Finding 3 VHS tapes featuring aspects of my teaching of English in Romania a quarter of a century ago (post on 8th August), together with meeting two of my former pupils, were definitely the highlights of this summer’s visit to Romania. If another project comes off there will be another highlight but ‘Murphy’ being as he is I will only post about that if it comes to fruition.

However, after finding the tapes while clearing my parents-in-law’s attic I was disappointed not to find two books I had hoped were there. After clearing the attic we set about a store room at our small apartment nearby and another couple of ‘gems’ emerged from 14 years of dust.

Enlarging English vocabulary

A picture of the opening pages of the book, generously inscribed by Gheorghe, “To my friend Roger Livesey. My greatest thanks. If you had not helped me this book would not have appeared. Iași, May 21st 2000.One was one of the books I hoped to find in the attic. Titled Everyday topics it was written by my good friend Gheorghe Stan, Head of English at Liceul National in Iași when I taught there. Its declared aim was to  provide a larger vocabulary for intermediate and advanced learners of English. I may well have been able to find a copy of this book at a second hand book dealers which abound in the university city of Iași but, not teaching English any more, I wanted only the copy Gheorghe presented to me with its generous inscription. I was delighted to find it.

An ecumenical English course

Picture of A leaflet about thr course showing Students with (then) Archbishop Daniel, with me on his left.

A leaflet about thr course showing Students with (then) Archbishop Daniel, with me on his left.

Another ‘gem’ was a complete English course I wrote for an ecumenical project set up by the then Archbishop Daniel, now Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The students came from many different east European countries. Mostly beginners, the idea of the course was to enable them to describe their church, both in a spiritual and a physical sense, in English, quite a tall order as they came only with their own languages (or some also with Russian) – Albanian, Armenian, Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, Kazahkstani, Kyrgystani, Latvian, Russian, Slovakian, Ukrainian and, of course, Romanian – from many different backgrounds and several different churches. It was a wonderful few weeks with many social events between lessons.

I had taught on a similar course two years previously but in 2003 I was course director and wrote all the lessons, so finding them (around 50 overhead projection transparencies) was particularly interesting.

Love letters and all

A final collection of ‘gems’ was cards, photos and letters to Petronela from the beginning of our relationship, including the first ever letter I wrote to her, before our relationship began.

Well worth choking on the dust of so many years of hibernation!

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Sitting in the sun 460km from Bucuresti, in my favourite part of Romania known as the  Bucovina, it is difficult to believe what we saw on television last evening – some events at the protest meeting in Piata Victoriei, ie outside the Romanian Parliament. Someone, little doubt a Government Minister, ordered in the ‘Jandamerie’ – a kind of police army seen, eg, in France or the USA but of which we have no equivalent in the UK.

It had to be the same person who ordered the ‘jandarmi’ to be equipped with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon and give them leave to attack the unarmed crowd, not only young men protesting peacefully but women with children and elderly ladies.

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=429475440791862&id=302902656782475&_rdr

Diaspora

Many in the crowd were ‘diaspora’, people who emigrated to work in another country who came back to register their protest about the corruption rife in Romanian politics. They were swelled by many many still living and working in the country; the crowd eventually probably numbered about 100,000.

No words necessary

Of course you have to be careful of ‘fake news’; not every picture circulating on internet is from last night’s meeting, probably circulated to cast doubt on the truthful ones. But there is no doubt about others showing the violence with which the jandarmi attacked their own people.

“Why do they not refuse to do it. Do they not have mothers, brothers and sisters, even children?” I asked. A large salary, and an enormous pension I was told. Of course some are just sadists.

Romanians are wonderful people but as far as the authorities are concerned if  there’s the most difficult solution to a simple problem you can be pretty sure they will apply it. Being in the European Union has given the bureaucrats another million reasons to make almost anything as difficult as possible. After a week of wrestling with this amazing bureaucracy, to the point where I was tempted to give up and go home early, along comes a young man who arrives when he says he will, does the job quickly and efficiently and the cost at the end, very reasonable, was at the bottom of his estimate range rather than the top. Details at the end of this post.

