Posts Tagged countryside

Disappointing, but still loved

Two days in Bucharest, then we took a very early train to Timisoara, my home city, the place where I had spent almost 20 years of my life. How I loved it and thought I would never, but never move away! Still, I first decided to move to Bucharest, after my first big step out of my planned life story, out of my comfort zone – spending one year as an Au Pair in the US, an experience which to this day seems somehow surreal to me. Then it was the UK, thousands of kilometres away and a life experience which I never really thought I would have, even considering my unrealistic dreams of being a volunteer working with children in Africa (I could never have afforded it, nor could I today, still).
Back in Romania the best option for traveling, other than to rent a car (which costs just as much as it would here, in the UK), is the train. Flights are too expensive. By train you also get to actually see the country, although it is a long journey from Bucharest to Timisoara, about 600 km in 8 hours. I would not really recommend a coach, as they take almost the same time and you don’t get much more comfort sitting on the same narrow chair. On the train, as not all the seats are taken, you can stretch your feet, put them up on the one in front of you or next to you, and even take a good nap if you are able to. Luckily I can always sleep in trains, and sometimes in the most difficult postures, like crouching on one seat with my head on the back or arm rest. I probably look very silly, but don’t quite care about it.
On this travel I did take advantage of the rain and slept for a good 3 hours. Unbelievable, but true: Romania turned for one summer into England and the other way around, at least weather wise. We had some very rainy days there, and although I am not very up to date with the news, according to Facebook it seems the rain recently caused some floods all over the country, including in the area where my parents live (close by, they are on higher ground) and in Cluj, where my partner is from.

A very rainy morning, but no loss, passing through the fields in the South, not much to see, the landscape gets exciting as you approach Drobeta, the city situated on the Danube river, on the Eastern end of the defile where it pierces the Carpathian mountains. While we were getting closer to this city, I woke up. I must have my inner clock set to wake me at about this point of the journey. Seeing the big river that defines Central Europe, its waters mirroring the greatness of the kaiserlich und koninglich  power of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, its flow mirrored in Strauss’ waltzes, is always a must. And not for the history it has seen, but for the natural beauty. In the area called Cazane all you can see is the mountains slopes covered by dense forest, the slightly wavy waters of the river, the viaducts built for the railway and roads, the Portile de Fier (Iron Gates) Dam, and the town of Orsova spread up the hill at the end of the defile. In its narrowest place, this crossing dug by water through the mountains measures 230 m in width (about 250 yards).

Our five days in Timisoara have been thoroughly planned, but the weather and some other factors made us change part of these plans. We haven’t managed to see my friend Liana Toma and her family, this amazing lady who is a house mum, a poet and an independent chef at the same time, and who keeps the loveliest of the loveliest cooking blog. It is in Romanian, but you can activate a translation function and trust me, it’s worth it. Once you have went on translation mode, however, your only worry would be keeping things in control and not diving completely into the culinary heaven it inspires.
Those of you who tasted my spinach and salmon roll, the biscuits I served on my good bye day at work with Allied Care in New Milton, or the almond rolled cookies I served on our Secret Santa day last year would be pleased to know the recipes are now available. This way, I’m trying to make up for my sins of forever postponing sharing them with you. Shame on me.

 

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What we managed to do is visit my cousin’s family in a typical village for Banat region, with big gardens and large backyards with lots of poultry and other such animals which don’t come as pets, but for consumption. On Sunday we got in my brother’s car and went on to have a barbecue afternoon, which lasted for some good 5 hours. 
I won’t bore you with all the family stories, although Anka, this cousin of mine, is quite amazing, a recent mum to two adopted brothers and a passionate biker, only about a week after we left she completed the Transalpine trip in Romania, riding her bike on the serpentines  high in the mountains of Fagaras. But what I will say is that visiting for the first time their old house in the countryside (the family used to live in the city until the grandparents passed away) I found a piece of my childhood there.
The scent of a typical traditional house in Banat was the sweet perfume of the day. If I were to describe it, I would say it’s the combined whiff of old wooden floors and furniture, of local dish
es and pork products smoked in the household, of homemade jams and compotes and drinks, and the gentle scent coming from the gardens and fields. It’s the flavour of calcimine inside accompanying the coolness of the walls in the summer and the engulfing warmth in the winter days. It’s the smell of hay, of straw, of vines and of vegetables. The smell of new cement and of old bricks.

