Category Archives: Culture

Romanian A-Z: Paște

I ended my last blog post with a visit to a cave and the promise of new life, which seemed strangely appropriate on the day before Easter. In Romania, Easter, or Paște,  is celebrated according to the calendar of the Orthodox Church, which is based on the Julian calendar. Hence, this year, it fell a week later than in the Western churches.

In Romania, it dawned clear and bright, prompting a friend to joke that ‘the Orthodox have it right this year!’ However, with the Hungarian population celebrating Easter with the Western churches, life can get more than a little complicated in Transylvania at this time of year. Another friend commented that entering Holy week when your friends and relatives are already celebrating the resurrection is a bit like trying to live with a split personality – and I know what she means! I can’t help feeling that the churches should sort this one out for once and for all. In a country where history, culture and language already divide Hungarians and Romanians, the last thing we need is to be celebrating Easter on different days!

Paște. It’s one of the biggest festivals in Romania. Traditionally, celebrations include midnight mass on Saturday, after which the priest emerges with a ‘resurrection’ candle. This is used to light candles among the congregation that are shared among neighbours and friends with the words ‘Hristos a înviat‘ (Christ has risen), to which the response is given, ‘Adevărat, a înviat‘ (Indeed, he has risen).

In the Methodist Church, which is relatively new to Romania, we had a Communion service on Good Friday (Mare Vineri) evening with meditations on the crucifixion. Then, Sunday morning, another Communion service during which we, too, shared candles. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to share the light of the resurrection with my readers – and with it, the hope of transformation and renewal that Jesus brings to us and our world.

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Hristos a înviat! Paște fericit și binecuvântat!

Another Easter tradition in Romania is to paint or dye hard-boiled eggs (usually red) during Holy Week and then ‘crack’ them on Easter Sunday. One person knocks the tip of their egg against the tip of another person’s egg. It is said that the person whose egg remains unbroken at the end will have a happy and healthy life. Naturally, children continue to enjoy this tradition – especially if their egg remains unbroken!

Traditionally, Sunday dinner is roast lamb (Jesus being the Lamb). Traditional Easter cakes include pască (a kind of cheesecake, usually marked with a cross) and cozonac. We haven’t tried making either of these, yet, but we did buy some of the latter. It’s like a cross between bread and cake, which suits me fine because it’s not too sweet 🙂

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Romanian A-Z: Martie

Towards the end of February, Duncan came home from the supermarket with a bottle of chefir around which was tied a red and white cord:

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‘Why the red cord?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know,’ he replied, ‘but they were all like it.’

A few days later, all was revealed. Suddenly my Facebook feed was alive with red and white cords and good wishes. In Romania, 1st March is ‘Mărțișor‘. The name is the diminutive form of marț, the old name for martie or March and literally means ‘little March’. It’s a celebration that marks – or looks forward to – the beginning of spring.

Traditionally, people in country villages would exchange these cords, tying them to their clothing, their gate or their barn to protect against evil spirits and to invoke nature’s regenerative power. It was believed that anyone who wore such a cord would be given health and strength in the coming year. The cord would be worn until the end of March or until the first tree buds began to open and then would be tied to a fruit tree to ensure a good harvest.

Nowadays, particularly in urban areas, the mărțișor is seen more as symbol of love, friendship and respect and is exchanged as such, along with messages such as ‘un mărțișor fericit și o primăvară frumoasă‘ (Happy mărțișor and a beautiful spring). Unlike St David’s day, it’s also associated more with snowdrops than with daffodils!

The tradition is believed to go back to ancient times and similar traditions are also found in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, Albania and Moldova. Some argue it has Roman origins, some that it has Thracian or Dacian origins. Wherever it comes from, it clearly reflects the unpredictability of the March weather and the longing for spring. In essence, it’s not unlike the ancient British Imbolc/Brigid’s day festival of 2nd February that also celebrates the coming of spring and involves the blessing of home and hearth.

This year, it corresponded with the coldest night of the winter (at -16 C), kindly brought to us by the Beast from the East. It was followed by International Women’s Day on 8th March, when the shops were full of flowers and other gifts of the sort I would normally associate with Mothering Sunday. (Mother’s Day doesn’t come until May 6th). Then some rather warmer days, when a few brave primroses began to open… only for the Beast to come creeping back to decorate the trees ready for the Equinox:

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There is a saying in Romania when the weather has been mild and suddenly turns cold: ‘Iarna n-a mâncat-o lupul’ – the wolf hasn’t eaten the winter. Well, I can’t help feeling it’s about time he did. True, he seemed to have a jolly good go in December and January, but perhaps that’s the problem? He was full and didn’t fancy dessert?

