Eastern Europe


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First haibun written in the open notebook, with Japanese characters for ‘haibun’ on facing page

This is my first attempt at haibun.

Discovering an old ‘diary’ of my first two months in Romania, in 1993, bringing to mind events and emotions I had entirely forgotten, and reawakening those I had not, I had the urge to record my forthcoming visit to Romania in some form of diary. But Romania, particularly the northern area known as the Bucovina, has had such a life-changing effect on me a normal ‘travelogue’ seemed entirely inadequate.

Haiku and haibun

My love of haiku is well documented on this blog, I even endeavour not only to write them but to experiment with them, so haibun – a mixture of sparse prose with haiku – seemed the ideal form in which to attempt a ‘diary’ of my latest visit.

Though this is my first venture into the ancient Japanese world of haibun, albeit necessarily in a westernised form, I cannot resist experimenting. So, just as my haiku sometimes became what I called ‘picture haiku’, some of my haibun may become ‘picture haibun’.

#0 because the journey has not yet begun. A trial run if you will. My aim (I won’t say ‘hope’, a word I’ve eliminated from my vocabulary) is that they get better as I journey through the forty seven days.

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Around 2,400km (1,500 miles) from Hook of Holland to Iași if there were no diversions, but by the time we’ve found campsites and visited friends on the way our forthcoming drive to Romania will probably be more like 2,600km (1,600 miles +). Add 250 miles (400km) from home to the ferry port at Harwich and the round trip will probably be something not much short of 6,000km (3,500 miles) though we may not follow the same route back. We’ll probably do a few hundred km while in Romania.

Map showing the approximate route we will take from Hook of Holland to Iași

The approximate route from Hook of Holland to Iași.

We will not take the more usual route from our home in Yorkshire to Harwich – A1, A14, A120. It’s a nightmare. So a more leisurely drive through Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, pitching our little 2-person tent for the night near Harwich.

New menu heading for ‘grumpytyke’

The eagle eyed among you may spot a new menu heading on this blog -‘Dusty2RomaniaII‘.

’That, I hope, will become a daily diary – the first time I’ve attempted one. If you click on that menu you will see a drop down list of days till we arrive home. Each will open a new page. If all goes well, although I will probably not be able to post every day, I will write each day and each of those days will eventually be filled. (I haven’t completed all the links but there’ll be time after we arrive in Iasi).

A more ‘literary’ diary?

My intention is not to write a conventional diary, but in deference to the writers’ club to which I belong – Writing on the Wharfe – I’m aiming for it to be a literary adventure (at least for me). All might become clear when the first day has some content.

It will be supplemented now and then by more usual blog posts.


Our first drive to Romania and back in 2006, in ‘Mini’, our 1975 classic mini, was not documented. In 2015 we did it in Lofty, our 1972 Bay VW camper, documented in a somewhat hit and miss fashion on Facebook as ‘Lofty2Romania’. Last year we did it in Dusty, our 2013 Dacia Duster, so ‘Dusty2Romania’, again documented after a fashion on FB, both being rather longer trips as we took to the mountains of Transylvania.

However, I’m so fed up with FB now I hardly look at it, never mind posting to it, so decided to give grumpytyke a chance to show what he’s made of, thus ‘Dusty2RomaniaII.

What remains of herbal teas brought back from Romania last summer, foraged by my ‘honorary grandmother’

I began to appreciate herbal teas only due to an experience during my second year in Romania, 1994. They are relatively little drunk in Britain, at least by the general population, compared to Romania and, I know now, Latvia.  The Romanian experience changed my view and what followed changed my life.

I’ve posted before about how I began to teach in Romania (due to mistaking the word ‘marfă’ for ‘mafia’). I’ve not posted before about two life-changing experiences. The first was an introduction to herbal teas; the second, in the same place, was when I say I was ‘born again’, half Romanian.

Introduction to herbal teas

The ‘county’ inspector for English, who persuaded me to stay in Romania to teach English in a top high school when my planned six month stay finished, invited me to accompany her on a visit to a village school, in a village called Sadova, not far from the town of Câmpulung Moldovenesc. I was feeling really ill with a dreadful cough, sore throat and high temperature which I had not been able to shake off as I usually could. I almost called the visit off.