It’s probably how I can best describe my home region at this time.

 

And this brings something else into mind. One lazy afternoon I took my foster brothers out in the back yard to lay down in the sun and play cards while catching a tan. They lasted for a bit out there with me, but I guess after half an hour they got bored and left me to it. As I was laying there in the blazing light, sweat all over me like a second, liquid skin, I could hear and see the world from the height of the grass blades. Some bees were buzzing around the tiny wild flowers, some pigeons were lazily cooing, chicken were walking around in their yard faintly cackling of boredom as well, sweet nothing to do on a summer afternoon in the Romanian countryside. The sun rays were sweeping over the roof of the house, framed by the trees’ green, the whole world seemed to purr softly, half asleep, and still so vibrant, pulsating alive through its every pore.

After all the delights of the countryside, which I deeply cherish, as being raised there, we did take two trips to Timisoara. This time I was slightly disappointed with the city I hold so dear. First, the most beautiful square in the city, Piata Unirii (Union Square) is dead for this summer. They have closed it all, replacing the old sewage and plumbing systems, which is a positive thing. However, the way they have done it, killing completely for the season a place which used to be the heart of the whole historical centre, full of restaurant and terraces, buzzing every evening with the sounds of the people sitting around with a drink or some sweet treat to enjoy, was probably not the best idea. It almost makes you wonder if there is any economic personal interest to bankrupt some local businesses.

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Our old pizzeria, Cora, located on one of the streets coming from Piata Unirii, by the most beautiful    and still functional synagogue in the city, is still there, still pretty and they still make great food. It’s a   shame, however, that while in Timisoara, if one wanted to find a fine restaurant with local cuisine they might face an uncomfortable challenge. Who goes to Timisoara to have pizza and pasta?
There are Casa Bunicii restaurants (Nana’s House), easy to find on Tripadvisor. On our first evening in the city we went to one and enjoyed a meal on the terrace, late at night. Still, I was slightly disappointed: while my pork chop and sauce were tasty, it came cold. I was so hungry I didn’t send it back. My partner’s skewers like in Bucovina, set on fire under our own eyes, for a deep pleasant chargrilled flavour, were just as good as the ones I tasted in the winter. The sour cherry liquor hit the spot as a dessert drink.

 

 

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Then we took the kids to the city, a trip which has become tradition. Going around in the Children’s Park, a place I used to visit a lot in my own childhood, well decorated and arranged, with lots of small rides, swings and slides and fancy objects, was very enjoyable. For years the park had been partly abandoned, in the way that there was no new investment, but recently they have renovated it all.
After the kids had a good play and climb and jump around, we went to have lunch just across the big Intercontinental Hotel, the first building with automatic sliding doors in the 70s, if I’m not mistaking (a story I know from my father). The restaurant Curtea Berarilor (Beer Brewer’s Court) had been recommended to us, and as we entered the inner yard it looked really nice. We had a sit and waited forever to be served, so we started to play a word game with the kids as we were all starving and bored to death. When the food came… my chicken wings were the blandest thing I have ever eaten, the soured cream and garlic sauce had no garlic in it. Not nice at all. We tried not to make a big thing out of it as it was a day for the kids to enjoy out in the city. The dessert we had at Cofetaria Trandafirul (The Rose Cake Shop), another place I used to go regularly to since a child, made up for the bad experience with the restaurant.

It could have been better. We could have enjoyed Timisoara more, if only Piata Unirii and the streets around it didn’t look like a war landscape, if only the restaurants were better, if only. But then my old city can still make it up to us next time when we go to visit.

I left Banat with the feeling that it is all still there, just as I knew it, content that everybody at home is doing well, my grandmothers are still in good health, and everything is as I used to know. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to have more to discover for me, all as expected, nothing fresh and unexpected.
I still love my home region and would recommend people to visit it. When they are going to finish with renovating the streets and the square, it will be much better. As for restaurants, Tripadvisor should help. And if you haven’t been so used to how everything is around there, the risk of being bored dissipates as well. It’s a region full of history, and an inquisitive eye and mind would most certainly be happy to explore it.

