October 27, 2006

Maramureş 1. Introduction.

Introduction: making a dream landscape real.
[Note: captions to the illustrations can be viewed by holding the cursor arrow over the image. Except where noted, the photographs were taken by Alan Ritch in September 2006.]
Dan Dinescu. Maramureş landscape. 2005.Dan Tataru. Lines and houses. 2005.

How could I resist the persuasive testimony of so many friends and hay-lovers who claimed that the Maramureş region of northwestern Romania was hay heaven? Conscious that cultural change was inevitable and possibly imminent, especially in view of Romania’s apparent intention to join the EU, my wife Margaret and I traveled to Maramureş in September, 2006. We wanted to confirm the reality of the dream-like haystack-covered hillsides, we’d seen in magazines, guide-books and innumerable online websites.

I’d already added about 200 Maramureş images to my own hayinart database, thanks to the vision and talent of such photographers as Kathleen McLaughlin , Davin Ellicson , Dan Dinescu (his autumnal hay is shown at left above), Dan Tataru (one of his magical winter scenes is at right above), Kosei Miya , Anamaria Iuga , and many others. I’d gained useful insights into the region’s historical, artistic, and anthropological context from art historian, Blue Guide author and intrepid tour leader Caroline Juler, the French architectural scholar Jean Soum (whose pictorial essay on Maramureş rightly considers its haystacks a form of vernacular architecture), a favorite Romanian ex-patriate Andrei Codrescu , and several illustrated emails from ethnographer Anamaria Iuga. And I’d been infected with enthusiasm for the place, its people and their hay-making practices by my first Romanian hay-mate, Anamaria Iuga.

One name appears in all three of the preceding acknowledgments. Anamaria had been virtually introduced to me by Caroline Juler, in a friendly comment to hayinart in April 2006: “It's fantastic to come across this website after returning from north-west Romania where a friend of mine is studying the ethnography of hay in one particular Maramureş village. She has already written some great articles about it and is keen to make contacts with other people who know about traditions connected with haymaking around the world. My friend's name is Anamaria Iuga and both she and her parents are ethnographers with a particular interest in that region.”

IUGA: Identitate, Unitate, Generozitate, Acţiune.
 Anamaria Iuga. The way of hay, Şurdeşti. 2005. Ana, Dumitru and Georgeta Iuga, Baia Mare. 2006.

To my delight, an email from “Ana” arrived the same week, and we began an instantly affectionate conversation about our mutual enthusiasm. She sent me her articles and several fine photographs, with the modest and inaccurate disclaimer that they were documentary not artistic (hayinart repeatedly undermines this dichotomy!) and fascinating accounts of local mythology. She wants to write a book with a clever title which I wish I’d invented but which apparently comes from Caroline: “The Way of Hay” (the small image above does not do justice to Ana's fine cover illustration). Her focus is hay folklore from the single village of Şurdeşti, famous for having the highest wooden steeple in Europe, and she is amused by my antic, dilettantic ambitions, aspiring to cover the whole world of hay from as many perspectives as possible. Her parents, Dumitru, a poet and philosopher and Georgeta, an artist and anthropologist, both eminent activists in the cause of cultural preservation, live in a small Baia Mare apartment, their shelf-lined walls overflowing with books and journals (see above right). Parallel virtual conversations with Ana, Caroline, and Kathleen McLaughlin, with whom I’d been corresponding for over two years increased my determination to visit their favorite place. The eloquence of Caroline’s brilliant prose and Kathleen’s equally brilliant photography were irresistible. That Caroline and Kathleen were already close friends with each other reinforced by social serendipity a sense of travel destiny.

Geographic variations on a common theme.
Moldovan haystacks.Ziffer. Landscape at Nagybanya with haystacks, 1915.

Our database of over five thousand images and the world gazetteer of a hundred and fifty hay places illustrate the astonishing geographic variety of forms created by those who have to dry damp grass just enough to make nutritious fodder and to stack it in durable shapes which must resist the wind and wet weather. The dualism of hay making and hay stacking, the first maximizing exposure to the sun and air to reduce its moisture, the second minimizing exposure to the weather to protect it, is imperfect, blurred by uncertainty during the drying process into a structural continuum. Traditionally the grass is successively laid flat by scythers, tossed by tedders, and then lifted from the ground into heaps or onto stakes or racks or tripods and finally onto domed stacks as high as a long fork can reach. So, after it is cut, the hay must first welcome the sun and then shed potential rain. But industrialization of the process, as we have shown in the Wales to Wisdom essay , has virtually eliminated geographic variety, simplified form and minimized uncertainty. Hay is baled in massive bundles too heavy to handle. Where the crop is moist or the sky cloudy, the bales are wrapped in plastic which ferments their contents into sticky fodder. By the end of the twentieth century, vernacular variations from industrial conformity, at least in Europe, had been pushed upwards into mountain meadows inaccessible to modern machines and eastward into regions unable to afford them. This essay, in nine parts, celebrates one of the last of these traditional hay-making regions, attempting virtual preservation, since its actual survival is unlikely beyond the near future.

