Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Archive for the ‘csikszereda’ Category

Turkish Horse

Posted by Andy Hockley on 10 July, 2008

A week or so ago, I was talked into going to the Turkish Horse shop with/by the wife. The Turkish Horse shop is the place where you can go and rummage through bins full of clothes to maybe find something you might consider wearing on an especially dark day in a particularly deserted part of Spitzbergen in December. These clothes (it is said) come from England, and apparently this gives them a special cachet or je ne sais quois (it is perhaps indicative of something that the only two words/phrases I could think of to use there were French and not English at all. It certainly ought to indicate that England would not be the place one would commonly go to to find stylish clothes). I may have mentioned this place before, and its intriguing business model, based I suspect on flogging off clothes donated to charity by unsuspecting people in the UK.

[I should perhaps at this juncture mention that the shop is not actually called a Turkish Horse shop, this is just me being “amusingly” daddish and perverting the Hungarian word turkáló, which is what these shops are actually called. (I think it means “rummage” or something really)]

Anyway, we went on a Monday morning and the place was packed, as that is the day of the new and exciting stock. It was a very strange experience. Mostly because people obviously take it so seriously (I’ve heard people when asked what their hobbies are, answer “Turkálózni” – or “Turkish Horseplay” as I would like to translate it). This seriousness is manifested by the fact that this is a shop, packed full of people, the vast majority of whom are women, and there is no talking. At all. Not a murmur, not a little side chat, not a pair of friends talking about the weekend. Nothing. It’s really really disturbing. The pair of us were quite out of place actually discussing things and chatting and laughing and we got some fairly hostile glances thrown our way.

Anyway, we managed to actually get a few nice things for the family, plus I got to experience a side of local culture which I hadn’t previously experienced, so it was all good, really. Can’t see it becoming my hobby, though.

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Fitting in

Posted by Andy Hockley on 22 May, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, during the “Megye napok” (county days), Csikszereda was visited by some vaguely famous musical acts. (For more or less the first time in my memory of the place) One of these was Morandi, who are (at least by Romanian standards) just about as big as they come. Another was a band I’d never heard of called Sarmalele Reci, who, at least on the the basis of a couple of youtube videos I watched, look pretty good. (Good name too – it means “Cold Stuffed Cabbage” but sounds much better in Romanian than in English). We were going to go, but an inability to find a baby sitter put the kybosh on that plan. However, I think almost nobody went and the concert got called off, in the end – at least someone I know showed up 45 minutes after it was supposed to start and nothing was happening.

We did manage it to make it to one concert in the week, though, seeing aged Hungarian Shakin’ Stevens impersonator, Fenyő Miklós. (For Romanian readers who have never heard of him, just imagine a 65 year old Stefan Banica Jr – a horrific thought, no?) Also it is a bit unfair of me to call him a Shakin’ Stevens impersonater since he must hav been cranking out the rock n roll when Shaky was still in blue suede nappies. A better British comparison would probably be Cliff, but without the later career move into schmaltzy ballads and vomit inducing “smooth god” or whatever he calls his particular genre. Anyway, Fenyő was not as bad as I had feared, and was actually very enjoyable (apart from the venue- the sports hall, which was a rubbish place for a concert). You can’t really go wrong with straight up rock n roll though, at least for dancing and the like. The crowd was interesting – mostly people of between 35 and 55 with a few kids (like ours, for example – still no babysitter). This reflects I think the fact that (a) he brings up a lot of fond memories for the Transylvanian Hungarians of a certain age, because as with all Hungarian musicians of the time the act of listening to him was somehow illicit; and (b) that among the young he is tragically unhip (indeed I asked some teenage students about him and they’d never even heard of him).

So there you go. I get more Hungarian with every day. Next week I’ll be wearing a big felt hat riding a horse and having a bizarrely extravagant moustache.

In other fitting in news, we now own two chickens. They don’t actually live with us, since we don’t really have the space to allow them to enjoy their natural wander aimlessly and peck existence, and anyway, it would get tiring to constantly be stepping on eggshells, but they are ours all the same. They live in a friend’s garden with 15 others who all look exactly the same, so we don’t actually know which ones are ours, but these are just details.

