Common Thread Cultural Connections

Karen Sutherland
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Karen Sutherland
Mark Sustic
Shari McMahon
Dan Berggren
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Trip Reflections

April 5, 2005

A farmer leaning on his hoe returned my wave as we passed by on the train heading into the mountains.  We have been staying at the Transylvania Hotel in Marosvasarhely.

All the concerts have been well received. I get tired because I didn't sleep well until I decided to drink the equivalent of an entire bottle of wine as a toddy. Better now. To see this Common Thread dream take real shape is very exciting. I sense my inner self being stretched; I am being re-made. The feeling is actually pleasant.

We leave soon for the village of Almas. Shari and I danced last night to a gypsy band; viola, two violins and a big bass.. Gizi was my first partner, then I was paired with a quiet young man who seemed highly motivated to learn the involved steps. Lovely dance...lots of twirling... ooh...and the men slap their boots (probably originally to get the mud off)..then we had evening lunch and sang, played fiddle, drank homemade wine and laughed with Gizi and Laszlo at their home.

April 6, 2005

We did concerts at the Culture Hall, two handicapped children's facilities (mostly gypsy children)... heartstrings pulled by the Roma children with AIDS...a school and a nursing home. Powerful connections made through the music and particularly the messages from Vermont.

April 6, 2005

Istvan stopped the van so we could pick wildflowers among the trees alongside the winding dirt road. It was peaceful in the forest and a relief to stop bouncing and weaving for a little while. It represented a kind of homecoming for Csilla, I think. Her obvious delight in gathering spring flowers was infectious and she announced her intentions to do more.

We are waiting for lunch. We see horse carts using the dusty street.

The lifestyle is very old and sweet...people wait by the door in the evening for their cows and goats to come home from pasture, brought in by the herder. Like school children getting off the bus, they know where to leave off following the group.

We just did a concert for all ninety school children. I gave out candy at the end of our concert. All went very well. This is where I will leave the crankie when we are done.

I spent a little time in a kindergarten classroom along with Mark. I really liked Erzsebet, the teacher and her approach. She gave me many cornhusk flowers and nativity figures that the children and she had made and showed me many art projects in her classroom.

yyy is zzz on this kezboard.! I am more happz in this tinz village than anzwhere else we have been. The hot water heaters are wood fired. The walls are completely stenciled, rooms are tidy and clean with big feather pillows and wool comforters. It is QUIET here.

I called Cal yesterday from Sigisoara, home of 'Vlad the Impaler'...(Count Dracula)... and left a message on the Marrinson's machine. I am happy to report that the bear he gave me was found ...I had lost it in Budapest at the Fabius Hotel.

Gypsies are everywhere; in pairs, in groups in horse drawn wooden carts with slanting sides, some in rags and some in garish finery walking, sauntering, swaying as they walk. Children earnest and insistent in their time honored traditional practice of begging for money. A bundle of boards wrapped in a blanket poses for pity in a gypsy girl's arms.

I love working with this group. I finally got quality sleep last night. It took several glasses of wine to do the trick; no regrets.

April 7, 2005

I smell cabbage very heavily just at the entrance to the room I am staying in with Shari. Yesterday our hostess saw me spinning by my bed when she came to stoke the fires. Then she disappeared into the barn and brought out her mother's castle wheel to show me, dusting it off with a chicken wing.

Cows came down the road...are they Gernseys, I wonder? Chilly this evening. I am glad I made this long underwear dress.

I sat by a stream in the sun for several hours today near Almas gorge and let my thoughts wander and wrote letters. I practiced the Poulenc "Gloria" and let the music float on the rushing snowmelt. I had a quiet moment for Evelyn Burrill while watching a bunch of blue wildflowers like a kiss laid on the smoothness of the chalky current.

We have a concert for the townspeople in an hour or so. Part of me is tired from all this, and part excited. I didn't have a way to be in touch with my family for the first week or more. Getting a new hotmail account was a blessing.

April 9, 2005

We are in 'St. George' after jouncing in the minibus for a whole day at a turtle's pace. Families gather to put in potatoes already, horsedrawn carts roll by at a full trot on rubber tires. The sheep are on the hillsides far from town and trees are beginning to bud out, ahead of Vermont by about almost three weeks, I figure. We had a nice sendoff from Homorodalmas where we spent the last five days. Gathered in the Cantor's Hall, several young people joined us to drink some local wine and have songs and tunes. Our friends in Almas looked on our musical abilities wistfully. I told them I thought they had something that we could envy in the way the whole town can sing all together their town song...which Dan got on tape. I left a set of guitar strings and some CD's with Arpod, the minister.

