Was it or Was it Not Giuseppe ?

A story by Fondas Ladis

One Saturday in October of 1928 art dealer Carl X. was recounting to a group of friends that had gathered at his home in Lausanne a strange incident that had recently happened to him.

“You may on occasion have happened to see people on the street who remind you of someone you know or you may have chanced to run into acquaintances you cannot recognise. Something of this sort is bound to happen to all of us at some time or another. I wonder if you have ever experienced what happened to me.

As you know, I have many personal ties with Italy as I lived there in self-exile during the Great War. Thus, on the occasion of a business trip to Cairo, I decided, before returning to Switzerland, to make a stop in the country where I had many dear friends. I took the steamer from Alexandria to Brindisi and from there got a train to Rome via Naples.

I had lived in the land of Dante for a total of five years, from 1916 until 1921. And there I was, returning to the place where, along with the political adventures of a time of unrest, I had also gone through a series of equally ‘restless’ youthful escapades.

I had taken with me my personal notes with names and addresses that would help find my old friends in Rome and Florence.

When I arrived at the Termini train station in the Italian capital, I hired a car and headed for a little boarding house that I knew of in a sidestreet near the Piazza del Popolo, where I was fortunate enough to find a room.

That night I preferred to keep to myself. I walked down the main avenue Via del Corso towards the Piazza Vittorio feeling both nostalgic yet full of anticipation.

The first day passed uneventfully. I made two visits: one in the morning to a lawyer friend and the other in the afternoon to a woman friend, who had been, for a short interim, my mistress as well. She gave me a warm welcome, introduced me to her children, two pleasant boys, and a little while later her husband arrived, a particularly courteous man of 50, a public notary by profession.

The following day was to be the most important. I had telephoned one of my best friends, a civil servant at the Ministry of Finance. We arranged to meet at 12:00 noon on Sunday, in the main square where the Pantheon is. We were to meet at the fountain with the obelisk in front of the cafes and restaurants, a spot flooded with many locals and tourists.

I arrived a quarter of an hour early. I walked past the steps to the entrance to the Pantheon and approached the meeting place, hoping that my friend had also arrived early. I could not discern him through the crowd and distanced myself a bit from the place so that would be able to spot him as soon as he approached and be able to keep my emotions in check.

At 12:00 he had still not turned up. Five more minutes went by. And another five. I started observing the faces of the people that went by in little huddles as well as the faces of those who were standing in one place also waiting for someone. My gaze was arrested by a dark-skinned man, about forty years of age, with connecting eyebrows. He, too, was searching the faces of the passers-by. There was something intense about the



expression on his face. His forehead, trapped between his eyes and thick hair, puzzled me.

The hour was late. I could not explain the absence of my friend, who a mere few hours ago had been so excited about my arrival and had suggested himself that we meet immediately.

Gradually an idea was born in my mind. Could it not be possible that this man, who continued to stand but a few feet away from me, was Giuseppe? It did not look at all like him. But it could, in essence, be him.

The thought was crazy, irrational, based on thin air. I thought, however, that my friend could have undergone some changes in his life that had marked him to such an extent that his facial features had become harsher. But if that were him, would he not have recognised me?

The longer I observed this unknown man, simple of dress, with his strange, somewhat rustic face, the more I called to mind the round, laughing face of my friend Giuseppe, who was shorter anyway, and the more ashamed I was of my thoughts. In any case, I was certain that the man had seen me. Even more certain was that fact that he had not noticed me. It was almost as if I was afraid he might find me familiar and come over and talk to me. I put some distance between us and observed him through the window of a nearby bar.

‘Perhaps,’ I thought again, ‘he saw me and was also embarrassed about thinking the same thoughts I am.’ But my countenance had not altered to such a degree as to prevent one from recognising me. The most probable explanation was that this was not Giuseppe and because this man was also waiting for someone who had been delayed, he had thought along the same lines I had, that is, that I was the person he was waiting for, despite the fact that I looked nothing like him.

Another half-hour went by. Neither of us would leave. Neither me from the bar, nor him from the fountain. In the end, I did not dare to speak to him, to find out what made me think what I did. Nor could I bear to stay any longer. I left at precisely 1:00.”

The art dealer Carl X. completed his narrative as follows:

“You may well ask, ‘what happened next? Didn’t you call your friend to find out why he had failed to come to your appointment? Didn’t you get together the following day?’ Instead of answering your questions, I prefer to pose another one: Just the way we mistake a stranger for an acquaintance, is it not possible for the opposite to happen? To see someone who does not look at all like an acquaintance, but nonetheless to be that very person?”





