In Romania, it is now:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

Do the Powers that Be have a sense of humor? or at least a sense of the ironic? or do They (He/She) just dislike hubris? I was telling a friend the other day how healthy and fit I've been and how successfully I've (carefully) maneuvered in all the ice and snow. Hubris! On Wednesday, hurrying to print out materials for my adult class that afternoon, alone in the media center, I used a chair to climb up to kneel on the desk in order to close a window above the computers. I've done this at least a dozen times in the past--no problem, but being in a hurry, I stepped back with my body already in motion, caught my toe in a metal loop on the side of the chair seat, and down I went--on my back...hard! I had a sense of this-just-can't-be happening, visions of my mother and her falls and the broken hips that were the beginning of the end for her. I jumped up (3-second rule?) and then the pain hit. To spare you all the details, I've been under the Peace Corps doc's instructions: massive ibuprofen, which I've gradually decreased, ice, moderate movement. My Romanian friends say palinca (the super-strong plum brandy of this region) is the best medicine, so I've taken a few doses of that, too, just to cover all bases. I'm progressing, hoping I haven't given myself any permanent injuries, feeling pretty stupid about the whole thing. Two of the other Westside vols and a visiting friend from China were here this weekend and brought me provisions and cooked. It was great to have them here in The Red House, snow outside and lively conversation and plenty of hot food inside.****Sometimes it's good to clarify our convictions. I must admit that I've wondered about my commitment from time to time. I think most of my volunteer friends would admit to this, as well. We lost another of our group two weeks ago, the second of my "buddies" from our training days. It's hard when a friend leaves. I ponder whether or not I'm just indulging a schoolgirl dream, being selfish in what I'm asking my loved ones to endure, being too ineffective to warrant staying. I question whether or not my ability to keep my spirits and body healthy will break down. But when I fell this past week, while being driven home by my principal, wondering whether or not I had cracked my pelvis, caused some damage that would be slow-to-mend and would require me to leave the corps, I felt an unequivocal "No" rising in me. I'm not ready to go. If there's a silver lining to this whole dark-cloud experience, it's that. I know.***** At the end of next week, Romanian schools close for a week for the between-semester holiday. This week teachers must write their final grades--in blue ink only and with no undocumented corrections--into a huge ledger. I feel like a monk in a monastery every time I approach it--usually with trepidation. This seems a strange time for a holiday since we are just back from Christmas break. But the time off will be nice--I'll welcome the chance to travel to Timisoara with a PC friend. Neither of us has been to this well-loved western Romanian city, the "Little Vienna" that was under Austrian rule for two centuries and boasts a vibrant cultural scene. Uh-oh...wait! Not that I'm SURE my back will be well enough for the train/bus travel, mind you. But it's only POSSIBLE (merciful God/Fate willing) that I will get my lowly self sufficiently healed to enjoy the trip.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ponderings and Poetry

January. A new year begins and with it a host of fresh aspirations and resolutions. Is that quintessentially American? When I explained the tradition of New Year's Resolutions to my Romanian students and asked them to come up with three things they could do "to be a better person" in the coming year, they blinked in an innocent-calf sort of way and waited for me to make suggestions. Which I did, of course. But the concept seemed totally foreign. "A promise to yourself," I said. "It can be something you will do or will NOT do." I gave examples in my own life--too much chocolate, not enough stretching exercises. They found me amusing, as they often do. They complied but with statements that were clearly not from the heart (I will not play football (soccer) every day. "But why not?" I wanted to know!) Anyway, I found the whole experience interesting in a sociological sort of way. I often hear Romanians comment on American optimism and maybe that's what this is about--but where do you draw the line between optimism and hope?****Lee, my long-suffering husband, returned to the states yesterday after a month-long stay in the Red House. We had a fine visit with lots of good times in Oradea, Astileu, Maramures, and Brasov. I'll miss him, but I'm seeing our time together as a good tonic to get me through the dark months of winter ahead, and there's a possibility of a rendezvous in Spain in the spring. In truth, I have my hands full here with teaching, my adult class, community projects and just keeping myself fed and in clean clothes. This week besides my 16 classes and adult club, I need to fill out a quarterly report for PC AGAIN since they decided to change the form right after we submitted the lengthy report last month, I have to get grades in (writing them into the "big book"), start plans for a Valentine dance/contest, and be observed by PC staff in the classroom. Staying busy is no problem.