(Foto 1: made by me. Fotos 2 and 3: Attila Vigh)

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Lost in London

An old man, Vasile Belea, got lost on London tube while visiting his son. The poor man had been drifting God knows how and where before he had been found and reunited with his family. You can read all about the news here.
This is one of those stories which, when you read them, make you laugh and feel sorry at the same time. Well, if you’re British or any other nationality, the funny detail would most probably escape you. But for Romanians, the poor old man’s name is the reason. In Romanian, if you emphasize on the first syllable of Belea, it’s a family name, well known one. But if you place the accent on the second syllable, it becomes a completely different word, meaning trouble in a somewhat funny way, the kind of innocent trouble people sometimes get into. I can only but imagine people back in this man’s village or small town talking, when he goes back, a celebrity by now: “Old uncle Belea got himself into belea while in London”. And this sounds really funny.

 

On the other hand though I can’t help but think of how terrified he must have been. Apparently people have been nice to him, but still. By looking at him and the way he is dressed I can tell that he seems to be a countryside man, who maybe lived and worked his whole life as a farmer, tending to the vegetable garden, the poultry and probably a pig in his own backyard. He wears a typical lamb fleece hat and a typical vest called cojoc, which you wouldn’t really see elderly in the city to wear, unless they are just retired there with their family, after a lifelong spent in a village.
Then I wonder how he lived for three days while he was lost and completely cut out from his family. Did he sleep in a park? Did anybody feel sorry for him and gave him some food? How did he feel being lost in such a crazy busy city like London?

 

What worries me is that he tried to approach police and that was unsuccessful. Chatting to one of my house mates last night, he said something like “people don’t care” and reminded me of the movie “The Terminal” saying a true story about a man who lived for about 5 years in an airport, they all knew he was there and nobody really cared, until they’ve decided to grant him political asylum. While it can be understandable that people would think a grown man, fit and healthy, could take care of himself one way or another, I find it concerning that police would just ignore an old person trying to approach them.
Of course we can’t tell how it happened. But think about it: in the end, Vasile Belea took a newspaper with his photo in it and went to show it to the police. This underlines couple of things: the old countryside man from Romania found a way to help himself, in a world completely different from the one he’d known so far. And also, he wasn’t afraid of police and he knew that they would be the ones to finally help him. So I doubt it that the first two times he tried to get their attention he’d been too bashful or hesitating.
When police ignore or fail to help an elderly person, who clearly doesn’t look like a London regular, just because he doesn’t speak the language, I find it concerning. This man could’ve been from any country in the world, doesn’t matter. They couldn’t understand him? Keep him around, get somebody to take him to the police station, show him a map of the country, then Europe/the world and he could’ve said or indicated to Romania. Get him to the Embassy and problem solved. No need for the vulnerable elderly to spend three days and nights on the streets of London, all alone and miserable.

 

Compared to the police failure to help him, some people’s comments on the discussion board of Huffington Post seem mere frivolities. But they aren’t. When frustration has grown to such a level to which they mock a vulnerable person’s traumatizing experience just for being Romanian, it means it’s the same old story of a still immature society. Society as a group still functions for some to take advantage and for others to take their frustrations over others.

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Me happy, dad tired, after six hours of strolling through London

This might be quite a strong statement, but it literally made me sick to read comments like “so when is he going back then?”. Yes, I find these comments oozing with racism. I mentioned it, and I got in reply the very intelligent and refined answer “stupid woman”. Right.
My father visited me here in October. It was his first time in the UK, but he had previously travelled to Austria and the neighbouring countries, former Yugoslavia and Hungary. Although he’s been brought up in a countryside household and he keeps a vegetable garden, poultry and all the rest, he is a priest, with four years of University studies. He’s a big fan of British documentaries on history, he watches old movies (without subtiles) on TCM and he’s a person with a certain degree of cultural information. He can speak basic English, although he is quite bashful when it comes to this. But he could manage if he’d get lost.

