Romania


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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).

Allstars members, all from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds themselves, gained many things from their involvement in the internet projects; the confidence to present their work to an audience of adults was one. Here am Allstar/Leo presents to an annual conference of Lions Clubs

Allstars members, all from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds themselves, gained many things from their involvement in the internet projects; the confidence to present their work to an audience of adults was one. Here an Allstar/Leo presents to an annual conference of Lions Clubs

I have many fond memories from my time – 11.1/2 years – in Romania but none more fond than my time ‘teaching English’ to a class in an industrial high school in an industrial area of the city of Suceava, an area therefore depressed after the destruction of industry following the collapse of Communism.

A few days ago someone from this class contacted me, see below. I cannot begin to write how exciting this is but I just had to blog about it.

Not the Mafia

The story behind moving to Suceava to teach was all due to my misunderstanding of a Romanian word – ‘Marfă’. I began in a ‘top’ high school, Liceul Ștefan cel Mare, when my intended 6 months stay working in a voluntary humanitarian project in nearby Siret ended. How this happened has been documented on this blog in the past. However when I suggested I wanted to teach less advantaged students there was considerable opposition from the authorities. The overall view was ‘why bother with them, you’re wasting your time, concentrate on the best schools and the brightest students’, an attitude I met in Romania many times then, to the point of causing me many personal problems at the time. Foreigners could then be given a hard time. That is changed now and followers of this blog will know I have spent substantial periods in Romania most years since I left in 2004 and have many friends there.

However, the problems were a contributing factor in my moving to Iași, where I then taught in an ‘industrial high school’ and a couple of ‘top’ schools.

A different way of ‘teaching English’

I didn’t ‘teach English’ in a conventional way; I tried to do it in a way from which my students would not only learn some English, enthusiastically, but build confidence to believe they could achieve anything they wished. This was by involving them in projects with classes in English-speaking countries, UK and Canada if I remember correctly, and subsequently helping them to get involved in volunteering, leading eventually to formation of the third Leo Club in Romania. The projects were on email, beginning with one donated ‘obsolete’ IBM laptop. No Windows – everything was done with MsDos; does anyone remember that? Eventually the class involved in the email projects called themselves the ‘Allstars‘ and went on to form what was the third Leo club in Romania and probably among those with the youngest membership anywhere – the Suceava Burdujeni Leos were then 12-14 years old. Late teens early twenties is more usual.

A ‘Messenger’ request answered

A few days ago I had a request on Messenger from Anca … (the family name I did not recognise). Usually I ignore such requests (my dislike of Facebook except in small closed groups has been well documented) but for some reason I opened the message and was delighted to see it was from my former student in the industrial high school mentioned above. The class have a Facebook closed group and Anca posted that she had ‘found’ me and asked if anyone else from that class remembered me.

What happened as a result was humbling. The general response was “How can we possibly forget?” accompanied in some cases by thanks to me for what they had achieved since, eg a lawyer, an IT specialist, an English teacher, even a tattoo artist! (I didn’t tattoo them, honest!). One was particularly amazing; she said that only a day or so previously she had been teaching her daughter a limerick I wrote for her almost a quarter of a century ago. I didn’t remember it but she had and sent it to me. I remember all the names though I knew them only by their given names (I’ve generally not put them in the photograph captions).

Last year during a short visit to Suceava I did try to find some of these former students but without success. In a way not surprising as I’ve now learnt that many of them are now in other parts of Romania and it’s quite likely some have moved abroad – so many Romanians have. Now I’m hoping that my health will allow me at least one more visit to Romania, when I’ll do my best to meet as many as possible of them in person. Meanwhile, somewhere I have the documentation for the Leo club and will try to find it, together with more of the photographs taken during activities of this wonderful group of youngsters.

Snowman in the bedroom! Courtesy of Petronela – with mărțișor

Today, according to Romanian tradition, is the first day of Spring, though looking out of the window here it’s not spring-like. A thick blanket of snow (for here 10cm or more is ‘thick’ though in other parts of Yorkshire there is far more and roads are closed) covers everything, hundreds of schools are closed (including the primary and the high school in our village). Nevertheless we will celebrate the arrival of Spring in the Romanian way (see last year’s post,  when it was a bright sunny day).

