Friday 18 May 2012, 8.15am, Miklosvar, Transylvania
This village is very different from Viscri, not least in its appearance. The houses are Hungarian, and although some are influenced by the Saxon architecture, many of them lack the high front gates of the Viscri properties. And whilst it is remote here, the village does not feel as isolated.
We made an early start yesterday, taking breakfast at Viscri at 8am before leaving to be driven for about 90 minutes to Miklosvar. The main road was good, but as we came closer to our destination the characteristic pot-holes began to pockmark the roads. Csaba (a different one this time!) was our driver; he knew the roads well and we wove at high speed between the damaged areas of tarmac, and rolled intact into the guest house at 10.30am to start out on our tour almost at once, stopping only to fortify ourselves with a shot of brandy!
Our first stop was a family of woodcarvers who have been practising their craft in the region for 15 generations or more. Using a variety of tools they fashion the most intricate work – pocket knives are used to carve some of the smaller detailed pieces, through to chisels for some of the larger works. Some work is also painted using pigments they make from local minerals, grinding the rocks down by hand using a special stone and pestle. Most remarkable of all was a chain made entirely of individual wooden links, carved from a single piece of wood so that each link could remain intact. It took the current carver’s father and grandfather two years to make.
Just across the road we visited the Unitarian church: stark, white and majestically simple. In the centre is a simple table as an altar, and a high pulpit. The menfolk sit at one end, the women at the other, while in the centre is a small group of pews set crosswise, originally for the aristocracy and these days for guests. The unitarian faith began in the Reformation, and is characterized in part by belief in a single god rather than the trinity.
Next stop was a cemetery, where we saw further examples of woodcarving in the totem poles which adorn many of the graves. The traditional versions of these are made by hand, and the symbols carved into them tell you the story of the deceased – their gender, where they were born, how many children they had and (through the overall height of the pole) how long they lived.
Marble headstones also feature, many with birth dates but no death dates. These have been pre-installed by those still living to ensure they have a grave they like. In the older generation at least, death is seen as much more a part of life here, and is discussed and planned for openly.
One final stop before lunch was an old water mill, run by a lady in her late 70s and her two sons. We looked round the mill itself, powered by a fast-moving mill race diverted from the nearby river; and then we sat with the old lady in her kitchen snacking on toasted pumpkin seeds while she quizzed our young female guide Monica about whether she had made marriage plans yet!
By this time it was gone 3pm, and we were famished, so it was back to the guesthouse for a lunch of soup, stew and pancakes. Afterwards we took a short walk into the village to the hunting lodge, constructed in the seventeenth century for the Kalnoky family (the current generation of which owns the guesthouse). It is not in a great state of repair, but you can still get a sense of the grand parties and entertainments which would have taken place when the family came down to the country to hunt. Of course, all the property was confiscated by the state during the Ceausescu era, and so in a curious twist of history the building is now owned by the local government and leased back by the Kalnoky family!
We went home and once again, before dinner, we watched the last of the animals (this time from the Miklosvar herd) being driven through the village for milking. Whether in the contemplation of death, the planning of marriage, or simply the diurnal toing and froing of the cattle, the rhythms of life beat louder here – and tough as life may be, I reckon that’s something to celebrate.
This is the fourth in a series of posts based on diary notes written on a recent trip to Transylvania; but being posted now owing to the lack of internet access at the time!