Feasting on hospitality....
Trip Start Oct 15, 2007
17Trip End Dec 20, 2007
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But Now Were on to ROMANIA!!
Pull in to Cluj-Napoca, find the hostel and within ten minutes this guy, who is the editor-in chief of the Hungarian paper in Romania, starts chatting and we all go out for dinner. He's hosting a Japanese woman, Kyoko, who is visiting on a fellowship. Oliver Kiss is his name and he's quite fascinating...fills us in about the Romanian-Hungarian relations here in Transylvania...which can be quite heated. He says that the Hungarians and Romanians are clearly identified by their churches....(and of course their histories, culture, and language, etc.) the Romanians are Orthodox and have their own town square with their church in the center and the Hungarians have their square with their Catholic Church as the centerpiece. Very strong feelings about retaining the Hungarian culture within Romania. It sounds like these borders have been messed with so many times...and the people moved from place to place due to changing politics, wars, factory work, etc. and it's been really important for the Hungarians to retain their identity. Oliver says that he has dealt with personal attack in the past...and apparently they just ousted a mayor (in the 90s) who actually declared he wanted all the Hungarians to gather in the big stadium where he could "keep them safe" under gun protection during a particularly heated time. He wasn't trusted...
Today was one of those rare opportunity days that you soak in and savor. Oliver packs us in his little Dacia - the Romanian car that nobody seems to have faith in - and we head out to see his uncle in the countryside, rather unaware of what that really means. It's nice to just sit in the back seat and be a passenger on these crazy roads. Oliver gives us driving-in-Romania lessons...it's really wild with lots of big trucks barreling every which way.
An aside for just a moment....Romania seems to have been rapidly building it's infrastructure since the fall of communism and the death of Ceausescu in 1989. The quality of the roads can't keep up with the use and demand for them. New commercial buildings are being constructed everywhere, it feels like there's this rush effort at "modernization". Prices have risen quite noticeably over the past few years, not necessarily in sync with salaries. Food seems to cost as much here as in the states...some stuff, like clothing, can be far more expensive. I hear a lot about the poverty people are living in but with this state of economic expansion, somebody must have money out there. I wonder if the Hungarians and Romanians are divided by class...but Oliver says not really...in fact, the Hungarians own lots of property within the country. Anyway, when people talk about the period of time under communism they are clearly quite relieved that it is over. People my age and younger remember not having enough food...in fact Oliver talks about how his father used to say "our only hope is with the Americans." This trip to such recently communist countries continues to open my eyes to an era that I grew up in yet was divorced from this kind of reality. Sounds like there were initiatives to eliminate the really small towns in the rural countryside and move everybody to the city. And with that in mind, lots of big ugly square cement buildings were constructed that are in striking contrast to the traditional Romanian style. We pass a huge cement plant in a naturally devastated landscape that is described as one of the products of the communist era. We pass communist bloc housing... also square, cement, cold and ugly. Lots of these high rise blocs were constructed to house relocated workers and rural people...they're still occupied...much of the rural housing was destroyed as was the traditional lifestyle.
Back to the amazing day....As we head further down the rural, rutted road we're moving back in time....to traditional Romanian countryside living that's struggling to survive. Alongside the big semis on the highway, people drive horse drawn carts...even in the dark they're plodding along the fast-paced highway. I guess they cause lots of accidents since nobody wants to total their car by hitting a horse...they swerve...the roads are definitely dangerous. Anyway, we arrive at Oliver's uncles girlfriends house...she has two kids...one is the beautiful little girl in the photos - Elena - and her sweet cousin Jimmy. And then there's the pigs and the chickens, and the cow, etc. We're greeted so warmly and visit a while before going down to his uncle's house. The kids accompany us...they are so charming and sparkly...a pleasure to be around even if our communication is limited to face and hand gestures and the sharing of apples. His uncle, Tommy, lives a few houses away...we visit with the neighbors on the way...it's a small town and we stand out...Oliver tells us that Kyoko is the first Japanese person that's ever been there. One of the old men that we pass - he's in a photo with his wife and he has the toughest hardest working hands I've ever seen - says that he feels so sorry that he speaks no other language that Hungarian...that it would open him up to the rest of the world if he could speak other languages...that all he knows of the rest of the world is what he sees on TV. I think that pretty astute and feel similarly much of the time.
So down at the uncle's house we hang out, and pretty quickly get down into the root cellar where we're treated to Tommy's special brews...there is his home-brewed Palinka (remember that 50%+ alcohol stuff) and home made wine, some recently brewed as well as some that was put away 20 years ago...as his uncle says, he made it for his eventual wedding but that never happened But its like a chemistry lab down there...except of course for the cabbages and potatos and other things stored with the wine. There's just enough room for the group of us to fit in standing. He's got the brewing system down and its all tasty - except, for me, the Palinka, but I pass that over to Kyoko and Lisa because they seem to do a lot better with it.
We finally emerge from the root cellar back into the light and get a lesson on killing pigs. It appears that Tommy is the local butcher and spent the morning doing just that. I was hoping we'd get there to be able to watch the process but since we just missed it he describes how he does it...in Hungarian of course. But the gestures are all we really need and plus, we have Oliver for translation which adds quite a lot. He shows us the tools he uses to burn the hair off and braise the skin and then how they hang the pig upside down to drain it and then butcher it. He spent many years butchering 2-3 pigs each day which helped his family get through the lean times when food was scarce...he always had some to take home to eat. But now with the arrival of the European Union, no more butchering of this sort will be allowed...all will have to be done in slaughterhouses. And that's not a popular mandate here.
We head back to the house...I think we're headed home...but Anika has prepared food for us. Tommy goes out and milks the cow...we have rich warm milk to drink. She's made this polenta like bread out of cornmeal, and then there's the sausages.... a Slim Jim-like sausage... spiced and smoked from last years pig. There's a liverwurst type sausage from the pig yesterday. And there's some other wursts from some other parts as well as the lard attached to the pigskin and of course, sour cabbage. This is a family with very little material wealth...clearly they are putting out a feast for us. We sit in their cozy 2 room home without running water/bathroom facilities...they wait for us to finish before they themselves eat...it's all delicious but we eat enough to make it clear that it's appreciated and so good, but making sure there's plenty left for the family. Hard to eat while the family watches but this is just the way guests are treated around here. Afterwards Elena and I practice some English from her schoolbooks...She's very bright and I think about taking her home and offering her all sorts of options that she may not have access to here. But then I see how loved she is by her family and how her needs are met in many ways and it reaffirms my understanding of my place in this picture as a visitor and not as an intruder. I feel rich from all that has been given to me