I had a moment about three weeks ago, as I was hovering over my toilet painting dark blue spirals on the wall, that I realized I haven’t really updated my blog lately. A week later as I was distilling Tuica the same thought came to mind, “Why don’t I write anymore?” These self-reflective moments continued to crop up like ripe pieces of fruit, yet I have let them rot on the vine. Now my room is cluttered with memories and I must clean house literally and figuratively before I can begin any other task, it’s just that the clutter is so thick I just don’t know where to begin, hence my procrastination. So lets just start with this morning, 5:24 AM to be exact.
I normally wake up at 6:35 AM to one of the three highly unoriginal jingles my cell phone allows, then fall back to sleep awaking only minutes before bolting out of my fifth floor apartment to meet my ride for class. This morning I awoke filled from some unmapped source of energy and being unable to fall back to sleep decided to watch the sun rise. My town of Abrud is centered in the middle of a bowl of mountains and I have yet never seen the sun rise, but for this I needed to climb a large hill and trek through uneven footpaths, avoid the gang of roaming dogs, make sure not to tread too close to the northern serpent, and even if I keep to the path I still would need to pass the horns of the hostile Bull, past the Dacian Archer and the jaws of the raging Lion, let alone the clutching claws of the Crab. I mounted the hill unscathed and found a suitable spot to watch the earth rotate forward, the sky nearly clear except for one dark cloud, the mountains folding away into the distance, the sounds of roosters and cows in the distance calling everyone to attention. There I stood, waiting for the mountains to spill its light onto the rolling hills beside me, the moment was close at hand. But the closer the moment approached the closer this little black cloud came dangerously near to where the eventual sun rise would take place. By this time I had been standing on this hill for nearly 40 minutes to see my first sunrise and here comes this black cloud just loafing around, seemingly bent on completely obscuring the very moment I had been waiting for. And as the sun rose behind the only black cloud in the sky I was reminded of how it is not in the destination but the journey where the rich luminescence of experience emanates from. I saw my entire Peace Corps experience in that early morning trip, as either something that ends in disillusionment or something filled with worthy adventures and intentions that keep me walking up the hills of life. I will choose the latter.
Up to this point in my journey I have never really witnessed a community event so strongly regarded and passionately revered as I had with the Orthodox Easter in my little town. I had returned on a Saturday evening from a lovely week with Maria and her Family and having had a full day of travel I was prepared for a full days rest when I by chance ran into a friend who invited me to the midnight mass. The Orthodox Easter is a week after the Catholic mass, and having already gone through all the standing and sitting and hymning less than a week before, I was less than enthusiastic about doing it all over again, but of course I decided to attend. Now for weeks you could hear cannons firing off in the mountains in preparation for this event, a local tradition, which I got to tryout myself before leaving on spring break. It is a tradition followed by the youth who have big bonfires at night around steel pipe cannons and fire them to ward of the malevolent spirits. Every group of kids have their own canons to fire and on the big night 15 cannons were erected next to a roaring fire up in the hills blasting away, which were then answered by another group of kids across town with their 15 cannons and so on. That night I dressed in my Sundays best, and thinking that I would be inside a church I brought only my dress coat for warmth. Ioana met me with three candles in her glove-covered hands and we walked to the town church slowly converging with more and more people until we finally arrived outside the Basilica. Everyone and I mean everyone was there and though it was packed little above a murmur was heard. We walked passed the growing crowed of people toward the candle lit cemetery that rose far off into the night where everyone paid their respects to friends and family that they had. We lit a candle for Ioana’s Grandmother and placed it next to the others on her grave then returned down the well-trodden pathway toward the ever-growing mass of people. The entire town had surrounded their humble little church waiting with candles in hand for the priest to bring them the ‘light’. At a little past 12 am the doors swung open and out popped the priest with a lit candle from which others lit their candles and so on until the ‘light’ reached me and soon the entire field was alight with gleaming faces. This year was a special year I found out because this years light originated from Jerusalem and was brought to Bucuresti, where our local priest lit his candle to bring it to us. After we were all lit the priest began his first of three long and arduous orbits around the church, stopping at every cross section to sing and hymn, then continued on his path around the church followed by everyone in the town who joined in behind him. I couldn’t help but compare the priests long hymns to a slow reggae chant, sort of similar to how ‘Shaggy’ sounds, which definitely gave the whole experience an interesting twist. Before he even finished his first revolution around the church my candle had burnt out and I was the only one without a back-up candle, receiving more than one old lady glare for my ignorance. The whole time with canon blasts echoing through the mountains the hymns could be heard, and the throng of people behind the priest continued to swell as I joined its ranks for one last circling. Finally, the priest ended in front of the church door proclaiming “Hristos a inviat” (Christ has been resurrected) to which the people cried “Adevarat a inviat” (It is true, he has been resurrected). Then everyone who could crammed into the church, the rest went home to wine and bread, and I just went home to bed completely dazzled.
