“Oh no, you better head on tomorrow.”
One of the three men’s voices sounds a bit melodic. He’s either drunk or it’s his English. I guess it’s the former since the three of them look to me as some city types on a holiday in the village.
Lukáš tries to interrogate them more about the road lying ahead but they don’t seem to intend to repeat themselves. We better leave it for tomorrow.
Aha. So it’s bad.
“Wait a minute. I’ll call someone I know who has a guest house. You can stay there.”
Even before I object, the long-haired one of the three dials a number on his phone. Meanwhile Juley wakes up (but of course!) but isn’t crying for now. I guess he just wonders why we’ve pulled over in the middle of the village under the orange light of a street lamp.
“They have free beds. It’s thirty euros a night. Do you want to stay there?”
It’s really sweet of him. But we don’t want to pay thirty euro (if we had, would I have drunk coffee from Burger King?). In such situations I normally come up with some half-truth of the “no thanks, we prefer sleeping in tents” sort. However, now I’m being honest, “Thanks a lot but that’s expensive for us. We’ll go on.”
I say this with some sorrow. It’s midnight already. We have no idea where we’re going to pitch our tent. Juley is awake. I’m sleepy. Can’t we just pay the stupid thirty euros and go sleep in a bed?
In cases like this one Lukáš is uncompromising: we’re going to sleep in our tent, so that no one disturbs us. I usually consent silently but inside I always shed a tear at the thought of a bedsheet. Like I do now.
“Okay, so do you want to sleep in that man’s house then? For free.”
The long-haired man points at one of his friends. I stare at him with ill-disguised hope. He’s dressed in short summer clothes and wears a long “tube” across his body of the type you use to lock your bike.
Lukáš is about to object but I ask with that sort of impudence that is always forgiven to women, “And where is it?”
They point at the building behind them. Lukáš begins to roll his eyes and protest silently but nevertheless we’re already outside the car. I’ve put Juley, blinking with confusion, in the Manduca carrier and I’m ready to use teeth and nails but to defend the possibility for us to sleep under a roof tonight.
It turns out the house is being renovated. Although it’s past midnight, inside, a young man is still painting a wall in white.
“Oh dear, how are they supposed to sleep here…,” the long-haired one starts to worry while we’re walking inside the high rooms with wood floors and antique furniture covered because of the renovation. The man with the tube points at mattresses we can sleep on. I can already see the “no” rising up on Lukáš’s face so I hurry to add, “Well, we can always pitch our tent in the garden.”
(A tent in a garden is something completely different than a tent in the middle of nowhere.)
“Have some grapes,” the house owner says with gestures. We do, although the sleep problem hasn’t been sorted out yet. I’m too amused and excited to worry about Juley. He seems to sense that because he isn’t whining; he just stares, confused, and wonders where the hell we are.
We find out the man with the bike lock has recently bought the house and is yet to live there. I wonder if he intends to turn it into a guest house.
“No, no, you can’t sleep here,” the long-haired one resolves. Conversations in Romanian follow (it sounds so much like Italian); the three of them seem to be arguing about something but eventually it becomes clear we’re going to another house. While waiting outside, I learn all the three of them are painters and that the long-haired one – Gheorghe – has Hungarian-Czech origin. He says his father was Czech.
We get in the car and follow them across the village which already has a name – Socolari. We cross a shallow stream and pull over in front of the house. The paved road ends at a tall fence with a gate. We immediately realise we’re not being led into an ordinary village house. Lukáš seems to be hesitating whether he should go in but I’m already hurrying ahead behind the three men.
We enter a garden that has a little modern building on one side. Gheorghe’s studio. I wish all artists, who don’t need darkness, a studio like this one. Big glass doors on two sides, a roof with a few windows with shutters and space for hanging huge paintings. Like his are.
We walk into the studio. Juley wants to go on the floor. He’s already in that strange state of total exhaustion when he laughs and babbles weird stuff with a peculiar shine in his eyes. Huge canvases hang from the walls. Most of them have farm animals in cathedral settings. Awed, I ask Gheorghe whether the sheep in the cathedral symbolise the herd behaviour. “Could be,” he shrugs. For someone who paints such huge things so well he’s surprisingly modest. A bit too much even.
Then I go back to the prosaic world because Juley has a desperate need for sleep. It’s already one a.m. after all. Gheorghe takes us into the yard where the main building is. An old but renovated stone-clad house. In front of it there’s another smaller garden which goes down to the stream flowing on the other side. I see places to sit everywhere, as if that’s not a garden but a park.
Right across from us there’s an open space without walls with red leather furniture and musical instruments. Something like a stage.
“You’re really glad you’re here, right?” Lukáš says with some mixture of feelings in his voice. It sounds like irony but is not exactly because I know he’s glad too. “Yes,” I reply joyfully.
Then we enter the house and Gheorghe shows us where we’re going to sleep. The living room looks like a maisonette, with the second “floor” having just a bed. There are no walls. Steep wooden stairs lead to it. Basically, if Juley rolls off the bed while sleeping… well yes… he’s going to fall over from about two metres of height. Gheorghe suggests I put him to sleep on his bed and take him upstairs later.
