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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

TheQueen in Romania: Day 2 - September 5

Awake at 8 a.m. we dress and have a peek around the hotel area.  Our room is very plain and clean with a window that looks out onto the courtyard. Courtyards are everywhere in this land of tightly packed houses right up next to the street. Peek through any gate and even downtown you are likely to see chickens or flowers, grapes, or automobiles, laundry or cobbles, or trash, of course. Romanians are people just like everyone. But inside most courtyards are gardens. Inside ours is smooth clean parking with a big clothesline strung from the building to the shed along the back. Sometimes there was laundry hanging on it but it was always spare and tidy and just clean clean clean.

LD picked us all up around 10 and took us to have breakfast with his friends M and P Rogers and her parents from Columbia – South America, not South Carolina. They were all touring Europe together and had scheduled things so that they could meet up in Turda for the wedding. M and P both work at the Robinson plant and her parents are retired. She is an engineer and she’s just as cute as can be, with beloved kitties she’s left behind.  Love me an animal lover!

They were staying at the Hotel Dracula ... it’s not really quite called that ... it’s real name is Hunter Prince Castle& Dracula Hotel .  That had been an option for us, too, but it was pricier and honestly, the rooms looked weird in the photos. Not that it was all that expensive, though – $60 for a room and breakfast. The hotel was much prettier than it appeared in photographs, though. The restaurant is open to the outdoors and there are flowers packed in tightly around every inch of bare ground. In the end, though, I really felt at home at Vila Adriano and I don’t think I’d ever have felt at home at the rock hotel. I did enjoy the breakfast there, though. Yum. Salty cheese and bread and little cups of coffee.  I’m sort of a big mug-0-coffee girl but I grew to love these tiny espresso drinks and am seriously considering buying an espresso machine. What I began to miss, though, was fruit. Eventually I learned to buy fruit at markets but those first few days I really yearned for that particular kind of sweet.

LD was our only tour guide today because P and her family were busy with last minute wedding prep.  I had asked the night before if I could help in any way but she said no no – go be a tourist.  In the end, I wish I had helped, but then again – everything about that ceremony was so perfect I can’t believe I’d have added much.  LD recommended visiting the historical museum first and then the salt mines so the troupe of us started down the narrow streets to the museum – in a fortified palace built sometime in the late medieval or early modern era. 

We were the first museum visitors of the day and we had the most enthusiastic guide, who was thrilled to practice his English and show off his collection. He claimed expertise in the Roman era but he knew about every exhibit.  I was most impressed with the prehistoric pottery but there was an enormous painting of King Zapolia granting religious freedom to 4 of the Christian sects in Transylvania ... notably leaving out the Orthodox religion which, I believe, was the religion of most of the peasants. this event was known as the Edict of Torda – 1568.  

Our guide took us on an extended tour till we realized, suddenly, that if we were going to go to the salt mines we had to leave right away. I skipped the salt mines that day because I wanted time for a bath and to get dressed for the evening’s party at grandmother's house.

 It turned out I had plenty of time to get ready though, because about 2:30 P called and said they were running late. When the guys arrived people wanted to do different things. B was sleepy, BD wanted to walk and I wanted to be out and in the town. So W, J, and I met up with the Rogers for a drink at one of the outdoor cafe’s on the square on Str. Republicii.

We were all a little excited about what might happen - what was coming next - in this adventure into another culture.  what was so interesting and heartwarming was how ready everyone was to be pleased, to have fun, to experience something new.

At 4 we all piled into cars and drove to grandmother's house. It was on a street that served two different groups, since her part of the street was well paved and across an intersection it was all pot holes. I know, because W turned the wrong way at that intersection and we got to see both ends! 

Her house is in the left corner of a long lot. The front door is on the side, a la Charleston houses.  the right side is a small yard with fruit trees planted the whole length.  Behind the house is a cement walk between a pen for her little wire haired dachshund and a fairly large hen house. Behind this was a large garden, full of tomatoes and peppers,  and more orchard – pears and plums and apples were in bloom and later in the evening, when Sister and I wandered back to have a look, she gave us samples of each. This was the first fruit I'd had other than grapes - which are a bit fiddly to eat -  and enormously welcome. The neighbor behind grandmother’s house had a dovecot and his birds swooped in big circles overhead as the evening came on – glittering white with the angle of the setting sun.

