Author Archives: Ros

Romanian A-Z: I

Today’s star of the show comes last. None-the-less, my first word has a magic of its own. It’s izbucni, which means ‘erupt’ or ‘burst out’. It’s a word that comes from the Bulgarian izbukna (meaning the same thing) and I chose it simply because I love the sound of it. No English word sounds anything like it, which is more than can be said for indirect, indiscret and infalibil!

My second word is iepure which currently stars on one of the Romanian stamps:

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It’s the rabbit (or hare) and it’s pronounced as if you were saying the i (as ee) and the e (as in bed) one after the other very quickly.

The same applies for the word ieri, which I’ve chosen for the Valerea Ierii (The Valley of Yesterday) which we visited this afternoon. Our first view of it was a few days ago, when we were on the hills above it:

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Today, we went down into the valley/village itself, where the autumn colours looked spectacular, particularly where we were able to catch them in the late afternoon sunshine:

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It’s a beautiful valley and the mountains, the forests and the colours were truly awe-inspiring!

It’s no wonder that experiences in the Carpathian Mountains are said to have provided the final inspiration for Stuart K Hine to pen these words:

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:

Then sings my soul my Saviour God to thee
How great thou art! How great thou art!

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Romanian A-Z: H

For H, I have decided on a single word, har, chosen because I wanted to share with you the following music video.

When I first started to learn Romanian, before we came here, there came a point where I became bored with asking for tickets for trains that I was probably never going to catch, so I decided to look into other ways of learning. That’s when I came across this song: Mărețul Har.

It’s based on Chris Tomlin’s version of Amazing Grace and it’s one of the best Christian music videos I’ve ever seen. Romanians do music well. Very well. There is no question but that the gifts of these young people have been well nurtured.

Which is interesting because, as far as I can make out (and I am no expert), ‘gift’ or ‘talent’ is precisely what the word har means in its ordinary human sense. It’s only when speaking of God that its meaning becomes much bigger; as if all that is good and beautiful finds its origin, its fulness and its perfection in God.

Amazing Grace. Mărețul Har.

Not words we hear very often these days. In fact, in the light of all that has been happening in our world of late, this might seem like a very strange choice of song. How can anyone even think of singing about God’s ‘amazing’ grace in a world such as this?

It’s a good question.

There’s a sense in which such words seem… empty… out of touch.

And yet…

As Samwise Gamgee expressed it in The Lord of the Rings film:

It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo,
The ones that really mattered.
Full of darkness and danger they were
And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end
Because how could the end be happy?
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened?
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass.
A new day will come.
And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer…

For me, it’s about hope. It’s about holding onto something that is stronger than darkness and evil and death. Ultimately, it’s about the mercy and forgiveness and justice and peace and love that have the ability to transform our world, whether we have a choir and orchestra to sing about them or not.

Mărețul Har!

 

 

 

Romanian A-Z: G

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:

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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:

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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!

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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…

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… fence!

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:

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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.

Romanian A-Z: F

F is the first letter of another of my favourite Romanian words: fluture. I love it because of its resemblance to the English ‘flutterer’ which, in this case, seems particularly apt:

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Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)

These little guys rarely stay still long enough to have their photograph taken, which is why I have yet to catch one with its wings open. However, they are extremely common in the meadows and grass verges here and hence live up to their name.

This, I think, is a Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas):

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It’s hard to be sure, because, like their blue cousins, fluttering by is what they seem to like to do best! Again, I’ve seen quite a lot of them on my walks, but not close enough to really study them. As the summer has worn on, with the ground growing ever drier, there have been fewer flowers open for them to feed from.

Interestingly, whilst fluture is thought to be related to the Albanian flutur (butterfly) and the Latin fluito (float), the word ‘flutter’ comes from an Old English word, flote or flota (also meaning float). This, in turn, is related to both Old Norse (flota) and Old High German (flozzan). These similarities suggest to me a common root and last time I looked into this I found an article suggesting that the word originated in the Carpathian Mountains (i.e. Romania), but I cannot say if that is true or not.

In contrast, there seems to be little linguistic agreement on European words for butterfly, but I can’t help feeling that the Romanians win on this one, with their ‘flutter-by’!

Speckled Wood Butterfly (2)

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

My second choice for F moves from faună to floră and floare frumoasă (beautiful/pretty flower):

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This is an Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale) or Brândușa de Toamnă. We first stumbled upon some near a patch of woodland on one of the hills overlooking Luna de Sus. More recently, I came upon these, also growing wild:

They are very poisonous due to their colchicine content. The symptoms resemble those of arsenic poisoning, although the drug can be used to treat gout.

My third word for F is furtună. The reason for this is that we’ve had quite a few of these in the past few days. On Sunday, western Romania was hit by a particularly fierce one:

http://www.business-review.eu/news/video-western-romania-hit-by-powerful-storm-8-dead-dozens-injured-147930

As this shows, the winds that accompany these summer storms can be quite scary. Linked to a sudden change in temperature, they seem to come out of nowhere, which is something I find quite unnerving. On Sunday afternoon in Cluj, the temperature was a psaltry 30+ degrees C. Less than an hour later, it had plunged to less than 20. Not weather I was particularly used to in SW England!

We’ve heard and seen quite a bit of thunder, lightning and heavy rain since, the latter being extremely good news. The above article doesn’t mention them, but other reports on Sunday’s storms suggested that the lightning sparked a number of wildfires.

