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ADRIANA CARCUblog-change_Adriana_Carcu.htmlblog-change_Adriana_Carcu.htmlshapeimage_3_link_0

The Bell and the Knife

When you read these two words, you must neither think of one of Iris Murdoch’s

novels, nor of a film by Andrzej Wajda - but of these objects alone. A bell and a

knife. Two objects which took form under my very eyes, and furthermore, I

contributed - if not with my skills, at least with my muscle force - to the creation

of one.

It all began a few months ago while I was participating with my cultural association ArtCiclova to a German-Romanian festival in Ladenburg, a small village in the vicinity of Heidelberg. I knew that during the festival a church bell, which had been cast at the Neuburg Cloister of Heidelberg, would be consecrated, before being sent to the Romanian city of Onești. What I didn’t know was that, while I was going to sell spinach pie - whilst convincing the visitors of the untainde beauty of the Carpathians - my booth neighbor would be a smith.

Clad in a black t-shirt and wrapped in a leather apron, which I would learn he had cut himself out of a bullskin, Christoph corresponds to all the mythical or anthropological associations you would like to make here. Only that he is blond. Watching him kindling the fire in his portable hearth, while pumping the bellows with his foot, I saw a Viking pointing spears.

As the crowd thinned, and I could see what he was really doing, Christoph was rounding an iron leaf with the tongs, to which he then fitted a cap, and which became a bell under my very eyes. It was exactly like one of the two tiny bells I place on my coffee table at Christmas. In that moment I knew that wanted one too. Later, as I saw him offering it to someone, his gesture reinforced my decision.

Some weeks ago I heard that Christoph runs a smithy workshop at the Neuburg cloister. When I asked him what he could teach me in one day he said, “knife”, and then, probably thinking that I would not necessarily want to make a weapon, he added, “or a candleholder”. I asked, “and bell?” He took a better look at me and said, “You are pretty well built; a bell is OK too”. We agreed to meet Sunday morning at his forge. I will make a bell and Richard a knife.

At nine sharp, Christoph was waiting at the gate. Usually when you are about to tread a mythical space, you have all the representation you had when you first read about it. This time I wasn’t going to be disappointed. As soon as Christoph opened the door, I entered the ancestral. A massive hearth dominated the dark room. Around it stood three anvils. He told me that in a forge the light you work at must be that of the fire. That’s what I thought too. While he was lighting the fire with fluid movements, Christoph told me, “You know, when you do a good thing it is essential that the elements are in harmony. We work with all the four elements, the coal is the earth, and water must always be near. That is the reason why we have never really belonged to any community. We, the smiths, have lived mostly alone, on the village outskirts or on a throne. We have been magicians and kings”.

Gradually the room brightened and it started smelling of brimstone. I found out that sulphur is a coal component that heightens the burning temperature. Its acrid smell was going to follow me the next two days. Chistoph explained the tools and told us to choose a hammer. I chose one called “French hammer”, because I liked the name and its petaled form (if such an adjective can be used in connection with a hammer). We received a piece of iron, which we shoved into the fire.

That was the moment when I have entered the meditative dimension of this ancient craft. Waiting for the iron to become kirschrot (cherry-red), you let your thoughts settle on things, like a wing on a wave. While I was watching the melting depths of the fire, I came to realize that it gave me the respite, which another source of light - that of my monitor -, had stolen away from me.

These were the moments when, between fierce blows of iron upon iron, which will soon blister my hands, I have learned the story of Christoph’s family.  The Beyssers have a seven-century-old heritage, along which his ancestors of French origin, were either career soldiers – like the revolutionary general Michel Beysser, who lost his life to the guillotine - or artists, like the sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, who has used the image of his mother, Charlotte Beysser Bartholdy, as a model for the Statue of Liberty. All along the family genealogy, the smithery pops up every few generations. Even if Christoph is a designer, the telluric connection with the iron and the fire brings him back to his forge every now and again.

As he speaks, my iron whitens and I have to wait again, because at this high temperature it becomes brittle. Richard’s iron is already a red knife, the blade of which will be sharpened at length on an oiled firestone. At a long last I manage to thin out the edge of the bell, and now I have to choke the bulk. It is very hard. After I have misses the chance three times, Christoph helps me to tie the tongue and to pop it out through the cap, as if he were molding clay. My bell is ready. I hold it in my hand with the sheer joy of accomplishment – it is hard and somehow fragile. When you shake it, it tolls strong and clear. It is a bell that can call to dinner or to prayer.

In the end, as we drink the cold beer drafted directly from the cloister brewery, and contemplate our creations, my eyes fall on a script, written in chalk on the chimney hood: Nemo vir est qui mundum non reddat meliorem.

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