Wild about Transylvania 2

It’s been cooler here this past few days, so I’ve been able to get out a bit more and take some photographs. I continue to be fascinated by the similarities and differences in the local wildlife as compared with the Somerset Levels.

Farms on the Somerset Levels were once major producers of teasels for the wool industry. These were cultivated teasels, Dipsacus sativus, which are better for that purpose than the wild type, Dipsacus fullonum. They were grown up until the 1980s, but have since disappeared, leaving only the wild type, which are pinky, mauve colour:

Common Teasel Suffolk geograph-2520655-by-Shazz

Here in Transylvania, we have found a different type altogether. This is the Cut-leaved Teasel, Dipsacus laciniatus:

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Cut-leaved Teasel: Dipsacus laciniatus

Laciniatus refers to its toothed leaves, but its bracts are also straighter, giving a more spiky effect. This is how it looked from the top:

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Cut-leaved Teasel: Dipsacus laciniatus

The Cut-leaved teasel is native to this area. However, the Black Locust tree, Robinia pseudoacacia, is not. It’s native to SE USA, but has been widely planted and naturalised elsewhere, including Romania. It thrives in hot, sunny weather and can be recognised by its compound leaves (with many smooth-edged leaflets) and by its thorns:

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Black Locust: Robinia pseudoacacia

One of the reasons it has become naturalised here is because it is grown to produce honey. Apparently, it’s very good honey, too, which might explain why there are so many beekeepers:

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Bee hives at Luna de Sus

The Black Locust is not in flower at present, however, so the bees must make do with  a plant that is much more familiar in Somerset:

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Bird’s Foot Trefoil: Lotus corniculatus

As for the bears, who knows? They may be down in the woods picnicking on honey at this very moment…

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Forests of the Apuseni Mountains

 

City of contrasts

We had some paperwork to sort out in Cluj today, so took a wander round the lake near the Julius Mall.

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This is the most recently developed part of the town. The Julius Mall itself is all shiny and new and looks very Western. Then, across the lake, there is the ‘Riviera Luxury’ – a newly built luxury apartment block:

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And the development is ongoing, as the presence of the cranes testifies.

Yet, in the midst of all this, there are still a few ramshackle houses with the ubiquitous beans, tomatoes and cucumbers growing in the garden. Not rows of terraces, cottages or suburban houses, like you’d see in England. Just a small single-storey village-type dwelling marooned in the midst of the city.

And then, in other parts of the city, there are the huge, grey, factory apartment blocks of the communist era, many of which make the likes of Grenfell Tower look like paradise. Here’s one in Manastur, next to the bus stop where we changed buses:

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It was factory workers from blocks like these that marched into the centre of Cluj on 21/22 December 1989, a couple of days before the revolution climaxed in Bucaresti. 26 people died and 57 were injured when the security forces opened fire in Cluj.

So Cluj, like so many others, is a city of contrasts. It’s also a city with much more to it than I have shown here, dating as it does from before the Roman conquest of 106 AD. But there is only so much of it one can see at once!

Wild about Transylvania

One of the first things I noticed on our ‘walks’ in and around the village was the abundance of wild chicory:

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Wild chicory: Cichorium intybus

We’d seen this in Worcester before we left, but it had been planted specially, as part of a wildflower mix. Here, it is simply part of the landscape, as can be seen in the following pictures:

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These conical haystacks are also to be found everywhere – in both fields and gardens. And the white flowers are mostly wild carrot, which also grows in abundance:

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Fields in Cluj County, Romania

You can tell it by the purplish coloured flower at the centre of the white umbrel:

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Wild Carrot: Daucus Carota

And because it curls up into these wonderful bird nest shapes when it is going to seed:

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Wild Carrot: Daucus Carota

I also spotted some knapweed up on the hill amongst the wild carrot. I think this is the brown variety:

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Brown Knapweed: Centaurea Jacea

Of course, the abundance of wildflowers attracts bees and other insects, with the bees being particularly fond of the knapweed and chicory:

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I saw a number of butterflies as well as other wildflowers on my excursion this morning, but the former had clearly taken lessons in avoided the paparazzi and flitted away before I could get close enough to identify them!