At some point we visited the house of a/the young English teacher. I  was clearly suffering and struggling to eat something (obligatory when visiting any Romanian home). She asked to be excused, went out the back and climbed a little way up the steep grassy slope to the forest, seeming to be picking flowers. She returned with a handful of leaves and flowers. She boiled some water, poured it on the plants, added some honey and after a few minutes gave me a mug full of the brew to drink. A strange taste for me then but it seemed discourteous not to drink it.

An hour or so later I felt completely well!

I’ve no idea what those plants were – at the time my Romanian was sparse – but now I’d call the brew ‘ceai de multe plante’, ‘tea of many plants’.

Born again in Bucovina

View of Sadova and surroundings

Sadova

The second experience I find impossible to describe adequately. I was back in Sadova but alone. I cannot remember how I got there but I climbed up the steep slopes through the forest and came across a grassy clearing, sun filtering through the tall fir trees, the air full of the scent of them, so sat to catch my breath. An extraordinary peace came over me and the light seemed to change to what I can only describe as magical. The cynical might say I hyperoxygenated from the climb. I’m sure that is not the explanation. I’ve no idea for how long I sat but when I left I felt a different person and I still have that feeling every time I cross the border into Romania, more so when I enter the Bucovina.

I say I was ‘reborn’ there and have been in love with the Bucovina ever since. Several years later I managed a project there with egg decorators, made many friends, and now visit the region and those friends every year.

Romanian herbal ‘teas’ – collecting romanița

I said above that I was introduced to herbal teas in Sadova. That is not quite true though that was the first time I drank one. In the first couple of months in Romania I collected ‘romanița’ (chamomile) beside the impressive river Prut in a little village called ‘Broascăcești’ (which no one I tell of it believes exists – maybe it’s a local popular name – my translation, ‘village of frogs’). I was taken there by my wonderful host family, at or around Easter 1993, to visit relatives. A lady, perhaps I met her/danced with her at a wedding, persuaded me to collect romanița with her the following day. My memories are fragmented but I do remember the village was flooded when we arrived and we had to abandon the car (ubiquitous Dacia, one of only two makes of cars seen 25 years ago, Romanian Renault 11) and take to a cart pulled by a bullock.

Now we bring back to UK ‘teas’ gathered by my ‘honorary grandmother’ each year (those remaining from last year are pictured). More recently I’ve learned about many more from my good Latvian friend Ilze, from her blog ‘a day in the life of a latvian mom’, along with fungi (‘mushrooms’) of various kinds, vegetarian recipes, about her fascinating country (of which I knew little) and much more.

Romanian foraged ‘herbal teas’ I know (I may not always spell correctly):

Those brought back to the UK
Păducel – Hawthorn
Ceai de tei – Flowers of the Linden tree
Mentă – Mint
Salcâm – Acacia (also my favourite honey)
Soc – Elder flower
Gălbanele – Marigold
Cimbru de câmp – Wild thyme
Coada soricelului (mouse tail) – Yarrow
Sunătoare – St. John’s-wort
Trandafir – Rose

Others I know
Romaniță (mușețel) – Chamomile
Coada calului (horse tail) – Field horse tail
Patlagină – Ribwort plantain
Bradul – The fir tree
Leurda – Wild garlic (we collect in UK for salad)
Osul iepurelui (rabbit’s bone) – Restharrow
Țelina – Celeriac
Urzica – Nettle (we collect in UK, young, and use like spinach)
Vișinul – Sour cherry (my favourite fruit, especially in Romania)
Zmeurul – Raspberry (another favourite fruit)

There are good reasons to bring back herbs and fruit even if available in the UK: both soil and air are cleaner in the Bucovina, truly ‘organic‘ (a stupid term, all food is ‘organic’ – recently adopted ‘bio‘ is as bad – but you’ll know what I mean).

Women’s Day’ as a protest day is around a hundred years old, International Women’s Day on 8 March is far younger. Far older than either is the tradition of ‘Ziua Femeii’ – Day of the Woman – in Romania. Apart from my ‘feminist’ tendencies, well known to readers of this blog, it has special meaning for me as it was the day I first arrived in Romania. Over the years, particularly as a teacher, I became used to all female teachers staggering home with arms full of bouquets, including Petronela (my wife).

