History


Former headmaster Dumitru Bunea with a portrait of founder of the school, M Kogălneceanu

Former headmaster Dumitru Bunea with a portrait of M Kogălneceanu, who founded the school in  1831 in a former ‘palace’

Two important things to do today, in the morning resolution of some medical problems, in the afternoon visiting the museum at the high school where Petronela (my wife – P from now) and I met, Liceul Agricol M Kogălniceanu, Miroslava. Succeeded with both.

A high school in a heavenly setting

How did I become a teacher at Miroslava? Living and teaching at the time in the city of Suceava, I was invited on a British Council course for Romanian teachers of English and there met a teacher of English from the Informatics high school in Iași (about 100km away). She persuaded me to come to Iași once a week and teach there. Someone else mentioned to me the beautiful setting of the Miroslava school so one day I climbed the hill, 7km from the city centre, to have a look. The high school is an agricultural high school, so apart from general education students can be educated to be vets, food technicians and other profiles, caring for animals in the school farm, raising crops on the school’s 100 hectares of agricultural land, caring for the orchard and vineyard, even keeping bees. That was so when I and P taught there; it may have changed somewhat now.

Wandering around, admiring the park, the orchard, the vineyard and what seemed to be an old, rather run down ‘palace’, all of which seemed to make up the school, I met someone who turned out to be the the deputy headmaster, explained I was a native speaking English teacher. He took me to the headmaster, Dumitru Bunea, who quickly persuaded me to teach there too (they had no English teacher, in fact no member of staff, including the head, spoke English). The ‘bait’ was that I could have a room in the ‘camin’ (the student hostel) and eat in the school canteen in return for teaching. As I was at the time a volunteer, so no income, I ‘bit’!

As usual on this blog, click any picture in the gallery below to see the pictures larger as a slide show

A unique museum

The headmaster, not only a history teacher like P but a dedicated historian, had some time before began to collect agricultural implements, many brought by students from the surrounding villages, with the idea of making a museum in the school. This expanded into collecting traditional items of clothing, pottery, etc. As the collection grew, including pre-neolithic artifacts to relatively recent things (eg from WW2), some of the best were donated to the city’s museum of culture (Palatul Culturii) and many duplicates donated to surrounding schools to make their own museums.

There is now an extensive collection at the school though it does not have the money to house and display it as it would wish. The village mayor had acquired European funds to do this but the city reappropriated these funds so the project is now in limbo. As Mr Bunea is now retired, getting this project off the ground again is even less likely. This is really sad; if I won a big, big prize on the lottery I would certainly finance it.

Although I visited the museum, of course, during my time teaching at Miroslava, I never had a a really good look, particularly to discuss it with the man who created it – Mr Bunea. It was an enormous pleasure, and honour, to do that today over more than four hours.

A further honour was to be invited to sign the ‘Carte de onoare’, alongside personalities from all over the world and in many languages.

Busy day and temperature is climbing again (29-30degC). Escaping to the cooler climes of the Bucovina tomorrow for a few days, looking for a possible place to move and visiting friends.

lettersTrying to get back into regular ‘personal’ blogging I have the dilemma of what to blog about – skipping from food and cooking to another hobby, eg photography, writing, classic cars, or varied hobby horses, etc, as I used to do – or stick to one topic, as advised by the blogging gurus. I’ve decided on the former, for the moment. It suits me. I am working up to a cooking one soon, in which I’ll be asking for advice from the many brilliant cooks I follow, but today here’s something completely different, though it was brought on by a guest post from Joanne Gennard on the Ilford blog ‘Best in Black and White’.

Memories brought flooding back

When my mother died several years ago I found that she had kept letters which I wrote to her during my time in Romania. Many friends have suggested I should turn them into a book; though I wasn’t sure about that, I did promise myself that ‘one day’ I would save them in another, more widely accessible, form by scanning them and storing them also digitally. I have never looked at them until the past few days and, when I found them, assumed that she had kept all the letters, from March 1993 to mid-2004. Having recently been reminded forcefully that I am not immortal I decided to do something about it. Having read about a quarter of the letters, I’m so glad I have started the job: there is so much that I had forgotten which I’ve been delighted to be reminded of – eg, experiences with the many children I taught, for example the ‘Bunnies’, a delightful special needs class, pictured on the right (some of them have featured before, in a post on 27 January 2013) and even experiences at the start of my relationship with my wife leading up to New Year’s Eve (her birthday) 1999. We married in 2000.

ltr2-toner_ed

Not a letter but included with a letter to show my mother something about my internet projects and show her a picture of a class of delightful special needs children I worked with. I could not print colour then so stuck on a colour photo.

Sorting through the packet a few days ago, I found that the earliest letter is from over four years after I arrived in Romania, when they began to be written on ‘computer’ and printed. The many before, written by hand on what I seem to remember were called ‘aerograms’ are not there, not one. Why the printed ones were saved, but the handwritten ones not, I cannot explain.