But wait! I’m leaving out the party part. Here was a gathering of the two immediate families plus the American guests, including Sister and BiL, who had arrived at the Vila Adriano.  They were both tired from their week of trail riding on horseback in Southern Romania, BiL especially, who told me he should have taken this trip 20 years earlier. Sister was full of stories and I listened some but soon we were swept up in the festivity of this gathering.

Here were, gramdmother, uncles and aunts and cousins. One uncle and aunt would be the bridal couple’s Nas si Nasa, pronounced Nashi Nashi. They are the only other people besides the bridal couple and the priest who will have a role in the wedding ceremonies.  The idea is that an experienced married couple, who are not the parents of either bride or groom, offer to be advisers to the couple. Not being the parent of either, the nas and nasa can give unbiased advice when the new couple have troubles in the future. There was one cute little cousin that I wanted to steal away.  Such sparkling eyes, long and twinkling, shy, but with some of P’s intrepidity.  

Last of all was the wedding coordinator. This is more of a role than the wedding coordinator in American weddings because there are more speeches and customs involved. Although he is a family friend, he also does this professionally. He spoke no more English than I did Romanian so P had to do a lot of  translating. Explanations were frequent but hard to remember. But he was very vivacious, with twinkling eyes that made frequent contact with mine and he had a beautiful voice.

The food was stuffed cabbage roles – perfectly seasoned, deliciously addictive – I ate so many I nearly popped – and cheeses and grapes. There was also M’s fabulous cranberry and tuica brandy in which I indulged – rather a lot.  Oh and yes. sparkling water. And cake! The cake continued from this party on throughout the entire trip. Little rectangles no bigger than my thumb, with 3 layers of sponge cake soaked in flavors, topped with flavored gnash frosting. There was a very light chocolate but my favorite was the lemon. 

As we sat and ate and chatted, P came up and told me she had bad news about the hair appointments. They were scheduled for 6 a.m.! Instead of a big salon with all the girls gathering there was one hairdresser who would be doing all of the women in the wedding and M, Sister and I were to be first. P promised to call us at 5:30 to wake us up. Oh My.

At the end of the party the wedding coordinator led us in a song: Multi Ani ... which means Many Years. It’s sort of the Happy Birthday song, also appropriate  for weddings. The tune and syllables were slow enough that I could sing along and later R came up and told me I was complimented on my excellent singing (by whom?) 

We were all so flushed with happiness and good food and delicious tuica brandy and kindness and excitement and new love that I, at least, was rather floating on clouds as we began to walk back to the hotel. A few blocks from grandmother’s house I was summoned back to help with fiddly wedding tasks, so I drove to the apartment with P. The whole place was fragrant with tuberoses she had bought at the market along with roses, gladiolas and other blossoms with which she planned to make all the bouquets for the whole bridal party. She asked me if I would like to help but I was not confident enough to say yes. Instead I helped cut out place cards for the reception tables – and chatted a little with M, who arrived later. LD was present too but it was pretty obvious that the bride was too tired to delegate tasks and the groom was being quite tenderly, but nerve-wrackingly helpful, so P gently suggested that perhaps it was time I took LD back to the hotel.

We gathered up the bouquets, as LD had an important role to play with them on the morrow, and tuica, cake and glasses for serving at our hotel on the first step of the ceremonies. LD would stay with B at our hotel this night and by 10:30 I was back in my room with BD, who had discovered FavOrit – the Romanian music and dance channel on TV.  It truly became our FavOrit channel throughout the whole trip, with the pretty girls in white embroidered blouses and white skirts with black aprons and the men in their black boots and white costumes. The songs all sounded alike to me but they were always charming.

And so ended Day 2 of our Romanian odyssey.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Queen Takes a Trip

It suddenly dawned on me that I have put off writing up my trip journal because I don't want the visit to end. It's as if once it's written down the trip is over and that paper becomes the sum total of the memories. I suspect that's why I never did write about Jack - his death was so untimely, so unprepared for, I just couldn't write about it or he would be completely gone.

Ah well. If I don't write things down now I will begin to forget them and that's just another way of loosing the trip. We were off to Romania - for a church blessing of the marriage of LD and P - who, though they have been married for almost 2 years, have not been officially blessed - nor sent off in true glorious wonderful Romanian style.  Though we knew it was coming for a year, it somehow always felt too ephemeral to believe in - that we would actually get on a plane and fly across the Atlantic and most of Europe to a land where I didn't speak the language and .. LOL .. was not TheQueen! My biggest fear was that I would remain a quiet little dab of a thing in the corner if I couldn't talk. I should have known better. TheQueen is going to speak no matter where she is. Not being understood never seemed to matter much and 100% of the kind people in this lovely country were patient and generous with me. TheQueen is in love. 