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To the lighthouse

Posted by Andy Hockley on 27 April, 2008

The hospital I was in, which is reserved for lung cases and infectious diseases (in separate wings) with the TB ward lying somewhere in the middle, sitting on the pulmonary fence, is in a beautiful old building. Think mittel-european house of some minor voivode. (More Colditz than Stalag-Luft III. Oh sorry, I forgot I was going to try and lay off the prison references). A bit crumbling, but looking onto a nice courtyard, and with views in all directions, and located not actually in Csikszereda, but in the former-village, now-suburb of Csiksomlyo (Sumuleu Ciuc in Romanian). When I got tired of reading it was pleasant to spend time watching the Spring arrive – the tree outside my window went from bud to full-on blossom during the week, the snows on Hargita mountain gradually receded, the birds in the courtyard fluttered around collecting nesting materials and the like. It was all very tranquil.

Sadly though, this hospital will not be a hospital for very much longer. You see the building is owned by the church (the Roman catholic church in this case). It became a hospital during communism when it was nationalised, but now the church want it back (as under post-communist rules they are allowed to). I’m not quite sure what they want to do with it (the former orphanage in the same area reverted to RCC control a few years ago, and as far as I can tell they haven’t touched the place since). To me, it would seem that having a hospital in the building goes some way to fulfilling the church’s supposed raison-d’etre – you know about helping people and all that – but instead they will probably just use it for accommodation for the pilgrimage weekend, and leave it lying dormant for the rest of the year. It’s a real shame, and a bit crap really.

In other religion related news, today is Easter Sunday in the Orthodox calendar. As I understand it this means that roughly 1975 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and was resurrected a couple of days later. Then a few weeks later, he repeated the trick, just to head off the doubters. That’s commitment for you.

Anyway, Happy Easter Romanians and anyone else of an orthodox bent.

Posted in csikszereda, health | 1 Comment »

In a round about way

Posted by Andy Hockley on 14 December, 2007

When I arrived in Romania, which is not that long ago let’s face it, there was, to my knowledge, not a single roundabout in the country. At least I never encountered one. However, in some kind of apparent desperate EU inspired anglophilia, they have been appearing everywhere. I can only imagine that all of Romania’s mayors were taken to England on some kind of junket, and introduced to the smooth and sensible traffic flow of the humble roundabout. And maybe offered EU funds to install roundabouts wherever they could. Now, in Csíkszereda alone there are 5 of them, and I’m guessing more will come. There are even roundabouts where none seem necessary – indeed a couple I’ve seen (in Sinaia and Cluj) seem designed to merely slow the traffic down, like a particularly elaborate and expensive sleeping policeman.

There is still some way to go before the cult of the roundabout reaches English proportions (anyone doubting their ubiquity in the UK ought to drive the ten miles from Luton Airport to Hitchin, whence one spends more time circling a central island than one does actually driving in a straight line).

Maybe this is something to do with me. My last residence, Brattleboro, Vermont, USA installed one while I was there too, much to everyone’s confusion. Am I the vector carrying these roundabouts, like some kind of virus? Where else have I infected?

I have to say though, that the locals here have adapted much faster to these alien traffic moderators that Vermonters did, where for months and years afterwards, the benefits of the roundabout as a traffic flow system were outweighed by the utter chaos that accompanied its existence. Indicating seems to present a particular challenge to the unwary driver – especially the need to indicate left when one’s first turn is to the right.

Still, it’s a rum do. I’d love to know what was the spur for this mushrooming of the roundabout.

Posted in csikszereda | 1 Comment »

Munkácsy in Transylvania

Posted by Andy Hockley on 19 July, 2007


Csikszereda has been playing host to a much hyped up and amazingly professional exhibition this year (it finished last weekend). This was an exhibition of the paintings of Mihaly Munkacsy in the Miko Var (the castle depicted on the front of a bottle of Ciuc beer for those able to take a look at such an artifact). The whole thing was not only professionally presented, but well organised, and, amazingly, advertised. I know that last one doesn’t sound like much of a deal, but here things rarely get publicised until they’re more or less over. The posters for the music festival in Tusnad happening this week appeared yesterday for example. But the Munkacsy exhibition was publicised widely with large banners everywhere (and not only in Csikszereda but as far away as Marosvasarhely (Targu Mures) – there has even, I’m told, been transport laid on from various corners of Transylvania for people to attend.)

