A Million Trees for Moldova

At the center of the village of Budesti, a small village about a half hour’s drive from Chisinau, there lies a rolling, open pasture.  Ducks and geese from local households feed in a gentle stream which flows through the bottom land of the pasture flanked by steep hillsides.  That open pasture will one day be a woodland of walnut, mulberry and willow trees, thanks to Plantam Fapte Bune (“Let’s Plant Good Deeds”) of the Million Trees Moldova Initiative, who brought a host of volunteers, about 125 people, to that pasture yesterday, to plant trees.   The mayor was there, as well as the principal of the local school, a Peace Corps Volunteer who teaches English there, and many of his students.  The activity drew resident volunteers from Germany, France, Italy, and Japan as well.

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Plantam Fapte Bune, is a participant group in the Million Tree Moldova collaboration, which is, in turn, a participant in the worldwide Million Tree Initiative, a coalition of grassroots environmental groups around the world, which hope to increase the Earth’s urban forest through the planting of one million trees.  Cities that are currently involved in the initiative include Los Angeles, New York, Shanghai, Denver, London, Ontario….and now Chisinau! They all share a common motive of wanting to improve air quality and reduce global warming.  The mission of Plantam Fapte Bune is “to help reforest Moldova for the health of the Moldovan people and the entire ecological environment.”  The Million Tree Moldova collaboration has been in operation for two years and together they have planted approximately 10,000 trees throughout Moldova.

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According to information from a 2011 report, “The State of the Forests of Moldova, 2006-2010,” (funded in part by the EU,) the land that lies currently in Moldova has seen about 75-80% of its forests destroyed since the advent of human activity, compared to an average for the earth of about 50% of forests destroyed.  Moldova’s territory in the 19th century was about 30% forested, but now is about 12% forested, making it one of the most deforested countries in Europe.  (This makes Chisinau’s current abundance of tree-lined streets, and green parks even more remarkable.)  Most of the remaining forested land is state-owned, (87%) and the rest is primarily owned by municipalities (12%).  But thanks to the energy, optimism, enthusiasm, can-do attitude, initiative, persistence, and determination of these young grassroots leaders, Moldova will one day see a restoration of its native woodlands.

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The wider world beyond Moldova’s borders may think of Moldova as a tiny hidden away place still steeped in traditional and post-Soviet ways, a poor country, made poorer in recent years by the robbery of their treasury by powerful elites and by rampant corruption.  While it’s true that this despairing view of Moldova is shared by many Moldovans themselves, I have to say that getting to know young Moldovans over the past year, has helped me to begin to take a different view.  In the inspiring initiatives of young Moldovans, like the folks of Plantam Fapte Bune, I see the seeds of a future Moldova which warrants much more optimism.

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I am a tree-lover too, so I was delighted to get to work with PFB yesterday planting trees in Budesti.   The tree species that grow commonly in Moldova are old familiars to me, –– Walnuts, Oaks, Poplars, Birches, Linden, Beech, Willows, Wild Cherry, Hornbeam, and Buckeye, as they also grow in the Ohio woodlands where I grew up.   While I was growing up I probably planted over a thousand trees, because my father was an avid tree planter and enlisted his children in the project.   We planted rows and rows of evergreens as windbreaks along the western edges of the fields of our 125 acre Ohio farm.   My siblings and I took our turns sitting close to the ground on the seat of the tree planter pulled along behind the tractor, slapping each little seedling into the furrow which was opened up by the blade just in front and below us.  Behind the seat, a second blade on the tree planter closed the furrow.   I spent many a summer hour watering and trimming around each seedling, and driving the riding mower between the rows.   Over the years, I felt a deep sense of pride and pleasure in watching those trees grow to maturity.  In later years, when I came home and walked the paths around the edges of the fields, I would often come upon groups of white-tailed deer resting in their shade.

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I wish all the Moldovans who are contributing to this effort, not only the satisfaction of a good deed done, but the deep pleasure and contentment of seeing those trees grow to maturity, and the opportunity to enjoy a life surrounded by these towering friends who purify our air, protect our soil, give us shade, and generally sustain a healthy environment for us all.

You may read more about Plantam Fapte Bune and see some photos and videos of their tree planting events on their Facebook page.  And you can also donate through their fundraising website:

https://guvern24.md/en/projects/plantam-fapte-bune-in-moldova/

You can also read about other tree planting events in Moldova at the Facebook pages of “Million Trees Moldova” and “Seed it Forward.”

Plantam Fapte Bune!

 

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A Little Controversy in Chişinau––Art!

There are always controversies swirling around Chisinau, most of them involving politics, but this past weekend a new one erupted on social media pages––about a work of art.   On Saturday, October 14th, Chisinau celebrated its annual “City Day” with a typical downtown festival that included lots of traditional music, dancing and food, but this year on City Day they also unveiled a new installation of street sculpture.  The following week Facebook was abuzz with responses to comments claiming that the sculpture was sexist and local TV news reporters were reporting on the controversy.

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Bob and I happened to come upon the sculpture on Sunday morning, as it was right on the route of our regular Sunday morning walk to Crème de la Crème Café for croissants, coffee, and a crossword puzzle.   We were immediately charmed, (and did the natural thing that everyone is doing––photographed ourselves with it!)

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We perceived the pair of statues as a light portrayal of young romance: a young man, flowers in hand, waits eagerly for his girlfriend, while she approaches him quietly with her shoes off in order to surprise him.   It was an unexpected delight, we were cheered to come upon it, to realize that someone, either the city or a private donor––we did not know which, had wanted to beautify our city with this whimsical sculpture.  Most sculptures in Chisinau’s parks and at city squares are patriotic portrayals of heroic political figures––Stephan cel Mare with his sword or astride a horse for example.  There are also formally mounted busts of writers and poets in Pushkin Park.  But here was a portrayal of two anonymous figures, representing No One in particular and therefore Everyone, placed on a cobblestone pedestrian-only street, where they could be touched, embraced, leaned against, and included in selfies.

It was not until a couple of days later that I learned from the women in my yoga class at PC office that someone had taken offense at the depiction of the young man checking his watch, and had posted on Facebook a comment calling the sculpture,  sexist, accusing the artist, Moldova’s talented Pavel Obreja, of propagating a stereotype that women are always late.   This prompted a storm of responses, some lighthearted in agreement, and many others rejecting the accusation of sexism, asserting that we should all be grateful for, rather than critical of, this delightful gift.

