Csíkszereda Musings

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

Archive for the ‘transylvania’ Category

Going for a song

Posted by Andy Hockley on 27 July, 2008

Who among us has not pondered listlessly on what a traditional Szekely peasant house looks like? Who can honestly say that they haven’t lain awake at night wondering if there would ever be someone, anyone, who might assuage their thirst for this gap in their knowledge? Well, fear not because help is at hand. No longer will you need to feel that emptiness in your soul, no longer will you contemplate the days stretching unending before you without knowing what the Szekely paraszthaz resembles. Because, here, with only a mere paragraph of bush-beating to precede its unveiling, is one:The roof is shingles, and there are basically two rooms. As with all old houses round these parts there is no bathroom (as there is rarely running water).

Why, you may now be asking (having slaked your thirst for knowledge re images) is he showing us this house at this juncture? Well, it’s because it’s ours. We bought it this week. It’s ace. I mean it’s utterly knackered and would be politely described as a “fixer upper” by a British estate agent, but we fully intend to fix it up (slowly and surely bit by bit as we have the money to do so). It’s in the small village of Csikbankfalva (Bancu in Romanian) which is about 15 kms from here (but on good roads). It is surrounded by 11 ares of land. I had never actually heard the term “are” before I came here, but it’s always used for describing the area of properties here (and I have discovered that we do have the term in English, we just don’t use it – one are is 100 square metres if you can’t be bothered to click on that link).

Anyway, this week, in between apocalyptic rain storms we started cleaning out the barn – didn’t I mention the barn? It has a barn. We intend to make the barn something we can live in on weekends while we use the garden, and next year work on the house. It’s in better shape than the house and looks like this:As we cleaned it out, we happened upon loads of bizarre antiques which would go well in a museum (somebody suggested we should sell them on ebay). Things like old milk pails, knife grinders, various kit for weaving stuff, and a few things that I had no idea what they were. One of them was made from a hollowed out horn and had a hook on it – this turned out to be something you fill with water and hang on your belt, then you put your sharpening stone in it and when you are out in the fields with your scythe, you can sharpen it without going home. Fascinating stuff, hey? (He says, trying to wake everyone up). What would Arthur Negus make of that? (I expect Arthur Negus is dead these days, so he probably wouldn’t make much of it, but what would he have made of it when he was alive? Huh? HUH?)

Oh, and it has an outdoor bread oven too. It’s mint.

Anyway, our new house. I’m in Barcelona now, but I’d much rather be in Bankfalva. I’m guessing that is the first time in the history of human thought that that particular sentence has ever seen the light of day.

Posted in pictures, transylvania | 1 Comment »

Milking it

Posted by Andy Hockley on 4 July, 2008

A couple of years ago, I pondered on the impact that EU membership would have on the small farmers of Romania. Just to clarify, the farmers of Romania are not, to my knowledge, any smaller than farmers anywhere else – many are of average height and build, while some are even quite tall. There are just rather a lot of them (farmers of all sizes) and they mostly have very small farms. In fact many of their farms would not actually be described as farms by most people and more like “having a cow or two in their back garden”. In fact, I think I should probably go with smallholder, so as to not delude you as to the scale of their operations.

Anyway, I have recently learned a little bit more about what EU membership means for these smallholders (and indeed what having all these smallholders means for the EU). Specifically in the dairy sector.

You see, the way things work around here is that people in villages own a cow or two. Every morning people open their gates, and the cows wander out on to the street and follow each other and the village cowbloke who escorts them all to a field where they all spend the day quietly pondering the scenery, rambling, and painting watercolours of the tranquil countryside. At the end of the day, they are led back through the village, during which walk they all peel off and go into their own homes. Really, they do that, they don’t need to be guided or anything, and the cowbloke doesn’t need to recognise all the cows, they just go home of their own accord. I mean cows may not be the most actively intelligent of animals, but they are not, well, sheep.

