Deep in the heartland...
Trip Start Oct 15, 2007
17Trip End Dec 20, 2007
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We're driving a loop throughout Transylvania...spending a week exploring the countryside...some important cities, castles, churches, big mountains, coffee houses...looking for Dracula...Transylvania appears to make up about ½ the land area of Romania...it'd be nice to do the other half...next time.. By the way, again you're going to be missing out on many amazing photos...this was the "lost week" photographically, but the images are still vivid in my mind...and I have included a few videos for you.
Back at the room after a KFC attack...for good reason of course. After three full days of my stomach being turned inside out - I'll save you the details but you can imagine - and not having eaten anything but some crackers and a couple of bananas, I'm feeling a little bit better and when I spot a KFC on the streets of Brasov, I know I'm saved. Now at home, I'll admit I do eat KFC periodically but only at most 2x/year and only because they put some addictive thing in their recipe that forces you to come back. But this KFC was like a beacon to my intestinal devastation. In a flash we were downing some original recipe and I knew I was healed. At least let's hope.
Time for some resolution of the gypsy situation. We speak with a lot of people through this couchsurfing network...they are a very conscious and worldly group, generally speaking. I have learned so much from their local perspective. With regard to the gypsies and my questions about their origin and social status or actually lack thereof, I get a decent explanation. The gypsies are believed to have originated in India....they are dark-skinned with Indian-like features. I guess they have been migrating from their origins for quite some time. And the countries they migrated across did not allow them to settle ...to make a home...to put down roots and develop skills that would contribute to the community as a form of work. So we end up with a group of disenfranchised drifters, that still do not have roots and acceptance within the community, they have only themselves. The main trade they historically have been associated with is as a repair person, a tinkerer of systems. Not only has the need for this trade dwindled due to our style of living and consuming...the lack of trust in a gypsy - since they have commonly resorted to thievery to sustain themselves - only makes them less likely to be hired in any type of traditional position. So the present day condition is a perceived group of rootless, unemployed, untrustworthy people. You can drive through shack towns of gypsies, where people are living in poverty conditions....with open faced houses....in a country with severe winters. I've been told that the social services are not addressing the needs of this community...services and supports are inadequate. It's as though the gov't would like to invisibilize the gypsy population...in fact, historically, gypsy camps have been burned down and destroyed in an effort to make them disappear.
A recent story in the news that is blazing thru Romania right now...the wife of an officer was attacked by a gypsy in Italy...the story goes that the woman was killed...and now the Italian govt is calling for the removal of not only all gypsies from Italy but all Romanians. This is really irritating to the Romanians who don't want to be associated with them either. No matter what the reality or the evolution of the problem, its clear that the gypsy community is a serious concern in Romania.
Right now I'm sitting in the most expensive hotel in Brasov (because it has wifi), which is perhaps the wealthiest city in Romania except for Bucharest. The hotel is far from beautiful; it's a big box, with high ceilings and big open spaces. The air is thick with smoke even with that spaciousness. The people are all doing business of some sort with each other...wearing black suit/uniforms, both women and men look alike...some are toasting success with champagne...it's a very cold feeling envt...not like the streets of Brasov...this hotel was built by the communists and it looks it...square and blocky, no frills, simple and sparse and pretty ugly...but the piano playing this old floating melody, allows me to imagine myself transported back in time...I let myself feel the atmosphere that might have dominated the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s...this scene is somewhat chilling...esp because it's present day...is this the heightened lifestyle Romanians have been striving for? The quality for me in this place is surely lacking... thankfully this structure will evaporate for me the minute I leave this hotel, the only impact being the stale smoke left on my clothes and the thickness in my lungs...
Back in my room I reflect on today spent in the Carpathian Mountains...in and through Bran winding along narrow mountain roads...the scenery was beautiful today...we walked through the castle at Bran....supposed to be one of Dracula's old hangouts...but it has been maintained and is so cozy and beautiful inside one wants to move right in....we climbed up to the castle in Rasnov...there seems to be a castle on every sharp hill ... we passed a Romanian sheepherder on the way back, dressed in this long sheepskin cape and a big hat with a staff and his two ferocious dogs who run towards me when we pulled over to take a picture....they're goal is to protect the sheep...and they certainly protect them from me...I stay in the car...this is the Romania that I came to see....
We pull into Sibiu, the city designated as the Cultural Capital of Europe for this year. Which means it has gotten quite a facelift during the previous year and looks polished, repainted and repaved...and very beautiful. Immediately we connect with our couchsurfing host; he's George the dentist and he brings us over to his flat. Now he lives in a communist Block House which is one of those big square grey concrete apartment houses built a few decades ago. It's Block P-28 and very austere. But his apt is comfortable and he's friendly and immediately we get invited to a "meal" downtown with another couchsurfing host. Well it happens that this is not just a meal but a celebration of this construction company's (Ambient is their name) 15th birthday and they have sponsored a classy all-afternoon/night celebration. There is a circus tent erected mid-town and we shuffle past security with some borrowed passes (the guy that invited us is the mayor's son so he can get his hands on just about anything). Inside there are at least 10 long tables on each side of the party filled with every food imaginable...you could have checked out the photos if I hadn't lost them...I have no idea what some of these food items are but they are carefully rolled and pastried and cured and displayed artistically. Fish and beef and pastes and creative combinations of all...but lots lots lots of meat.... There's an open bar...hard liquor, wine, soda, anything one could want. I'm told that you can drink all you want as long as you eat lots of meat with it and then you never get drunk. I'm feeling shockingly fortunate to have stumbled into this opulence.
And then the entertainment...Romanian folk dancers, singers....check out the videos...everybody dancing, singing...then on to the rock band...complete with fireworks...and another band and finally a dance-wild type disco. The food and drink never runs out... We try to leave around 10 PM (cause we got there at 4) but our new friends - by now we're a group - won't have it...we've been hijacked...our will is superseded by the will of our hosts...so we don't get back till about 1:30 AM... and I have to admit, even at their most raucous, the Romanians were nothing short of hospitable and delightful....really a fun group to be around. It was interesting to see the groups of men dancing together, in circles or triplets or other configurations...with enthusiasm and joy....such a difference from American culture. We were going to leave Sibiu today but there's a big concert, the Scorpions, in the open square....part of the celebration...plus we've been invited to stay at someone else's house and her mom is going to make a traditional Romanian dinner for us....mmmmm