blacksmith’s son, right? Doing repairs around the house or in electronics, carpentry, or car repairs, inventing and building things, designing all kinds of stuff, or just let the mind run-on.. It does not matter what. And there are always plenty of things to do.
I would love to have the time and the calm to write. I am in a hurry all the time. You see it even here in my writing style, no? It’s too busy, too condensed. The text doesn’t breathe, does it, Doina?
Maybe I should retire? I don’t think I can see myself in that role!
DD: Music is a balm for the soul. Is music a way to get closer to God? Your son, Mircea, is passionate about music. The two of you have created “Valuri de Mătase” project, a source of enjoyment for many of us. Tell us about this project!
DLT: Yes, it’s a duo on flute and electric guitar, Terry Ellen Christophersen and Mircea Trifan, from Quebec. This is a special and unique chapter in my life, following my artistic interests. I remember, far, far back in time, at a student show in the sixties, in Topliţa, an accordion duo who came on stage at one point, Doiniţa Dobreanu and Dănuţ Trifan. Do you remember?
All during college, I was interested in interdisciplinary studies, mathematics and music. I did take a year of courses in harmony and counterpoint at the Music Conservatory, along with my studies in mathematics.
But besides that, and besides listening, consuming music in the most common way, I had no major involvement with music. The story began in Quebec, with the one who became my life partner for a while, a professional musician, a flutist, passionate and open to new experiences. With her and Mircea, my son, a musician himself, we launched the Valuri de Mătase (“Silky Waves”) project around 2003 or 2004. The basic idea, the artistic concept behind the project, was to go back in time to the period where the ancestors of today’s Romanians and the Celts met. The two cultures crossed paths over time. The Celts, who until 400 BC were in Europe, (you can see their influences in the ancient Hallstatt culture in Austria), crossed the Dacian area at some point. They were chased away, from what history tells us, by Burebista, King of the Getae and the Dacians. Then, after 400 BC, they began their migration to England, leaving the continent. Their culture did not leave any written traces, only influences. Celtic cultural elements remained in the cultures through which they passed. There are common elements, for example, in old Romanian and Celtic music, and in the group Valuri de Mătase, the two musicians have incorporated these common elements in their style, in selecting songs, making arrangements, and interpretation. The group produced two albums, Valuri de Mătase and A Year’s Day, which are registered in the Library and Archives of Canada as part of Canadian cultural heritage.
Being involved in Quebec’s Romanian community for a while, I became an artistic director and producer of shows, work which gave me great pleasure. Working with artists, these outstanding, tempestuous, impetuous personalities, is always challenging, but it’s a privilege at the same time. Collaborations with dozens of Romanian artists, from Quebec or elsewhere, on stage next to artists from Quebec, brought an enormous spiritual enrichment to the city. The artists had the opportunity to discover each other, and all of us were pleased to see that music can be a universal language, transcending all differences.
If you visit the websites www.valuridematase.com and www.tridamusic.com, or related websites, you will discover interesting things about these artistic interests. Since 2004, we have played shows all across Quebec: outdoors, in cathedrals, at libraries and parties, at public concerts, at museums, on radio stations, at festivals, or in promotional displays at malls. With the various groups of musicians and their guest artists, we’ve accomplished a lot, at the price of a huge effort, but it was worth it.
Currently, my little agency represents several groups of musicians, including Mircea’s current group, Melão International, which plays Latin music. I took intensive salsa lessons in the summer of 2013 so I could enjoy their music from the front as well as behind the scenes as a manager or cameraman.
Does music bring us closer to divinity? Life, our existential space, presents each one of us, if we are able to discern it, to grasp it, with the whole range of possibilities in terms of spiritual experiences. Everything that could exist as individual choices, as options, as ways of acting, as faith, as feeling, from our pragmatic daily routines, where we are confronted with dull (but sometimes difficult) day-to-day problems, tedious but necessary, from compensating for our shortcomings to the times when we are moved to more spiritual experiences, spiritual areas, and emotional spaces. It’s up to us to realize that we have these possibilities, to seize them, and to walk in one direction or another. It is about not letting ourselves be marked, defined, or limited by what happens to us every day, in our imposed rounds. Music can be a means of taking a spiritual journey through time and space, if it is seen and used as such and not just “consumed”. So it is meditation and prayer, as well as art. The crystalline sound of the flute and the deep, full sound of the guitar chords, the vocal inflections of a liturgical choir in a cathedral, or an ancestral carol sung a cappella and echoing from an altar—all of these can open unsuspected spiritual spaces for anyone’s soul.
At our church in Quebec, we were lucky to have for a while as our choir conductor a great person, a great talent, who took simple amateurs like me and the other members of our choir and produced a concert in a cathedral that brought the audience to tears. I do listen from time to time to the recordings we’ve made of concerts on similar occasions. Yes, I can say that music can transport you. It can help reveal and uncover feelings and emotions that you did not previously even know that you were able to have.
At the time when I translate and publish the English and French versions of this interview, I’d say the answer to this question could be given by Alex, my second son. Kundalini yoga instructor and practitioner, and musician, he integrated yoga and music wholly, where divinity, beauty, humanity and man himself become a full, celebrating harmony, oneness and eternity of life. Also Ileana, my daughter, whose spiritual experiences have passed, in a time, over spaces where boundaries between the imaginary and real, divine and diabolical, material and spiritual were diluted to the point to allow impossible coexistences into a world where music can become bivalent within the duality (or oneness?) sacred-satanic. Alex says: There is no hate and love. There is only love.
Does music bring us closer to God? Or, I wonder whether we find Him, surprising and surprisingly close, right next to us, inside us, in our hearts, where he was and is all the time.
