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Promoting rural culture and tradition - October-December 2009

Portraits of Cata Pottery with a Deep History The Plescoi Sausage Festival Traditional Crafts

Reflexions on Saxon Identity in Romania’s Multi-cultural Society

Fundata Village -

how we captured the real spirit of the village, in less than 20 minutes


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October-December 2009 4

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3 Editorial Preserving Traditional Romania 4 Romanian Village Portraits of Caţa: One Village, Two Experiences 7 Traditional Food The Plescoi Sausage Festival 8 Interview “We should not forget one thing: traditional culture lives in motion”, - Dr. Speranţa Rădulescu, ethnomusicological researcher 10 Events Saschiz Festival - pictorial United through Dance - at the Halchiu village traditional festival Big Bang for the Buck - the ‘Golden Stag’ International Festival 14 Rural Development A Dip into Traditional Crafts - Visiting the village of Lisa 16 Travel Journal Disturbing the Peace: How we captured the real spirit of Fundata Village, in less than 20 minutes 18 Arts & Crafts Pottery with a Deep History 20 Feature Cultural identities: Reflexions on Saxon Identity in Romania’s Multi-cultural Society

Promoting rural culture and tradition

www.revista-satul.ro Manager:

Ana A. Negru ana.negru@revista-satul.ro

Contributors:

Brodie Robertson (UK), Ilaria Parogni (Italy), Eleina Margaux Novak (USA), Susanne Persson (Sweden), Norbert Schwarzenbrunner (Austria)

Photos:

Ana A. Negru, Brodie Roberston, Eleina Margaux Novak Project Coordinator: Alexandra Ichim

DTP & graphic design:

Mircea Samoila & Adrian Andrei

Cover: Painting by Gheorghe Ciobanu

Director Projects Abroad: Mircea Samoila


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Preserving Traditional Romania by Brodie Robertson

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ost Romanian villages are stuck in past times. They seem to be moving nowhere, separated from the rest of the world, lost in their own tranquillity. You may think this is a bad thing: I mean, in the Western world, who could imagine living in a place with limited internet connection or barely any mobile phone reception, after spending most of our lives in a world dominated by new technologies and wireless communication? Some Romanian villagers are deprived of so many things, they must be so unhappy. Their life-long goal must be to escape the ghost-towns they live in to find a job in one of the many business buildings located in crowded and buzzing cities. So do villages serve any purpose? Most of us have childhood memories of long hazy summer days playing outside with our friends, lying in freshly cut grass gazing up at the clouds above wandering what animal they resemble most. Perhaps you spent afternoons down by a riverside, organizing pebblethrowing competitions or trying to catch the fish you could see through the cold, crystalclear water. I remember losing track of time speaking to my best friend in a field of daisies as we were gathering flowers for our neighbour or building a tree house in some woods close to our house. And who hasn’t closed their eyes, took a deep breath of fresh air and enjoyed the rare silence, as a soft breeze gently caressed our rosy cheeks and the sun set behind a rolling green hill? Nestled in the Transylvanian landscapes lies numerous small villages in which people can live the experiences recited previously on a daily-basis. Here, the roads are not cemented, there are very few cars, geese and hens all roam freely around the streets and the gentle chiming of the bells around the cows’ necks and the clip-clop of horses over a nearby-by bridge is all the noise you can hear. In these villages, only a few hundred people reside in the centuries-old houses, but this in no way reflects a flaw in the country lifestyle: it just means that the sense of community and unity is enhanced even more. People here respect and appreciate one another. They take time to speak to one another, laugh or cry with one another, pushing whatever else they had planned for the afternoon aside. In this stress-free environment neighbours come round to see how you are doing, if you are feeling better or if you have need of anything or if you have been injured in some way, a kind neighbourly act that people don’t see very often in busy cities. In these well-preserved villages, traditions that vanished from town-people’s thoughts years ago are still being kept alive today. Some women still weave on a traditional loom and create amazing embroideries that can only be described as pieces of art, others centre their talents on their amazing cooking abilities in order to provide their family with a good and healthy traditional meal every night. Wood-carvers proudly talk about the many symbols and meanings behind every carved door-frame while shepherds tend to their flocks in the nearby fields to prevent any of them from becoming scared and lost. During my entire stay in Romania, I have been told that the heart of a country can be found in the village. Nothing describes a country more than its traditions, its people and its landscapes. If you take away these villages, the centuries-old traditions and the people who represent them, a piece of the country’s culture will be lost forever. All in all, these villagers may not have the latest laptop, the fastest car or even the new fashionable pair of shoes but they have something that many other countries lost years ago: pride and joy in the knowledge that they are the ones who are keeping some precious aspects of past days alive. Don’t you want to be a part of it too?

www.projects-abroad.org


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Portraits of CaĹŁa One village, two experiences Photos: Brodie Robertson & Ana A. Negru

Leave Stress Behind by Susanne Persson

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f you are longing for tranquillity and want to experience a place where time almost seems to stand still, a visit to a Romanian village is truly recommended. The fascinating and colourful countryside is worth visiting for a variety of reasons. It offers the visitor a meeting of traditional customs and rural life, a unique world waiting to be discovered. The villages in Romania have every chance of attracting those tourists in search of something authentic, people who are curious about places that have not yet been globalized. One such place, the village of Cata, particularly appealed to me and will always have a special place in my heart Rural life in a village, seemingly frozen in past times, is something completely different from the way of living I am used to. Our journey starts in Brasov, a city situated in the heart of Romania. As we leave the city behind, the busy traffic is soon replaced with magnificent scenery of corn fields, shepherds, carts and horses. On bumpy roads we make our way through a picturesque landscape and finally end up in Cata, about two hours drive away from Brasov. As we make our way along the streets, we are greeted with curious glances. I assume the inhabitants are not that used to having foreigners strolling around their village. However, we are received with a warm and generous welcome by the people passing us by. Everybody nods politely and says hello to us, or "buna ziua� in Romanian. I cannot help thinking that in Sweden, where I come from, people would probably give you strange looks if you started greeting everybody without knowing them. Whilst walking around in the village we discover a world full of traditions and cultural heritage. Furthermore, it is extremely easy to get in touch with people. Although there cannot be particularly many tourists coming to Cata, people seem to have a natural way of bonding with foreigners. As soon as you start speaking to them they will give you an interesting account of their lives. By chance, we meet an old woman who openheartedly tells us about her life and her children. She also tells us about her skill of making Romanian dolls dressed in traditional clothing. She does not sell the dolls however, but gives them away as presents to friends and family. Admiring the dolls, I think what an important part of the Romanian cultural heritage they are and what a great loss it would be if the skill and knowledge of making themvanished. Hopefully, traditional handicraft will receive more appreciation if the number of tourists coming to the area increases. If so, this may encourage her to continue making dolls and passing on her skills to coming generations. After a while, we say goodbye to the friendly woman and her dolls and head for another street. As in lots of other Romanian vilwww.revista-satul.ro