[By the way, and I have no idea whether this is true or not, but the joke around these parts is that the one place that it doesn’t work like this is in the Ploiesti area, in which everybody has so little to do, that they all take care of their own cows. Sort of a one-cow town]

Anyway, before they all go out for the day to their alfresco creche (Kühegarten?), they get milked by their owners. The aformentioned owners then take the milk to the village collection point, where it is deposited and cooled and then at some point picked up by the tanker which takes it all to the dairy. I think in the past, much of this dairy activity happened in the village itself, or at least in some villages, but with the changes brought upon by the EU, the only dairies that remain are the large ones which can afford to ensure all procedures and tests are met, and which are usually situated in the major population centres. So a fleet of tankers is despatched every morning to the collection points in the villages, where the milk is transferred to the tanker and brought back to the dairy, where it is tested and pasteurised and what have you (ie converted into good things, like butter, or crimes against humanity, like cheese).

Now this process is pretty much the only way that the old system of lots of people with few cows each can sustain itself (and not morph into the agribusiness model of very few people owning all the cows), but it obviously has a number of problems inherent in it. The main one is that it takes a long while to isolate a problem. If one cow is receiving antibiotics, for example, that cow’s milk cannot be sold (because milk cannot legally contain antibiotics). But if the owner and the village vet keep it secret (because obviously you lose income for a while), then the antbiotics show up at the dairy, meaning that the whole tanker full is unusable. At that point, all of the villages on that tanker’s route are under suspicion, and the next day the milk of all those villages will be checked at the collection points to determine which village it is. From that point, I guess the guilty cow can be identified, arrested, and charged, but it’s at least a three-day process. The other problem is that there are an awful lot of people who have been milking cows for a awfully long time who now have to re-learn some things to ensure that the milk they obtain is cleaner (in terms of bacteria content).

I also learned that each of these producers has to have a quota to sell the dairy issued by the EU (or I presume issued more locally, under EU rules). Because of Romania’s smallholding culture, there are 250,000 of these quota holders in this country. That is one half of all the quota holders in the whole of the EU. That’s one of those statistics that sounds like it should be really interesting, but when you delve deep down into it, it’s kind of hard to see why. A bit like this post, I fear.

Posted in EU, romania, transylvania | 2 Comments »

Spelunking Today

Posted by Andy Hockley on 2 May, 2008

Well, yesterday, really. We spent our May 1st holiday underground in a cave not too far from here called Sugo Barlang (where barlang means cave) or Pestera Sugau in Romanian. Romania has loads of really interesting caves, I’m told, many of which are more dramatic than the one we went to yesterday, but this one was pretty interesting all the same. Some pictures (as ever, click on them to view full size)

This effect is apparently called “Leopard Skin”:

For some unaccountable reason back in the 70s some part of the Romanian army was billeted in this cave, so many of the stalactites and stalacmites got snapped off, which is a shame, but it does mean you get to see the cystalline stuff in the middle:

More broken bits, but still pretty cool.

A bat. A cat? No, a bat.

A pair of brave cavers

Posted in transylvania, travel | 3 Comments »

Two legs better

Posted by Andy Hockley on 9 January, 2008

There’s a famous story, or parable I suppose, which I’m quite sure you’ve heard before, but I’ll repeat it anyway, because I’ve obviously got too much time on my hands.

So there’s this rich successful retired businessman wandering along the beach in some tropical paradise one afternoon. He sees a young man lying in a hammock and goes over to talk to him. I’ll tell it in dialogue since it makes slightly more sense that way:

Rich bloke: “How come you’re lying around in this hammock and not working?”
Local layabout: “What for? I went out this morning, caught some fish for my family and others in the village, and now I’m relaxing”
RB:”But you could go out and catch more fish”
LL: “Why would I do that?”
RB: “You could sell it”
LL: “Why?”

(from this point onwards the story becomes a bit repetitive so bear with me. There is a punchline. Honest. Do parables have “punchlines”?)

RB: “So you could buy a better net”
LL: “But the net I have is good enough to catch all the fish I need”
RB: “With a better net you could catch more fish, and when you’ve caught and sold enough you could buy a bigger boat”
LL: “I don’t need a bigger boat”
RB: “With a bigger boat you could go further out, catch more and bigger fish and make even more money. Eventually you’d be able to buy a second boat, and employ someone to work for you catching even more fish”
LL: “Yes, yes, get to the point will you? Why would I be bothered with all this? Why would I go to all this trouble?”

