Romania – A simple village life
Today we have a very special guest post about a simple village life and traditions in rural Romania. A magical country.
My grandmother grew up on a farm in Italy. For my whole life, I have been listening to tales of her childhood, of a life dictated by the cycle of the seasons. I thought this kind of life, in Europe at least, was well and truly lost.
Last year, I went on a journey to Romania. We were invited to take part in the pilot project of Village Life, an NGO that promotes sustainable development in rural communities. We travelled to the village of Petriçaua, in the foothills of the Carpathians. The plan was to spend the day in the house of a woman called Maria. When we arrived, Maria was sitting around her dinner table with another dozen women, spinning wool, sewing and mending clothes. Meanwhile, they sang. They sang about the land and nature, about the seasons, about the village past.
That was sezatoare, an old tradition of community gathering. Sezatoare means ‘sitting’, after working in the fields, women meet to talk and do crafts like embroidery or wool spinning. They chat and gossip, exchange recipes and sing. Singing is an important part of the tradition; I was shown a thick black book, with sezatoare songs handwritten on yellowed paper. The oldest pages were stained and brittle, written with pen and ink. It felt as if I was holding, in my hands, the village’s collective memory.
Maria was in her sixties, wore a long black skirt and a blouse embroidered with geometrical patterns. “My grandmother made this blouse,” she said, “it’s over one hundred years old.” Then, she took us to a little wooden cabin at the back of her garden. It was filled with handicrafts, pictures, traditional clothes and old farming tools. “This is my museum” Maria said. “Everyone in my family leaves something to Petriçaua. My grandfather made that wooden cross. My uncle dug a well. I created the museum”.
With Maria, I learnt to spin wool, transforming fluffy clouds into fine twisted yarn. The women’s hands moved deftly, mine were rough and clumsy, but after a few attempts I managed to produce something acceptable. Then, a man with a trilby hat appeared, playing bagpipes. Everyone rushed outside to dance, holding hands in a circle.
Afterwards, we shared a lovely vegan lunch, made with produce from the village lands; mashed fava beans with a drizzle of tomato sauce, vegetable soup and dessert of sour plums and yoghurt. It was the time of Orthodox Lent, when people abstain from meat products in preparation for Easter.
During the afternoon, I played in Maria’s garden with her young granddaughter. From there, we could see the whole village, surrounded by the Carpathian hills. Nothing joined it to the world, save for a narrow unpaved road, too steep for most cars. Two boys drove a donkey cart while a woman climbed over a steep hill, carrying a haystack on her shoulders. I wondered how long this life has been going on; I wondered how long it is going to last.
There are still several Romanian villages where lifestyle remained unchanged for centuries, until perhaps a decade ago. Villages like Petriçaua, made of self-sustainable households, each living off its own land and animals. Nowadays, this lifestyle is under threat. Large agricultural corporations are buying the land, and an existence based on subsistence agriculture is becoming too hard to maintain. The newer generations are moving to Bucharest, Rome and London; middle-aged women have to leave their families to work as carers for the elderly in Western Europe. Soon, Petriçaua may no longer exist. Maria’s museum will disappear. Sezatoare will become a thing of the past.
Village Life is fighting to prevent this from happening, striving to preserve not only the traditional way of life, but also immaterial traditions like singing and sezatoare. Nowadays, they offer homestays in various villages around Romania, giving travellers a chance to experience this way of life that is under serious threat. Village Life is trying to match the needs of villagers and travellers; the need for sustainable development with the desire to experience simplicity and authenticity, forgetting our fast-paced world for a few days.
I spent only one day in Maria’s house, but I felt relaxed and refreshed by the time we travelled back to Bucharest. Most of all, I felt privileged to have witnessed a lifestyle that I only knew from my grandmother’s tales.
Margherita Ragg is an animal-loving, coffee-drinking travel writer, founder of The Crowded Planet, a blog about adventure travel on a budget. At the moment she is based in Milan, Italy; then we’ll see. When she’s not travelling, you can find her playing with her cat Tappo or exploring the Italian Alps.
The Crowded Planet Travel Blog