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Neither Bob or I had interpreted the depiction of a young man checking his watch as an indication that someone he was waiting for was late.  But my Moldovan friends told me that as young women they were indeed often counseled to arrive late for early dates with a new beau, to make him wait, in order to maintain a kind of power in the relationship, (a strategy I do not understand but they seemed to find intuitively self-evident,) so they naturally projected that understanding onto the depiction of the young man checking his watch.  Other friends remarked that they and all their women friends are indeed habitually late for leisure activities; they felt that the stereotype was founded in a reality, but that this reality was not in any way insulting to women.  I view being on time for a social event as a matter of kind consideration, but I take no offense if this culture expects me as a woman to be late for a social encounter, as this just gives me a bit more leeway without hurting feelings.

Another comment on Facebook lamented that the portrayal of young lovers was only one heterosexual couple.  I do feel sympathetically for same-sex lovers who feel excluded by this very traditional portrayal of lovers.   It would indeed be wonderful to see a diversity of couples portrayed on our cobblestone streets: hetero, lesbian, gay, interracial….but that, unfortunately, is not likely to happen any time soon here in Moldova.

I love the sculpture and the fact that it has prompted all this conversation.  One comes across this kind of accessible street sculptures in modern cities all over the world, and even in our little town of Waynesville, back in North Carolina, but here in Chisinau there was, up until this past weekend, only one similar installation.

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On Strada August 31:  These figures are looking at a sculpted cat about to catch a sculpted bird on the eaves of the adjacent building…   Can you find anything controversial here?

 

End of Summer in Chisinau

Today is “First Bell” for the new school year here in Moldova, and it’s a special day for families in Chisinau.  Everywhere around the city this morning, children were walking to school, all dressed up and carrying flowers for their teachers.

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And there were happy reunions in the school courtyards.

Yesterday, at the invitation of Mrs. Scrupschi, my partnering teacher at public school Spiru Haret Lyceum, I attended the traditional beginning-of-the-year “Consecration Ceremony” which takes place on the day before First Bell.   The teachers gathered, (those who wished to participate,) in the cafeteria where three Orthodox priests and two Catholic priests offered blessings on the new school year, interspersed with beautiful antiphonal singing from an amazing orthodox church ensemble.

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The priests then walked up and down the hallways on the three floors of the building, entering each classroom and sprinkling holy water on the teachers and the classrooms.

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After every classroom was blessed we sat down to a beautiful “Masa Mare” prepared by the chefs of the adjoining placinte bakery.  We toasted to the new school year with red and white wine poured from pitchers, and ate shaslik (chicken-kabobs) roasted peppers, brinza (fresh and salty pressed cheese) with roasted eggplant relish and tomato relish, sarmale (rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice, vegetables and meat) placinte of every imaginable filling, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and grapes.   The shared celebratory meal was, I thought, a lovely way for the staff to start out their new year.     They are not well paid, as I think I have mentioned before.   I learned recently that this year there will not be enough kindergarten teachers in the public schools because teachers cannot be recruited with a starting pay of 1000 lei a month (about $50).

 

The approaching end of summer in Chisinau was heralded by two holidays at the end of August.  On the first of these, August 27th, Chisinau celebrated Moldova’s Independence Day with a music, dance, craft and food festival in the big central square on Stephan Cel Mare street.  Dance troupes from all around the country paraded into the square in the morning and took turns on the stage throughout the day.

And yesterday, August 31, was National Language Day.  On this date in 1989, Romanian was declared the national language of The Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.  After Moldova declared its independence in 1991, the 31st of August was declared an official holiday.  At present, not everyone in Moldova is equally enamored with the ascendancy of the Romanian language over the Russian, but as I walked through Pushkin park on my way to the Lyceum yesterday, I came across a small crowd listening to a young girl giving a full voiced and passionate rendition of a song celebrating the Bessarabian roots from which both Romania and Moldova have descended.

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So now the summer is over.   The playground at Parcul Valea Morilor will no longer be filled during the daytime, with children roller blading, biking and skateboarding,  but there will still be warm Sunday afternoons and balmy evenings for families to come out and stroll around the lake.

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This little guy has another couple of years before he marches off to school, flowers in hand,  on September first.

 

Peace Corps Moldova: A Swearing In Ceremony

The events of the past couple of weeks in the US, specifically the march of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the remarks by our president, revealing his own sympathy for their cause, have showcased once again, a very ugly dark side of our country.

So I was especially cheered, this past Wednesday, August 16, to take part in the celebration of fifty-two trainees who were sworn in as new U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers in Moldova.  They will be carrying on the great Peace Corps tradition of friendship diplomacy and capacity building through their work as English teachers, Health Teachers and Community Development workers.  They will interact with Moldova’s youth not only in the classroom and in public libraries but through special camps and programs to promote gender equality, diversity and tolerance, volunteerism, and technology capacities.

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As our US Ambassador, James Pettit, stated so well in his speech following the administration of their oath, even as the US is still learning to live up to its own values of equality and diversity, these volunteers will be upholding those values, representing the best of America.   And they are a diverse group, as you can see in these photos, including Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans, African-Americans, as well as Americans of European descent, young and not so young.

 

Also, this past week, we very much enjoyed celebrating with a volunteer, Jenny, who is soon completing her service, by joining in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new bathrooms that she and her community were able to build with the help of a grant she wrote through a Peace Corps grant program.   The school where she has been teaching English did not have indoor modern bathroom facilities, and this lack was one of the priority problems the community identified as something they wanted to work together on.  The school administrators, the mayor, a representative of the teachers, a parent representative, and several students all made speeches, the ribbon was cut, we all toured the bathrooms, ooh-ed and ahh-ed over their beauty and sparkling cleanliness….

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….and then we feasted!

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Afterwards Jenny and the mayor also took us to see a group of retired teachers who are working on reviving the craft of embroidery in their community where we not only enjoyed seeing the antique pieces whose patterns they are hoping to preserve….

….but were also delighted by their spontaneous singing of some traditional songs in Romanian, Russian, and Ukranian.

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The mayor also took us on a tour of the beautiful kindergarten where a previous volunteer’s grant funded several improvements.

If you need some cheering up, check out the Facebook page of Peace Corps Moldova, where you can read more about the uplifting work of these volunteers.