I wanted this year to mark this day in a different way on this blog having in previous years covered all the protests I could think of and the tradition in northern Romania, perhaps only in the Bucovina, of females receiving mărțișori from the men on 8 March, they having given them to the men on 1 March.

Favourite female authors

So I decided to mention one or two of my favourite female authors, two novels I have recently read and one I am awaiting since a blogger friend told me she had finished her second novel.

The Brontë sisters are no surprise as I was born and brought up near ‘the Brontë village’ – Haworth – and went to school even closer, thus being familiar with the Yorkshire moors evoked so well by Emily. She became my favourite of the sisters and later, as a would be writer, I became fascinated with how she evoked the atmosphere of my beloved moors without ever exactly describing them. The whole of her only novel does that, evoke rather than describe I mean. I must mention one of my favourite ‘detective’ writers too, though her only connection with Yorkshire was her infamous ‘disappearance’ to Harrogate, again not too far from my birthplace. Of course I’m referring to Agatha Christie.

Newer literature

Then, to more modern authors, starting with the novel yet to appear. I bought the first volume, ‘Equinox’ (still available on Amazon), of an intended trilogy by my fellow blogger, Kristina Steiner in Slovenia, prompted probably by the fact she was writing a romantic novel from a point of view on equality in a relationship. Anyway, I have great admiration for bloggers who write in a foreign language, English, in her case not only her blog but her novel. I now await the second book in her ‘Alpha series’.

The most read book in my bookcase is written by a woman, for women, “American housewives” the author declared. It’s not fiction. It’s a cookery book which should be familiar to long term readers of this blog – ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’. Despite cooking recipes from this book for 45 years, I was not aware of the film related to it, Julie & Julia, until recently. Via a tortuous route watching that film led me to a review of another book – ‘The Art of Baking Blind’ by Sarah Vaughan – a book based in a way on cooking but not a cookbook. When the review said it was written “by a women for women” I was irritated enough to buy it. Anyway, it’s only 99p on Amazon so worth a punt.

I enjoyed it enough to buy Mrs Vaughan’s ‘new book’, ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ published this year. She didn’t disappoint and I learned a lot about the goings on on the other side of Fleet Street to which I worked, where I often wandered down to the Thames but never got into the innards.

The first book should delight any serious cook if only for the numerous cooking tips for classical recipes peppered among the emotional tensions winding us up. They were reminiscent of Julia Child’s authoritative ‘this is the way to do it’ in ‘Mastering the Art …’.

The obvious diligent research of her subject makes both books fascinating but what I would have expected of a journalist of my era. To find it in a journalist of today makes me want to pick up my pen.

I don’t like flash backs but, a feature of both books, I managed to navigate them without getting too lost. I struggled with so many characters in the first book; I was not alone as one reviewer said they resorted to making lists. I didn’t but I did find myself going back sometimes to clarify.

One feature of both books surprised me as Mrs Vaughan seems to be a happily married family woman with an interesting career path: the women in both books are overall strong women; the men are weak or ineffectual (including a Prime Minister).

Overall, four stars from me for each in my Amazon reviews for a good read.

International Women’s Day greetings

So, on this International Women’s Day I send greetings to all the women I follow or who follow me, especially those with whom I have built a closer than usual blogging relationship. They considerably outnumber the men bloggers. More than that, greetings to all women bloggers; keep up the struggle.

A magical day

Today was my ‘baba’, which won’t mean anything to non Romanians nor sadly to many Romanians but I’ll just say that, choosing to go along with this superstition, today was a great day. Magical snow, a fairy land, this morning, succeeded by a sunny blue sky day. Together with another extraordinary ‘happening’ which took me back a quarter of a century – another post in due course – it’s been quite a day. Basically, it means I should have a good year.

I’ve said it before: Bradford, my home city, has become what to me is the biggest ‘slum’ in Europe. Because on Tuesday I went to Leeds, vibrant, fun, smiling people (bit about that on my post of 14 September) I decided as I needed to visit my bank yesterday I’d go to Bradford where there is a branch. I wish I had not.

In the Bronte village of Haworth in February

I’m not going to post any pictures of the city, they would be too depressing. It’s been turned into a city of ghettos, many of poverty. The much vaunted ‘new’ shopping centre, full of the usual chain shops has, appropriately I suppose, the most boring architecture imaginable. The major shops having moved to this centre, the previous shopping streets are filled with empty, deteriorating premises. It’s all reflected in the faces of the weary, hunched over figures on the streets.