So, anyway, enough about the novelty of having something well organised in the town, and onto the thing itself. Who is this Mihaly Munkacsy, you may be asking yourself. Or at least you probably will be asking yourself that question if you’re not Hungarian / linked to Hungarians in some way / an art history expert. Mihaly Munkacsy, or Munkácsy Mihály if we are to be more accurate, is Hungary’s most famous painter. I won’t bore you with his life story, since you can read it on Wikipedia.

His style isn’t really to my taste to be frank (one of my favourite paintings at the exhibition was one of him by a Rippl-Rónai József). But that’s not to say it wasn’t interesting and there were one or two pictures that really catch the eye. Some of my favourites are unavailable on the Internet (or at least I can’t find them with 5 minutes Googling, and that’s as much effort as I’m prepared to put in). His most famous paintings are referred to as the trilogy – three pictures depicting the trial/crucifixion of Christ (you can look at all three of them here). Two of them were here in their full glory while the third, “Ecce Homo”, which a young James Joyce apparently raved about when it came to Dublin, was only here in final draft form, rather than the actual painting itself. “Golgotha” was the most interesting as there was also a display of photos that he took to help him compose the picture, including one of himself crucified(yes, he strung himself up on a cross and had someone take a picture so he could use himself as a model). The best bit of it, I reckon, is these two blokes in the foreground wandering away from the scene having a chat. It’s refreshing realistic to imagine that while this moment might be the defining moment in Christianity and therefore be very important in the larger picture of Western civilization, at the time presumably it was nothing very special at all, for many more than a handful of people.

Anyway, not quite sure of the purpose of this review, except to maybe highlight the works of someone mostly unknown outside of the Hungarian speaking world.

(Oh, and while we were there, our crap mayor came in guiding a Romanian tour party around the exhibition – something which he did in Romanian. This a far cry from his behaviour at the end of last summer which I reported here. You see he can speak Romanian when it suits him.)

Posted in csikszereda, hungary | 1 Comment »

The Good Life

Posted by Andy Hockley on 18 July, 2007

There are days when it is very good to live in Csikszereda. That’s not to say there are days when it’s bad to live in Csikszereda, it’s just that most of the time one doesn’t look around and say to oneself “Csikszereda is the most exciting place in the world/Romania in which to reside”. As I’ve said before it has many things to recommend it, and other things that may make one think twice about choosing, voluntarily, to move here.

One of the latter points is usually the temperature. It is well known within Romania that this is the coldest place in the country, and when the mercury drops to -35 in the winter, it can cause you to question your judgement, sanity, and appendages. Currently though, this negative is most decidedly a positive. Romania (and other countries in the region) are still gripped by an oppressive heatwave which has sent temperature soaring towards 40 degrees. In the shade. That’s pretty seriously hot. Here today it got up, I think, to around 33. That’s still pretty hot, and out in the sun was fairly oppressive. But, it’s better than everywhere else in Romania. A couple of weeks ago i did a teacher training workshop here in the town, for which people came from various different destinations, mostly within Transylvania. One woman came all the way from Galati, and was so happy to be in the relative cool of the mountains. OK we don’t have the Rolling Stones playing here, but we do have Boban Markovic playing just down the road this week (and to be entirely honest I’m actually more interested in going to a concert of the latter rather than the former).

So this evening as I survey the temperatures afflicting the rest of the country, I can sit here sipping my ice cold Bere Ciuc, and truthfully say “This is the best place to live in Romania”. Long may the heatwave last.

Posted in csikszereda, weather | 1 Comment »

7/7/7 in pictures

Posted by Andy Hockley on 7 July, 2007

A photo post, hot off the camera (as ever, clicking on any of these will bring them up to a more viewable size)

First off a couple of shots of a bunch of Szekelys being Szekelyish. Today is the “Ezer Szekely Leany” festival (1000 Szekely girls). I’m not really sure what happens in this festival, because I think I’ve been away each at the relevant time of year previously, but they did some kind of dancing and wandering around in traditional costume stuff in the square and then all trotted off to Csiksomlyo for the main event, which we may, if time permits, go and check out later.

