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Monday, May 2, 2011

Welcoming May: Lilacs, Libations, Laughter...and Bumper Cars

My Romanian friend Felicia promised me lilacs from her garden, but I didn't know she meant buckets of them! and many bouquets of lilly-of-the-valley besides! Being the scent-oriented person I am, leading with my nose as it were, these are flowers I especially love (along with the gardenias of my Southland which I hope to catch in June). I had mentioned my eagerness to see lilacs blooming in Romania as I had not seen them since I lived in Utah many years ago. Felicia remembered and yesterday she loaded my arms with all the lilacs I could ever want and many little bouquets of lilly-of-the-valley from her lush beds--a kind of reward for all those months of cold. For it was MAY DAY in Romania and at their garden cottage in the hills above Oradea, Felicia and Horia hosted a fine celebration of all things associated with this day--a salute to laborers (Labor Day in much of Europe), spring and all its fertile promise, and the honoring of the dead (the Orthodox version of the Catholic observance in November). Mostly it was a grand excuse for a party! I've decided that Felicia--brilliant teacher of French and English, reader, traveler, gourmet cook, skilled organizer--is a sort of Romanian Gertrude Stein who seems to gather up interesting friends and acquaintances in the great vortex of her energetic hospitality. She and Horia had just returned from 10 days in Spain but managed to have everything ready and perfect for the gathering on Sunday. Today she had to be back in the classroom! Among their fun-loving and interesting friends--this time there was a couple visiting from Israel. Ami had been the childhood friend of our chef for the day (long-time friend of our hosts) and had moved to Tel Aviv years ago and met Madelaine, both working as nurses in a large hospital there. Once a year they come to Romania to visit his friends and family. Before WWII there was a very large Jewish population in this part of Romania (one third of Oradea), but it decreased dramatically when many were sent to work camps. It's a period of history many Romanians are vague about, saying it's when the Jews left. On a between-course walk, Madelaine and I talked about tolerance, the problems with extremists in all faiths, the need for mutual respect. She's always felt comfortable visiting Romania, she said, thanks to hospitable people like Felicia and Horia. The other guests were many of the regulars--all interesting, educated Romanians with fine senses of humor, and my colleague Connie joined the group this time, too, feeling as lucky as I that English was everyone's common-denominator language.****And speaking of the courses, first: coffee and tuica (brandy) with herb biscuits, then: a spread of many appetizers from homemade bread with zacusa (sweet pepper and eggplant condiment) to all sorts of pickled and fresh vegetables and aged sausages, next: a wonderful soup--a Romanian version of the Hungarian goulash--with chicken, peppers, carrots, onions, and all-important paprika and caraway seeds, cooked outside on the grill, followed by: the must of any gratar--miti, those little all-meat, fresh sausages cooked on the grill, and finally: cozenat (a rolled up, sweet yeast bread), my American cookies (peanut butter) and more coffee and tuica and/or affinata (blueberry liqueur). Throughout the day, arriving guests would present their homemade alcoholic specialty (brandy, red and white wine, liqueur) and sampling was always a polite thing to do, of course****One interesting side note: When we returned to my village at the end of the day, we found the streets around the park and ball field crowded with parked cars. Apparently, for many, the way to celebrate May Day was to climb into a bumper car and slam into someone! A traveling amusement company had set up a small arena and it was a most popular attraction!****May, my birth month and a beautiful one most everywhere in the world, has been well-launched, it seems. And my apartment smells really wonderful.;-)

6 comments:

  1. What a wonderful way to start a day, a week-end, and a month. Your pictures are so beautiful that I can almost smell the flowers! This is the kind of day that made living through the cold winter worth it.

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  2. I'm glad Romanians get the point of bumper cars! When I was in Russia, we found a park with them, but everyone was just driving around nicely, no crashing. So of course we Americans had to get in there and put the bump in bumper cars. We started out just crashing into each other, but all the Russian kids quickly got in on the act and thought this was great fun. The grannies, however, scolded us mercilessly. We just went laughing into the sunset, hopefully having fostered an exciting new activity at the theme park.

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  3. What a wonderful sensory experience you have given us!
    Lynn

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  4. Shame on you! Now I've drooled all over the keyboard:)

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  5. cooking soup on the grill--interesting! I feel lucky in advance, because I am sure you will cook some delicious things for us when you come back!

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