Monday, October 18, 2010

I Hate Mondays

When I was still gainfully employed I, like many of my office-rat peers, was not generally pleased when Monday came around and woke me out of my weekend-induced torpor with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Now that I'm on the road I am no longer beholden to the Mon-Fri working week and generally lose track of which day it is. Nevertheless I still manage to find reason to hate Mondays. It's common policy in many places, especially those not on the well-trodden tourist path, to close their musea one day a week, which usually happens to be a Monday. And so it was today as I ambled around Târgu Mureş, every place I wanted to visit (admittedly not many, but still) was closed for the day. So I was limited to just wandering the streets and watching the people pass by as I sat in the main square and basked in the rare October sun. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to Maramureş.

The road from Maramures to Transylvania passes some beautiful mountain passes, decked in their autumn raiment.

The road south from Maramureş passes through its historic, but admittedly not that pretty, capital of Baia Mare (the name - Big Mine - says it all, as large chimneys and mining plants dominate the outskirts, although many of them are no longer operational due to poor economics) before snaking over a mountain pass, through forests turning yellow and gold, and entering Transylvania. Everyone has heard of Transylvania thanks to Bram Stoker and Dracula, and no visit to Romania will be complete without talking about them. But not today.

Transylvania occupies a large northwestern chunk of the country and is made up of gentle hills hemmed in on three sides by the wide, horseshoe arc of the Carpathians. Although part of Romania now, for almost 1000 years the region was either part of (Austro-)Hungary or ruled by Hungarian princes, with Hungarians and urban German traders comprising the elite, whereas the majority Romanians were mainly peasants and serfs. It didn't become fully incorporated into Romania until after World War I and there remain sizeable chunks of territory where there is a majority Hungarian population. The feel of the towns is also more strongly central European, which is particularly visible in the ecclesiastical buildings. Whilst the rest of Romania and Romanians are overwhelmingly Orthodox, Transylvania has a mish-mash of more Western Christian denominations, with Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Unitarians, Greek-Catholics and even Evangelists (although these are fairly new to the scene). And so there is a church for every taste. In the east of Transylvania there is even a region which is majority Hungarian (known as Szeklers) and where you are more likely to see and hear Hungarian rather than Romanian. For nationalist politicians this is an easy, populist, card to play to stir up disgruntlement and tensions. But it has been my experience from talking to people (albeit not in any scientifically controlled way or with a statistically significant sample size) actually within Transylvania, from both ethnicities, that the groups generally get along fine and have few problems with each other (although there doesn't seem to be much mixing between them). Instead it has been people outside of the region, who don't actually have much/any contact with the Hungarians, that have had the most negative views.

Plaque put up by Cluj's Hungarian major to spite the Romanian nationalists stating that Matthias Corvinus (the father of Dracula and a Romanian national hero) was in fact Hungarian. The truth is that in those days there was no concept of the modern nation-state and he was both.

And so now here I am, in Târgu Mureş, a town split effectively 50/50 between the two communities, relaxing a little, trying unsuccessfully to decipher signs in Hungarian, watching the young students laughing and chatting in the cafes, and waiting for Tuesday to come for me to visit the town museum before heading off for my next anthropological destination. But more of that in my next post...

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