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lages, there are beautifully painted houses almost everywhere you look. While continuing our walk we pass by elderly men and women, peacefully resting on wooden benches. Every now and then the silence is interrupted by a horse and cart passing us by. Apart from this noise, it is quiet and restful. It seems to me that stress is a phenomenon that does not exist here. However, the daily life in the countryside should not be idealized. In many ways it is tough, a day by day struggle for survival. Most of the people who live in Cata are engaged in agriculture and animal keeping. There is only one factory in the village. Ten people are employed there, five men and five women. Only about twenty people commute to Brasov. The unemployment rate is high, especially among the Rroma people, who often lead a harsh life. One part of Cata is only inhabited by the Rroma and during our visit I saw the poverty and poor living conditions that they endure. When approaching that area I have to admit that I was slightly worried since I was aware that the Rromas are said to be marginalised by society. However, we were soon surrounded by friendly and curious children who all wanted to have their photo taken. For a couple of minutes our cameras clicked frequently. When we finally stopped taking pictures, there were not only children curiously looking at us but also adults. A woman started to talk to me and even though I did not understand a single word I could tell that she was saying something friendly. It seemed like she appreciated that some foreigners had come to visit their village. A significant feature of Cata is that it is a multicultural village; Romanians, Hungarians and Rromas live here, side by side. Although it is said that the Rromas in many ways are marginalised by society, the overall impression we got from the men and women we met in Cata was that people are living a peaceful life and that the idea of multiculturalism is working pretty well. In my opinion, this brings hope for the future. As we leave the Rroma area and Cata, some of the children follow us through the village. A girl gives me a friendly smile and I smile back at her. We come from different worlds, do not speak the same language and our living conditions differ enormously. But still, I felt a bond between us during that walk. My visit to Cata will indeed be an everlasting memory.

THE VILLAGE - issue no. 3, October-December 2009

Stepping on Unfamiliar Ground by Brodie Robertson

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fter a peaceful two-hourdrive, through the thick and impressive forest of Bogata, we set foot on the soil of Cata. The weather was perfect for our visit: blue skies and peculiarly warm temperatures. One could easily forget that it was actually the beginning of autumn; the only sign of this change being the numerous pumpkins lined up close to a field of old sweet corn stocks. We didn’t really know what to expect from this village as we stepped out of the car, but we ended up being pleasantly surprised. Why? You’ll soon find out. Cata is part of a group of five villages located in the commune of the same name. In this commune, four villages out of the five are Saxon and the fifth is Romanian. Although bigger than many places we have visited during my stay in Romania, Cata has managed to maintain the same country charm we find in smaller Saxon villages across the country. The streets were lined with pastel coloured houses; tractors sped by us on their way to the fields and horses pulling heavy-loaded carts trotted gracefully across a nearby bridge. Needless to say, we definitely found ourselves in a typical Transylvanian village. Everyone out for a stroll made a point of saying “Hello” to us, something unusual to me as not many people speak to strangers in the street back home in France. I enjoyed the friendly spirit that seemed to overflow from this village as we were looking for people to interview. One of them was a Hungarian woman, Mrs Margareta Dibernardo, 56 years old, who kindly told us about the village in general and the kind of life that they live in this secluded part of Romania. She told us about a gathering that takes place every year on the 24th of January. Saxons, Romanians and Hungarians all turn up dressed in their traditional outfits and eat together. Then, when the clock strikes midnight, they all join together and dance in front 5


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of the town hall. This very open and welcoming woman also showed us some doll’s outfits that she is well-known for making herself. Mrs Dibernardo presented to us some examples of the Hungarian traditional costume worn by a few of her children’s dolls, and then let us see a Romanian bride’s gown that she hand-stitched. We were informed that there are around forty Hungarian families here and that the number of gypsies living in the village is much higher than the number of Romanians. She told us that the common problem of the inhabitants of Cata is the lack of job openings in the area. This is a problem that we have seen not only in Cata, but also in many other villages of its kind. Areas in Transylvania are sadly lacking in job opportunities and many of the younger generation are leaving their families behind to find jobs in nearby Italy, with the hope to one day return to the quaint village where they grew up. The factory close to the entrance of Cata only employs five men and five women, which, in turn, forces around twenty men from the area to go to Brasov everyday in order to work. It may not seem like many people to us, but for the villagers it is. The idea that most men in Cata have to go so far away to earn a decent living is quite appalling to them. That is why the other main source of income in the area is the ever-present agriculture. People here have turned to the breeding of animals, for a number of different reasons, in order to gain a stable and good enough salary. As we continued our tour of Cata, we wandered into the part of the village in which the gypsies live. At first we thought it would be wise to turn back but we thankfully didn’t. We had heard so many things about gypsy villages, how the people living there may be aggressive towards us or want to steal items from us. Well, all I could see was a group of lively and friendly children gathering around us, asking us to take their picture. It was amusing to watch them gasp as they saw their funny faces on our supervisor’s camera screen! Then after about five or ten minutes of picture-taking, we were surrounded by other villagers who simply wanted to talk to us. Some of them kindly asked us who we were and what we were doing here, so I did my best to explain in my very poor Romanian. I think I got the message across: their faces lit up with delight as they found out we worked for a magazine, as perhaps not many journalists come to visit them. Other members of the village showed us their horses and poneys and talked to us about their living conditions in general. One woman informed us that they almost

starved a few months ago as they had to save enough money to pay for their horse. As I watched these people with great admiration, laughing and playing around together, I wandered how it is that they are pushed aside by society, even in the modern times we live in. They are known in the village for being peaceful gypsies, they are friendly and, as we saw some of them building a drain pipe from a house, obviously trying their best to earn a living. And yet, they are still cast aside to live in such poor conditions. These people told us that they have no perspective for their future. They get the opportunity to do odd jobs here and there, helping others in moving houses or cultivating fields, but they are left wondering what will happen in two or three weeks time. Will they be able to eat or will they have to tighten their belts a little more? With the winter season fast approaching, it is hard to imagine how they will be able to cope. But I suppose they will find a way; they have had to deal with this lifestyle year in, year out. To me, gypsies were people who lived on the road in cute little painted caravans, playing music and dancing all night long. They would travel the world, see amazing places and all the while they would be spending time with their families. To me, it was a perfect way to live. A famous French singer even wrote a song about their nomad life and how great it would be to grow up in. Well, I learned on this day that the gypsies I had standing in front of me are humans, like you and me, who are just trying to stay alive. Nothing more than that. As we walked back to the car, surrounded by a group of children asking us various questions we didn’t quite understand, then watched as they all waved goodbye, we felt overwhelmed and confused. We remained in silence, each of us thinking of what we had just experienced. All of the things we had been told about the gypsy people dissolved, as what we had just witnessed became our new and better vision of these people. Even our supervisor, who is Romanian, never expected them to be so friendly and open. This goes -to show that we shouldn’t base our knowledge of people on a preconceived and biased opinion before actually facing them ourselves, even if the society we are surrounded by tells us to. We should learn and discover more on our own, ask people questions and not settle for something that, to many people, is considered as “right”. That afternoon, I felt as if I had learned something, not only about the gypsy people, but also about the way we live our own lives.


