Saturday, 12 May 2012
Expedition Romania week two
The first of 2 funerals this week was held today, a 60 year-old man who was crushed when something fell from his lorry; I’m told everyone loved him. The next is a 36 year-old woman tomorrow, the blacksmith’s wife; so young, so much still to experience, so sad. The whole village turned out as the church bell started to toll its deepest bell, a few people started to appear from their homes and this steadily grew until the streets were full. The people here nearly all work on the land and you never see anyone who is not fairly scruffy and in well worn labouring clothes. Now a transformation, with all the men in black suits with white shirts and shiny shoes, the woman pristine in black dresses and headscarves. No florists in this town, it’s a skill that women are all brought up with and these home made wreaths of the forest looked distinctly Carpathian. I saw no children, I guess the older children look after the young; after all, a 12 year old here has to grow up fast. All the shops closed, no cars on the road, even the dogs seemed to know when to be quiet. I’m told that the widow will be watched and well taken care of by other women during her grief and if she had wanted to be alone as she left the church she would have needed an ejector seat, as a mass of females all wanted to hold onto her. A few tears came to my eye (I only seem to cry in the left one!), it was if I was watching a black and white film, but somehow part of it.
The sun is just rising now over the Carpathian Mountains, the light piercing through the trees, the mist rising from yesterdays rain like a big fluffy blanket. Most of the life and death happens during the night out there; you only have to listen to the sounds at night, very different to those of the day. Yesterday we went out as I drove the 4x4 in our first real off road adventure. We drove about 5 miles up into the wilderness, following Paul White and our tracker Laci in their vehicle. I haven’t had much off road experience but I was much the wiser after that trip. When the ground is wet, if you don’t stay in gear, the back can just slide away and you have to scan the ground ahead and decide speed, route and gears well in advance; very exciting knowing that a serious mistake could cost your life! We set 2 camera traps at a location in the high meadow which Laci assured us was a main ‘bear route’, and another on a ridge, which appeared to be a crossing point. We found the skull of a wild boar that Laci said had been eaten by Wolves. I was hoping he knew that for reasons other than he could still see them! A party of hunters watched us through binoculars from a meadow about 2 miles across the valley as we viewed them. They were there to kill exactly what we wanted to photograph and Laci looked very worried. These were nasty people who didn’t want any conservationists like us in the forest, it was their livelihood and they would do anything to keep it that way. You can understand that can’t you? Having destroyed 99% of our ancient woodlands, turning England into the baldest country in Europe, what right have we to harp on to a country like this about conservation? We didn’t see bears or wolves yesterday, but as I walked around with my camera in one hand and bear spray in the other, I wondered which hand I would lift first if something charged out of the nearest thicket? I hadn’t filled out a risk assessment so I was surely in grave danger!
As we all sat on a grass ridge that evening a few storks flew over, then a few more. They were flying very low to the ground, their log dangly legs trailing out behind like strings as they flapped their wings a few times, then glided until they needed to gain height again. After a short while there were hundreds swooping in from everywhere but all heading in the same direction, a ‘Pearl Harbour’ display above us. Then it was the turn of the maybugs, they all set off in the same half hour, just as the sun goes down. They are about the size of a large acorn and fly only slightly better. Because they have no site, they fly into everything, then get up and take off again, a bit like people walking home in Penrith on a Saturday night. As they gain height there’s less to bump into, but I can’t help wondering why evolution dealt them this cruel hand.
Coming down from the hills and very hungry, we passed through another small town. We spotted a sign that seemed to indicate Pizzas might be on sale. Surely not! We had just been talking of finding a fish & chip shop or a chinese takeaway around the corner and laughing at the dream, but could this be true? It was! It must have been the only sports bar in the mountains and had a large screen the size of a house, now showing the match between Ath Bilbao and Atl Madrid. Ryan and I ordered the medium pizza and so glad we did, we could hardly manage it. The others all went against the waitress’s advice as she made every sign she could think of to let them know the size of a large pizza. She gave up, and so did they at about the half way stage. You could have used one as a parasol for a pub table, but they only cost £5!
