During my stay in Jaristea, Vrancea, we climbed the highest hill in the region, Magura. Such breath-taking views, such colours, such richness. On the way back, we fell upon a monastery hidden away on a dirt trackthat one could never have seen from a main road. Tarnita is run by nuns and one of the most peaceful, inspiring places I have ever set foot in. Out of the car we got to investigate - I am incapable of leaving monasteries unexplored. What happened there still brings tears to my eyes as I write. Anyone still asking me why I love Romania needs to go to Tarnita to feel what I feel and to understand why I can never turn my back on this country however stupid the majority of her population may be nor how repugnant her political class.
The convent is built, I understood, on a previous monastery dating from the 18th century and constructed in the old tradition. In 1950, it was transformed into a convent. Founded in 2007, the newer church in stone is now finished structurally but remains empty inside, unpainted, and home to bags of cement, vegetables, seeds for sowing and grain for the very plentiful chickens for now.
Imagine five white stone houses traditional for Vrancea set in an 'L' shape, each with one floor, a charming wooden porch painted blue or grey covered in a myriad of flowers, sleepy windows, wooden rooves and doors and then gardens, gardens, gardens - roses, marigolds, lavender, fruit and vegetables, lobelia, salvia, fox gloves... a true kaleidoscope.
A radiant nun was in the new church and came out to meet us. All the nuns were extremely busy cleaning in preparation for today's feast of Sfanta Maria. Some of them were so old I was surprised they could even move! Anyway, I digress... this lovely nun showed us all over the complex, described the history and then, as we were preparing to leave, she invited us to lunch.
A long table in front of the nuns' pretty houses (very long indeed, I guess, to fit the whole community) was magically laid: plates and glasses appeared, a basket of thinly sliced mamaliga, ardei umpluti (vegetarian for post) and their own marvellous wine.
"Please eat!" said the nun after she had said the Lord's Prayer and blessed the food with Grace. I was so moved. She had spent time showing us all over the convent, explained how it had come to be, taken us to the older wooden church and written a list of names we offered for memorial and prayer - and now this, as if we hadn't taken enough of her time already. She didn't seem to mind one bit. Her warmth, her kindness, her goodness were so tangible, so evident. She sat with us as we ate, telling us about the other nuns, life in the convent, work that still needed to be done.
All of a sudden, a bee landed on my arm. It was a very svelt, slim bee and I mistook it for a wasp. I am allergic to wasp stings and thus don't like them one bit. I shooed it away. "Don't be afraid," said the nun, "he won't sting you. All our bees are friendly."
Friendly bees? I had fallen into a fairy tale!
As if to prove a point, she held out her hand and three bees landed on her palm. With her little finger, she stroked one. The other two flew away whilst the lucky bee sat and let her stroke him.
The beautiful surroundings, the unexpected kindness, the even more unexpected lunch and now friendly albine was all too much for me. Tears welled up in my eyes. While those idiot politicians destroy all they can to line their pockets and knock ten bells out of each other and the additional mitocani steal, fleece, lie and ride rough-shod over a population, there are still many places in this dear, blessed country where people are good to each other - and even kind to bees.
The nun must have seen my tears although I tried to hide them, for she touched my arm, nodded and smiled. I guess I can't have been the first to be so moved by simple acts of humanity.
On my arm, two bees landed. I did as the nun had done and stroked one with my little finger. He sat there very happily enjoying the attention. I think, had he been able, he would most certainly have purred.
Although I was with four friends that day sat around this simple, touching table, I completely forgot they were there. I was alone with my thoughts and my albina prietenoasa, under a spell of absolute peace and tranquility. When the time came to leave, I felt the jolt. How hard to transform this lovely, inspiring place up in the hills from reality into a memory. My friendly bee remained on my arm all the way to the gate, but when I took a step out into the world, he flew away with a buzz that seemed to say, "I'm not leaving, for look what I have here!" Oh, I felt so bereft!
In the car, we sat in silence for a long while, none of us eager to let go of the moment.
And people still ask me why I love Romania....
Dedicated to a beloved Maria I could not be without and to Daniela's mum - a Vranceanca and also named Maria. Photos: Sarah In Romania