Posted by Alan Ritch at 04:15 PM | Comments (1)

Maramureş 2. Vernacular variations.

The vernacular diversity of the Maramureş hayscape.

What makes the Maramureş hayscape so remarkable is the survival not just of one vernacular style but the juxtaposition of several. Paradoxically, for millennia, this area has been both crossroads and frontier, accessible enough to armies from the west and south and hordes from the east to push its boundaries and beleaguered occupants back and forth, to leave alien words on its maps and in its dialects, and diverse customs and beliefs in its folklore and its churches. Somehow, the Maramureş cultural core has persisted at the remote fringes of many empires: Roman, Ottoman, Hapsburg, Magyar, Russian, Soviet, and Ceausescuan. Before the end of the first world war, it was part of Hungary; soon after joining Romania, it lost its lands north of the Tisza to that part of Ruthenian Czechoslovakia which now belongs to Ukraine. Clearly visible across the river, more heavily forested Ukrainian Maramureş appears to lack the delightful patchwork quality of what remains south of the border and what we celebrate here.

From a single vantage point, overlooking the rolling hills between the Cosau and Mara valleys, we can still witness the polyglot vernacular of medieval haymaking in its charming diversity. If the artifacts are, as Caroline Juler eloquently describes them, “humanoid,” they range from ectomorphs to endomorphs, grown on wooden skeletons that range from skinny ragged stakes to tall, robust poles. Heavier grass draped on racks and hurdles has a more zoomorphic quality; and when the hurdles lean together the result resembles a primitive thatched hut, the drying hay pressing its claim irresistibly as a species of vernacular architecture.
Stacks and haycocks, Cosau Valley, 2006. Stacks and haycocks, Cosau Valley, 2006.

Stacks and haycocks, Şurdeşti, 2006.Stacks near Breb, 2006.

Stacks and haycocks, Cosau Valley, 2006. Stacks and haycocks, Cosau Valley, 2006.

Most of these shapes have historical and geographical cousins: the beehive-shapes along the Danube on the two-thousand year old column commemorating Trajan’s Dacian conquests ; stacks and haymakers in medieval Books of Hours , and in paintings by Bruegel , Rubens, Fattori , Pissarro , Gauguin, Nolde, Morandi, and Heade; photographs of Ireland, Scandinavia and the Balkans , Tuscany and the Tyrol. The Austrian art historian Kristian Sotriffer, roaming widely from his Viennese base, developed a morphological taxonomy of these hay structures (Heu und Stroh, 1990). Had he visited Maramureş, he would have been able both to complicate his categories and to find a continent’s worth of shapes in a single geomorphic basin.

Wooden structures: poles and racks.
Stakes and soprons in the Iza Valley, 2006.Hayracks near Barsana, 2006. Hayracks near Ieud, 2006.

Wooden tools: rakes and forks.
As deeply satisfying as the landscape of hay structures are the hand-made wooden tools which shape it. The rakes and forks of Maramureş are wonderfully similar to those in medieval illuminations; the simple poles used to carry mounds of hay towards the larger stacks can be seen in Pissarro’s paintings of Eragny , a nineteenth century sheet music illustration, and Emerson’s photographs of East Anglia; the make-shift log platforms that raise the stacks from the damp ground recall the nineteenth century staddles of Quebec and New England; the metal blades, an Iron Age invention, although reflecting alien manufacture and material, sustain the scythe’s centuries-old utility, reflected in its ancient iconic significance as a symbol of death. Of all the wooden tools the one which epitomizes for me the simplicity and strength of local haymaking traditions is the “furcoi” – the long fork which can reach to the top of the highest stack, far above the range of the shorter “furca.” It is selected from a straight sapling divided at its end into two or three sturdy branches, which, when stripped, cured and polished, become primitive but effective tines, capable of holding as large a bundle of hay as a strong man can lift.
Woman carrying wooden tools, Şurdeşti, 2006.Rake and fork, Şurdeşti, 2006. Georghe Fat using a long fork (furcoi), Şurdeşti, 2006.

