In Romania, it is now:

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 soufflé 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)


  1. Arrested thought ....

    Meaning #2 -- a condition caused by Alzheimer's Disease.

    Food for thought, whether laughing or crying.

  2. Nice to see Sapunta in the snow -- and I love the pix of Sighet. When I was there, no parade, but the Museum of Arrested Thought was open. And haunting -- Romania today is a cautionary tale: what happens when a government kills off a generation of its most gifted thinkers. The juxtaposition of that prison and the Wiesel memorial in one town magnifies the caution.