Sunday, December 23, 2012

Jingle Bells

It started out like any other day. That is, until the phone rang at 7 AM and pulled us from our warm and happy sleep. Lucia was on the other end, urgently telling Sarah that we had exactly one hour to get ready to go to the country and kill the Christmas pig.

How to dress is always a question when we go to the country in the winter. We know it's going to be incredibly snowy and cold outside, but we also know that the wood stove is going to be baking inside. The key is to dress in layers so that we can find a way to be comfortable in any situation. I put on three layers on the bottom, five layers on the top, and two pairs of socks. It wouldn't be enough.

Time for a quick geography and civics lesson. Small towns in Romania are organized into communities, normally named after the largest village in the community. Lucia's sister, Mirela, lives in the community and village of Păstrăveni. Her parents live just down the rutted dirt road in the same community but in the village of Lunca Moldovei.

We stopped quickly at Mirela's to pick up her husband so that we would have enough manpower to handle the pig, and we started off for Lunca Moldovei. In the best of conditions, the road is rough, but we've been getting hammered with snow lately. Right now the road is just wide enough for a single car, with 3-6 foot embankments of snow on either side.

We were about 1/2 mile into the drive when we encountered a car that had been heading towards us, high centered and stuck, with a horse cart waiting behind it. This is the very definition of a Păstrăveni traffic jam. The car was easy to get moving again, but we were warned to discontinue our porcine pilgrimage so we turned back, defeated.

Defeated, that is, until someone thought of Ionel and his one-horse open sleigh. We stopped by his house to find his wife home alone. She sadly informed us that Ionel couldn't help us, because he was currently playing Santa Claus at the local school. I kid you not. If we were patient and played our cards right, we might get to dash through the snow, o'er the fields, in Santa's one-horse open sleigh. Would it be too much to ask that the horse would have jingle bells? No. It wouldn't. And I can personally attest to laughter all the way.

So, back to Mirela's for a few minutes while we waited for all of the Santa Clausing to finish up. Did I mention it was cold and snowy? So cold and snowy that in the span of 30 minutes the house lost power and the water stopped running. Mirela's husband, Costel, boiled snow on the fire to try to warm the pipes so that the water would flow again. Just another day in the Romanian countryside.

After a while, Lucia's brother, Vali, gave Ionel a call. Vali knows how to motivate. The conversation went like this: "Hey Ionel! I just got into town from the seaside. Come on over to my sister's. We've got beer! Oh, by the way, bring your sleigh."

"Ionel" means "Little John." Yeah, right. This man is a titan. A colossus. A giant. When he shook my hand, I remembered what it felt like to be a child whose hand was devoured by an adult's. After he arrived, we quickly hopped on the sleigh. As I was climbing aboard, the sleigh started to move and I immediately fell off. Since nobody noticed, I had to run for it and hop on before they were gone for keeps.

At this point I began to wish that I had literally worn every article of clothing that I own. The wind and blowing snow from the field was colder than anything I have ever felt. It couldn't keep us all from laughing and singing sleighing songs, though! Because the snow was high and the going was so tough for the horse, we could actually hop off the back of the sleigh and run a bit to keep warm.

When we made it into Lunca Moldovei, we cheered, and vowed to warm ourselves by the fire, pardon the pig for a day, and immediately go back home. The weather was too bad and the day was quickly turning into afternoon. We just didn't have time to finish the job. But you know how it goes. You get warm and comfy by the fire and you feel like you can do anything. The pig was about to be in for some bad news, and Ionel was the messenger, as he had been for 7 other pigs already this year. Time of death: 12:37 PM, December 20, 2012.

A pig slaughter is a long, complex business, and I had the stomach to witness the whole thing. If you want the gory details, you can read them on Jeremy's blog. In the process, I learned that there is a single word in Romanian that means "to burn the hair off of a pig" (a pârli). I can also say with certainty that you haven't lived until you have washed down a bite of fresh pig skin with a shot of moonshine, using the hollowed out hoof of said pig as a makeshift glass.

About halfway through the process, the pig is covered in a blanket "to rest." This is the time for the photo op and for everyone to come out and take a ride. I think every family has a slightly different belief on what this accomplishes. Ionel promised me increased sexual powers for the new year. See how happy I look?