But if I want to hold on to the memories it is time to begin - and begin with Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015 at 12:45 - at the airport in Richmond - Gate B2 - ready to fly to Cluj and Turda and P and LD. We are way early because it is I, Bess the Early.

Which is good since it took us 45 minutes to check in. At the security check I didn't have my drivers license. I had figured with a passport, what other I.D. did I need? But! I hadn't signed the passport.

"I'm not supposed to let you in if you haven't signed it." the check in lady told me, but she also handed me a pen. My first adventure. BD did have his drivers license but he also had notice to sign that passport and time to do it, too.

Once on the airplane we had a 40 minute wait on the runway, leaving us a scant 16 minutes to get to the connecting flight in Newark - and so began one of the few periods of anxiety on the trip. I kept feeling that if I could only get to Munich I'd be okay no matter what other delays happened. But cross that Ocean I really needed to do. Happily, on the whole trip, whenever a plane was delayed, the connecting flight was held up a bit too, so we made every connection with ease and even our longest wait was only about an hour or so on the last leg. I managed to sketch a bit in the airports on the way over but that was the end of my sketching - the rest of this trip was so packed full of sensations and visions and people and experiences I couldn't have settled down to sketch anything if I'd had to. Instead, I took over 1,000 photographs - some of them gratuitous, some mediocre but many of them quite good.

The flight to Newark was made thrilling for me by early views of home - from thousands of feet up - we saw the Pamunkey, the Mattaponi, the Rappahannock - LD even viewed Lowery's Pt!!! My own excitement was so vivid that the girl across the aisle from me thanked me, saying that her dread of flying was eased by my joy. We arrived in Newark at 4:50 with enough time to dash from the shuttle bus to the terminal and then speed walk to gate A30 - maybe a quarter of a mile. We got in line for group 3 and discovered we didn't have to check our rolling carryon.

As we stood in line, who should walk up but cousin JW! I felt a lot better to be with someone with a phone and I didn't even care about timetables or connections any more. At that point I was ready to give it all up to enjoyment. Even if I did have the anxiety munchies and nibbled all the time. LD  is just the opposite. He had no appetite the whole day.

At 6:06 we took off. I like flying. Even its discomforts - tight seats, noisy engines - can't dim the excitement and playful feeling I get when I'm soaring high over the ground. Once in the air, with the lights of Manhattan behind us, I suddenly thought of Mama. I haven't spoken about this to anyone, but the wedding is on the day Mama died. I haven't spoken because people might think this is a sad thing. But, like sharing her funeral with my birthday, I like having Mama along - and on this flight I really felt like she was right there with me. I even sensed that Daddy was nearby, smiling.

By 3:15 we were taxiing down the runway in Munich. I couldn't believe I stayed awake the whole time. I took a walk around the airport and when I got back to the guys and the luggage, there was B! All 4 of us together, flying to Cluj and LD and P and Romania!!

We made our way to the check-in, which was amazingly easy - all the luggage got here too - our red duffel and B's massive hard case - a found object he'd had for 25 years and was only now using. As we waited for our bags, the sliding doors from baggage claim to the waiting area would part and we saw 4 pair of arms waving excitedly. This happened several times but at last we picked up our bags and bundled through the doors to so much hugging you never saw so much hugging. R is gregarious and strong, a warm and manly man. M is very tiny and quiet and way prettier than she photographs. She is a little less chatty but certainly not withdrawn. She's full of smiles. and of course - there are P and LD to hug and hug and hug.

We tried to get cash at the ATM machines but neither B's nor our cards worked. No duh - we'd forgotten to tell our banks that we were abroad. so we piled into cars and drove to Turda - LD driving B and J, P driving BD  and me, and M & R straight home to prepare a welcome dinner for us tonight.

The hills tumbled and rolled and spilled all over the landscape. From the air these mountains seemed dry and bare with few trees but of course, with plenty of livestock. Sheep flocks all about and some horses. Corn - Indian corn - was still more green than brown. There were some large fields but also plenty of strip farms - like medieval farms radiating away from a cluster of houses. Between Cluj and Turda, a distance of about 30 miles, we drove through 2 villages!