I left many school supplies for the kindergarten in Almas and was glad to give them to the teacher who had served our food all week. She will get the crankie for her school, too when we are finished with it. She was so happy because she told me she has nothing to work with and no school budget. Another teacher was interested in it as well.

I have a wonderful mental picture of Almas from the hill where Shari and I walked to the cemetery overlooking the small village nestled in the Homorod Valley below.

April 10. 2005 - Sepsizentgyorgy

I thought the three strangers who came knocking on my door at the hotel might be some more of Shari's cousins coming to look for her. Was that a surprise! But they pointed to a letter with a Common Thread brochure inside so I invited them in...and me doing laundry in the sink. None of them spoke English very well, and I certainly was no help with Polinka as my operative word in Hungarian. But we decided to wait for Shari to return from the internet cafe for a half an hour, then Rosa, her son Zsolt and his girlfriend said they needed to leave to get to a singing engagement at a local restaurant at 8:00. By then it was nearly 8:15. I still didn't know who they were, but they left me with a warm feeling, having invited us to come to hear them at the restaurant. They said that they were planning come to hear us...but, how did they know where to find us?

It was infinitely renewing to sit in the hotel room and spin. I have collected about four pounds of wool for Common Thread to use in the weaving of the blanket. It's fun to get the Flat Stanleys out in each new location, too. It adds a bit of cheer. I see signs of poverty in the way buildings and streets look run down. It makes me wonder how families make ends meet.

We walked to a restaurant for lunch in the sunshine following our presentation for the church service this morning. It was quite bright until the wait staff succeeded in bringing us at least seven umbrellas, setting one on the tablecloth in the center. We have enjoyed mostly warm and sunny weather. We enjoyed some interesting discussions with the minister, Istvan and his wife Agnes about the effects of Communism on the people of Transylvania.

We entertained their son Ben with Dan's handkerchief; a hat, a mouse, a peek-a-boo.

All the congregations we have played for have been Unitarian, and most little villages are primarily Unitarian, some are Catholic. Our concert for the nursing home was cut short because the TV was bringing the Pope's funeral into the parlor.

We are due back at the church in the evening for a round robin type workshop for the youth service at the Unitarian church. This is where I will share the art work sent by Calum's class. I hope they will send some back with us, too.  The junior high group accepted the drawings made by Cal's class with great spirit and made many thoughtful replies in our book for Cal's class to read. I had passed around the pictures I have of his class. They really liked the show and they told us they would hang the artwork in their gathering space at the church. Mark touched these young people's hearts with his stories about his son Thomas. Electric and powerful the connection when we all held hands at the end. Then they all wanted to try the instruments. One girl wanted me to teach her to spin, which of course, I did. We gave the minister some applications for the World Awareness Children's Museum in Glens Falls.

The lay president came back in the evening with a copy of "A Song of Peace" in Hungarian (which I later joined them at the rehearsal in singing along with Deep River, Brahms, Mozart, and some arrangements of hungarian folk songs).  He was moved to share this with me because we sang it in our program and his choir had been working on it as well. His had been another meaningful and tearful greeting at the end of the morning service. I have received several formal greetings like this - an individual motivated to make a speech from the heart followed by a kiss on either cheek, a handshake, or a kiss on the hand-on behalf of the assembly after our concerts, and I felt honored to do so. He posed with Common Thread for a picture (taken by Rose and Istvan who were there as well) then he stayed to lock up the church after the youth gathering. Big WOWS.


April 11, 2005

So it turned out that the three people at my door (Rose, her son, Zsolt and his girlfriend Noemi) WERE, in fact looking for me. They are the relatives of Terry Ann Varga from Burlington Unitarian church, the one with the uncle who does folk art. Funny, I dreamed about them last night, too, that a very important connection was about to be made through my meeting the patriarch of this family. I remember Terry telling me that her uncle is a wood carver. It was again a wonderful surprise to discover that he is a master print maker. Looking through his portfolios of prints I was deeply moved and renewed in ways I never could have imagined. I was treated to what felt like a family reunion and it seemed to me that I played the part of the missing relative (Terry or, Eniko who now lives in Burlington). I was struck by the warmth of this family and how the artist, Balint Kosa and his wife Rosa worked together in the printing process. I had gone alone and was pleased to be given a tour of the studio, and my pick of any prints I liked.