Transylvania: Mountains and Saxons, Pigeons and Tango

If I were to post the above photo without an explanation, you might think it was taken somewhere near our home in the mountains of western North Carolina, but it was actually taken south of Sibiu, on the road to Paltiniş in the Transylvania region of Romania.   A couple of weekends ago we headed to these highlands, in order to escape a heat wave in Chişinau.   We toured the area inside a triangle formed by Brasov, Sighişoara and Sibiu, and did indeed find some relief from the heat there, as well as a landscape to remind us of home.

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Between Sibiu and Brasov, another detour took us along the very dramatic Transfagaran highway, (aka “Transfiguration Highway”) (below) which climbs over the Fagaraş mountain range…

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…where we spent a morning hiking along the open heather and grass-covered slopes above a mountain stream.

It was a Saturday in August and the families of Sibiu were out in full force picnicking along the stream, along with at least one wedding party looking for some dramatic backdrops for their wedding photos.

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We recommend this beautiful drive if you are ever to visit Romania, but not on a Saturday in August!  There was a traffic jam at the top of the mountain, and we were unable to pass through the tunnel to drive the lower half of the highway along its descent to the south.

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(through the windshield)

This region of Transylvania is known not only for its beautiful mountains but also for its well preserved Saxon villages and fortified churches.   The German Saxons, like so many other ethnic groups in this corner of Europe, have a long and complex history here, dating back to the 12th century, when they were invited to settle in the region by a Hungarian king.  During the 15th and 16th centuries, in response to threats from the Turks, they fortified their villages and churches with walls and towers.   Most of the Saxon descendants left the region during Romania’s communist era, but many houses in the old Saxon villages still stand.  They look a lot like houses you might see in Bavaria with their steep roofs, wooden balconies, and carved railings with flower boxes, but here in Transylvania village houses are often painted in pastel colors: pinks, terra-cottas, and greens.

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In Sighişoara, a UNESCO-protected citadel, we stayed at a small bed and breakfast hotel inside the old walled town, and spent the latter part of an afternoon and an early morning walking the cobbled streets, exploring the Saxon buildings and watching a leather craftsman at work.  The architecture and the practice of traditional crafts in Sighişoara have been preserved through the combined efforts of UNESCO, the Global Heritage Fund, and some Anglo-Romanian foundations initiated by Prince Charles of the UK.   We also took in an evening concert performed by the faculty of a summer camp for stringed instruments which is held annually in Sighişoara.

At an art gallery housed in a refurbished Saxon building, we were surprised to come across a very small framed little window on one of the walls hung with paintings.  The frame had been built around a pigeon nesting box, which allowed us to stand in the gallery and watch as a pigeon fussed over an egg she had just laid.   In the tiny walled backyards of homes in Sighisoara we also caught sight of several pigeon-keeping houses.

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I was curious about this and later read that “pigeon racing” is still a big sport in Romania, as it is in Belgium, the Netherlands, and the UK.  The homing pigeons are driven in cages a long way from home, from 100km to up to 1000 km away, even across the English Channel, and then released.  Their arrivals at their home boxes are timed by various new technologies.   I imagine many keepers of pigeons feel a fondness for their birds, but the usual controversies (including doping) swirl around this “sport,” in which animals are used for human entertainment and gambling.    Online I found several examples of YouTube films of homing pigeon releases, complete with emotionally evocative background music, like music written for the grand and passionate scenes of romantic movies.   By way of comparison,  en route from Sighişoara to Sibiu,  we noted that every village had its stork nests ––for the tradition of hosting birds, rather than keeping them captive.  (I’m not sure that one can call the homing pigeons “captive” though, if they fly home of their own accord?)

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In Biertan, another UNESCO Heritage Site Saxon village, we toured the old fortified church….

…and continued on to Sibiu where we found thousands of people packing the “Piaţa Mare” for the annual festival that brings Saxon peoples back to Transylvania.  On a large stage in the center of the square, Saxon folk dance troupes from all over Europe were performing.

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It was a hot day in Sibiu so we retreated to the cool interior of the Brukenthal Art Museum, which is housed in a high-ceilinged and thick-walled old mansion on the square, where we toured an art collection which is reported to be Romania’s best.

Autumn, by Friedrich Miess, (1854-1935) and The Adornment of a Saxon Bride, by Robert Wellmann (1866-1949)

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(Photo of Sibiu taken the next morning when the square was not packed with people!)

From Sibiu we headed to Braşov, where we stayed at Casa Wagner in a tiny attic room with one small window, facing Piaţa Sfantului.

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A Tango marathon was underway when we arrived early in the evening on a Saturday, and we joined the small crowd which had gathered to watch the dancers.

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It was intriguing to see the diverse styles that the different couples displayed in interpreting the same tango music, from suave and flowing to jerky and rigid, dramatic and passionate to subtle and restrained.  They had come from all over Europe, and all shared an intuitive body and soul response to this very Latin dance.  The music itself varied dramatically too, from classic tango to newer forms of jazz tango.  By late evening the square was packed with people dining, dancing, and spectating.

Our room in the attic of Casa Wagner had no air conditioning, so that night we left the window open for air, despite our worry that the lack of any screen might allow pigeons to enter, and we listened all night to the rumble of the crowd which did not die down till after 3:00 am.  The tango music, never let up, and when I awoke at 6:00 on Sunday morning and looked out on the square the dancers were still at it.

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The receptionist at Casa Wagner told us that they had been out there at 5:00 a.m. when she arrived for her shift.

Except for the Tango dancers the square and surrounding streets were very quiet Sunday morning.  As we ambled down a street lined with apartments over storefronts, I saw a woman in a nightgown come to an open second-story window, pluck from it a large teddy-bear with big white eyes, and then shut the window, and I wondered if this teddy bear, with its big eyes, was her method of keeping the pigeons out of an open window at night, like a fake owl posted over a garden to keep the rabbits away?

A path around the perimeter of the old city wall led us to the watch towers where we got a wider view of Braşov and its Black Church in the morning.

Braşov is known for is its many cafes so when the storefronts began to open we did some café hopping, and especially enjoyed the ambience at Dr. Jekelius’ Pharmacy Café, where the fresh juices were served in beakers and the menu explained the curative powers of each concoction.

 

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Of course, one can hardly write of Transylvania without mentioning Bran Castle, the home of Vlad the Impaler.  We drove by, but did not tour, as ghoulish exhibits of torture chambers are not our cup of tea.

