So far, I haven’t talked much about Romanian cuisine, not least because I don’t consider myself sufficiently familiar with it. However, with the letter G, comes the opportunity to talk about something that has become a significant part of our diet since we arrived in Romania:
This is a gogoșar (go-go-shar); a short, squat variety of bell pepper that is shaped rather like the Romanian doughnut from which it supposedly derives its name. It is more fleshy and flavourful than the regular variety of pepper, a difference that apparently qualifies it to be listed separately on jars of zacuscă (a kind of vegetable spread that is very popular in Romania). Clearly, gogoșari are widely grown because, along with tomatoes, they were cheaply available in every shop or supermarket and even on street corners in the height of the summer. Traditionally, they are pickled with vinegar in order to preserve them over the winter and restaurants often serve them in this form.
The letter G also brings me to a less attractive feature of Romanian life:
Gunoi. It’s everywhere. If you have ever thought that we have a litter problem in the UK, you should try coming here. Not only do they have fly-tipping off to a fine art, but every lay by and picnic site is littered with cans and bottles. The further you go into the mountains, the less of it there is. But everywhere we have been, we have found some.
To be fair to the Romanian authorities, this is not for want of trying:
‘Depositing of rubbish prohibited’ warns the first sign. ‘Fine £500-£2000’ (which is a lot of money in Romanian terms). The second sign threatens an even bigger fine, with an accompanying notice: Don’t drop rubbish. The whole fact that this needs to be said twice is indicative of the impact such signs don’t have. The sign also warns of the danger of death (pericol de moarte), but that has to do with it being a bear reservation!
We arrived at the bear reservation by accident, having no idea it was there. We’d missed the road we had intended to take because it was indistinguishable from a farm track. However, bears or (in our case) no bears, it turned out to be a very nice spot for a picnic and with very little litter!
Gunoi is a word of Slavic origin, but the origins of gogoșar are more obscure. Both words are pronounced with a hard ‘g’ (as in gate). However, as with many English words, if g is followed by either e or i, it is pronounced as a soft ‘g’ (as in giant or garage). If a hard ‘g’ is required in such instances, it is written gh, an example being gheață, meaning ice.
Whilst we did have a touch of frost this morning (welcome to October everyone!), my choice for a third word is gard. This originates from an ancient Proto-Indo-European word meaning ‘to enclose’ and probably entered the Romanian language via Dacian. The very similar Norse, Germanic and Slavic words all derive from the same root. It means…
I’ve chosen it because the high fences and gates that ‘guard’ the fronts of the houses were one of the first things I noticed about Romania. To me, they look grim and forbidding and hence detract hugely from the natural beauty of the towns and villages:
Their purpose, so we have been told, is to ‘keep the thieving gypsies out’. Certainly, they don’t seem to have a lot to do with the need for privacy, since the people frequently sit out in the street on summer afternoons and evenings chatting to passers-by. But all this just for gypsies? Really?
Whatever the thinking behind them, they have given me a lot of food for thought. They seem to me to be representative of something in human nature. Just recently, I have been reading ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and I have found it more than a little frightening to note the similarities between some of the comments I have heard concerning the Roma people and those that were used to justify the slave trade.
The Northumbria Community speaks of ‘intentional, deliberate vulnerability’ and of ‘breaking down the walls’ and both ideas have resonated with me for a long time. For as long as we are building walls to keep each other out, whether real or metaphorical, we have a problem. We cease to think of each other as fully human and the world becomes a very tragic place.
Yet we continue to do it. All of us. Churches included. We continue to resist the one thing necessary to break down the walls:
Intentional, deliberate vulnerability.