Simple OCR

One of the reasons I had never got around to the task was that I thought I would have to transcribe from handwriting. No excuse now, I thought, as OCR (optical character recognition) should make the job easier. I’ve also found that it can be done in a much more relaxed manner than using a scanner and computer, by using an iPad and a great free ‘app’ called ‘Doc Scanner + OCR’. It takes a while to figure out how to work it but once that hurdle is jumped it is very good. It is not happy when the printing to be scanned is light, ie a pale grey, but really excellent when the type is a strong black. I’m still working on that, and on getting reasonably even lighting across the page being scanned.

scansetup_edFor my first attempts I just put a sheet of typing on the floor and handheld the iPad over it. It was quite difficult to hold the iPad steady enough and parallel to the sheet so I’ve now made a simple jig by carving up a suitably sized cardboard box (pictured). The zoom slider in the latest iPad OS camera is a big help in getting the image to the optimum size.

Once scanned and converted to text, I’m copying it and pasting into another free app called Pages, in which it is easy to edit (the OCR conversion is good but never perfect). Pages is another really great app which I use a lot, for everything from writing letters to drafting blog posts. Finally I’m backing it up to Dropbox and my ‘Personal Cloud’ as a pdf. When I’ve completed all the letters I’ll print them out.

I might even make a book 😉 .

Icon of Saint Dimitrie

This icon of Saint Dimitrie, Dimitrios (Greek) or Dumitru (Romanian), is one of several in our home

Today is Saint Dimitrie’s day, so also ‘my’ day as Dimitrie is my name too, given to me when I was baptised on 26th October. In the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, the name day corresponds to the day on which a saint “fell asleep”, or died (Gregorian calendar).

I was given the name in the Orthodox church of ‘Stefan cel Mare Domnesc (the Lord’s Church of Stephen the Great), Iasi, the church I attended when I lived in that Romanian city (and the church in which I was married).

Although in Romania the saint is known as Dumitru, I chose the Russian version – hence Dimitrie – and that is how my several Orthodox priest friends, and some other friends, call me.

When I was in Romania people would call at my home on this day and share a drink and a snack, or even a celebration meal. Now, in the UK, I receive email messages and ‘iconograms’ from friends and relatives in Romania, especially from my Godparents – Godfather Vasile, now a mathematics lecturer in an Australian university, and Godmother Gabriela. (more…)

It’s a while since I managed to write a post here, and even longer (about a month) since I was able to pay close attention to the many excellent blogs I follow. The same has been true of my other (photo) blog, grumpytykepix. It’s been due to a combination of diversions:

  • getting a new website/blog ‘live’ for my employer;
  • getting embroiled in a campaign fighting inappropriate development in the village in which I live, which has revealed at best incompetence in the local (Bradford) council, at worst possible corruption – all this as part of authoring a WordPress blog for my village;
  • being commissioned to author a column in a local weekly newspaper covering forthcoming events in my village and a nearby small town, Otley (yesterday was the fifth appearance);
  • being diverted by a wonderful 88 year old lady who telephoned me to ask whether her family history might be interesting for an article in the paper (it’s fascinating!).

Fewston (Washburn Valley, Yorkshire) Marriages (more…)

The Settle to Carlisle railway line is one of the wonders of Britain. Magnificent views, beautifully kept stations maintained by volunteers, ending at the magnificent red stone structures of Carlisle.

The place name sign on Settle station

Settle, a charming small town where the industry of West Yorkshire truly gives way to nature. The first of the stations maintained by the voluntary organisation, Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line

On Sunday 19 May my wife and I made the trip with free tickets given by Northern Rail, who operate the trains, as compensation for the terrible service to urban commuters – my wife being one – over the past year (though to be fair it was probably more the fault of Network Rail, who maintain the tracks). No matter, a free trip up one of the world’s great scenic routes was not be missed. (more…)

I found these pictures at my mother’s after she died in 2011. She had written a date on most of them. I do intend to ‘repair’ them some time but for the moment I’m posting them as I found them. I was very pleased to find them as all my photographs prior to 1993, when I went to Romania, were disposed of by someone

The best way to see them is to click on the first, when you will then see them as a slide show with a caption for each (the ‘gallery’ feature still seems to have some bugs; one is that there are more pictures in the slide show than shown below).

I know that my mother had a very hard time as a war widow with three young boys to raise; she often did not know where the next meal was coming from, but it was always there, and she was often very ill. She made virtually all our clothes – just look how ‘smart’ we were. I think the studio photographs were taken to send to my father who was either away in the war or in hospital until he died. No surprise that I and my brothers were born about 9 months after each ‘leave’ in the UK – most of the time he was away at sea in the Royal Navy.

I do think it’s important to preserve such things. I’m sure that future generations will want to know, and see, something of those who preceded them.