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It was just a quick trip, over a weekend extended to four days.  The eight-hour drive back to Chişinau from Braşov, took us through the lowlands of Romania and Moldova, where the sunflower fields no longer looked bright yellow, because the flowers were now uniformly nodding their heavy heads, turning their light green necks to the sky, as the seeds ripened and began to dry.

Approaching Chişinau from a long distance away, across the flat plain, we watched long jagged bolts of lightning rip through a wide-open canvas of deep slate-blue sky, and sheets of rain pour down on the city.  By the next morning, the temperature in Chisinau, had dropped by thirty degrees.   The worst of the summer’s heat wave was past.

Still I remember Romania, and it’s good to know those mountains are within reach.

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Return to Chişinau

July- August 2017

When I returned to Moldova in mid-July, the sunflowers were blooming in the fields outside of Chisinau.   We loaded our bikes onto the Subaru’s bike-rack and headed out of town to cycle the rolling hills north of Chisinau where vast stretches of bold bright yellow were interspersed with stands of corn, and with grape vineyards.

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The planted areas under sunflower seed production in Moldova total around 300 thousand hectares, which is almost one fifth of the total arable land of Moldova.   Annual seed production can total more than 500 thousand tons and sunflower seeds make up a quarter of Moldova’s agricultural commodity exports.  One quarter of the oil-seed is exported to CIS countries, (the Commonwealth of Independent States, aka the “Russian Commonwealth”) and a quarter to the EU.   Moldova also extracts the oil from some of its sunflower seed, and  more than 90% of the extracted oil is exported to the EU.  According to the Agriculture and Food Ministry, in 2014 the exports of sunflower and sunflower oil brought in $126 million.

We also included in that trip a visit to the Curci Monastery (pronounced “Curchi,”) which is located at about an hour’s drive north of Chisinau.   It is believed to have been built in 1773 and was known through the centuries as one of the most beautiful Orthodox monasteries in Bessarabia.  During the USSR years it was used as a psychiatric hospital, but today it is home to about 30 monks.

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Monk on a motorcycle

 

In the villages north of Chisinau, we found cherry trees so laden with sour cherries that the ground under them was slippery with pulp and red with juice.

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Cherries were already disappearing from the markets in Chisinau by mid-July, but as the supply of cherries declined, the market quickly filled up with sweet juicy peaches, nectarines and plums, which we are still enjoying, along with the very flavorful and cheap tomatoes and sweet red peppers.   Grapes will be coming on by the end of August.

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At the time of my arrival in mid-July the locust trees were also in full bloom, and their pale-yellow blossoms lay like a thick carpet over the footpaths throughout the woods of Parcul Valea Morlior.  Though I have been a tree lover all my life, I had never before thought of locust trees as beautiful.  Having lived in so many locales where the foliage on the locust trees turns brown every summer due to the locust leaf-miner, and where the trees rarely bloom, I had thought of a locust tree as something good for making fence posts.  But here in Chisinau, the feathery panicles of creamy pea-like blooms stand out against the dark green foliage, and give the tall trees a fancy summer dress.  The Golden Oriole (aka Eurasian oriole) who fills our garden with birdsong every morning this summer, seems to like the locust trees as well, and often performs his little concert of flute-like notes from a perch in the highest branches of my neighbor’s locust tree.

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All was beautiful and breezy in July…and then the August heat wave hit.  Afternoon temperatures in early August climbed up to 99, and the hot air was heavy with humidity.  I kept thinking of my cool home back in NC, built at 4000 feet elevation on Plott Balsam Mountain.  From my kitchen window there I could look east to Cold Mountain, and that memory brought to mind the mountains of Romania, where the movie Cold Mountain was filmed.  So, thinking that perhaps the higher elevations of the Carpathian Mountains would be cooler than Chisinau, we headed over to Romania for an extended four-day weekend.   And that will be the subject of my next blog.

A Tour of Three Chişinaus: Traditional, Funky and Classy

For many of you who read my blog, I would guess that when Bob and I moved to Moldova, this small country and its capital city, Chişinau, had not yet gained a position on your bucket list of places to visit before you die.  If you knew of Moldova at all, you likely knew it as Europe’s poorest country, a small former Soviet republic still struggling to recover from the collapse of the Soviet Union, and as such, you might not have expected it to have much to offer a tourist.   But if that is the case you might want to reconsider.  We recently enjoyed a visit from our son, Joel, who admittedly would not have visited Moldova had we not been here, but who found himself pleasantly surprised with the whole experience.

While Joel was here we introduced him to three versions of Chişinau: “Traditional Chişinau,” “Funky Chişinau,” and “Classy Chişinau.”  None of these is the Chisinau he had imagined, having read typical descriptions of the city, which always mention that it was mostly destroyed by an earthquake and by bombing in WWII, and was then rebuilt by the Soviets, who erected many apartment buildings in the style they are known for: big, grey, plain and functional.   While this is all true, it is not the whole story.  The streets in the center of the city are in fact still flanked by many charming old buildings which survived the WWII period and the earthquake, and are now being restored.  And Moldova’s capital is actually a very green city, with lots of trees and parks.  In fact, Chişinau, compared to other European cities, has one of the largest proportions of natural spaces in relation to its size.   Thus, the introduction that we gave Joel, as would any tour of Chisinau, included lots of walking in the parks.

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If some of you, our friends, are thinking of making a visit to us here, -and we do hope that you will, we could give you a introduction to Chişinau, similar to that which we gave Joel.   Here is what you might expect to see:

Our tour of Traditional Chişinau starts out with a walk around the lake at our neighborhood Park Morilor.   There will be lots of old people out fishing, and young people out running on the paved path around the lake, under the shade of willows, cottonwoods and aspens.

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From there we can walk to the town center, strolling on our way through Stephan cel Mare Park, (formerly known as Pushkin Park,) down the “Avenue of the Classics of Moldovan Literature,” flanked by busts of poets and authors and other social heroes of Moldovan and Romanian history.

At the far end of the park a giant statue of Stephan Cel Mare dominates the plaza.

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We’ll cross the street, which also bears his name, and pass through Chişinau’s own Arche de Triumph, to enter Cathedral Park, where we will visit the interior of the Orthodox National Cathedral.

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Afterwards we’ll stroll along the flower market that borders Cathedral Park, and pass by  the school where I have been teaching English, Spiru Haret Lyceum.