As the sun was getting lower and lower in the sky, someone made the astute comment that horses do not have headlights. Lucia had to work the next day back in Pașcani, so we had to get home. But there was still work to be done. Lots of work. I have learned to relax in seeming crises like this, because the Romanians are relaxed. But this time it was different. Lucia was visibly agitated, and Costel seemed downright worried. If the weather got any worse, and we were out after sunset, it could get dangerous fast.

Part of the "work" was eating the traditional first meal. Nobody would dream of skipping this, no matter how dangerous the weather might get. And if there is one thing I know about Romanians, a meal is never rushed. The first meal with the pork is called friptură, and it is a mixture of meat and fat thrown into a giant cast iron pot and cooked over an open fire. It is eaten with mămăligă (polenta) and pickled cabbage. The rest of the pork will be salted, smoked, turned into sausages or soap, or eaten right away for Christmas. Ionel gave a prayer before the meal, a few more glasses of moonshine were poured, toasts were said, and we tucked into a feast.

As we said our goodbyes and hopped on the sleigh again, dusk was just starting to fall. A plow had cleared the road. Costel and Lucia had been seemingly worried for nothing, but we weren't quite home yet. About half way home, we encountered an abandoned car blocking the entire path. We all jumped off the sleigh to assess the situation, and just as we did, the horse decided to go for it and take the most direct route through the 3 foot snow bank. He didn't seem to remember that there was 15 foot sleigh attached to him that also needed to clear the car. With a lot of heaving and hoeing and shoveling snow by hand, we managed to get the sleigh in the right place. It came within an inch of side swiping the car. Worse, Ioan was almost trampled in the process. But on we went.

Thankfully, on this cloudy night the horse didn't need headlights going through the snowfield; it was still bright, long after the sun had been extinguished behind the snowy hills in the distance. I took a moment to relish the silence and beauty surrounding us, a silence broken only by the soft jingling of sleigh bells and the quiet laughter of great friends.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Look Closer

Dumbrava Loredana

At the end of the last school year, I remember thinking that I was yearning to do something more as a Peace Corps volunteer. I was happy to have made it through the year as a teacher, but I felt like all of my secondary projects were either small or I was just helping out on someone else's project. If I had finished my service then, I wouldn't have felt like a failure exactly, but I definitely would have left unsatisfied.

Inside, Ioan Agripina

I tried to think of a passion of mine that I might have in common with some students, and so I started a photography club. Now, I can look back on the first semester and easily say that this project has made me feel like a successful and happy volunteer. (Thanks to Evie and RPCV Sara for their cameras - we use them every week!)

Toma Marta

Here are some things I have learned while doing this project:
  • There is a reason that Peace Corps service lasts for two years. The first year I was getting comfortable with the language, culture, my job, my students, and my town. By the time I decided to start the club, everything was in place and it was easy to get it off the ground. 
  • I prefer "teaching" English in an informal setting, outside of the classroom. The students are engaged in what we're doing and we end up communicating without forcing anything.
  • My students are incredibly creative and talented photographers! I think I am learning more from them than they are from me.

Ionița Vlad

Every week we go on a photo walk looking for interesting images, and last week was my favorite one. It had snowed a little in the morning, so I was hoping that we would get our first shoot with snow on the ground, but unfortunately it melted. On our walk, we were milling about the town center and I was desperately looking for something to liven things up. I wondered aloud to one of the kids if they thought we could get into one of the rooms on the top floor of the hotel, just to see the world from a different perspective.

Loghin Elisei

None of the kids really thought it would work, and frankly I didn't either. But I also figured that it couldn't hurt to ask. The worst that could happen is that the receptionist would look at us like we were crazy and then say no. Instead, she looked at us like we were crazy and called security.

Muscalu Alexandra

Thankfully she wasn't calling security to kick us out. She was calling to see if they would help us. The guard actually took us up onto the roof and hung out with us while we were up there. And instead of missing out on the first snow of the year, we got to see it on the peaks of the surrounding hills.

Gabor Sabastian Alexandru

As we were finishing, one of my students turned to me and asked, "How did you know he would let us up there!?" I said, "I didn't know. I just thought it was worth asking, and what did we have to lose anyway? Not asking would have the same as if they had told us no." For me, it was a great moment where I got to teach the benefits of confidence and having the courage to try for something unexpected. The security guard told me that we were the first people that had ever asked to go up to the roof.

GuitarRobo', Panainte Maria

I hope you enjoy a few of the photographs that I have sprinkled throughout this post. To see more of their incredible work go to our Facebook page. Here's one from the hotel rooftop!

