Haranglab Pilgrimage
August 15, 2004

Photos by James Hayes-Bohanan, unless otherwise noted

On Sunday morning, August 15, we attended church services in Haranglab. Rev. Sandor began with an abbreviated version of a typical Sunday service. We did not understand what was being said, though we could tell that it included prayers and gospel readings that are not typical of Unitarian Universalist services in North America. Also distinctive was the seating of men to the minister's left and women to the minister's right. Very few children were present, other than those in our group and Sandor's own children.

Young Ilona The music was accompanied by an organ but had a very different cadence and tone. A few in our group had learned enough about Hungarian pronunciation to sing along, though we had absolutely no idea what the words meant. A real treat was that Ilona, a young college student from Haranglab, sang one Hungarian hymn and then the North American UU favorite, "Spirit of Life," both without accompaniment. (See the " roots " and " wings " sermons by our neighbor Rev. Patricia Tummino if you want to know more about this song.) Ilona's singing is so beautiful that I cried when I heard her on a video tape last year; I was not surprised to find myself tearing up as she began singing a favorite hymn of ours in English. (I probably could have taken photographs during the service, but it is one time that I was more comfortable refraining; I took this photo of Ilona later in the day.)

Our small gifts Following the traditional portion of the service, Rev. Sandor presented greetings and gifts to the Bridgewater delegation, including a cloth for our front table and a welcome mat for our front door. Both were, of course, hand-made by the congregation from local materials. I presented greetings on behalf of our delegation and those who could not attend this time, and gifts -- including a hymnal, a photograph of our church building, and an American flag -- that I later found displayed prominently in the church. We had mixed feelings about presenting the flag, especially in the context of a very unpopular war, but our hosts in Transylvania were very happy to accept it from us, and did not associate it at all with current politics.

Education is available in most villages through grade eight, and even this can be a challenge. The field shown on the left is the site of a school previously found on the property of the Haranglab church; I am not exactly clear about what happened to it during the previous regime. Many Unitarian families in Transylvania try to send their children to Koloszvar for high school, but the cost of room and board can be prohibitive. In the photo to the right, Rev. Sandor is presenting a scholarship from a Bridgewater family to a Haranglab student and his mother. The young man looks very serious because Sandor takes the responsibility of administering such scholarships very seriously, and holds the funds until he is shown that the student is progressing. (Currently, Bridgewater members are sponsoring two high school and one college student from Haranglab; it is an excellent way to build relationships between individuals in the two churches.) Scholar

Looking at the camera is Reiko, who was one of our excellent translators for the entire journey. She actually grew up in the house Sandor's family now occupies in Desfalva, because her father was the previous minister there. Several years ago, her entire family moved to Koloszvar, where her father is the minister of one of the largest Unitarian churches in Romania. The main reason for the move was to enable Reiko and her brother to attend high school and college without having to pay extra living costs.

An afternoon walk around Haranglab yielded several observations. First, the village is a bit bigger than we expected, with perhaps 300 residents. It is not on most maps, and it is located five kilometers beyond Desfalva on a dead-end road, but it does support three different churches, one store, and a disco! Several of our group who were staying in town managed to visit the disco, which is in the ground floor of the large brick building, and operates as a cafe during the day. I was very surprised to find a survey party in the village; they later told me that they were working on road improvements for the gas company. It was not at all clear to me whether this is related to exploration in the area or to some sort of gas pipeline.
Disco! Surveying

Almost every house I saw was maintained with great care and recently painted. I learned from Sandor that the design of a house would indicate the denomination of the owner, with Orthodox homes marked by the narrow windows and cross on the gable. The idea of shopping for a church is unknown in Transylvania; one's denomination is inherited in almost the same way as one's eye color. To the right, Paloma is shown admiring a charming well in the yard of the home of a host family in Haranglab. In this case, several generations of one family share a small farm yard with two houses.
Houses Well

Chickens (tiny), ducks, and geese are so much a part of the landscape that it is hardly possible to do them justice with a snapshot (below). These are fowl with an attitude! It is perhaps best appreciated by viewing Paloma's imitation by clicking on the small photo to the left.