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This school is located just around the corner from the best placinte bakery in town where we will stop for lunch. At the bakery, you can watch the kitchen workers stretching out the dough, spreading it with fillings, rolling up the long coils of placinte, and placing them on trays to go into the oven, -while you enjoy a couple of your own placinte, filled with your choice of filling: brinza, (homemade cheese) pumpkin, apple, plum, cherry, or the Moldovans’ lunchtime favorite, potatoes and cabbage.  (See previous blog about placinte and this bakery.)

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After our placinte lunch we will head to the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural History, two museums housed together, in a building which looks, on the exterior, very reminiscent of an Islamic Mosque.  Inside you will find exhibits about the customs, traditions and handcrafts of the people of the historical Bessarabia region, as well as exhibits on the flora and fauna, the geology, and paleontology of the region.  At the end of the afternoon, if you like, we can visit a traditional embroidery shop, such as Casa Cristea, which is hidden away in a tiny room behind the Filarmonic Hall.  Here you can purchase hand embroidered traditional clothing, and perhaps some embroidered and tatted table linens.

If there is an afternoon festival in town we will be sure to see some traditional Moldovan dance, and if not, in the early evening, we’ll take in a concert of traditional Moldovan choral music at the Filarmonic.

Afterwards we’ll have dinner at La Taifas Restaurant where we will be further serenaded by more traditional folk musicians on the violin, accordion and ţambal mare, (see a previous blog about the ţambal mare.)  We’ll enjoy Moldova’s comfort food, mamaliga, (polenta) along with perhaps borscht (with or without duck,) or Moldovan meatballs, and roasted vegetables, and a celeriac or fennel salad.  For dessert, we can share a round pie-shaped placinte made in a stovetop skillet and filled with apples or plums or cherries.

On a Funky Chişinau day, after the early morning walk around Lake Morilor, we will have coffee at Tucanos, where the ambiance might have you thinking you are back in Asheville, and where you can get a pastry that has cannabis among its ingredients; (I’ve not had it so I cannot testify to its taste, but the coffee and other pastries are quite good.)

We’ll then visit the open-air Art Market on strada Stephan cel Mare between stradas Pushkin and Pârcalab, where you can browse through displays of antique silverware, brass and silver candlesticks, old coins, and silver and amber jewelry, and other paraphernalia from old Russia, all mixed in with lots of kitsch tourist items like nesting Babushkas, and wooden Ukrainian eggs, as well as very nice traditional sheepskin Russian hats.

If you wish, we’ll visit the Pushkin Museum, which we’ll find tucked away in a remote corner and down a narrow alley.  (See my report on this museum in a previous blog.)

Lunch would be at Mamico, a small restaurant on Strada Veronica Micle where diners can hide out in nooks and crannies on three levels of a rambling old house, or, if the weather is nice, enjoy dining al fresco on the sidewalk.   In the afternoon, if it is a Sunday, we can take in a marionette show at the local children’s Puppet Theater.  In the late afternoon we’ll return to Lake Morilor where everyone will be out enjoying a stroll, or biking, or roller-blading, or speeding along on scooters, or pedaling giant four seater tricycles in the late afternoon sun.

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In the evening we will have dinner at the very funky Propaganda Restaurant, where the décor looks like a bookish and homey 1950’s Russian parlor, and the fried mamiliga is the absolute best.

Your Classy Chişinau tour will begin with coffee and the best sweet almond croissant you will ever eat, at the Crème de la Crème French bakery.

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From there we will drive about a half hour north to Cricova Winery for a tour of their underground wine cellar and a wine tasting afterwards.

This underground wine cellar contains 120 km (or about 75 miles) of roads laid out in the tunnels that were left behind after mining the limestone that was used to build the city of Chisinau.  Putin has a wine collection stored here, as does John Kerry.   (There are many good wines brewed here in Moldova and you could fill up several days just touring wineries if you wanted to.)

For lunch we’ll take a picnic to Dendrariu Park and enjoy a stroll afterwards through its beautiful gardens and lawns.   In the mid-afternoon we can visit the small National Art Museum on the sycamore-lined street named “Strada August 31,” (for the date of Moldova’s National Language day)  and afterwards relax with afternoon tea on the patio at Delico d’Ange, another not-to-be-missed French café and bakery.

In the early evening, we can attend an opera or ballet at the Opera House, or a classical music concert at the Filarmonic,

and have dinner afterwards at the chic and sleek Gastro Bar, which specializes in Turkish fusion food as well as any food that can be grilled in a “Green Egg.”

If you can add one more day to your tour we will drive you out of Chisinau up to the Orhei region where you can visit Rustic Art, (Ecaterina Popescu’s traditional Moldovan kilim weaving studio and museum,) Tipova Cave Monastery, and Orheiul Vechi Cave Monastery.   (See my previous blogs about Rustic Art and about Tipova and Orheiul Vechi Cave Monasteries.)  After a morning visit to Rustic Art we will hike down into a river ravine to see Tipova Cave Monastery, where we can have a picnic lunch and then explore the caves in the cliffs overlooking the Dniester River, where the “Monks with a View,” as Joel called them, made their homes, or rather their sleeping cells.

Finally, in the late afternoon sun, we will visit Orheiul Vechi Cave Monastery and Church, which sit on a dramatic ridge above the otherwise flat plain of Moldova.

Before we return to Chisinau we will have a traditional Moldovan dinner on the outdoor patio at La Butuc Restaurant in the village of Bucuceni where your mamaliga will be served with brinza, eggs with green onions, and horseradish.

Ok, so it’s not Istanbul or Paris, but it is unique little Chisinau, with its own small pleasures, and we would love to introduce any of our friends who think they might be game for it, to our Moldovan hometown.  A good visit can be accomplished in 3-4 days and can be easily combined with a tour of Romania, as cheap flights are usually available between Bucharest and Chisinau on Air Moldova as well as on other larger airlines. If you think you might be interested, let us know!

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Rustic Art: Moldovan Handwoven Rugs

Ecaterina Popescu remembers the chance encounter that started her on the journey which led to the founding of her enterprise, “Rustic Art.”  She was visiting Odessa years ago when she happened to notice in someone’s home, a very worn out rug which looked familiar to her. It was dirty and there was a dog curled up sleeping on it, but she asked her host if she could examine it, and when she was convinced that it was an authentic antique Moldovan flatwoven wool rug she negotiated a price and bought it. When she brought it home to Moldova, her aunt became very excited. Examining it closely, she located a telling defect at a particular place in the rug, one which she expected to find because, as it turned out, this aunt and Ecaterina’s mother (who had since died) had woven that very rug themselves, when they were young.  Ecaterina’s mother had sold the rug, at a time when she was in need of funds, to a Ukrainian passing through Moldova, who had carried it to Odessa.