Doroftei Bianca

Monday, December 3, 2012

Traditional Costumes

A few weeks ago, Theron and I were lucky enough  to dress in traditional costumes specifically from Pașcani. Below are pictures of volunteers in costumes from all over Romania. While Romania is only about the size of Colorado, the costumes vary widely from village to village. You'll notice that Romanians like to mix prints. This explains a lot about current Romanian fashion.

Theron, Sarah, Stephen, Kelly, Matt, Melissa, and Anthony (Pașcani)

Andrea (Novaci)

Ellie (Bicaz)

Kevin (Sarasău)

Melissa (Suceava) and Jovanka (Sângeorz Băi)

Chips (Baia Mare)

P.S This post goes out to Heather. 

View Costume Map in a larger map

Friday, August 17, 2012


We're proud to have had 10,000 views to Two Years in the Making! One of the three goals of Peace Corps Romania is to promote a better understanding of Romanians on the part of Americans. We're proud to say that we've done this and more. People from 65 countries have read our stories. Who knew so many people would be interested in our Romanian adventure?


I'm also gratified that our most popular post, Orange Curtains and Red Pleather has earned us the first page when you google "orange curtains." Try it!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

House of Stone

One of the highlights of our summer was being included at the wedding of Vic and Bianca, part of our adoptive Romanian family. Weddings here are a 24 hour affair and include a lot of traditions. Here are a few.

The wedding day starts with a small party at the bride's house. The bride and grooms' rings are put in a bowl of wheat grain. The grain represents abundance for the couple. The bride and groom search for their rings using their pinky fingers. The one who finds his or her ring first will be the most hardworking of the couple. It seems to me it would be better not to find your ring!

Vic and Bianca find their rings.

In Romania, the bride and groom have spiritual godparents. Our closest friends, Lucia and Cristi, were Vic and Bianca's godparents. In this picture, Lucia is making the sign of the cross while holding a special bread (called colac) over Bianca's head. She then throws the bread in each direction of the cross. This foreshadows the wedding ceremony when the priest will crown the bride and groom. The throwing of the bread shows the bonds between the family and the couple. It meant a lot to me that I was one of the people to whom the bread was specifically thrown.

Lucia throws the bread over Bianca's head.

Sarah catches the bread.

After this first party, the family goes to the mayor's office to make their wedding official. There's another small party there. Then everyone goes to the church for the religious ceremony.

Bianca is crowned by the priest and Lucia, her godmother.

As part of the wedding ceremony, the couple, the godparents, and the priest dance a traditional Romanian dance (horă) around the altar three times. If the bride steps on the groom's feet, she will be the head of the household. If the groom steps on the bride's feet, he will be the head of the household. Bianca stepped on Vic's feet three times! No one was surprised.

When the couple leaves the church, they carry large candles which burned throughout the ceremony.  They extinguish them on the top of the door frame. The goal is to extinguish the candles at the same time, because the person who extinguishes his or hers first will be the first to die. Again, I'm not really sure being first is ideal.

Vic and Bianca extinguish their candles.

Around 9 pm, the reception begins. Interestingly, there's no expectation that guests go to both the ceremony and the reception. It is more common for people to just go to the reception.  It includes a five course meal with dancing between each course.

Towards 2 am, the bride is stolen by friends. (They don't have groomsmen and bridesmaids here.) I seem to remember that my parents were stolen at their wedding, so I'm guessing this custom is also Czech/German/Polish. In order to rescue the bride, the groom must drink champagne from the bride's shoe. 

Vic drinks champaign from Bianca's shoe.

Towards the end of the reception (about 5 am), the bride's veil is removed and replaced by a headscarf. This symbolizes her transition from a "Miss" to a "Mrs." In the countryside, married women still wear headscarves. 

In Romania, they also throw the bouquet, but both unmarried guys and girls can catch it. The bride's brother, Alin, caught the bouquet this time around. He and his girlfriend, Roxana, are considered the next in line to be married. To symbolize this, Bianca's veil was put on to Roxana and Vic's boutonniere was pinned on Alin. We'll see if they're really next!

Alin and Roxana receive their boutonniere and veil. 

Casa de Piatra, Bianca și Vic!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Pop Pătru, woodcarver from Breb, Marămereș, Romania

Theron, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Stephen, and I were lucky enough to spend a few days in Breb, Marămereș, Romania. Breb is a small village where people still wear traditional costumes on Sunday. Our favorite adventure involved a visit to the local woodcarver, Pop Pătru. I met him by accident at our small hostel and invited ourselves to visit him the next day. In typically welcoming Romanian fashion, he replied, "Vă așteptăm!" which literally translates to "I am waiting for you!"