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The Pleşcoi Sausage Festival: A Real Taste of Rural Romania by Susanne Persson The people of Romania definitely know how to enjoy food. That is one thing I have noticed during my stay in the country. The Romanian cuisine has been influenced by different countries and cultures, such as Germany, Hungary, Turkey, Serbia, Austria and Greece. Beef, lamb and chicken are common ingredients in Romanian cooking but the preferred meat is pork. Romania is also a country of festivals. Throughout the year, festivals that attract both locals and tourists take place in various areas of Romania. An excellent combination of these two pleasures - the joy of food and the joy of celebrating - is the Plescoi Sausage Festival. Plescoi sausages are world famous and named after the Plescoi village situated in the county of Buzau. They are traditionally made in and around this village and their main ingredients are mutton, chili peppers, garlic and thyme. The festival is arranged every year in the beginning of October. This year the event was held on the first weekend of October and I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to attend it. As we leave Brasov at nine o’clock in the morning, we are greeted with magnificent scenery. It is the beginning of autumn and the leaves are just about to change colours. On winding roads we find our way to Berca Village - the place where the festival is held - passing through villages and valleys surrounded by billowing hills. After a three hour ride we finally arrive at the guesthouse Casa Matei where it all takes place. Unfortunately, the rain is pouring down and it is a bit chilly, which does not seem to stop the visitors from coming to the festival. The event appears to attract people of all ages. Children and elderly people gather together to enjoy a culinary experience, listen to Romanian folk music or simply just to stroll. In the market stalls in front of the guesthouse I have the opportunity to get samples from a variety of sausages, bread and wine. The local producers are displaying their goods and generously offering pieces of their products. I do not have to wait very long before I get the chance to try a slice of a famous traditional product from Buzau area. It is called ´Babic´, a smoked salami made of pork, beef, red chili peppers, tomato sauce prepared after the old recipe of the Serb gardeners from Buzau. It has an oval shape and when produced it is pressed with the help of a bottle. As I expected, the Babic sausage is spicy and tasty. As it is melting in my mouth I keep on wishing that I could find these amazing products in the Swedish town where I live. Suddenly people gather around one of the tents in the marketplace and I am told that there is a sausage-eating and a beerdrinking competition about to start. There is a sense of expectancy among the waiting crowd. Then, the cameras start flashing and I realize that the competition has begun. Unfortunately, I am not able to get a glimpse of the competitors since there are too many people standing in front of me. Some thrilling minutes pass by before the lucky winner of the competition is chosen and awarded with a medal and some cans of beer for his achievements. I continue my walk and in one of the stalls I find Constantin THE VILLAGE - issue no. 3, October-December 2009

Moldoveanu who represents a local bread producer. For him, the Plescoi festival is a way of making his company’s products known and hopefully getting some new customers. I am tempted by the smell of the freshly baked bread and decide to buy some. I pick up two buns but, to my surprise, Constantin refuses to accept my money. At first I feel uncomfortable and a bit embarrassed. But then I realize that this is another example of the great friendliness and generosity of the Romanian people and I come to the conclusion that he indeed wants me to have that bread loaf for free. It is not only the local producers that have the opportunity to promote themselves, but also the different guesthouses from the region. Within the Casa Matei guesthouse tables are covered with specialties such as sausages, steaks, meat rolls, the traditional pastrami (salt and smoked mutton), shepherd’s pie and many other traditional dishes prepared with sausages. I get to try some of them and, indeed, it is a wonderful culinary experience. After a while, the main chef himself makes his appearance and teaches the curious audience how to prepare two different types of sausage salads, which all seriously stirred my appetite. After another stroll among the stalls, it is time to head back to Brasov. It has been a day full of impressions and an opportunity for me as a foreigner to get an insight to rural Romania, its food, traditions and customs. The sweet memories of the mouth-melting sausages of Plescoi will surely last for a long time.

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“We should

- How did you develop an interest in Romanian traditional peasant music and the urban ‘lautareasca’ music?

not forget one thing: traditional culture lives in motion...” interview with Dr. Speranţa Rădulescu by Ilaria Parogni

Dr. Speranta Radulescu is an ethnomusicology researcher at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant in Bucharest, co-founder and manager of the ethno-musicologic project - Ethnophonie. She is considered to be an authority in the field of Romanian traditional music, a very important part of Romanian cultural identity. When she kindly agreed to meet us of Satul – The Village and answer a few of our questions, we were positively surprised by her personality and passion for her job. It took us a few seconds to understand that we were in front of someone with a well-defined goal in life: to make Romanian traditional music known and understood for what it really is. The interview takes place in Dr. Radulescu’s office at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, in Bucharest. A small and energetic woman, who turns out to be Dr. Radulescu, welcomes us with the most open smile and introduces us to her world.

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It happened gradually. I finished university and found a job at the Institute of Folklore from Bucharest. At that time – in the 70’s - it was in fashion to study especially Romanian archaic peasant music: the communist government was obsessed with the idea that its intellectuals must produce irrefutable arguments to prove the antiquity and continuity of the Romanian people on this soil... Still, I changed focus pretty quickly towards the music played by the ‘lautari’ (professional traditional musicians); first those in the villages (I even wrote a book about them and their music back then, in 1984: The Traditional Music Band and the Harmonic Accompaniment in Traditional Dance Music) and then those in the cities. The reason I became interested in the music played by ‘tarafuri’ (rroma musical ensembles) was that I must have felt that professionalization was the major phenomenon affecting the oral music traditions in the XXth century. - How did this happen? The peasants started to increasingly entrust their festive music to professional musicians who were of rroma ethnicity (Gypsies). They took it over and committed themselves to play it on demand and be paid for it. At the beginning, ‘lautarii’ had to play the music exactly as their beneficiaries wanted it; in other words, they were under control. In a short while though, the musical competence of the peasant communities weakened, and so the evolution of traditional music became more and more entrusted to the rroma ‘lautari’. As their assignments were enhancing, their prestige, autority and their right to have musical initiatives became more powerful. Nowadays, musicians often play what they want, not what their audience wants. The mass media had also a great influence, offering musical models that are pretendedly superior, but actually questionable. Globalization has had its say too. As a consequence to all this, peasants play very little nowadays, often only because they are driven by the ambition to be on the stages of festivals of folklore, not because they feel the need to... - How was urban ‘lautareasca’ music perceived at the beginning and how is it seen today? The urban ‘lautareasca’ music – my second area of interest – is the music of the great Wallachian cities (Wallachia is a historical and geographical region of Romania, located north of the Danube and south of the Southern Carpathians – ed.n.). At first it was created by the rroma professional musicians, not at the request of their regular clients, but for themselves, for their own parties. Everybody liked it though, including Romanians, which is why it slowly became the music of the common, simple folk, an emblem of the marginalized people. This music is subtle and difficult to understand, especially at its peak, towards the middle of the XXth century. It is even today the trying stone for those who practice the trade of ‘lautari’. It is also one of the most beautiful and original type of oral music in Romania. I like it that young people nowadays – especially the educated ones – listen to ‘lautareasca’ music, find themselves comfortable in it. It is a pity that it is played now in forms that have lost a lot of the refinement found in older days.