However, I was able to catch a good enough view of the red-backed shrike to recognise him before he disappeared. This was a ‘first’ for me, as these are now a very rare sight in the UK, having only bred there a couple of times since the 1960s. However, I understand they are a common sight here, so I’ve borrowed a photograph in order to show him off:

 

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Male Red-backed Shrike: Lanius Collurio: Photo by Antonis Tsaknakis (released under a Creative Commons License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

New beginnings

It’s been almost a year since I last blogged. There have been a number of reasons for this, not least that I have been trying to learn Romanian – something that takes some considerable time!

The reason? Well, it all started with a sense of restlessness. The Bible says of the wind that it ‘blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.’ And that’s how it felt with us. Then, last summer, my husband returned from a two-week excursion to Transylvania with the possible offer of a job and we decided we’d go for it.

So here we are, a year later, in Romania, having spent the last couple of months packing up our belongings and getting our house in Somerset ready for rental.

We flew out on Monday, leaving a suitably chilly England to land at Cluj-Napoca airport in temperatures approaching 40 degrees centrigrade. We were met by a Romanian pastor and his family and taken to their home in a village a few miles outside the city; the place where we are now living.

We were given a wonderful welcome in true Romanian style – a good meal and everyone talking at once! This is a particularly interesting experience when more than one language is being spoken!

Since then, we have mostly been unpacking and sorting things out. We’ve not had a lot of opportunity to explore yet, partly because the weather has been so hot. (I’m allowed to say that because even the Romanians think it is hot at the moment). Here in the village, we are a little cooler than Cluj itself. Nonetheless, the temperature reached 37 C in the shade yesterday and is now 38 C. Thankfully, it is not that warm indoors, although the temperature has been rising all week and the house no longer feels cool. Just cooler than outside!

Meanwhile, our adjustment to the 2-hour time difference has been helped enormously by the cockerel in the garden next door, who wakes at about 5 am and clearly thinks that everyone else should too! He shares his plot of land with some hens, a cow and a couple of goats. Also, two dogs. We thought we heard geese the first morning, but we haven’t actually seen these. It could be that they live next door on the other side.

This traditional way of life exists side by side but in direct contrast with the hypermarket up the road in Floresti. This is bigger than any I have seen in the UK, although it has to be said that I’m used to rural Somerset, where such things simply don’t exist! The last time I saw something of a similar size was in Texas.

The city is also undergoing a massive expansion, with buildings going up everywhere, often with little thought as to how they will look in their surroundings. Floresti is also growing fast, with the result that the road between here and Cluj becomes heavily clogged with traffic and it can take well over an hour by bus or car to cover the 10 miles to the city centre.

So we have come to a country of massive contrasts, more about which I will share in future posts. For now, just a few pictures; snatched in the morning and evening when the weather is more tolerable:

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Biserica Reformata-Calvina, Luna de Sus, dating from 1320

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Horse with haycart drinking at ford

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The road goes ever on and on: Looking over the village, with Cluj in the distance

 

Apples

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James Grieve apples

As mentioned in my last post, we have a small apple tree in the garden. It’s now the fourth summer after it was planted and, much to my surprise, it has produced an excellent crop. I’m surprised because the weather was pretty miserable when it was in flower and there was hardly a pollinator to be seen, but it seems at least one must have sneaked into the garden when I wasn’t looking.

It’s a triple tree, meaning that three different types have been grafted into the same stem – James Grieve, Cox’s Orange Pippin and Katy. In its first year, we had one apple – a James Grieve. In its second year, it produced a couple of Katy apples. Last year, we had about a dozen James Grieve. This year, the whole tree produced so many baby apples that I had to thin them out! This is exciting for me because it’s the first year that the Cox has bothered to produce and I’m looking forward to the results!

