Monday, April 9, 2012

Hungarian Easter in Dâmbău

This past week was more or less uneventful until Saturday.  On Saturday morning Josi and I took a bus to Bucuresti, then got on a train to go to Medias.  The bus took about 3.5 hours and the train was about 6 hours.  We arrived in Medias around 9:30pm, and my friend Laszlo picked Josi and me up from the train station.  He brought us to Dambau (pronounced like Dumbo), which is his, Timea's, and Judith's village.  He brought us to Timea and Judith's house, our home for the Easter holiday.

A view from the train, somewhere between Brasov and Sighisoara.

Another view from the train, also between Brasov and Sighisoara.
We were welcomed in by Timea, Judith, and their parents.  Josi was meeting everyone for the first time, and it was my first time to meet their parents, who are very warm people and made us feel very welcome.

Sunday morning was Easter Sunday.  Since their family (and most Hungarians in the village) are Unitarians, we went to their church for the Easter service.  It was rainy, so it was a bit wet and cold.  This must have deterred some people from coming, because Timea noted that there were a lot fewer people at the church this Easter.

Walking through the wooden gate into the churchyard

Waiting outside the church for our turn to go in.
As per the tradition, the married women and men entered into the church before the service, men through one entrance, women through another.  The unmarried young women (anyone who has been confirmed attended this Easter service) and the unmarried men waied outside their respective entrances, in order from youngest to oldest.  When the music began, the young women processed in first, from youngest to oldest.  After we were in our seats behind the older women, the young men processed in, also from youngest to oldest, and took their seats in the balcony above the older men.

The church is set up in a very different way than I am used to.  There are two sets of pews facing the center of the church, two sets of doors, and the minister sits in the center of the church along one wall, next to a raised podium, where he reads passages from the Bible and delivers the sermon.  In the middle of the central space, there is a large table.  Since this was Easter Sunday, they were having bread and wine to commemorate the Last Supper.  It was distributed by the minister and a minister-in-training in four rounds.  First, the married men went to the center of the church, standing in a ring from oldest to youngest around the table.  The bread and wine were distributed while a song was sung, and then a prayer was said.  They returned to their seats and the process was repeated with the young men: circle from oldest to youngest, bread and wine, prayer, sit back down.  The married women went third, and we young women went last.  After the service was over, the men and women left from their respective doors, with the married people leaving first, followed by the unmarried. 
The view from the women's side of the church, facing the men's side.

The pulpit and table in the center of the church.

After church we returned to Timea and Judith's house for the big Easter meal.  The traditional food  for Easter is a lamb, so that's what we had for the main dish, accompanied with soup, mashed potatoes, beets, and pickles, with many little cakes for dessert.  Mr. Miklos (their father) raises many animals...including our Easter lunch, who I did not meet prior to his demise.  

Just one of four varieties of cakes always sitting on trays this weekend.
The view of the hills from their backyard
After lunch we played with a nice Easter surprise--about a dozen chicks who had hatched only two days earlier.  Josi and I enjoyed playing with them and having a ridiculously cute photo shoot.  After seeing how enthralled we were with the chicks, everyone decided it was time to show us the other animals, even though it was still rainy and very muddy.  We were introduced to chickens, cows, calves, a pregnant sow, three dogs (including a puppy), goats, kids, sheep, and two lambs.  Josi and I took lots of pictures as we played with and petted the animals.  We both had lots of fun and found it to be very refreshing as a change from the city life.

Me and a lamb (not our lunch...)
Cuddling the kids
After a relaxing break including some computer and Skype time, we dyed eggs for Monday.  Timea and Judith showed us how they traditionally dye their eggs.  First we went outside to collect leaves with interesting shapes.  Then we cut up two pairs of pantyhose.  We positioned the leaves on hard-boiled eggs and tightly wrapped the pantyhose around the eggs, tying them shut with string.  The pantyhose secures the leaves so they don't shift.  We then put the eggs in standard egg dye.  After they'd been in the dye for about five minutes, they were removed.  The pantyhose was cut away, the leaves carefully removed, and the eggs rubbed with slanina (pig fat) to make them shiny.  We dyed lots of eggs, and when we ran out of pantyhose, we just dyed them solid colors.  We had red, green, and purple dye.
Lots of hard-boiled eggs, from their own chickens
Cutting up some pantyhose