So sweet… I happily accept the suggestion and immediately begin putting Juley to sleep on his queen size bed. Lukáš and the three Romanians’ voices fly in through the open window. They’ve sat in the garden for a chat. Gheorghe’s massive bed is also quite high so I spread one of our sleeping bags on the floor and quickly send a prayer to the God of Small Children to protect Juley from rolling off of it.
When I go back to the garden, there are already drinks, bread and cheese on the table. It’s a bit cold. After a while comes the boy who was painting the wall in the house we were before. I find out the third guy from the party is his father-in-law. They sit next to each other at the table and I think they’re exchanging jokes but there’s no way I can learn if that’s the case.
Gheorghe tells us he’s from Timișoara but lives and creates here in the summer. He doesn’t miss the city life because each weekend his house gets full of people. Hence the stage and all these places to sit. I picture parties in the summer nights where people talk about art in the shadows until the morning.
At our table, the subject jumps to art and then goes back to prosaic things again. We talk about Romanian artists and Romanian music. The only thing I think of is that incredibly annoying Romanian song that goes like: “nu ma nu ma iei – nu ma nu ma nu ma iei” (Dragostea Din Tei). They must consider me really superficial, I think, but that can’t be farther from the truth – they just look the song up on YouTube and we all listen to it and then comment on how annoying it is.
Gheorghe is the only one we can speak English with and while he’s telling us something, the man with the bike lock and the father-in-law launch a long argument in Romanian (have you ever heard people arguing in Italian? well, it’s just as amusing to hear people argue in Romanian). It’s about art and history and Gheorghe just waves a hand and announces both of them crazy. It seems like a similar storyline develops itself each night at that place.
He tells us about how some time ago plein airs took place in Socolari. Now he and other artists are buying houses here not just because it’s the perfect place to create (during weekdays) but also because they have an idea to found a gallery containing works by local authors. Sounds wonderful to me.
Then he brings an album of his paintings and gives it to us as a present. I open the bio page. Solo exhibitions in Portugal, the USA… Could our host be some big fish in Romania’s art sphere? Almost each painting has the name of its present owner underneath. I see a Tudor surname and jokingly ask him if the owner of this painting of his is somehow related with the Tudors. We’re still joking about that when I open the next page and see something written below: “Part of the Prince of Wales’s collection”.
Okay, Gheorghe is a big fish in Romania’s art spheres…
And… okay, what are the chances that we take the wrong road and end up in some godforsaken village and have apparently one of Romania’s most influencial contemporary painters host us?
Gyus. There are no wrong roads.
It must be nearly three o’clock and we’re dying to get some sleep so we help Gheorghe clean the table and enter the house. It seems the guy with the bike lock across his body goes to bed with it, accompanied by the father-in-law and the boy. We carefully go up the wooden stairs and lie down on the mattress under the triangular roof. Juley wakes up and starts crying but I quicky soothe him. Then we sleep like babies after a bath.
P.S. Excluding the bath in my case.
We get up at seven (thanks, Juley) and go out in the garden. Everyone (but us) has hangover but no one is lingering in his bed. We drink coffee and I finally take a shower. What a bliss! What’s more, Gheorghe’s bathroom is really spacious and his bathtub looks a bit antique and is not completely fixed to the floor. Just like one of those I’ve seen in pretty pictures of interiors. Bathtubs on a wood floor in a spacious loft-like flat with a view to a city. You know what I mean, right? Well, his bathtub isn’t in a loft but it’s funny how, while I’m showering, it slightly rocks from left to right and back. I also bathe Juley who isn’t very thrilled but quickly gets over it.
Then we take a picture as a souvenir in Gheorghe’s bright studio, we thank him sincerely and head on. He also has to leave for Timișoara. He’s dressed in white trousers and a black T-shirt and only carries an old leather bag. Lukáš thinks: a) he wears no underwear and b) has a great style. I think he envies him a bit. 😀
What I will remember about him is not just his great talent but also his modesty. I have no idea what kind of a person he normally is but he certainly doesn’t look like someone who wears his fame like a medal.
I’ll also remember him with his friends. Especially with the owner of the first house who, believe it or not, still had the bike lock across his body in the morning. (The photo below proves this! :P)
I guess I liked them so much because there have always been such people of art around me. People who have one leg in the world of ideas and the other – here, in the real one. But they’re not split. On the contrary. Balanced. That’s what I’d call them. They don’t look down on you just because you’re not a creative. They don’t need so much to constantly mingle with other people of art. Perhaps because they have nothing to soak in. They carry everything inside themselves.
Not that I mind those people of art who, purposefully or not, don’t belong to the world of normal people. It’s just such modesty and equal treatment in an artist always make me really impressed.
It’s a beautiful morning. The village houses are drenched in sunlight. We stop at the local drinking fountain to fill our bottles with spring water. And here’s the first contradiction of the day. The entire sloping bank of the spring that runs below the fountain is covered with junk food packages. It looks horrible. How can people who live amid such beauty not mind this littered bank?
Something stings me within because I know it’s the same in Bulgaria.