The generation of Ecaterina’s mother all learned to weave in their youth in order to make their own bridal dowry of rugs, and Ecaterina also learned to weave from her mother. But many of Ecaterina’s generation did not learn, and as more and more Moldovan women took higher education and left the villages, very few of the next generation learned to weave.   Women regarded the ability to weave a rug as a skill no longer needed in the modern world, and regarded the time it required no longer practical.   People began to forget the value of these rugs.  They were often tossed aside in homes, allowed to accumulate dirt, left outside to decay. Ecaterina lamented the cultural loss of this fine craft and began to contemplate what she might be able to do to revive it.

I noticed when I first arrived in Chisinau, that one could easily find machine made wool pile rugs, or loosely woven rugs of synthetic yarns in gaudy colors; but hand woven rugs, like the finely and tightly flatwoven wool kilims that I had seen in Chisinau’s Ethnographic museum, were nowhere to be found for purchase. Nowhere, that is, until I spotted a few rugs hanging up as a backdrop to one of the booth displays at Chisinau Day last summer. From across the street the rugs caught my attention with their subdued color schemes, their tight weave, and their traditional motifs, characterized by a unique blend of botanical and geometrical design.   I purchased my first Moldovan kilim from Ecaterina Popescu that day, and learned about her enterprise, “Rustic Art,” which she founded to teach women to weave Bessarabian kilims, thus reviving this cultural craft in Moldova.

I met Ecaterina again a few months later when the National Palace in Chisinau hosted a large exhibition of traditionally woven rugs.   Many regional ethnographic museums from around the country were there that day exhibiting their collections of antique rugs. But Ecaterina and the group from her village representing Rustic Art, were the only group there who were still hand weaving these rugs. I was able to arrange for a visit to her workshop in Clişova-Noua, in the district of Orhei, a little over an hour to the north of Chisinau.

Ecaterina greeted us in the courtyard of the old kindergarten in Clişova-Noua, or “new Clişova,” a town built after a mudslide destroyed the homes of the original village of Clişova.   The kindergarten building at one time was the educational home of three hundred school children, but since Perestroika, according to Ecaterina, so many people have left the village that the school census dropped to fifty children and most of the school building fell into disuse.   Ecaterina was well known in the region, having been a schoolteacher herself at one time, so the municipality was willing to allow her to use the building for her new endeavor. She took us on a tour of the Rustic Art’s facility, its museum exhibit, it showroom, and the workshop studio.

Traditional Moldovan rugs are actually flatwoven kilim rugs, and according to Ecaterina, they were originally meant to be hung on walls and draped over caskets but were not placed on the floor.

 

In the showroom we saw not only many finished rugs for sale, but also a lot of embroidery work. Ecaterina found after her first few years with Rustic Art, that only a few women, after being introduced to the weaving process, had the necessary time and patience, as well as the design and math aptitudes required, to give them the determination to stick with rug weaving.  Many more women wanted to learn to do embroidery, so Rustic Art began offering embroidery classes as well. This was a craft women could do in their homes with very little equipment and in which they could much more quickly gain proficiency.

Ecaterina has received a small enterprise grant from USAID and is working on restoring her facility, but in the middle of December when we visited, most of the building was not heated.     We shivered through our tour of the museum rooms and showroom, and were relieved when we entered the actual working workshop to find that this room at least, where several women were at work with their bare hands on the looms and the sewing machines, was heated.

Ecaterina explained the weaving process, as the weaver demonstrated the techniques they use on both types of traditional looms, the horizontal looms and the vertical looms

On that first visit in December we picked out a design and color scheme for a custom made rug to fit a hallway in our home back in North Carolina.   Ecaterina called last week to say the rug was ready and we went up Saturday to get it.

Our custom made runner is on the left.  While we were there, we also fell in love with this  mustard colored rug on the right and bought it as well.

The Moldovan flatwoven wool kilim is a traditional fine craft that merits not only preservation in museums, but also development in the active contemporary art and cultural craft world, -along with Moldova’s other fine crafts: embroidery, tatting, pottery, traditional musical instruments, and the wool/sheepskin vests, hats and boots.   In many “developing” third world countries such as Ghana, Ethiopia, and India, the traditional crafts are still being handmade and incorporated into contemporary products, and are widely available. Fair trade systems, micro-financing, and export markets have grown these cottage industries into successful small businesses for women in many third world countries where government and NGO development agents have played a part in reviving them as part of economic development. Moldova may be the poorest country in Europe, but it is not a third world country, and the same phenomenon has not taken hold yet here; traditional crafts have not been as well preserved in Moldova even though the old peasant way of life is still visible in the smaller villages. I was delighted to hear however, that Ecaterina’s Rustic Art workshop will be one of the stops on a Cultural Tourism Tour, which USAID is helping to develop here in Moldova under their Economic portfolio. The tour, (which will stay within 30 km of Chisinau,) is not designed to be a Handcraft Tour, but as a Cultural Tourism Tour it will include a visit to Orhei Vechi (see my previous blog) and to several wineries.

Also, as Ecaterina proudly informed us, in 2016 UNESCO added “ Traditional Wall Carpet Craftsmanship of Romania and The Republic of Moldova” to its list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage.”   You can read about it on their site at the link below:

http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/en/RL/traditional-wall-carpet-craftsmanship-in-romania-and-the-republic-of-moldova-01167

 

 

Happy Mărţişor!

On a visit to the Chisinau Opera House one day this winter, I tried to purchase a ticket at the box office and was told by a rather grumpy woman inside that she was not the ticket seller, that the real ticket seller was late and  I would have to wait for her.   I sat down on a bench outside the box office and was waiting there when another young woman walked up, entered the box office, and then quickly exited, looking startled. I stepped forward to open the door, intending to find out if the ticket seller had arrived, when the young woman exclaimed, “Everyone in this country is angry! Close the door or she’ll kill you!”

I laughed.  “Where are you from?” I asked the young woman.   She told me that her family had at one time lived in Chisinau when her father was a famous ballet dancer, but had moved to Ukraine when she was still quite young.  As a young girl she had seen many performances on the Chisinau Opera House stage and she had wanted on this trip, for nostalgia’s sake, to see a performance while she was in town to get a passport issue cleared up. The grumpy woman in the box office had complained to the young Ukrainian about the cold, and then cussed her out for standing in the doorway with the door ajar.   This Ukrainian assured me that she found the residents of Chisinau generally to be much grumpier than her Ukrainian compatriots.

