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Contact Dr Gheorghe, the coordinator, at alexis_pro[email protected] for further information about the Alexis Project:

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How a popular song is born

The Ballad of Gruia

The Alexis Project aims to identify, rescue and promote Romanian cultural heritage items, particularly in the region of Oltenia.

Recent projects of our association go into the fascinating world of a Romanian village, with a specific culture and civilisation, even unique in Europe and the world expressed through completely different legends, traditions and songs.

Of these, the Alexis Project seeks to identify, promote and preserve those elements of culture and civilisation based exclusively on everyday life with its joys and tragedies, those which are substantially concrete things, as well as the spiritual feelings of contemporary witnesses, for the benefit of future generations.

An old man, a patriarch, Nicolae Gruia, aged 79, lives in the village Cernăteşti, Dolj county. He is what, in Romanian is called "green", with agricultural interests, but also spiritual ones, unusually deep. We may say that a man has three ages simultaneously - chronological, biological and mental - and this is illustrated in an interview with Nicholas Gruia which argues that although his chronological age is 80 years, he feels physically very well, and, therefore, has a biological age of 65, but a mental age of a golden period of life, 25 years.

Gruia Nicolae

Nicolae Gruia and his daughter Alexandrina.

The patriarch Gruia's life has been a novel that can stand alongside ancient tragedies and they can inspire similar stories. In 1976, the family had a brush with death: on a winter night, the whole family was gassed with carbon monoxide from a defective stove and their daughter Alexandrina, aged 13 years, died in this tragedy, the treasure and hope of the family. The little girl was buried wearing traditional dress in a modest cemetery at Cernăteşti. The parents, damaged by their loss, left the village and lived for a short period far away from it, at Calafat.

Consumed by fire for their missing child (as the patriarch Gruia describes the ordeal to which they were subjected) their pain caused them to discuss their grief with Gruia's older brother, who already had a large family, and their youngest daughter Antoanela barely born, shortly after the loss of Alexandrina.

As a result, little Antoanela, 11 months old by that time, became the child of Nicolae and his wife, Ana, and was raised with love and parental care until today.

In 2000, death kidnapped Anna Gruia, the old wife of Nicolae and the adoptive mother of Antoanela.

Left almost alone and tried hard by life, patriarch Gruia drowned his bitterness in drink and became unrecognisable. His adopted daughter, Antoanela, meanwhile, married, and with children in turn, with her husband Orestes decided to rescue her old father, to whom she owed so much, so the young family took him into their home, and helped him through his crisis.

Drawing on his memories, patriarch Nicolae Gruia, who was a singer in church amongst other things, wrote a simple but shocking ballad, a ballad of his life, which tells of respect and piety, in the original Romanian version, although we propose a translation here as faithful to English as may be hoped.

The ballad basically has 3 parts: throughout the text, as his life story unfolds, Nicholas Gruia shows how cruel fate struck, and yet having the strength to stand up to it, throughout the ballad, patriarch Gruia shows how God has assigned the tragic events to the past.

This was not structured as a reproach to the deity, but as a long line of attempts by God to subject man to tests, as a desire to check his ability to recover from adversity, to strengthen his legendary confidence and optimism.

This may be assigned, by extension, to the Romanian people. At the end of the ballad, after noting the dead in the tragic circumstances, witnessed helplessly, there is a continuity of life and the trauma of a lost love, strengthened by entrusting this love to another person. The ballad of patriarch Gruia is a cry of deep philosophical significance, stating verbatim that "the wheel of life turns" and defines it as a metaphysical universe of the Romanian peasant.

Gruia Nicolae Gruia Nicolae

Gruia Nicolae

I made an appointment for a meeting with patriarch Nicolae Gruia, who impressed me with that story, and we wrote down the text of the ballad reproduced here. I made some photos of the old man during the interview, and with his adopted daughter, Antoanela, now aged 31 years old, and I have attached an old photo of Alexandrina, the lost daughter, with her father.

I made a movie of the interview with patriarch Gruia, along with some wonderful songs and ballads, which we keep available for those who, like us, have feelings of appreciation and understanding of the desire of the Romanian peasant soul.