So, the next day we ventured out to find his house. The directions were pretty vague, "Go that way and then ask someone where his house is." We eventually found it, but when we arrived, no one was there. After a few minutes an ancient, stooped-over woman walked across the yard with her cane. Then out came an old man with holes in his shoes, tattered clothes, and a ratty old straw hat with a Marlboro ribbon above the brim.

Pop Pătru, Breb, Romania

Pop Pătru and his wife led us to their workshop. She makes amazing wool blankets from yarn she spins by hand (without using a spinning wheel) and then weaves (using a loom that for some reason includes chicken bones). According to Mr. Pop, these blankets are so warm, they will make you sweat even in the winter.

He then showed us some of his carvings. He was hardly modest, claiming that he was born with a wooden spoon in his mouth! His boasting had merit - we had already seen one of his most amazing works: the wooden gate to the church. In his workshop we saw crosses, spoons, ornate tools for spinning yarn, and stamps used for consecrating bread in the Orthodox church. We were glad to hear that his son and grandson are carrying on the carving tradition.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Jesus' Diapers

Today was another great day in the countryside. It's my favorite place to be in Romania. We are so welcome there that it doesn't matter if our comprehension plummets as soon as we cross the city line. Sometimes truth here is stranger than fiction; sometimes what we understand in Romanian seems like fiction, and we have to double check to make sure we got it right.

As we were wandering through the garden and learning the names of the plants, Theron saw what he thought was a marijuana plant. After many jokes and a lot of explanation, we realized it was actually a hemp plant. The fibers are used to make traditional Romanian costumes. Even more amazing to us, the seeds are used to make a special Christmas dessert called Jesus' Diapers (Scutecele lui Iisus). This time we triple checked.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

All Worth It

The school year is over and I'm finally writing my first post about teaching English in Romania. I haven't written yet because my thoughts have been too muddled. The transition from being the person helping the teachers to the person helping the students has challenged most of what I thought I knew about education. I've done things in my classroom this year that would make my educational heros cringe. Plus I've struggled to operate within the Romanian education system which has some practices and assumptions that conflict with my values and knowledge about teaching and learning. Still, I must have done something right. An eighth grade student wrote this and read it at his class graduation.

You meet in life people with whom you bond above words, people that see in you much more than you see, and make the decision to work with you until you discover that part of you that you didn't even know was there. These people are made for your soul and one of them is my English teacher, a teacher that managed to reach to our souls by her way of being open, amusing, and understanding.
I wish that all of your days in life are special and the days at school are like holidays.
With respect, admiration, and friendship,
Yours truly,
Palade Valentin and Class 8B

I'm proud that my belief in the potential of each student has shone through the fog of this year. My year in Romania has been worth it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Teacher for a Day

I want to brag about my wife for a little bit. She's an incredible teacher because she believes that her students can and will excel. She trusts them, and therefore she gives them challenges and opportunities that other people don't even imagine are possible.

The Peace Corps has given us the option to create small group Romanian language weekends. If we want to participate, we think of a creative idea, design a curriculum, and find a teacher. Then we invite other volunteers from our region and the Peace Corps pays for travel and expenses. Past weekends include touring the Bucovina monasteries and learning to cook various Romanian dishes (all while speaking Romanian, of course). 

But I think Sarah has had the most inspired idea yet. She decided to turn the tables and ask her students (ages 13-14) to teach us. 

There are so many beautiful things about this idea. Many students are smart and hard-working, but may not be comfortable in English. This gives them the opportunity to interact with their teacher and other Americans in a new way. It also gives students an opportunity for leadership. If they're thinking about a career in education, it translates directly, but this kind of experience is useful for almost any job. 

One of the biggest lies we tell children, through words but mostly through deeds and attitude, is that we know better than they do. My favorite thing about this experiment is that it gives the students the opportunity to be experts in a subject where adults aren't. 

Seven American volunteers visited for the weekend and a total of 10 student teachers worked in groups to teach thirty to sixty minute lessons. Topics included adjectives, summer vocabulary, music, dancing, touristic places, and holidays. The kids have been learning more than just English from Sarah as well. The classes were dynamic and the pacing of lessons was excellent. We played games like Bingo and a cool trivia game called Zong. And, the teachers always asked if we understood the material and patiently answered questions. The bonus - we got prizes! They know how to motivate!

