Pop. . . pop, pop. I lifted my head and listened closely. Gunfire? Was someone prepping their BB gun to deter crows and pests from their vegetable patch? Unlikely, but it sure sounded like it. Slowly lifting my eyes over the fence I saw a man with a very long rod beating his vast area rug draped over a bench. Plumes of dust scampered around the edges of the textile and then disappeared into the sky. His rhythmic raps continued endlessly. Next, his rug would be placed on a cement slab on the ground or a table and scrubbed ruthlessly before finally resting on the fence in the sunlight. In spring, Turkish, Persian and brightly colored Romanian-made rugs come out of the house and line fences and walls, creating a fitting complement to the ubiquitous flowers that cover the dirt and trees this month.
Few yards are landscaped with lawns. Every spare patch of land is utilized for two things Romanians highly value – their homegrown produce and beauty. The earth is cultivated to produce vegetables and flowers. Even the poorest of poor, aside of the normal garden patch, often have a few lone rose bushes or annuals that push through the rich loam. The vegetables are grown by necessity, the flowers are grown for their beauty (and sometimes sold for a small sum at the market).
Further beautification efforts are in full swing. Effort is notably expended on painting tree trunks white. I did some online research on the purpose of painting tree trunks white. There is no general consensus, but a citrus farmer from Florida claimed it prevents sunscorch on the delicate bark of citrus trees. Several people offered it makes them more visible to drivers at night. The other obvious answer is it is a form of insect repellant. Early one morning this week our landlord showed up to paint the fruit trees in our yard. There are no citrus trees and the trees do not line the street, so the reason for painting these trees was unclear. I asked the landlord’s wife to explain the purpose of the paint. “For the health of the trees. Isn’t it beautiful?” I think the emphasis was on the beautiful. I asked the landlord the same question. “It’s for the purpose of aesthetics. And it also keeps a certain worm from boring into the trunks.”
The trees are very healthy, so I can’t deny the paint works effectively against tree-climbing bugs, however, the aesthetic appeal is the strongest argument for painting the trunks white. Indeed, in the central park they paint the tree trunks, rocks and concrete hedge borders white. For the Romanians, it looks nice and orderly. I read one blog where a foreigner did not paint the tree trunks in front of their house one spring and concerned neighbors did them a favor and completed the job. They had been the only ones in their small village without painted trees.
Along the main road, interspersed between the painted trees, are tall utility lines. These utility lines welcome guests from Africa every year – well-traveled storks. We arrived in Romania last May, when the stork babies were just beginning to poke their beaks over the tops of the tousled mess of sticks and branches, eyeing the ground many meters below. This month the White Storks returned, fixing up their nests and settling in for a long, hot summer of baby-raising. The storks spend the northern hemisphere’s winter in the southern hemisphere, and return north to breed in the summer. The storks arrive with the first hint of spring warmth.
Far below the storks, weaving its way down the painted-tree lanes, is another sign of spring – the Roma caravan. During the cold winter months, the Roma gypsies who still adhere to a nomadic lifestyle hunker down in their houses. When the weather is right and wagons call, they begin their annual migration. I don’t have any verifiable information on where they go or what they do, only conjecture, but in our rural region they are not an unfamiliar site. The caravans are not unlike the pioneer caravans of American lore – covered wagons pulled by horses in a line down a dirt track, a child’s eager face peeping out the back, dripping laundry swaying from lines strung along the side, pots and pans clinking over every rut.
Finally, you know spring has returned in Romania when villagers emerge from behind walls to warm the front bench. All winter, millions of front gate benches sit alone, covered in snow, waiting for the company that comes with spring. Driving through villages, I enjoy seeing the batran, the pensionar, parked on their bench, observing life. Sometimes they are joined by another younger member of the household or a neighbor for some company and a chat. In fact, the Romanian figure of speech comparable to the English “heard it on the grapevine” translates to “heard it on the ditch.” Benches are situated near the road ditch within talking distance of neighbors. All day long, local gossip and news travels up and down the ditch. It’s a pleasant sight when you come from a country where it is normal to drive through a highly populated neighborhood and not see a single person outside. Here, when the cold has passed, everyone’s outside.