We leave the village and Lukáš, who didn’t take a shower at Gheorghe’s, takes out the travel shower in the middle of the road. When cars pass by, he hides but generally he doesn’t mind soaping and washing himself amid the country road. I brush my teeth and Juley is looking at us from inside the car, making silly faces.
We descend the hilly area. We need to go back to the Danube and take another road to get up the mountain in order to reach our main destination – the Czech village of Gernik.
We stop in Moldova Nouă – a town on the Danube – where we intend to find some small local restaurant and eat Kačamak. It’s noon and it’s awfully hot and stuffy. We explore the streets by car but find no place that gets closer to our idea of a small local restaurant that offers Kačamak. In the end, we park the car and resolve to try the cafe across the street where, according to a woman passing by, the food is good.
There’s music thumping in the cafe; the tables outside are short and uncomfortable; inside, the furniture looks like it’s dating from the 90s and there’s no one. We browse the menu but there are only terribly looking pizzas and sandwiches so we leave.
We find a bakery and grab a pastry each. As soon as I bite into it, I regret. Haven’t I told myself zillion times not to buy Bulgarian-like pastry? I’m tired, I’m hot and the pastry, which is bad in general, seems a hundred times worse to me. We eat them on a bench in front of a block of flats where there’s shade.
Sometimes things like not having anything good for lunch can really crush my spirit. Not always, just sometimes. But today is one of those days. I start complaining that the pastry is bad and Lukáš starts getting annoyed because of my complaining. What about Juley? Juley makes it clear he won’t be eating the pastry. Smart child. Since I have nothing else for him, my crushed spirit gets joined by a feeling of motherly guilt.
Good mothers always carry food for their babies, right?
And once again… thank God I still breastfeed. Here’s to milk making up for mom’s recklessness…
We head to the market where I hope I will at least buy him a nice juicy tomato and many many peaches because I know he loves them. Well, today is obviously not a day for visulaizations to come true. The market consists of exactly two working stalls which we reach walking down some partially broken little path with screaming Chinese goods taken out alongside.
It all seems disgusting to me. And ugly. And too much. I recall Gheorghe’s beautiful house and the bread and cheeses. I wonder if the fact I prefer the spacious stone-clad house with little but carefully selected stuff to the messiness of this town means I’m a snob. Right behind the market there’s a block of flats in a miserable condition. One man looks at me from his window and that’s it – I can’t bear any more squalor.
Again, I start complaing and Lukáš – to get annoyed by me. Unlike me, messiness really amuses him. I try to explain to him that I grew up amid stalls selling barking toy dogs, flashing rods, clothes hanging from stands outside; amid broken cars, fingers that have become yellow with smoking, old women with a hunchback selling woolen socks and pretzels in the cold; amid yelling Roma people in old sportsuits; amid broken pavement tiles and stray dogs; amid old calendars with photos of naked women; amid Turkish carpets of the lowest quality; amid cigarette butts in the puddles…
… and all that makes me sick. In those special days. In the rest of the days it doesn’t; I accept it but it definitely doesn’t inspire me. I certainly don’t want to take a photograph of it, as Lukáš does. Lukáš very often makes me feel “creatively bad” for the fact I am impressed or take photos of beautiful things. As if only ugliness and squalor can be interesting.
I think of one of my dreams – to go to India. Am I sure? If only the taste of the greasy pastry, the stalls selling Chinese clothes and the deteriorating block make me feel like that, what would I feel amid the misery of India? I guess I shouldn’t go there exactly.
I share that with Lukáš and he gets even more annoyed with my complaining. Whatever. I remember the statement that men don’t like listening to complaints because they feel they ought to do something about them. I cut the conversation. We better pay some attention to our child who must have eaten nothing other than milk today. We buy him grapes. Even they’re not as sweet as expected. But anyway.
I already can’t wait till we get out of Moldova Nouă. We go back from where we came, pushing the pushchair along the Danube on our way to the parking space. It’s really stuffy now and we see stormy clouds over the hills behind the town.
“What are we going to do if it rains? We’re going to stay at someone?” I ask, hopeful. The thought of sleeping in a tent in the rain or, even worse, of it raining all day and of us having to play with Juley in the tent – makes me feel even worse.
The car goes up the mountain road. I surrender myself to the flow of events – always the most reasonable strategy on the road. And it works – just a few turns above there’s no trace of clouds. Sun is shining again although each time we go up the temperature slightly falls.
Cars with Czech licence plates pass us by. It’s really weird that right here, in this distant corner of Romania, lives a Czech community. I don’t know what to expect.
A bit before Gernik we see blackberry bushes alongside the road and we get off the car to pick some. Finally something tasty today. Juley adores all types of berries. We pick blackberries and give them to him over the open car window. My mood lifts like the stormy clouds. Up here, in the mountain, things are simple, harmonious; nothing is screaming; everything matches everything; there are no ugly things. I like it.
After the last ascent the woods disappear and the road goes down. We see the first houses behind the fields.
We’re in Gernik now.
Things that impressed Lukáš:
Photo credits besides Juley’s close-ups belong to Lukáš