Scythes and stones.
Berci family scythes, Sârbi, 2006.Scythe blades, Ocna Sugatag market, 2006. Scythe honing stones, Ocna Sugatag market, 2006.

Posted by Alan Ritch at 02:30 PM | Comments (0)

Maramureş 3. September's second cut.

A sunny September’s second cut.

Most of the hay in this region, as in most of the northern hemisphere, is made in June and July, after the melted snow and spring rains have grown grass and flowers to a suitable height. In some years, given enough summer rains and September sun, there is time for a second cut. Fortunately for us, in 2006, August was very wet, and our visit the following month coincided with brilliant sunshine. So we were able not simply to gaze on grand scenery of serenely static stacks, but to participate in the activity of haymaking, witnessing the prehistoric process in all its phases, the shaping of an ephemeral landscape and its temporary structures, and the application of ancient tools by people who seemed not just to tolerate our enthusiasm but to welcome it.
Stacks and apples, Şurdeşti, 2006.Stacks and haycocks near Breb, 2006. Stacks and haycocks near Breb, 2006.

Stack and hayrack, Danesti, 2006.Stacks and haycocks near Breb, 2006. Stacks and haycocks near Breb, 2006.

Stick figures in the hayscape: what Romanians call germans.
Ana informed us that the skinny humanoid stacks that seem to march across the fields are called "germans." My Romanian dictionary indicates that the Romanian for German is indeed German!
Germans near Breb, 2006.Germans near Breb, 2006. Romanian and german near Breb, 2006.

At dawn on the first morning of our visit to Surdesti, we heard, rising from the orchard beyond our window, the rhythmic swish of scythe against grass and the distinctive song of the honing stone. I stared down from our balcony, and the mower paused to stare back up at me, before reaching his blade under branches bent almost to the ground by their burden of plums.
Scyther, Şurdeşti, 2006.Scythers, Şurdeşti, 2006. Scything under a plum tree, Şurdeşti, 2006.

The sun rose, crossing a clear blue sky in its autumnal arc, casting a golden light, enough warmth to dry the grass, and enough shadows to give definition to the drama of the work. Our stay coincided perfectly with this brilliant haying weather, and clouds did not return until the day we left.
Tedding near Breb, 2006.Making tall Germans, Surdesti, 2006. Making tall Germans, Surdesti, 2006.

Posted by Alan Ritch at 02:02 PM | Comments (0)

Maramureş 4. Religious interludes.

Religious interludes.

But on two of our days in Maramureş, in spite of this persistent optimal opportunity to dry and stack the hay and in spite of the apparently tireless energy of those who did the work, the fields were abandoned, first to observe the feast day of Santa Cruz (Sfânta Cruce) and then for the usual Sunday of rest. Piety trumped the practical imperative to make hay while the sun shone. Ana told us a local legend on the price of non-observance. A farmer who made hay on Saint Peter’s Day saw his stacks turned to stone, and Ana showed us the proof: two cottage-sized rock formations on a hillside above Şurdeşti . So we too observed the feast of Santa Cruz, our own home town. And on Sunday we went to an Orthodox mass in an unorthodox, open-sided chapel above the Biserica of Sârbi. From here, during the moving but interminable and incomprehensible service, I could watch and worship, for several hours, the sun continuing its work alone in the half-cut hayfields across the valley.
Stone haystacks, Şurdeşti , 2006. Stone haystacks, Şurdeşti , 2006. Greek Orthodox Chapel, Sârbi, 2006.

Wooden churches.

We used the days of rest to make pilgrimages to several of the magnificent wooden churches for which this region is justifiably famous. Indeed the few foreign tourists we saw, while evidently indifferent to the holy hay, traveled from one biserica to another, admiring the remarkable carpentry and carving: soaring spires; delicately interwoven shingles on steeply graceful roofs; massively interlocked beams and tiny windows; and sculpted gateways profusely decorated with Christian and pagan elements.

Biserica, Şurdeşti , 2006.Wall, Biserica, Şurdeşti , 2006. Shake roof, Biserica, Şurdeşti , 2006.

Biserica, Ieud, 2006.Wall, Biserica, Ieud, 2006. Shake roof, Biserica, Ieud, 2006.