Today I decided to pick the James Grieve. Over the past 2-3 weeks, we’ve had a few fallers, both Cox and James Grieve,  most of them with worms inside. Everything worth saving on these has ended up either in the stew pot or in fruit crumble, along with several of the Cox that I picked early because I could see the worm holes. This morning, though, I found two perfectly good James Grieve apples on the lawn. Apparently, the tree got stressy after yesterday’s heat and decided to start throwing its apples about. So, since they bruise so easily and appeared to be ripe, I decided not to wait for a repeat performance. According to the internet, they aren’t supposed to be ready until September, but I don’t think my tree knows this. It did exactly the same last year.

Today’s pickings? Eighteen apples weighing a combined total of 6lb. Not bad for a little tree. Here it is:

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Triple apple tree

The picture was taken in mid July. It’s mostly the James Grieve that you can see, though there are some Cox’s Orange Pippin behind. We have about twenty of those still left on the tree.

The Katy only  has three apples. This is because it hasn’t grown very much and is the smallest part of the tree. However, all three apples are a good size.

And how do the James Grieve taste? Well, I’m happy with them just as they are, but the experts on the internet say they should be used for cooking when picked early and I think my husband would concur. It would seem that not all of us sit eating chunks of cooking apple when we are supposed to be putting them in the pot…

Mysterious goings on

The night before last, somebody came into the garden and dug up one of my carrots. Just one. Which they left next to the hole so that the garden gastropods could have a nice feast. I found it there yesterday afternoon.

So now I have a curious mystery to solve: Who did it? And why?

I mean, the vegetable garden is in full view of the street and I’ve often thought that anyone wandering past could quite easily help themselves to tomatoes (last year) or beans (this year) if they had a mind to. All they’d have to do is reach out their hand. Then there’s the little apple tree. They’d have to be slightly more adventurous to reach that, but it wouldn’t wholly surprise me if we woke up one morning and found that someone had taken it into their heads to pinch some apples or knock them all off the tree for the sheer hell of it. But they haven’t. Instead, I’ve had several people stop by and say how well everything is doing and what a good idea it is to have a vegetable patch in the front garden. (We don’t have a back garden). Or they tell me how pretty the vegetable patch looks with the flowers as well or how good grilled courgettes taste – have I tried them?

And now, to cap it all, I’ve had a carrot very carefully dug up for me!

Why?

It makes no sense. If, for example, it was a four-footed beastie, why didn’t they eat it? Are my carrots really that bad?

Interestingly, my next door neighbour has had the odd plant dug up in the night as well. Again, no damage. Just dug up and left. For no reason. (Or none that we can see).

It’s all very mysterious.

These aliens that supposedly carry out experiments, are they not very good at putting things back when they have finished with them?

Did my carrot not pass quality control?

Have they signed a secret agreement with the gastropods as part of their plan for world domination?

That must be it. I mean, I also have a scab on my knee. Not just a little scratch, but a proper scab, as if I’d grazed it somehow. It’s even a bit sore if I kneel on it. Yet I have absolutely no memory of how it got there.

It’s the aliens! It has to be the aliens! They must have been in a hurry when they brought me back…

Unless it was the garden gnomes, just trying to be helpful?

 

 

Wuthering Heights revisited

View from Top Withens - by Graham Hogg

View from Top Withins by Graham Hogg

Wild, windswept solitude; a place where the spirit runs free. That, for me, was the original attraction of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. I was a young teenager when I first read the book and was gripped from the start. My English teacher had asked that we read just a few chapters at a time so that we could discuss it as we went along. However, I finished the book within a couple of days, apparently no more capable of restraint than some of the characters I was reading about.

