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article imagePhoto Essay of Eastern Europe Special

By John Grande     Sep 9, 2013 in Travel
Travelling to Eastern Europe this summer was a delight, a mystery, an adventure, and above all provided a real world view of a country less well known than others, with a very rich cultural history.
STATION TO STATION - TRANSYLVANIA
On the train to Csikszerera watching the hills go by. The train swells and rolls like a washing machine. Out in the fields of August the gypsies are picking potatoes. Scattering s of colors, vivid dresses, hats, shawls. Bodies in the landscape. The potato sacks look like some kind of contemporary art installation At the market the other day, a gypsy horse and wagon – a majestic black horse —The rider had the typical wide brim hat, black coat and a moustache to complete the look.
Now we are at Gyergyó station. The gypsy lady seated across from me is chewing gum. She’s smiling. Her dress could have been from India it’s so colorful. People say the gypsies may inherit Romania one day. The Saxon Germans are gone. Ceausescu paid a sum to have them removed, exported to Germany to solve the ethnic problem, The Baroque churches and old Saxon forts remain. The frescos are peeling but they still tell a story with the texture of a rich and resilient culture. Some are at the point of disappearing. The clues are in what remains, like the old steps worn by centuries of use in the churches, the forts and the houses. They are still there. The walls that defended these people from the Mongols, the Turks and so on… The Hungarian Kosav are diminishing in numbers. Many left for Hungary and the West. Those that remain are wily, resilient, and resourceful. You cans see them working the fields. As for the Rumanians they are moving to Western Europe in vast numbers, over a million in Spain they say. Romania’s population is decreasing. The train starts moving again…. The scenery keeps shifting, gradually, subtly like a moving panorama. You can see a woman walking away from the station. Click Clack Click Clack Click Clack. …
Lazar Castle in Lazarea  Transylvania - recently restored with an EU Grant
Lazar Castle in Lazarea, Transylvania - recently restored with an EU Grant
In Transylvania the trains stop at small towns. People use the trains. People use horse and wagon too. And there are the late model cars too. The people generally favor public transport. The fields are golden now. The hay bales are in rolls or squares depending… The clouds are low today. This valley gets fog in the dawn. It is one of the coldest in Transylvania. The old wood houses are as intricate as embroidery, like a set of clothes you wear for your lifetime. The carved wooden fences and gates are a long-standing tradition – the entrances are portals into each family’s private life and world. The old traditional grave markers are a solitary wooden pole carved with symbols. Strangely they look like sculptures and have something in common with Constantine Brancusi’s wooden sculptures. They are a tradition people say came from Asia. You can see them in Sepsiszentgyörgy at the museum or in the fields and graveyards. Many are worn, wearing, but still there nevertheless.
These are the old grave marker made of carved wood in Transylvania
These are the old grave marker made of carved wood in Transylvania
We went to a place called Red Lake the other day. It’s the site of a geological collapse, and the forest collapsed too into the hollow that became the lake. It’s poisonous, but people boat on it for recreation. The canyon leading to Hungary nearby is dramatic, sheer stone wall faces. Rock cliffs and with a river winding its way through all of this. Some of the men are out cutting the hay with scythes. You can see then in the distance in the smaller hillside fields now. Sometimes they work with their wives. Birds are on the electric wires traversing this landscape. The wires look more fragile, even tentative than those in the West.
People grow food, have fruit trees, cultivate bees, rabbits, chickens, roosters too. They buy food from shops as little as possible. The gypsies sell fruit – berries – home made alcohol from the roadsides. Times are changing slowly but surely. Television and video have been in the living rooms of the villages – people are very Western in their choice of films, music and so on. Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and the rock bands have a strong following in Romania…. At the next train station now. A pile of concrete rubble and a white dog who has just woken up. A white church with a steeple can be seen against a backdrop of green pine trees. This country can often be as low tech as it gets. People bring their milk each day by cart or by hand in a small wagon. The grain goes by more often in a horse drawn cart than a motor vehicle or truck. The tools for farming look like they should be in an antique store in the West, but they are commonplace and in use. Of course, the larger farms use machinery for harvest. Large farms here are quite small in comparison with North America. For the older people this is a non-credit economy, less borrowing than providing what you need for your own use, and to trade locally for what you do not have.
God is here in Transylvania. You feel it everywhere. There are churches on the hills, in towns, and so many are centuries old. They can be Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Lutheran or Unitarian. Many are still in use, still others are tourist attractions… There is a cross on top of a cliff in the canyon we visited. The cross was erected for the Transylvanian climber Erős Zsolt who died this year climbing in the Himalayas earlier this year. A tribute as fitting for this climber. The setting high up on top of a sheer rock face speaks of peaks, and God.
Canyon site where tribute to Transylvania climber was erected this summer
Canyon site where tribute to Transylvania climber was erected this summer
The folk music is like Celtic at times – some is morose, lamenting, and with stories recounted to a drumbeat or with lute. Moldovian is even more traditional. A bird is flying parallel to the train. The train and the bird are both picking up speed… The mist still hasn’t risen yet in the valley. The train’s motion is steady now like a heart beat. Fences run off into the distance as if they were drawing and describing the land. The man in a red hat and suit has just signaled the train. We are moving again. Click Clack Click Clack Click Clack. We are entering into the high country of forest covered mountains. This landscape is starting to feel like a giant is sleeping underneath it all and could rise at any moment. It is so alive! A patch of sunlight opens up off in the distance. The light illuminates as if a sign the day is truly beginning. The fences are giving up now, relenting to the more rugged country… God is here. Taking over from the farmlands, the forests are continuous like a Mantra.
Good Companions  Travelling 2013
Good Companions Travelling 2013
Now I am resting waiting to meet my friend on this journey. Csikszerera is half an hour from now. The mountains pass by now, and we are re-entering the valley farm areas. The trees are just copses now, loose groups amid the farm fields. The fields are opening up this land. The houses look like they have faces, eyes ears, and a mouth. They catch you with something human as if they were a little lost in time. The clouds blanket all you can see with silver grey tones.
A Transylvanian Dog
A Transylvanian Dog
You can still hear the sound of the gypsy children’s voices in the next compartment. Sometimes there are murmurs as if a fight could potentially break out, but then they die down. You can hear the train as it moves its way through time. Apart from that there is a silence. We are moving along… Some of the houses look so solid. They lie low under the skies with their tiled roofs and thick walls. Gypsies occupy some of then in the small villages where they have been abandoned. Still others are empty. We are passing a village. You can see the old women and men are tough, kind, and a little wary too. The tracks are passing parallel to this train. There is yet another far off steeple.
We stop. A man in a red hat gives the green paddle signal sign. We move again. The scale goes huge in this landscape. The skies open. My heart opens. I am going to see the woman I love. My heart opens to this beautiful dance. It’s a beautiful dance with time, with places, here, then there, then here – all now!
Typical beauty in a Transylvanian Village
Typical beauty in a Transylvanian Village
More about Transylvania Station to Station, ADVENTURES in an Old Country, Going East, Magical country, Europe
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