Romania part 2
Once we return to the guesthouse, I borrow a bristle brush from Mairoara and return to our room. I take my mucky shoe into the shower and scrub it down using the liquid hand soap in the bathroom. I was going to set my wet shoe outside but the rain is starting to come down so that plan is out the window. Instead I put the shoe on the old-fashioned radiator that is next to the staircase, knowing that this evening Mairoara will turn the heat on. I change into my spare shoes and Paul and I go back to the main house where Cornelia is waiting for us.
We are driving to Sighetu Marmatiei to visit the Sighet Museum, a Memorial to the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance. Rain is falling in earnest so we are thankful that we finished our village walk when we did. , By the time we reach Sighetu it is pouring and when Cornelia turns onto the street where the museum is located the parking spaces look to be full. Cornelia declares to us that she is a lucky person as she finds a parking space next to the museum! We scurry through the rain and enter the enormous building. After paying a small fee, we listen to an audio narrated by Ana Blandiana, who was instrumental in initiating the building of Sighet Museum. Blandianas’ purpose was to bring the truth of what had happened during the communist reign to the publics attention.
The gloomy rainy weather accentuates the mood we fall into after spending an hour or so in the museum. Many of you probably remember the downfall of Nicolai Ceausescu, the last communist leader of Romania, but I had no idea of the atrocities that were carried out during the 45 years of communist rule.
Cornelia takes us into some of the exhibits which are displayed in the tiny prison cells where the political prisoners were kept. We look at one cell where people were punished for disobeying orders such as laying or sitting on their cot during the day. This cell has leg irons in the center of the tiny room and the cell was kept completely dark. We visit the exhibit concerning priests and bishops who were imprisoned. The communist government would replace the priests in the churches with priests that were loyal to the government. These undercover priests would report people to the government after hearing confessions that would implicate them of crimes against the government, after which they would be arrested. Another exhibit explained how the peasants were rounded up and forced into cities to become workers at factories or in building the canal. Their land was seized and to insure that they wouldn’t try to escape and return to the farm, the government killed two million horses which were the backbone of a farmers operation. I could continue to relate the atrocities but you get the picture. Another sad tale was that many people in the resistance held out the hope that the USA would come to Romania’s rescue, that of course never happened and eventually the resistors were all caught and imprisoned or worse. If by chance you are traveling to Romania in the future this museum/memorial should be part of your itinerary.
We exit the building to look at the bronze sculpture in the yard of the former prison and it is fitting that we are looking at the agonized human figures in dim light and falling rain. Cornelia leads us into an underground room where there is a pool of water. All of us light a candle for the victims of this horrible time. We then place the candles in holes that are drilled in a metal plate that sits about an inch down in the pool of water. Even though our candles are the only ones burning, it still is a very peaceful and beautiful sight. I found this action very uplifting after the somber and depressing stories we had just encountered.
After leaving the museum/memorial Cornelia drives us to a restaurant for lunch. Cornelia turns onto a one way street and a car is driving toward us. The man drives right up to us as Cornelia lets fly with a curse word in English. Since there are cars behind us, Cornelia can’t back up and I don’t think she would have anyway! The knucklehead drives up on the sidewalk, where some people are walking I might add, and continues on his way. I have a choice name for that wrong way driver myself although I say it under my breath.
Cornelia parks the van and the cold rain makes us hustle into the Hungarian restaurant. The place is nicely decorated and the patrons seem to be made up of locals. When our server, dressed in Hungarian attire, comes to take our order, Cornelia and I opt for chicken noodle soup, while Paul orders Hungarian goulash which comes in a cute ceramic pot. Cornelia also orders eggplant salad for all of us, but the “salad” is a creamy paste that you spread on thickly sliced bread. All of the food is yummy.
We linger over lunch, as we are not in any hurry to go back out into the rain. Eventually we leave this cozy restaurant to drive to the Merry Cemetery at Sapanta, the last stop of the day. On the drive to Sapanta the countryside is one of large pastures where herds of cattle and horses graze. Cornelia points out the country of Ukraine which is just across the river.