DD: Travels nourish our soul, and you have had the chance to travel. What is the most wonderful place that you’ve seen and what do you want to see in the future?
DLT: Each place is special. Everything in this world is worth seeing. Each location brings us spiritual and cultural enrichment, through the people who live there and through their achievements. Bucharest, Cluj, Constanţa, Timişoara, Iași, or any village in Romania—they all look as interesting to me as the large cities of the world: Paris, London, Frankfurt, Berlin, Budapest, Prague, Vienna, Lausanne, Havana, Toronto, Boston, Montreal, Ouagadougou, Kigali, or Nairobi, or any lost village, dans la brousse, in the scrubland of Africa, or the small chic towns in Bretagne, or the chains of towns and castles on the tops of the mountains along the valley of the Rhine. I like traveling, especially in the company of special people. What you cannot share has no value.
Some images in my memory have a stronger impact and are more significant than others. I remember seeing Ouagadougou from the hotel
window. On the right side was the hotel courtyard, luxurious, modern, clean, with swimming pools; on the other side of the cement wall was red dirt, with garbage all around, with some homeless people sitting under a tree—two faces of the same city.
I still have plenty of places I want to visit: South America, Asia, Oceania, and Russia. I still have a lot to see even in Romania and in Europe.
DD: What childhood dreams have you achieved?
DLT: Oh, childhood dreams! So many that I would have to live much more than one life even to try to achieve them! Achievements? Well, I launched three children into the world. I have contributed and still contribute to some other people’s successes in life; I am what is called a “life facilitator” for many people. I traveled. I became a professional with an international reputation, (some say), but I have not yet flown the glider I built inside the house. I did not get to be an aviator, nor an airplane builder. However, Mircea is an aerospace engineer! I did not get to express myself freely through music. I can play the piano and guitar a little, but my children, Mircea, Alex, Ileana, and Ariane, make music with a vengeance. I did not learn to draw or paint, but Ileana does it. I still have not found antigravity’s secrets. I still have not written a book…
This is not related to childhood dreams, but the biggest thing I have left undone in life, the thing I wish I could’ve done better, is that I wish I had been closer to my parents when they were alive, closer to my brothers and sister, and to our native places. It’s one of the greater pains that I carry.
I do not think I have achieved exceptional things.
It puzzles me even now that you’ve selected me for your book, along with people with more prestigious accomplishments, people of great talent who have made major contributions in the social, cultural, scientific, artistic, and literary domains.
DD: You want to seem modest, but you are a special person, and I thank you for agreeing to talk to us so sincerely, with such warmth and joy and with your fascinating personality. Thank you for the opportunity you give us to enrich ourselves with your depth of feeling and thought.
DLT: I see my achievements as normal. Even my mistakes have been normal. Without my mistakes, I could probably have done much more, but I would not have learned so much. I just went down the path that life placed in front of me, making sure at the crossroads, at the intersections, not to take a path that was not suited to me, in a direction that might adversely affect the others.
DD: Is everything you’ve done so far due to a particular creed?
DLT: A “credo” … I don’t know what to say. It’s too much. A “creed” requires a bit of fanaticism, a little involuntary blindness, a little existential restriction. I am rather, I think, an experimenter, someone who likes to play with borders, with ideas, with his own limits. The obstacles and the barriers are simply challenges for people like me.
But what I did try to follow in life, what I have tried to live by all the time, and what could be considered a belief in a way, is what my father, a Transylvanian man by definition, once told me: “Whatever you do in life, do it well!”
But you haven’t asked me about my future plans. Why not?
DD: With much love, I will, then. I invite you to talk about them, if you please!
DTL: Well, since you’ve asked me so insistently, I’ll answer you.
First, I would like to have grandchildren. It is not up to me; you say? Yes, that’s right, but I like to have little children around. They fill the house, the soul, the life.
There are a few continents I have yet to see, many people I do not yet know. There are also a few people around me who need me for a while longer, until they can get on their own feet. After that, who knows?
I plan to come home more often. That is, to one of my “at home”. To Subcetate.
I plan to start writing. Not about my memories, I say I’m too young for that. Some prose and some love poetry. Sometimes love has thorns, and here I’m plagiarising a bit the work of our friend Mitică Hurubă.
I do plan to keep taking Latin dance classes.
I also have a more practical plan: I arranged a large garden, a new one, where I can plant vegetables, flowers, and blackcurrants, from which Mircea will help me make wine, from Dad’s recipe, modified a bit. Mine is closer to ice wine or to port wine.
Professionally speaking, I would like to go back to studying. You can be a student here in Quebec at any age. I have in mind some interesting research I’d like to do on subjects like antigravity, algorithm-based music composition, and shock waves in plasma.
And I plan to continue to ask myself questions without answers, some of them nonsense-like: What am I doing in this world? Why do roses have thorns? Why does love hurt? Did anyone, thousands of years ago, ever use the Big Dipper to carry the hay home? How can longing be so sweet? How is it that one can fall in love with the loam, the earth? Why can I never hate? Why do I get hurt so deeply by insincerity and dishonesty? And what was my mother’s big secret, the one that enabled her to be always at peace with herself and with the entire universe, even when she had to suffer?
DD: God give you health and time to enjoy the successes you wish for, keep your mind sparkling with enjoyment of the theater of life, with still so many mysteries, and may you live happily ever after!
I am very, very anxious to see your first book! See you in Subcetate—much more often!
Published by Doinita-Ana Dobreanu in “Life at Subcetate”, City Council and City Hall’s magazine, published under supervision of teachers from “Miron Cristea” College, ISSN 2343 – 8215; L ISSN 2343 – 8215, January 2015
Dan Lazăr Trifan is an mathematician, Senior International IT Consultant, born in Subcetate, Romania, living in Quebec, Canada