Common Thread Cultural Connections

Shari McMahon
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Mark Sustic
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apologies 1st for miss spellings / using a foregin key board.
6\.54 am in Budapest % minutes before midnight E.S.Time.
We arrived safe after a 2.5 hour delay at the airport due to many planes and thunderstorms. 
we finally lifted off at 10 pm.  The next thing I remember was waking and looking at the screen on the Tv monitor and it reading 1 46 am E.S.T.  4 46 Budapest altitude 35000, 550 miles per hour, 2334 miles from departure, 2037 to arrive, outside temp. minus 81 F, 50 F in Budapest.  back to sleep then until landing.  Off to breakfast now and to look around Budapest.  Tomorrow a very early and long train ride will take us into Transylvania.  I'll write again when I can.  Meanwhile many pictures will be taken.
peace shari (can't find the shift)
Hello all
Off to the train it is 1:45 am your time it is 8:45 my time in the morning.  The sun is shining, flowers are out.  Yesterday we walked and saw many sites castle of budda, national arts gallery, opera house, Heros square and Vajahunya castle.  I took many pictures which i'll share when we get back.  Flat Stanleys are seeing it all.
We have a full day's train ride ahead then beginning tomorrow we have many concerts i don't know when i'll be able to write again but I will when I can.
Pardon me for the short messages. The key board is hard to find all of the letters and shift keys on, and there is a cost for the computer use.

Sunday April 3(?)
Hi All
It is 5:45 am your time it is 1:45 pm here in Marosvarsarhely (pronounced Mar- osh-var-shar-hey), Romaina.  I had to travel halfway around the world to learn the ins and outs of the "internet cafe" world.  My first quite lengthy note to everyone was two days ago.  I only paid for 1/2 an hour.  It went by very fast.  When I got the warning that time was almost up I quickly typed good-bye and hit the send button... Unfortunately the computer quit before it actually sent, so noone got the message, sorry.  This has been the first time I have had a chance to get back here.  So brace yourself for an even longer message!  There is so much to tell, and this time I have paid for an hour ($150,000 lei - about 90 cents).  I am also writing and sending before I check other messages, and keeping an eye on my watch.  So make yourself a cup of tea or pour yourself a cold glass of something... here goes
In Budapest, Hungary we adjusted to the time - 7 hours ahead of E.S.T.  and saw many sites, the National Art Gallery, Vajdahunyad Castle and Hero's Square.  The heros are the seven clan leaders from former times in Hungary.  There are very impressive bronze statues of the clan leaders on horse back wearing furs and leather armor - I took many pictures.
We had dinner on Wed. evening at the home of my step-father's cousin Laszalo Tiboldi.  He picked up the four Common Thread members at our hotel and drove us to his flat, just a few miles outside of the city.  He has a 2 year old daughter.  As we drove past his former apartment he pointed out the black coal soot which covered the building.  They moved because they did not want their child growing up breathing in the same soot.
We passed many Roman ruins along the way.  When they begin to dig for new building projects it is common to find such remains -(and I think it's cool when I find old bottles in the garden when I dig in the spring!)  We began with "Palanka" a twice distilled brandy from plum or pear that is very popular.  It is tolerable.
We left by train Thursday morning for Marosvarsarhey, Romania, a 12 hour train ride.  We crossed the western Carpathian Mountains - more like the Adirondack foothills.  Tuesday of the coming week we are headed for Almas in the South/Eastern Carpathians which are more like the Rockies I'm told. 
Our train was very old. In fact the toilet was a toilet with a direct hole out of the trains and onto the tracks.  The four band members plus our interpreter managed to squeeze ourselves and our instruments & luggage into one 8 person cabin.  I kept noticing fancy, fast looking trains at stations along the way.  When I asked about the condition and age of our train Csilla (who speaks Romanian among other languages - but is Hungarian by nationality) said that the reason we were on an old train was because it went to and from Budapest, and there is a strong dislike between the Hungarians and the Romanians.  
At the customs station located along the border between the two counties Csilla mentioned that her husband would be joining us in a few stops.  The conductor said not to bother having him buy a ticket.  When John joined us the conductor simply came by our cabin looked out the window while Csilla slipped money into his pocket.  A common business practice, held over from communist times. 
The countryside from the train was a mix of simple, small family farm coopertives.  Where everyone grows what they need to survive.  Sheep dotted the hillsides, chickens, pigs were everywhere and no lawns.  Every inch of soil was garden space around the houses.
Unfortuantely, we saw many abandoned buildings.  One which impacted me tremendously was a mile square of glass greenhouses.  All empty with broken glass.  Apparently after the fall of communism the government gave land to people to manage for themselves.  The greenhouses were set up in an attempt to produce food for commercial markets.  Unfortunately, noone trained the people in business skills and it all fell apart.
We passed a "secret" NATO base.  Mark recognized a plane as U.S.  in that area the landscape looked more like a dumping ground.  Plastic bags cluttered everything and power plants fueled by coal were on the horizon.  The air was not clean to breath.
Marosvarsarhely is a much cleaner city, than Budapest.  It has both old tired buildings and ones which have been or are undergoing renovation.  The cultural palace, where we did a concert last night, (well recieved by the way, 2 call backs from the audience) is amazing.  Covered with the most beautiful stenciled walls I've ever seen - a lesson plan has already formed in my head! 
We have played here for abandoned children, mostly gypsie children no longer wanted by their families, or from families who could no longer take care of them.  They are in the care of wonderful people.  This church run orphanage is more like a large family setting than an institution - I was pleasantly surprised.  They enjoyed the gifts we brought them.  We have three more concerts tomorrow (we have done three as well).  Then we head for Almas on Tuesday AM  to stay with families in the village.  A relatively short van ride but due to much of the way being unpaved roads it may take up awhile.  I plan on wearing old clothes in case I need to help push the van out of the mud.
One final impact I have had before I sign out (I don't want to lose this message!) are the gypsie children who are everywhere and expert little beggars and pickpockets!  They are sent into the city by their parents to put on sad faces and beg for money.  At the train station a boy of about 9, with his little 2 year old sister on this hip was begging for food.  We gave him bread which behind our backs he promptly threw down so that he could continue to beg for money.  He was so good at it that I think his pants were about to fall down due to the loose change that filled his pockets.
Well till next time,