Since the burning desire was to communicate all the old tales now, before the end of life's troubled existence, I gave a copy of the movie to the old man, and we watched it. I was crying while reviewing this incredible interview on the screen.

At the end of the screening, the old man gave us the most precious sign of gratitude - we kissed hands for what I did for him.

We want to send a message to all of the new members of the Alexis Project, that we care! We care about the land of this country, we care about the material traces of the fabulous history of this land, we care about what we call nature that surrounds us and tolerates us, but above all this, we care about the people and the spark of light that each one bears in mind. And like patriarch Nicholas Gruia, we want to share all the agony and ecstasy of our existence.

Cum se naste un cantec popular

Balada lui Gruia

Alexis Project are drept obiectiv identificarea, salvarea si promovarea elementelor din patrimoniul cultural romanesc, in special din regiunea Oltenia.

Proiecte recente ale asociatiei noastre patrund in lumea fascinanta a satului romanesc, cu o cultura si civilizatie specifica si chiar unica in Europa, lume exprimata prin legende, traditii si cantece cu totul deosebite.

Dintre toate acestea, Alexis Project cauta sa identifice si sa promoveze acele elemente de cultura si civilizatie fundamentate eminamente pe viata de zi cu zi, cu bucuriile si tragediile acesteia, deci bazate pe concret si acoperite substantial cu trairile sufletesti ale martorilor contemporani, dar si ale generatiilor viitoare.

Batranul Gruia Nicolae, in varsta de 79 de ani, traieste in comuna Cernatesti, judetul Dolj. Este ceea ce, in romaneste, numim “verde”, cu preocupari agricole, dar si sufletesti, nebanuit de profunde. Teoria pe care o sustine Alexis Project si anume ca omul are 3 varste concomitent (varsta civila, biologica si mentala) este ilustrata intr-un interviu de catre batranul Gruia Nicolae care pretinde si argumenteaza patimas ca are varsta civila de aproape 80 de ani dar se simte trupeste si, deci, biologic de 65, iar varsta mentala o atribuie perioadei de aur a vietii (25 de ani), dovada fiind ocheadele focoase pe care inca le arunca consatencelor sale, apropiate de aceeasi parametrii.

Viata batranului Gruia a fost si este un roman ce poate sta alaturi de tragediile antice si ele poate inspirate de cazuri similare. In 1976, familia Gruia este greu incercata de aripa mortii: intr-o noapte de iarna, intreaga familie este gazata cu monoxid de carbon de la o soba defecta si piere in aceasta drama fiica Alexandrina, in varsta de 13 ani, comoara si speranta modestei familii. Fetita este inmormantata traditional imbracata in mireasa in modestul cimitir din Cernatesti, iar parintii supravietuitori, distrusi de pierderea suferita, parasesc satul si se stabilesc pentru o scurta perioada cat mai departe de acesta, la Calafat.

Focul mistuitor pentru copila disparuta (asa descrie batranul Gruia chinurile la care erau supusi permanent) ii determina pe acestia sa se adreseze fratelui batranului Gruia, care avea deja o familie numeroasa, mezina familiei fiind fetita Antoanela, abia nascuta la scurt timp dupa pierderea Alexandrinei.

Astfel, micuta Antoanela, in varsta de 11 luni pe atunci, este infiata de Gruia Nicolae si sotia sa, Ana, din familia fratelui si crescuta cu dragoste si grija parinteasca pana in zilele noastre.

In anul 2000, moartea rapeste familiei Gruia pe Ana, sotia batranului si mama adoptiva a Antoanelei.

