Dawn chorus

Over the fish plate clatter of the train, I could hear the glassy-eyed accordion player squeezing out tune after tune from the couchette next to ours. Every so often one of his equally inebriated companions would sing a line or two in a high pitched almost screechwail that is common in my experience of folk singing. There always seems to be a similar pitch present, a voice under stress, not unpleasant but distinctive.

They began their festivities at around 6 a.m.- maybe this is when they boarded the train or when I woke up, I don’t know. It was a natural accompaniment to the passing landscape of crops and green fields, green hills and blue mountains that were a near constant backdrop. The several power stations that went by looked defunct but I suspect they were still squeezing out some energy.

We all alighted at Brasov and when I passed their cabin I saw the floor was dark grey with wet and the air was thick with the smoke of cheap, tar rich cigarettes. As I stood behind one of them waiting to alight I was engulfed by his smoke. It was as if he embodied the old factory ethic of churning out a product, in his case music, with an equal amount of pollution.

Romanian Marigolds

The old lady on the street bore no resemblance to my late maternal nana save for the marigolds she was selling. Nana always nurtured those yellow orange afros, growing them from seed in the greenhouse. As well as populating the borders of her and grandad’s front garden they popped up like lollipops from large, brown, plastic tubs on the patio out the back. Part of my near daily visits to 36 The Grove would invariably involve a walk around the garden and although I didn’t pay particular attention to the marigolds back then, seeing them today with the old lady in this Romanian town evoked a powerful recollection of those times.

This old lady was a widow, an assumption based on her predominantly black garb. However, I suspect she had been one for some time since under her dark woollen waistcoat and skirt she wore a tropical flower print dress and even though her black socks were turned inside out the tell-tale thread ends told me there were some pretty patterns lying against her ankles. She wore a silver ring: who knows if the gold had just worn away, I like to think so. Her hands were brown, the heat bringing the veins to the surface. Her shoulders were hunched slightly and she walked with a rolling gait.

Her marigolds had their stems wrapped in green paper which had turned brown from the wet that helped maintain their posture. They had been placed in plastic bags which in turn had been put into a dark nylon sports bag. She fiddled with the flowers, prodding, fanning and plucking them, all the time bending over from her waist, reducing her already diminutive height by nearly half. Nana would do the same when she tended her borders. This shape is so human, natural to the elderly, rounded like a stone by a river. I doubt this Transylvanian lady is anywhere near as old as my nana when she died and I am sure their lives bear more differences than similarities. Yet those brazen, yolky blooms atop shaggy, green stems brought a stranger and a much loved grandparent together. And for a little while, on the pavement between a few shops and a busy road, I wasn’t sure between whom the greater distance lay.


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