Hello All
It dawned on me last night that the hotel we have been staying at is on the corner of main street and Bolyai street.  Apparently the two men (brothers or father and son?? I forget) were from Marosvarsarhely.  They were famous mathmaticians.  A good little research project for students back at school to look up and find out what they did rather than me telling you all about them.  I photographed the stone statue an interesting, modern, geometric sculpture created in their honor.
We are leaving this small city (170 thousand) today, after six concerts in two orphanages - one for kids with aids, a nursing home, the UU church, the cultural palace and a highschool art history class.  The flat stanleys have been photgraphed.  Colby Harvish's had an accident - broken arm - it was repaired with tape and is feeling fine and ready to travel again today. I may have mistakenly said in my last email that this city was the second largest, I don't recall?  If I did I was incorrect.  We will go to Brassov later in the trip and that is the second largest city.
Besides concerts we had the opportunity to visit the Teleki Library.  A wonderful collection of old and rare books.  They also had, and we were able to look at without glass, right before our eyes so that we could closely examine... one of the original United States Constitutions!  I had never really thought about it but when that document was created, copies were made to send to other countries around the world - no copy machines then!  It was very interesting to closely examine the signatures.  We had a long disscussion over lunch on whether or not we thought John Hancock signed his name largest because he was last and had to fill up unused space, or signed first and took up so much room that everyone else had to sign smaller to fit their names in??? Does Emmett, or anyone else know the answer to this?
As I feared a gypsy has stolen my heart!  But no need to worry about me running away with him, he is 10 years old.  He was one of the abandoned children at Lidia House, where we performed. His name is Joska (pronounced  ya-sh-ka).  He is hearing impared so we were able to get by with a mixture of American sign, lip reading, & hand jestures.  He came with me while I was photographing the Bolyai statues so he ended up in many of the photgraphs.
Last night Karen and I were invited to learn traditional Hungarian dancing.  The teaching couple were amazing, Gizi (our host) took many funny photgraphs of us looking rather silly while trying to learn the rather complicated dance steps.  It was a fun time, and the band was great! The viola player held his instrument with the strings pointing to the side rather than up as they do at home. I have a CD of this type of music but not that band.  The CD was created by a student band from the school we played at. 
We head to Almas in about an hour. Many wonderful connections have been made here.  Gizi, Karen and I are talking about the idea of a summer camp where kids from the states and kids from Transylvania would come together here and learn traditional American as well as Hungarian arts and music.  Any takers?
Where we are going is rather remote so I'm not sure when I'll be able to write again, but I'm sure that there will not be a lack of information when I do. 