Ramas aproape singur si greu incercat de viata, batranul Gruia isi ineaca amarul in bautura, devenind de nerecunoscut. Fiica adoptiva, Antoanela, casatorita intre timp si cu copii la randul ei, hotaraste impreuna cu sotul Oreste sa il salveze pe batranul tata, caruia ii datora atat de mult, astfel incat tanara familie il gazduieste pe batran in casa de la Filiasi, reabilitandu-l din criza prin care trecea. Macinat de amintiri, batranul Gruia Nicolae, fost cantaret bisericesc printre altele, scrie o balada simpla dar zguduitoare, balada vietii sale, pe care o asezam cu respect si pietate alaturi, in versiunea originala romaneasca, desi ne propunem si o traducere cat mai fidela in limba engleza. Balada in esenta are 3 componente: pe tot parcursul textului, se deruleaza povestea vietii lui Gruia Nicolae, lovit crud de soarta si totusi avand puterea sa se ridice in picioare, la final; pe tot parcursul baladei, batranul Gruia atribuie lui Dumnezeu evenimentele tragice prin care a trecut, dar nu ca un repros adresat divinitatii, ci ca un lung sir de incercari la care Dumnezeu il supune pe om uneori, poate tocmai din dorinta de a ii verifica capacitatea de reabilitare, incredere si optimism legendar, ce poate fi atribuit, prin extensie, poporului roman; la finalul baladei, dupa ce a subliniat zgomotul tragic al mortilor la care a fost martor neputincios, precum si al continuitatii vietii unui disparut prin incredintarea dragostei catre o alta persoana, precum si focul mistuitor din fundalul acestei existente zbuciumate, ce nu a incetat sa il raneasca cu regrete si suferinte, batranul Gruia are o strigare cu profunda semnificatie filozofica, afirmand textual ca “roate vietii se intoarce” si astfel defineste el Universul metafizic al taranului roman.

Am realizat o intalnire cu batranul Gruia Nicolae, de la care detinem impresionati aceast poveste, am notat textul baladei si il reproducem aici, am facut si cateva fotografii ale batranului in timpul interviului, cat si alaturi de fiica adoptiva, Antoanela, in varsta de 31 de ani si am atasat si o veche fotografie a fetitei Alexandrina, in epoca, alaturi de tatal ei.

Am realizat si un film cu interviul batranului Gruia, dar si cu cantecul minunatei balade, pe care il tinem la dispozitia celor care, asemeni noua, au sentimente de pretuire si dorinta de intelegere fata de sufletul taranului roman.

Deoarece dorinta cea mai fierbinte a batranului era sa comunice tuturor acum, inainte de sfarsitul vietii, povestea existentei sal zbuciumate, i-am daruit o copie a filmului si l-am urmarit plangand si framantandu-se in timp ce se revedea, incredibil, pe ecran.

La sfarsitul vizionarii, batranul ne-a daruit cel mai pretios semn de recunostiinta al sau – ne-a sarutat mainile pentru ceea ce am facut pentru el.

Dorim sa transmitem tuturor ca noua, celor din Alexis Project, NE PASA! Ne pasa de pamantul acestei tari, ne pasa de urmele materiale ale istoriei fabuloase de pe acest taram, ne pasa de tot ceea ce numim natura, care ne inconjura si ne tolereaza, dar mai presus de toate acestea, ne pasa de oameni si de scanteia de lumina pe care fiecare o poarta in suflet. Si asemeni batranului Gruia Nicolae, dorim sa impartasim tuturor agonia si extazul existentei noastre.

The Ballad of Gruia

Lord, what have I done
to live on this earth?
my God, I am sorry I cursed you
I fell even when married!
because me and my wife
raised Sanda
until the 7th grade,
when she had 13 years
and she was my daughter!

Lord, Lord
I doted on her.
Every night, my Lord
God even on my birthday
you've made
us a house of sorrow.
Sanda and I -
I hoped to dance at her wedding!
Lord, Lord -
instead, I went to her funeral.

And when God took Sanda
I moved with sorrow to Calafat
with my wife
and I said to her:
Come with me, my Ann
let us leave this house
For here there are only memories of Sanda
to sit beside us.

And she came with me to Calafat
Where we stayed for two years

Then I learned of Antonela
I learned that she existed,
I felt good.
and I asked Nela
who was my sister:
give your Antonela to me
to be my daughter
to be Sanda's sister.
God helped us

I raised her in Calafat
For just 13 years
in Calafat city
until I retired.
And then I came home

I made a wedding for her
God, I felt good!
Me and my wife
we both grew older
I pray, Lord, to thee
give them all the best in life
but do not forget me

Sandi still burns in me
yet I grew with love for them.