Positioning the leaf on the egg

Wrap them tightly in the pantyhose so the leaves won't move
Dye them

Remove from dye

Cut off the pantyhose

It's best to lightly blow on the egg to dry the area around the leaf to prevent smudging

Under the leaf is left undyed

Rub with slanina

Some of the finished products

One of the chicks with most of our eggs

Some eggs, all ready for our visitors
The day after Easter has a special tradition, called Húsvéti Locsolás. Boys and young men go to the homes of the girls and young women. They bring perfume with them and spray all the girls and young women they visit or encounter that day. The younger boys (under 14) memorize poems, which they recite for their hosts. They then get to pick out the egg of their choice to keep. Older boys and young men just come with perfume and sit and talk with their hosts, possibly with some drinks and snacks. Aside from preparing eggs, the girls and young women just wait at home for their visitors, who come all day long. Both the boys and the girls dress up in nice clothes so they look their best. Symbolically, this tradition is about springtime. The girls are supposed to be flowers, and the boys are watering them with the perfume. The tradition used to be with water instead (occasionally dousing girls with a bucket of water), but now everyone sprays perfume.  

Young boys are usually accompanied by their fathers as they go around the village, but older boys and young men typically visit the houses of their female friends in groups. I asked Laszlo about what it was like when he did this as a young boy, and he told me that he would start around 9:30 in the morning (Timea and Judith were always his first stop, since they live only a few houses away) and would collect around 50 eggs over the course of the day. Some he would eat, others his mother gave out to other visitors after he'd drop off a full bag to grab an empty one, and others he'd use to to have egg fights with his brother, cracking their eggs together to see whose would break first.

Before the majority of our visitors came on Monday, the four of us took a walk into the forest next to the village. We had a wonderful view of the hills and some of the houses. Prior to our walk I'd gotten "watered" with perfume twice and we all got a spray from a Romanian villager as we walked to the forest.  

Looking down the road

Some of the beautiful hills

Some of the first flowers

Standing on the field used for sledding and skiing in the winter

Over the course of the day I was sprayed with perfume by about 30 different people. We received a few young boys who recited poems and collected their eggs, but not a large number, since Timea and Judith are older. Mostly the young boys who came were relatives. Most of our visitors were young men. Many of them were dressed in suits. Since they are older, they didn't recite a poem or take an egg, but they stayed for a while talking with us. Nearly all our guests were very nice, and I really enjoyed this tradition. Several people asked about Easter traditions in the US, so I talked about dyeing eggs, the Easter Bunny and Easter baskets, and Easter egg hunts. The idea of chocolate eggs was a particularly novel idea for some of them.

Laszlo's nephew came, sprayed us with perfume, recited his poem, and chose an egg
So far it has been a very nice trip. We will stay tomorrow and leave bright an early on Wednesday day to go to Bucuresti for a flight to Vienna. It has been a very refreshing change of pace. Nearly all the food we are eating is homemade from organic, homegrown or home-raised ingredients. We have had LOTS of little homemade cakes, zacusca (a vegetable spread that is far more delicious than its description), salata de vinete (eggplant spread), fresh eggs from their chickens, soup with homemade noodles, homemade ketchup, and local or home-grown meat. It is all delicious, and I may have made a list of demands for recipes I'd love to have... Tomorrow we will likely take a walk to some nearby vineyards. (Oh, I also had homemade wine, made from grapes grown by the Miklos family!) Josi and I are both loving our time in this village (which has about 1,100 people), but we are also looking forward to our trip to Vienna.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Three Trips to Bucuresti

My last post left off when I had arrived in Bucuresti for the Spring Fulbright Orientation.  The orientation was on the first day, but I covered that in my last post, so I'll skip to the second day, which was a day for excursions around the city.  First we went to the Parliament Palace.  It is the second largest building in the world (by volume), second only to the Pentagon.  It was started by the Communist leader/dictator Ceausescu but only partially finished when the Communist Revolution occurred, however it was completed afterwards.  One of the coolest things about the building is that is constructed entirely from Romanian materials.  Our group got a private tour (there wasn't anything special about it, we just weren't in the same group as the other tourists) that lasted about an hour, but only covered about 5% of the entire building.  There were some really lovely rooms in it; I was very impressed.