Botiza and Budeşti.
Biserica, Botiza, 2006.Biserica Sosana, Budeşti, 2006. Shake roof, Biserica Sosana, Budeşti, 2006.

 Biserica Yosana, Budeşti, 2006.Shake roof, Biserica Yosana, Budeşti, 2006. Shake roof, Biserica Yosana, Budeşti, 2006.

 Biserica, Sârbi, 2006.Shake roof, Biserica, Sârbi, 2006. Shake roof, Biserica, Sârbi, 2006.

The interiors were equally astonishing: rich in local rugs and tapestries; icons on glass; walls covered with narrative paintings on Biblical themes, often including lurid Last Judgment murals, with devils harrowing the damned, usually with scythes, sometimes with hay-rakes.
Isaac, Abraham and Jacob mural, Ieud, 2006.Last Judgment mural, Ieud, 2006. Last Judgment mural, Botiza, 2006.

For further reading on the wooden churches of Maramureş:
Ana Barca and Dan Dinescu. The wooden architecture of Maramureş. Bucharest: Humanitas, 1997. Many of the images in this handsomely designed book on the vernacular church and farm architecture of Maramures deliberately pose the less durable but equally iconic hay structures nearby, either as hill-covering patterns or as ephemeral shapes in graveyards and farmyards. Regrettably the captions rarely identify the locations and dates of the photographs, and so the reader can only assume that the stacks are everywhere during every season. Hard to find and expensive to buy. Fortunately, selections of text and illustration are online. Joby Patterson's Wooden churches of the Carpathians: a comparative study. Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 2001, is more modest in scope and size than David Buxton’s magisterial The wooden churches of eastern Europe (Cambridge, 1981), but her monograph is nevertheless very valuable, especially since it covers the Maramureş region on both the Romanian and Ukrainian sides of the River Tisza boundary.

Crosses and carvings.
Here are some examples of the crosses and the carved wooden porches and gateways which mark the entrances to every churchyard and traditional farmyard.
Roadside crucifix, Berbeşti, 2006.Mourning figures at crucifix, Berbeşti, 2006.

Churchgate, Şurdeşti , 2006.Churchgate, Breb, 2006. Gateway, Breb, 2006.

Gatepost, Budeşti, 2006.Gatepost, near Berbeşti, 2006. Farmyard with decorated barn, Breb, 2006.

Woodcarving, carpet weaving: Toader Barsan, Barsana and Roxie the priest's daughter of Botiza.
Toader Barsan carving a cross, Barsana, 2006.Roxie the priest’s daughter on a rug, Botiza, 2006.

Making hay in graveyards: Sighet.
The graveyards of Maramureş, crowded with ancient, indecipherable headstones, often had enough space for small hayfields, and the stones and stacks, so different in their functions, seemed companionable and complementary in form. Two cemeteries were particularly striking. Close to the center of Sighet, a large field surrounded by high walls is the site of an ancient Jewish graveyard. Only half of it is occupied by headstones. Thousands of Sighet Jews expected to use the rest died elsewhere in the 1940s. Hay, of course, is grown on the ground they would have occupied.
Headstone and haystack, Surdesti, 2006.Headstones, Jewish cemetery, Sighet, 2006. Sopron, Jewish cemetery, Sighet, 2006.Haystacks, Jewish cemetery, Sighet, 2006.

Haystacks, sopron, Jewish cemetery, Sighet, 2006.Hayrack, sopron, Jewish cemetery, Sighet, 2006.

Making hay in the Merry Cemetery of Săpânţa.
A few miles to the west, along the River Tisza, we visited the more famous and much more cheerful cemetery at Săpânţa, where each grave is marked by an elaborately carved and brightly painted monument, illustrating the lives of those who lie there with light-hearted verses and a picture of their favorite activities. Not surprisingly, the various stages of hay-making were well represented in these paintings, the men usually with scythes and the women with rakes, often with descriptive backgrounds of windrows, cocks, or stacks. One depicted a sopron, the local hayshed, clearly enough to show peg-holes in the posts. At the edge of the picture gallery of this so-called Merry Cemetery, a real woman was raking real hay.
Grave markers, Săpânţa, 2006.Grave marker, Săpânţa, 2006. Grave marker, Săpânţa, 2006.

Grave marker, Săpânţa, 2006.Grave marker, Săpânţa, 2006. Grave marker, Săpânţa, 2006.