All this in what was a magnificent Victorian city, built by the wool barons to demonstrate their wealth.  Vestiges of the old city remain, including the magnificent city hall, but most of it has been allowed to deteriorate. If you look above the tired shop fronts you can still imagine the superb local stone architecture that was.

It’s no coincidence that the ghettos have something like the highest incidence of uninsured drivers, the highest incidence of deliberately provoked ‘accidents’ to seek compensation and some of the worst driving you will experience anywhere (as I experienced only yesterday and but for extreme vigilance I would now have a buckled front wing).

Some jewels

There are a few jewels, for example the Alhambra where I was introduced, as a child, by my grandmother to ballet, opera and pantomime. I don’t go any more, crossing the city to reach it is too depressing. Another once magnificent building, St George’s Hall where I was introduced to live symphony concerts, is a sorry sight and another smaller concert venue, Eastbrook Hall,  where I think I heard Eileen Joyce play, has long gone, only a facade remaining. Another former jewel which I used to visit frequently, the national media museum, following a threat to close it because of falling attendances (not surprising as you had to go to the depressing city to visit it), has been ‘taken over’ by the London Science Museum. It would have been better, as I said at the time, to move it intact to Leeds, somewhere near the superb Royal Armouries museum. Attendance would have soared. Now, for ‘culture’, I’d go to Leeds.

There are many more jewels in the surrounding vast Bradford Metropolitan District, the World Heritage village of Saltaire where I spent my childhood, the Bronte village of Haworth, Ilkley Moor and others, but the disaster of the city is slowly but surely creeping out to consume them.

Antidotes

What a difference in a similar city in one of Europe’s substantially less wealthy countries, Iași in Romania. So one antidote to the Bradford visit was to look at some pictures taken in the city when we were there this summer.

The restoration of the buildings which declined in communist times is not finished yet but there’s enough to make it a happy place to visit, bustling with culture and, soon, the swarms of young people will be boosted as the new university year begins.

Back to the Chevin (pub!)

A final antidote to the Bradford visit, a climb up to the Chevin (see my post a few days ago) on a superb autumn day this afternoon. Only high enough today to have a drink in the Chevin Inn which boasts it has the finest views in Yorkshire from the garden. I think I’d argue with that but the views are certainly superb. Viewed with a pint of Timothy Taylor’s (local brewery) Landlord bitter in front of me and, for Petronela, a not so local cider, with a packet of crisps, it’ll do. Enough to obliterate memories of Bradford. Fortunately I wrote about that visit to the city before setting off on our 2.1/2 hour walk.

 

Picture of the set of 'toiuri' with the flask. They are decorated with a oicture of a couple in national costume.

Țoiuri and flaska

I’ve almost never bought ‘souvenirs of’ places I visited, either for myself or as gifts for others, but I’m quite pleased with something I brought back from Romania this time. I always bring some ‘palinka’ – the very alcoholic drink made from plums – not that found in commerce but that distilled by friends, or friends of friends. It always comes in a plastic bottle previously holding mineral water – so not very impressive, even if it’s held my favourite, Borsec, when serving to friends back in UK.

The drink, and the slightly less alcoholic version usually referred to as ‘țuică’, was traditionally served in a tiny ‘tankard’ called a țoi (pronounced ‘tsoy’) and served from a small flask so I wanted to find a set of ‘țoiuri’ (plural – ‘tsoy-oorr’). I really wanted a set in glass, or rustic pottery, but I didn’t find either so settled for a ‘tourist’ set in porcelain. At least it’s made in Romania, from one of the two factories in Alba Iulia, not from China as so much ‘traditional’ ware now is.

Bilberries – afine

Having missed the bilberry season in UK, we brought back the Romanian version, afine, in the largest glass jar we could find. We didn’t collect them but bought them in the market, 2.5kg for honorary grandmother, 2.5kg for mother in law and 2.5kg for us. You can buy them, apparently cheaper, by the roadside, but the weighing scale can have been doctored and they can have been diluted with something similar in appearance like elderberries so at about £4/kilo it’s better in the market.