Missing books

It began with a search for two books in the attic of my parents-in-law, where some 14 years ago I had stored a lot of ‘stuff’ and hardly approached it since. The books: proceedings of a conference in, if I remember correctly, USA and Mexico simultaneously, on using internet in English teaching, at which I presented a paper from Romania, Bucharest, at around midnight – very unusual in the mid 1990s; the other book was about English idioms, by George Stan, head of English at Liceul National in Iași where I was teaching at the time – a great guy who gave me a really generous acknowledgement in the book for my editing of it.

Sadly, neither book was there. Most of the ‘stuff’ was now junk but I was excited to find three ‘gems’ – three VHS tapes, one labelled ‘An English Nativity Play’, another ‘Școala nr.1 (School no.1) Suceava/email project’, the third was a recording of a show celebrating 8th March (1998) at a different school.

First tape

Petronela’s parents have a working VHS player and with some trepidation I put in the first of the tapes and pushed ‘play’. I was taken back to Christmas 1994 and the nativity play was as I hoped, that performed by my students at School No.1 in Burdujeni, Suceava; it was also broadcast by a local tv station on Christmas Day itself. The angel who brought the good news to the shepherds I met about a week ago though she is now a lawyer in Baia Mare – Anca, who I wrote about in my previous post. Other former students who I hope to meet over the next 2 or 3 weeks also feature in the play.

Second tape

The second tape was a presentation of some of the email projects (my conference paper was about these) done by the same group of students, who eventually named themselves the ‘Allstars’. The presentation was to an American couple who delivered ‘obsolete’ IBM laptops to Romanian schools. I used one, eventually two, in email projects as part of my English teaching, linking up with, eg, schools in Vancouver and Northumbria, UK – no Windows, but using MsDos.

Third tape

The Allstars also formed themselves into a Leo Club, 'adopting' a special needs class (the Bunnies) in another school. Here they are shown on a picnic the Allstars organised for the Bunnies


The Allstars also formed themselves into a Leo Club, ‘adopting’ a special needs class (the Bunnies) in another school. Here they are shown on a picnic the Allstars organised for the Bunnies

The third tape, the recording of an 8th March Show, I will not try to insert here as it is almost 1 hour long and only a small part towards the end is a performance for which I was responsible. This performance is by a special needs class in School No. 11 which became ‘The bunnies’ and incorporated the song ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’. They did their own email project with a special needs class in the USA and were ‘adopted’ by the Leo Club formed by some of the students at School No.1. When I get back to UK and on my Mac I should be able to extract the relevant part and do a post about that.

The efficient Romanian

I’ve been able to post the recordings on Youtube, and so hopefully within this post (I’ve never attempted such a thing before – it seems to be working). I cannot cut out the ‘rubbish’ at the start of each till, again, I get onto the Mac at home but after a few seconds the actual film should appear.

I’ve been able to do this only due to the great service from one Romanian young man. Following a phone call he collected the VHS tapes Monday lunchtime, transferred to DVDs and delivered them early Tuesday. The cost? About 1/25th of the cost of transferring the one tape of our wedding (also VHS) to DVD in the UK.

I have never seen Romania so green, so beautiful, but it is a beauty only skin deep. Beneath the surface disasters are happening. We left Yorkshire with an extraordinary summer, weeks of sunshine with little rain, a situation rarely seen before. As we ventured further south east, through Germany and Austria, the heat was still evident but more and more rain, often torrential.

The incredible rain clouds in front of us, as yet in sun, as we reached the outskirts of Iași. The downpour, more violent than any power shower I have met, turned on just as we reached our destination, outside Petronela’s parents’ home.

The incredible rain clouds in front of us, as yet in sun, as we reached the outskirts of Iași. The downpour, more violent than any power shower I have met, turned on just as we reached our destination, outside Petronela’s parents’ home.

We, the human race, are destroying our life as we have known it. Fifty years ago I was writing, as a journalist, about the dangers of ‘global warming’ though few wanted to listen then. Not enough are listening now to those far better qualified than me, especially ignored by the most powerful ‘world leaders’.

