Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Family, Crying and Unconditional Love

Saturday afternoon, we arrived in Fagaras, a city near my mom's village, Vistea de Jos. My cousin, Rosmina, who has been my generous host this trip, grew up in Fagaras with her sister, Anca.

My aunt Dorina greeted us with so much enthusiasm and eagerness to please, I can't fully capture it here. But I'll try.

When you walk into a Romanian household, especially here, you're hugged and kissed on both cheeks and you're automatically taken to a seated area with a table ;-) And then you're fed. But you're not just offered what we would consider normal hors d'oeuvres. You're given a few courses. You're given wine too, maybe some Romanian liqueur. And of course, some coffee.

You're asked numerous times if you're doing OK, if you've had enough, if you're tired, cold, need anything at all, if you've eaten enough, want more, and so on.

It can be overwhelming, but in a wonderful way. At least to me. Because it's not that way in the U.S., at least not in general. My mom is this way and I always used to yell at her to quit being so stressed out with guests and so pushy with food. But I get it now. It's custom. It's just the way it is here. At least with my family :-)

But here's the part that got to me ... and got to me hard.

When I walked into my family members' homes (I visited quite a few), I was greeted by such immense warmth, love and ... I can't even quite place it, maybe an admiration, as though being looked over, looked through, studied and embraced all at once. I haven't been here to see some of these family members in 18 years. I've grown quite a bit from 11-year-old, tom-boy, running after the animals Cassandra.

I visited my mom's brother-in-law, Demetriu. He'd had a stroke not long ago and was not able to talk much or move much. I walked into the room, he saw me and he started to cry. Maybe it's because he saw my mother's face in me. Maybe it's because he remembered me at 11 years old, riding his horse. Maybe he just was sad he couldn't greet me properly. But it went straight through me.

We couldn't stay long. And it occurred to me I might never see him again. So I grabbed his hand, I squeezed it hard, said goodbye ... exhaled and we left.

We then visited my mom's sister, Tori, in Victoria. She was considered the "Black Sheep" in the family, the one who was a bit rebellious, was always funny and always made everyone laugh, especially my mom and I. She hugged me long and hard and cracked jokes. She, of course, gave me food. She called me her baby, told me she loved me. And then we were back on the road to Fagaras.

On Sunday, we left for Vistea.

I walked into my mom's church, which was so much more breathtaking than I remembered at 11. The rich colors in the murals cascading down the walls, the intricately painted ceiling and candle-lit crimson carpets were glorious.

Suddenly, I became the talk of the people. And I felt immediately self conscious. Understand, these villages are small and everyone literally knows everyone, so seeing a new person walk in is immediately noticed.

Slowly, people came over to our group, asking who I was. A few women, old friends of my mother, came up to me, touching my face and gazing into my eyes, motioning to my aunt and cousins how much I resembled my mom ... "Cornelia."

They squeezed my hand, kissed my cheeks, touched my hair and told me I was beautiful. I blushed and said "Multumesc" (thank you) over and over and over again, not knowing what else to really say. We stopped by the cemetery behind the church to see my mom's parents' graves ... as well as her sister's grave and her cousin's grave, both who passed before their time.

Then we visited my mom's eldest sister, Chevuca. She's been sick with diabetes and a hip replacement. She saw me ... and she started crying. She hugged and kissed me and called me her love. She couldn't say much, but I reminded her of when I was last there and I was sick in bed. My parents were gone at that time (visiting another city). My aunt came into my room with rubbing alcohol and a hot washcloth and she rubbed my arms, legs, neck and face ... just the way my mom did when I was a kid. And it made the flu body aches disappear. And it made me feel like home.

She teared up.

We then called my mom (it was her birthday Sunday). And the first thing my aunt said was "Mi-e dor de tine" ... I miss you.

She hugged me close before I left. I said we (my parents, brother, sister-in-law and myself) would hopefully be coming back in two years. She said she hopes to still be here.

We didn't let her finish. We said she better be here. I let that wish fill my heart, especially for my mom's sake, and then I let it go.

We said our goodbyes a bit later, after I walked the family farm, drawing in the sweet scent of thousands of grapevines above me, begging to be picked, yearning to be ground up and bottled for wine.

I recalled chasing the animals, I recalled my grandma working in the fields behind the barn and I reacquainted myself with Rego, my uncle's horse I fell off of when I was younger. He was much sweeter this go around :-) He let me pet him for quite some time.

We visited a few more family members and curious neighbors. They all looked at me, saw my mother's eyes, cheekbones, nose and smiled.

I talked to my cousin about it later. She told me, it says a lot about my mom, the way people responded to seeing me, to seeing her in me.

I'm pretty sure when I share this with my mom, she will cry.

Between learning more about the history of this country, my family and culture as well as reconnecting with my cousins and aunts and uncles, I feel I couldn't want for more in this moment.