Whatever, I can’t help feeling that some more seasonable temperatures would be nice. It’s not so much that I don’t like snow. I love the stuff! But there is a time and a season for everything. Right now, it’s the colours I miss. Blue sky. Green grass. Bright spring flowers…

So, Mr Wolf, if you’re not going to eat the winter yourself, I’d appreciate it if you’d wake up Mr Bear and see if you can get him to send the Beast packing!

 

Romanian A-Z: L and a visit to the Parc Etnografic

Yes, I know. Neither ‘Parc‘ nor ‘Etnografic‘ begin with L. Also, it’s been some time since I last blogged… and even longer since we visited said park! Before Christmas, other things in life took over and it’s taken me a little while to get back to where I left off…

In this case, L for lebeniță:

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I chose to talk about this because its popularity at the end of last summer led me to discover that it has a number of different names in Romania. Language apps will tell you that it is un pepene roșu (a name that comes from Latin). The family here tell me that, in Transylvania, it is called o lebeniță. Others will tell you that it’s o lubeniță. (Both these are related to the Bulgarian). Then, up near the border with Moldova, it’s un harbuz (from the Ukrainian).

Whatever you choose to call it, unless you have grown it yourself, you will need some of these to buy one:

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The leu – plural lei. The word also means lion, as might be guessed from its resemblance to the Latin leo and the Welsh lleu. In pronunciation, though, it’s more like the Welsh llew, a vowel sound not really found in English. The above note is equivalent to 100 bani and worth about 20 pence, so you’d need an awful lot of them to buy…

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Lemn. In many senses, the life blood of the people of Romania. The above pile is just part of what has been keeping us warm through the winter and horses pulling carts of wood were a very common sight in the villages through October and November. Duncan has commented more than once about so much ‘quality wood’ (beech, for example) going up in smoke, but the fact remains that one burns what’s available when one’s life depends upon it.

Meanwhile, a visit to the Parcul Etnografic Național in Cluj-Napoca in October showed us the huge variety of uses wood has been put to in Transylvania in the past 300 years, apart from lemn de foc (firewood).

Gospodărie – Imper, jud. Harghita, 1678 (2)

The above cottage dates from 1678 and has been constructed from logs.

Gospodărie – Jelna, jud. Bistriţa-Năsăud, 1789 1s

100 years later, when this was built, the preference had shifted to planks. This is a Saxon cottage, of a similar style, though much older, to the one we stayed in last summer.

Gospodărie – Cămârzana, jud. Satu Mare, 1725s

A farm outbuilding from 1725 (above) and gateway from 1882 (below).

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We’ve seen wooden houses of a similar plank construction still in use in villages in the Apuseni – as well as more modern ones.

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The well inside the above gateway (above) and from 100 years earlier (below):

Gospodărie – Berbeşti, jud. Maramureş, 1795 4s

The park also has various items of wooden machinery on show that were used for grinding and processing both food and minerals.

Transylvania is also famous for its wooden Orthodox churches, particularly in the Maramureș region. Most were built in the 17th to 19th Centuries as a response to the prohibition against the building of stone Orthodox churches by the Roman Catholic Austro-Hungarian authorities. There are three on show at the Ethnographic Park, but the light was failing, so I wasn’t able to get a good photograph. Instead, here’s one we stumbled upon in Bica, a village not far from Huedin, which was built in 1674/5.

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The wooden tiles on these churches, the gateway and one of the wells above are a work of art in themselves (click on any of the pictures to see a larger version):

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Lemn. Wood. A significant feature in the landscape of Transylvania, not least because a fair bit of it is still covered in forest. My hope is that, despite its continued use, those forests will remain for future generations. But I’ll come to that when I get to P…

 

Romanian A-Z: Î

Having been occupied with other things, not least letters ‘home’, my blog has been silent for a while. However, today I return with a letter that doesn’t exist in English. It can be written as both î and â, the former being used at the beginning and end of words and the latter in the middle.

It is pronounced as ‘oo’, but without the rounding of the lips and hence resembles the way one might say ‘rude’ in the posher parts of South East England. This is a sound not generally found in Western European languages, being of Slavic origin, though it is also found in some North Welsh dialects. Examples are given here.

So, now that you have met î and â, I am ‘delighted’ to introduce you to the word încântat, which means just that: delighted, pleased or excited. Încântat de cunoştinţă, for example, is the polite way of saying, ‘pleased to meet you’.

It’s a word that I’m particularly fond of because of its connection with the verb a cânta, which comes from the Latin cantare and means ‘to sing’ or ‘to play’ an instrument. (Both the English word ‘cantata’ and the French chanter come from the same Latin root). This  connection appeals to me because I love to sing and I love to listen to music. Music and delight seem to me to belong together.

But there’s more. The alert among you may also have noticed the similarity between încântat and incantation.

Hmmmmm.