In the end, the project was a huge success, and I think it would be easily repeatable. Way to go Sarah and way to go to our awesome student teachers!

Friday, April 6, 2012

How Are You?

How many times a day do you think you ask the question, "How are you?" I'd estimate at least 20: every phone call you make, each coworker you see, and don't forget the barista at Starbucks.

Well, after being in Romania almost a year, you would think I would be proficient at such a simple question. The problem is that the question "How are you?" literally translates to "What are you doing?"

It's an acceptable answer to say that you're doing well, but it is much more common for people to explain exactly what they are doing at that moment. For example, people will tell you they're at work (while you're talking to them in the teacher's lounge), they'll tell you they're talking (meaning to you), and they'll even tell you they're in the bathroom if you happen to meet them while washing your hands. I still haven't figured out what I'm supposed to say in response to their answer..."Wow! That's funny, I'm in the bathroom, too!"

For a while I thought of the question as an equivalent of "What's up?" In the States the most common answer to that is, of course, "Nothing!" But, here you're met with blank stares or open shock, as if to say "How could you be doing nothing? Did you stop breathing?"

Then yesterday, the inevitable happened. I asked someone "What are you doing today?" expecting them to tell me their plans for the day. But what response did I get? "Good!"

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Pugs in Pașcani

Sorry, this post isn't about the Pug dog, but a local graffiti artist (or criminal depending on your viewpoint). I've seen the tags all over town for a while & decided to head out for a photo shoot the other day. It's tough to represent a city in photos, but here is a bit of Pașcani through one lens on one day.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mărțișor: The First of March

Mărțișor from Our Students

Today Romanians celebrate the beginning of spring with the holiday of Mărțișor. It is an ancient holiday based on a legend about the beginning of spring. On this holiday people exchange small trinkets with red and white ribbons. The trinkets provide good luck and ward off evil. The colors signify the unity between contrasts: summer and winter, cold and hot, light and dark.

Ladybugs are particularly lucky!

Handmade from paper

Hand crocheted

The Legend of Mărțișor (thanks to Raluca from the Peace Corps Romania office for providing this)
Legend has it that hundreds of years ago an old woman by the name of Dochia had a daughter-in-law whom she hated. One cold day in late winter, Dochia gave her some black wool and told her to go to the river in the mountains and wash it until it was pure white. The young woman was afraid of her mother-in-law. So she went to the river and spent hours washing the wool in freezing water. For all her efforts, the wool remained pitch black. The young woman began to cry. Suddenly, a man appeared before her. He told her his name was Mărțișor. "Why are you crying?" he asked the young woman. After hearing her story, Mărțișor said he had magic powers to help her. He gave the young woman a red and white flower. He told her to wash the wool one more time and then take it home. The young woman put the flower behind her ear, washed the wool, and carried it home on her head.

When she got home and looked at the wool, she was speechless. The wool was white as snow. Old Dochia couldn't believe her eyes either. She had been sure her daughter-in-law would never be able to wash the wool white. Suddenly, she noticed the flower in her daughter-in-law's hair. "Where did this come from?" she asked. "It’s still winter." The young woman then explained how Mărțișor had helped her. Old Dochia started jeering at her daughter-in-law. She did not believe a single word of it but thought instead that spring had already come to the mountains.

Old Dochia owned a herd of sheep and decided it was probably time to take the animals to the spring pasture in the mountains. She took a dozen sheepskins to keep herself warm on the way. It was a warm and sunny day when old Dochia set off but freezing rain started in the mountains when she got there. Old Dochia changed her coats one by one as they got wet. When she had to take the last coat off, Mărțișor suddenly appeared before her. "How does it feel to be standing here in the freezing rain?" he asked. "You didn't think it was too cold for your daughter-in-law to wash wool in the river all day long, did you?" He then told old Dochia that he was responsible for the weather changes that had caused her so much trouble. Mărțișor disappeared. Old Dochia was left alone in the mountains. The sheep wandered away. The old woman froze to death and turned into stone. All of this had been the work of Mărțișor. It was after old Dochia turned into stone that spring finally came.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Very Superstitious

