Growing up an only child in the suburbs of various big cities, I spent lots of time entertaining myself, pretending to be somewhere I wasn’t in a time gone by. I used to dress up in my most peasant-like skirt and blouse, put on an apron, and, after I learned to fold a paper napkin into a Dutch coif, I added that to my costume. I was then a village girl from somewhere in Europe in some indeterminate time. I did simple things like gather inedible
berries (the kind that intoxicate birds) in the yard and wash laundry by hand in the bathtub, a substitute for rocks and a river. I imagined mountains and quaint villages in valleys and herds of goats. (I had read all the Heidi books.) So, ten years ago when I learned about a folk art tour to central Europe, I began to think that one day I might really see things that I used only to pretend.
In late May of this year, I went on that trip – to Hungary, Ukraine and Romania. It was jam-packed with visits to potters, weavers, painted monasteries, Secessionist buildings, castles, dirt-floored, embroidery-embellished churches, gorgeous scenery, fields of deep red poppies and nesting storks. We heard exquisite music from a children’s chorus at a monastery deep in the country and explored Bran Castle, which may or may not have been visited by Vlad the Impaler. It’s really quite charming and cozy. We ate lunch at a gorgeous ski resort in the Carpathians and had coffee at a chic outdoor café in Brasov, which bills itself as “Probably the Best City in the World.” We saw people walking to church in traditional costumes in beautiful villages, monumental hand-carved gates in Maramureş and fanciful well-houses that looked like gingerbread gazebos. It was more wonderful than I’d imagined.
Joyce Corbett has been guest curator for several exhibitions of central European art and artists at the Museum, the latest being BETWEEN EAST AND WEST – Folk Art Treasures of Romania. It was she and her Romanian colleague Cristian Szarka who led this group of the Museum’s members and friends to places we would never have known of, if we’d gone on our own, traveling from remote village to more remote village to most remote village. In each we found a treasure – a backyard visit with a woman in traditional costume, who explained its meaning and history one day and a wine-tasting in someone’s cellar another. We visited the lady who paints eggs and the lady who paints glass icons. We were welcomed at many stops in the traditional manner with warm smiles and a tray of small glasses containing pálinka an equally warming Hungarian plum liqueur or its Romanian counterpart ţuicá. We spent nights in great comfort and feasted on wonderfully prepared stews, soups and, in Romania, mămăligă, a delectable polenta concoction. It was a moving feast in the company of delightful, accomplished, interesting people.
Enough for now. More to come.
One of the delightful pensions at which we stayed. We each had our own little house at this one.
Tramping along a road in the Carpathian
Worshippers at a painted monastery
Romanian pottery. We all bought a little.
A gate in Transylvania
Joyce with the costume lady