They'll Take Away the Oxen from My Bike

December 3rd, 2021 by Diana Coman

I grew up during the final gasps of a scientifically created (and therefore better!) way of life1 that had started by forcibly and purposefully destroying the previous, organically grown way of life that was identified as the most significant obstacle. Obstacle to what, exactly? Why, to progress, obviously! Well, to the *new* progress freshly redefined at that time, of course.

That initial, destructive part had succeeded quite well and even quickly, as it was already done and dusted -if still present in people's minds and lives2- by the time my parents were adults. A little later, by the time I was growing up, very few people still talked or had anything to say of either that destruction or the initial enthusiasm that had lead to it grounded as it was in a genuine conviction that the old way was an obstacle and the new way is better. I could glimpse at times the enthusiasm and the conviction in old notes found in abandoned notebooks from the young years of people that were about as old as my grandparents or even older than them, that's about it. And I think that the silence on it wasn't as much because there were indeed few people remaining able to speak clearly of such matters but mainly because those remaining, whether few or many, could already see all too well how misplaced that old conviction and its underlying hope had been. What was there to say further of it, after it had been all done and in such a final manner, too, what was there more *for them* to say about it other than nothing at all?

After the destruction phase, the replacement part vigorously proceeded and then stubbornly persisted, following scientifically made plans at all stages (and there were many plans, possibly even plans to have plans and plans on how to produce the required plans, one can't ever be faulted for planning their work, can they?) and against all obstacles. The bigger the problems were, the stronger the push to go further down the same path for there was after all no way to turn back anyway. So problems were met as they tend to be - with more of the same approach, more scientific planning and more scientific evidence of how well it all works, since it's quite clear that more of all that is needed to finally push through. It was all going in the right direction and only getting better with every step, doesn't it sound familiar?

Despite the will and conviction of people though, reality somehow persisted too in growing ever further away from the well-planned heights of achievement, prosperity and overall improvement. And in this sort of widening gap, humour of a certain absurdist bend thrived for sure but it hadn't sprung out of nowhere and it seemed to me so familiar at the time that it was only years later when I noticed how far back its roots really were. That focused destruction of everything standing tall or strong enough to make a visible target had left nevertheless here and there the more frail and less visible fruits of previous experience gained while painfully going through previous hopeful destructions turning into failed reconstructions and their aftermath, in other words experience gained on that ever revolving wheel of "change" and "progress" - a circular path that one can perhaps hope manages to deviate to some degree before it reaches its end, so as to miss the original starting point by enough to make the trajectory into some sort of spiral at least.

Of these more frail and less visible fruits of others' experience, there were often some very concise sayings coming to mind, mostly due to their unexpectedly apt description of so-called "new" reality. At the time I thought these sayings to be simply part of the wider language's "folk wisdom" or such, but in time it turned out that quite a few of them were indeed very specific to my own immediate surroundings, to the extent that it's quite possible I suppose that they were the production of one of the villages of my great-grandparents or who knows, even directly of one of my great-grandparents themselves, not that I'll ever have a real clue of it. At any rate, since most of these don't seem to be part of any other attempted listing of sayings and I find myself thus still surprising others in conversations (Romanians included), I'll try to collect here those that come currently to mind, together with my attempted translation to English, to have at least the explanation at hand, when needed:

  1. Ori bati capu' ori bati curu'.

    It's either your head or your ass that will hurt3.

  2. Daca vrei ceva facut, da-l unuia ocupat.

    If you want something done, give it to someone busy.

  3. Are cap - sa nu-i ploua-n gat.

    He has a head on his shoulders - to keep his neck dry in the rain.

  4. Capul lui mai fuse la un cur de baba.

    His head has been of use before, to an old hag's ass.

  5. Lenesu' la toate zice ca "nu poate!"

    The bum's reply to everything is "I can't do it!"

  6. S-a dus si el ca sa fie drumul cu lume.

    He went too, to keep the roads busy.

  7. S-a repezit ca sageata si-a cazut ca balega.

    He rushed like the arrow and flopped like the cow pie.

  8. Vine de parca se duce.

    He's coming as if he was leaving.

  9. A plecat bou si s-a intors magar.

    He left being an ox and came back an ass.4

  10. 'nalt ca bradu', prost ca gardu'.

    As tall as the pine, as stupid as the fence.

  11. Ti-or lua boii de la bicicleta.

    They'll take away the oxen from your bike.

  12. Schimbarea domnilor, bucuria nebunilor.

    The change of rulers - the happiness of fools.

  1. What, you thought all those Communist regimes that fell in the '90s in Eastern Europe started somehow as anything *other* than "doing what is best for everyone" and following "a scientific approach" to clearly and obviously -look at what the calculations say!- improve the lives of all? They even were specifically addressing the "problem" of some things being "too expensive" for some people and therefore in great need of being cheapened no matter what. It's really a wonder how far the world got in all these passing years! 

  2. The story of my piano teacher touches only superficially and very briefly on only one of many such stories from that time. I suppose I should write more of the ones I know, since the people involved are already gone and it turns out quite frequently that I recall more of the stories they had to tell than is otherwise recorded directly anywhere. 

  3. This doesn't work nearly as well in English. The Romanian version takes advantage of the ambiguous use of "a bate" (to beat), basically making the point that either you put in a lot of hard thinking (hence you make your head hurt with it) or you'll put up with getting it in your ass. 

  4. This is clearly a variation on the much more commonly known "a plecat bou si s-a intors vaca" meaning "he left being an ox and came back a cow." Depending on one's point of view, perhaps it's better to have become a cow (ready to be milked by others) than an ass. 

Comments feed: RSS 2.0

4 Responses to “They'll Take Away the Oxen from My Bike”

  1. Jacob Welsh says:

    Yay, now I have something to link it to plus a bunch more.

    > Ori bati capu' ori bati curu'.

    Such optimism - why not both!

  2. Diana Coman says:


    As for the optimism - the people I heard these from were quite resolute and they certainly didn't care much for a "middle way" but I'm sure that one focused on not missing anything can indeed hesitate/alternate so as to have both hurting, possibly even at the same time!

  3. Diana Coman says:

    I'll add this one here since I've been pointedly reminded of it quite recently:

    Am sa fac un cor din eu si-am sa cant la Ateneu.

  4. [...] again, as a busy woman tells me an old saying goes, If you want to have something done, you need to give it to a busy [...]

Leave a Reply