I am not by nature a city dweller, I much prefer rural life. However, it has been a real pleasure to return briefly to the city where I lived, and taught English, for several years in Romania. The city is Iasi (pronounced ‘Yash’ – in Romanian the ‘s’ has a comma under it, rather like a cedilla, and so has the sound ‘sh’), which is a major city in north east Romania with the country’s oldest University.

Fountain in the Palas Mal park, Iasi, with the Culture Palace museum in the background

One of the pleasures of living in Iasi was that artistic culture was very much alive and to share in it cost very little, but the downside was that many of the facilities were very run down. Today, many of the buildings are being renovated, some almost complete. The building in the background in the picture above is ‘Palatul Culturii’ (The Palace of Culture), in fact a museum. The Romanians cleverly allowed a developer to build an enormous shopping mall, together with a delightful park (pictured below), only on condition they undertook the renovation of the museum building, an enormous and incredibly costly project. It is now almost completed.

Entrance to the Palas Mal park, Iasi

When I visited the park, complete with carousel, it was full of families with young children, courting couples, older couples, all looking happy and contented in a green and colourful environment despite the severe drought which has made much of Romania look like a desert. (When I left Romania in 2004, this area was also a desert of waste ground). Looking up through the pierced copper roof of a cupola on a lake in the park, seeing the ‘biscuits’ stamped out from the sky, prompted my ‘sky biscuits’ picture haiku, posted on 3 August.

Carousel in the Palas Mal park, Iasi

Nearby is the church of St. Nicholas, which was renovated some year ago. It is the church in which I was married and where I went on many Sundays to listen to the magnificent choir, at Easter, and at Christmas to hear the wonderful Romanian carols.

St Nicholas's church, Iasi (Sf Nicolae Domnesc)

The ‘Filarmonica’ (Concert hall) was almost a ruin when I went every week throughout the ‘season’, a season ticket costing less than £30 for more than 20 concerts! Every five years this included all the Beethoven string quartets performed over several weeks by a magnificent Iasi quartet, ‘Voces’, whose playing reminded me of the renowned ‘Amadeus’ quartet (I have vinyl LPs of the complete cycle played by them at home in UK). Now the concert hall has been renovated and looks magnificent.

The 'Filarmonica' concert hall, Iasi, and poster advertising performances of Shakespear's 'Midsummer Night's Dream'

In the foreground of the Filarmonica a poster advertises Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – outside the nearby ‘Teatru National’ (‘national’ theatre), a smaller version of the theatre in Vienna but just as magnificent now that it is almost completely renovated.

Something which impressed me about Romanian high school pupils – 12 to 18 years old – when I lived here was that I could stop one at random in the street and ask them to quote me a line of Shakespeare and at least 9 in 10, probably 99 in 100, would do it flawlessly, often not one of the most quoted ones. What would the proportion be in the UK? I doubt better than 1 in a 100, if that.

The 'national theatre', Iasi, with street banner advertising opera

Another banner across the whole street outside the theatre advertises opera (and I do not have to remind opera lovers that one of the world’s leading ‘divas’ now – Angela Gheorghiu – is Romanian).

Talking of pupils, below is a picture of one of the three high schools at which I taught English in Iasi – Colegiul National which was founded in 1826 and remains one of the top two high schools in the city.

The 'National College', Iasi

It was becoming twilight when I reached Piata Unirii (Unity Square), which celebrates the unification of the different regions to become Romania in 1859 (Transilvania became a part of Romania in 1918). Dominating the square is another magnificent building – the Hotel Traian.

Grand Hotel Traian, Iasi, at twilight

Nearly ‘home’, I passed by what was the only antique shop in Iasi when I lived here – in what was in the distant past the city’s main street – Str. Lapusneanu. A model galleon in full sail sits in our living room back in the UK; I bought it in this shop, which lights up the wares in its window in the evening.

The antique shop window in Str. Lapusneanu, Iasi, in the evening

Buildings in this street are now being renovated and a gigantic protective cover reminds the people of Iasi what they have and need to protect, as said to them by one of the country’s most renowned historians, Nicolae Iorga, a superb writer, who was assassinated by fascists in 1940.

Protective cover over a building in renovation, with quote from Nicolae Iorga, Romanian historian

“These are our historic monuments, so many, from the beginning until 1850, so full of value both materially and in an historic sense, with their surroundings devasted, with everything destroyed, with the patina of age covering each, so varied and original in which is seen what they were. Where you see it, recognise it, respect it and raise them up, if you have the strength, from the ruin and disappearance”. (My translation, not perfect but hopefully adequate). Nicolae Iorga, 1871-1940.

It’s taken a long time but the rebirth has begun.

All these ‘snapshots’ were taken on a Panasonic GF1 with 14-42mm Lumix G ‘X’ lens. I may be able to get some C41 black and white film (Ilford XP2) developed and scanned here towards the end of next week, but colour and ‘conventional’ black and white will have to wait until I’m back in the UK.

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