Romanian A-Z: E (a note about pronunciation)

In my last A-Z blog, I talked about our expedition to the historical settlements of Criș and Sighișoara, focusing primarily on the characteristics of the Saxon buildings. As a result, I didn’t say much about the pronunciation of excursie, expediție and explorare. So, for the sake of those who enjoy the language side of things…

Romanian spelling being phonetic, the letter e is almost always pronounced ‘eh’ as in ‘bed’. Unlike English, this also applies at the end of words:

Excursie – ex-coor-see-eh
Expediție – ex-pe-deets-ee-eh
Explorare – ex-plo-rah-reh

However, there are a few instances, at the beginning of words, when ‘e’ is pronouced ‘yeh’ or ‘y’ instead:

I am – Eu sunt – yeu soont
He is – El este – yel yes-teh
She is – Ea este – yah yes-teh

As it happens, the pronouns Eu, El and Ea aren’t used much, anyway. The person to whom the speaker is referring is indicated by the verb, adjective or context instead. For example:

He is my brother: Este fratele meu
I am his sister: Sunt sora sa

This is just as well because I struggled with the pronunciation of Eu at first. I suspect it may be easier for those who speak Welsh, but I’ll come to that in a later post.

 

Someșul Cald

Yet another sunny day today, so we decided to head a few miles out into the hills. Just beyond the village of Gilău, there is the Gilău reservoir, formed from the Someșul Rece (Cold Someș) and Someșul Cald (Warm Someș) rivers. Just beyond that, is the Someșul Cald Reservoir, one of three formed from that river:

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We took a road up the valley where this chap was fishing…

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… where we found one of the streams that feed the Someșul Cald:

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It was very peaceful.

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The water from the stream has a long and winding journey ahead of it before it reaches the sea. First it flows East via the Someșul Cald to Gilău, where it joins the Someșul Mic (Little Someș), which continues East to Cluj-Napoca. It then turns North and joins the Someșul Mare (Great Someș) to form the Someș River at Dej. The Someș flows Northwest out of Romania into Hungary, where it joins the Tisza. This flows South through Hungary to Serbia, where it joins the Danube, which flows East along the Southern border of Romania and finally into the Black Sea.

Amazing to think of the number of creatures that this water helps to support as it makes its journey!

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Romanian A-Z: E

As with D, many Romanian E words resemble their English translations, including expediție (expedition), excursie (excursion) and explorare (exploration). This is convenient because, over this past weekend, we have been on our first major expedition since we arrived in Romania.

Last Friday, our car still wasn’t on the road, so our ‘landlord’ very kindly drove us the 100 miles to Criș, a little village not far from Sighișoara. We had been invited to stay in one of the old Saxon cottages for the weekend so that we could help clear some rubbish from the garden.

The cottage had, as the Estate Agents would say, ‘many character features’:

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It also offered a number of other benefits, including easily accessible wildlife:

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Swallows’ nest just inside the porch

And a prime location in a historic village.

Or, to put it another way, it had mains electricity and hence kettle and fridge, but a thunder storm on Sunday afternoon meant going to bed by candlelight and having a longer wait for coffee on Monday morning:

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In fact, the whole experience reminded me somewhat of the guide camps of my youth: basic washing facilities, meals cooked on wood fires and hot sun followed by thunder storms. The only real difference was that we had solid shelter. And it was solid, too, unlike some other local properties:

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The reason for such dilapidation is that Criș is in a part of Romania that was previously inhabited by Saxon (i.e. German-speaking) people, most of whom left during the Communist era or soon afterwards. (More about this here). As a result, many of their properties fell into disrepair and neglect and only now are being refurbished.

They have a number of distinctive features, including the tiling, the chimney pots and the presence of arches, which often join one property to the next:

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We also noticed that many of them have a simple Latin cross on the outside, just below the roof, although the cross on one of the above cottages is more like those we have seen associated with the Romanian Orthodox church, being more ornate and having the sun’s rays at its centre.

Criș also has a castle, which we went to explore on Sunday afternoon:

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(The photos have been ‘enhanced’ to make the stonework stand out more).

If you are interested, you can read more about the castle’s history and architecture here and here. It is now open to visitors and (as we understood it) is slowly being refurbished with a view to reopening as a Franciscan ‘House of Peace’ in a few years’ time. (The lady on the door only spoke Hungarian, so we weren’t able to find out the details).

On Monday, we took a taxi to nearby Sighișoara, where we enjoyed the luxury of a night in a hotel in the walled citadel:

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As you can see below, the citadel is also of Saxon origin. Sighișoara was first listed as a Saxon settlement in 1191 and then as a town (built on the site of a Roman fort) in 1280. The clock tower dates from around that time.

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And that brings me to the end of our Saxon adventure.

Several of my friends have commented on previous posts that Romania ‘looks beautiful’. I’m not going to dispute that because there are plenty of very beautiful places in Romania and because we enjoyed our weekend in Criș and Sighișoara very much. However, to help put things in perspective, I took a few photos out of the window on our way back:

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From these, you can see that tractors do exist here (and hold up the traffic on major routes, just like they do in Somerset!), that hedges between fields do not and that many of the hills are as bare as any in England and less green. Unlike England, lots are still tree-covered, but preserving the ancient forests is an uphill struggle in a country where the winters are cold and gas expensive. In short, as everywhere, humans have made a considerable impact on the landscape and they continue to do so.