(In the original parable he doesn’t actually say all that, but I am already desperate for RB to get to the point and allow me to therefore get to mine – which, I’ll warn you now, is probably not worth it)

RB: “Well, after you’ve made enough money, hired enough people to keep your business running successfully for you, you’ll be able to retire”
LL: “And what would I do then?”
RB: “Well you could spend your days lying around on the beach”

I’m sure I could have told that better, but you get the general idea.

Anyway, he says, finally reaching the long overdue point of this blog post, I was reminded of this story on our recent trip to the UK. On December 30th we, along with my parents, my brother and his family went along to “Wimpole Home Farm” which is kind of a touristy attraction type thing near my parents’ house. Specifically it is a working farm in which various animals are kept and can be viewed/touched/groomed/fed etc, as children tend to like that kind of thing. It was all very nice, and we got to have fun, and eat a nice lunch, and be with the family and all that kind of thing – as well as see some piglets born that day, some goats, sheep, donkeys, horses etc etc. Paula, for whom animals are incredibly exciting and wonderful, was particularly happy.

But it occurred to me that the whole concept was kind of peculiar, and that anyone from a Transylvanian village (for example) would find it laughable that people in England would pay money (and we did pay money in not-to-be-sniffed-at quantities) to wander round a farm looking at animals. Since this is precisely what normal life offers for free here. [Another example comes from the time that Erika and I first met, which was in the town of Brattleboro, Vermont, USA. She happened to be there – where I worked – attending a course which took place during the weekend when Brattleboro offered up its annual “strolling of the heifers” festival – the local tongue-in-cheek response to Pamplona’s “running of the bulls”. When offered the chance to go downtown and watch a bunch of cows walk through the streets she laughed disbelievingly saying she could do that any day of the week here. And she was right.]

So is economic development like the parable of the rich industrialist on the beach? You slowly get rid of all your small scale agriculture, swallowed up and sold off to agribusiness so that vast warehouses full of battery chickens, concentration camps full of pigs, and factory farmed cows hyped up on steroids and antibiotics can supply your food needs cheaply and efficiently, and in this way your country/region becomes more and more “developed”, until such time as you have enough money that you can set aside smallholdings where you can revive the lost art of animal husbandry and charge tourists large sums to come and groom a donkey or collect eggs from real live free range chickens? Your fresh food tastes like rubbish and is full of chemicals and hormones, but at least you’ve entered the 21st century.

Posted in development and education, transylvania, uk | 3 Comments »

Transylvaniara

Posted by Andy Hockley on 5 January, 2008

When one arrives at Luton airport to take the plane to Cluj, there is no mention of the city to which the plane flies – the departure boards and the check in lines all read “Transylvania” – I am struggling to think of any other place one could fly to in which the city is not mentioned. Malta is one, but then Malta is a small island which is (to all intents and purposes) one city with lots of bits. Transylvania is very large, and, well, you could be landing anywhere from Oradea to Brasov, two cities that must be getting on for 500 kms apart.

Anyway, it turned out to be a very good thing that we were flying back to Transylvania on Thursday, since, if we’d tried to fly to Bucharest we’d have been up shit creek without a paddle, as it appears the entire south of Romania was blanketed in a blizzard of epic proportions that day, and both of Bucharest’s airports were shut for hours (and hours) . So, hurrah for Transylvania, in which the roads were clear, the sky was blue (though it was – and still is- colder than a witch’s tit) and the parking was miraculously free at the airport (and the car started first time despite sitting outside in sub -10 degree temperatures for a week).

The upshot of this is that I am now back home and will resume blogging in a 2008 stylee very shortly.

Posted in transylvania, weather | 1 Comment »

Dracula

Posted by Andy Hockley on 20 December, 2007

I had been meaning to re-read Dracula for ages. It was probably 20 years ago when I first read it, and ever since I moved to Transylvania I thought I should probably re-read it since it is basically the only reason that anyone from outside of Hungary and Romania has even heard of Transylvania.

So anyway I read it again last week, and it’s bloody brilliant. I remember enjoying it and thinking it was a cracking read when I read it before, and I’m not usually a fan of literature from before 1900 (though to be fair Dracula was written in 1897 so it’s not that far off).