Indeed, alas, Moldovans do have that reputation. Last spring, some of my friends at home in the neighborhood of Asheville, NC, broke out in nervous laughter when I told them Bob was taking a job in Moldova.   These were the few friends who had even heard of Moldova before, and the only reason they knew of Moldova was because of its notoriety in Eric Weiner’s book, The Geography of Bliss.   While Asheville had ranked among the happiest of places, Moldova had served as his subject for the last chapter -on the unhappiest country in the world.

I have already written about how some of my first impressions in Chisinau did provide some substantiation for that claim: the absence of smiles in response to a greeting and the blank staring faces of people on the street, especially older people.   But I have since come to see those first impressions as just cultural misunderstandings.   The American in me, -whose most recent cross cultural living experiences were in extroverted and friendly Ghana, and cordial and gracious Ethiopia, -was experiencing the cross-cultural jarring that comes of differing expectations about how one interacts or does not interact with strangers. The practice of ignoring a stranger who greets you, does not after all, necessarily make you an unhappy person.  I  have also come to see that this cultural difference is age dependent. I have found young Moldovans to be very open and friendly, frequently smiling, freely at ease in returning a greeting.   And as soon as I got out of Chisinau, I saw that older people in the villages wore friendlier facial expressions and even greeted me.

My language instruction, however, has provided further evidence of an unhappy national psyche. One day a stranger poured out a tirade of angry words at me, most of which I did not understand, after I took a telephoto photograph of snowy Lake Morilor that included her in the far-off distance.   Later I tried to tell Elena, my Moldovan Romanian tutor, about this encounter and asked her, “How do I say unhappy in Romanian? I want to say ‘She seemed like a very unhappy person.’ ”

“We don’t speak of people being unhappy,” Elena responded. “Everyone is unhappy; being unhappy is nothing to remark on- it’s the default condition.”

When I expressed my disbelief she elaborated further. “If we have 99% of everything we want, but don’t have that 1%, we would not call ourselves “happy.” If a person is “happy” they are on the level with a god.”

I protested. Certainly this was just a cynical view.  “There must be a way to say unhappy.”

“No,” she insisted.

“What about fericit?” I probed. “You say, Craciun Fericit! For ‘Merry Christmas!’  Can you not alter that word to make it un-happy?”

“Yes, we do sometimes use fericit,” she acknowledged, “but that’s just an adaptation of our language to imitate an English phrase. We don’t otherwise use that word much.”

“What about a woman who just had a baby and the baby was born healthy and all went well. Are she and her husband not fericit in Moldovan Romanian?”

“Well yes, maybe they would be “fericit,” she finally relented. “But there is no form of the word to make it a negative. You would just have to say someone is not happy, and we don’t say that.”

Another time I asked her,   “How do I say that I “enjoyed: something? For example, how would I say “I enjoyed the concert.”

“We don’t say that.” She said. “We say ‘I passed the time well at the concert.’

Again I protested. “What if you went to a friend’s house and you ate wonderful food and spent the evening joking and laughing, would you not say you had a good time, you enjoyed it?”

Her answer: “We would say “We passed the time well.”

In a later lesson I did in fact learn how to say I “enjoyed” something, but Elena was not admitting to it that day. “I hear Americans tell each other to ‘Have fun,’” she said. “We don’t tell someone to ‘Have fun!’ We use petrece; we say, “Pass the time well!”

“To my American ear that sounds more like an admonition to not waste time,” I told her.  “Don’t you have a word for fun?”

“ Yes, distractie, but that word is used more as a verb, a se distra, and it has bad connotations, you don’t tell someone to distract themselves.”

I was initially, I confess, a bit exasperated with Elena’s insistence that I accommodate my vocabulary to express what she viewed as more culturally appropriate sentiments.  It took me the better part of the past seven months that we have lived in Moldova, to begin to grasp how profoundly the hardships and dashed hopes of Moldova’s short history, have indeed molded Moldova’s national psyche.   The country is, in fact, still recovering from the tumultuous economic collapse into which it was born, and the older generation has endured a very long and severe economic depression. They are in many ways a depressed generation.   Current widespread corruption, and a recent scandalous thievery of the nation’s treasury, (which occurred under a ruling party that represented the high hopes of those who favored turning toward Western Europe) have added cynicism and fatalistic despair to the underlying fatigue, giving many Moldovans, those over forty at least, good reason to feel like pawns who have little to gain by raising their heads or stepping out of line, and little use for the vocabulary of happiness.

But just as I was starting to better appreciate all of this, all of the reasons that older Chisinau residents have for feeling glum, I started noticing that people on the streets of Chişinau were suddenly more inclined to smile back at me. There was a subtle brightening in the faces of the old people coming toward me on the street, faces in which I had come to expect a kind of dourness. Suddenly there was a softening around the eye, indeed a slight light in the eye, an upturning of the corners of the mouth, even the hint of a smile before I smiled.   What could be accounting for this?

Slowly it dawned on me…. It’s the Mărţişor! (prounounced “Martzishor”) Every year on the first of March Moldovans begin their observation of “Mărţişor” or “little March,” a tradition that celebrates the coming of spring, the coming of new life after a hard winter.  The legend behind the holiday involves the Queen of Spring, who during a walk through the snowy woods, noticed a snowbell blooming in the snow under a briar, and tried to protect it, but inadvertently pricked her finger on the briar. A drop of her warm blood fell on the snow beside the flower and nourished it, helping it to survive the cold and to flourish.

In observance of the holiday, Moldovans give each other little “mărţişors,” twisted yarns of red and white from which hang two tassels, one white and one red, or possibly some other more ornately crocheted figures instead of simple tassels. They pin the mărţişors to their clothing and wear them until the end of March when they tie them to a branch of a fruit tree. I have been seeing these mărţişors on women’s blouses, coats and hats, and dangling as bracelets from wrists, and have received a few as gifts from friends and students.  People have set up stands on the sidewalks where they are selling homemade as well as mass produced mărţişors.

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At the public school where I give English classes to the 9th graders of the Lyceum I saw this display of handmade mărţişors created by the younger students of the school.

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The flower sellers on the street corners are also selling bunches of snowbells, which are grown in greenhouses for the occasion because it is now prohibited to pick them in the wild.

