I can’t believe I’ve never written about sarmale!* They are one of my favorite Moldovan dishes. Before I came here, reading blogs written by other PCVs I couldn’t quite understand why they said that cabbage rolls were so delicious. But now that I’ve tasted these delectable little bites, I totally get it. Sarmalele take a LOT of work: Sasha selects a steamed cabbage leaf, smooths it out, scoops a spoonful of previously prepared stuffing (rice, meat and… secret seasoning?) onto it, then carefully rolls it up, tucking both ends in as she goes. Then repeats the process maybe 50 or 75 times to make a full casserole dish of sarmalele. They are somewhat similar to the dolmades I’ve tried in Mediterranean restaurants, but the bitter taste of the grape leaves is replaced by smooth steamed cabbage, resulting in a mouth-watering combination!
Last week we received a text from our Safety and Security Manager telling us that a “code orange” Winter Weather Alert was in place. Iarna* (winter) had finally arrived. Ever since, my walk to school has been covered in snow. And filled with wonders for an Alabama girl, who has never actually experienced snow that stayed around for more than a day! Here are a few of the glories of Iarna in Cahul, Moldova! Click for larger images. There are few captions as the images mostly speak for themselves!
“Graffiti” in the snow. It says ‘Class 8B’ in Russian. Evidently some proud 8th graders passed this way!
Can you name a famous person whose birthday was celebrated last Monday on January 15th? If you’re in Moldova, probably the first person who comes to mind is Mihai Eminescu (“Mee-high Yem-een-es-kyoo”).* Eminescu one of the most famous and influential poets ever to write in the Romanian language. He’s extremely well known in Romania and Moldova; his portrait is seen everywhere from schoolroom walls, to the church lawn, and even on Romania’s money! Since the school where I work is one of many Moldovan schools named after him, there were a variety of special activities during the school day on Monday. Each grade level had special activities planned, including this Eminescu Trivia Challenge for the 9th grade:
And the day ended with a performance in the school auditorium featuring song, dance, poetry, and skits, all performed by the students! Here is about a minute of it for you to enjoy. See if you can catch the poet’s name near the end!
“This is my husband’s favorite cake,” said Lucia as she gave me a slice. It was just after midnight, now January 14th, “old” New Year. We had just watched her brother shoot off some gorgeous fireworks, and now we were preparing to greet the new year with cake and champagne. After one bite, I could see why her husband liked it so much! Smântână* means “sour cream” and smântânel consisted of zillions of thin layers of pastry (kind of like phylo dough, but not as flaky), with a sour-cream based sweet cream between them. Yum!
*(very) approximate pronunciation: Smun-tun-uh. Try saying the first two syllables with the u sound from “push”. The cake is (aproximately) smun-tun-ell Same deal with the u’s.
Sisters, Sisters, there were never such devoted sisters…
The words from this classic song played in my head as I watched my host mom and her sister together. As the family celebration of “Old Christmas” started to wind down, the two of them curled up together on the dinette bench for a chat. Passing one pair of reading glasses back and forth, they looked at photos in each other’s cell phones, reminisced about “the good old days” and caught up on what everyone and their kids were up to lately. As some family members slowly drifted toward the door and began looking for their coats, the sisters shared an orange, stretching the party out as long as possible.
(I should note that they have one other sister, Maria, equally close, who just didn’t happen to be on hand for this particular celebration).
I woke up this morning to this lovely snowy vista out my window. On the way to school I enjoyed the snowfall, marveling in the tiny snow-caps on each fence post, the way the ornate gateways were transformed, and the stark contrast between the black tree branches and their coating of white. But the snow is late. Everyone is concerned about the warmest winter in Moldova’s history. People who depend on the land for food are worried that the fruit trees will bud too soon, then freeze, and fail to produce fruit later on. I’m told that arctic wind patterns have been disrupted by global warming, causing cold fronts to migrate to the southern USA, rather than here in Eastern Europe where they’re needed. A worrisome outlook indeed. Nevertheless…. the snow is beautiful today.
“Urători! Come see!” My Romanian tutor Lucia, her young son and her sister-in-law rushed me to the door. It was “Old” New Years Eve, and her family had graciously invited me to their village to enjoy the festivities. Sure enough, at the door were several young people. One was strenuously ringing a bell, while each in turn recited a long poem, wishing us well for the new year. When all of them had finished, the gospodina (housewife) of the house presented each of them with cookies or a colac bread, sweets, and….. MONEY!
Although the calendar read January 13th, this night was New Year’s Eve by the old (Julian) calendar still followed by the Orthodox church. Here in Moldova, some villages welcome the new year on December 31st, and others on the more traditional January 13th. Last Saturday night, I was fortunate to have been invited to enjoy the latter.
Throughout the evening, many other groups of urători came to the door, as well as colindători, who came singing carols. In between, we enjoyed a bountiful feast, complete with homemade wine, and I had a lot of fun playing with a precious little boy and girl who spoke to me in (respectively) Romanian and Russian.
A highlight of the evening was one group of urători that included a dancing goat. Apparently the tradition includes trying to grab a piece of tinsel from the goat costume, to ensure good luck in the coming year.
As midnight approached, the little ones fell asleep one by one, until only the oldest (5 whole years old!) was left awake. Finally the magic hour arrived, and we went outside to enjoy a fireworks display provided by Lucia’s brother, then saluted the “new” year with champagne and cake.