I see so much of myself in my cousins and so much of my mother in my aunts, it amazes me. I don't want to leave them ... not after just feeling I've gotten to really know them.

I suppose I now know what this feels like. What being torn between one life and another feels like.

I also now have a sense of completion in some way. Not as though I don't have more to learn and discover, but a sense that this other part of my life, of myself — a part that has been primarily in the dark over the years —is suddenly lit.

And I don't know what else to do with myself ... but smile.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Peering Inside Castles, Digging into Roots

So, Peles Castle ... amazing. It's architecture, woodwork, design and furnishings had influences from all over the world, including France, Spain, Asia, England, Germany and Russia.

The weapons display and armor were breathtaking and overwhelming to say the least. I snapped a few photos as I was able to (we had to pay extra to take pictures so I snuck some ;-), but really, they won't do it justice.

I was enamored of every single room inside that place. It took over 40 years to complete and just the woodwork alone must have taken a brunt of that time to produce. I am truly humbled by the fact I was able to see this place, to take this trip really ... all of it.

And Queen Elizabeth ... she really intrigued me. She was a writer :-) so maybe that's why. She wrote 43 books, she knew over 7 languages and also played the piano and organ (I think she played a few other instruments as well). She was beautiful inside and out.

I think Romania has a knack for producing artists. The famous composer George Enescu also has a home in Sinaia (where Peles is). We passed it. He has a few homes in the country. But his compositions are quite beautiful and his violin play is amazing.

Then we went to Bran Castle. It was quite different from Peles, but in a very cool way. It was a gothic style castle, originally built in the 12th Century. It is also known as the castle that influenced Brom Stoker's "Dracula," along with Vlad Tepes (the Impaler).

Unfortunately, during the communist period, a lot of the original furnishings were taken from the castle — which was built as a fortress (aka. not meant to be glamorous) — so most of what was in there were furnishings of that time period meant to mimic what was once there.

Queen Marie, who lived here, was also talented and intelligent, an artist. In her will, she had her heart preserved and it eventually was kept at Bran Castle, however, after the communist period, it was removed and is now at the National Museum of Romanian History (which I will see on Wednesday). It remains a controversial topic.

While different from Peles, Bran  had a definite air of royalty surrounding it, but a darker one, perhaps a bit colder. It seemed sadder inside somehow, the energy there.

It wasn't warm and plush like Peles. It felt royal in a different way, a fiercer, stronger way, whereas Peles felt more majestic, like a fairytale really. I could only imagine being a princess in that castle, wearing a lavish dress, swishing across those posh, red rugs and silk spun carpets from Spain.

Sigh ...

I could go on and on, but lets just say, if you ever visit Romania, these are two places to definitely stop. The abyss of history is far too deep for me to dive into in one blog post.

We went to Brasov, one of the four major cities in Romania and quite beautiful. I will try to have more on that next post as well as more on my mom's village, Vistea de Jos and Fagaras, where my aunt Dorina lives as well as the Monastery of Simbata de Sus.

Unlike my other travels to Europe in the past, this one is different in so many ways. I think perhaps the biggest reason is I'm seeing the way my mom grew up, the way my family, both my mom's and on my dad's side, grew up. My family is so warm and welcoming, so generous and eager to please and love and care ... it fills me with emotions I find hard to express.

My roots, my heritage and the traditions my mom instilled in me throughout my life have become so much more animated, so much stronger during this trip. I want to embrace so many more things, things I didn't realize were in me. And the language, the way it's coming back to me, how much more I understand than I gave myself credit for.

When I was a kid, I would often be "embarrassed" about my Romanian dancing, some of the traditions, etc. I was a kid and wanted to "fit in" with all the other kids. But in the recent years, I've grown to truly appreciate my heritage, my family, our history and my culture.

I am proud and yet humbled to be here, to be able to soak up this history and my family. I see a lot more of myself and my mom, my dad's family and our characteristics in my family members and cousins here than I could have imagined. I absolutely love it.

And I love sharing it with you all. I wish I could place what's in my heart right now in this blog, in you all.

But I suppose photos and words will have to do ...



Thursday, October 3, 2013

Majestic Castles, Nature and Awakening

Peles Castle. I will be touring it tomorrow, so I won't have much to say on it right now, only that it was the summer residence of Romania's first royal couple, King Charles I and Queen Elizabeth and was built between 1873 and 1914.

Perhaps it's the romantic in me, but whenever I see castles, I am completely mesmerized. To resident Romanians, this is something "normal," something they've grown up with. But maybe because I grew up in America where we've never had a royal family, a king and queen or castles built, I am absolutely fascinated by these structures, the intricacy of them, the art, the beauty in every detail that had to have gone into their design and construction.

Tack on the fact I grew up with fairytales that always incorporated princes and princesses ... magical castles, and I am at the mercy of these regal, stoic structures.

