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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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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).

Photo of cup with a few coins in the hands of a beggar

Photo by York Press

A lot of bloggers make a little money selling their ‘products’ through their WordPress blogs – self-published books, courses in anything from writing or photography to cookery, using Photoshop or other applications, and a wide variety of other products. Of course I cannot have any objection to that; it seems to me that it’s a valid use of a blog. I have some sympathy also with students who offer something in return for a small ‘donation’.

But when it comes to what amounts to ‘begging’, the on-line equivalent of sitting in the street with a begging bowl, I find it difficult to accept. It works at various levels.

Sponsorship

First there are the requests to ‘sponsor’ a blog, the argument being ‘if you like reading my blog please give me some money to allow me to continue’. What about the millions of bloggers who just give us a good read, often giving excellent advice too (foodie and photography blogs spring to mind), fitting their blogging activity around the ‘day job’?

Donate

Then there’s the ‘donate’ button. This is often accompanied by a text with an explanation similar to that given with requests for ‘sponsorship’.

On-line begging bowl

Finally, there’s the simple on-line equivalent of the begging bowl, a blog post which just asks for money because the blogger needs money for anything from day to day living to help with medical bills.

Many of us will respond to the street beggar with a little money or, better, a hot drink or some food when they seem to be a genuine case of hardship. Money needs more thought as it will often go on drugs. And of course there are the street beggars who have a daily take only dreamed of by many hardworking people with a ‘day job’. Spotting them can be difficult as they are often put on the street by a ‘minder’ who takes most of the money. This is particularly prevalent in Romania.

What brought on this post?

There’s a Romanian blogger who I’ve followed for a few years. As the number of posts asking for money increased my reading of his posts, usually several a day, has decreased. I have in the past bought some of his ‘products’, more as a way of giving a bit of help than that I wanted the ‘product’. But now, for me, he’s overstepped the mark.

His latest story is that he will be made homeless unless he pays overdue rent of several hundred dollars. It began with requests to help with dental bills. I had some sympathy with that as it would be difficult to work well if in continual pain. Bloggers sent him really substantial sums of money. Then he asked for money to buy a video camera to make his video clips. My sympathy evaporated but it seems he received the money. Then the story was that his laptop had crashed and he needed money to buy a new one. Again he seemed to receive it readily. Now he says he hasn’t been able to pay his rent and will shortly be evicted, made homeless!

Romanians to whom I’ve related this story have been furious; it’s the kind of story which has brought Romania into disrepute. Having worked with Romanians for over a decade and spending a lot of time in the country since, I can assure you that most Romanians are hardworking given the opportunity (for many this, sadly, meant emigrating).

As I said above, I no longer read many of this blogger’s posts but was drawn to comment on one recently, one of several which seemed to assume that we all want a large number of followers. I felt obliged to point out that not all bloggers want this and gave the reasons; in my case because I try to respond to all comments and ‘likes’ (with some exceptions) and I just could not deal with large numbers.

How many comments ‘not approved’?

What is really sad is that my comment on his blog, which did include a mild admonishment about ‘begging’, was not approved so no one other than the blogger in question has seen it. So I must assume that any other comments expressing unease about ‘begging’ have been similarly withheld.

So, I have to ask here: do you think this type of ‘begging via blog’ is acceptable or not, and which type oversteps the mark? Do you think I’m being unreasonable?

 

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.

As so often in Romania, things are not as they seem nor as you have been told.

The necessary legal documents to buy the ‘dream house’ (see previous post) were not in order as we had been assured they were and, more important, the elderly lady – D-na Saveta – owning it has two daughters, one of whom was keen for her to sell it but the other – who wasn’t answering the phone or communicating in any way – didn’t want her to sell it at all it turned out. She needs ‘permission’, and a legal agreement, from both to sell it.

We haven’t yet given up entirely but it seems unlikely; to get the documents in order would take at least a year (though that time scale would not be a problem for us).