Grave marker, Săpânţa, 2006.Grave marker, Săpânţa, 2006. Grave marker, Săpânţa, 2006.

Woman tedding in cemetery, Săpânţa, 2006.Woman tedding in cemetery, Săpânţa, 2006. Woman tedding in cemetery, Săpânţa, 2006.

Posted by Alan Ritch at 01:17 PM | Comments (0)

Maramureş 5. Making and stacking hay.

Making and stacking hay.

Around these holy intermissions, we watched the classic, secular narrative unfold. After the early morning scything, the flattened grass and flowers were left for several hours until the dew had left them. Then the tedders, women with rakes and men with forks, came to turn and toss the half-dried hay into loose windrows. By the end of the first day, if the air had been warm enough, these rows were consolidated into waist-high mounds. Damper weather or a denser crop, rich in broad-leafed herbs, would limit the rate of the mounding or the size of the mounds. Where the incipient hay was especially heavy, it was hung on the stakes and racks, raised from the moist ground, protected from the next night’s dew and shaped to shed unexpected showers. Drying strategies varied, in their details, from valley to valley, village to village, and meadow to meadow, according to subtle custom and conditions. When the hay was dry enough, the mounds were poled towards a platform made of logs and twigs, the imminent stack’s protective foundation, surrounding a tall pole, its supportive spine. The stacks took two or three hours to build.
Tedding near Berbeşti, 2006.Tedding near Breb, 2006.Boy in Spiderman shirt on stack near Calineşti, 2006.

The Făt Family of Daneşti.

We watched the Făt family build one of theirs on a hillside between their village of Daneşti and Ana’s Şurdeşti. Grandpa Vicentiu whom we’d seen working with his scythe earlier in the week, used a wooden fork to lift large clumps of still green plants meshed together by their hours in the rows and mounds, onto the staddle until the growing stack was shoulder high.
Vicentiu Făt with his scythe, Şurdeşti, 2006.Olga tedding, Şurdeşti, 2006. Măriuca and Olga cocking, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Măriuca and Olga cocking, Şurdeşti, 2006. Fat family raking, Surdesti, 2006.  Măriuca raking, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Then Grandma Olga climbed on top with a fork which she used to guide successive blocks of hay into their appointed places, dexterously maintaining her own balance and that of the symmetrical pile, stamping it into a consistent density, more compressed than the component forkfuls thrust up to her.
Vicentiu and Olga stacking, Şurdeşti, 2006. Vicentiu and Olga stacking, Şurdeşti, 2006.  Vicentiu and Olga stacking, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Vicentiu and Olga stacking, Şurdeşti, 2006. Vicentiu and Olga stacking, Şurdeşti, 2006.  Vicentiu and Olga stacking, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Vicentiu kept her busy and was himself kept busy by his daughters, Măriuca and Florica, repeatedly poling mounds to the base of the stack, and raking together residual mounds of the strands that were left. His grandsons, Andrei and Razvan, dressed in identical red and blue shirts with the “19” and “ Messi” on their backs, also helped, though with less consistent energy.
Olga on the stack, Şurdeşti, 2006.Andrei and Măriuca poling, Şurdeşti, 2006. Andrei and Razvan poling, Şurdeşti, 2006.

It was easy to befriend them, since I’d recognized their incongruous uniforms as the colors of Barcelona FC, club champions of Europe, and the name of Lionel Messi, the Argentinian soccer prodigy who’d migrated to Spain to make his fortune on grass far from his homeland.
Măriuca and her sons resting, Şurdeşti, 2006.Andrei holding fork, Şurdeşti, 2006. Razvan on stack, Şurdeşti, 2006.

After a couple of hours, when the stack was about ten feet tall, Vicentiu was joined in his heavy lifting by his son, Gheorghe, coming from his day job as a driving instructor, but evidently a strong and skillful user of the long furcoi, the best tool for lifting hay up to his mother, who by then was using a traditional rake to shape the dome as it began to taper in towards the central pole. When the stack had reached the furcoi’s limit and there was barely room for Olga to stand and stamp, Gheorghe lifted a large bundle of inferior hay, which had been left standing too long to maintain its sappy nutritive potential but long enough to create a straw-like texture, perfect for a rough, thatch-like roof. When this had been packed meticulously so that the stems sloped downwards, Vicentiu wove a tight wreath the size of a crown.
Vicentiu, Gheorghe and Olga building the stack, Şurdeşti, 2006.Vicentiu propping the stack, Şurdeşti, 2006.  Gheorghe lifting hay with furcoi, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Gheorghe lifting hay with furcoi, Şurdeşti, 2006.Olga arranging hay on stack, Şurdeşti, 2006. Vicentiu making wreath for the stack’s crown, Şurdeşti, 2006.

