Liz Wager: Romanian ramblings

Liz Wager I’m just back from a week’s holiday in Romania. If your idea of a relaxing break is designer shopping, things that run on time and predictability, then I recommend you stick to Switzerland but for unspoilt mountain scenery, delicious milk still warm from the cow* and an even warmer welcome from spontaneously hospitable and generous people, then you can’t beat the remoter parts of Moldavia. There is a real danger of regarding rural poverty as picturesque, and of failing to see the hardships because we are so entranced at stepping into a Brueghel landscape of ox carts, hand-built hay ricks and scythe-wielding farmers, but it is also salutary for rich tourists from industrialized Western Europe to ponder the valuable things we’ve lost in our rush for development and possessions.
The area we visited somehow escaped Communist collectivisation, and most families live on traditional small-holdings. These are usually bordered by sturdy and sometimes ornate fences and gates. Just outside virtually every property, facing the road, is a wooden bench. I hadn’t noticed these until our Romanian friends pointed them out, but then I realised they were a standard part of every homestead, often built as part of the fence. One day of our trip was a religious holiday (which probably passed unnoticed in the big towns – our friends told us there were over 30 a year) and as we drove past in the early evening, almost every seat was occupied by at least two or three people. Neighbours stopped to chat as they herded a few geese or walked a solitary cow to or from milking. These seats clearly served the purpose of local newspaper, community centre and corner shop all in one.
In the UK, even in warm weather, we hide ourselves in our private gardens and rarely speak to our neighbours. Our isolation is compounded by the fact that many of us rarely leave our homes except by car. I wonder if we should try building seats (facing the outside), going for a stroll in the evening and talking to each other – I’m sure there would be health benefits.
*PS In case you’re worried, we did boil the milk before we drank it, but it still tasted better than anything I’ve had in England.
Liz Wager, 12 August 2008