Finding himself in central and eastern Europe in the summer of 2007, the hay pilgrim again felt the irresistible magnetism of that northwestern region of Romania known as Maramureş, especially since a huge, traditional wedding of a beautiful Romanian friend would coincide with his visit, and especially since his inefficient but entertaining ramblings in search of hay in southern Germany and the northern Alps had proved to be less productive for the hayinart database. The summer was too wet and the technology too advanced to for any traditional haymaking to survive north of the Alps and west of the Carpathians. After a bizarre series of irrational journeys, from Germany to Geneva to Gatwick and back to Budapest, with a sideways shuttle to Beograd and back again to Budapest, he rented a PT Cruiser (like last year’s but cherry red), and drove six hours further east, to Eden.
Explorers of this sprawling website may have stumbled across a suite of ten illustrated esssays on the magic of Maramureş, written a year ago. They will remember that this corner of Europe is one of the few where hay is made in the Bruegel style and where haymaking itself is a vernacular craft of the most appealing kind.
And they will understand the appeal of the added incentive, the wedding of the daughter of Petru Berci (star of one of the finest hay photographs ever taken), an event which promised to be Bruegelian in itself. So here, in two parts, is an account of another week in Maramureş: first, some new hay discoveries; and second, some highlights of the remarkable wedding in Sarbi, an event which caused hundreds of celebrating villagers to set aside their scythes, rakes and forks for a whole weekend, and which, like other nuptials documented on this site, allows hayinart similarly to interrupt its primary industry.
Rediscovering the appeal of Surdesti haystacks.
Having arrived in Surdesti after dark, I rose early next morning to discover that the haystack was as beautiful as I had remembered it. Indeed the stacks in and around Surdesti were all as fine in their shapes and textures and juxtapositions as they were last Autumn.
Dried hay and drying clothes (homage to Grunwald and the Baia Mare School).
The most prominent painting on the second floor of the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest is Bela Grunwald’s dazzling 1903 depiction of brightly colored clothes drying on a line next to a haystack already dried by the same sunshine. This motif still appears repeatedly in the Maramureş landscape.
Stacks, stones, shrines and spires.
The juxtaposition of haystacks, grave-markers, road-side shrines, and towering wooden spires remains an irresistible theme of the durably sacred and the ephemerally profane.
Stacking hay near Breb.
The spectacular road which runs along the ridge between Sarbi and Breb offers a vista of hay meadows and apple orchards. Last year, there were no tractors in the landscape. Here a bright little red tractor hitched to a load of apples stands next to a haystack in the process of completion. The tightly woven corona, to be fitted as a plug around the central stake, was full of summer flowers. The old man on top carefully took it from an extended furcoi, then climbed down the ladder. The feet that had compressed the hay were bare. Resting under an apple tree, he pulled on his sandals, while the rest of the family gave their names to the scrupulous professional, my photographer friend, Kathleen.
Repairing old stacks.
Imperfectly compressed stacks sometimes separate from their summits, and become even more humanoid. On the road along the Iza Valley, I saw a man, hanging on the central stack, twisting and stomping in an effort to pull an older stack back into respectable shape.
Drying hay near Slatioara.
Judging from the wonderful variety of strategies and structures for drying hay beside the road to Slatioara and Glod, we assume that the grass in that narrow valley is particularly thick and damp. A simple geometric classification would summarize the forms, in ascending order of their frequency into triangles, rectangles, and linear exclamation points. But such reductionism does inadequate justice to variations on these themes, the visual rhythms which decorate the meadows, the stages of their construction, and the skill of those who shape them.
The changing sopron.
On behalf of our Dutch friend, Wim Lanphen, and his heroic fascination with haysheds with adjustable roofs (soprons in the local dialect), I collected a few examples which I’d missed last year. Among them were inevitable signs of decay and startling evidence of non-traditional materials, including a roof of corrugated plastic, lime-green in color!
Technological change and a Hungarian postscript.
The hand-pushed mechanical mower which has begun to replace the scythe has evidently effected another change. Along with their traditional roles as rakers, women, as well as men, can now be seen cutting the grass. But technological progress in Maramures has fortunately far to go before it catches up with that of the modern farms of neighboring Hungary. Looming near the M3 motorway, southwest of Eger, near the village of Ludas, is what may be the world’s tallest haystack, a metal-framed structure, about six times higher than the highest stack in Romania. I paused during my rush back into modern Europe, and hiked back a mile or so from the nearest freeway exit to try to make sense of this monster. The end view, from the south, gives a certain industrial dignity to the tall narrow structure with its diagonal wire supports, apparently delicate but evidently strong enough to resist the winter easterlies that blow uninterrupted across the Hungarian Plain . The view from the west, revealing its full width, shows an irregular, shaggy sagging which is almost zoomorphic, both as a whole and in each modular frame. It is impossible to know whether this is the haystack of the future or some eccentric engineering aberration.