One thing that is most interesting about living in another country is that we can clearly see superstitions everywhere. There are a few superstitions that Americans have in common with Romania (such as a black cat crossing your path and spilling salt), which I find to be very intriguing. I wonder where these belief systems come from and how they live on. Another strange thing we have noticed is that Romanians from different parts of the country do not necessarily agree on these superstitions, even to the point where they are completely opposite.
  • The most prominent one is curent - basically everyone we have met believes that this is science. It's a breeze that can cause everything from fevers to toothaches. Here's a great article from The Telegraph that explains it much better than I can: Where Draughts Are Truly Dangerous. The  article fails to mention that you can prevent the dangers of curent by putting cotton in your ears.
  • Depending on the part of the country, a woman can't leave the house after her baby is born until:
    • the baby is baptized
    • for 7 days
    • for 7 weeks!
  • If you break a drinking glass or break a dish, it is good luck
  • If you step in dog poop, it is good luck
  • If you leave something at home and go back for it, it is bad luck
  • If you see a priest on the street, it can either be good or bad luck depending on where you live
  • You should put red on a baby after baptism
  • Breaking a window is bad luck
  • Spilling pepper is bad luck
  • Instead of crossing your fingers for luck, you hold your fists tightly
  • If your right palm itches, you will give money away. If your left itches, you will receive money (or opposite depending on the part of the country)
  • If your right eye twitches, someone is saying good things about you; if your left eye twitches,  they are saying bad things
  • If your nose itches on the outside, you are in conflict with someone; if it itches on the inside, you've got good luck
  • If you hiccup, someone is talking about you
  • Breaking the heel of your shoe is bad luck
  • Putting your clothing on inside-out is bad luck
  • If you put your bag or purse on the floor, you will lose money
  • Women who sit at the corner of a table will not get married
  • You should have money in your pocket on New Year's Eve to have a prosperous year
  • You have to wear red underwear on New Year's Eve
  • On New Year's, you should eat garlic, fish, lentils and grapes
  • Finding a horseshoe is good luck, and so is hanging one over the door of your house, but you have to hang it like a "U" so that the luck doesn't fall out
  • Giving an even number of flowers is bad luck, because you give an even number at a funeral
  • If you give a wallet as a gift, you should put a small amount of money in it so that the recipient is prosperous
  • If you have a headache, someone may be speaking ill of you. You should light a match and use it to make the sign of the cross. Then put the match out in a glass of water. Do this three times. Then throw the water out. If the matches are thrown out with the water, the person wasn't actually speaking ill of you. If they stay in the glass, you have cursed the person speaking ill of you
  • Many horses have red baubles hanging near their faces to bring good luck
  • If you sweep under a girl's feet, she won't get married
  • If the bride steps on the grooms foot on their wedding day, then she will wear the pants in the family
  • If a boy wears a necklace, he'll marry an old woman
  • If you refill a woman's glass of alcohol before she is finished, her children will stutter
  • For a funeral procession in the country, you put drinking glasses and buckets in the wells for children to throw coins into
  • If your bucket comes up empty from the well, you will have bad luck
  • If a woman walks barefoot or sits on something cold, she can freeze her ovaries and won't be able to have children

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Voroneț Monastery

Some of the most sublime features in our region of Romania are the painted monasteries of Bucovina. Back in July we visited the Voroneț Monastery, built in 1488, during the reign of Ștefan cel Mare. The exterior paintings were done during his son's reign in the mid 1500s. The west wall is the most amazing, in its nearly perfect state of preservation. The paint itself is only a fraction of a millimeter thick, and the beautiful blue color cannot be exactly reproduced to this day. The recipe for Voroneț blue and the explanation for its preserved state are both deep mysteries. Some might even call them miracles. The west wall tells the story of judgement day. You can see the white, Christian Romanians going to heaven, and the dark-skinned Islamic Turks being judged harshly. In fact the monastery was built to celebrate a successful battle in the region. There are many parts of this fresco that I do not understand. There are animals who look like they have eaten humans, with body parts hanging out of their mouths. There are people dressed in something like a mummy wrap in square boxes or boats. There is a scene with an octopus and a whale, with a giant human holding a large ship. There is also a curious mixture of astrology with zodiac symbols across the top of the scene. This single fresco seems rich enough in its symbolism for a PhD thesis. Something to do after the Peace Corps?

Monday, January 16, 2012


The computer I use to edit photos has been out of service for a while, but it's back in business. Now I just have a backlog of over 6,000 photos to go through. For those of you complaining that I'm not taking enough pictures, it's definitely not that. The problem seems to be just the opposite! Here are a few new ones from our trip to București and Fieni. We were welcoming our fellow volunteer Jon back from a trip to the U.S.