Irina Nicolau, ethnologist and writer, co-organizer, together with Horia Bernea, of the Romanian Peasant Museum, coordinator of six volumes of oral memory, author of eight books of alternative ethnology, creator of object-books, clothes and jewels; she loved kitsch objects, she loved her friends and she loved to play.
One day, it must have been nineteeneightysomething, I received a letter from Irina. She had managed to travel to Athens, to visit her aunt. I must also tell that she had first received an official negative answer from the Passport Department and she had been forced to request an audience with the Militia, hoping she would change their mind. She prepared thoroughly, she combed her hair back, tied it with a white ribbon and gathered it at the back of her neck, she wore a blue shirt with a white little collar, a straight dress, no make-up, she removed her famous rings and she took care that she looks stupid and poor. I don’t remember what she told the officer or whoever, but she finally obtained the passport. And thus I return to the letter I received from Athens! An elegant envelope, smelling of occidental glue, that I opened respectfully with the coupe-papier, only to find a piece of toilet paper inside, written upon with brown ink: THIS IS EXACTLY HOW I FEEL HERE. RIRI
Much later, in 2000, we made an album on Sibiel icons together with a younger friend. Thanks to Irina’s design, the book turned out to be a beautiful object. However, because of the bad binding, the colorful pages would fly away at the first skimming through the volume. Every time she gave the book as a present, Irina would write in the dedication: TO BE READ PREFERABLY CLOSED. RIRI
What is there to learn from these two stories? Well, first of all, that Irina Nicolau felt she was RIRI; secondly, that she had the gift of writing the essential, in simple words, short and very telling; thirdly, that she liked to work with her friends. And, in general, that she knew how to transform the unpleasant and the mistake in funny and memorable accidents.
Unfortunately, most of her books appeared in a minuscule number of copies and where thus read mainly by her friends (Irina gave away as gifts everything she received as author’s rights and then bought some more so she could continue to make presents) and borrowed by her friends’ friends. The generous friendship, floating around her like mist led to a phenomenon manifest only after she left us: a sui generis community was formed of very different people who feel close to each other only by virtue of the feelings she had unveiled in them; some had just discovered her, other had known her for a long time and grew apart for whatever reasons; some, very young, were professionally formed by her, others adopted her (or were adopted?) as a close relative.