Going home for Christmas. Flavours of Banat countryside

 Craciun 100

Another winter, on my parents’ street. 

There is no better time than the present time, they say, as both the past and the future are, in great proportion, reflections of our own minds. And if it is so, how to better tell one’s life story than starting from what is here and now, in one’s grasp, fresh and throbbing alive. As it happens, that “one” is me myself in this (inside) land.

Since I’ve left Romania, it’s the first winter holidays I’m back at my parents’ for. The travel was the most adventurous of all so far and the time spent here feels so cosy, familiar and somehow new and surprising. It might be because I’m the same girl who left her parents’ house when she was eight, to go and live in a flat in the city with her grandparents, because of both fortunate and unfortunate circumstances, and because I’m different now, a woman who’s grown out of her own and the others’ expectations. Considering at least that I used to be so convinced I will never leave the region I grew up in, Banat, and I wouldn’t even want to think of moving to another country, my life today looks so different from what it’s been imagined it would be.

But I intended to write about my journey and my time here on this holiday so far, and the little revelations that came with it. Traveling from Bournemouth area to London proved most difficult and even tearful this time. True, when I booked my ticket out for the 26th I was trying to save some money and I knew at that time there won’t be any transport available. All those months ago we weren’t sure yet if I was going to travel alone or with my partner, meanwhile he decided he could use the money earned over Christmas and New Year’s, for the goals he has in 2014, and I couldn’t but agree. So the plan was for me to take the train to London on the 24th and stay there till the Boxing Day morning. Easy, right?

Wrong. The weather seemed to disagree with my plans and I was offered a double lesson. First, I really really really really (I couldn’t write really as many times as needed, as you’d quit reading my posting right now) need to be better organised. A difficult task for my bohemian side, but (hopefully) not impossible.
Second, I am blessed with great people around me.

Now what happened: it took me much more to finish packing than I planned or thought it would. Still, checking the train times at around 17:00 on Christmas Eve, the South West Trains web site seemed to let me book tickets for the after 19:00 trains. Yes, the storm was making havoc, but if the train line site didn’t say anything exactly about the later trains I expected to be able to catch one. Maybe I just didn’t look in the right place.
Fact is when I was finally done with packing, tired and sad and feeling guilty I didn’t spend more time with him that day, my partner dropped me off at the station on his way to work. And then disaster struck. I looked at the train station electrical panel to realise the only train left to travel that evening was the past 20:00 one to Southampton. SOUTHAMPTON????!!!  I was done, finished, heart-broken. There was no way for me to get to London, no more trains, and I couldn’t push my partner to drive me there as he would work for three nights on a row. Bursting into tears (I know, just like a silly cow) I called him to disclose the disaster. He asked me to calm down and go home. Later he texted me not to worry, everything was going to be alright, he talked to his brother and they would arrange the details later.

On Christmas Day my partner’s brother drove all the way from London only to pick me up, so that next morning, very early, he could give me a lift to the 757 Brent Cross bus stop to Luton. I was saved. And I can’t say enough how lucky I feel to have such great people close to me, on whom I could count to save my so much planned and dreamt of winter holiday.

The night of 25th, before catching that flight, was a torment: I couldn’t really sleep, I don’t even know if I slept, it felt like I was drifting away and sinking into sleep, only to regain my conscious hearing, open my eyes and see that it’s been only about an hour since I’d last check the clock. Horrible.
One thing went like clockwork: my luggage weighted exactly how much my home scales said, and my boarding was as smooth and stress free as it can get. Bingo!

The flight itself was shaky and not very pleasant, presumably because of the windy weather sweeping across Europe. I tried to sleep, I almost managed to, and I helped the little girl sitting next to me to get over the fear and feeling sick. Told her to look at the birds flying when it’s windy, they too are a bit shaken by the air flow, but nothing serious happens. Making her feel better and be less afraid helped me feel better. Truth is I do enjoy flying and usually at take-off I feel a bit like a Stargate character in space shuttle (well, I never said I’m the sanest in the world) and at landing I’m just as content as an elf who’s wrapped 1000 presents for the greatest children in the world.

My brother with my nephew and my foster brothers were waiting for me at the airport. We went home, unwrapped presents, they got me the loveliest pair of fuzzy slippers, we chatted and looked at photos and then I’ve slept for 12 hours. At last!

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Being at my parents’ home is different this time, if only considering I’m trying to eat as low carb, high fat as possible. The last part isn’t so difficult, as they have just had a pig sacrificed, in the old tradition, for Christmas, and now we’ve got homemade sausages, the best in the world, smoked and hanged to dry, sângerete or black pudding and caltaboș or what the Germans call leberwurst, bacon and pork grease and all the joys of a fat meat eater. The low carb part comes a bit more difficult, with the traditional chicken noodle soup (back yard reared poultry, they come running when you open the door, as it’s their signal for “come and be fed”), with the mashed potato and the Romanian mamaliga (worldwide known as polenta). Still, the pickled cucumbers, beetroot and red pepper, the zacusca (a very popular kind of vegetables stew, made with aubergine, carrots, peppers) help as acceptable side dishes in my new eating style.

It’s most difficult to fight my mum’s delicious cakes and sweets. This year she’s made a type of French fancy which is different by the fact that the sponge is moist and this makes it even more delicious. Then there is the usual two vanilla filling and caramel layers cake, with a chocolate icing, and the old Greta Garbo, with walnuts and strawberries jam. There is some left in the tray in the living room, used more or less as a storage room in winter, and every time I pass through in my way to the huge bedroom the sweet smell of walnut, mixed with strawberries and chocolate aromas, just seems like a winter childhood dream still alive.
If there is one thing that I could single out as reminding me of my home region, of my parents’ village, is the smell. Different smells, which all come together to say “here is where I grew up, this is what I will take with me no matter where I will go”. And, at the same time, it was one of the first things I’ve noticed to be significantly different when moving to the UK: the way the air smells, indoors and outdoors.
It might be linked to my childhood as a person with allergies triggered asthma attacks. Back then, and probably now still, I could smell a clean room or a dusty one or a room with mouldy walls, even if it wasn’t visible. But asthma attacks are a thing of the past I am not any longer concerned with, fortunately.

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Now, the smells of old familiar things have come to my mind not in a nostalgic way, but as something I want to keep with me, a small and important thing speaking of my roots. The way an old countryside house smells like, the wood smoke, the Greta Garbo aroma, the traditional sausages and ”jumări” (a kind of crackling, served on their own and not as crunchy), the dry vegetable garden, the smell of fresh snow and freezing cold (I haven’t yet been blessed with these so far, unfortunately), so many things talking the same silent language.
I don’t feel nostalgic or wanting to go back to my childhood, even if I came to realise the house where I grew up and which I have called “home” for all these years will no longer be our family home sooner than expected. My father being a priest has lived in this parish house since I was about 3 years old or so. But now he’s got two more years till retiring age. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, a priest can still practice priesthood and have a job as such for as long as he is physically and mentally fit, as it’s considered a vocation rather than just a profession. Apparently, they have come to ask priests to retire when they reach the age most people become pensioners.
It’s something I always knew would happen and most certainly both me and my brother have grown out of our teenage years, when we urged our parents to convince grandmother to sell the house in a neighbouring town and buy one here, in the village they’ve lived in for so long. At the same time, it’s a change coming sooner than expected and it just makes me realise it is high time for me to  find a way to store the heritage of where I’ve grown up, distilled into potions to be given further to my children or to whoever is interested in trying the flavours of different places.   

 

 

 

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