One would think that this event would mark the wrapping up of the celebration but it was really just the beginning. The next day I was picked up by my counterpart’s husband to visit friends and spray the women down with perfume as part of the festivities of spring, a ritual specific to the Transylvanian region which heralds back to when the Hungarians where in control of these parts. The woman in return for getting repeatedly honored with sprays of perfume served coffee and cake. I was told this was a celebration of spring and beauty with the smell of flowers, but after a day worth of getting sprayed with perfume, the smell no longer gives the impression of a nice wholesome spring. In the evening we had a huge family dinner where lamb was served, in fact every part of the lamb including lamb intestine loaf and lamb brain soup. I was and still am confused as to why to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection you eat lamb, wasn’t Jesus a shepherd protecting his flock from predators? I think that 21st century Jesus would be vegetarian anyway. Plus it seems that everyone is trying to consume Jesus, they drink his blood (wine) and eat his bones (bread) like a bunch of ogres, but maybe I am just incredibly misinformed, which is of course the case. After the diner we smashed finely decorated hard boiled eggs against each other symbolizing I don’t know what, but before you smashed the point of your egg with another’s you would say “Hristos a inviat” and your opponent would counter with “Adeverat a inviat” then you collide them together resulting in one loser egg that got smashed and one egg that remains unadulterated, until the next bout.
For nearly a whole week my kids barely came to class, and it was understood that this was because of the Easter celebrations that seemed to never end. “Hristos a inviat” became the new greeting that could be heard on the street and in the faculty lounge, “adeverat a inviat” you would say in reply. This went on for weeks and I began to wonder when, if ever, this saying would peter out which it finally did almost three weeks later.
During the day that we were spraying women I had been invited by a friend to comeback to his house a couple weeks later and make Tuica with the family. Tuica if you don’t know is the Romanian equivalent to German Schnapps, distilled from apples or prunes, but it is part of the Romanian heritage and tradition and everyone makes there own; you can’t find the stuff in stores because apparently it is ‘outlawed’ to make, but know one cares. It can be up to 90 proof and helps the digestion, so they say, since it helps break down the large amount of fatty foods the people eat in the winter, but that’s not all it does. My friend and his family have been living in the same house for generations; his grandfather planted the apple trees that now stand nearly 40 feet tall. The process starts in the fall where the fallen apples are collected and put into big drums where they sit throughout the winter and early spring months. By this time the apples have rotten, fermented, and are ready to boil. This is when the whole family gets involved, conducting an operation which lasts four straight days and nights, we came on day three. 1,500 Kg of mushy apples needed to be boiled, its steam passing through a metal tube that went from the furnace to a vat of water where the tube coiled around inside, cooling the steam into liquid, eventually pouring out of a faucet at the bottom of the vat into an ever overflowing bucket that needed constant emptying. Once the first round is completed the liquid is boiled again a second time for it to become ‘real’ Tuica, before it is just called Vodka. A constant roaring fire must be maintained and more apple mush filled throughout the day and night, so everyone takes turns. In the evening we roasted pig fat over the blazing fire like marshmallows, a spongy confection that no one has ever heard of around here, and drank our newly made Tuica long into the night.
Lately since Maria has moved to Sibiu I have been heading down to see her after my last class on Fridays and last Friday was no different, except that it was my birthday so a few modification needed to be made. In Romania unlike in the States, when you have a birthday people don’t buy you drinks and take you out to some fancy restaurant, even if there was one here in Abrud. No, you buy them drinks and food and being fully aware of this ritual I bought enough cake and Mountain Dew to appease all the teachers in the lounge and smoking room. I also actually wore a tie and dress pants. During our big 20 minute break between 3rd and 4th period all the teachers sang for me the ‘La multi Ani’ song, I stood in line and received everyone’s cheek kisses, then they presented me with my three pre-selected history of art books to take home, which I believe they took from the Library. The problem was that I was so well dressed that nobody wanted to give me a ride, I must have looked like the mafia or some politician who could afford his own car, because what normally takes 15 minutes max took over an hour just waiting with my big sign in hand. Then once I arrived in Alba Iulia where I had to hitch hike the rest of the way the same thing happened, I waited and waited until finally I waved down a bus heading toward Sibiu, but for that I needed to pay. I finally arrived later in the evening and Maria had made me some pasta and a nice pudding cake for desert. For one of my presents I received a techno colored dream scarf, which marks a major step toward complete European assimilation as far as dress is concerned. The next day we went with Maria’s Cousin Horia and his girlfriend Mihiela on a picnic in the mountains, near Sibiu. We drove through a little village called Sibiel and fallowed a winding river 3 kilometers up toward an old Monastery built in the 18th century. The story goes that kids would have to walk up to the monastery for school since only the priests new how to read and write. We found a lovely sun lit patch of green right next to the river, not a single other Romanian in sight. Maria and I had a conversation about the name ‘Zodiac’ that I want to give for my son, she said it wasn’t really a name but something like a category or system which wouldn’t be a suitable title, I disagreed, and Horia pulled out his book on Astrology he just so happened to be reading. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, people ended up around us like flies. Groups of Romanians with their plump uncovered bellies began lying all over the place like pregnant seals and we soon had to continue our discussion another time for the picnic was over.