www.revista-satul.ro


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-What can you tell us about the emancipation of the rroma musicians? A new foray into history I see... Until the middle of the XIXth century, the Rroma – including the rroma lautari – were slaves: they belonged either to the ruling court to nobles or monasteries. The slaves from the ruling court were in an advantageous position: in exchange for a tax, they were free to practise their trade to the benefit of anybody willing to pay for it. The peasant rromas that belonged to nobles and monasteries though were tied to the land. In the halls of their masters, they played the musics that were in fashion at the time, that is, successively: Turkish, Greek, ‘German’ music... The nobles however used to rent them out to pub, where the ‘lautari’ became accustomed to the music of the common peasants. For ‘lautari’, the abolition of slavery meant obtaining all the freedoms that they had longed for. This freedom also created problems for them though: they now had to sustain themselves, to find clients. That’s how they started offering their services to peasants, learned their music, replaced the village fiddler or bagpipe player at the Sunday or wedding dances. Then they organized themselves and formed muscial bands – ‘tarafuri’.

As for ourselves, here at the Peasants’ Museum – Costin Moisil, Florin Iordan and myself – we are doing something: putting together an anthology of Romanian traditional musics, through our collection of recordings - Ethnophonie. Today, Ethnophonie maintains its role as a genuine alternative to the official folkloric music, but has added a new function: that of an alternative to globalizing musics (fusion, world music), which have been gaining ground all over the world, including Romania. Our belief is that, in a quickly globalizing world, the seekers of the new must not stifle the voices of those who, for various reasons, wish to preserve their regional, ethnic, professional identities and display them emblematically, as in music. The collection could later (after de-tox) serve those who are interested in the cultural past of their people. What is your message for our readers? We should not forget one thing: the traditional culture lives in motion, and at one point, the motion transforms it and changes its fundamental features. We have to acknowledge and accept it, if we want to preserve at least a small part of Romanian patrimony.

- Returning to our own times, what do you think about the traditional music promoted by the media? The music promoted by the media is purported to be the superior form of peasant music. In reality however, it is a music standardized according to the model of the soviet ensembles and its purpose is the re-invetion of the peasant and its culture according to the national-communist ideology. The media have remained attached to this model even after the fall of the communist regime, without realizing that they are becoming more and more untruthful and old fashioned. Noticing this is easy when we watch on TV a ‘taraf’ dressed all in white, doctor-like, lead by a conductor that has never existed in peasant culture, accompanying a young lady dressed head to toe in a costumes that doesn’t match her make-up or her high heels; everything in a bucolic background featuring an imaginary village, of an indiscript place and time, singing a music from an indiscript place and time. The trouble is that the peasant music nowadays is strongly influenced by this music the media promote; and this means it’s becoming standardized, suffering thus a dillution of its identity.

Here are some CDs, part of this wonderful collection of Romanian traditional music. You can search for more details about Ethnophonie project on the following web-site: www.ethnophonie.ro

- What could those who promote culture do about this? As I’m already horrified enough by what those who promote “culture” intend to do, I would be very happy to know that they do absolutely nothing for a couple of decades. This so that people have time to de-tox and to reabilitate their artistic tastes. Then they could try a more intelligent revitalisation than that attempted nowadays by some. They could go back to the documented sources of the true rural culture. THE VILLAGE - issue no. 3, October-December 2009

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“The Children of the Village” An annual festival in

Saschiz photos by Jackson Matthews & Tali Farine 10

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he motto of this special festival of the Saschiz village is: ‘Just like the trees are tied to their roots, the perfume to the flowers and the buds to spring, we also wish that all the children of this village remain tied to its heart – and that this tie endures forever’. Having reached it’s sixth edition, ‘The Children of the Village’ was organized this year in August by the Townhall and the Local Council together with Fundatia Adept. The festival also celebrated 700 years of documentary attestation of the village. Through singing, dancing, drama, arts exhibitions and all-round fun, the festival seeks to celebrate the continuity of rural traditions and promote cultural understanding between the different ethnicities that live together in Saschiz. www.revista-satul.ro


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THE VILLAGE - issue no. 3, October-December 2009

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United through Dance - at the Halchiu village traditional festival by Brodie Robertson

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hen asked if I wanted to attend a traditional festival in the rural village of Halchiu, I became very enthusiastic; I had never really seen Romanian dancing, singing or even the costumes worn by people on special occasions before. I was going to get my first taste of a traditional event during my stay in Romania, so how could I refuse? This annual festival has been a part of the village’s lifestyle since 1998. Its aim is not to draw tourists from around the world but it is simply a way to celebrate ethnic differences and the unity of Halchiu and surrounding villages. Romanians, Saxons and Gypsies stood together wearing their traditional costumes in front of the town hall, all waiting to parade proudly through the streets of the village to reach the main stage, where the afternoon’s event was going to take place. Children and older teenagers smiled happily for the camera while the band warmed up for the march. I couldn’t help but be surprised as I watched eighteen or nineteen year-old teenagers wearing their traditional costumes without feeling any shame or embarassment whatsoever. This is such a culture shock for me as, back home in France, the same aged teenagers would never dream of wearing the traditional Breton costumes, far less parade around in them in front of hundreds of people and dance on a stage! Needless to say I was impressed that they felt so strongly about their culture and traditions. As the participants started to march towards the stage led by a brass band, a wide display of costumes passed us by, ranging from little simple white dresses with red embroidery to brightly coloured tassels and hats with peacock feathers on them. It was interesting to see so many different costumes but to be honest, I think we only saw the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Romanian folk costumes! After a while, we finally reached the park where the event was going to take place. We passed through thick clouds of smoke coming from the numerous barbeques and walked by many stalls overflowing with toys before arriving at the wide basketball court where the main dancing stage had been set up. As people gathered around the stage, the Mayor of Brasov followed by the Mayor of Halchiu said a few words to mark the start of the festival. Then the fun really began. First a class of children from the village of Halchiu sang a few Romanian songs, with some aid from their teacher of course. Each child tried to get their moment in the spotlight by singing right into the microphone; it was adorable to watch how their faces shone with delight as they heard themselves sing through their feedback. After that show, a few younger classes danced and presented a play before it came the turn of a group of young Rromas to show off their talent. Those children blew us all away with their passion for dancing. They obviously loved their time on that stage and didn’t seem to notice that people were watching them; they just stood up and danced. It was truly amazing to watch. The afternoon continued with various dance groups showing the public a particular dance. Some dances were especially for couples, some others for large groups of people, but, in a few of them, men took center stage, hitting their legs and boots and jumping into the air as a sign of their virility. As I watched the dancers with great admiration, I noticed that traditional Romanian dancing involves a lot 12