**** Sometimes too busy. Several of you have asked about my poetry writing. I was quite prolific back in the states and would feel very antsy if two weeks went by and I hadn't written a new poem. It's different here--even if I have some time to write (as I clearly do at the moment), the climate of my brain is not always "right" for poetry. However, I have written a few that I'll hang on to for the possibility of future publication. We are not allowed to seek publication while on assignment, anyway. I tried to paste two poems below, one published in the PC Romanian lit magazine and one just for fun and not one I'll publish later. However, though the preview showed the poems perfectly copied, the final posting made a mess of the formatting, so I've deleted them. For those readers who may not know, I have poetry in the archives of some online journals, and I have books available through and one that is also Kindle loadable. **** As I struggle with learning Romanian, I was especially touched when a friend said not to worry, that poetry was my true language. I was reminded of this when reading Romanian poet Nina Cassian's beautifully translated poetry (a gift from Lee). She rhapsodizes about her devotion to her language as she speaks of the "...clitoris in my throat/ vibrating, sensitive, pulsating,/ exploding in the orgasm of Romanian." Oh, dear Nina, I'm afraid I've scarcely begun the foreplay!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Well Seasoned (Part III)

It seems that Brasov, the beautiful medieval city in Transylvania, was the place to be on New Year's Eve. We arrived around eight in the evening and found our hillside lodging to be a perfect location (online booking is always a gamble) and that our room, which seemed to be the last to be had in the crowded city, had a great view. This was most fortunate because later after meandering about the square, drinking vin fierte (hot, mulled wine)and finding restaurants all booked up for private parties, we ended up having champagne and snacks in our room and watching colorful fireworks go off all over the city, sounding as though it were under attack, but looking far too merry for war.**** The next day we explored the city, spending some time at the citadel (1580 fortress above the city)where we found the remains of what must have been a fabulous outdoor party the night before! We also walked along the old city wall, found a stunning gem shop, and visited the impressive Black Church, one of the largest Gothic churches in Europe, beginning as a Catholic church in 1385, but becoming Lutheran in the 16th Century. We missed the organ recitals which must be awesome, considering the organ has 4,000 pipes and 4 keyboards.****That night we were fed and entertained like royalty in the restaurant atop the Citadel. In addition to a delicious meal was music by a 10-piece mini-orchestra and four opera singers and dance by two ballet dancers (but no partridge in a pear tree). They were all splendid and the evening was such a bargain! The hall was decorated with fresh greenery, ribbons and candles, and the fact that the walls were also adorned with museum-quality ancient weapons (and some more recent) was only slightly disquieting. Peace on earth, indeed! The next day Lee and I went to Peles Castle (1873), the picturesque Neo-Renaissance palace in nearby Siniai built by King Carol I, one of Romania's most beloved monarchs and under whose reign, independence was won. We enjoyed the tour and on the way back (very slow holiday traffic), we were urged to stop at a roadside vendor to buy fresh sheep cheese--some smoked, some balled up in a belly bag, and some sealed in wood. I bought way too much, but will try to use the branza (mild white cheese) in some recipes and gave the cheese-in-bark to Veronica's mother who has been so generous sharing her farm's good products. The last day in Brasov we did a bit more shopping, ate lunch at a really fine Chinese restaurant on the square, and bade farewell to our very special inn and the staff who had been so helpful. Our nine-hour train ride back to Oradea was in the dark, unfortunately, so we couldn't see the beautiful snowscapes we saw when we went there three days earlier. Over all, the trip turned out to be a memorable way for us to welcome in 2011 here in Romania. Lee will be with me until the 15th, and we're trying to make the finest memories to hold us until our next visit. And sometimes just sitting at the kitchen table and talking about poetry and law and our boys makes for the best ones. He will return to teach a course at UGA and revise his textbook, and I will get on with the work of Peace Corps. Purpose and industry, true to my parents' philosophy, saves us...and poetry, true to mine, keeps me sane and whole. New Year's blessings to all.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Well Seasoned (Part II)