Every Unitarian church yard in Transylvania has an arched entrance, though it may be modest! The church itself is quite beautiful, and boasts a newly-restored bell tower. This is a special point of pride because word "haranglab" is Hungarian for "bell tower," and the loss of the bell and damage to the tower was sorely felt. I have not yet learned whether the haranglab at Haranglab (as it were) was affected by Ceaucescu's widespread practice of siezing church bells to salvage the metal. The congregation was interested to learn that our church in Bridgewater lost its once-proud steeple in a hurricane almost a half-century ago, and that we since lost our historic bell.
Arch Haranglab

The church is also a suitable backdrop for a handsome photo of our driver Rev. Georgy and two of the good men of Haranglab.Georgy and friends

Although I sometimes wondered whether I was in the way with my camera, the ladies of the church (gender roles are quite traditional) insisted that I take some photographs of the serving of the soup, one of many dishes that had been prepared with great effort for our feast. I have been to my share of big church dinners, but I never saw a bubbling caldron like this!
Serving Serving

Feast Caldron
The meal included a lot of delicious cabbage, the preparation of which was another group effort.
Great slaw!
CLICK (and turn head)

Tunde, by the way, had not been as enthused about my photography the evening before, when I photographed her preparing potatoes. I did so because my friends had told me that Transylvania potatoes are a special treat, both because they are organic and unusually fresh and because they are prepared in a very special way. North Americans are so used to long-stored potatoes that most of us do not know that potatoes actually have a flavor!

The Haranglab church president is shown at left (he looks and acts a lot like Kramer from Seinfeld) doing what he does best: being friendly and offering palenka to guests. Palenka is a high-octane brandy made from local plums, apples, or pears. It is Transylvanian moonshine, shown in greater detail in the photo at right. Palenka sold in stores is about one-half the strength of the real stuff offered in the villages.
  Palenka Palenka

Recipe room
The prior evening, Rev. Sandor had shown me his "other office," which is like the Baldwin sisters' "recipe room" on The Waltons . Here he has not one but two stills, which are the source of some of the palenka we were to have in the village.

When we first arrived at his house, Sandor said, "Would you like palenka, wine, or beer?"
And then, "A good guest says, 'That order will be fine.'"

Palenka was offered at every meal (including breakfast), between meals, and in the evening. Fortunately, I learned how to nurse it, because the home-brew version must be 160 proof or more.

It is really too bad that the Polaroid company (a local Boston-area outfit) seems to be on its way to extinction, because it is quite an easy way to make friends in Transylvania. I will be sending some of my photographs of the trip to Haranglab, but that will take weeks. Pam and Jan were able to share photos instantly, which clearly was a big hit. It was amazing to us that everyone understood they had to handle the photos by the edge!
Polaroid Polaroid

The food, palenka, and polaroids helped to break the ice, but real bonding took place among members of the two church communities, and we will long remember this evening as the highlight of our trip.
Feast Caldronside Mom and kid

Meg Ladies

Haranglab friends Guys
Two ladies of Haranglab
Pam and several of the Bridgewater kids found it fun and challenging to teach rock, paper, scissors to a new audience.

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Transylvania Champagne
Here I am enjoying a "champagne" toast with a new friend. Click on the image below to see how this special drink is made from local white wine and mineral water..
Some family members who had moved away from the village came home to meet us.

  Click to Animate
Bonding This was a party, so some of the men of the church were singing. The man at right in this photo so wanted me to stay and join them that I could barely get out of his handshake when Sandor told me it was time to go home. Much later, I realized that this is the Haranglab equivalent of the Male Bonding Band . The room was not bright enough for good video, but the sounds of this very traditional singing is a great memory from the evening.