oops did I say Constitution.. I meant Declaration of Independance.  Between the 8 hour time difference, and the very busy concert schedule I'm not sure if I'm coming or going half of the time.
Anyway Hello All
Thanks to everyone who has been sending me notes and replies to questions, it makes me feel a little closer to home.  We left Marosvarsarhely on Tuesday morning and headed by van to the Homorode Valley region.  The town of Almas was not on any map that I was able to find before I left, now I know why... yet hear I am sitting in a classroom of the local technology teacher (Emoke).  She teaches technology on Thursdays and runs an evening internet club for students and travelers.  The Unitarian Minister got a grant a year ago so the village of 1,500 people, which has a pay phone at the end of the road and only a few people have household phones ... had cell service, satellite TV and the internet.  Our tour guides couldn't believe it.  A year ago when they were here last, they did not have these things.  Telephones take between one and five years to be installed if you request one - and we think having to wait a day or two for a serviceperson is bad! 
We spent the first third of the van trip on good highways.  On the way we stopped in the medieval fortress Saxon city of Segesvar/Sighisoara.  It is becoming a popular tourist site as it is the purported birthplace of Vlad Tepes - aka Dracula (which is devil in Hungarian).  It was pretty amazing to be standing in a place so old that it has seen things like the black plague.  In the clock tower's museum I saw what looked to me like an awful lot like tools of torture which as far as I'm concerned could have been used by Dracula - turns out that they were ancient dentist tools... trust me if you hate going to the dentist now you would have really disliked it in the 1400's.
We then traveled a third of the way on roads a lot like the paved roads around most of our towns.  Not too bad with a few pot holes and rough surfaces.  Then we took a turn over some railroad tracks onto a dirt road.  Our van gathered great interest as we traveled through these small villages as most everyone else was on bike or walking.  Lots of horse drawn equipment was being used in the fields and quite often horse drawn wagons hauling lumber etc. shared the road with us.
The last 10 miles of the trip was on a road which was more like a cow path.  If another car approached, one of us had to pull off the side of the road to let the other pass. The village we are in is named Homorodalmas (almas for short).  The home Karen and I are staying in is with a wonderfully generous widow woman named Emma.  All of the homes are very close to the street and are fenced or walled in.  When you enter the house's wooden gate you see a yard which is almost completely garden.  Almost everyone has a grape arbor, chickens and a goat.  Many people have horses and wagons.  This town is considered a large one as it has a bus which comes through in the AM and PM so that you can go to a larger town.  Many other villages are at the end of a road so buses do not go there.  The local Pastor of the church often is  the only one with a car and takes people to the hospital in an emergency.
On our way to the village reception hall, where we are taking all of our meals together with our van driver, guide and interpreter, the local shepherd was bringing the goats home from the fields.  Each morning the families with goats let them out of their gate as the shepherd goes by.  After grazing all day in the fields outside of town they come home.  The owners of the goats were waiting at the gates for them and, just like "kids" coming home from school, they went into their yard when they got there.  Three goats left the herd on their own and headed down a side street.
We sang for the elementary school students today at noon.  In the morning, after breakfast we went to the UU church hall, started a fire to heat it up, practiced and then sang when they arrived.  Students go to school between 7am and 1pm here.  There is no breakfast or lunch program.  At 1pm they go home and have a large meal together with their families.  A light supper is eaten around 8pm.  The kids were well behaved and interested in all of the instruments.  About 70 children attended the concert.
We will have a concert at 8:30 tomorrow evening for the rest of the village (after chore time) then travel to a nearby village to perform at a retirement home the next afternoon.
Till later

