October 26, 2006

Maramureş 9. Open air museums.

An Open Air Museum and an open air museum?

In modern Hungary, the vernacular variety of a century ago now survives only in its magnificent Open Air Museum, Skanzen , near the Budapest suburb of Szentendre, itself once an active artistsí colony. There you can find reconstructed villages and farmsteads from every region, as they were before their disruption of the Great War and homogenization during the following decades. Hay barns of wood and reeds, with roofs of thatch or shakes or tiles, illustrate the delightful diversity of the pre-industrial past. Beehives evoked in miniature the graceful domes of hay we had seen in their thousands.

Reed barn, Kisalfold region, 2006. Reed barn, Kisalfold region, 2006. Reed barn, Kisalfold region, 2006.
Beehives, 2006.Beehives, 2006.
And in the section entitled Upper Tisza, representing the region just across the contemporary border with northwestern Romania, we saw many structures, effectively but artificially preserved, of the living landscape through which we had recently traveled. Small piles of hay in the museum barns and soprons (here called aboras) were poignant or pathetic echoes of the dynamic panoramas of haymaking we had been privileged to witness.
Abora (hayshed), Upper Tisza region, 2006.Abora (hayshed) and sheep barn, Upper Tisza region, 2006. Wicker maize sheds, Upper Tisza region, 2006.

Haystacks are too seasonally ephemeral and their landscapes too extensive to be preserved as museum artifacts. Sentimentally, we yearn for Maramures to be protected as a regional monument to pre-medieval life and work. More modestly, perhaps the farms and fields of Anaís beloved Şurdeşti could be deemed worthy of the international reverence and protection already given by UNESCO to that villageís famous church. A precedent for this might be found in the Kaunergrat Naturpark in Austria which integrates traditional haymaking into Alpine scenery. Unless an unlikely alliance of imagination, politics, and funding is forged, the Romanian rural landscape may soon be transformed by EU regulation and investment into the ubiquitously humdrum international style of mega-bales. If youíve read this far, I urge you to go to the real Maramureş and see the regionally distinctive remains of vernacular hay, before it becomes fodder for the all-too-common market.

Maramureş ephemera: to Ana Iuga, with thanks.
Haystack, dawn, Şurdeşti, 2006.Abandoned house, evening, Şurdeşti, 2006.

The objects in this landscape have their own half-lives.
Mowed wilting flowers will drop their seeds and live again.
The damp windrows will be shaken free of dew,
heaped in mounds or mini-spires to lose more sap,
then piled and stamped into the bee-hive towers.
The haystacks in their hundreds will decorate the hills,
awaiting sleds of winter and transfer to the steaming cows,
behind the ropey wooden gates of yards and barns.

Those who scythe the flowers and wield the rakes,
fork high the hay and shape the summer domes,
then break them down to pile the horse-drawn sleds,
and raise the roofs of sheds to fit the fodder
for animals that work and make the milk and meat,
survive a while themselves then gravely settle down,
clustered in the shadows of the shingled spires,
under stones that eventually forget their names.

Mysteriously, through lore and love, they all live on.
Although the cherished hay may cede to baleful change,
and abandoned thatch uncured by smoke decays,
and the weather tears apart the shingle scales,
and blunts the edgy details of the gates,
and fades and cracks the color of the painted signs,
and erodes the words from the stone-stacked graves,
we shall always see them in each otherís eyes.

Posted by Alan Ritch at October 26, 2006 05:35 PM