"East Europe 2005-06" story # 41

Calamanesti, Romania           May 11, 2006

I must go back to my time in Slovakia to say that Marvin, the laidback university student, had been a great host. Nobody ever let me puke in his toilet as many times as he. Seriously, he served me soup the next day while I slept in his bed nineteen hours recovering, and he told me of his philosophy, "Live and let live."
     I had to pass through Hungary then to get to Romania, and the first Hun there to give me a ride was named Chubba. He dropped me in a small town that had a different feel from the other Eastern European countries I'd been in, which had all hosted Slavic peoples. The Hungarian small-towners seemed bigger, almost oaf-ish, and un-hip. On elevated land, a trail passed "Signs of the Cross" sculptures and led to the white church. The people didn't seem poor, but their houses and lives seemed to belong to people who didn't venture much nor party.
     But, what do I know? I didn't stay in Hungary for long, but if I would a good place would be Debrecen, the second-biggest city. Buildings in gothic purple or grey-poupon yellow or pistacchio reached cutely up with drilling cylinders or statue-covered freshly-painted-bumpy facades. Pretty girls made laughing smiles at you when you passed on the broad sidewalk, and a trolley ran through the wide street.
     Another reason to go to Hungary is that huge snails abound! They were all crossing the sidewalk in Chubba's town, and I kept stopping to admire them. Why did the snail cross the sidewalk? Answer: probably to take over the world. Those slimy suckers were big!
     A black-curly-headed Hungarian-Romanian named Juja hitchhiked with me into Romania. She explained that Hungarians' ancestors had come from near the Ural Mountains a long time ago. That's why their language isn't related to any of their neighbors'.

     An overweight chuckling successful white man who didn't speak English but had been to Las Vegas four times, named Ishtvan, drove us from his country to Romania. We reached a big Romanian city, and there were herds of people living in block apartment buildings with outsides like burnt dirty pans. Like Mexico.
     The following day, I would be walking on a dusty road in a small town. And I was hit with a feeling of life being lived. Perhaps the first vehicle I came to was a horse-drawn mini carriage. Chickens pecked about all around. A man pushed a wheelbarrow that had several thick piglets packed inside. Dust sat in front of houses which sat on the quiet street. People unlike you and me, people who wear clothes to work in not to look good, people who labor outdoors on a daily basis, people who take life one day at a time because that's how it comes, scattered around me. This is Romania.
     On a different day, I was walking a long road to a different small town. With every step I took something caught my affectionate gaze.
     First off, the houses were wonderful. Most weren't too small, weren't too big, were just right for living. Others - probably often for gypsies, who tend to have big families - were longer with long social porches. They could be painted any color, disregarding all good taste. I once saw a chewing-gum pink house beside a chlorine-green-with-red-shutters house. The houses, too, could be made out of whatever. I saw a brick-in-the-front/wood-in-the-back house, and a cinder-block-first-floor/wooden-second-floor house.
     Fences surrounded the yards of the houses, which were near each other. The fences could be made out of steel, tin, or wood, the only rule seemed to be they couldn't be the same height or color as the ones next to them.
     The soil in every small yard had been proudly tilled. Each yard might grow lettuce, cabbage, beets, turnips, or a million combinations of such. I marveled at a green well in the middle of one yard. In another yard, two adorable infant goats, one chocolate and one black, played tag.
     The people who lived like this could be either white or gypsy. Gypsy females wore dark skirts or dresses embroidered with beautiful patterns, white blouses, and bandanas wrapped around their heads. Elderly white women also wore dark skirts and shawls or bandanas. Many of the people were outside working, and most of them carried shovels. It's common to see gypsy children, who have dark skin to begin with, outside playing and completely covered in dusty dirt.
     This is Romania. And there's more.
     Dirty shepherds take their hungry flocks on wandering, hours-long hikes.
     People are always carrying things. Seeds, soil, who-knows-what in bags. Old men tug wooden push-platforms. I saw a young gypsy pulling such a thing, its boards were deteriorating and its wheels completely akimbo. Gypsies collect tin and aluminum to sell to factories. When they're not carrying something else, Romanians love carrying flowers.
     One day, a man and his new car picked me up. The man - a member of the "other" first-world Romania, who works for a supermarket chain - turned off the main road, entered a dusty village, passed a well, and stopped to visit his parents.
     The worn middle-aged couple was beautiful. The woman was small; the man was out happy and working with friends. Half the front of their house was horrible green. A quarter was sour yellow, and the last quarter was cinder blocks; the cinder blocks themselves were horrible green, but the veins in-between them were sour yellow.
     Back a ways and beside their house was a big barn. The mortar barn was an ill aqua color, and five slits shaped as crosses let in breaths of air. In front of the barn, dogs stood on things and barked and climbed in and out over the fence as they wished, chickens and baby goats roamed, and stacks of wood waited.
     In this town, the sounds of the people brought peace as does nature, they didn't conflict with nature.
     Horse-drawn mini carriages are a major means of transport, even on main roads where semi trucks have to patiently manouevre around them.
     In the rural parts of the country's north, most of the houses are a hundred years old. I wanted to photograph all of them. Some were light-purple with peeling white banner railings that swirled around like cursive handwriting. One was pastelle purple-blue with thick forest green shutters and bright yellow window edges. Some houses already had fallen down, others were about to.
     In Romania, there are quiet and tidy Armenian churches, Hungarian churches composed of heavy rectangles, and Romanian churches which can be cathedrals or mosque-like or tin-roofed or so bright that they shine or very old with mosaic paintings even on the outside.
     It's a colorful country. The flag is made of one blue, one yellow, and one red vertical stripe. In one car I rode in, there was a cross hanging from the rear-view mirror. It had been set colorfully with blue, yellow, red, and green and pink stones. Only in Romania.
     At one point, I was thinking that Romanians are very different from Americans. But, then, I thought, we're really not. Just then, I came to three kids picking some sort of weird berries from a bush. One girl pulled herself up onto the thin fence and fought to balance as she proceded to pick. I wanted to applaud. That's exactly what I would've done if I was her age. She beamed as I took their picture.

Modern O.

Thanks to Marek & Iva; Chubba; Djula; Djula; Kovacz Laszlo; Ishtvan; Tunshin; Dragos; Sorin & Kali; gypsy trucker; the Barak family of six (including Kristina & Danny); Marian; supermarket employee; religious-looking guy; man in the old slow big truck; and four American and English travelers & their Romanian driver for rides! (I misplaced some names.)

go to the previous story                                                                                   go to the next story

J. Breen's modern-o.com