Chauffeurs waiting for their clients

Some of the eponymous Szekely girls

The Zsögöd contingent with ineffective camouflage

Enough with the Szekely girls and onto some shots of the town, that may or may not be of interest.

This appeared in town the other day:
A touch screen tourist information thingy, with a webcam and email facility and apparently wireless internet access if you sit near it. In Csikszereda. What on earth is going here? Anyone would think we were in Europe.

I’ve been meaning to take a picture of this shop window for months now.
A shop that apparently sells kitsch rubbish and knick knacks (or “Tchotchkis” as I’ve heard them called – spelling unknown), along with costumes recovered from the film sets of 1970s porn films. Who is going to buy that outfit, I wonder to myself every time I pass the shop. Yes, you’re not mistaken, the black bits are kind of PVC vinyl. It’s strangely fascinating to me, and I find myself spellbound by it everytime I pass.

One of those monuments that has recently caused such trouble in Estonia


The big cultural event of the moment in town. people are being bussed in from all over Transylvania to see these paintings in the castle to which this poster is affixed.

Tomatoes with nipples, as mentioned here

And a couple more random pictures.


And, finally, for no reason whatsoever, not that I need one, Paula on the phone talking to her broker.

Posted in csikszereda, pictures | 4 Comments »

Taliban Paintball

Posted by Andy Hockley on 9 June, 2007

There’s a poster around town at the moment advertising something called “Taliban Paintball”. What the hell is Taliban Paintball? Do you have to play with one hand tied behind your back and an eyepatch on to pretend like you’re Mullah Omar? Or maybe fan out round the town paintballing women who show the barest hint of skin? (This being summer, that one would be a tad simple). When you capture someone you get to stick them in an orange jumpsuit and lock them up without trial for years on end? Really though, what is that? Is Taliban the new slang for edgy and dangerous? Or is it like cowboys and indians once was?

Meanwhile in Bucharest today the natural heirs to the Taliban were chucking rocks and stuff at gay people. Fundamentalist tossers. They actually make me want to believe in hell.

Posted in csikszereda | 1 Comment »

Farewell for another year, Búcsú

Posted by Andy Hockley on 28 May, 2007

Well, it was hot for the pilgrimage. Very very hot. And since the culmination of the event involves climbing up a fairly steep slope in order to take part in the mass in the saddle of a hill, it was quite brutal. Pilgrims are not necessarily athletes, and there were some people who really looked like they were suffering (a couple of very overweight blokes I saw looked like they were about to keel over even before the climb started). At the top, the bloke who was speaking over the PA system pre-mass kept telling people to respect the sanctity of the event and to please not take all their clothes off. But not that many people were paying attention, or at least, they felt the statue of the virgin would understand their need to cool off a tad.

The mass was a bit of a laugh because the priest giving the sermon was such a grumpy old sod. Here he has 400,000 people all there ready for him to fill them with passionate love of the catholic faith and joy at being in the presence of such a huge communcal gathering. But no. Instead he goes off on one about how people (ie his audience) were coming for the wrong reasons and young people were just there to do drugs and party wildly for the weekend and that all those listening were in fact a bunch of miserable sinners who all ought to be seriously penitent and then some.

I guess I really just don’t get this strand of guilt and abuse in the Roman Catholic church (and in many others it has to be said). What does it say about human nature that so many people in the world are Catholics? Are we really all just a bunch of masochistic vagrants who are desperate to be taken in hand by a strict father figure who’ll give us a metepahorical seeing to with his belt? I suspect I’ll never understand humans.

To some extent he wasn’t wrong though (though he might need a sense of humour transplant) – this supposedly sacred experience does have all sorts of other extraneous bits attached. Many of these pilgrims, it is true, did not actually come for the opportunity to be especially holy in any way. Yes, there are a bunch of young people who show up and camp out on the hill and have a weekend party (though I suspect most of them who do are fairly religious and partying is done in a low key and catholic way), and yes there are many for whom the weekend is less about religion and more about Hungarian identity and nationalism (witness the presence at this year’s event of László Tőkés, who is pretty much the accetable public face of Hungarian nationalism in Romania, but who is a bishop in the Reformed Church – why was he at an RC mass?).