When I approached to look at it, I was shooed away, an unexpected breach of haying hospitality which evidently reflected the seriousness of this climactic moment. Balancing precariously on the summit, Olga took the wreath from the tines of the furcoi, placed it carefully over the tip of the central pole, and pushed it down so that it neatly plugged the last small space, sealing a potential conduit to protect the stack’s interior from the inevitable winter storms.
Wreath on furcoi, Şurdeşti, 2006.Olga taking wreath from furcoi, Şurdeşti, 2006. Olga placing wreath on central pole, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Since the top was now just beyond the ladder’s reach, Grandpa had to raise it off the ground, until Grandma’s feet were on the top rung. Then, effortlessly, he eased it down and braced it until she was safely off the structure they’d made together. The sun set on the final stage: Gheorghe’s carefully grooming every surface so that the stems pointed down, the better to shed the rain.
Olga climbs off stack, Şurdeşti, 2006.Gheorghe grooms stack, Şurdeşti, 2006. Finished stack at sunset, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Posted by Alan Ritch at 12:17 PM | Comments (0)

Maramureş 6. Architecture and husbandry.

The architecture and husbandry of Maramures hay.

We saw parts of this process repeated, with minor variations, weather-proofing domes of hay throughout Maramureş. In some fields the stacks were clustered like affectionate families; elsewhere they were scattered equidistantly.
Gate, staddle, stack, Cosau Valley, 2006.Stacking near Berbeşti, 2006.

 Stacking near Breb, 2006.Stacking near Breb, 2006.  Stacking near Breb, 2006.
Humanoid stacks near Breb, 2006. Humanoid stacks near Breb, 2006.

The soprons of Maramureş.
In the valleys of the Mara and Cosau, they were sheltered by adjustable wooden structures, hay-sheds with roofs that can be raised and lowered, known locally as soprons, in Hungary as aboras, and in the Netherlands, where our friend Wim Lanphen is tirelessly collecting every surviving example, as hooibergs. The Dutch brought them to Manhattan in the seventeenth century, and they were common in New England and as far south as Pennsylvania until the early twentieth century. They survive in Maramures both in the fields and near the farmyards, where they serve as fodder storage structures, from which the insatiable cows, confined in the milking sheds for most of the year, can be conveniently supplied.

Sopron, Berbeşti, 2006. Sopron, Berbeşti, 2006. Sopron, Calineşti, 2006.
 Sopron, Calineşti, 2006. Sopron, Sârbi, 2006. Sopron and animal shelter, Rozavlea, 2006.

Moving the Maramureş hay.
Anamaria Iuga estimates that three haystacks are enough to feed a single cow through the winter months. The rest are shared among the other livestock: the horses, oxen and buffalo that pull the summer wagons and winter sleds; the pigs that also convert squash and slops to protein; and the sheep that migrate with the seasons from the high pastures of summer to the winter valleys.

”Wagon, Wagon pulled by buffalo, Deseşti, 2006.
”Girl Wagon and handcart, Cosau Valley, 2006. Petru, Vasili and their wagon, Sârbi, 2006.

Posted by Alan Ritch at 11:27 AM | Comments (0)

Maramureş 7. Technology and culture.

Middens to mechanization: technology and culture.

The medieval hay landscapes of Maramureş are glorious relics, preserved and annually renewed by the hands and muscles of local farm families. The repetitive intensity of the work required, mowing, drying and stacking the hay with wooden tools, and transferring it successively with poles and wagons and sleds from fields to stacks and farmsteads, is unlikely to survive the temptations of labor-saving technology. Already the signs of cultural transition are evident: satellite dishes share wooden balconies with drying vegetables; washing machines save women from bitter visits to the traditional wooden whirl-pools in icy winter rivers; in-house plumbing may soon subvert the ubiquitous out-houses near the cowsheds; and middens in which human and animal waste are mixed may not survive international regulations, if and when Romania joins Europe.

Haysleds and middens.
Sleds, midden, Sârbi, 2006.Midden, Sârbi, 2006. Sleds, midden, Budeşti, 2006.

