Saturday, 17 November 2012

Breb, Breb, how I love thee Breb

No, Breb is not a person, I am referring to a place in the Maramureş region of Romania. Well, after a week of being shut out from the rest of technological-savvy, internet splurging rest of the world, I finally have internet again (Sorry Ma, I am still alive - nothing bad has happened to me). It's funny how our lives are so consumed by internet and we don't actually realise until we have no physical access to it... But, that's not the point of this blog. The point is how I have come to love a small village consisting of 400 give-or-take homes.

I've heard from fellow travellers that the Maramureş is the only place where you can see traditional ways of life being lived day in and day out, and that it's a must see. Well, after I arrived in the town of Sighet I walked to the Ukranian border, hitchhiked with a fellow named George simply because the "one shuttle a day bus" didn't show up on the one day, made friends with the local basket maker at the top of the hill, had two shots of horincă, and walked two kms to the Village Hotel, I was finally in for a week of village life. I was awoken bright and early just as the sun crest over the hills to strike light into the blood-shot eyes of those still asleep, and to make the rooster cluck in sequence giving me an all natural' alarm clock. As I woke up, had breakfast and got ready for the day of doing... well I wasn't exactly sure what was in store for me in a tiny village. I walked outside to see that the neighbour was sitting at her land-loom  stringing her sheep's wool into an intricate rug. She smiled politely at me, and I tried to strike up a conversation with her. Silly me, I should have known where I was in the world, I mean, how many people would speak English here? Not many is the answer. After the awkward language-barrier conversation consisting mainly of hand gestures I retreated back into my home to grab a book and some chai.

While trying to be entranced by a book entitled :Along the Enchanted Way, written by some English gent who moved to Breb years back, maybe as a means of escape, I kept getting interrupted by the sounds of horse-drawn carriages trotting past on the rain soaked, mud laid roads. I wish I'd counted how many horse-drawn carriages I'd seen in the small village, but definitely more than cars and tractors combined. 

Another English gent that lives in the village from time to time is Prince Charles, there's a little FYI for you.

Occasionally I would walk past a small house that had pots dangling from the tree branches, and I thought that maybe they were put there to dry out... But, no that's not the case. It is said that when there is a girl in the home who is ready to be married (or what I like to think her parents want her out of the house) they put up the pots to resemble asking her hand in marriage. There are only two times when a girl can move out of the house; marriage, and death. I don't know if that is still the case today, but that's what I was told so I'm sticking to it.

A lot of people are afraid of Gypsies it seems, but I don't understand why. On one sunny day as I was walking about the village I seen a darker skinned man coming towards me from down the hill. Slung over his back were pots that he and his family had made, and he was shouting to all of the villagers in the near-by homes to come and buy them. As I passed him, I smiled and greeted him a good-afternoon, Bună ziua. I seen a sale being made by a Gypsie, it consisted of a pot in exchange for the villagers' walnuts, yes, walnuts. That is how simple life works there in Breb, but I'm sure they would have gladly accepted New Romanian Lei as well. While driving throughout the smaller villages in the Maramureş looking for any junk that we (the owner of the hostel and myself) can buy from the people, we passed by many cars filled with the Gyspie folks whose eyes can strike many images when looked into.

I went picking. Not fruit or vegetable picking, but stuff picking. Have you seen the show American Pickers, or possibly the less heard of Canadian Pickers? Isn't that always the way between Americans and Canadians, the country above are always the less known? I like to think that I was Maramureş picking. Well the owner, a worker and myself strapped on a handmade trailer to the back of the owners new SUV and set off for a day of picking. It's hilarious the contrast between a 4 pieced-wooden trailer with one of the wheels about to fall off, being towed by a spiffy new car.. it attracted many turned heads from the people we passed by (if only I took pictures of their expression on their faces). We found 'heeps', as the Australians would say, of stuff - buckets that must have been used by their great-great grandfathers, dusty trunks from a wife's wedding, wardrobe closets, long benches that practically every house has, horincă holders, to them it was 'junk', to us it was heaven. After he paid them millions of Leis, because in those villages they still work on Millions and haven't come into the real-world money expressions, we took off to unload the new found treasures.

I was fortunate enough to be around on All saints day, or the Day of the Dead in the village. At one of the many wooden churches found the region, the woman dressed in their traditional clothes from toes to head-scarfs accompanied alongside their children and husbands gather with the other villagers to remember those who have died before them and to pay their respects. Throughout the day, I seen candles being slowly lit one-by-one on every grave in the church's graveyard, along with fresh flowers. If a grave didn't have a candle, it wasn't long until one of the villagers came and lit it and stuck it firmly into the moss over top of the grave. Most of the villagers prepare breads and food for everyone, but the priest himself is always given a loaf of bread too. They set up a long table, placed the food and when the time comes everyone who is at the church can dine in. On this day, I seen more horse-drawn carriages with the horses strutting their red tassells said to ward off any evil that may come.

Romania is a place of beauty. It is a different kind of beauty I think. One has to over-look the garbage strewn onto it's landscape, see the decrepit houses from a different perspective and understand the stray dogs. The beauty is from the people. The people have invited me into their homes, offered their 'best horincă' as each of them call it, and shown me true Romanian hospitality - For that, I cannot thank them enough.

As you may or may not realise, I've become fond of Romania. But like all good things, they must come to an end. That is why I find myself in the capital of Bulgaria typing this... Oh, I forgot to mention one little thing. I'm flying out from Istanbul on the 5th of December to Bangkok. 

- Autumo

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