Eclipsing the 1999 Eclipse

Roberto Quaglia, the Italian SF writer,
recalls the events of the first International Week of Science and SF
in Timisoara, Romania, for which he was the Toastmaster,
and the Solar eclipse of 1999


It is a pleasure to look back at the first International Week of Science and Science Fiction and the eclipse event of August 1999 in Timisoara. For me, it was a great time; one of those which make life worth living. Why? Well, you can have only subjective answers, especially since it has been some time since it took place. Yes, I must confess: I always exploit my human limits for what they can do for me. And one of the most common, useful, and powerful, human limits is that of filtering your memories, so that only the good stuff remains, and the bad ,and the sufferance and the boredom, disappears. It is just like, as time moves on, your past life really has disappeared from your present.

Right: Picturesque Timisoara, Romania.

As a matter of fact I do not remember anything bad about my time in Timisoara during the August of 1999. On the contrary, my mind is stuffed with extremely pleasant details. We arrived in Timisoara in the evening of August 7, a Saturday. "We" stands for Bob, Max, Mario, Ada and myself. "Bob" stands for Robert Sheckley. "Max, Mario and Ada" where the others in my car. "Myself" really is, for me, a mysterious entity. Enough said.

Jonathan Cowie and Robert Sheckley

The next morning, Sunday the 8th, we met Jonathan Cowie - the real deus ex machina of the week. (Some even suspect that without him the eclipse itself would not have taken place, and indeed for many elsewhere on the planet it did not!) He was with Jim Walker (UK) and some Romanians of the H. G.Wells club: writer Silviu Genescu, SF translator Antuza Genescu and Dorin Davideanu.

We spent a carefree part of the day in the local Village Museum.

In the afternoon, the opening ceremony reminded me that formality existed too. Well, I would not be honest if I said that I like ceremonies. But I didn't suffer very much. Well, you know, I like Jonathan, I like Sheckley, I like majority of the people attending the opening ceremony, including (strangely) myself, and so, in spite of my reluctance, I almost had a good time!

In my improvised speech I remember to have babbled some nonsense about Sheckley being not just a person, but a place, a good place. And about some other people being less interesting places. I also distinctly remember Sheckley replying that if he is a place there should be somewhere a map that leads to him...

Monday the 9th is a very hot day. After a museum visit, we look for somewhere cool. The air conditioning in the local Mac Donalds serves us well. This maybe an irrelevant detail for those who are reading, but I can tell you that, with the terrific heat of that day, it was not irrelevant for us. In the second part of the afternoon we, as we did most days that week, met at the convention hall for some programme items, be it a talk, a video screen or whatever.

Tuesday 10th. This is the big day. 'Well', some might argue, 'but wasn't the eclipse not taking place on the 11th?' Yes, it was. But the big day, for me, was Tuesday 10th, at ten o'clock. This was the moment where Sheckley's book, Mindswap [Transfer Mental], together with one of mine, Bread, Butter and Paradoxine, were both published in Romania by the Nemira Publishing House. These are duly launched and introduced to the press along with Timisoara's Deputy Mayor. For me, this is a kind of event much more unlikely than a relatively common total Solar eclipse, so what else could I do other than to enjoy it and, of course, sharing that memory with you now.

The launch of Transfer Mental. From left: Jonanthan Cowie, the Deputy Mayor of Timisoara, Roberto Quaglia, Robert Sheckley and (standing) the editor of Nemira publishing house.

Jokes apart, on Wednesday 11th I was quite excited in anticipation of the imminent eclipse. However, it was raining heavily and the sky was grey and dark. On the other hand, it was not so terribly hot. Sheckley observed that he preferred the day to be fresh and relaxing and with no eclipse, rather than hot and exhausting with the eclipse. But if not for the best, events go to for the better anyway. Nothing seems to be happening so Sheckley, Jonathan and I briefly appear on Romanian TV: a camera crew happens to be covering the eclipse from the top of our hotel. Once this is done, hour after hour passes. We wait and watch TV coverage of the eclipse on the hotel terrace with members of the H. G. Wells SF society and a small band of western SF fans.  Would we get to see the eclipse?  Then more and more sky blue appears behind the clouds. Now we can follow the partial part of the eclipse.  We see crescent shaped shadows beneath the trees.  But disaster! At the exact moment of the totality there is just one damned cloud in the wrong place in the sky eclipsing the eclipse, as the World plunges into darkness. As if to taunt us the bad cloud leaves the scene two or three seconds after Totality ends. Just the time for an instant of diamond ring. But I do not remember the disappointment now.  What has remained is the memory of the excitement, and it's a good sensation.  What else could I wish?

The eclipse as viewed 50 yards down the road

Thursday 12th is our last day in Timisoara. I remember a long and pleasant round table with Robert Sheckley, Tony Chester and myself discussing obscure and fine points of SF in front of a hall of fans from six countries. I don't remember what we said, though. I have a videotape of that discussion, but why should I watch it? Why should one watch tapes of a previous experiences at all? All what I remember now is that it was fun and, I suppose, this is enough.

Some of the participants following the gala dinner.

In the evening, the gala dinner our Romanian translators, guides, officers of the H. G. Wells as well as the visiting western fans. Those visiting from the west had traditional Romanian food, while the Romanians, strangely, eat Chinese. And so the meal marked the end of the SF week. It strikes me that, gala dinners are the only kind of ceremony that I would allow to take place. Anyway, it was been a great evening. In fact the entire Timisoara eclipse event was one great time. I have to thank Jonathan and my Romanian friends in Timisoara for having made it all possible. And myself to have joined in. Would it have been the same without me? Not for me, I can ensure you!

Roberto Quaglia

See here for more European science ficton articles.

Roberto Quaglia's book Bread, Butter and Paradoxine was subsequently published in 1999, following the above launch of its book cover, by Nemira, Bucharest.

The 2nd International Week of Science and Science Fiction will be held Timisoara, Romania in May 2003 part sponsored by Concatenation. For details check out the progress reports on this cite starting with PR0.

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