Forest destroyed

Swathes of forest have been felled in Romania and it continues so the natural protection against excessive run-off from the mountains has been and continues to be removed. The effects are clear to see: excessively swollen streams and rivers, moving swiftly to sweep away anything in their paths, including bridges and complete houses and causing wide-spread flooding. And for what? Money, of course.

But not money for the general population, money for a few and mostly for foreign investors. Something like 58% of Romanian land, among the most fertile in Europe, has been sold to large foreign corporations from other countries In Europe but also from as far away as the Arab states and China. This is ‘globalisation’ – stealing from the poor to make the rich more obscenely richer. The fat cat politicians pat their back pockets stuffed with Euros, Dollars, Sterling and other currencies, weeping crocodile tears to swell the already swollen rivers.

The immediate effect on our trip

The final good sleep in our tent, at the excellent Warnsborn camp site at Arnhem, Holland.

We have not escaped. Our tent, resistant to 3,000mm water pressure, did not resist the torrential downpours and for the first time ever we have been woken up in the night to find ourselves wet. We ‘escaped’ at 2.30am on two occasions to sleep in the car and on one occasion where it was clearly going to rain we did not bother to erect the tent – with front seat backs fully lowered Dusty provides a reasonable sleeping position but far from ideal, so until we reached my ‘honorary grandmother’s’ house near Câmpulung Moldovenesc we had not had a good night’s sleep since leaving Holland.

New tent!

Having had an interrupted night with heavy rain in Atea, close to the Romanian border at Petea (a great ‘camp site’ which I’ll talk about sometime later), we ordered a new tent online from a Romanian supplier to be delivered to Petronela’s parents. We’re now waiting for delivery. It claims to have 5,000mm water pressure resistance so with any luck it will resist whatever the weather throws at us till we return home.

Idiot Romanian politicians

If the destruction of the environment was not enough, watching Romanian tv is equally horrific: a Prime Minister who doesn’t know what capital she is in (when I lived here I could stop any high school student, probably any primary school pupil, and ask for the capital of any country and they would answer correctly). Then we’ve had the Minister of Agriculture publicly comparing the incineration of pigs to Auschwitz! The only conclusion we can come to is that people like this are put into positions of ‘authority’ to be easily manipulated.

Some things good to finish

First, the people! Warm, friendly, amazingly hospitable. How on earth they have ended up with a Goverment made up with many idiots or corrupt politicians is almost incredible. Part of the answer is without doubt that so many of the young well-educated, well qualified of the population have left the country.

Second, the food. Tomatoes, giant tomatoes which taste like nothing found in UK. Not from a supermarket but grown by people in the country. Then there’s fresh sheep’s cheese, caș, again made by the country people not in any factory, and together with something I cannot translate, urdă, made by heating the wey after making caș and skimming the solids which come to the surface. When made well it is wonderfully sweet and creamy. That was my lunch and I could live on these three foods with a little home-baked bread, made with flour again from the country.

That is not to say I do not enjoy anything else; I could fill many posts of 1,000-2,000 words just to list the dishes I most enjoy – ciorbe (sour soups), plateau țarănesc (a pile of pork, beef, chicken, lamb from the gratar – grill, which we ate with my former student, Anca, yesterday (see below) and of course, borș (borsch – not the Russian borsch known in UK made with beetroot) made by ‘mama’, which greeted us when we arrived yesterday evening.

Anca

Me with Anca at the

With Anca. Petronela took the photo. Plateau țărănesc (or what remains) in front of us.

One of the highlights of my visit will be the meeting yesterday with my former student Anca, who I have not seen since she was a young teenager. A wonderful four hours with a youngster who has grown to be a successful lawyer and a beautiful woman. I wrote in the past about her finding me through Facebook and our meeting yesterday was everything I expected other than it was too short.

Through her initiative I have contact with other former students from the same class and I intend to meet with as many of them as possible, those who have remained in the country, despite the weather as it is which might limit access to some parts of the country.

Rest after 2,700 km drive

Today I am resting – sleeping, eating and writing this post – after driving about 2,700km (1,800 miles).