‘Dragobete’ spoons carved in the Bucovina, Romania

Today, 24 February, is the ‘day the birds are betrothed‘ – the most beautiful, for me, of the traditions associated with this special day in Romania. It’s called ‘Dragobete‘.

As regular followers of this blog will know I do not ‘celebrate’ St Valentine’s Day which has just become a massive commercial event which, like Halloween, has displaced the true tradition in many western countries. Dragobete has not yet become tainted in the same way; rather it is just forgotten in much of the country and by many Romanians, but still celebrated in some country districts, particularly in areas where tradition is best retained, like the Bucovina and Marămureș.

Were I a young, unattached, young man I might be chasing my love through the forest and, if she returned my love, she’d allow me to catch her and give her a kiss. Before this we would have been, with other young people, collecting together the first flowers of spring – perhaps snowdrops pushing their way through the snow.

According to Romanian myth Dragobete was the son of Baba Dochia, but more of that on 1 March, when the return of Spring is more celebrated in itself.

The spoons, carved in the Bucovina (more precisely near or in the small town of Rădăuți) celebrate Dragobete; some carved by Călin Danila, others by Viorel Marian, I’ve had them for about 20 years. They are rather like Welsh love spoons.

Ricardo Muti, this year’s conductor and in the year of our marriage, 2000

I’d usually write about my New Year experience in one post but this time was persuaded to break it into two parts, so here’s the second instalment.

New Year’s Day became ‘special’ for me 20 years ago when, then living in the student hostel of the high school in which I was a volunteer English teacher, I was invited to spend New Year’s Eve with the family of a history teacher, urged on by her younger sister. Having followed the Romanian tradition of a ‘midnight feast’ I was invited to stay the night rather than return to my chilly hostel room 7km away. Little did anyone know, least of all me, to what that would lead, or did I? Two years later that history teacher became my wife and a tradition for us was set.

 

 

 

Romanian traditions and Vienna New Year concert

The following morning was spent with a background of New Year dance and traditions on the tv, something I was well versed in having spent a few years in the Romanian Bucovina, one of the regions where traditions are best preserved. Then in common with tv stations throughout the world the Romanian station switched to covering the Vienna New Year concert. Petronela and I have followed that every year since, the following year at a mutual friend/colleague’s home where a month or so later on that friend’s birthday you might say that the romance was perhaps recognised as ‘serious’.

 

 

 

So, back to this year. The kitchen had been left a ‘disaster’ as we fell into bed at 2am, bubbly consumed with the background of Nile Rodgers (see yesterday’s post) then Jools Holland with truly amazing artists like Ruby Turner and Mavis Staples (and I’d better mention Ed Sheeran who doesn’t have such a bad voice 😜).

As I said, the ‘kitchen’ was left a disaster but in fact we don’t have a kitchen as such, the sitting room area and kitchen being ‘open plan’, separated by just a counter, next to which we have our dining table – a beautiful mahogany drop-leaf amalgamation of a modern top in classical style and a base from the mid 18th century. You can see it with one leaf up in yesterday’s post. First to be cleared in the ‘disaster’ zone was the table; I just ate what remained on it from ‘the feast’ for breakfast 😂).

Eclectic musical taste?

But to return to the Vienna New Year concert (you get the idea I have a somewhat eclectic taste in music? Though ‘classical’ is top for me). The tv on which we watch and listen to the New Year concert is in what I term our ‘musical corner’; you might see two Romanian nai (panpipes) in some pictures, one tourist and one for a musician, as well as a harmonica; under that, unseen, is a piano, ‘hifi’ and a large collection of LPs, orchestral and opera. CDs are next to it.

One of the things I love about the Vienna concert is the ballet sequences; I’ve been an avid follower of ballet since my Grandmother took me to my first, Swan Lake, when I was seven years old (so you can imagine how pleased I was that Darcey Bussell was made a ‘Dame’ in the New Year Honours). The grace and beauty of ballet I saw in gymnastics when the Romanian team was preeminent so gymnastics are now the only sport I’m really interested in. You might say that ballet is now my second favourite art form, the first being music itself, whether instrumental or sung.

 

 

 

An innovation this year was an informative trip through Vienna with a young lady on a bicycle, calling at many of the most notable venues in this wonderful cradle of music. I enjoyed that.

This year’s conductor of the New Year concert was Ricardo Muti, not who conducted the first one Petronela and I saw together in 1998 but he who conducted the concert in the year of our marriage – 2000.

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