Sunday April 10 at 7:50 here (1:50 am your time)
Hi All
We drove via van to Sepsiszentgyorgy (Saint George complete with a dragon sculpture in the center of town).  The van travel was slow and very bumpy, our van driver cursed the dust.  because it was a warm sunny day we all had windows open (including the driver) but then the dust came in????  I can now imagine how the cowboys out west must have felt riding the dusty trail.
The road repair crews were out fixing the roads.   Their repair consisted of a huge pile of gravel - which was dropped off at a central point on the side of the road (by horse and wagon)  and then the road crew hand wheel- barrowed little piles and dumped it into the major pot holes.
Concerts in Almas (Homorodalmas - apple valley near the Homorod river is a rough translation) were wonderful.  The warmth and appreciation shown us by the local people was very touching.  They extended an open invitation to come back at any time.  We left many art supplies there, as it is the most remote village we have visited yet.  They shared traditional design books with us all as well as sent us home with a painted piece of wood.  One kindergarten teacher we became friendly with is reviving the traditional arts in her classroom.  During Communisim they were not allowed to practice such things, so it is up to the older people to pass it on before they are too old, if the traditions are to continue.
On our way to Sepsis yesterday we stopped in a small village.  The UU church there is an old 1200's walled church which orginally had three bastions. Only one remains.   Their young son was playing along the wall, what a place to grow up! Playing in a bastion! The minister is slowly trying to repair the place.  There are no grants available for such work so progress is very slow and he is frustrated.  The chapel is painted with beautiful traditional flower and bird paintings.  Tulips are everywhere (a traditonal Hungarian symbol).  There is a Kopjifa sculpture garden on site.  Kopjifa (pronounced cope- ee-o-fa) are carved totem poles.  An ancient way of depicting historical events and/or people.  No one understands the symbolism any longer, it is a very ancient picture language. But they are gaining in popularity and you see them included in gardens, at cemetaries and incorporated into gates. Another great idea for an art lesson!  While there, I turned the minister's wife onto needle felting!    It is so much fun to teach a new way of felting to someone, especially halfway around the world!  I kind of feel like Jonny Appleseed.  I brought extra supplies with me and have taught and left supplies behind at several stops along the way now. Karen has been collecting wool from people whenever possible so that we can create a fiber piece (blanket or felted wall hanging) when we get back.
We have four concerts here between today (in about 2 hours) and Wed.  On thursday we'll make the loooooooong train ride from Brasso/Brasov back to Budapest.  And the noon Thursday/Friday fly home.  I can't wait to share all of the photgraphs Mark and I have taken and the hand crafts I've picked up to share.  Between the two of us Mark and I now have 800 photos downloaded on his computer.  Dan has been recording wonderful sound bits on his mini-disk recorder which I'll also be able to share.  I relistened, on the van yesterday, to the villagers singing their village anthem to us following the concert we gave to them.  It came from the heart, all ages and voices.  One of the highlights for me for sure.  Sharing music was so much fun in fact, that on our last night there - over some locally made beverages... - we gathered in the canter house again with some of the locals and had a song swap and jam until well after midnight.  Perhaps the late night is one reason that the bumpy ride to Saint George seemed so rough?
Well I must go eat breakfast and get ready for today's concerts at the UU church.

Hi All
In about two hours we give our final concert here in Romania.  It has been an amazing trip.  I can't wait to share the many photographs and sound-bites we have collected with everyone.
I am beginning to get the hang of the word pronunciations, as well as which are Romanian and which are Hungarian on the street signs/maps etc., another few weeks and I'd have it down pat.
Sepsiszentgorgy is quite a different city compared to Marosvarsarhely.  There were very few modern (built in the 60's & 70's) buildings there.  More than 1/2 of the buildings here were built during that time, under the Communists' rule.  The sad thing is there are now many buildings in need of repair and because they were built by the Communists no one wants to put money into fixing them so they have crumbling steps and facades and therefore look rather shabby. Their building style reminds me a lot of the SUNY Plattsburg campus, same blocky, concrete style.
We had the opportunity before we arrived to visit the village of Koron, and old village well known for centuries for their pottery.  The potters' studio we visited had a wood fired kiln.  The pots had beautiful colorful peasant designs which used birds and flowers.  I tried to figure out how I could get home a large bowl - wear it as a hat perhaps?  I instead settled for a small packable vessel.
Here in Sepsi, I have had the opportunity to watch a painted egg lesson being taught to elementary students - picked up a few neat tricks. Tomorrow I'll watch a felting lesson, can't wait.  Dan and Mark have bought new skins for their banjo's.  The potter they bought them from makes and sells various clay drums.  All I'll say about the drum skins is that with this potter around Sepsi doesn't have to worry about a stray dog problem.  
We went to a small village last night to play at a conference center.  The kids there are orphans living with foster parents.  The foster parents interview to raise four children as their own.  The parents move to this village and are provided with the four kids and housing.  It is basically their job.  Should they want to adopt any of the kids they must wait until the kids are 18 years old.  At that time the kids can legally decide if they want to be a part of that family or not - an interesting concept.
Well that is it for now.
Time is almost up at the internet cafe (I finally found a smoke free one!)
Peace Shari

Hi All


We touched down at midnight in Burlington, Vt.  After a 10 hour train ride and then the next afternoon a ten hour plane ride to JFK.  Renting a car to then drive home didn't seem like a good idea to our husbands so they kindly arranged for a Jet Blue flight home for Karen and I.  Mark and Dan's flight had gotten in 4 hours ahead of ours so we had told them to go ahead and rent a car for themselves and head home.  Even though waiting in the airport was a drag, after having been up for 24 hours, I was glad to have someone else do the driving (flying) for me, and it got us home several hours earlier than had we driven ourselves.  