of shouting. There is a verbal exchange between men and women throughout the duration of the song. I maybe didn’t understand everything they were saying but it felt as though there was a different story to each dance. These calls are known as “Strigaturi” and represent a unique Romanian phenomenon. These calls aren’t just shouted at any given time, they have to fit in with the tempo and melody of the song the participants are dancing to. So there is a lot more organization to these calls than what first meets the eye. They certainly add to the atmosphere and give the dance a feeling of joy and fun. I watched with great enjoyment a number of people form a circle in the middle of the basketball court to dance together, whilst a woman sang traditional songs on the stage. The fun and relaxed atmosphere in which this scene took place reminded me of the Kermesses we used to have in our local village. During such events, children would put all of their effort into their end of year performance to proudly show their parents what they had achieved, and people would sit and talk to one another long into the evening. Everyone seemed to be having so much fun together: drinking, laughing, dancing and singing (sometimes out of tune) to the songs they recognized. In this little village of Halchiu, we felt as if we were welcome into a big family event where the dancing wasn’t displayed for competitive reasons, but it was purely to amuse the public and remember important traditions. Even though we weren’t from this area - or Romania itself for that matter - we felt as if we were part of this culture, thanks to the people promoting it. I must say it was good to see how Romanians, Saxons and Rromas all seemed to mix together on that Sunday afternoon, in a society that holds many judgments and dislikes. Who knows, maybe traditional dancing is the key to a better, more united Romania! www.revista-satul.ro


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The ‘Golden Stag’ International Festival

Big Bang for the Buck

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he unsuspecting viewer might be inclined to think the prize giving ceremony had been the highlight of the “Golden Stag Festival 2009”(September) – but the real finale went down with a Romanian folklore show, “hora satului”. The last evening of the event was filled with traditional music and dancing, several live bands and dozens of singers, and it proved quite difficult to keep track of all the action, as most of the time just so much was happening at once. On stage and off, that is, as the bandstand proved to be far too small for all the dancers, so they simply moved to the front of the boards and even involved some more or less willing audience members in the show. Needless to say the traditionally clothed dancers on stage gave it their all, skipping, hopping, and bopping to a farethee-well, beating their boots until they sparkled and giving the good people from “River Dance” a run for their money. Never have men in tights looked this good since the ’93 Mel Brooks film. The spectacle was accentuated by numerous singers sharing the stage and the bands playing at a general velocity that would make Steve Vai blush with shame on his best day. As an added bonus, no one even attempted a Dracula joke, unless said Mr. Vai the day before, saying that he brought his band with him but hasn’t seen nor heard of them since their trip to Bran castle.

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Naturally, a rather long and awkward silence ensued, something that didn’t happen for a single moment on Monday night, except maybe when a flute player miraculously conjured up a bagpipe seemingly out of nowhere and started playing, but that silence didn’t last long and was quickly replaced by a crowd going wild. And speaking of wild, unsurprisingly the name of the festival is derived from an actual stag, well, the “Legend of the Golden Stag”, to be exact. The myth tells the story of two siblings, a boy and a girl, who were abandoned in the woods at their evil stepmother’s behest. The boy then drinks from a pool of rainwater gathered in the tracks of a stag and is therefore turned into one. The rest of the tale involves a noble prince, an old wise woman cunningly luring the stag’s sister off her tree by pretending not to know how to boil water, a wedding, the wrath of an old lover, a failed plot for revenge and last but not least a prince and a princess – and a golden stag – living happily ever after. Although it may not have been around for as long as the legend has, the festival does have quite a history itself. The first edition was held in 1968 and since its beginnings many international artists have come to perform in Brasov, including the likes of James Brown and Ray Charles. In addition to these guest performances, contests have been held with competitors from all over the world; in 2005 the first place winner came from as far as Vanuatu, a small island nation on the other side of the planet. With all the international pizzazz going on, the unsuspecting viewer might think that a traditional evening offers the tranquility of a later summer evening alongside some placid entertainment easily overshadowed by the stars and starlets, but once more reality tells a different story. “Hora satului” was the undisputable highlight of this year’s “Golden Stag”, ending the festival not with a whisper, but a nice bang indeed. by Norbert Schwarzenbrunner

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A Dip into Traditional Crafts Visiting the village of Lisa by Norbert Schwarzenbrunner & Brodie Robertson Photos by Brodie Robertson Harvest season came early this year. A tractor breaks up the soil, the potatoes are then picked by hand, packed into bags and loaded upon the horse carts to be sold to the mini markets or directly at the front doors.

the final aim is still to come back to Romania. And it’s not an isolated case: Depending on the source, between 1 1/2 and 3 million Romanians are currently working abroad, the lower number being the offi-