The Parliament Palace in Bucuresti

The Parliament Palace's back entrance, where tours meet

Our next stop was another, older palace.  This palace is called Cotroceni and is it where Romania's president lives.  But that isn't the part we visited.  We went to the museum/preserved part of the palace.  It was the residence of the royal family at the turn of the 20th Century.  Each room is decorated in the style of a different country.  As nice as it is, it's not all original.  There was a bad earthquake (maybe in the 1970s...I think) and nearly all the rooms had to be renovated.  They didn't allow cameras in and you couldn't really see it from the road, so I don't have anything to show you.

After this we went to lunch at a restaurant in the historical district that specializes in traditional Romanian food.  It was pretty good, but not as good as the homemade Romanian food I've had.  We tried to go to the village museum next, but it was closed, so instead we walked around a bit and went to a cafe for a short while before attending a concert at the Atheneum.  I went to a concert here at Thanksgiving as well, but I was just as awed by the building on my second visit.  The orchestra was phenomenal as well.

The Atheneum concert hall.  The lobby is directly under the completely round hall.

The next day I returned to Constanta.  One of the teachers that Josi worked with invited us to a special party put on by her church for International Women's Day.  There were games, food, and even some gifts for everyone.  I got a gift bag with chocolate, a scarf, and two pins.  It was really very nice.

There was a gift for everyone.

The following day was Monday.  I had volunteered to be part of an event at the university called Global Village.  Essentially, foreigners set up tables with information about their countries.  I stayed up late making M&M cookies and putting together a slideshow with pictures from across the US.  I also majorly overslept. I showed up two hours late after rushing over as soon as I woke up to find that the event had already started.  I was severely disappointed in myself, but everyone was really good about it.  It was more of a milling around, stop by the tables on your way into the building sort of thing, so no one missed me all that much.  Hannah did a table for Germany, our friend Hazel from the International Cafe did a display on her country, Hong Kong.  There were also people from Brazil, Mauritius, and Croatia.

At my table for the US.  There was slideshow on the computer

Hazel had a really phenomenal display on Hong Kong 

Achilleas's mother.
This same week Achilleas's mother was visiting from Greece.  She's a very nice lady and she cooked a nice Greek meal for me and Josi.  There were oven roasted red peppers stuffed with feta, some eggplant, some meat in a red sauce, and for dessert, ice cream with a topping of jellied tomatoes.  The jellied tomatoes were different, but I overall liked them.

Delicious red peppers with feta!

Ice cream with jellied tomatoes.

At the end of the week, on Saturday, I went to Bucuresti a second time.  This was my favorite trip to Bucuresti of all time, because I went to meet my boyfriend, Nate!  For his spring break Nate came to visit me in Romania.  I went to Bucuresti to meet him and then brought him back to Constanta.  I let him wash up from his long travels, then we went out for the evening to meet my friends at an Irish Pub, in celebration of St. Patrick's Day.  It was crowded and loud and not a very good match for a travel weary fellow to meet a large number of people at once, but I think Nate's forgiven me.

Beer can be bought in bottles up to 3 liters
 Over the course of the week I showed Nate some of the nicer parts of the city.  We went to some malls, piatas, restaurants, and cafes.  It was really nice to get to spend a week with him after three months without seeing him.  Nate got to try some traditional Romanian food at a restaurant, and my landlady surprised us one day by bringing over some sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls) that her mother had made that morning, along with a few side dishes.  It was delicious, and Nate liked it.

Nate's traditional Romanian meal.

The pot of sarmale, homemade by my landlady's mother.

Nate and I at one of my favorite photo locations in Constanta
Nate's last night in Constanta was also Atilla's birthday, so we went out to celebrate with him.

Angelina and Atilla
Nate, Daka, and Achilleas
Nate's flight home to DC wasn't at a convenient time for the train schedule back to Bucuresti, and he wanted to explore the capital a bit, so we went a day early and spent the afternoon and evening in the city.  After I spent an hour dragging Nate around the downtown area looking for our hotel and arriving at a nearly identically named address that was NOT our hotel, we took a two minute taxi ride to the right place.  We went to the history museum of Bucuresti first.  Outside of it they were having a sort of festival.  It was a special market for handmade items and antiques, so Nate and I bought some souvenirs.  The museum was having a special exhibit on medieval torture devices, which intrigued us, so we got tickets.  It was a pretty gruesome exhibit to think that people were tortured and died on these devices.

Romania's most infamous torture devices: an impaling spike.

After the museum I took Nate to the square where the Communist Revolution started in Bucuresti.  There's a big memorial there.  It's basically an obelisk impaling an egg-shaped cage.  In the same area is the art museum which used to be the royal palace when Romania was a monarchy.  There's also the main university library, which has a statue of King Carol I in front of it.