Anyway, on to my first major surprise of the book – that is when we first meet Count Dracula in his castle on the Borgo pass between Bistrita and Bukovina. Jonathan Harker (our hero) journeys from Budapest to Cluj and on to Bistrita before heading into the pass, passing as he does various ethnic groups on the way – Saxons, Szekelys, Magyars, and “Wallachs” in the main, but he also mentions “Slovaks” who actually sound very much like the Gabor clan of Rroma from his description, and Szgany (obviously a corruption of Cigany/Tigani) . Anyway, we meet Count Dracula, who is in fact a Szekely! This is not something I had remembered (to be honest when I read the book before, I’d never heard of the Szekely and it would have flown right over my head). He launches into this big speech about the heroism and bravery of the Szekely. He comes up with some curious historical explanation of the Szekely as being some kind of cross between the Vikings and the Huns, and then launches into a list of the invaders and foes they had beaten back – Magyars, Turks, Bulgars, Lombards, Wallachs, and Avars (whoever they are).

“Ah, young sir, the Szekelys – and the Dracula as their heart’s blood, their brains and their swords – can boast a record that mushroom growths like the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs can never reach”

Just in case there are Szekelys reading this (and I know there are) who are now getting a tad upset that this infamous anti-hero is a Szekely, I should point out that he it was because he was such a great leader, and a strong and intelligent warrior when he was alive that he is so powerful and successful a vampire once he became un-dead. At least that’s what it says in the book.

So anyway, I’m not going to retell the book, but I thought I’d do a little bit of digging into how Stoker came to write this novel and set it where he did, with the characters that he did. Firstly it’s not thought that he ever visited Transylvania, he just spent a lot of time in the library doing research. He apparently first thought about setting the novel in Austria, but was told that it might be too close to another vampire novel called “Carmilla” set in France, so he decided to relocate it to Transylvania. (Though in fact very little happens in Transylvania in the book – just the opening and closing. The rest is in Whitby and (mostly) London).

The character of Dracula himself is often thought to be have been based on Vlad Tepes (“the Impaler”) who was also known as Vlad Dracula (son of Dracul). It is now thought that the only thing the character owes to Vlad is the name, and that probably Stoker knew nothing about Vlad Tepes. Another historical character who may or may not have provided some inspiration is a Hungarian countess named Elizabeth Bathory. “The most infamous serial killer in Hungarian and Slovak history”.

The tourist industry of Romania seems to rely very greatly on this one story, which is quite impressive in a way, though extreme lengths are gone to – Bran Castle, which I read somewhere is Romania’s most visited tourist attraction, markets itself as “Dracula’s Castle”, based on the disputed possibility that Vlad Tepes may once have spent the night there. Don’t get me wrong, Bran Castle is a nice place, but it has about as much connection to Dracula as the Sydney Opera House does. Sighisoara, which is Vlad Dracula’s birthplace, is littered with Dracula Internet Cafes and Vampire Coffee Shops. There was even going to be a Dracula themepark outside Sighisoara, which thankfully got nixed. Apparently someone has even built a castle cum hotel on the Borgo pass where they think the castle might have been in the book.

I reckon the Szekelys need to grab a slice of this lucrative pie and set up some “Real Dracula” attractions. There’s money in this myth.

Posted in books, transylvania | 2 Comments »

Csikszereda’s annual moment in the sun

Posted by Andy Hockley on 25 May, 2007

Once again it’s that time of year, the weekend when Csikszereda briefly takes centre stage and becomes the most vibrant city in Eastern Europe. Well that may be overstating it a tad, but having half a million people descend upon a town of 45,000, is a big deal whichever way you slice it. It is, as I was told last year, the biggest pilgrimage in Central and Eastern Europe. Already the town is filling up with Magyarorszagiak (people from Hungary) on safari, come to see in what squalor and poverty their poor cousins live. “Look Istvan, they don’t even have Tesco here”.

Here are the things I wrote a couple of years ago at my first experience of the event – before and after.