In Lisa, some thirty kilometers southwest of Făgăraş, pretty much everyone is out on the fields, except for the priest. He’s surveying the renovations in the bigger one of the two churches in the village. For two years a single man has repainted the interior, and with the outside already restored, it shouldn’t be too long before sermons can be held

cial one. The World Bank estimates the remittances at 9 billion dollars for 2008, which is more than half of what foreign investors put in the countries’ economy. A huge advantage of these remittances is that they go directly to the people, without any agents demanding their

again. The priest estimates the size of his congregation to be around 200 families. Keeping in mind he isn’t counting the large Rroma community, it’s still a considerable drop from the census held in 2002, when Lisa had a population of 1,701. The reason is a common phenomenon in rural Romania: young people between twenty and forty leave their home to work abroad, mostly in Italy. Ioan Sucaciu, retired topographer and part-time farmer, says his daughter and her husband live in Rome with their children and that they visited Lisa for one month per year. It’s a peculiar blend between migration and commuting. The reason for leaving is economical, yet even though Ioan’s daughter has built a life in Italy and her children go to school there,

cuts in the middle, drastically increasing the living standard. When asked what change she would like to see the most in the village, Ioan’s wife answers without hesitation: connection to Romania’s sanitation and gas grid, but that’s of course something that only the government can provide. Another thing Ioan would like to see from the government is more support for small time farmers like him and most others in the village. He says there were almost no subsidies for the crops they are growing and that they used to have cows but now they weren’t allowed to sell the milk anymore. With an incredible view of the Făgăraş Mountains, Lisa and its surroundings like La Valtori, a museum hosting a 150-year-old, water powered installation for wool blankets, the Sâmbăta de Sus Monastery and the fortresses in Breaza and Făgăraş are truly worth a visit. Lisa is well worth seeing especially in winter, when the locals indulge in their holiday custom, Ceata de Feciori, a custom that has even made it onto YouTube. For this tradition, young men gather in a circle spanning a blanket between them and they then throw one of their fellow village lads up in the air until his girlfriend comes to his rescue. Driving away from Lisa towards Făgăraş, the scenery once more is dominated by the mountain range looming over the fields. Smoke is rising from the plains; the farmers are burning the potato plants. The ashes are used as fertilizer and the farmers are already preparing for next years harvest.

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fter a relaxing drive through Brasov’s beautiful countryside - not to mention getting lost a few times - we arrived at the peaceful village of Lisa. The village itself looked like the desolate places one can see in Wild West films. Shutters on the windows were closed tight, the streets were empty and not a car or cart was to be seen on the roads as many of the inhabitants were out on the fields gathering their potatoes. The only few remaining people who were actually on the streets glared at us going by in a shiny silver Polo, amazed by the car’s brilliance (or so the other journalism volunteer who drove us there wanted to believe!) . Following a drive up a tight country lane, we finally walked up to the museum we had been searching for. La Valtori, located just outside the quaint village of Lisa, is a well-known family business that makes amazing woolen carpets in a traditional fashion. Indeed, this museum prides itself in only using the power of the river’s current that passes by their house to fluff and clean any woolen rug. Angelica Lungociu kindly received us and gave us the tour of what is the Greavu family business. Indeed, it was her greatgreat-grand-father who set up this processing unit 150 years ago and she is now the fifth generation out of seven to continue making these traditionally crafted carpets. She first showed us the whirlpool or “valtoare” in Romanian, thus the name of this outdoor museum. This whirlpool is a wooden tub plunged in the water in which the river’s current is trapped and turns quite fast before finding its way out again, allowing whatever the tub contains to soak and spin. There is a secret to making these wooden sumps as no sand found in the stream can penetrate and damage the woven woolen rug it contains. The making of these basins is a family secret that has been handed down from generation to generation and is therefore unique to this outdoor museum in Lisa. Many locals use this system regularly to clean their rugs as it is more ecological than the use of detergent. Back in the 90s, the whirlpool was located in the nearby forest because the debit of the water there was stronger. So people used to go on picnics nearby and bring their carpets along to clean them as they were eating and having fun. There is no doubt that this whirlpool is the main attraction in this little rural village. Once the rug is clean, it is taken out of the whirlpool and dried for one or two days, depending on the weather. After this step, the dry carpet is attached to “the real”, which is a long wooden tube THE VILLAGE - issue no. 3, October-December 2009

that spins. Using the power of the stream below the wooden flooring, the real spins the rug and, as it hits the floor, it is pressed against a long metallic comb. In doing so, the wool thickens and woolen strands become stronger and more apparent. The woolen rug is then dipped into the whirlpool to fix the plucked-out hair, a process that takes around six hours, and is dried in the sauna room for five hours to give the rug time to thicken and strengthen. To complete the process, the carpet has one final dip into the tub to do as it has to be washed and the hairs have to be arranged before drying entirely for two days. The creation of these traditional carpets is a long process, taking up around two weeks to make a single rug. As the weather gets pretty bad during the wintertime, the Greavu family spends their time weaving, therefore creating the rugs, and keeps this whole fluffing process to the summertime when the river is at its best and of course, when there are more tourists around to see them doing it. La Valtori rug processing workshop is promoted by the Ethnography museum of Brasov and it receives funds from the Brasov County Council to continue producing these marvelous rugs in a traditional and non-polluting way. Before it received these helpful funds, this little gem in the middle of the Lisa countryside was only known locally. Indeed, women used to bring their woven creations to be fluffed up by the whirlpool and strengthened by the real and sauna room. Now that they are helped to preserve this craft, the family has the will and the interest to keep making the carpets and by doing so they are helping the local tourism, as their rugs are becoming known internationally. Little by little people are recognizing their work and it is becoming more popular. “It is our business”, Angelica Lungociu said,”We live off of this alone.” As the owner shows us around the museum’s grounds to see the objects used to create such beautiful rugs, one cannot help but notice the peaceful surroundings that these people work in day by day. Not a sound was to be heard but the slow trickling of the stream we had to walk over and the playful bark of their few dogs. Who could choose a better backdrop for such an intricate craftsmanship? This museum is fast becoming a place not to miss when visiting villages in Transylvania as it strives to protect local traditions and crafts by using only the natural resources given to them. La Valtori is an incredible outdoor museum that allows us to discover more about the traditional Romanian way of life, also through the friendliness of the Greavu family who are thrilled to show us the making of what they have believed in for the last five generations. 15


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Disturbing the Peace How to capture the real spirit of Fundata a Heavenly Romanian Village, in less than 20 minutes Photos and text: Brodie Robertson

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estled in the Transylvanian mountains at approximately an hour and a half drive away from Brasov, Fundata is known as the highest village in Romania. Indeed, it towers over 1400 km above the ground and is therefore a perfect place to begin various hiking expeditions. However, this is not the reason that brought me, a volunteer, “the Village” manager and her husband to this beautiful and desolate place. We had actually come to see an annual traditional ritual called Sumedru’s fire. However, we ended up experiencing one of the most memorable days of my trip that will never leave me. Before coming to this village I was told that we would be hiking a lot throughout our visit as the village doesn’t have a “normal” layout. As I found out, the village is scattered over many various hills. To explain this clearer, the town hall found in the center was located four or five kilometers from the local primary school, after numerous bends and climbs. So as we parked the car, we set off on