Maramureş farm food.
Petru milking, Sârbi, 2006. Corn crib, Sârbi, 2006. Squash for pigs, corn for mamaliga, Sârbi, 2006.

Cabbages, Sârbi, 2006. Cabbages, Budeşti, 2006. Onions, Budeşti, 2006.

Beans, Budeşti, 2006. Peppers, Botiza, 2006. Apples and abandoned house, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Oats for the animals only.
Kathleen McLaughlin has a fine image of oat-stook construction accompanied by an informative caption about staking and threshing oats, which, like the squash near the corn-crib above, are just for the animals.
Oat stooks, Sârbi, 2006. Oat stooks, Sârbi, 2006. Oats, threshing machine, watermill, Sârbi, 2006.

Maramureş public art.
Drying clothes, Budeşti, 2006.Drying clothes, Budeşti, 2006. Scarves, market bridge, Botiza, 2006.

Four men in their Sunday hats, Sarbi, 2006.Pot tree, Botiza, 2006. Ana’s pot tree, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Cultural transitions: bodies on wagons and on the ground.
Wagon carrying car body, Deseşti, 2006. Light switch, pot, woodstack, Sârbi, 2006.

Dish, drying beans, Sârbi, 2006. Mannikins, market, Ocna Sugatag, 2006.

Hay dolls and uncut grass around the plum-trees.
In the field surrounding the the country headquarters of the IUGA Foundation, dedicated to the preservation of rural traditions and decorated with dolls of twisted hay, we saw and heard the successor to the scythe cut down the grass and flowers far more rapidly and far more noisily than the latter ancient tool. Labor is saved, and the sweet song of the scythe drowned out by the new device. Above its racket, serving us hay-tea on the balcony of the wooden house, Anamaria observed that it was incapable of mowing around the plum trees’ trunks, where a fringe of uncut, wasted grass would reveal the evidence of progress.
Mechanized mowing, Şurdeşti, 2006. Mechanized mowing, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Hay dolls, IUGA Foundation, Şurdeşti, 2006. Ana, Toto, IUGA house, Şurdeşti , 2006.

Posted by Alan Ritch at 10:31 AM

October 26, 2006

Maramureş 8. The Baia Mare School.

Maramureş hay in art: the Baia Mare (Nagybanya) School.

Once the metropolis of Maramureş, Budapest is now of course in another country. But the Hungarian National Gallery preserves several paintings of Maramures hay from a century ago when several post-impressionists moved from the capital to the ancient mining town known as Nagybanya or Baia Mare. This art colony in the provinces had many 19th century precedents in western Europe and New England: the Barbizon school; Pissarro and Cezanne in Pontoise, Gauguin and Bernard in Brittany; the Hudson River School ; I Macchiaioli in rural Tuscany; and others. Each of these schools was inspired by nostalgia for a rural landscape that was already disappearing; many of their members found in the traditional haystack, a perfect symbol for agricultural ephemera. Those who took their easels into the villages and hayfields of Maramureş would have been pleased to see how much of the scenery would remain unchanged for another hundred years, continuing to inspire artists, craftspeople and photographers in the twenty-first century.

Bela Ivanyi Grunwald (1867-1940).
Drying clothes, 1903.Burning autumn, 1903

Simon Hollosy (1857-1918).
Haystacks, 1912.After the harvest, 1908.

Claie de fan.Nightfall.

Sandor Ziffer (1880-1962).
Landscape at Nagybanya with haystacks, 1915.Landscape, 1913.

Samu Bortsok (1881-1931), Janos Mattis Teutsch (1884-1960), Istvan Reti (1872-1945).
Bortsok. Farmhouse.Mattis Teutsch. Haycocks, c1916. Reti.  View of Nagybanya, 1918.

David Jandi and Imre Szobotka (1890-1961).
Jandi. Haystacks, 1925.Szobotka. Landscape at Nagybanya, c1930.

Twenty-first century continuity: Mariana Ionaitescu (1952- ), Silvia Boar, a Botiza rug.
Ionaitescu. Haystack, summer.Boar. Haystacks. Haymaking motif on Botiza rug.

Posted by Alan Ritch at 06:23 PM | Comments (0)

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 artists’ 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 Ana’s beloved Şurdeşti could be deemed worthy of the international reverence and protection already given by UNESCO to that village’s 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 you’ve 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 other’s eyes.

Posted by Alan Ritch at 05:35 PM | Comments (0)