The houses huddle and snuggle close together - stucco mostly, with tile roofs. Old style houses have pitched roofs. Other newer ones look very 1960's square - Paula says this is the best of 1980's architecture, before communism fell.

The day just piled up with events. Checking into the Vila Adriano I was surprised to see my first seersucker sheets - in fact, there was only a bottom sheet and a duvet cover - in a bright orange seersucker print. Of all the hotels we stayed in, this one had the most comfortable bed for me - though all of them were nice. The couple who run the hotel also run a sofa store in the same building (as well as live in the downstairs apartment) so I'm not surprised the beds were nice. They have a little boy who was All Boy - playing with swords and a battery operated car and always looking with twinkling curiosity at us.

I got a bit of a nap on Friday afternoon and then LD picked us all up around 4. We drove to the A's for a massive 3 course dinner of Romanian dishes. Cheese and salami with a pork breast piece - like a bacon cut - striated, but boiled and meaty and delicious. There was bread and wine and a plate of peppers - some hot, some sweet. roasted eggplant spread - Zucasca - and an egg salad type dish - and more wonderful red wine. This was followed by a broth based soup with peas and sausage. Then came perch - baked to boiling in the oven, with spices and sweet carrots and a slightly sweet rice.

The talk flowed. R and M were warm and fun and everyone was joy filled. There was so much talk you would never guess we didn't speak the same language. R  showed us photos from their family album - the one with pictures of both his and M's parents as well as pictures of them as young people - R in his army uniform, M in her college class. their apartment is small but compact and put together a lot like a boat - where no space is wasted. I was able to use their land line (with unlimited overseas minutes) to call our bank and let them know we were in Romania so we could get cash. Later that evening BD and the guys walked home from the A's and BD got some money. I was driven back to the hotel where I got a marvelous night's sleep - 10 glorious hours - and was never tired or "off" the whole rest of the trip. (unlike adjusting to home - where here, on Sunday the 20th, I'm still falling asleep at 8 and waking up at 4:30).

And so day one of this amazing trip closed with sweet dreams.  

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Well. It's September. It's birthday month. Time to celebrate for 30 days. This is good. This even makes me happy. This is a happy making, good thing even if I am coming across a little subdued. So many many good things happen in September - ordinary scheduled good things like oh - back to school - which for this gal was always something to revel in, with its new notebooks (yes. I have one) and sharp pencils, new clothes, (Yes. have some of those too). It's also the season of HOLIDAYS - starting with Labor Day and flowing through birthday, Columbus Day, sister's birthday, Halloween, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving, on up to that peak of Holiday Frenzy'n'Joy - Christmas - with a final kick of New Year's Day just in case you haven't had enough festivity. 

So yes. September. Great month for this Virgo. 

Even if - and perhaps also because - the anniversary of Mama's death is rolling around too. If I am honest - which I try to be most of the time - I'm a little glad that if I had to lose Mama it would be during my Birthday month. I always thought that would be really sad - I remember a precious Virgo boy I knew who's brother died the week of his birthday and he told me he'd never be able to be happy on his birthday again.   Well - they were both teens so the pain was coupled with the unnaturalness of early death. My mother was ready to go home and I am actually not sorry for her at all that she left me a year ago. I'm kind of glad, actually, that she can go on to the Next Thing. Keeping her with me would really have been such an act of selfishness - had I been given the opportunity - and she would have let me keep her, too, because well - Mama. Most giving woman in the world. 

So I am glad for her that she's flown off to joy and newness and more and next. And I'm even more glad that she did it in my birthday month. And every year I'll be able to add the anniversary of Mama's freedom to my celebrations - and ya know? - that's a really good thing. 

And for us Virgos - Jupiter has come to stay with us for a whole year. How nice is that? He's bringing a whole basket full of goodies for my party and I'm going to be so durn busy I probably won't have a moment to reflect on things for a while. How like Mama to give me a year to grieve and then send Jupiter to cheer me up when that year is over. I mean - she could have gone away this year or next - when I'd have to wait 12 more years to frolic with Jupiter again.  I'll be what? 75? hmm. I'll be glad of that too when it comes, but in the mean time - I am ready for some bounty and some joy and somehow, today, I can feel Mama's arms cuddling me close to her. I can hear her whisper laughing naughty funny joyful tender admiring beautiful sweet love words into my ear.

Thank you mama. Thank you for my Birthday Month. I hope you are having total fun in your Next Good Thing.