We are so tired at the end of every day, not just because we are out all the time walking, but the air seems so clean. Last night I felt like a cold beer, but I was already drunk with tiredness and that’s a far more pleasurable way to sleep.
I was filming by the roadside one day, just scenes of everyday life in the village. People talking, children playing and horses pulling carts, that sort of thing. At no time did anyone come up and ask me to stop because I was invading their privacy. At no time did anyone ask me to fill in a form to get permission to film a building. At no time did any adult suspect that I was only filming their children because I wanted to sexually assault them later! No, only in BARKING MAD Britain do we pay people to think up these ludicrous rules, and then like idiots we follow them. Our country has gone so far up its own bum that it’s disappeared! I’m going to break every media rule in the book from now on just to make a point; we can’t let this carry on. In the 60’s I carried a camera everywhere and photography was my hobby as it is now. As photographers we could photograph anything or anybody in public, and nobody felt so self important that they objected. Last year in Penrith, I was taking a photograph of an interestingly shaped fire escape. The owner of the house came out and asked what I was doing. I thought it obvious as I was holding a camera (not a welding torch) and pointing it at his fire escape! I told him this! He said it was his fire escape. I explained that I wasn’t removing it, just capturing an image of it. He said he would call the police if I didn’t go away, which I did. I had stolen the image of his fire escape without his knowledge and consent; I had just broken one of BARKING MAD Britain’s laughable laws.
During my filming in and around the village, I could see a guy walking towards me, shifting from side to side and occasionally falling over. Not unusual I thought, the streets are so pitted I walk in a similar way myself. But as he approached I realised he was very drunk and needed someone to talk to. After half an hour he was still talking and I was still listening, even though I had said to him several times in Romanian, “Nu inteleg” (“I don’t understand”). I was trying unsuccessfully to find the translation of “fuck off” on my phone when in his garbled speech I heard the words “Saddam Hussein”. Because I recognised this I repeated it… “Saddam Hussein?” I said. He was so delighted that he had said something that I understood that he shook my hand and kept saying it, over and over. I then, for some ridiculous reason said “Colonel Gadaffi” just to see if he understood that! He did, as I thought he might and the knock on effect has been hilarious since. Every time he sees me in the village he waves and shouts out “Saddam Hussein”, to which I wave and shout back “Colonel Gaddafi”! Two infamous, divisive and violently killed dictators meet in post communist Romania, acting as a tiny bridge of unity between two strangers.
There’s so much smoke coming out of the little chimney on the ‘sausage smoker’ next door, he must be doing a very large batch! I see him holding his breath and walking in through the patched up door, emerging several minutes later looking like a chimney sweep and gasping for air. He’s a really old guy, maybe over 85 but apparently he’s been doing it all his life. I think he’ll eventually die in that smoker, but what a way to go, along with your prize sausages.
When I go to the local shop they always laugh and nod politely. Same routine, I walk around looking for anything that I might recognise, almost looking for something ‘friendly’. No surprise then when I went in for breakfast this morning and came out with 3 twix bars. Very few of the packets or tins have pictures on, and the containers are not always as we have in the UK. For instance, yesterday I bought a ‘bag’ of milk! You have to pick up the item, judge it’s weight and then shake it; a bit like being blind I guess. Back to the ‘bag’ of milk, I just don’t see the logic! You know those little sachets of vinegar where you can’t open them and after a lot of pulling and tugging it explodes all over the place? Yes… I managed to do that with a litre of milk; it looked like a cow had exploded in the kitchen!