Tomorrow we’re hoping to have another chat with D-na Saveta after erecting the tents in the garden here to dry as we packed them rather damp in Săliște. It should be sunny here tomorrow morning.

The route back – first part

Map of route we aim to follow from Campulung Moldovenesc to Budapest

So, we are back in the Bucovina having spent about a week in Săliște, Sibiu, returning to Iași on Thursday. The villages and small towns around the city of  Sibiu are quite wonderful with their multi-coloured, well maintained saș (saxon) architecture. I put a few pix on my Facebook journal, Dusty2Romania, but Petronela has put far more on her Facebook. Having ‘done’ the spectacular ‘Transfagărășanul’ last year we thought we’d try Romania’s highest main road – Transalpina, 2,145 metres – this year. I wasn’t so impressed though it seems extremely popular with motorcyclists and occasional cyclists.

Very noticable throughout Romania was a massive increase in the number of cyclists – lycra, helmets and all – not only foreign tourists but many Romanians.

Back in Bucovina

We arrived at my ‘honorary grandmother’s’ house, just 7km before Câmpulung Moldovenesc, a couple of hours ago. We will leave most probably on Monday to follow the route shown above rather than the way we came, via Baia Mare, Sighet and Borșa, so then skirting the Ukrainian border. There is camping at the spa town of Marghita (not named on the Google map above but the last thick black circle before the Romania/Hungary border I think) so we aim to spend a night there then on to Budapest, where we have selected another campsite.

We will then go through Budapest, hopefully avoiding the M0 motorway around the south of the city which is a really scary drive – maniac Hungarian drivers sticking 2 metres from your boot at 90mph – on the way to Austria then Germany but haven’t decided on a route yet. So far we have seen four bad accidents this trip, one on that Budapest ring road and one today on the way here from Iași which, to get round it, took us on what was really a forest footpath – fun in other circumstances.

We fancy trying to pick up the Rhine valley which we really enjoyed in the classic mini in 2006, where there were some excellent campsites. I’ll probably be able to do another post somewhere along that route.

My love affair with Romanian entered a new phase a few days ago when we visited friends in the Bucovina town of Câmpulung Moldovenesc. These friends knew we were looking for a house in the region with idea of moving from the UK to Romania to live. At that time we were not thinking the chance of moving was better than 50/50; there were, and remain, many questions to be answered.

A traditional Bucovina timber house

Traditional Bucovina timber house we're considering

The friends, Cătălin and his wife Carmen, knew also that we were looking, for preference, for a house in traditional Bucovina style, with a reasonable plot of land, at a price we might be able to afford. We also wanted it close to a major tourist route for Maramureș and Bucovina, two regions of Romania where Romanian traditional culture is best preserved.

When we arrived they told us they might have found the house we wanted, a few minutes on foot from where they lived. For me, it was particularly interesting as it was basically built of timber. We set off to see it, noting the location was just what we wanted, on the major route but far enough from the road to not hear the traffic, on the edge of the forest but only a short distance to the town centre.

Crossing a rickety wooden bridge over a stream then walking a short distance along a ‘street’ of grass, we looked over a fence to see a house from a fairy tale. Built from substantial timbers, infilled with clay, it has none of the environmentally unsound characteristics of houses built of ‘modern’ materials. As I said recently on my ‘journal’ of the present trip to Romania – Dusty2Romania – I can sense immediately I enter a house built of timber, the only other form of construction giving the same sense of peace and well-being being a strawbale house, and there are few of those in Romania.

Preserving a 100+ year old house

This house has stood for more than 100 years and will probably, with care, stand for another hundred, certainly for far longer than I or Petronela are living. Most Romanians would, unfortunately, demolish it and build a concrete, brick and plastic monstrosity in its place. If we are lucky enough to acquire it, we would preserve the existing house, only building a sympathetic extension on the rear.

Today we made a second visit, measured the rooms, outbuildings, examined the legal documents of title etc and, most important, talked a lot with the 85 years old present owner, leaving already calling her ‘Bunica Saveta’ – grandma Saveta.

Maybe we are a step closer to realising our dream.