Earlier this year, when I was too ill to do much else, I decided to read it again. I could remember almost nothing of it: A vague impression of wild and windy moorland and a ghostly Catherine crying through the window at night was all that I could recall, so I wanted to remind myself of the story and find out whether it still held the same magic as it did nearly forty years ago.

It began well. Emily was a great storyteller, of that there is no doubt. However, the more I read of the story, the more I began to lose sympathy with its characters, continuing to read only out of a somewhat morbid fascination as to how it would all turn out. Whilst I had been dimly aware that there was a darker side to the lives of Catherine and Heathcliff, I was completely unprepared for the depth of ugliness into which the tale descends. For me, it began to read like a nineteenth century version of Twilight in which Edward is rejected by Bella and spends the following years taking long, slow and painful revenge on everyone with whom she is connected.

Perhaps because of this, I found the end a little disappointing at first. Having painted such a remarkable portrait of her anti-hero, it felt almost as if Emily was disposing of him simply in order to set the young people free and hence bring the story to a satisfying close. That such an apparently strong and focused individual should end as he did, didn’t feel entirely believable. As Nellie puts it in the penultimate chapter:

He was neither in danger of losing his senses, nor dying, according to my judgement: he was quite strong and healthy; and, as to his reason, from childhood he had a delight in dwelling on dark things, and entertaining odd fancies. He might have had a monomania on the subject of his departed idol; but on every other point his wits were as sound as mine.

On further reflection, however, it occurred to me that this is exactly how depressive illness can look from the outside. Those looking in often have no idea what is going on in the mind of the person who is ill until the depression overwhelms them.

The book was written at a time when mental illness and suicide were very poorly understood. It wasn’t until 1823, for example, when Emily was five, that those who had taken their own life could be buried in consecrated ground. Even then, it was far from generally accepted that they would ‘rest in peace’ and they were frequently buried, without ceremony, in an out-of-the-way corner of the churchyard where there was little risk of anyone encountering their unquiet souls.

It’s against this kind of background that Emily is using her characters to explore the tensions between true love and the restraints of early Victorian society; between suicidal ideation and popular belief, taboo and superstition. Catherine, for example, does not marry below her station and Heathcliff – an orphan – is shunned. Similarly, Catherine is buried, ‘to the surprise of the villagers’, in a neglected corner of the churchyard. Of Hindley, it is said that, by rights, his body ‘should be buried at a crossroads without ceremony of any kind’ and of Heathcliff that his burial was ‘without ceremony’.

In the light of this, the words of Lockwood in the closing paragraph of the book are worthy of note:

I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth.

Ultimately, perhaps, Emily uses Heathcliff’s demise not so much to bring about the redemption of the young people as to provide for the possibility of his own redemption and that of Catherine, Hindley and (by extension) all those who are tempted by suicide? If so, it’s a more powerful book than I ever realised.

‘The soft wind breathing through the grass.’

As I have said, it was the wild, moorland beauty that originally captured my imagination in Wuthering Heights. Some years later, I was to end up living for a short time in the village where Emily Brontë wrote the book. This was not by design. I had no idea that Haworth was the home of the Brontë family before moving there. Nor did I know anything about the area. Yet of all the places I have lived, it remains my favourite. My love for the moors has never died.

Ruins of Forks House - Haworth Moor - by Graham Hogg

Ruins of Forks House by Graham Hogg

A week ago, my youngest daughter graduated from York University. This is a good few hours away from Somerset by car and the unforgiving nature of the ME/CFS meant that there was no way I was going to make it to the graduation without some careful planning. So we elected to spend a week in the Yorkshire Dales – Nidderdale to be precise – and to break the journey both there and back with an overnight stay half way. This worked well. So, after more years than I care to count, we found ourselves back in the Yorkshire Dales. (Some may have noticed my absence from the blogs).

Nidderdale was beautiful, though not as wild and bleak as Haworth Moor:

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Not quite Wuthering Heights revisited, then 😉 However, on the way home, I just couldn’t resist a visit to the village we once called home:

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