I swear that the rain stops falling when we arrive at the Cemetery and Cornelia again reminds us that she is good luck. A small entrance and camera fee is handed over to the ticket seller. We enter the colorful cemetery and Cornelia explains the history of the unique graveyard. In the 1930’s, artist Stan Ioan Patras began carving crosses from oak, and then decoratively painted them. His work included a portrait of the deceased depicting their profession or posing with something that they cherished in their life. Patras also wrote a poem describing the person’s life and sometimes the poems were very candid such as the poem about the guy that loved to drink! Dumitru Pop who apprenticed under Patras has carried on the painted cross tradition since Patras died in 1977. What I find astonishing is that the people who commissioned these two artists to create their loved ones crosses, have no say in what the portrait of their relative will be and no control over what the poem says!
Cornelia shows us two graves, one is that of Sapanta the artist that began this tradition in Merry Cemetery. The other grave shows a woman wagging her finger at a defeated looking man. Cornelia explains that the person buried here is the mother-in-law of the man being admonished. The poem on the cross, in short, asks the visitor to this grave not to wake his mother-in-law up, because if she returns he will be the one sleeping here!
Paul and I wander around the bright graveyard on our own and although we can’t read the poems we can ascertain via the portrait something about the person occupying the space. We see many women sitting at looms, and lots of men doing agricultural tasks. There are also tragic portraits such as a young girl getting hit by a car and a boy drowning. I don’t see how this stark depiction of the tragedies would be comforting for a parent that is visiting their child’s grave. Before we leave we enlist Cornelia’s’ help in finding crosses where people are portrayed with cattle. Between the three of us we find portraits of women milking cows, men standing or leading a cow or bull and one where a woman is standing by a calf. Mission accomplished and now it is time to return to Breb.
I don’t remember what Mairoara served us for the main course this evening, but I do remember that the soup was chicken noodle, duplicating what Cornelia and I had for lunch! We have a small glass of horinca set in front of us and we raise our glasses, utter the Romanian toast “noroc”, take a sip, and agree we had a fascinating day.
This morning I am pleased to find that my shoe is completely dry and it is so clean it looks brand new. This is good because I need my hiking shoes for our walk to the neighboring village of Hoteni after breakfast. It is chilly and partly cloudy when we begin our trek but a few blue patches of sky are showing so hopefully the clouds will give way to the sun later on.
There is no need for Cornelia to be our go between on the hike to Hoteni because we do not meet a human on foot or in a car. It is glorious to be strolling in the countryside and occasionally we turn to look back at Breb, which slowly fades into a miniature village behind us. The wildflowers blooming along the road and in the meadows are colorful and numerous. The birds are in full voice this morning adding music to our delightful stroll.
We reach the outskirts of the village and the first person we see is an old man sitting in his yard, whittling replacement teeth for his rake. As we walk farther into the village we pass by children walking to school plus I spy a few cats which is always a plus for me. There is a wooden church in Hoteni and we walk through the elaborate wooden gate into the cemetery. All the churches are next to or in the middle of their cemeteries. Although the church is locked, Cornelia takes us around the exterior of it and points out the unique features of the late 18th century building.
We begin our walk back to Breb in bright sunshine and a busier road. We meet a man driving what Paul and I identify as water buffalo but Cornelia tells us they are Romanian bison. The bison spook when they see us and clumsily run off the road into the flower filled meadow and the man, carrying a wooden rake, trots after them. Since the bison owner makes no attempt to get in front of the running bison I guess they must be going in the direction he wants them to.
It is late morning when we arrive in Breb, we take a ten minute break, and then we are on our way to Budesti to visit the wooden church, Josani, which is on the Unesco World Heritage List. A woman welcomes us when we walk into the church. I can’t help but gasp as I look around the interior of this historical church. The floors are covered with vibrant, thick, hand-woven rugs. The walls in the room where we are standing have faded religious figures painted on them. Cornelia points out that in the past the women of the church would have been in this small, back room during services, while the men sat on benches in the front room. We admire religious icons painted on wood and glass dating from the 15th to 17th century. The vestry, which we aren’t allowed to enter, has three separate, highly decorated entrances; the largest door in the middle is for the priest.