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foot through the hills in order to find the local church, known to be on the Unesco’s World heritage list, as the priest would probably give us some much needed information about the village and the festival that was to take place that evening. Sumedru’s fire is an annual event that takes place every 26th of October, which celebrates the end of autumn and the beginning of winter. The legend comes from a Romanian god called Sumedru, a usual villager who, during the ceremony, becomes a fir tree that is then burned during the night. Villagers gather wood and create a huge bonfire that symbolizes the purification and regeneration of the seasons. In some rural areas, local teenagers jump through the fire to show off their virility. Children dance around the fire as it burns and the women of the village distribute fruit and home-made treats to the guests. At the end of the night, each family takes home a piece of the last embers of the bonfire and throws it in their garden in order to fertilize the land and bring good luck to the home and all who live in it. The landscape around us during our walk through the village was truly breathtaking. We had been informed that the village of Fundata (and its surroundings) is one of the most beautiful areas in Romania, with its stunning scenery and pure cleansing air which is known its therapeutic abilities. Many guest houses are set up around the main street in order to attract tourists wishing to spend a tranquil vacation among the Bucegi and Piatra Craiului mountain ranges. In the distance, the magnificent snow-covered mountains became a perfect backdrop for all of our scenery photographs. We passed random cows and horses gently grazing on grass in fields. The bells around the cows’ necks chimed each time the animals moved, and this pleasant sound was the only noise that could be heard in this vast countryside. The area is also well-known for its traditional cooking, many dishes consisting of locally bred livestock including sheep, goats and cows. The villagers use their anwww.revista-satul.ro


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imal’s milk to make a traditional dish called “bulz” (which is in fact polenta and cheese). Having spent some time discovering the up-lifting environment, and having a fore-knowledge of the customs and traditions, we felt the need to uncover more about the local people themselves in the heart of this rural village. After laughing at Adrian (Ana’s husband) who was seen running away from a fast-approaching horse he wanted to photograph in a field, we noticed an older man sitting outside his house at the foot of a steep hill. As journalists do, we decided to investigate. After descending a slope covered in crunchy green grass, we approached the mysterious man and asked to interview him. He kindly invited us into his garden where we were soon joined by an elderly woman. She seemed delighted to speak to us and quickly invited us into her home. As we entered the house, Ana and I looked at each as we were obviously thinking the same thing: We were very fortunate to have found such a talented woman! We had walked into a room covered in multiple hand-embroidered cushions and rugs, as well as hand-painted flowers on the roof. It was a wonderful insight into what this woman is passionate about and we felt thrilled to have found her. Sadly we had to leave this house and this wonderful woman due to a miss-understanding with her neighbours, who were clearly very anxious about her safety as she had strangers in her home. This situation led us to speaking with a local policeman and he informed us that his community is a very friendly but protective village. They all look out for each other here so they became very worried when the three of us walked into an elderly woman’s house, not knowing who we were or what we wanted to do. We were still talking and laughing about this unusual experience for days afterwards. Even although we barely spent twenty minutes inside the woman’s house, we had the wonderful opportunity to catch a glimpse of the heart of Fundata. We discovered how THE VILLAGE - issue no. 3, October-December 2009

the inside of a traditional house should look like, we saw the strong sense of community that reigns between villagers but most of all we now understand what Fundata is… I strongly believe this is a clear demonstration of the strong bond a community can have in these Transylvanian villages. Although we explained to them who we were and what we are doing, these people wouldn’t trust strangers who seemed to be threatening the tranquil peace of Fundata. I maybe didn’t understand what was happening in full detail, but one does not need to speak the language to see that the people living in this beautiful mountain landscape are sensitive neighbours who are simply trying to protect the elders of the village as best as they can. We did not see the traditional Sumedru’s fire as we didn’t want to disturb the peace any longer; however the memory of this village in particular will warm my heart for years to come.

reclama Casa Muntelui

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Pottery with a Deep History Text and photos: Eleina Margaux Novak

Traditions in Romania epitomize the Romanian way of life; with simplicity at its core. In the villages that have survived invasions, dictatorships, and so far, democracy, these traditions have stuck with the inhabitants as a preservation of their own unique culture regardless of what changes the nation on a whole has undergone. Because of this, the traditions that are still preserved today are invaluable to those who have been taught to appreciate and purport them.

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ne such long established craft is the art of pottery. The region of Transylvania, specifically, is most famous for its pottery, but all parts of Romania still participate in making and painting pottery. Since this craft has recently become valued by tourists, families continue this trade as a way to earn money, though most now use shortcuts designed to make the task easier; however, these are not as wonderful or historically accurate. I had heard from several sources that I would not be able to find a family near Bran that kept the traditional way of pottery making that had been passed down generation to generation. Discouraged, I confess I also gave up on the idea. But when I went to the town of Bran on a tourist outing, I saw in a field, away from the business of everything else, several tables. Intrigued as to what was set up on these tables, and relieved to escape from the crowded area filled with Dracula masks and mugs, I walked over to investigate. I found that the table contained colorful dishes—mostly various shades of green—that were stacked with rows upon rows of uniquely painted, and incredibly beautiful, pottery. Drawn to the collection originally out of curiosity, I asked the woman about the pottery she sold. What she replied made my head reel! She began to tell me that her family had learned the art from generations and generations ago, and that they made it now in the same way they did centuries ago. Another day, armed with pen, paper, and a camera I returned to see if she was still there. Thankfully she was. I approached nervously; I knew she had spoken English before, but I was unsure as to how much, and my Romanian was severely inefficient to conduct an interview in. She was obviously on her break, but I timidly asked anyway if I could interview her and told her I had been there a few weeks before. Heart thudding as any new journalist going on their first mission alone, I courageously waited for her reply. And I was just as amazed as before. She said that she remembered me and I could interview her! Thankfully a kind tour guide from Bran’s castle, Matei, graciously served as a translator and explained processes I would not before have been able to understand. With his assis18

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tance, and her kind patience, I began to piece together the process that produced such works of art. Once I learned her name, Raluca Popa, I asked her how her family was able to preserve this tradition when so many other families are struggling to or have lost interest. She replied that while the knowledge has been handed down from family member to family member, it helps that this is something her parents work on together. Her father, Constantin Popa, is the potter as he shapes and creates the dishes, bowls, and vases. Her mother, Georgeta Popa, is the artist who paints the lovely designs onto the clay. Raluca laughed as she added that now she herself sells them. Then Raluca began to describe the detailed process the clay must undergo to turn out properly. It takes one month and a day to bring a piece from start to completion. Her family owns nine hectares near Bran. To reach clay fit for molding into pottery, they must dig two meters (6.6 feet) into the ground. This clay is unique to Transylvania because of its blue tint. Once the clay is harvested, then it is put on a potter’s wheel. Constantin molds the pieces in various ways for the different products. For a jug with a handle, he must first create the bottom, then the top, and lastly the handle. These pieces are assembled in the same order. It takes roughly ten minutes to shape a bowl, which is then handed off to her mother, Georgeta Popa, who spends twenty minutes painting it while it is still wet. Then the pottery must dry for one month. After a month, when the clay is sure to be dry all the way through, it is baked in a kiln for eight hours. After this initial baking an optional glaze is applied that makes the pieces safe for modern appliances such as dishwashers and microwaves, and also adds a clear shiny glaze once it is taken out of the oven after a second eight hour long baking. Her mother alternates every month between blue and greenbased works. Though all the colors used are composed of natural ingredients and in the traditional way, the green, brown, and white color scheme is traditionally from the South, while the cobalt blue is Transylvanian.

