Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Floral Calendar

Spring was welcomed with open arms in the Jiu Valley this year. Months of cold darkness had taken their toll, dragging out much longer than the year before. Though it came late, the spring’s beauty was anticipated. It was only one year earlier when I had “stopped to smell the flowers” rather, “stopped to know the flowers”. All those weekends spent outside of my close quarters helped me realize just how beautiful spring is. At this point, if someone was to ask me what my favorite season is it would be an easy answer.

The late coming of spring didn’t throw off its regularity. Nature doesn’t follow a calendar of days but rather a climate calendar and even though the warmer weather may come a couple weeks later it still comes in the same way it came last year. You can observe this phenomenon by watching the flowers. I am a beginner but even my second year into it I could see the constants. My hiking partner has been observing this area year after year since the seventies when he first set foot in the Jiu Valley. This weekend you’ll see flower “A” and next weekend flower “B”, he would say. For the most part he was right.

The first to pop its head up out of the soil is the ghiocei (snow drops). Ghiocei are used as a symbol of the coming of spring and given to ladies on March 1st. The second flower to appear is the brandusa (crocus) and in my experiences it is found at higher elevations. A couple weeks after the brandusi first appear a trip to Oltenia is in session to find a flower native to few places in the world, lalele pastrite (dotted tulip). Lalele Pastrite is a tulip which droops its heavy purple head down toward the swampy land that it grows on. The narcise (narcissus) are next to appear. Fortunately in Petrosani we have access to narcise both in the low lands of Oltenia and also narcise in the Vulcan mountains which appear a couple weeks later. This allows us to enjoy the beauty of the flower in both sight and scent, for a prolonged period of time. It seems like the salcam (acacia) appears at around the same time as the narcise but sticks around longer. If you’re walking on the side of a country road and the flower hangs down within reaching distance I advise you to break off some of the flowers to give their sweet pedals a taste. The large dark blue/purple flowers of the liliac (lilac) bloom out of the country yards for a couple of weeks in mid-spring gracing travelers on the other side of the gate with their soothing scent. Finally as spring turns to summer the large white soc (elder) flowers bloom. You can’t get within 15 feet of these plants without knowing they are there. Socata (elder juice) is a popular drink in the area and it is made from the flowers of the soc, lemon, and sugar. Last year I brewed up about 5 liters of this delicious juice and for a first try I’d say it was a success.

The flowers found in the Jiu Valley are not limited to those I have mentioned. Those that I have mentioned are the flowers most sought out, but on any given day you can enter the beautiful mountain massifs of Parang, Retezat and Vulcan to find a rich variety of flowers and other plants. If you enter some of the high peak regions of the Carpathians in the summer time you may even see the protected floare de colt (edelweiss) growing on the side of the steep rock faces.

The lowlands offer some beauties as well in the summertime. Last year outside of Timisoara I remember seeing large fields of sunflowers. That explains the towers of shells that you will see from time to time on the personel trains. Last but not least the mac (poppy) is definitely worth mentioning. Cruising from Targoviste to Bucharest you see the red gem’s lining the roads and dotting the fields. Their pedals look like smooth silk being blown by the hard flat plane winds.

Wherever you are in Romania the springtime is sure to brighten your life. The sights, scents, and even tastes will abruptly break you out of that winter depression. Just be careful not to miss it. Many of these small beauties only stick around for a couple of weeks before going to sleep until next year. As springtime rolls around next year don’t waste a moment in that small living room apartment watching TV, or checking email and surfing the net. A field of narcise is just kilometers away waiting for you to breath in its miracle.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A proper send-off

A little over two years ago I landed in Romania with a group of 37 other Americans. Eleven weeks of training later I officially became a Peace Corps volunteer(PCV) and traveled with two great PCV friends to my site. That site has since become a home away from home. Seeing the seasons change in the Jiu Valley over the past two years has been an experience like no other. Every day has its beauties and an evening rarely passes that I don't look back on the day realizing how lucky I am to have been sent here. It's been 664 days since my arrival here and this past weekend it all came around full circle to make for a slightly early but very sweet goodbye.

Day two of site visit and Parang hike #1 was a great indicator of how I would be spending my free time in the Jiu Valley. Back then, communication between Ernest and I was slow going. We both had dictionaries in hand and by the time I returned to Targoviste after the visit only one word really stuck... stana (meaning sheepfold). At that point in the language learning experience so much information was trying to enter my head all at once, therefore not much actually stayed. It was however, my first full day of communicating verbally only in Romanian. That specific hike was to Lacul Mija, a place that I have returned to several times during my stay here. This past weekend was my last weekend in the area before moving out. With a guest coming to visit on Sunday I knew that Saturday would be the last major hike as a resident of Petrosani. I found it fitting when the text message appeared on my phone suggesting Saturday's hike be Lacul Mija, ending where I started.

The forecast said rain all day in Parang. I was there and I can tell you that it didn't rain at all. Sometimes the forecast can scare people off the mountain. A colleague of mine insisted that she wanted to come but she didn't want to spend all day in the rain. Admittedly I was a bit worried about the rain, but rain alone is no good reason to stay off the mountain. It ended up being a somewhat cloudy but mostly sunny day. The best part of the Lacul Mija hike is when you round the corner to the back side of Carja peak. In that small valley the city, the pollution, the people, and the ski area all disappear. Nature’s stereo pumps the greatest hits of the spring below whose rushing waters come from nowhere it seems. Mija peak forms a bowl with just a bit of water in its center. That bowl can be seen when looking at Parang from Petrila. What can't be seen from that part of the hike are the Dacias, the maxi-taxi's, and the train, the second-hand stores, the restaurants, and the blocks, the buna ziua, ceau, and la revedere. These are all things that I've come to love in Romania but an occasional escape is a necessary part of any relationship. Like the first time on that open trail between peaks, Ernest was the guide. Unlike the first time I decided not to enter the near freezing temperatures of the lake.

The day continued. Peace Corps has been an incredible exercise in meeting people and even though I will be leaving the area soon I am still meeting new people. I recently met some great Moldovan students in town with whom I attended Petrosani Days after hanging in their dorm for a bit. Dragos came out with us for the concert and there we were, one American, one Romanian, and a bunch of Moldavians eagerly awaiting the evening’s musical entertainment. That entertainment consisted of a lot of dj, dancing, lip sinking music before the headliner Zdob si Zdub came on. I first saw Zdob si Zdub at Peninsula in August and the music instantly took me back to my punk rock fan days. The high energy rock mixed with cultural music reminded me of the ska and irish punk rock bands that I used to catch at the Vans Warped Tour. Most people I know in Petrosani are more into the dj kind of music so it was nice to be there jumping up and down to some good rock music with the Moldavians who were appreciating one of their own bands far from home. Like the students I was hanging with, Zdob si Zdub are from the Republic of Moldova.
Zdob si Zdub in Petrosani, 04 June 2011

Finally at almost one in the morning I left the concert during the encore to meet a friend at the train station who was coming in on an hour late train from Bucharest. There on the catwalk above the train tracks I watched the final fireworks show as the exploding lights rose above the largest of Petrosani's blocks in front of me. Standing there admiring the fireworks I noted how the days activities and current situation acted as a fitting send-off. So much of this experience has been an individual discovery of who I am, what is possible, and there I was alone watching the fireworks. It has been an experience in travel, seeing the world, becoming part of a new place, and there I was yet again with the tracks below me waiting for the next train to come in. It has been an experience of developing new friendships, and there I was waiting for one of my best Romanian friends to arrive. There I was with city blocks in front of me, the fireworks above, and a million memories of the past two years to smile upon.