I met a Romanian shepherd earlier today, up to now a distant scary figure surrounded by nearly as many dogs as sheep. It was only because our guide was able to speak to him, saying something like, “please don’t let your dogs kill these English people, they only want to take photos”. The shepherds live in tiny huts on the hillsides and they are the roughest looking guys you have ever seen, they make a Cumbrian farmer look like Simon Templar. In 1000 years when women get equality in this country, they still won’t want this job! They have to be near their large flocks all the time, day and night, because if they weren’t there, the bears and wolves would have a banquet. The sheep flock always has a goat in it, which acts as the brain for the 500 or so sheep. The goat knows where to go and does so when the herder tells him; the sheep just follow. The dogs are not sheep dogs, as we know them in the Yorkshire Dales, they are not there to herd the sheep but to scare off anything that might harm them. So that the dogs can’t harm deer, they carry a small stick of wood that hangs from a chain around their neck, that way they can’t run too fast. Some of the older dogs though, soon learn that they can flick the stick up into their mouth, but then even if they catch up with the deer, they would have to drop the stick to attack, so it works well. This shepherd had seven dogs, and as soon as he gave a short simple command, the dogs were our best friends and just ignored us; not that you would want to stroke them!
After a long meeting the other night, where we all put our cards on the table and agreed to some basic rules, we go into our second week a much closer and happier team. All the bad stuff out of the way and everyone understanding how everyone else feels is a really good place to be. I think when I get back home; I’ll write a short blog called, ‘What really happened in Romania’. Then again, maybe what happens in Romania should stay in Romania?
Death rates from cancer are low here because you are far more likely to die on the road, even in an ambulance! That’s just my opinion, but the crosses and flowers at the roadside, more frequent than road signs, are testimony enough. My chance came the other night when Anna and her husband offered to take us to see some bears. I had to ignore that they were both smoking in the car, it was their country, but little did I know that by the end of the journey some kind of sedation, all be it tobacco, would have helped me. As I started to put my seat belt on, Anna said, “no, no, not in Romania, police no mind here”. I explained that I wasn’t worried about the police, I just didn’t want her to see the soles of my shoes as I launched through the windscreen at 80mph! As we flashed past the roadside graves, she assured me that in Romania everyone drove very carefully! Her husband avoided the large potholes as if he were a well-practiced slalom skier who had navigated the same run a thousand times. The random mad dogs that attacked the tyres (even at that speed) were his only distraction. I thought that by talking to him, he might have to think what I was saying and that would slow him down, but he was so polite that he would turn and look at me while I was talking, completely ignoring the road. We got there and back safely yes, but I think that luck played a huge part!
I’ve just witnessed the most incredible thing! I decided to do an experiment, because every time I have given a scrap of meat, cheese or bread to Bunda, our guard dog, he always asks for more. So I though, OK, you must reach a point when you’re full Bunda? I started to give him the left over’s of the lads’ pizzas’, after all, they had been there for 3 days and they probably wouldn’t miss them. He had no problem there, so then I started to feed him cheese and he ate a whole block, and loved it! I fed him a pint of yoghurt, 6 slices of bread, a tin of beans, and 2 twix bars and still he wasn’t full, he hadn’t even taken a drink of water! Next, I had a large piece of Bulgarian sausage and I chopped it into four, surely he must break soon? But then came the astonishing thing, he picked up the sausage, went into the long grass, dug a little hole, popped the sausage in it and covered it up! He did the same with the rest of the sausage in different places. Was he just saying the sausage was horrible or was he storing it? I wanted to find out, so I went back and got the last piece of cheese, because I know he loved that last time. Sure enough, off he went, buried it and came back to me for more. I didn’t know dogs did that, did you?
My Hungarian is coming on well and I know over 20 words now, which ranks me with a 4-month old child, but I’m cool with that. I have also been making a repeated mistake that seems to have confused the hell out of the locals. When I arrived I learnt to say hello (Ceeo) so I thought, but that actually means goodbye. You imagine passing someone in the street in Penrith, waving and saying “goodbye!” I now know why ‘Colonel Gadaffi’ was so pleased that I came to town, the pressure is off him for a while J they have a new village idiot!