Only last year, four of my friends chose to travel into the future. They moved to London, NY, Paris and Vancouver. I envy and applaud them, knowing what this meant for them, just as anyone who has read the article about the 50 cities of the future on page 34.
I decided to do the opposite, to travel into the past. So it was that, six months ago, I left Bucharest for a little cottage where deer come all the way up to your doorstep, with an orchard of old trees and a stream close by, in a village in Mures County. I hope I will still have a chance to choose one of the marvels of the urban world later on, but for now I don’t want to miss the twilight of the traditional Romanian village.
Maybe it’s a whim, as my mother says. I, however, like to think of it as a fundamental experiment: chopping wood, making a fire in the stove, picking mushrooms, washing yourself with water from a kettle, eating by candlelight, going to wash your rugs in a churning spot in the stream, growing your own vegetables, visiting your neighbours “to trade stories”. That doesn’t mean I’m not still tied to my laptop or that I say no to travelling – I hope to be able to see as much of this world as possible. But we all need a nest.
Romania’s tattered mantle still has hidden pockets where you can feel as if you’re living just like in the old days, in a world ruled by customs passed down through the generations, where one’s work is dictated by the calendar of nature and religious holidays.
If you’ve seen a film called Jean de Florette, you know how hard it can be for airheaded city people to integrate into a small, isolated rural community. But I think I’ve succeeded – at least compared to the beginnings, when Imparateasa (“Empress”), one of our matronly neighbours down the hill, solemnly informed me, one freezing morning: “We asked at the post office and that magazine you say you’re working for actually exists!”
“When are you bringing us tourists?” I keep hearing now from friends who insist on taking me to see beautiful places so I can lend a hand to the area’s development. How can I tell them that I wish things could stay as they are, as much as possible? I believe that this “voyage into the past” could have been Romania’s great touristic selling point. Not the Black Sea, not the little leaf logo for the Carpathians. Unfortunately, time has lost patience with the world of the genuine village. The avalanche of change is already rolling and it will sweep everything in its path. The proportions, rules and good taste specific to traditional rural architecture, costumes and habits have been decanted through the centuries. It is good that, for a few years now, people have been able to travel abroad and come back with money. It is a pity that they are embarrassed about the aspects of traditional life, which they replace overnight with hasty imports. When paired with new and poorly digested ideas, wealth tends to produce monsters. The future is crashing on top of us brutally, like a deformed, prematurely born embryo. And there is no place where you can feel it more deeply than in the villages.
*The Editor’s Note published in the summer 2015 edition of the Romanian National Geographic Traveler