On Christmas Day—in the Red House with Lee and Dan—as I’m preparing the sweet potato soufflĂ© and the pork roast from Veronica’s mother’s annual pig killing, the gift of song continued. The house owners brought to our flat carolers of a different sort. To our surprise we were serenaded by four Orthodox seminarians who sang several carols with great expression and in fine harmony. We sang back our best rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” which they joined in on, too. It was a nice cross-cultural moment. ****We had an otherwise quiet little Christmas, exchanging gifts and visiting with Adam and Magdalena via Skype. Dan’s luggage spent the week on holiday in Paris (CDG airport—worst on earth), so he felt bad he didn’t have his gifts to give us, but his being here was the greatest gift, one I cherished and relished every moment. It’s a long way from California to Romania. We gave him clothes, which he needed on this visit! Lee gave me poetry books and snazzy shirts from MOMA—and, most importantly, a month-long visit before the six months I won’t see him. I had found him a wool muffler in Sighisoara and a beautiful rock (Alexandrite with special markings) in Sibiu. It was a good day. ***The next day we left for Maramures, the district to the northeast of Oradea and the most “purely Romanian” of all the country. Here the “old ways” are valued and continued, traditions honored, costumes worn, music and dance passed down in families. They boast of never having been under the rule of another country, and during the communist era, they were mostly left alone, possibly because the topography of the land made collective farming too difficult. Through a Peace Corps colleague I learned of a native of this area who would give us a good tour and find us housing. He turned out to be a most efficient and helpful fellow who picked us up at the Baia Mare train station that night, and drove us to some amazing places the next two days. It was snowing enough that he had to put chains on his tires, but we made it to a village where we found one of the old wooden churches (see pictures) from the 1700s atop a snowy hill. Here a priest was performing mass (it was for St. Stephen’s Day) and some of the villagers had braved the weather to attend. The inside of the church is decorated with primitive paintings and more recent icons. From here we went to Sighetu-Marmatiei where we were in time to see the parade of villages. This is an annual event for three days at Christmas. Villagers from all around Maramures march in colorful costumes and play instruments and sing. (see pictures) Though it was snowing quite hard and the third day of the parades, the participants were spirited and jolly and obviously proud of their heritage. Some of the animal costumes were stunning and I want to learn more about their significance. While Sighetu is quite a stately and pretty town, our guide pointed out one building that had an ugly history—it was the prison for the academic and government elite of Romania during the communist era where the prisoners were tortured and starved and eventually died. The name now—in English—is The Museum of Arrested Thought. “Arrested thought” haunts me and may find its way into a poem at some point. The museum houses a memorial to the victims which I’d like to see one day. Ironically, Sighetu is also the hometown of Elie Wiesel, laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize. ****Our next stop was a place I’ve been wanting to see since coming to Romania, the Merry Cemetery! An artist in the little town of Sapanta wanted to honor the dead of the village with carvings that depicted their personalities and everyday lives. The colorfully painted grave markers are complete with rhymes about the person, told in first person as though the deceased were speaking. The person’s foibles and merits and often cause of death are mentioned. (see pictures). Near the cemetery is a bed and breakfast that was a highlight of our visit in the area. The cozy inn is owned by a woman of exceptional abilities. Besides running the inn and cooking the (delicious) meals, she weaves beautiful rugs from wool of the local sheep, and was even elected mayor of the village for a period of time! What endeared her to me was that she spoke slowly and clearly in Romanian and let me bungle my way through conversation, helping and correcting where needed. I’d love to have her as a language tutor, and promised I’d come back in the summer to spend some time there. ****I’ve been writing this on the train home from Brasov where Lee and I had a memorable New Years beginning. More later on that, which will be my last holiday season entry. (to be continued)