Built of Scraps

 

I’ve been thinking about the subject I picked for my poetry book: fantastical dark creatures from the folklore of various cultures. Where did it come from? What sparked this idea to study the duality of fear of and fascination with the undead? A part of the answer lies somewhere in the past, in my early childhood when, nightly, mom would put me to sleep with whispers about the wolves waiting outside the window, below the windowsill. Whispers of Bow-Bow, the Romanian boogie-man. In the darkness, with the covers drawn up near my wide-open eyes, I spent countless hours trying to picture what the Bow-Bow might look like. And this was only the beginning. Romania, with Transylvania—the legendary Dracula cradle—at its core, was overflowing with folk stories of shadowy beings, reaching out from the heart of darkness, to get the unprepared and the unaware. I had plenty of time to think about each of those creatures and  think about them, I did.

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Even today, the fascination with dark creatures is far from over in Romania. Titled The Wolves, this song’s lyrics feature a call to the shepherd to protect the sheep that are circled by wolves while the image suggest that we are all sheep, unable to protect ourselves from the dangers out there.

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Another part of the same answer resides in the beauty of our surroundings. If hiking was forbidden, I still could contemplate the mountain and wonder at its greatness, marvel at its beauty. In my mind, I constantly wrote either about the beauty of nature or about the intriguing nature of things.

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Who can stop a river from flowing? Who can stop a young girl from growing up? And then, of course, I wanted to meet friends, laugh aloud in the sun, and go dancing. Yet, hardly any of these could be done with a rigid and controlling mother, shocked by a rapidly changing society she didn’t know what to think of. Yet, in life, there are often loopholes and, in my case, that loophole was Mileanca. The village where mother grew up. A place she knew and understood well, a place where changes were rare and slow. Here, she was not afraid of the big bad wolf. Roughly 3000 inhabitants lived in Mileanca and mother knew almost every one of them. Well, she knew most of the adults about her age and older, that is. One of those places where nobody gets away with not saying good morning to a passerby just because he is a little too far, and on the other side of the street. What? Haven’t you eat this morning? Can’t you shout loud enough so he can hear you? What if he’s deaf? If you bob your head up and down while shouting, he’ll get the gist and walk on merrily.

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Close to the main road, at one end of the modern elementary and middle school, the small building that hosted the village’s ballroom used to be the two-room school of my mother’s time. The smallest of the two rooms now held the school’s library. Separated from it by a tiny hallway, the ballroom served as a cinema too. The difference was in the benches that were lined around the walls during the “balls”, or arranged in neat rows on the movie-days. There was a stage too, at the back (which became the front during the school-shows for the villagers). The fact that the benches had no backrest ledges was an advantage here. Nothing needed to be moved. The benches remained in position and the audience would just turn to face the other direction. At fourteen, here was my first ball. Every summer holiday in the village ended with a grand ball in the aforementioned ballroom. In their best clothes, the youth of the village made the best out of the loud playing music. Besides all the young couples of the village, married or spoken-for, there were mothers checking out the youngsters’ fashion, behaviour, and—most importantly—who danced how many times with whom.

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This was what the great balls looked like, the glamorous ones. Bumping into each other and stepping on each other’s feet were part of the glory of a well attended gathering. But most of my dancing parties happened—as it was the custom for the very young—during the weekdays when groups of five or more couples got the key to the place and danced until daylight while music played on tape recorders that had seen better days. I hardly noticed the dust they were trying to keep down with water from the well, sprinkled abundantly on the wooden floorboards. Moreover, in my make-believe world, the light bulbs – painted one night with the ink squeezed out of a blue point pen – were as dazzling as any disco lights.
The villages preferred old, traditional music, the kind of music rejected by the new generations in the cities. This was my most exciting encounter with the old traditions. Music despised and frowned upon by my own generation, music that had remained in villages, from the old times, antiquated and out of style, like a Brigadoon arriving from a distant past, every summer, for my exquisite dancing pleasure. I have learned to love it. And here is my answer: tradition, folklore, and the beauty of nature, everything is in my soul now, fractures of images and sounds, poetry of bygone days.

 

 

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