On display near the front of the church, is a split piece of wood with the unmistakable impression of a cross. It seems a former member of the church who had lapsed in his faith, was splitting firewood when he saw the cross imprinted in the piece of wood. The man took this as a sign from God and came back to the church, his faith restored.
We leave Budesti and drive a few miles to the town of Sarbi. Cornelia takes us to a house that has individual ceramic pieces cemented to parts of the outside walls which form a colorful, geometric pattern. As we enter the yard, a woman greets us and soon a sleepy-eyed man appears. It seems the man has been up all night attending to the family still brewing horinca! Cornelia asks the woman if we can go into her house because Cornelia wants us to see a lifetime of work by our hostess of handcrafted rugs and fancy work. The woman is more than happy to invite us into her home and when we enter the house we are overwhelmed. There are handcrafted items hanging on the wall, piled on furniture, and draped over things. I think my jaw literally drops! Cornelia asks the woman to show us some of her special items. The woman opens a trunk and pulls out a traditional white dress she has sewn but what Cornelia really wants us to look at is the hand embroidery on the cuffs. I must say it looks perfect to me.
It is the husbands turn to show us his hobby and he leads us to a building where there are tables and chairs set up. The man insists that Paul and I have a drink of his horinca, Paul says yes to the offer but I decline. Paul raises his glass of horinca and emphatically says “noroc” to which our host responds in kind. We admire the bottles of horinca on the bar that have miniature wooden ladders inside the bottle. The bottles of horinca at our guesthouse contain ladders too. How the craftsmen, like this man, can put the items together in the bottle is beyond me. We don’t ask but since the room is set up with a bar and seating, we wonder if this is a public drinking establishment?
Our sleepy host, who seems more alert since drinking his glass of horinca, has one more thing to show us before we depart. He walks with us to his wooden gate and points out a small cup that is sitting under a wooden tap. Sure enough when the man turns on the tap handle a trickle of liquid runs into the wooden cup. The man is so animated about his invention that we laugh out loud.
Cornelia leads us to a nearby house where Vasile Borodi, a well-known traditional hat maker, resides. Vasile is sitting at his ancient sewing machine busily constructing a hat made from straw. I don’t remember the process that is used to prepare the straw but I do know that the yellow material has been flattened. We watch as Vasile grasps the straw in his stained, cracked fingers and turns it in circles as he runs the clattering sewing machine. Soon the bright straw begins to take on the shape of his trademark hats. Vasile has been very innovative when it comes to running the thread to his sewing machine. The thread runs through copper wire that has been twisted into an eyelet, the eyelet is fastened to a thick wire, and Vasile has a screwdriver laying on the thread for tension. I’m not sure why the thread stays tight and keeps feeding into the sewing machine but it does.
Vasile has some finished hats sitting in his work shop and encourages Paul to try one on, which he does. I have to laugh, I don’t believe these hats are Paul’s style, but Paul threatens to buy one and wear it to his next bank meeting! We walk across the yard to Vasiles’ house which is also his store. There are lots of things for sale including hats, wool bedroom slippers, and beaded items that his wife makes. I end up buying a beaded choker necklace which I will never wear, but they were cheap and I wanted to buy something from this friendly couple. Paul gives Vasile a Kansas Livestock Association hat with the logo “Eat beef” embroidered across the front. I don’t think Vasile quite knows what to do with the hat but he graciously thanks Paul for the gift!
We go outside and the couple shows us their barn. Like most people, they hang their farming implements on the side of the barn. The couple also has a cow and a handsome cat. Paul pulls out the photo book he made to bring on our trip and the couple is quite intrigued with the photos of Paul’s stone fences and our ranch. We wave goodbye to the sparkling-eyed couple and walk back to the van.
Our next stop is Barsana to visit the Barsana Monastery, another Unesco World Heritage Site. We eat lunch at one of the venders are situated near the walkway that leads to the hilltop Monastery. We order a type of crepe with cheese filling and wait as the woman cooks our lunch on a hot griddle. The woman places the Romanian style grilled cheese sandwiches on a paper towel and hands them to us. The sandwiches were so tasty that it is making my mouth water just thinking about them.
