Posts Tagged family
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.
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.
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.
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)
If it wasn’t for the radio yesterday, I wouldn’t have realised it was St. George Day. And thanks to my favourite morning show, I found out St. George is the patron saint of England and his celebration day, National Day of the country. You can see my family name is George as well, and I find this to be a funny coincidence, me having moved to this country.
The fact didn’t come as a surprise. Thinking of his knightly figure, fighting and defeating the dragon, it feels only natural that he became the emblem of England. On the other hand though, the real story of this Christian saint seems to say that his faith was so strong that he gave up his life as a Roman soldier, with all the privileges that came with it, and risked facing the consequences of practising a faith considered dangerous or unacceptable in his times. It’s a life story of passion, dedication and humility.
The roots of the name though are Greek, meaning “the one who works the land”. Georgos is derived from ge = earth and ergon = work.
I can say I celebrated my family name day, England National Day and the patron saint of the church where my father serves as a priest (another happy coincidence) by holy and sacred work search. Not that I mind.
What I haven’t celebrated properly is Easter.
Easter Sunday roast, on 2008, with my foster brothers, over dad’s shoulder
While Christmas became such an overwhelming holiday in the whole of the Western world, prone to criticism that it’s more of a commercial happening, a rush to buy, overeat and stress about decorating your house, cooking, organising parties and families getting together, Easter seems to be more of a quiet one. For people who don’t practice the Christian faith or just do it as a family tradition, Easter might not make a lot of sense anyway. Jesus’s story is impressive, for many it might be just fiction, some might not be interested at all, or practice other religions or religious beliefs.
I don’t know so much about how Easter is celebrated in the UK, but some things seem obvious: lamb roast, family meals, chocolate eggs, and chocolate egg hunts or other activities for the kiddies. For me, as a Romanian living in the UK, Easter is something I’ve lost when moving here, but I intend to take it back starting next year.
In Romania, as a country with a population still quite attached to the old Christian Orthodox rituals and traditions, Easter is as much a celebrated and well prepared holiday as Christmas. Respecting a set of rituals and doing things in a certain manner, every year, gives a sense of continuity, builds a feeling of community and meaningfulness.
To fast prior to a sacred day means to prepare yourself by abstaining from the consumption of certain foods, which can only have the psychological effect of enjoying everything even more when the time comes. It’s worth to mention that consumption of more vegetables, while pushing aside meaty and dairy products, is a great way of purifying your body of toxins. Well, it used to be, as people in old times wouldn’t have so much veggies available over winter and had to rely on meat and flour, plus potatoes for the season.
In the week of Christ’s Passions, starting Thursday evening, church services commemorate what happened each day before He was crucified. People go to church for the evening, then next day they start making preparations for the celebration. Friday and Saturday are mostly baking days, preparing the base for the cakes, making cookies, getting the meat ready to be roasted, and dying the eggs.
Talking to mum the Saturday before Easter she told me while she was boiling the 50 eggs to be coloured later she thought of me, as this used to be my preferred task since childhood.
Making red eggs for Easter, in 2008, and wearing my mum’s fleece coat, hahaha!
There is another tradition quite dear to me and meaningful, if you think of it. On Easter Sunday people would go and visit relatives, taking with them a gift of sweet bread, red eggs, and cake/cookies, to share. They would stay over for a chat, a drink and a snack, then take home the gift their relatives gave in return. Next thing, they would take another pack of treats from home and go to other close relatives. So they could spend the whole day visiting, chatting, having treats, and getting together with grandparents, cousins, uncles, which also strengthened family bonds and the feeling of community.
A story told and retold in our family involves my father’s second cousin, who used to be a very funny boy, well-loved for his humour, but also quite cheeky at times. After church and Easter roast dinner, he was sent by his nan (they all lived in the family house) to one of his uncle’s family with the packed treats. He left and then she waited for him to get back home bringing the sweet bread, red eggs and cake from uncle’s. And she waited. And she waited. Four hours later she was fuming, when he finally got home.
– What were you thinking, boy? Do you know what time it is? How on Earth are you going to get over to your other uncles now, when it’s so late in the day?
– Nan, don’t worry, I’ve already been to all of them.
The poor old lady’s face must’ve turned ripe tomato red. It was such a shame, unimaginable. The gift from others in the family must always be brought home, where you would have your packed treats cooked and prepared in your house, to be taken to the next relatives. They would probably know what came from whom. So that year nan had to apologise to many in the family for her grandson’s cunny way of sorting out things with less effort, sparing him to go back home every time.
Now reading about this one could ask: right, but if everybody visited everybody, what if you found nobody at home? No, it wasn’t chaotic, everybody took turns, some would wait for visits this year, while returning them the next. It was a cycle that had to be completed, and as we know, completing a cycle gives us a feeling of fulfilment, of security and of belonging.
All of these add to the feeling of a sacred time, of valuing people’s efforts and participation, as well as giving meaning to things beyond just stuffing one’s stomach with food and drink, and mind with entertainment. There are many other rituals and traditions, depending on the part of the country. Some of them involved young people getting together so that young men and women could meet, get a chance to chat and know each other, as a first step towards marriage and new families. But all of it meant they would get involved, organise and, above all, do things themselves. They would prepare the house, themselves and, in the end, family or community meals from scratch.
In contemporary society, buying everything ready-made, even the entertainment, is a source for a feeling of alienation. There is little, if any, direct connection between us and the chocolate Easter egg we’re eating. The only effort put into it ourselves is probably just going in an overcrowded Tesco or Salisbury and cueing long lines to pay for it. Being dependent on comfort has the effect of cutting people from a reality that used to be immediate, touchable, colourful and needed attention, for a virtuality that we are not even sure where it comes from anymore.
Finding again something that can revive those sacred rhythms, that feeling of being part of a meaningful reality, in a meaningful world, structured, beautiful and amazing at the same time, might be crucial for humanity now. It’s probably time for reinventing our relation to everything, which human beings have proven so far they can do so well, with all the challenges and difficulties and even catastrophe in their way.
I will conclude with a greeting I missed this spring, more than before, one being used on Easter Sunday if not for a week in Romania: “Hristos a inviat!” (Christ has risen!).
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.
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.