Balint's work showed a lifelong involvement and intricate treatment of the Transylvanian landscape with a tenderness and respect. It was nearly impossible to make choices. I felt emotionally fed by the artwork and the apparent love in the family. It was like taking quiet walks with the artist. The grandson, Zsolt made a video of his grandparents pulling prints for me then we had polinka and fat bacon, salami and pickled paprika for lunch followed by a nibble of maple sugar candy from my satchel. We sang Hungarian folksongs - luckily I was able to read phonetically from the book we inherited from Gizi - and it brought tears of joy to grandmother Rosa's eyes. I gave Rose a copy of the collection of Vermont folksongs that I brought and sang for them Pete's "My Old Green Mountain Home"

I expanded, wept, felt loved and transported. Each day has been more wonderful than the last.  We just got back from our next to last show, for an orphan village in a nearby town; Illafalva. We had the children in the palms of our hands, singing along and enjoying the hands-on with the instruments afterward. Now we retire the crankie to be transferred back to the village of Almas. All the gifts donated by churches and individuals have been distributed now. My duffle is now filling up with examples of folk art for our eventual display back home. Rosa and her husband Istvan were again on hand to take a video of the concert. I really enjoyed their show that evening (or was it the next night?) at the restaurant that Shari and I attended over fries and beer.

More fun to come in the form of egg dyeing and felting workshops, choir rehearsal, folk dancing, castle viewing, spinning...and more. It is Monday. Can you stand this wonderful excitement?

I took a break from egg-dyeing and went back to the hotel just before 2:00 with a bouquet of red tulips and deep yellow freesias for Rosa. She and Balint were bringing the prints that they had made for me the day before along with a greeting for Terry Ann.

Mark and I attended a dance for young children at the craft school where all the other scheduled folk craft events had taken place. The level of involvement of the parents kept the little ones rapt for nearly an hour. It was moving to see the confidence with which the children moved and the desire to learn fairly intricate moves. How many times have Mark and I done  family dances over the years and hoped to inspire community in this way?

I had conversations with the shepherd's flute player who had just played for the little ones about his work since the 70's to gather flute music and techniques from Moldovan and Balkan shepherds and his continuing efforts to teach folk culture. This must have had to have been done in secret given the proscriptions by the Communist regime. I noted that my colleagues and myself back home had been involved with folk culture revival during the same time frame, albeit in a different social/political environment.

When we return this would be an important field of discussion between us.

He had invited us to come to the young adult dance to follow the family dance where he and his band and others would be playing that evening. The dance was in another location which we walked to in town. The dances were very fast and energetic. The teaching, the music and the dancing were all done by people younger than 25. The fact that we had been working hard to reclaim and reestablish square and contra dancing since the 70"s, too was most poignant for me. I felt compelled to dance but the prospect of joining in was precluded by the fact that as I sat there on the edge of the stage a meaningful measure of my life passed before my eyes. I don't think I could have kept up. Our friend the flute player told us that these young people in jeans and fitted jerseys had been in his classes since they were small.

I want to reflect on a moment at the end of our last public concert at the craft school in which I presented to Csilla some skeins of yarn I had spun during our concerts. It occurred to me that like knitting a sweater, thoughts were expertly threaded through her hands as she deftly translated back and forth facilitating the fabric of meaning. She became emotional when trying to translate this to the audience. It was no surprise to me when she told me later that she really enjoyed being 'part of the show'.

Later, I spent more time with Rose and Istvan, their children and inlaws which was very rewarding and calming. The rest of Common Thread went sightseeing in the southern Carpathians. It rained a gentle rain as I went in to Rose's second-hand store, drove downtown and bought cd's of Hungarian rock-and-roll for Calum with the expert guidance of Rose's daughter, went out for tea and cakes, and made sausage with the family on the front porch while we struggled to understand each other in bits of Hungarian, English, French, song, laughter and gesture. There was a joke about a hot springs that made my ears burn.