We have to begin by admitting that we simply fell in love with Romania and have given a good deal of thought how to document our experience there. In the end we have decided to do two postings about Romania. This posting will focus on the rural life so predominant to this day, particularly in the north of the country. And a second blog will deal more with the several cities we visited and the magnificent and historical painted monasteries and wooden churches which dot the countryside. There will be a steam engine ride included as well. Because Bonnie’s photos are so extensive and we think so engrossing of Romania, we will also include two Flickr albums of photographs linked to these blog postings with the link at the end of each blog posting.
Romania is immediately set apart from its neighboring countries by its ethnic makeup. Romanians are not Slavs but a nationality all their own with a language predominantly derived from Latin rather than Slavic. Certainly there is Slavic in their language–they say “da” for “yes” as do their Slavic neighbors–but their history is significantly separated from the other countries in the region, and as a people they have maintained their ethnicity throughout their history. This includes long periods of domination and rule by both the Ottoman and the Hungarian Empires. Today there are many Hungarians who have long resided in Romania, as well as a large German population, called ‘Saxons,’ first invited to Romania by King Bela IV of Hungary in 1241 after the Mongol invasion. There is also a strong historical regionalism in Romania which was only united into one country after the First World War.
But consider first just how beautiful the countryside is. The Carpathian mountains sweep down from the northeast and then traverse the country east to west and are the backbone of Transylvania, that most famous of Romanian areas.
Charles Frazier wrote a wonderful novel called Cold Mountain and it was turned into a film released in 2003. It is set near the end of the Civil War and centers on a Confederate deserter trying to return to his home in mountainous North Carolina. The rural scenes were filmed almost entirely in Transylvania, still without electric lines and other modern eyesores and possessing the same rural beauty as the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. While we did not travel through all of Romania—we didn’t go to the capital Bucharest or to the Delta of the mighty Danube on the Black Sea—we were struck by the stark and primitive beauty of the countryside. Lonely Planet calls northern Romania the last area of Europe still living as if in the nineteenth century.
Let’s begin with the horse carts, for they certainly contribute significantly to the starkly primitive nature of rural life in Romania, particularly in the northern district called Maramures. Here is a road sign absolutely common across Transylvania and Maramures.
We saw horse carts everywhere! It was hard to travel more than a few miles without encountering one, sometimes with one horse,
and often with two, and in groups of two or three.
If we could generalize about the cargo they were carrying beyond people, it was overwhelmingly hay as in this photo.
Which brings us to the importance of this crop, since it is by far the predominant one and essential to the survival of livestock through the brutally cold winters. Virtually every stalk of hay or grass is cut and utilized for feed. The front lawns of houses, the shoulders of roads, and of course any open pastureland is cut for fodder. With few exceptions, that cutting is not done with gas powered mowers or tractors with industrial cutters, but by individual people with the oldest of grass cutting tools, the sythe. Here is an older gentleman working a roadside.
Swung in a sweeping circular motion close to the ground, it cuts with a blade sharpened about every five minutes or less. Sharpness is all! It is then raked up and sometimes loaded onto hay wagons
and taken closer to barns or outbuildings.
Note the tractor in the picture above—a very modern farm indeed!
More commonly, it is raked by hand into smaller bunches and then stacked in the fields themselves as in the photo at the top of this posting or here, beyond a cemetery. It is also often just draped over wooden forms in the fields and stored in that simple way.
In addition, the family vegetable garden is essential for life and literally every family has one. Everywhere we saw people, women in particular, working the fields, always with hand tools, usually hoes, shovels, and rakes. We cannot recall ever seeing mechanical tools employed in tending the vegetables. Beans, cabbages, tomatoes, onions and squash seemed to be the favorites we could identify this early in the season.
If they were not at work in the fields, they were carrying produce or their tools to and from the fields.
The second woman is carrying a rake with teeth made of wood instead of steel–the common type we saw.
To give you some idea of what their homes are like, this is a particularly attractive one with a workshop to the right. Note the enormous supply of firewood in preparation for the coming winter.
The simple sleds hanging on this barn wall are also testament to the severity of the winter.
We also frequently saw pots and pans hanging outside front doors or even in trees in front of houses.
It turns out that this is a means of demonstrating wealth, for if you can afford so many pots and pans that you can just hang them outside, you certainly must be wealthy. And we learned that if there is a red pot on the top, there is an eligible daughter in residence and suitors are invited to inquire!
The farmhouses in the Maramures region are also famous for their extravagant gates, often with extensive carvings, and also act as an advertisement to the wealth of the occupants. Here is a new and rather impressive example.
But time has also taken its toll on many of them.
We were also impressed by the shingled roofs we saw everywhere. Early on we watched a woodworker carefully use a drawknife to cut away the bottom of shingles to give them their delicate shape.
And we loved the woven vine fences we often saw—artful and practical at the same time and shingled on top as well!
We also loved the storks we saw everywhere in villages atop electrical poles, most with babies almost ready to fly themselves. Turns out many towns erect metal hoops atop their poles to encourage the storks to nest, since they are a guarantee of good luck!
But more than anything, we loved the friendly people of Romania, whether collectively leaving church in a town of wooden homes in the country, the young girls enthralled by a baby,
the women in their native finery,
or the men, some in their peasant shirts and ‘nipple hats,’ talking in the street after the service.
And everywhere the women moving around town no matter what,
and talking expressively among themselves.
We loved Romania. We will be back. For more photos go to the Flickr album associated with this blog post: https://www.flickr.com/photos/10627404@N00/sets/72157669616131105