I don’t want to overstate how big this whole thing is, because, y’know I’m not all that into hyperbole and exaggeration, but it’s really really a big deal (I think in Romania as a whole it’s hardly commented on, and probably very little known outside the Romanian Roman Catholic world – I remember seeing a news report on Pro TV last year on the day itself but aside from that it basically is a non-event). People come from all over the world. Obviously this creates some problems within the town, in coping with all these vast numbers of people. This afternoon, for example, my father-in-law is arriving by train. I am going to meet him at the station and bring him back to our house, but I am already planning to do so by walking to the station and coming back in a taxi – experience has taught me that once you drive anywhere this weekend you will never again find a place to park.

The big news is that I am going to make a film about it. Well, to be honest, my friend, neighbour and director/producer/editor/cameraman Denes is going to make the film, I’m just going to be the front man. I have no idea what will happen with this film, which is planned to be the first of a number of films of life in Csikszereda based loosely on the blog, but we’ll see. If we can’t flog it to anyone I’ll end up just posting it here I suppose. This new creative direction for Csikszereda Musings comes through what I imagine is a very modern new way of building relationships. You see, Denes (or Gömbi báci as we knew him for a while in our house, named after his dog Gömbi) is my neighbour, who lives across the hall in our apartment building. We were on friendly terms, exchanging hellos and brief chats in the hallway, but we were eventually connected properly through this blog, when someone he knows in Paris pointed it out to him, and he began reading it, quickly connecting it to that strange English bloke who lived across the hall. So there you go – want to connect with your neighbours but are not sure how? Then start blogging and hope they find you through Google or some other convoluted method. Or you could just go and knock on their door and say hi. I suppose.

Posted in csikszereda, transylvania | Leave a Comment »

Csikszereda’s annual moment in the sun

Posted by Andy Hockley on 25 May, 2007

Once again it’s that time of year, the weekend when Csikszereda briefly takes centre stage and becomes the most vibrant city in Eastern Europe. Well that may be overstating it a tad, but having half a million people descend upon a town of 45,000, is a big deal whichever way you slice it. It is, as I was told last year, the biggest pilgrimage in Central and Eastern Europe. Already the town is filling up with Magyarorszagiak (people from Hungary) on safari, come to see in what squalor and poverty their poor cousins live. “Look Istvan, they don’t even have Tesco here”.

Here are the things I wrote a couple of years ago at my first experience of the event – before and after.

I don’t want to overstate how big this whole thing is, because, y’know I’m not all that into hyperbole and exaggeration, but it’s really really a big deal (I think in Romania as a whole it’s hardly commented on, and probably very little known outside the Romanian Roman Catholic world – I remember seeing a news report on Pro TV last year on the day itself but aside from that it basically is a non-event). People come from all over the world. Obviously this creates some problems within the town, in coping with all these vast numbers of people. This afternoon, for example, my father-in-law is arriving by train. I am going to meet him at the station and bring him back to our house, but I am already planning to do so by walking to the station and coming back in a taxi – experience has taught me that once you drive anywhere this weekend you will never again find a place to park.

The big news is that I am going to make a film about it. Well, to be honest, my friend, neighbour and director/producer/editor/cameraman Denes is going to make the film, I’m just going to be the front man. I have no idea what will happen with this film, which is planned to be the first of a number of films of life in Csikszereda based loosely on the blog, but we’ll see. If we can’t flog it to anyone I’ll end up just posting it here I suppose. This new creative direction for Csikszereda Musings comes through what I imagine is a very modern new way of building relationships. You see, Denes (or Gömbi báci as we knew him for a while in our house, named after his dog Gömbi) is my neighbour, who lives across the hall in our apartment building. We were on friendly terms, exchanging hellos and brief chats in the hallway, but we were eventually connected properly through this blog, when someone he knows in Paris pointed it out to him, and he began reading it, quickly connecting it to that strange English bloke who lived across the hall. So there you go – want to connect with your neighbours but are not sure how? Then start blogging and hope they find you through Google or some other convoluted method. O r you could just go and knock on their door and say hi. I suppose.