And in 2004
God gave me an evil thing
He took my wife from me
and brought her to Sanda

I stayed single
like a pigeon?
I was crazy
I started drinking
but the drink, brother!
drunk, drunk, I sat both day and night.
Antonela and Orestes
I was afraid for them
I drank so much as
though I wanted to die
and I did.

From Cernăteşti they took me
they took me to Filiaşi
to see the two little children,
their girl was in kindergarten
Tita, a babe in arms.

That's why I say, brethren,
and tell you to miss the fire:
It's not what you say or what you do
the wheel of life turns everything
I raised her
since she was small
there are two children from her
and now they see me
and the world where I live
we understand each other very well!

Recorded by Adrian Gheorghe, April 2010

Balada Lui Gruia

Doamne, la ce mai facut
sa traiesc pe acest pamant?
Doamne, rau m-ai blestemat
chiar de cad m-am insurat!
caci eu cu nevasta mea
am crescut-o pe Sanda
pana in clasa a 7a,
atunci 13 ani avea
si era fetita mea!
Doamne, Doamne
n-o aveam decat pe ea.
Si’ntr-o noapte Doamne,
Doamne chiar de ziua mea
tu te-ai suparat
in casa ne-ai sxfixiat
si pe Sanda mi-ai luat.
Speram sa-i fac nunta mare
Doamne, Doamne
si i-am facut inmormantare.
Si cand Sanda a plecat
pe mine ca m-a mutat
cu serviciu’n Calafat
si nevasta mi-am luat
si i-am spus din gura asa:
Hai cu mine, Ana mea
si paraseste casa
ca nu mai este Sanda
ca sa stai pe langa ea.
Si a venit si ea in Calafat
si dupa doi ani de stat
de Antonela am aflat,
am aflat ca s-a facut,
Doamne bine mi-a parut,
si-am cerut-o la Nela
ca era cumnata mea:
da-mi-o mie Nela ‘ncoa
ca sa fie fata mea
sora buna cu Sanda
s-am luat-o, mai oameni buni,
am luat-o de 11luni.
Dumnezeu ne-a ajutat
s-am crescut-o in Calafat
ca doar 13 ani am stat
in orasul Calafat
pana m-am pensionat.
Si cand am venit acasa
am gatit-o de mireasa
si nunta ca i-am facut
Doamne, bine mi-a parut!
Eu si cu nevasta mea
i-am crescut si fetita
la munca cand se ducea
si ma rog, Doamne, la tine
da-le in viata numai bine
dar sa nu uite de mine
ca de focul Sandei mele
le-am crescut cu drag pe ele.
Si-n anul 2004
iar, Doamne mi-ai dat pacatu’
si mi-ai luat si sotia
si mi-ai dus-o la Sanda
eu am ramas singurel
ca un pui de porumbel!
cum eram de suparat
de baut m-am apucat
dar ce bautura, frate!
stateam beat beat zi si noapte.
Antonela si Orestica
de mine le era frica
ca de atata bautura
o sa mor pe batatura
si pe mine au casunat
de la Cernatesti m-au luat
si m-au dus la Filiasi
sa vad de doi copilasi,
fata era la gradinita
iar copilul mic la tita.
De-aia va spun, fratilor,
si va spun cu foc si dor
or’ ce-ai zice or’ ce-ai face
roata vietii tot se intoarce
eu am crescut-o pe ea
de cand era mititea
cu doi copii langa ea
si acum ei vad de mine
cat ‘oi mai trai pe lume
ca ne intelegem foarte bine!

Culeasa de Adrian GHEORGHE,
Aprilie 2010

An Assessment of the Poem

Below, part of a letter from Dr. Cornel Balosu,the manager from the Ethnography section of Oltenia Museum, this interesting evaluation about the "Balada lui Gruia".

A most interesting fact is that the son of Antonela, a three year old boy, can recite the "balada", and this is a case of oral transmition of the ballad from Patriarch Gruia to another person.

The narrative text and the poetry are impressive. Adrian, you are correct in your interpretations! This is the traditional approach of creating a ballad or a narrative.

The epic structure is used and specific rules of "construction" consisting of balladic structures function as an actual Oltenian ballad (southern region), only differing in story itself. However, Gruia still lived in the traditional culture as you have well said.