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The young flower vendor, from whom I bought a bunch of snowbells, was all smiles and cheer, despite the fact that with two young children at home, and an income not sufficient to cover her rent and electricity, she is thinking about going abroad to get a job. (Her dilemma is common, and the current troubling trend of leaving one’s children to work abroad could be the subject of another blog.)

It does seem that spring has in fact arrived promptly with March 1 in time for Mărţişor.   When we left Chişinau at the end of February to attend a family wedding in Phoenix, there was still snow piled up in our yard and along the edge of our walks and our driveway. We hoped an interlude of warm weather during our absence might make it all disappear before our return, and indeed we did find the piles shrunken dramatically, if not totally disappeared, upon our return. We are having temperatures up to 60 in the afternoons, and the sun, which was hidden behind cloud cover for weeks on end in January and February, is suddenly shining.

Schools have been on vacation for the first three days of this week in observance of the Mărţişor and of International Women’s Day on March 8th. Yesterday afternoon when I walked along Lake Morilor, the promenade was full of teenagers out enjoying the warm sunny weather and taking selfies with their friends. The bikers, roller bladers, baby strollers, skateboards, and scooters were all out in full force as well. The coffee and ice cream stand had a long line waiting as did the new cotton candy stand, and someone was selling balloons.

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I came across this old gentleman sitting on a park bench at Lake Morilor playing his accordion, and I was surprised to recognize the tune he was playing; it was one I mentioned in my last blog! – the original Russian version of what we know as “Those Were the Days My Friends.”

International Women’s Day is also a big holiday here and Moldovans observe it by giving flowers to the women and mothers in their lives. Tulips seem to be the favored flower.   On the morning of March 8th I saw many children out on the streets carrying bunches of  tulips, and two of my students whom I tutor in English here at my house, also brought me a bunch of tulips.

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I love that this celebration of spring here in Moldova, this Mărţişor, appears to have the power to revive tired hearts and thaw frozen faces.

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The “Ţambal Mare”

One evening this week Bob and I had dinner here in Chisinau at La Taifas restaurant, where we were delighted to be serenaded by a group of folk musicians. Their ensemble included an instrument with which I was not familiar, though I had seen it once before, at a concert of the Chisinau Filarmonic.   It looked a lot like the hammer dulcimer I have at home, but it was much bigger, with four built-in legs, and had a dampening foot pedal like a piano has.  The musician at the restaurant was playing it just like a hammer dulcimer and the hammers that he sent bouncing across the strings were simply carved wooden sticks with slightly curved ends wrapped in homespun cotton thread.

I asked the men of the folk group the name of this instrument, and they told me it was”the *ţambal.” My Romanian to English translator on Google immediately translated the word to “dulcimer.”  This ţambal however, was a “Ţambal Mare,” or Concert Ţambal, (the word mare in Romanian means large or great, as in Stephan cel Mare.)  I later learned that the proper word in English for the Concert Ţambal is the “cimbalom.”  The ţambal is also called the Tsymbaly in Ukrainian, the Hackbrett in German, the Cymbalam in Hungarian, and the Santouri in Greek.   All of these instruments developed from the Persian Santur, which came to Europe in the 11th century, and was popularized and spread by gypsies who carried it hung from their shoulders. In the 1870s, a Hungarian piano maker built the first concert ţambal by adding more strings, four legs, and suspending a foot pedal lever under the instrument to control the dampening bars.

The group last night was playing lively Eastern European folk music, but the ţambal player demonstrated for me his wide repertoire, which included classical music.  While Bob ate his mushroom placinte, and I my celeriac salad, he proceeded to play a beautiful and expressive arrangement of the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

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Below is a link to a You Tube video of a very talented player on the Concert Ţambal.  You cannot see his feet operating the dampening pedal, but you can see the dampening bars on either side of the instrument as they lift and lower throughout this performance.

incredible playing on the cimbalom

You may have already heard the music of the cimbalom.  Igor Stravinsky included the cimbalom in his Ragtime for eleven instruments, Franz Liszt used it in his orchestral version of Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6, and Bela Bartok used it in his Rhapsody No 1 for Violin and Orchestra.  For those among you who are avid movie watchers, I read that it has also been used in many film scores including Startrek III: In Search of Spock, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Golden Compass, and The Black Stallion, as well as in some of the musical scores for the old TV series Mission Impossible.

I do not remember ever seeing a cimbalom before I came to Moldova, but unbeknownst to me I had listened repeatedly to one in the past.  In reading about the cimbalom I discovered that it was featured in Mary Hopkin’s 1968 recording of the song “Those Were The Days.”   I very much remember that popular recording and can still sing most of the verses.   The song was originally a Russian romance song composed by Boris Fomin in the early 1900s, with lyrics by the Russian poet, Konstantine Podrevsky.  Mary Hopkin’s version, produced by Paul McCartney, with English lyrics written by Gene Raskin, was a number one hit when I was a young teenager.   That recording featured a cimbalom played by Gilbert Webster of London’s Guildhall School of Music. Below is a link to help you remember the song.  The cimbalom is especially easy to hear in the introduction.

Mary Hopkins, Those Were the Days, with cimbalom

By the way, that song was about the remembrance of youthful idealism and expressed a feeling of middle aged disillusionment: “… Then the busy years went rushing by us. We lost our starry notions on the way…”  But by referencing this song, I am not seconding that sentiment!  I don’t believe that my generation lost their “starry” notions: witness the current uprising in defense of inclusion and diversity, equal rights for women and minorities, civil liberties and political freedoms, the protection of vulnerable refugee populations, and the protection of the environment, an uprising that includes plenty of middle aged and retired people who are standing up again for “notions” they held in the 1960’s to 70’s and have not lost over the years.  More precisely, I don’t believe that most of those notions were, or are, so starry-eyed: they are grounded in democratic traditions and ideals that will always resurface when those in power try to repress them.

So, please do listen to the song, especially to the exotic twang of that cimbalom, but remember: These are the days, my friends!

*****

PS:  Last week in my blog I wrote about Paul Shapiro’s book, The Kisinev Ghetto, and mentioned that he would be coming to Chisinau for a lecture when the Romanian language edition of his book is published.   I wrote mistakenly that this would occur in the fall.  He was actually here in Chisinau this week for the celebration of that publication, so I have now added a photo to last week’s blog.

* The Romanian letter  “ţ ,capitalized Ţ”  which looks like a t with a little comma under it,  is pronounced like the sound you make at the end of the word “waltz.”