 

When he was here, for two weeks I took him all around the area. We’ve visited Hurst Castle, which was lots of fun for both of us, of course as a big history lover he thoroughly enjoyed it. We even faced the very strong winds on the spit with smiles on our faces. We went to Southampton and he could admire the old fortifications there. In Bournemouth we took a stroll on the beach, we’ve visited the old priory church in Christchurch. And we went to Beaulieu National Motor Museum for one day. Then, before him flying back home, I dragged him all around Central London, to all the important landmarks.
During those two weeks, none of the people who served us Chinese, Mexican or pub style food (The Harvester), who sold us tickets or were just around us in any of those place asked us “so, when is he going back?”. It would’ve been quite stupid, really. My father was here so I could spend my money showing him around, so why would they?

 

I want to conclude this article by saying the following: people who can make such comments to such a story show not only a big load of frustration, but also being insensitive and lacking in that human trait that makes us more than animals – empathy. They have probably never thought what if it was their father, lost in a city like Bucharest, all foreign and crazy for them. But I realise it would be difficult to find a place which could put their fathers in the same kind of situation. Fortunately, if an English elderly person would get lost in Bucharest, almost everybody could understand them saying that they are lost and need help and could offer them help. Lucky that English is spoken by so many people in today’s world that people from English speaking countries don’t even need to bother learning any other language.
Well, for an old countryside man from Romania being unable to speak English meant three days on the streets. I bet he never imagined he would get in such a situation. Him being safe and back with his family can even make us smile when reading about his story.  

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Going home for Christmas. Flavours of Banat countryside

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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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Those summer nights

Do you remember those summer nights, each of them holding a secret call, a whisper floating at the atomic level or just surrounding everything in an invisible pulsating halo? For me, those were the nights of my late childhood and teenage years. There was always something out there in air, something untouchable and yet so close, like an imperceptible flutter of wings.
No wonder I ended up a night person, a strange kind of a night bird, with the bad habits of roaming the internet and sometimes just looking at the ceiling and my mind drifting away. Less now, oh, the age… (laziness is what’s killing me, I could do so much better with reading when I’m in my night mood, actually).

What made me go back to those crazy nights was Depeche Mode and all the rest of the music in my early-middle 90’s. Or maybe it’s just the rain that poured down today which made me crave for summer.
1991 was one of the best years I’ve ever had. The group of friends I had back in my parents’ village became a brotherhood, we were almost never apart (except for school days lol) and nobody was dating another in the gang. Years before, we used to get together a big bunch of kids, sometimes even 20 of us, and play hide and seek at sunset until it got dark and our parents were shouting at us to get home alright or else. It was much more fun when nobody could really see whom they were seeking and they’d more or less have to guess. To make it even harder, we used to swap our jumpers or cardigans so that the seeker couldn’t tell us apart. If they made a mistake, they just had to seek again. Quite a harsh task, when we were more than 15 playing they would for sure be the seeker for the night, no chance to pass it to another.

But then we grew up a little, we started dating among the gang, there was even this one guy who dated all of the girls and later on, in the coming years, we’d just sit down for a chat in a lazy hot summer afternoon and have a laugh about how it was when he first invited one us to dance or the first kiss. No, it wasn’t just us girls chatting, it was with him as well. He turned, from early Don Juan, into the charming best friend (I know you can hardly believe it possible, I wouldn’t either).
In 1991 I was studying to pass the admission exam into High School. I did study hard, but I did have lots of fun as well. Saturday and Sunday afternoons were for the brotherhood, and in that year the local pubs weren’t so popular yet, I can hardly remember if any was really open, and yes, I know we were under 18, but it was acceptable back then and we did used to hang out, a year later, in the pub which was also the local disco.

The afternoons in that golden year would just catch us chatting and always doing something silly funny. I remember one rainy Sunday we sheltered under the roof of one house in the street were we usually gathered, the Maths teacher and his wife, Geography teacher, lived there, and she came out to feed the geese which were roaming in the street as well, and she saw us. She laughed, saying “are you soaking wet or is the roof helping at all?”, and then adding she could hear us earlier, she didn’t mind, it just amused her. Well, truth is nobody ever chased us away.
The summer came. That blessed summer when my dad made for us a table for playing tennis, and it filled half of the yard between the main house and the small summer kitchen, sheltered by clinging vines which kept a cooling shadow over. We used to play for hours and the recorder in the hallway fed us all our favourite music. Two bands distinctively stood out: Depeche Mode and Roxette.