Posted in csikszereda, transylvania | Leave a Comment »

Random links, tags, and swearing

Posted by Andy Hockley on 14 May, 2007

While I think about all the things I should write about (the Basescu suspension, more on Autonomy, the Rosia Montana gold mine, blah blah etc etc and so on and so forth), I instead will fill in the morning with a couple of unrelated and trivial observations and links

Firstly, from this weekend’s Guardian, a piece about tourism in the Saxon area of Transylvania, and more specifically the village of Viscri. It’s actually the second article in two years about Viscri (here’s the first) so someone in that small village must have some kind of hotline to the paper. It’s all a bit suspicious if you ask me.

Ages ago I was tagged to write something about a favourite computer game. Since I rarely have time for computer games – the other day I managed to spend the day watching a DVD in small bite sized pieces while Paula slep fitfully in my arms, the first DVD/video/film I’ve watched for ages, such is the lack of actual time to do these things – I can’t really comment on anything very modern, but I do remember playing Football Manager on the ZX Spectrum for hours and hours back in the day, and playing it on that link brought back one or two vague flashbacks of those far off days. You try telling kids today that computer games used to be issued on cassette and they won’t believe you. Before that I remember that magazines used to print the BASIC code for you to type in your own games. None of this DVD stuck to the front cover nonsense. (Thanks to 200 percent for the link)

Romania got creamed in this weekend’s Eurovision song contest, which I didn’t watch, and I haven’t heard the entry (of anyone I think) so god only knows if it was deserved or not.

And finally, for today, a great language resource – The Alternative Hungarian Dictionary, from which you, the non-Hungarian speaker, can learn useful expressions which will either endear you to Hungarians, or earn you a smack in the face. I am familiar with quite a few of them, including all of the ones which involve equine genitalia (a very popular swearing device in Hungarian, for some reason), and some which are not included at all, but quite a few were entirely new to me. My favourite, I think, being Paksi mogyoró, which literally means “hazelnut from the town of Paks”, but idiomatically would best be translated in English as “clingon”. The site suffers somewhat from not rendering accents well (the Romanian dictionary from the same site is almost unreadable, so poorly does it deal with diacritical marks).

Posted in language, links, transylvania, travel | 2 Comments »

Random links, tags, and swearing

Posted by Andy Hockley on 14 May, 2007

While I think about all the things I should write about (the Basescu suspension, more on Autonomy, the Rosia Montana gold mine, blah blah etc etc and so on and so forth), I instead will fill in the morning with a couple of unrelated and trivial observations and links

Firstly, from this weekend’s Guardian, a piece about tourism in the Saxon area of Transylvania, and more specifically the village of Viscri. It’s actually the second article in two years about Viscri (here’s the first) so someone in that small village must have some kind of hotline to the paper. It’s all a bit suspicious if you ask me.

Ages ago I was tagged to write something about a favourite computer game. Since I rarely have time for computer games – the other day I managed to spend the day watching a DVD in small bite sized pieces while Paula slep fitfully in my arms, the first DVD/video/film I’ve watched for ages, such is the lack of actual time to do these things – I can’t really comment on anything very modern, but I do remember playing Football Manager on the ZX Spectrum for hours and hours back in the day, and playing it on that link brought back one or two vague flashbacks of those far off days. You try telling kids today that computer games used to be issued on cassette and they won’t believe you. Before that I remember that magazines used to print the BASIC code for you to type in your own games. None of this DVD stuck to the front cover nonsense. (Thanks to 200 percent for the link)

Romania got creamed in this weekend’s Eurovision song contest, which I didn’t watch, and I haven’t heard the entry (of anyone I think) so god only knows if it was deserved or not.

And finally, for today, a great language resource – The Alternative Hungarian Dictionary, from which you, the non-Hungarian speaker, can learn useful expressions which will either endear you to Hungarians, or earn you a smack in the face. I am familiar with quite a few of them, including all of the ones which involve equine genitalia (a very popular swearing device in Hungarian, for some reason), and some which are not included at all, but quite a few were entirely new to me. My favourite, I think, being Paksi mogyoró, which literally means “hazelnut from the town of Paks”, but idiomatically would best be translated in English as “clingon”. The site suffers somewhat from not rendering accents well (the Romanian dictionary from the same site is almost unreadable, so poorly does it deal with diacritical marks).

Posted in language, links, transylvania, travel | 2 Comments »