After lunch, we walk up to the Monastery, pay our entrance fee and walk into one of the most stunning places I have ever been. I can’t begin to describe the beauty of the various buildings including the wooden church. The vast lawns are lush and flower beds are blooming with poppies, lilacs, along with a variety of other flowers. I feel like I have stepped into a painting.
Cornelia takes us into the church whose walls and ceilings are covered with paintings depicting biblical scenes, saints, apostles, and so on. When you peer up into the vault of the ceiling a benevolent Christ looks back at you. We learn that this church is the tallest wooden building in Europe. I am a bit confused about the timetable of the monastery. I know Cornelia said that this is not an old monastery but I have read that the existing church was built in the late 1700’s. I guess that is new compared to the many churches that date back to the 1500’s! I am sure that the other buildings that make up this complex were built in the last twenty or thirty years. Cornelia also informs us that there are only 14 nuns that live at Barsana Monastery! I wonder how the church decides which nuns get to live here because if I were a Romanian nun this is where I would want to be! It is simply fantastic. We wander down the flower-lined paths by the lovely house where the nuns live and another beautiful house which I guess is where the priest stays when he is visiting this monastery. We peruse the museum which contains items from ancient bibles to antiques that relate to the culture and history of Romania.
Leaving this picture perfect place behind, we have one more stop to make in Barsana. Cornelia wants us to see the workplace of the famous Romanian wood-carver, Teo Barson. Our first thought when we arrive at the wood carvers’ is how the heck do we navigate this maze of logs to reach the business! We end up stepping over or walking in between the huge logs to reach the open air work place.
We watch the artists at work, skillfully but tediously chipping away at the wood with chisels to create their designs. After visiting with the workers, Cornelia asks if Teo Barson is home, and the answer is no. Cornelia asks the man who appears to be in charge if he can call Mr. Barson and ask him to come home, because she really wants us to meet the guy. After some back and forth between the two, the head honcho leaves and Cornelia informs us that he has gone to fetch the famous wood-carver. Within minutes the man returns and informs Cornelia that Mr. Barson will be here shortly.
The three of us walk over to the house to wait for the man whose biggest claim to fame is figuring out how to carve a chain out of a single piece of wood. We haven’t waited long when a voice calls out to us. We turn to see a short, smiling man striding up the driveway. He clambers over his self-made moat of logs and joins us in front of the house. The man bubbles with energy and his eyes twinkle with orneriness. Cornelia introduces Paul and me adding that we are from America. Without skipping a beat Teo says, “I have been to America. I have a girlfriend there. She is 94 years old and pregnant”! He says it so sincerely that you have to laugh at the silly statement.
We follow Teo into what I thought was his house but it is really a cluttered store with various carved items for sale. The famous wood chains are on display and we scrutinize one chain that is not completed. Paul and Cornelia try to explain to me how Teo is able to carve the wood into links to form a chain but it makes no sense to me. Teo also has a disproportionate number of wooden spoons compared to other items for sale. Evidently the spoon is a favorite of tourists to buy because the utensils can be used and they are easy to pack. Teo has oversized wooden knives that he makes for children and we decide to purchase a pair for two Kansas boys. I’m sure their parents will be delighted with our choice.
Mr. Barson starts telling us about his experience in Washington D.C. when he attended the Smithsonian Folk life Festival along with other crafts people from around the world. Teo proudly shows us his Smithsonian certificate of appreciation, housed behind the glass of a cabinet. Teo then tells us that he told President Clinton he would take Monica off his hands and the President could keep Hillary. Teo roars at this joke once Cornelia has translated it to us. We laugh and shake our heads at this want to be comedian.
It is time to return to Breb, so we tell this ornery but talented fellow goodbye. I might add that we have seen and will continue to see as we travel through Romania, the carved chains of Teo Barson fame hanging from many of the more elaborate wooden gates. Later, Nancy