I have so many stories to tell that I don’t quite know where to start. Some of them are already at the back of my mind – every single day here brings so many adventures that a month ago feels like the distant past. So it’s time I start digging up some of these stories. This post is a tribute to the little village of Runc (comuna Ocoliş, judeţul Alba), where I spent a considerable amount of time in June and July. Here are some little stories I became part of – I won’t go to the trouble of connecting all of them so it will end up looking like a bit of an impressionist painting. Enjoy.
Every night between 7 and 10pm, the cows come down to the village from their green pastures in the glorious hills about 300 metres above the village. And they make sure everyone knows they are back. I have never heard cows moo so loudly as in Runc. They find their way back to their own house all by themselves and then moo until their owners let them in. And no doubt they raise their voices for a variety of reasons that are beyond my comprehension. Check it out for yourself – this one is actually quite modest but it is all the footage I’ve got; it is quite hard to command a cow to moo. 😉
They are beautiful cows. Their bellies are round as barrels; their udders look a normal size – not the grotesque and painful-looking milk factories that Dutch cows have to carry around. Their milk is delicious. My friends Ion and Maria insisted on delivering a large bottle of fresh milk to my tent every now and then. Best possible start of the day!
And then there are the sheep and goats – they come home a bit earlier and make for a fun sight. Don’t try to drive at this time of day – you’ll have to wait.
During my first month in Runc, I wasn’t really aware that there was a tiny shop in Runc as well. I always walked or biked down to slightly bigger Ocoliş, 3km down the road, for my groceries (which, amusingly, people refer to as the oraş – the city). I was more than pleased when I ‘discovered’ Vali and Feri’s wonderful little shop that doubles as a bar, just 300m down the road from the campsite. They don’t sell much – bread on four days, no fruit, veg or eggs, but beer and ţuică flow abundantly. I started spending many an evening there – and that is how I met my friends Ion and Maria. Ion is probably the funniest guy in the village (Am glumit! Am glumit! i.e. ‘I was just joking!’) – he told me not to take him seriously and makes sure to check if I understand him correctly every time, which is a great way of learning Romanian. Maria is a bit calmer than her husband, but they share a wonderful sense of humour and make great conversation partners.
One of the first times I visit the shop, I come to buy crisps – it has rained until 8pm and by that time I don’t feel like cooking anymore. I explain the situation to Vali (like most Romanians, I like to tell little stories all the time) and she feels I shouldn’t be eating crisps and offers me a meal instead – so I find myself eating ardei umpluţi (stuffed bell peppers) in her kitchen while she is busy putting cherries in a large glass bottle – for the next batch of ţuică. When I return to the shop with a full belly, I get offered more ţuică, learn some new Romanian words and invent a name for Maria and Ion’s new pension – MarIon, which incites much laughter. When I ask for the address of the pension, they are not sure about the number – they promise they will check in the morning. The village fool comes in asking for free beers – he gets offered coffee instead (which he refuses) and is chased out (Dute! Dute!) because he never washes. He does give off a bit of a smell. Liviu, a friend of Maria and Ion’s, drives me home on his quad bike. I hold on tight and have the biggest grin on my face.
At Maria and Ion’s
Maria and Ion soon invited me to their house – which is a tiny one-bedroom cottage about 500m up the road towards the Pociovalistei Gorge. Although they don’t seem poor (I’m not sure they have much money but they don’t really seem to need much of it – they are 90% self-sufficient), they don’t have running water in the house – they wash at the tap outside and there is a bucket of fresh water in the kitchen. Maria complains she has asked Ion to build a bathroom several times, but he simply hasn’t prioritized it. Top of the list is the renovation of another house they own – Ion wants to turn it into a pension (with a bathroom…) and has invited me and my husband numerous times to come stay when it’s ready. We might well take them up on the offer.
There is no way I can leave Maria and Ion’s house without food. The first time, I leave with a huge chunk of brânză (white cheese), a bottle of elderflower syrup, a slab of slanină (bacon), a jar of apricot jam, thirteen eggs and a jar of gherkins. Everything is homemade. The second time, when I visit with my husband (they invited us to dinner), we leave with a jar of zacuscă (an aubergine-based vegetable spread), half a litre of ţuică and half a litre of afinată (blueberry liquor) – Maria also wants to give us caş (a more mature type of cheese) the size of a small football but I explain there is no way we can eat it in a day (we are leaving the next) and it is returned to the fridge. I can’t help feeling a little relieved.
It’s almost impossible to categorize all these little stories. So I’ll make this a bit more impressionistic by leaving you with a few brush strokes:
The local dialect is amusing at times. Especially the frequent insertion of yeah, yeah – as opposed to da, da. It sounds so American and the people uttering the sound look so very Romanian that it makes me smirk every time.
It’s hard to walk or bike home from Ocoliş to Runc without meeting people you know – or who know you – or who don’t know you but want to strike up a conversation nevertheless. There were the four elderly people on a bench – they looked so lovely that I asked if I could take their picture. I could, provided that I’d send them a print. I’ll happily oblige. Getting home without a drink was hard at times too – although I didn’t mind sharing a ţuică or two with fun people after a day of work.
And here ends the lesson – I hope you can see why I have warmed to this little village. If you want to visit, you can stay at Tara Nomada campsite and hostel or ask me if Ion and Maria’s pension is ready. 🙂
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