2.5kg of afine, less those already eaten for breakfast, behind the set of țoiuri

2.5kg of afine, less those already eaten for breakfast, behind the set of țoiuri

Afine are the same as the British bilberry but tend to be just a little smaller and more intense in taste. Either are far superior to the cultivated American ‘blueberry’ found in supermarkets here, usually imported from South America but can be from, eg, Spain.

To preserve them all you do is pour sugar on top, which eventually forms a fine syrup. I put them on my usual breakfast of raw oats and milk. They can be used to make ‘afinată’ by letting the sugared berries soak in țuica, but I prefer them just as they are. Having had them for breakfast every day since returning home I’d soon finish them if I continued so starting this morning with grapes I’ll now add other fruit most days and give myself a treat on just one or two days a week.

Raw oats and milk with afine

Breakfast

Other culinary items brought back were ‘zarzavat’, finely chopped herbs and vegetables (preserved with salt), a better addition than the vegetable stock cube resorted to here, ‘ardei iute’ – hot peppers usually accompanying borsch (not for me) and tomato juice made from the intensely tasting tomatoes grown in the countryside, not those from the glasshouses which have little more taste than those sold in UK. All of these prepared by mother in law. Also brought were 5 litres of ‘salcăm’ (acacia) honey from a local beekeeper; we were lucky, the bees didn’t make much of this, my favourite, this year and most available was polyflora. Several bottles were added: a few of one of our favourite reds, from the Murfatlar region – Trei Hectare; newly appeared in Romania, cider, for Petronela; and a couple of the renowned sweet whites from the Cotnar region of north Moldova – Grasă de Cotnar – for friends ; neither P nor I like sweet wines.

That completed the haul; the long drive back, very hot for the first days, made bringing other ‘fresh’ foods back impossible so there’ll be an early visit to Marinela’s Romanian shop in Harehills, Leeds.

At one time posts about food and cooking formed a substantial proportion of my posts on this blog but there are now so many I usually settle for reading some of, to me, the more interesting food blogs or the posts about food from bloggers I follow more generally. I almost never follow recipes anyway except for classic French cooking though I often get inspiration from them.

Our real life Cruella de Vil

Returning to UK after the longest period away since I returned, in 2004, from living in Romania there’s so much to write about. Should I settle on a theme or just ramble away as is my wont? The latter is more my style so here goes.

Britain used to be the most liberal of countries and we thought of Germany as very strict and restrictive. Now it seems to have reversed. Stupid regulation after regulation governing everything here, so called ‘Health and Safety’ reaching ridiculous proportions, every child seems to have an allergy so cannot eat this or that (we’d have starved!), excellent recruits for the Nazi SS, unintelligent bullies, controlling train travel (at least on Northern Rail) and car parking, not all of course but a substantial proportion; teachers now expected not only to teach but to take over the role of parents in the most basic of  ‘education for life’; teachers and nurses bogged down with stupid form filling rather than getting on with the job for which they signed up, so leaving their professions in droves. Essential utilities companies, like British Gas (foreign owned of course), hiking their prices by stupendous amounts while rewarding their senior executives with massive pay rises.

We have a perfect Cruella de Vil leading the country using leaving the European Union (I refuse to use that dreadful ‘B…..’ word) as a perfect excuse to remove the power from Parliament and put it in the hands of a few of her lieutenants, so called ‘Ministers’.

Of course, everything is the fault of the immigrants, especially if they’re from eastern Europe or Muslim – I don’t think.

In fact, it’s the fat cats who are determined to get even fatter and roll in their slime.

Even (now this is going to upset 10% of the population) my previously favourite radio station, Classic FM, has sunk further into the money-making mire with repeated self-congratulation from the majority of the presenters, advertisers who seem to think the audience is made up of cretins. Their much (self) lauded 25th birthday concert, with a superb orchestra and chorus (the Liverpool ‘Royals’), was largely rubbish with no obvious reason for the bits and bats played. There was a super rendition of Bartok’s violin concerto by a young man, only 21 I think, and a premiere of a very interesting, exciting, piece composed by a young woman, only 23 years old, whose name I cannot remember but I’ll be seeking her out. With that fabulous orchestra and chorus why the devil didn’t we get, eg, Beethoven’s 9th instead of that mishmash of bits of this and that?

What prevents me jumping in the car and going back across the water? An elderly lady’s smile, sitting on a wall in my village main street and discussing the weather with me yesterday morning while waiting patiently for her bus.

 

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