Such delight has a darker side, then. I mean, who knows what those people might be chanting in that strange language of theirs? It could be black magic. And even if it isn’t, we all know about the dangers of religious ecstacy, don’t we?!

Mwa ha ha ha ha

Something to remember next time you get lost in a piece of music you love 😉

Meanwhile, perhaps a more useful word for folks new to the country and its language is înțeleg (I understand) or, rather, nu înțeleg (I don’t understand). Închis (closed) is another useful word. It always helps to know whether a place is open or not.

However, my final word for today is câine:

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This is honour of the fact that the one sound I will always associate with Romania is the barking of dogs. Often, it’s one of the first sounds we hear in the morning and one of the last we hear at night. There are dogs everywhere. Walk through any village and you will be barked at. Repeatedly. Most are kept outside, where they are either chained up, given the run of the garden or allowed to roam free. It’s rare to see one taken for a walk since their main purpose seems to be to guard property and/or deter predators. They are not, on the whole, treated cruelly, but they do seem to be largely ignored by their owners.

There are also a significant number of semi-feral dogs. Most of those we’ve seen haven’t come anywhere near us, but friends have told us that bites are not uncommon in Bucharest.

I can’t say that I like any of this very much. I’m too fond of dogs. However, as with many things in a foreign culture, there is little I can do about it. It is as it is. Nonetheless, it always warms my heart when I see a Romanian interacting with a dog in a friendly and positive way because it’s something that so many never get to experience.

I’ll finish with a dog who perhaps doesn’t mind very much being ignored. We spotted him in the mountains one day:

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I’m not sure how he came there, but if you ever find yourself alone in the mountains and you hear the sound of singing…

Watch out!

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: 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.

 

 

 

Romanian A-Z: D

Even a cursory glance at a Romanian dictionary shows that a lot of words beginning with D resemble English ones. Delicat (delicate), desperat (desperate), dezgust (disgust), dispărea (to disappear), discuție (discussion), doctor and durabil (durable), to mention just a few. So my first word today is document – chosen in honour of the Romanian bureaucratic system.

In Romania, you need a document for everything. For example, to obtain a Registration Certificate (proof of residence), you need to have a Romanian bank account. But when you go to open a bank account, they want the number on the Registration Certificate that you don’t have. That’s in addition to your passport number. There are ways round this, as the bank clerk eventually discovered, but it gives you an idea of the kind of thing I mean. As EU citizens, obtaining the Registration Certificates still proved relatively straightforward for us. Buying a second-hand car, on the other hand… Well, let’s just say it’s likely to be Christmas before all the paperwork is finally completed. And I’m not joking.

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The whole thing has been complicated by the fact that the car we have bought originated in Germany, but it’s not a simple matter even when that’s not the case. This gives you an idea of the amount of documentation that is required to complete the process, including face-to-face appointments with at least two different administrative bodies. In our case, the process has currently stalled pending an ‘urgent’ appointment with the police on 7th September. Even then, the registration (if it goes ahead) will only be temporary, the first available appointment for the ‘roadworthiness’ test being in December!

My second word is drum. Always helpful if you have wheels:

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This one is newly surfaced, having been little more than a dirt track earlier in the year. However, potholes are a common sight on most of the roads in the area. In fact, they are not unlike some of the back roads across the Somerset Levels, just without the subsidence! But whether the roads themselves are good or not, the words ‘drum bun!‘ (literally, ‘good road’) are used to wish people well on their journey – similar to the British ‘farewell’ and the French ‘bon voyage’. So it’s a word worth knowing.

My third word is actually a collection of words, all with the same Latin root:

Domn: gentleman
Domnul: Mr
Domnule: Sir (e.g. Scuzați-mă, domnule – Excuse me, sir)
Doamnă: Lady, woman (polite), madam, Mrs
Domnișoară: young lady, Miss
Doamne: God/Lord
Dumnezeu: God (from Latin Domine and Deus)
Dumneavoastră: polite form of you/your (literally your lord/ladyship)

All these are important to know and distinguish between if you want to be polite. The last is used in a similar way to the French polite form, so you hear it a lot on aeroplanes and in offices, for example.

In contrast, God is addressed with the familiar form tu, just as s/he used to be in English:

Sfințească-se numele TăuHallowed be Thy name

This is a paradox that English is no longer capable of expressing in the same way; that we can be on intimate terms with the one whom Christians call Lord or Doamne.

Doamne. Not a word we’ve heard very much. For various reasons, we haven’t had the opportunity to explore much in the way of church services yet. Nor have we heard it used as an expletive. However, one evening, when we were in the city of Cluj, we heard the sound of chanting issuing from the Orthodox church; a strangely haunting melody (if you can call it that) that moved me to worship even without being aware of the words. So I thought I’d leave you with this similar-sounding cry from Psalm 141:

Lord God, I call to you! Hear my prayer! Set a guard over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil…