ROMANIAN HAY-STACKSRomania has a long tradition of hay-stack technology. They have always scorned the large unwieldy hay-stacks of British farmers where needles have been hidden for generations. Not for them the mechanised rolls of the Australian landscape. Since time immemorial, Romanian haystacks have been made farmer-height for easier making and easy transport to nearby cow paddocks. Note in the ancient black and white photo to the right from the Museum of Gura Humorului (not a misprint) of the Moldovan ‘Falafel’ style, high on the mountain at the start of the summer season, when the sheep return to their mountain pastures.
There are four main styles of Hay Stacks that are used across the regions of Transylvania and Moldova.
- The Falafel Style, so called as they reminded the peasant farmers of Moldova of the snack food of the invading Ottoman Turks who have rampaged through the region since the time of Stephen the Great in the 15th
- The Dalek Style, as seen in the top image, only recently name-changed due to rumours of farmers late in the evening noting that these haystacks, no matter where they have been built in the field, arrange themselves in military lines as if preparing to attack the farm house, or possibly recapture the neighbouring ‘Republic of Moldova’.
- The Dim-Sim Style, a haystack made in memory of the great Transylvanian hero, Vlad the Impaler, who used to try and discourage Ottoman Turk armies by impaling captured Turkish Soldiers and leaving them standing in paddocks (like haystacks) in the path of their invading armies.
- The Hair-of-the Dog style…this is a haystack for backyards or small paddock s close to the house. It is for the amateur hay-stacker who has little skill and wants to be reminded of his wife on hair washing days.
Images above: Photo 1-The Hair-of-the-Dog Style; Photo 2-Traditional Dim-Sim Style Haystacks;Photo 3-The result of a farmer mixing up the traditional Falafel style with the Dim-Sim.
There are many villages in Transylvania and Moldova that line the roads between major cities. They are mainly farming communities with associated large tracts of fields given over to all forms of grain and sheep farming. The homesteads of the farmers remain in the villages and these houses stretch along the main road with rarely a second back street behind the main frontage of the village. They are therefore long narrow villages, often without a school or a hospital and often only one food store and agricultural or building supply complexes. The other major issue is that they lack the modern water supply system that feeds taps and sewerage systems that we take for granted in Australia.
But this doesn’t mean that civilization comes to an end due to lack of water facilities. There is an adequate water supply under the ground that would generally be the run off from the snow capped Carpathian mountains in winter time. All they have to do is to drill down a bore to the water-table and a water supply is at hand. In other countries this would mean that ugly back yard wells would be everywhere posing workplace health and safety problems for all the households, probably leading to a political campaign for the Government to spend money on a nation wide domestic water supply system. But this is far from the reality in the Romanian countryside. In these villages, there appears to be a competition amongst the residents to see who can have the most attractive well, not in the back yard, but right next to the front fence so the passing neighbours can see and admire it. There must be some sort of tidy town competition going on annually to ensure these vital utilitarian devices are as artistically decorated as possible.
One other common feature of the frontage of houses along the main street of these Romanian Villages is that many of the locals build seats of various shapes and sizes outside their front gate. They are there for the old folk who live in the houses to sit outside and watch the the world (presumably tourist coaches) drive by, down their main street. Sunday being a day of work, it seemed common practice for strolling folk to stop at their neighbours’ seats and chat about the weather and village business.
Beautiful front-yard wells and front-gate seats; I couldn’t but appreciate these two civilizing factors that countryside Romanians have built into their daily lives. They appear to be getting on with their rural lives far from the mechanized life styles of their cities. The sad fact however is that their young people are leaving these comfortable houses and magnificent rose gardens in their home villages behind for better paid jobs in the cities; unless they head over the border to Germany, many of them will end up in the soul-destroying apartment blocks built in Bucharest in the Communist era.
Romanians are a pious people and every village appears to have two or three churches. Always a Romanian orthodox church, regularly a Catholic Church if there is a Hungarian influence in the village and sometimes an Evangelical church, that became Lutheran after the Reformation. If this wasn’t enough, competing with the charm of the churches were the wayside shrines that occasionally popped up on village streets; their similarity to the household wells was occasionally confusing. The image to the right from Sibiel contains three of the regular curious sights of Romanian Villages; the wayside shrine, the spire of the Orthodox Church and the stork nest high on the telegraph pole supported by a metal structure provided by the local authorities tempting the migratory stock away from building their nest on the chimney stacks. The passing tourists were curious as well.
CRISTIAN STORKS RETURNING HOME
You don’t see too many storks in Australia…in fact there are none. However we have all heard the folk tales of storks delivering babies as often as we have heard that babies were found in cabbage patches. Even as a child I found these stories troubling given the clear discomfort for the baby and the clear lack of explanation as to where the babies came from before they ended up in cold cabbage patches or the troubling sling, hanging dangerously from a stork’s beak. The baby stories are evidence of the problems squeamish and embarrassed parents have in explaining the biology of sex and pregnancy.
It was in coming to Romania that I encountered the storks and their startling nests built on top of telegraph poles. They are to be found all over Romania but the largest concentration of the stork nests that we came upon was in the small village of ‘Cristian’ in Transylvania that apparently has the curious descriptor, the ‘Capital of Storks’ The ‘Friends of Storks Association’ built the metal frames on top of telegraph poles in the town in 2007 to not only provide convenient nest spots for Storks returning to raise their chicks after spending the winter in Africa, it also provided a better alternative for them than nesting on the top of roofs and chimneys.
It is no wonder that the story of storks delivering babies became widespread. Their nesting on top of roofs allowed them to become easy suspects for the sudden appearances of babies in homes below. They disappear for nine months and on their return, the apparently faithful couple lay eggs and devotedly raise small chicks until they are ready for the long trip back to Africa. They are models of good parenting for all the village children to see. We saw storks in the Danube delta foraging for frogs to take back to their hungry babies. Wherever we saw them on our travels around Romania, it was always great to see these beautiful clumsy-graceful birds going about their important, if sometimes lonely business, in the swamps and on top of the telegraph poles. Curiously, the storks on their return to the summer fields in Kenya and Uganda, do not take the direct route over the Mediterranean, not only because of the long distance without perches, but the thermals over the sea make it challenging for these birds that are not built for power and speed.
The stork capital Cristian was a very interesting place for other reasons as it exemplified some of the important history of Transylvania over the the past 600 years. The town is dominated architecturally by the fortress Church, built in 1495, by Saxon people of German background who had populated large areas of Transylvania over the previous century. These fortress churches were built all over the region surrounded by the Carpathian mountains as protection against the invading armies of Turks on their way to conquer Moldovia and lands further north. In the communist period from 1947 to 1989, large numbers of these ‘Saxon’ citizens returned to their motherland of Germany to escape the decline of their fortunes under Ceausescu’s rule. This was an early example of what many young people are still doing looking for better jobs than can be found in Romania today. Despite all this, Cristian was a fascinating little place to witness the storks at home in their historic Romanian village.
Peter Potato didn’t understand the meaning of a cleft stick but he knew he was in a difficult position the day he was taken from the potato patch, washed and scrubbed and taken to a commercial kitchen where the television cameras were lined up ready to make the latest Romanian ‘Potato’ (krumpli) commercial. His agent explained that he was invited to be the new face of ‘spiral-cut potatoes’. All he had to do was sing and dance and wave one of his fried friends around on a sharpened stick. Singing and dancing about the cannibalistic joys of eating one of his freshly sliced and fried buddies from the potato patch seemed a big ask to Peter. He asked what would happen if he refused the gig. The director pointed to the shiny red potato slicer on the bench. It was then that Peter realised that he was caught somewhere between Vlad the Impaler and one of Ceausescu’s torturers. He cleared his throat and started dancing…