In Romania, it is now:

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Postlude III: If Only I Could Be Two People ...

...then one of me would surely still be in Romania, enjoying the friendship of some truly wonderful folks. My last four days in Oradea and Sintandrei (after finishing the Unitarian tour and bidding my fellow pilgrims goodbye in Targu-Mures) were a happy blur, starting with a good visit with Veronica Thursday night over dinner on the pedestrian mall in Oradea. We caught up on many details of our lives, summer travels, school gossip, and found so many things to laugh about. Vera has a lovely sense of humor, her dark eyes sparkling with amusement at life's ironies. I stayed at the new Ramada close to her apartment that night and was tickled that I had chosen not only the weekend of the Palinka and Wine Festival in Oradea (Toamna Oradeana), but also the Octoberfest sponsored by Ramada right in its parking lot!*** The next day, Friday, I had my trusted friend/taxi driver deliver me to my friends' home in nearby Sintandrei. Ana and Petre, their daughter Raluca and her husband Mihai had invited me to stay with them during this trip, and I was happy to be a part of their family for a few days. Only Petre was there when I arrived, the others at work, and he gave me a warm welcome, but I was soon off to my old school just a short walk away. It was wonderful to see the students, the faculty, and principal. I had candy corn and Halloween stickers for the kids, but they gave me the best gifts--enthusiastic hugs! They wanted to know if I were "back for the year," and I felt sincere regret in having to say no. And it was the European Foreign Language Day! So I watched their presentation in the media center at noon. Vera and my former colleague Andrada, the documentarian, organized the program with a power point presentation and readings.*** Friday night with Vera's help I arranged for a dinner at the Mushroom Restaurant (Ciuperca) on a hillside overlooking the city. Felicia, my teacher friend from the scholastic high school in Oradea, her husband Horia, Vera, Mihai, Raluca, Ana, Petre, and Alina, their other daughter were my guests for a festive meal. I had no idea just HOW festive as an alumni group of musicians occupied half the restaurant with music, singing, and dancing as part of their program. At first I worried that we wouldn't be able to talk, but as the evening wore on, I could see that my guests were enjoying the show and I relaxed and enjoyed it, too. These good friends were so generous to me while I was in Romania last year and I wanted to at least show my gratitude with a little dinner party--such a small token! They deserved more.*** The next morning I found myself in my robe having coffee in Ana's kitchen bright and early with a gathering of their relatives I'd never met! It was corn harvesting day! We hit the field and worked for a few hours before coming back to the garden table for a huge breakfast, and then back to the field to finish up. Mihai's brothers, one of their wives, and a niece all helped out with good humor and great appreciation for Ana's excellent cooking. The weather was perfect and I thoroughly enjoyed this bit of farm labor with good company.*** Later I watched Mihai's niece Edina prepare for her troupe's dance performance at the festival that night. So much ironing of the many layers, many ruffles and yardage of the beautiful costume. Actually getting into the whole ensemble wasn't easy either! Watching her dance at the festival was special after observing all the necessary work beforehand. And the festival was fun. Besides the dances from many villages, stalls all over the park offered tastings of palinka and wine from small wineries and stills. The wonderful Hungarian tube bread with various coatings was being baked on site and the aroma permeated the air. Cotton candy and candied apples and bon bons were all around. Why are these people not more rotund?? Then we joined Vera and her friend and daughter back at the Octoberfest site for a round of German beer and sausage and German patriotic music. Bidding farewell to Veronica was the only sad part of the day. (Photos of the weekend) *** Sunday morning I was delighted to learn that Ana and Petre would also come along with us to Budapest to deliver me to the airport there. They--in their mid fifties--had never been to the city and Mihai decided it was a good time for them to see the sights! So we were a jolly group making the 2 1/2 hour drive in Mihai's comfortable car on a fast toll road. What a difference from the shuttle van I've taken before slowly through many small villages! We teased Ana who was nervous about the speed of our travel, something she wasn't used to. Finally it was time to say goodbye. They came into the airport with me, Ana giving me a bag of fruit to take along, and all of us having good hugs and double kisses. I wish these dear souls lived closer. I can envision returning for special times--Vera's wedding, the house blessing of Mihai and Raluca's new home, their child's christening--but I know distance and practicality get in the way. Still, I'm hoping to see Vera next April if she can meet me in Verona where Lee will be teaching for three weeks, and Mihai thinks the house is coming along and should be ready in a year or so, so who knows? The pull of friendship is strong and can shrink the globe in remarkable ways. Peace to all. May you be grateful citizens of this planet Earth. May you live a beautiful poem.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Postlude II: The Village

The destination of our Unitarian pilgrimage was Okland, a small village of around 1500 residents, nearly all Hungarian and members of the Unitarian congregation of our partner church. I wasn't sure what to expect since the word "village" is used to describe a number of different smaller settlements throughout Romania. But Okland fits well the American vision of a European village, right down to the cows coming home down the main road at dusk, the geese honking their welcome, and small gardens overflowing with flowers and vegetables. (Photos) It was first mentioned in 1546, but has remains of Roman structures and was apparently a frequent haunt of Attila the Hun whose favorite wife, according to legend, is buried here. The sanctuary of the Unitarian church of the village, our partner, is from the Romanesque era and was altered around the turn of the 16th century in late Gothic style. In 1938 it was doubled in size, but in keeping with the style of the old section. What impresses the visitor is the abundant use of embroidered decorative cloths, red on white, the bright blue paint, and the wonderful ceiling tiles, wood panels painted with nature and folk motifs. These panels were the subject of much debate, apparently, when the 1938 expansion took place. Many did not want to replace the panels, opting for a newer, more elegant look, but thankfully, the minister and other elders were adamant about keeping them and won out. We were glad to be present for a communion service there, led by both our and their ministers, and to exchange gifts, songs, and well wishes with the members. It was a moving service, especially after we had learned their history, the difficulties of trying to meet during the communist era and then later to maintain autonomy and survive in a country 87% Orthodox.****We were hosted by various villagers during our four-day stay, and my friend Anna and I, being the "walkers" in the group, were situated at the home of Rosalia and her husband on the outskirts of town. We liked the walk to the parsonage and church--over the river, past a school and several homes, beside a park, and around the bend to the pretty churchyard garden. The weather couldn't have been more perfect--bright blue skies with sunshine and breezes in the day and a nip in the night air that made sleeping under the farm house quilts feel cozy, especially when Rosalia offered to boil some water for my trusty hot water bottle. Though the villagers all spoke Hungarian, Rosalia and I could communicate on a very basic level in Romanian, a fact most satisfying (and a bit amusing, given my inadequacies) to me. Mostly we relied on a bright young interpreter who was with us during mealtimes. Meals, by the way, ALL meals were preceded by a shot of palinka (strong plum brandy) to aid the appetite and digestion. I could happily accept at lunch and dinner, but at breakfast, I just had to decline. I'm not a "morning person" and struggle with the aid of coffee to wake up. The last thing I need is something that crosses my eyes and makes me want to head back to the pillow.***** Overall, our stay was informative and pleasant, an opportunity to examine our own commitment to our beliefs, a time to come to know and appreciate each other better, a chance to test our willingness to grow--elements, of course, common to all pilgrimages. The tour/pilgrimage ended with our leaving the village for Targu-Mures where the others would begin their return flights to the US. I, however, was given a ride to Cluj where I would take a train, probably my last in Romania, to Oradea to visit dear friends in the area. Part III will be about this bitter-sweet weekend.