Me at the memorial of the Revolution

Looking up at the memorial.  The red paint is an added "bonus" from some vandals.

The statue of Carol I

We next went to the walking streets in the historical district for dinner.  Since it was a Friday in Lent, we were avoiding meat and went for sushi, which--while comparable to prices in the US--is far too expensive compared to cuisine at other Romanian restaurants.  We walked around the area a bit more and capped off the night with some pastries.  One of my favorite things about Romania is the cheap, decadent pastries and cakes.  They are amazingly delicious and dirt cheap--less than $1 for a pretty, gourmet pastry.  It's a real struggle of willpower each day not to buy and eat them in bulk.

Nate eating his first shaworma
The next morning I had to bring Nate to the airport.  Nate hadn't gotten to try a shaworma earlier on his trip, so we made sure to have it for breakfast.  A shaworma is a type of fast food of Turkish origin, although it is pretty similar to a Greek gyro.  The shops that make them aren't fast food places in the same way that McDonald's or Wendy's are.  These fast food places are more like street vendors.  The food is all made on site and not in microwaves.  Shawormas (at least in Romania) are either made with chicken or beef.  The meat is stacked on a tall, vertical rotisserie and is constantly heated.  The meat is shaved off for each shaworma.  It's pita bread with meat, french fries, and various toppings, such as shredded cabbage, ketchup, mayonnaise, pickles, cucumbers, and onions.  Romanians (at least in Constanta) are pretty obsessed with them.  I hadn't heard about them before I first arrived, and everyone who found out was astonished.  All my friends here from Romania and other parts of Europe all know about them and were surprised to learn that they weren't popular in the US.  Some of my friends are thoroughly hooked on them, so I had to make sure that Nate got to try a shaworma while he was here.  He got a beef one and liked it.  Even though we ordered smalls, neither of us could finish them in one sitting, so we got to have it for lunch too.  I went with Nate to the airport and said goodbye.  It was really sad for me, but I had plans to meet Josi's parents, so I was nicely distracted.

Josi's parents had flown into Bucuresti the day before and were now headed to Constanta.  I met them at the train station, helped them buy tickets, then took the train back to Constanta with them.  Atilla was nice enough to meet us at the train station in Constanta, drive Josi's parents to their hotel, and drop me off at my apartment.  Nothing terribly exciting happened this past week, although I did go to dinner with Josi's parents several times.  They left this past Thursday after nearly a one-week stay.  That evening Josi and I went to see The Hunger Games, which I have been waiting to see since they first announced they were making the movie.  I loved it; the adaptation from the book was pretty good.

Me and Josi at dinner with her parents

This past Saturday we had a Lord of the Rings party.  Our original goal was to watch all three movies at once, have themed food, and to dress up as various characters.  I was the only one who dressed up.  I masqueraded as Legolas, which was a natural choice, considering my elven ears.  I wraped crackers in lettuce and called it lembas bread, but that was the extent of our themed food.  And we only got to two movies.  We watched half of the third movie yesterday before giving up.

Me as Legolas, complete with homemade bow and arrow

Japanese cherry blossoms!  I don't have to be in DC to see them!

Yesterday was also Palm Sunday.  Most people in Romania are Orthodox, so they celebrate Easter on a different schedule.  This year it's one week later than Easter in the western churches (and it is also my birthday).  But I'm Catholic and go to the Roman Catholic Church here, so for me and my parish, Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) was yesterday.  In Romanian, Palm Sunday is called "Duminica Floriilor" (Sunday of the Flowers).  I went to mass all excited to get my yearly palms and was surprised not to see a single palm frond around.  Instead of  palms, they use pussy-willows. Not what I expected, but it works.  I was a bit sad that there weren't enough for everyone, really just for the kids, so I didn't get to keep one.  I was intrigued now that I knew not everyone used palms on Palm Sunday, so I asked Achilleas and Daka about the traditions in the Orthodox Churches in Bulgaria and Greece.  Daka said it's Flower Sunday and that they most often use a blue flower.  Achilleas only knew the Greek name for the plant they use and showed me a picture of it online.  It kind of looks like a bay leaf.

A superb Sunday sunset

I'll be staying in Constanta for this upcoming week, and then Josi and I will be going on a two-week Easter vacation.  It should be lots of fun, and I'll tell you all about it next time.