It was that year that I had my first coffee sickness as well, this is such a silly story. My mum asked us all if we fancied coffee, we were like 10 kids in the yard, I mean 14-16 years old at the time, and we did all wanted a cup. Thing is most of us didn’t finish their coffees. Me and a friend, O., had a brilliant idea: why don’t we finish it for them? Genius! 20 minutes later, who was having strong heart bits, headache and felt the ground running from under their feet? Me and O. Mum took us inside and made us lay down for half an hour or so, the heroes of the day.

When my dad brought the first video player we watched all the worse action movies of the 90’s, Van Damme was our favourite, we all loved karate action and the good universal soldier hero. There was only one rule: we had to be nice and quiet whilst inside. We all crammed into that small lounge, some on the sofas, some of us on the floor, watched the movie, and then went out quietly.
Every now and then there would be visitors in my parents’ house, either for my father, who’s the priest in the village, or for my mother, who studied alternative medicine practice in the early 90’s and people would come for advice and Chinese massage treatment. In order to get out of the small lounge we had to pass through another room, where my parents would usually sit down with their visitors. They would ask if we’re the priest’s and his wife’s children, and my parents would say yes, we are. One, two… four, five. When it got to six the people couldn’t usually hold their amazement anymore, spared by my mum’s or dad’s explanation: the whole gang was their soul children.

One year later, at the beginning of summer, I got my first boyfriend whom I was in a relation with for four years and the whole brotherhood broke. Not because of me, come on, I wasn’t the only one getting steady. My neighbour became my best friend again (she was never part of the gang), I used to hang out a lot with her when 12, and her cousin was now that steady boyfriend of mine.
It’s fun now to remember all these. Listening to some Euro dance music from that decade, I don’t really remember all my romantic butterflies and projections and plans to get married to my one and only true love (oh, well, I went to college and he turned out not to be the love of my life after all). It just gives me that feeling of utter silliness, of just sticking my nose out in the real world of grown-ups and thinking that having one or two glasses of alcohol and smoking at every Saturday night disco was sooooo cool.
All the silly dreams, pains and suffering of the teenage years seem like sweet madness, the haze of a light and curious heart, and the restlessness of an idealistic mind meeting the world of grown-ups pragmatism.

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The man behind the crystals. Forgotten Romania II

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In the previous post I’ve started to tell about the trip I took on May to Ocna de Fier, together with my brother, sister-in-law and the kids. Driving there was really pleasant as it took us through the fields of my old Banat, the region where I was born and raised, into the hills of Bocșa. While a student in the University, whenever I travelled in that area I got excited as soon as I saw the wavy landscape, the forests, the greener shades as we were approaching the mountains.

Now the mountains weren’t out target, but this hidden village I’ve always known of, but never really sure how far or close it was from Bocșa. I had no idea Ocna de Fier was really just 15 minutes driving. I say 15 as the road is in a quite bad shape and you wouldn’t want to speed up in the forest anyway.

 

Getting close, you first reach the old iron mine, a gloomy site, you’d expect miners ghosts to flicker in the shadow of the deserted buildings. Then the countryside houses, aligned on the valley, actually look like mushrooms growing up a hidden path in the forest. You can see people aren’t very rich here, but there is something homely in the simplicity of the landscape, something welcoming, despite the silence that only the fowls in the yard are braking with their „cock-a-doodle-doo”, softer now just before the rain would start.

We drove up the road and I was a bit nervous we might miss the house with the crystal exhibition. On the other hand, I guess I was just excited, as I knew we could always stop, knock at somebody’s door and ask. Didn’t have to do that, as we stopped and asked a man on the street and he gave us precise directions: “Just drive forward and you’ll see it on the left side, before the Village Hall”. Easy, isn’t it?

 

We were there in about two minutes. Couple of days before my mum tried to ring and let the owner of the museum know that we were going. Constantin Gruescu exhibits his collection of stones in his own house. Well, his phone line was disturbed and we couldn’t reach him, but we were lucky that day, he was at home. And his house is always open to guests.

Finally meeting mister Gruescu face to face I could but only admire his energy, his open heart and his dedication. Growing up in a family with a mining tradition, he turned out to be passionate about rocks and minerals since childhood. I don’t know if he was really into mining at all, all I know is that he never worked in a mine, although he didn’t get a higher education either. In the times when he grew up it wasn’t easy for a young man to study. Still, he went to primary and secondary school for 7 years and then got professional qualification, three different courses, started to work at the age of 19, in 1943, as part of the quality control team in the Steel Factories in Reșița.This continued to be his job until 1977 (the year I was born!), when he got pensioned.