A story by Fondas Ladis

Towards the end of 1590, in the area of Oltenia* Agen, on the bank of the Danube that faces Carpathia, between the fiefdom of Prince Magdorz and the county of Linesku, there was a remote, isolated village, the inhabitants of which all appeared prematurely old. While the body and mainly their complexions seemed withered, their behaviour was youthful and they were only just able to live up to their social responsibilities.

The only existing complete testimony about Voronecz – the name of the village – and its strange inhabitants belongs to Ivan the monk in his treaty “The Christianisation of the Villages South of the Danube”.

This manuscript was found a few years after it had been written in the small library of the Agen monastery and was then moved to Roman Eastern Papal Institute, where it is today at the disposal of scholars. Great dispute between Jesuit scholars and secular researchers arose in the 17th century concerning this testimony, which seems objective and unencumbered by superstition. The reverberations of this dispute can be found in the religious publications of the time.

According to Ivan the monk, the inhabitants of Voronecz were slight and diminutive with thinning, white hair, deep facial wrinkles and a vacant look in their eyes. They had a limited vocabulary and difficulty with their motor skills. In general they were not self-sufficient. All the productive work was carried out by a small group of younger individuals ranging between 20 and 40 years of age, physically larger in size, which made up approximately 10% of the population. The adolescents and the children could be counted on the fingers of both hands while the author of the treaty was unable to locate even one baby or old person in the whole of the village.

The dispute that arose approximately fifty years after the treaty was published lasted for a century and came close leading the church to excommunicating certain individuals, as the Jesuits supported that the inhabitants of Voronecz that had been located by Ivan the monk were prototypes of humans, something like angels that had fallen to earth. Others compared them to elves and even aliens, who had in some unknown manner invaded human civilisation. Others still contended that they were God’s playthings with which He teased the rationality of humankind.

The question was why these humanoid beings, who seemed to have some fundamental connection with the rest of society, without actually being a product of it, behaved like children when they were biologically worn and wizened.

The Jesuit priest Jeronimo presented a two-prong theory: either the inhabitants of Voronecz were essentially old people who had remained – for reasons unknown to us – childlike in behaviour or they were in fact children whose bodies had aged prematurely.

Neither of these views answered certain basic questions such as why these beings, if they were old, were physically smaller than most adults and behaved like children. Nor did Jeronimo’s theory answer why the distribution of the population was so contrary to the norm, i.e. the ‘immature elderly’ made up 90% of the total population. Where were the babies, the young adults and the truly old people of the village? Perhaps something even stranger, more curious and inexplicable was at large here.

One of the most daring yet convincing theories was put forth in 1731 by the philosopher Salvio Neri, then advisor to the Bishop of Sienna Raphaele Sera. At a later date, Neri turned to alchemy and was prosecuted by the Great Inquisition.

Neri supported that in the village of Voronecz time, as we know it, was inverted. Neri points out that Ivan himself was not able to discover how and when children were born in Voronecz or – if his theory is held to be true – how the elderly were born. In this





case, this did not mean that these people lived their whole life backwards nor that they underwent some kind of gradual decay, nor that those who lived long enough ended up as fetuses. It merely meant that for some unknown reason they were born old as they progressed in years, they became younger.

The population of Voronecz was not always so singular. This strange situation did not exist until Ivan the monk discovered it. Statistically such a coincidence is rare.

According to the above-mentioned theory, the next generations in Voronecz would experience certain pages of history from back to front. When Neri travelled to Voronecz with the financial support of his powerful patron and accompanied by monks and scholars of the time, he discovered that the village had been uninhabited since the 14th century. This discovery only served to support his theory. Two Swiss scholars who accompanied him pointed out that in this case, since time had been inverted, the village had in fact been uninhabited since the 21st century and not the 14th.

In the end, certain questions remained unanswered. The first concerned the diminutive size of the inhabitants of Voronecz in the first years of their lives, which were in fact their last years. In addition, the beginning and end of their biological course remained a mystery since there was no trace of a cemetery near the village.

Who were the inhabitants of Voronecz? Tiny, old people or elderly people who gradually grew younger? In any case, apart from Neri’s theories, they cannot have been old or born old or, to put it more simply, children who were born old. Worth mentioning at this point is the view expressed in 1953 by Lev Stanish, professor of molecular biology at the University of Carridge in South Carolina. After an on-site investigation of Voronecz and a thorough analysis of a partially destroyed page of Ivan’s manuscript, Stanish concluded that these strange beings that lived without dying in Voronecz around 1590 were in reality children who remained old. And this because they appeared at the very moment and spot that the pendulum of time and place was reversed.

an area in what is now called Romania