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The designs painted on the pottery are also traditional. The three most common are the rooster, the tree of life, and the peacock. The peacock tail is from the South and is called “Horezu.” The lines and dots that serve as extra decoration are also patterns that Georgeta Popa knows by heart as being the same used long ago. The “brushes” used for painting are actually the tips of bullhorns or sometimes wooden needles. After the official interview had finished I requested to take a few photographs of Raluca and her family’s pottery. It is always interesting to gaze at objects through the lens of a camera after learning more about them, because suddenly, different things strike you more than before. As Raluca kindly posed behind her products, I zoomed in closer to the various pieces, remembering the month they spent out in the Transylvanian sun drying, or the ingredients for the mixture of special colors, and found myself gazing in awe rather than snapping photos. Raluca disappeared for a moment and I began noticing the other visitors to the area who were now meandering across the field to see what had originally drawn me there. The mystery and the colors from the special wares were housed away from the hubbub of the main square were evidently intriguing to many. I watched people from all over the world become entranced with the raw beauty of this art and smiled as I recognized them repeat similar exclamations I myself had made. Raluca returned to hand me a box—my own lovely piece of pottery. Of course she couldn’t know that to me it will also symbolize a successful interview with a fascinating family who has a story I will not forget soon. As we were saying our goodbyes, I asked Raluca if she planned on continuing this tradition throughout her own life. She smiled again and said that for now she just sold the pottery and that she was actually in university now studying for a degree in Psychology. Whether or not this is a tradition that will proceed for many more generations to come we will all have to wait and see, but for now, it is a beautiful piece of history preserved.

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Cultural Identities: Reflections on Saxon Identity in Romania’s Multi-Cultural Society by Norbert Schwarzenbrunner

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y Christmas they were gone. Gone, alongside over one hundred thousand other Transylvanian Saxons, who had left Romania in just two years at the beginning of the nineties. Eginald Schlattner stayed, but found himself a shepherd without a herd. From his time as pastor in Roşia, he recounts how the Easter celebrations had been business as usual for the small village near Sibiu, but come Christmas, most of his congregation had left, a fate shared by many other German communities in Transylvania. Emigration started strongly in the seventies, when Ceauşescu and German chancellor Schmidt agreed upon allowing Saxons to move to Germany as part of a family reunification program. After the revolution and the collapse of the communist regime, most members of the Saxon community seized the chance to leave Romania, for Germany, for Austria, and for overseas. According to the “Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania” (DFDR), the German-speaking minority in Romania had 45.000 members in 2002, thirty percent of which lived in Transylvania. At the end of the seventies that number was still at over 175.000, during the nineteen forties at around 250.000. For the chairman of the German Forum, Wolfgang Wittstock, the reasons for this mass exodus are rooted in the repercussions of World War II, in the loss of trust the Germans placed in Romanian authorities and most importantly, in poverty. In January 1945, the year after Romania had surrendered and declared war on its former ally Germany, 75.000 Saxons were deported to Soviet labor camps, in March the ones who stayed at home were dispossessed, at a time when 75 percent of them were farmers living off the land. Under Ceauşescu’s rule the situation for the German minority improved as they were valuable bargaining chips with the German government yet the economic situation remained dire and was unlikely to get better – a situation where, as Homer put it, “all that avails is flight.” The expatriation of the Transylvanian Saxons in the last decades of the twentieth century may seem like the last act in the history of this people, but one shouldn’t underestimate the staying power of a nation that

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albeit never having its own state managed to survive and at the same time retain a certain amount of independence for over 850 years. Enduring as a minority for such a long time is in itself an incredible achievement and keeping a relatively small – the Saxon population never consisted of more than 300.000 people – community alive and vibrant while being part of six different states, defending it against Mongolian riders and the Ottomans, just to name a few, is something that speaks volumes about the kind of physical and spiritual fortitude not easily wiped out. And as Frieder Schuller, Transylvanian author, poet and filmmaker in his own right, puts it, history isn’t a horse-drawn carriage one simply hops out of. The Cața native fled to Germany in 1978 with the help of fellow author and eventual Nobel laureate Günter Grass only to return to his hometown after the revolution, renovate his father’s, the village priest’s, house and to now divide his time between Germany and Romania, many times making the Saxons’ history a subject of his work. In Cața, there are only three Germans left who live there full-time, the rest have either vanished entirely or become what is known as “summer saxons”, emigrants who return to their homes for the summer but whose lives are based elsewhere. Schuller says the reason they stayed in Germany wasn’t their lack of faith in the Romanian authorities but the fact that they were comfortable in the new lives they had made for themselves. This isn’t to say they have shed their old identity entirely and all traditions are lost. Saxon organizations, the so-called “Heimatortsgemeinschaften”, organize meetings and festivities for the expatriates, gathering Saxons who originate in the same village in Romania, no matter where they live now. As for those willing to come back, Wolfgang Wittstock and the Forum are a first point of contact, offering information, counsel and even legal advice. The chairman acknowledges that there isn’t much they can do to bring people to return to Romania, still it’s the thought that counts and the offer that stands. Besides providing support and a sense of community, the Forum’s main goals are the preservation of the Saxon identity and the German language. They offer language courses and are involved in several cultural activities, most notably their support for the only German brass-band left in Transylvania. The brass bands, once central institutions in the Saxon villages, dissolved at the beginning of the nineties, the few musicians left were pooled into the “Burzenländer Blaskapelle”, which plays traditional German-Bohemian music, among other things, at weddings and other festivities, and consists to equal parts of Germans, Romanians and Hungarians. Although most of the Saxons may have disappeared, their legacy has anything but. From the most obvious remnants, the over one hundred fortified churches scattered throughout Transylvania, to the more subtle ones, like some German traditions taken on by Romanians, such as the “Kronenfest”, there’s still a lot to fuel the pride regarding this heritage of not just the Saxons themselves, but also of the Romanians and Hungarians in the region. As for Eginald Schlattner, he found himself a new herd by working as a prison minister – besides coming upon a large audience as a writer. And at seventy-six he still travels the land to bring comfort to his flock. After all, a shepherd’s work is never done.

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