If the priest had been that fussed about people not according the pilgrimage its proper respect, he should have made a point about how it wasn’t supposed to be used for nationalistic purposes. But he didn’t. Funny that. Not that the church (any church/mosque/temple/synagogue) is ever guilty of siding with nationalists, obviously, no sirree.

The town is still full of cars registered in Hungary – I think today (Monday) is a holiday in Hungary, so people are taking their time going home. Overheard in a cafe yesterday:
Group of young Szekely blokes: Welcome! Where are you from?
Older couple: Debrecen, in Hungary.
Szekely blokes: And you speak Hungarian? Wonderful. You speak it so well.

(This references the possibly apocryphal but often told story about Hungarians from here going to Hungary and having people surprised that they speak Hungarian “so well”. The conversation above was all light hearted, though, and ended up with the groups joing for a beer together)

Posted in csikszereda, hungarian nationalism, traditions | 1 Comment »

Farewell for another year, Búcsú

Posted by Andy Hockley on 28 May, 2007

Well, it was hot for the pilgrimage. Very very hot. And since the culmination of the event involves climbing up a fairly steep slope in order to take part in the mass in the saddle of a hill, it was quite brutal. Pilgrims are not necessarily athletes, and there were some people who really looked like they were suffering (a couple of very overweight blokes I saw looked like they were about to keel over even before the climb started). At the top, the bloke who was speaking over the PA system pre-mass kept telling people to respect the sanctity of the event and to please not take all their clothes off. But not that many people were paying attention, or at least, they felt the statue of the virgin would understand their need to cool off a tad.

The mass was a bit of a laugh because the priest giving the sermon was such a grumpy old sod. Here he has 400,000 people all there ready for him to fill them with passionate love of the catholic faith and joy at being in the presence of such a huge communcal gathering. But no. Instead he goes off on one about how people (ie his audience) were coming for the wrong reasons and young people were just there to do drugs and party wildly for the weekend and that all those listening were in fact a bunch of miserable sinners who all ought to be seriously penitent and then some.

I guess I really just don’t get this strand of guilt and abuse in the Roman Catholic church (and in many others it has to be said). What does it say about human nature that so many people in the world are Catholics? Are we really all just a bunch of masochistic vagrants who are desperate to be taken in hand by a strict father figure who’ll give us a metepahorical seeing to with his belt? I suspect I’ll never understand humans.

To some extent he wasn’t wrong though (though he might need a sense of humour transplant) – this supposedly sacred experience does have all sorts of other extraneous bits attached. Many of these pilgrims, it is true, did not actually come for the opportunity to be especially holy in any way. Yes, there are a bunch of young people who show up and camp out on the hill and have a weekend party (though I suspect most of them who do are fairly religious and partying is done in a low key and catholic way), and yes there are many for whom the weekend is less about religion and more about Hungarian identity and nationalism (witness the presence at this year’s event of László Tőkés, who is pretty much the accetable public face of Hungarian nationalism in Romania, but who is a bishop in the Reformed Church – why was he at an RC mass?).

If the priest had been that fussed about people not according the pilgrimage its proper respect, he should have made a point about how it wasn’t supposed to be used for nationalistic purposes. But he didn’t. Funny that. Not that the church (any church/mosque/temple/synagogue) is ever guilty of siding with nationalists, obviously, no sirree.

The town is still full of cars registered in Hungary – I think today (Monday) is a holiday in Hungary, so people are taking their time going home. Overheard in a cafe yesterday:
Group of young Szekely blokes: Welcome! Where are you from?
Older couple: Debrecen, in Hungary.
Szekely blokes: And you speak Hungarian? Wonderful. You speak it so well.

(This references the possibly apocryphal but often told story about Hungarians from here going to Hungary and having people surprised that they speak Hungarian “so well”. The conversation above was all light hearted, though, and ended up with the groups joing for a beer together)

Posted in csikszereda, hungarian nationalism, traditions | 3 Comments »