It was grand to be able to sleep in my own bed last night, not have to start a fire to heat hot water for my morning shower, be able to turn on the tap and drink the water that came out of it, and be able to wipe my bum with soft toilet tissue!

I'm not sure what information I gave in the last email? (Hey nice to be able to find the ? and ' mark). I hope that this email will be more readable than some of the ones typed under time pressures at a "paid by the minute, smoke filled" internet cafe, with foreign key boards. I look forward to sharing all of the photos, stories and treasures collected along the way.   My favorite treasure is a hand felted jacket that I paid $3 million for! (lei that is).

The last stay before heading back to Budapest to fly home was in Sepsiszentgyorgy.  Besides performing concerts there, we were able to visit with several crafts people who are working very hard at reviving traditional crafts.  During Communism, traditional crafts, dance and music were not allowed.  So there is a generation of people very interested in reviving it all before it is lost.  I was able to participate in both egg dyeing and felting classes.  Mark and Dan visited with a guitar maker/inventor and a potter who specialized in clay drums, we all were invited to a Hungarian dance - but were too tired to participate.  We were also the oldest ones there.  When Mark asked where the old people like us were, the youth said that they were all out in the fields planting potatoes.

We took a side trip one day to Peles Castle. WOW! is all that I can say, and I'm glad that I didn't have to dust it! It is in the area known as the Transylvanian Alps, near where the movie "Cold Mountain" was filmed.  There were amazing carvings, stained glass etc.  One intricately carved teak table and chair dining set was carved by three generations of carvers.  Between the intricate work and hardness of the wood it took just over one hundred years to complete.

On the way back to St. George we went via Brassov to view the Black Church and walk around the old city center.  The Black Church (so called because of its color following a fire) has the second largest collection of hand woven Persian rugs outside of Istambul.  The pews inside the church were divided according to guilds.  Each boxed seating section had the guild emblems painted on the front the box.  It was fun to try and identify them, spinners, weavers, cobblers, coopers, tin smiths and millinaries were among the ones we identified.

The next morning we got on board for the 10 hour train ride back to Budapest.  At one point, out of the train window, we saw 15 - 20 men on white horses wearing traditional Hun attire, complete with pointed fur hats.  Of course neither Mark or I had our cameras out.  When we inquired about them Csilla said she had just seen on T.V. in the hotel room that a group of Hungarian men were claiming to be direct desendents of Atilla the Hun and making land claims in Romania, much to the governments displeasure. How interesting to see them the very next day.

We took a southern train route this time.  The train passed through Copsa Mica, Romania.  Famous for being the subject of a National Geographic special a few years ago which was presenting a series on the most enviornmentally damaged and/or polluted places on earth.  It is a village where ink black was made.  The soil, fences and houses were all covered in black dust.  A passenger on the train, who had been there, recalled walking down the street and noticing how his boots left white tracks on the sidewalk. With each step he took, the carbon on the ground would stick to his boots.

Back in Budapest we all went out to share a final meal together.  Mark and Dan's flight left very early in the morning, Karen and mine not until mid-afternoon.  Since we had the time Karen and I treated ourselves to a massage and the Turkish baths/steam rooms at the famous Gellert hotel, the next morning.  Budapest is endowed with the world's 5th largest supply of thermal waters.  There is evidence of neolithic people being attracted to the territory's warm springs.  Later the Romans brought their bathing culture to Pannonia - the part of the Roman empire that is now Hungary.  Four of the existing six baths in Budapest were built during the 16th and 17th centuries by the Ottoman Empire.  It was a wonderful way to end our trip.  We tried to hang onto the relaxed feelings during the plane ride home.  According to our tickets the ride was only 3 1/2 hours long!  I tried hard to convince myself of that in order to make the 10 hour trip seem like less.

I look forward to seeing everyone soon




Budapest - Parliament Building on the banks of the Danube