By Valentin Salegeanu
Sunday mornings in bed should be cozy. And so is this one if you keep warm under the thick, heavy handmade cotton-wool blanket we got from my grandparents in Bucovina. Dona and I fight a bit over it, pulling it over us to avoid exposing bits of our bodies to the cold. In spite of the temperature outside, 10 degrees warmer than it should be in normal winters, in spite of the very good ceramic tiles wooden stove, it’s chilly in our four by four meter front room of the 80 year old traditional Wallachian house in the Făgăraș mountain foothills.
We found it in 2018, after traveling the breadth and width of Wallachia’s highlands for three years in search of a place. We were picky, having devised a number of lists with criteria and indicators of how this place should be. But we were consciously picky as our aim was to find a place to call home for the rest of our lives.
We both work in Bucharest, Dona in a PR Agency and I with Greenpeace Romania. We were born and lived most of our lives in cities, but the choice to move to the countryside has nothing to do with downshifting or downgrading. We’re not running away, we’re running towards. You see, our love for nature brought us together, and our love for nature pulled us to Brădetu, the little end of the road village on the Vîlsanului valley.
The house is a typical Argeș building, with two rooms separated by a hallway, a porch in the front, all built over a high stone foundation. Under one of the rooms, there’s a cellar, and the sloping roof at the back forms another space divided into two smaller rooms and an entry connected with the main hallway. It’s here where the future kitchen and bathroom will be. No one inhabited the house for almost 20 years after Mrs. Victoria, the late widow of Mitică Rusu’ (Dumitru Nencov). The garden is not big, a mere 0,25 hectares, but it opens up on two sides to hay meadows and on the third to a small beck and a forest. We’re on top of a hill, at the edge of the village, surrounded by nature – we even have bears visiting us – and the horizon shows us two mountain peaks of over 2000 meters.
We wanted a place in the middle of the wilderness, but with a sense of history too, with its own memory to tap into. Our best choice and aim was to save an old Wallachian house and here’s partly why. There’s, rightfully, a lot of attention paid to the heritage of Transylvania, with its rigorously designed medieval Saxon villages so marvelously preserved, fortified churches, with their dense history and incredible diversity. For any western European, especially the German descendants of the Saxons, it’s cultural landscape looks familiar and for Romanians it’s special enough to treat it with respect (increasingly so). But the Wallachian cultural landscape is another beast altogether. Exotic beyond recognition for westerners to easily get the charm of it, and too familiar for Romanians to care much about it. Its identity is diffuse and spread out as its dotted around mountain villages, shyly hidden in the middle of nature, perched on steep hills or lost in dense forests beyond sight. For us, all of this is worth saving and enjoying.
Yesterday evening the fire was cracking in the stove and we were warm. But during night time heat escapes through the loosely fitted windows. The 80 year old lady was slowly decaying, collapsing after years of solitude, so we have a lot of rehabilitation work to do over the next few years. Not too many though, because in two year’s time, having repaid the bank loan, the D day will come and we’ll travel the distance to Brădetu for the last, and yet first time.