Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Our first Transylvanian trek

Our route from Viscri is taking us broadly Westwards, across the valleys of North-flowing tributaries of the Târnava Mare River. So, we are typically walking up through pastures and along forest tracks, crossing ridges, and then descending to another village in the next valley. Yesterday, however, riding in horse-drawn wagons was an alternative, the minibus carrying our luggage.

With us, the word "gypsy" connotes nuisance – crime and probably disease: how different to sit behind our driver Kostica, as he worked his pair of young horses (Maria, 4 and Stella, 3) so effortlessly, whistling a haunting tune as we bumped along, and using a stalk of grass to clean his ear! During our lunchtime picnic break, we tried on one another's hats, and he showed me how mine could be made to look different.

M. and I rode all the way to Mesendorf, and I then left her and joined the walkers. Earlier, riding through the forest, we surprised P. in the process of relieving herself behind an oak (or was it a hornbeam?): much ribaldry as she manoeuvred herself round the tree, in a vain effort to make herself invisible! (I was justly rebuked: "If you were a gentleman, you wouldn't mention it.")

Earlier, in the 13th Century Gothic church at Viscri, we heard from our guide, the gentle Walter Fernolend how marriages were arranged within each Saxon village, on the basis that "they'll learn to love each other later." And in the excellent museum, we read about "Reconciliation day", which took place each year on the day before Ash Wednesday. Men would wait outside the appointed house until the clock announced noon, then they would enter, in order of seniority, to find two neighbourhood fathers seated there: the younger read out the statement of accounts for the past year, and the penalties that had to be paid for absences from neighbourhood works or from burials. Fines were paid on the spot and recorded in the register. The neighbourhood fathers then talked about the works scheduled for the coming year.

The museum gives a good insight into a very different way of life. The villages may now no longer run on the controlled, collaborative, Evangelically-based lines they did in the seven or so previous centuries, but the bones of Transylvanian Saxon civilization remain: animals everywhere; the fortified churches still deemed worthy of restoration for some liturgical use; craftwork for sale; unfenced fields, unfertilised by chemicals.

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