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 Mister Gruescu opened this museum in 1945, when he was only 21, and dedicated his life to studying the minerals, collecting them and showing them to everybody who comes to visit. The communist times came and passed, without causing much harm, his collection wasn’t confiscated or “donated” to the state institutions, although over the years he donated for    real many of the rocks and crystals to be hosted by bigger museums. Still, there is nothing    like just driving there, shaking his hand and listening to him for over an hour while you look    at the violet, golden or milky white facets, giving a special glow, of the crystals that seem to    have grown in that very room.

   On the right side, as you enter, you’ll find a big rock which is made of three generation of crystals, each grown in a different age, each by a new process of crystallization. You can see the different groups by their size and orientation. Mister Gruescu encouraged us to hold our hands palms down, above the big rock, and feel its energy. He said each person gets a different feeling, for some it’s a cold vibe, for others is warm, some feel tingling in their toes and arms or whole body, some become agitated. Well, the energy of the crystals is a much argued esoteric belief, although they have been used for centuries in alternative healing techniques. There is some scientific truth, as to crystals vibrating to the pitch that is emitted by a source close to them. For the sceptical, they at least give a quite beautiful sight.

 

The owner of this wonder room of minerals doesn’t practice crystal healing himself, although he could easily do. The massive rocks that he has seem to be taken out of an extra-terrestrial landscape. Some of them really reminded me of Stargate SG-1, to which I’m a forever fan. Some of them just sparkle imagination, some are poisonous, like the realgar rock, which contains arsenic and it’s thought to have been used by the cardinals in the old times whenever they needed to… send somebody to heaven (or hell, who could really tell?).

One of the stories he’s told us stands out for its ironic twist. During the former dictator’s rule, each County Council would send a gift to the Ceaușescu couple on a certain occasion (probably one of the many they were celebrated as the heroes of the Romanian people…). Mister Gruescu has been asked to help with two crystals for that year, which would have been gracefully presented, as gifts from Caraș-Severin. He donated a violet crystal for the dictator and a pink quartz for his wife. A month after the celebration, the quartz came back. The County Council official explained they couldn’t finish the case for it in time, so they didn’t want to make fools of themselves and decided to send something else. Years later, a visitor who had a position as a staff serving the dictators at that particular event said the truth was somewhat different. Ceaușescu wasn’t impressed or bothered by the crystal gift, he was merely indifferent as he passed through the room and was presented with what every county sent him. His wife, however, took a look at the quartz and overreacted, shouting “What’s this crap? Take this stupid thing out of my sight, I don’t want to see it!”  It is thought that she couldn’t stand the good energy of the crystal, which came into conflict with her really murky vibration, one of an egotistical woman driven only by her thirst for power.

 

The truth is that listening to Mr. Gruescu, now 90, can make you feel like you are in crystal heaven. His passion, his generosity and his open heart are the things that make this museum live. There is no fee to visit it. Everybody is welcome and everybody can make a small donation. When we left some money, he said it’s a bit much and asked us to take some crystals he had for sale, take them as gifts. Going there I had in my mind to record him talking about the museum and his experience with collecting and studying the minerals over years. He even discovered a formation unique in the world, called Macla Gruescu, and which looks like a cross, never found anywhere else before or after. But his modesty came first: I could see him a bit embarrassed with talking in front of my laptop, so just gave up the whole idea. Instead, I thought of writing this post in English and posting the photos we’ve taken there.

 

Funny enough, on the way back home both me and my sister-in-law fell in the line of duty. I got so sleepy I couldn’t keep my eyes open while my brother was talking to me, and she just fell asleep in the back and we had to leave her there while stopping at my parents to leave the kids. Maybe it was just because of the rain. Or maybe the power of crystals completely knocked us down, taking our minds to the higher dimension of dreamless sleep.

The happy bunch

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Next to one of my favourite crystals colony

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Three generations 

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Minerals party 

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Note: None of the photos can be reposted without written permission.

@Catalina George

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