Later, I will attempt to write a haibun for each day since leaving UK; at the moment they exist as only rough notes scribbled among the ‘adventures’, mostly down to the weather.


PS. We have today, having access to television news, been following the situation in Athens. I am without words, remaining only with tears.

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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.

Picture of the church in Iasi in which Petronela and I were married

Our ultimate destination, Iasi. This is the church in which Petronela and I were married

I’ve done it. I’ve booked the ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland as the first stage (or is it the second?) of a summer trip to Romania, repeating the trip of last year though more leisurely and with a rather different, less direct, route to the Romanian border (yet to be finalised).

Definitely to be avoided is Budapest, a beautiful city along the Danube but a nightmare to navigate, literally life-threatening. The M0 motorway around the city is a death trap with some of the worst driving you’ll see anywhere in Europe, tailgating at 100km or more (last year I just avoided a 5 car pile up). We’ll also avoid a camp site near Munich where a left-over from the Nazi regime almost had me abandoning my usual peaceful disposition; in fact the facilities at the site looked not a lot different to an imagined WW2 concentration camp.

For bloggers who do not regularly read my posts I should explain why the decision to go is a momentous one. I was waiting for my medical consultant to say it was OK (you’ll find things about my medical condition in past posts) but, in the end, I thought I’d go anyway and made the ferry booking. Romania has superb doctors!

Recording on film and digital

Having made one momentous decision, I thought I’d go for broke and make another – begin to post again on my almost abandoned classic camera/film photography blog, grumpytykepix. But I’ll be recording our trip here, having abandoned the horrible Facebook which I used for previous trips. For this I’ll use digital camera or iPad (and perhaps a little C41 film which, both monochrome and colour, I can get processed and scanned in Romania). So I might be able to do one or two posts on grumpytykepix, or when using ‘legacy lenses’ on a digital camera.

Mini, our classic mini which took us there and back without a problem in 2006

We (ie my wife Petronela (P) and I) first did this trip in 2006, in a classic mini, camping – not a single problem so the toolkit, just a screwdriver and 1/2in spanner, were not needed!

VW camper: Lofty2Romania

In 2015 we did the 4,635 miles round trip in Lofty, our 1972 VW camper; a few problems – part of the ‘fun’ of the ‘dub’ –  but P didn’t appreciate it much. And we had mother-in-law shouting to be let out as we navigated multiple one in three hairpins in the mountains. Unfortunately I can no longer handle him for long journeys.

Lofty with me, having just caught the ferry back as the stern door closed. Late arrival resulting from a ‘little’ problem solved im record time by a superb Dutch garage

In 2016 we did it by flying (I hate flying, or rather I quite enjoy flying but hate the waiting, often chaos, and being ripped off in airports now). It’s a pity as Jet2.com, which I like, is only 15 minutes away at Leeds-Bradford airport. Hiring cars when in Romania also was not good, not financially nor for the nerves with 1,000 Euro deposit possibly to be lost thanks to some crazy Romanian driver.

Dacia Duster: Dusty2Romania 1

Last year we did the trip in Dusty, our 2013 Dacia Duster. Really wonderful but taking both our two-man tent and a large one with kit for 6 people to take P’s parents to Transylvania strained even the really capacious Duster. This year we’ll take just our 2-man tent and put the parents in ‘pensiune’ (B&Bs) when we take them somewhere.

Why not Hull ferry?

As we live in Yorkshire you might wonder why we don’t use the ferry from Hull to Holland. It’s a night sailing so apart from the fact that we enjoy a daytime crossing (I love the sea), the mandatory cabin makes it expensive. The disadvantage of using Harwich  is the long drive, the most obvious route, A1 and A14/M11, being dreadful. So we’ll leave early in the morning and take a lazy drive down through Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, camping for the night a few miles from Harwich at a pleasant camp site behind a pub (Stranger’s Home) before taking the morning ferry. The pub has decent food so no cooking for me!

First stop over the other side, for a night, will be Arnhem, on one of the excellent Dutch camp sites (Camping Warnsborn) – only matched by those in Austria and some in Germany. We used it last year on the way there and back.

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).