From the perspective of folklore, ethnography and ethnological studies we can fill out more details, such as:

The Ages of Man in the vision of Nicholas Gruia are traditional and mixed with scientific wonders where applicable: television, radio, ditch, etc. ....

Man feels the tragedy but also the inexorable fate. Yes! As was, and still is, the ethnic mentality, especially here in central and southern Oltenia.

When he wrote the ballad, the poet had written and unwritten models, however, consistent with patterns specific to the seasons.

Church singing that was informed by some folklorists' assumptions demonstrates that many popular texts (the carol, in particular) were created by deacons or priests or other church officials.

Adrian, the subject, at least formally, if not with relation to the ideas expressed, is remarkable. I think Nicholas Gruia is among the last true folk artists.

The original letter:

Textul poietic (ritualic) şi cel poetic sunt impresionante, într-adevăr. Adrian, ai simţit bine! Acesta este demersul tradiţional al creării unei balade sau al unei naraţii. Structura epică este cunoscută şi specifică normelor de "construcţie" baladescă formată din motive (motiveme), aşa cum este, de fapt, balada oltenească (din sudul regiunii); diferă doar povestea ca atare.

Oricum, Gruia este încă trăitor într-o cultură tradiţională, aşa cum bine ai zis. Din perspectiva folcloristică, etnografică şi etnologică se poate broda mult pe cele înregistrate.

Ca de pildă:

- Vârstele omului în viziunea lui Nicolae Gruia sunt şi tradiţionale, dar şi amestecate cu "producţii" ştiinţifice luate de te miri unde: televizor, radio, şanţ etc....

- Omul (N.G.) are sentimentul tragicului cu trimitere însă la destinul implacabil. Da! Aşa cum a fost şi încă mai este mentalitatea etnică, în special aici, în centrul şi sudul Olteniei.

- Când a compus balada, "poetul" a avut modele scrise şi nescrise, oricum în consonanţă cu pattern-urile epice specifice zonei.

- Faptul că a fost cântăreţ bisericesc demonstrează ipotezele susţinute de unii folclorişti că, multe din textele populare (de colind, în special) au fost create de diaconi sau de preoţi sau de alţi slujbaşi ai bisericii. - În altă ordine: optimism "legendar"= încredere, reabilitare?!! → mai degrabă, resemnare!!! (vezi şi alte creaţii tradiţionale)

- Domnule Doctor Adrian, subiectul, cel puţin formal, dacă nu şi ideatic, este remarcabil. Ar fi vorba, în primul rând, de felul cum se transmit prozodiile şi motivemele folclorice. Cred că Nicolae Gruia este printre ultimii creatori veritabili de folclor.

Gruia Nicolae Gruia Nicolae Gruia Nicolae

The Alexis Team has discovered how a ballad may be born, even today, as an act of creative folk lore, pure and uncontaminated, from the Patriarch Nicholas Gruia, of Cernăteşti, Dolj County.

It is extraordinary that we have identified a case of oral transmission of the ballad from grandfather to grandson.

The son of Antoanela (Gruia) Stanciu, Andrei Stanciu, of Filiasi county, is aged 5 years!

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe, 23rd April 2010

Gruia Nicolae Gruia Nicolae
Andrei agreed to be filmed (with written permission from parents), to recite "Gruia's ballad", but also to appear in some pictures alone, or with his mother and grandfather.

The patriarch Nicholas Gruia agreed in writing to confide his story to the Alexis Project, and is very happy to make known his ballad and story, through the Alexis Project, worldwide.

Recordings of both the film and the ballad are available to those interested in Romanian culture, free, on demand!

The Alexis Project and the Oltenia Museum cooperates with all entities through the internet, to promote this wonderful phenomenon of Romanian culture.

Dr Cornel Balosu is working with Prof. Dr Mihai Fifor, General Manager of Oltenia Museum of Craiova, in the process of valuing and promoting ethnographic material such as the simple ballad of Gruia.

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe, 23rd April 2010

Recent additions, changes and updates to the Alexis site


This site is to publicise the history and culture of Romania, and displays information from the Alexis Project Association

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This page last modified Monday, 24th January, 2011 02:17am

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