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.

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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.

martisor2_edgSpring, the meteorological spring that is, came upon us with a beautiful dawn and a sunny morning which lasted until almost exactly noon. Also came symbols of one of the loveliest of Romanian traditions, mărțișor (see re my problems with Romanian grammar below).

Differing accounts

You will find many differing accounts of the tradition on the internet but in the part of the Romanian Bucovina where I say I was ‘brought up’ I learned that it is the males who receive symbols of spring from the females on this day, 1st March. The ladies have to wait until 8th March, long celebrated as ‘women’s day’ in Romania but in more recent years marked as International Women’s Day worldwide, to receive their tokens from the men. It was on 8th March that I first arrived in Romania, appropriate for me I think.

martisor1_edgIn its simplest form the symbol is just white and red silk threads twisted together which can be tied on the wrist, as one of mine received today (thank you Nectara) is shown here. However, now it is more usually tied in a bow and pinned on the breast, often with a small ‘talisman’ attached, as is the one received from my wife Petronela, pictured on the spoon above, which depicts another lovely tradition, dragobete (this year on 24th February) – I think the loveliest summary of this is ‘the day the birds fall in love’.

Basically they are given to bring the recipient prosperity and happiness for the coming year. They are worn (or should be) until the end of the month then tied in a fruit tree breaking into blossom.

I said in my immediately previous post that although speaking and reading Romanian is little problem for me, writing it is quite another matter so after several attempts I settled for the mix you see in the title. Just one of the problems is the Romanian ‘mărțișor’ is not just the name for the symbol but also for the tradition itself. On line translators, it seemed to me, were of little help. Is it:

Au venit mărțișoare/mărțișoarele/mărțișorii/mărțișoarelor, mărțișoare/mărțișoarele/mărțișorii/mărțișoarelor au venit, or none of those?
If you see this Corina, forgive me ?.

Picture of lambToday – 26 February – is Fairy Tale Day so I thought I’d try to tell you a fairy tale. Although it is Romanian, called Miorita (I don’t have the Romanian characters but it’s pronounced mee-oh-ree-tsa), the little ewe lamb, I’ll try to tell it in English. My very free – not literal – translation (I would not attempt to versify it) is based on a version collected by Vasile Alecsandri (1821 – 1890, Romanian poet, playwright, politician and diplomat who came from the Moldavian city of Bacau, a little south of where I spent most of my time in Romania).

It’s not really a ‘fairy tale’, it’s an ancient ballad which, when I thought I understood it after several years in Romania and knew the language reasonably well, I began to say “Understand Miorita and you can understand Romanians”. Some Romanians may say that is presumptuous, but I believe it to be true though perhaps I should say “Understand Miorita and you can understand Moldavians”.

Moldavia is the part of Romania in which I stayed most of my over 11 years there; if I have a favourite part of this wonderful country it is Moldavia, though my specific favourite is the Bucovina, where some of the more fragile aspects of Moldavians have been strengthened by influences from the western side of the Carpathian mountains.


Bride and groom with marriage crowns during a Romanian wedding service

“Tell them I went to marry a princess”


Miorita

Once upon a time there were three shepherds, each tending their flock on the plain below the lower slopes of hills which seemed to lead to heaven. One of the shepherds was Moldavian, one Transylvanian and one Vrancean (from three parts of ancient Romania).

The Moldavian had more flocks with the most beautiful sheep, with long horns. He had the best, well-trained horses and the most ferocious hounds; in short he was the richest of the three.

The Transylvanian and Vrancean were envious. In their minds, and planning together, they intended to ambush the Moldavian, and kill him, when the sun went down.

Meanwhile, one small grey-dappled ewe lamb had bleated loudly and continuously for three days, refusing to eat.

The Moldavian shepherd asked her: “Don’t you like the grass? Why do you bleat so long and loud? Are you too sick to eat, sweet little lamb?”

She answered: “Dear master, take the flock into that far field, where there is shade for you.  Call a large hound, a fierce, fearless one, strong and loyal, to be near you. When the daylight is gone the Transylvanian and Vrancean intend to murder you”.

The shepherd said to her: “If I am to die here, tell the Vrancean and Transylvanian to let my bones lie somewhere near, by the sheepfold so that my sheep are close by and I can hear my hounds. Put beside me a small beech pipe with its soft, sweet sound, a small pipe of bone which has a loving tone, and one of elderwood, good but fiery-tongued. Then, when the winds blow and play on them all my listening sheep would come near and weep”.

“Do not tell them how I died. Say that I could not stay but went to marry a princess, the most beautiful princess in the world. Tell them that at my wedding a bright star fell, the sun and moon came down to hold my marriage crown. My guests were trees – firs and maples. The high mountains were my priests, my fiddlers the birds, my torchlights the stars”.

“However, if you should meet somewhere my little, old mother with her girdle of wool, crossing the plains with tears flowing from her eyes, asking everyone she meets whether they had seen, had known, her fine shepherd son, slim as a willow tree with a face as bright as milk foam and a small moustache like a young ear of wheat, with hair as black as the feathers of a crow, and small black eyes that glow like ripe sloe berries, have pity and tell her that I have gone to marry a noble princess on the far hills there which lead to heaven”.

“But do not tell my old mother that a bright star fell for my bridal night, that firs and maples were my guests or that the high mountains were my priests, my fiddlers the birds and my torches the stars”.


I have stood on those hills which lead to heaven and can assure you that they do.

New Year vies with Easter as the most important celebration in the Romanian calendar, the latter being the most important religious celebration of course. New Year’s Eve, Revelion, is an important date in our home as it is Petronela’s birthday – so ‘open house’ in accord with Romanian tradition. All are an ‘excuse’ for a magnificent feast which would please any Yorkshireman. Our tiny flat was stuffed, as were our bellies, with traditional Romanian New Year dance and celebration music as a background (see video clips links at the end of this post).

Carp skeleton

Eaten – crap remains 😉 !

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