I woke up to a cacophony of sounds of a big city, so close to downtown, I could see the cathedral spires from my window and hear the bells toll. The trolley bus running up and down the street below was filled to refuse with humanity packed like sardines, going downtown to work. A mass exodus of villagers occurs every morning and every late afternoon. Driving to work is prohibited by the high price of gasoline, the lack of parking spaces, and the deliberate narrow roads and streets, built at a time when only the ruling elites were allowed or could afford to purchase a car.
I took a picture from the window of my bedroom. The skyline is very crowded by drab high-rises that dwarf my cousin’s beautiful and elegant ocre-colored villa. This section of the street has not been demolished yet to make room for more utilitarian concrete twelve story apartment buildings. I love the red roofs on the remaining homes on Malu Rosu Street. They are so cheery in an otherwise landscape of grey and pollution filth. It has not rained all summer long, it is dusty everywhere and grass, unless copiously watered, is crisply brown.
The street is eight minutes-walk to downtown yet many homes still do not have running water – the city never attached them to the water department system. A few have their own electric pumps. Every morning there is a stream of people bringing buckets of dirty water and dumping them directly into the street drain. When the drain clogs and over runs into the street, the fetid smell forces residents to call the city’s water department.
I am fascinated by my surroundings yet it is so noisy, I miss my quiet home and the solitude of my woods. Anna’s cactus is in full bloom this morning. It started opening last night. The delicate white flower stays open 24 hours and then it dies. I saw it last year when it bloomed earlier. The warmer temperatures this year must have tricked its biological clock and it opened a couple of weeks later.
The hurried urbanites on foot from the surrounding grey and dingy high-rises crowding the landscape discharge into the streets like a huge colony of ants looking for food. True to form, a large portion of the citizens’ budget is spent on food and housing. For this reason, politicians like to bribe the lower class voters with tokens of food during campaigning, luring them to the voting booth on Election Day with food as well, including free bus rides.
Not much is illegal in this country anymore, the corruption is endemic. White collar crime or traffic offenses are seldom punishable. Most people know someone who can forgive their violations for the right cash payment or bartering other types of favors. A favor is not just something you do for a close friend or out of kindness, it is commodity money, and must be returned in kind.
Driving on the highly congested roads is a hazard in itself. Drivers never stay in their lanes because they do not exist as a painted space; sometimes one lane is occupied by three cars side by side and only a native can understand the irate hand signals indicating who has the right of way. Passing takes place on the right, on the left, in-between cars, on the shoulder, and on the sidewalk. Pedestrians are fair game even in designated cross-walks. Crowding three cars in a parking space designed for one and double parking are quite common.
Cousin Ana drove us to the abundant market, full of vegetables and fruits, flowers, and busy bees buzzing the nectar oozing from crushed fruits. I bought a purple mum and candles to take to my Dad’s grave in Popesti. The gas station attendant filled our SUV with $10 a gallon Diesel. I remained silent on the way to Popesti. Memories were flooding back as landmarks flashed by – the country school where my six cousins graduated from, the creek filled with fish where we bathed in summertime. The road was blacktopped and I was riding in a comfortable car instead of the communist bus smoking oil and fumes inside for two long hours, bumping us with every pot hole.
The cemetery seemed over run with weeds in some places but the view to the valley below was spectacular. I stood on the cliff, peering into the distance, re-living my 5 km walk to the country fair with Grandma and cousin Gigi. The trek seemed endless for five year olds but the reward at the end was worth it – a ride on the merry-go-around, freshly roasted corn, and a clay whistle or toy Grandma always bought us.
Wild flowers bloomed around the dilapidated church, which had fallen into disrepair because there were not enough builders for all the construction projects after the fall of communism in 1989. I had met an architect in Washington State earlier this year who told me that she had traveled to Romania to give pro-bono construction advice in many church projects in Maramures.
Dad’s cross has weathered so badly – he passed away 23 years ago, six months before the fall of communism. He would have loved to have seen the positive changes that took place since the demise of Ceausescu’s totalitarian regime.
I planted the purple mum and watered it copiously. The friendly owner of a house nearby lent me a shovel and gave me a bucket of water. He was playing with his little girl in the yard. I lit the candles and said a prayer in memory of my Dad’s sacrifice. It felt sad and comforting at the same time to be so close to the person who gave me life and freedom, to the places where we grew up and yet I felt such longing for my home in Virginia.
My heart ached for the unfulfilled past but rejoiced in the present. I was well enough to fly 7,000 miles to plant flowers on my Dad’s grave and pay my respects to his life cut short by the commies. America, the promised land, has given me so many opportunities that I would not have been permitted under communist Romania. Had I stayed, I would have been just another daughter of the poor and exploited proletariat. Because Dad let me go, I had a shot at a better life. I never squandered this gift.
The water well in front of the cemetery is dry now; people have their own hydro-pumps. The houses nearby are shaded by pergolas covered with grapevines laden with golden and red grapes, waiting to be picked. The crop is abundant and the grapes are especially sweet.
I took a few photographs and left my Daddy behind, alone but surrounded by such simple peace and tranquility. His resting place is sacred ground – he gave his life for what he believed in most ardently, freedom from oppression. I know he is looking over me from heaven because I escaped to freedom and I am able to carry on his legacy. I have touched so many lives in my career, he would be happy.