Today, we drove through several Romanian villages, including a few areas where gypsies mainly live. The life is very simple. I was like a child in a candy store, seeing sheep herders in the fields and cattle being wrangled from the pastures and herded back to their respective homes.

And snow-frosted mountains in the distance with a plethora of colorful, turning trees at their base.

While I loved Bucharest, it's history and liveliness, I am very much more drawn to Romania's countryside.

To see people working in the fields, hauling logs on horse-drawn wagons, to see simple, yet charming and colorful homes, I felt a weight lift off of me. Maybe for a moment I fantasized about living in that kind of atmosphere, I imagined what it was like for my mom, growing up in her village on her parents' farm ... and I smiled.

It was the deep, satisfied kind of smile that only happens in those moments when we truly let go and feel everything ... those moments when you are totally in the present moment, completely at peace with the world — with your world.

The people here, the culture, is very warm and welcoming. My family goes above and beyond to just ensure I am feeling OK, I am rested, I am fed, I am enjoying myself. It's really humbling in many ways. It emphasizes the good things in life, the things that truly matter: Living, loving, family, connection, a sense of home.

And nature, nature is home to me. Maybe that's why I feel such a magnetic pull to the countryside, to these historic buildings and cobblestone paths buried amidst rugged mountains and tranquil creeks.

Or maybe the romantic in me is reemerging in response to these elements. It's a part of me I've kept at bay for awhile now, but between my Yogic journey this past year and now this trip, it's as though I feel I'm reawakening from a long, deep sleep. Or, as my teachers would say, it's like relearning something I've always known.

Life doesn't stand still for us. And whether it's traveling or doing something we love to do, perhaps embarking on a new journey in our personal lives or career paths, it's all there at our fingertips, we just don't always see it right away.

And this trip, it's not only been an adventure for me thus far, it's been a breath of oxygen upon embers I don't always take care to nourish.

And I only hope to keep tending to them ... the way I hope we all tend to our passions.

After all, the magic is there — we only have to see it.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Romania: Like Coming Home

“Happiness is not a brilliant climax to years of grim struggle and anxiety. It is a long succession of little decisions simply to be happy in the moment.” ~ J. Donal Walter, a Romanian author, lecturer and composer

Home ... it's a noun, but it's also a "feeling." A place, a family, a person can feel like home.

In my case right now, I feel both at home and in a new, strange place. I am in Romania. It's been ... about 18 years since I last visited my heritage homeland. Being American, but of 100 percent Romanian descent, I've always felt a little out of place wherever I was. I mean, I was kind of an outcast in school, not so much because of my heritage, but just because I always felt different. My mom had a lot of Romanian traditions surrounding my brother and I growing up, including Romanian dancing (which I still do). And the language, while I don't speak it well, has been embedded in my eardrums my whole life. In fact, when my mom sings her Romanian songs, poems, carols, I feel like a child again inside.

So stepping foot in this country and hearing the familiar language feels awesome in some ways. And, this might sound strange to some people, but it feels really cool being completely surrounded by a populace that looks similar to me :-) The prominent noses, sharp cheekbones and jawlines, the dark hair and eyes. Besides the church my parents brought my brother and I up in (it's like a mini Romanian community), I haven't been surrounded by my native culture for a long time. So to look in every direction and be surrounded by similar features feels really awesome.

It also feels like I'm seeing life through my mother's eyes in a way ... like I'm getting in touch with her in a way I never really have.

I was 11 when I was last here and of course, then, I viewed this world through a very imaginative child's eyes. I loved the nature and the farm animals in the village. I loved the creek in my mom's village, the dirt roads, the horse and buggies, and was amazed at the (then) third-world like conditions compared to 90s America with our washer and dryers, microwaves, electric stoves, dish washers and cable TV.

Things have changed in the last 18 years and most parts of Europe in general have progressed to offer much of the same things we have, but I'm still excited to visit Vistea de Jos (my mom's village), which is now all paved ... and remember the ways of simpler living.

Driving through Bucharest, the capital of Romania, my cousin told me how Ceausescu tore down so many old, beautiful historic buildings during his communist ruling and built blocks of plain, stacked apt and business buildings that all looked identical and had small, nondescript rooms. The city has since been trying to revamp these buildings, painting them different colors, tearing some of them down, etc., but it was a real eye opener to me regarding what life must have been like back then, when my mom was here, and it makes me appreciate my own freedoms as well as the architecture and history that still exists here.

The shopping mall here is all about the latest fashions, which is definitely very "Euro-like" as I say ;-) and the women all dress well and love their scarves, perfume and jewelry. Growing up with these themes with my mom, her family members who visited and our Romanian friends, it feels very much like home. I can't wait to visit Brashov (in the mountains) and Bran and Peles castles.

And I look forward to sharing more with you as my journey through Romania continues ....