Mizies is a small village nested on a plateau emerging right before the steep slopes of the Western Carpathian Mountains. It is a small place, unknown to many, but still close to the town of Beius, a small town with old history, a citadel longing for the title of a city. Because of this proximity, Mizies is basically part of that town. Officially, though, she is a part of another administrative unit, which is called in Romania a commune (which represents a group of villages having a center and being governed by elected officials). Historically, Beius, the town has been a representative center of commerce and later education for the Romanians between the borders of the Habsburg Empire. During the year of communism, the town became also a small industrial platform with several factories producing from furniture to small machinery. The small village of Mizies remained a conservative community, which adapted to the new order, imported from the thinking of the early communists Marx and Engles with the “support” of the Red Army. Despite the state propaganda and the migration of the labor force to the town, this village preserved old habits almost intact for all those decades. Therefore, the church remained the cultural center of the community and the old agricultural skills were transmitted from a generation to another. When the Communism vanished because of an implosion of a system that separated itself from the rest of the modern world, the village gained back its original strength. Its stability came from the extreme diligence of the farmers and the moral values promoted by the church. The inhabitants threw themselves into the new free market economy without having or trying to gain much knowledge. They were practical enough to adapt to a new order with not much theory. In the end, they have survived the era of centralized agriculture and a planned economy, both proven to have led to self destruction.
These days, the people of Mizies are part of the new globalized world. They have access to the information just as one that lives on Manhattan’s 5th Avenue. Europe opened its borders to them, and willing or not, they got integrated into the western world. The town that served as the hub to which all villages like Mizies, navigated to get education, to solve official problems, to address the courts or ask for medical care, or simply just to exchange goods, money and knowledge, stopped being an industrial center for becoming a commercial one. Commercial only.
The generations born in the seventies, eighties and nineties, together with the millennials, grew up watching Western and mainly American models. A gigantic wave of mentality change was supposed to sweep off old ones. The state failed to provide the economic support for this new generation to fulfill their dreams. For years, after 1989, the year in which the Romanians have overthrown the powerful clan of Nicolae Ceausescu from power, the nation struggled to find the way toward modernization. For every step forward, a few steps backward followed. Finally, after 9/11, Romania got caught within the new geo strategic borders, and in a manner of little then a decade, she joined NATO and then the European Union. Impossible dreams became true suddenly. After being on the other side of the invisible civilization frontier separating Western from the Eastern Europe, Romanians joined the sumptuous table of the rich ones. Investors grew more confident and pumped money into the economy. The country, once again, was not prepared for the big change and the crisis has followed. The actively working generations, educated or uneducated, fled the country like ants running from a colony being sprayed with insecticides. Western Europe waited for them with their open markets, with their needs for the workforce. Highly skilled individuals, whom education was mostly financed by the state, fled even further, on other continents, for better opportunities. This is how many Romanians discovered the capitalist world, the free market and the real money being paid for the job. Consequentially, a lot of money returned to the country as investments in real estate, housing projects or just financing the meager incomes of those that stayed behind. Some of those hard earned money financed businesses. This is in short, how the younger Romanians won the “Revolution”, this is how they joined the globalized new world.
Some of these expats returned to their native places, importing new skills, new knowledge and, more important, valuable savings. This is the generation that was supposed to change the country. Adopting the Western way of life turned from being a dream to be grasped as reality. The financial crisis of 2008 made the Romanian easily lose their admiration for capitalism. As human beings, we all tend to like what fits our purposes and this natural instinct. When something fails in meeting our expectations, it just alters our love for it. As the economies regained their strength, so did the adherence to the free market values.
Nowadays we are watching almost passively the unfolding of the war in Ukraine, a war in which Romanians are mostly spectators. The powerful countries, led, as always, by an unfatigued and restless United States of America, are trying to stop the absurd pretension of an authoritarian Putin to expand Russian influence over former Soviet states and further away to the former socialist Central and Eastern European enclave. Costs are high; gasoline gives most of the headaches as usually. Romanians are once again caught between the great super power squander. The difference, this time, lays in the fact that the country is a partner of the great military and economic partners, a statute hardly imaginable just a few years ago.
Common people are, understandably, not comfortable with this participation in an affair that is hard to imagine it’s theirs. Romanians may look toward Brussel or Washington with some admiration, but they are too far away from understanding them. America, great as she is, can only be the big brother that is called upon when they cannot deal with the foes, but also the one that seems to check too often on them when there is no threat.
Down here, in the small village of Mizies, these things seem too big to get much attention. The great international affairs have no relevance to the hard-working farmer. No matter what the problems of the big world are, the land has to be tended; it has to provide yields. In order to extract the best of it, people have to use all their means, money, labor, machineries. This is a small place on earth, in which the inhabitants found a peace among themselves, driven by common goals. They are the product of a complex society, the product of a complicated system. The village is somehow off the grid. Its location, despite the proximity to the town and a main road, is just as little isolated as to not get much notice from the passerby. It is an enclave, an island in which most of the rules are locally established. The locals are some sort of suburbanites, but not the kind that fled the cities, but the ones that stayed. They are part of the world just as much as one living in the capital city or in any other place.
It is an exotic example to see how the only commercial enterprise functions. It is a small room in an old repurposed public building with no neons or any other advertising. If you are a stranger, you might pass without noticing it. The venturer has no business hours, and the place is only open when there is enough demand. How is that set? It is a mystery, but it works just fine. They sell all kinds of goods; they provide drinks, alcoholic or not, and also work as social hub. People will gather in the evenings and sit to enjoy a cold beer or other refreshments and do what they are supposed to do: socialize, share experiences and opinions. The trade is just what the villagers need; all other needed goods are hauled from the town, burning gasoline or diesel. People have access to the most modern cars and they can afford them. The latest Android or iPhone model is available right upon launch and they have it. This is a community that is integrated into the gigantic market but also isolated from it. Just like as much of a paradox, this is a stark reality.
Gipsies, traveling in vans, are driving slowly from time to time selling seasonal produce that is not available locally or buying junk. They shout their commercials verbally or using megaphones. It is another enterprise that fouls the rules and offers a glimpse of a past that survives.
Almost all farming is self-sufficient, but there’s also commercial agriculture. They will do the best to get the best harvest, using modern tools, burning fossil fuels, using irrigation and applying chemical substances. Plants are adapted to satisfy the market and disregarding what the soil can carry. There is no concern for environmental causes, those are issues of the big brothers as well.
Housing is transforming visibly, old buildings turn into mansions, landscaping is a priority. The inhabitants are rich and enterprising. The landscape is manipulated, nature is as well. A sewage system was built thrice, but is still not functioning. Waste, both human and animal, floats freely on ditches nearing the roads. Politicians do here just what they do all over the place, generate corruption.
Still, there is a coexistence, a symbiosis of contrasts that last, amazingly. There is that old way of things existing. The migration of birds coming in the springtime and going back in the fall, the population of small wild mammals that roam the fields and broke into the gardens.
People seem to care for each other, for their neighbours, but there is also an individualism that reflects the current state of human civilization. They happily take part in events, weddings and funerals, with an openness to festivities and mimicking luxuriant, inspired by media ways of life.
They tend their domestic animals as their equals. It brings one down to tears to see the spectacle of a family’s desperation upon losing a pregnant cow and the whole action taken for rescuing it. Just as the sun sets at the end of the long summer day, the cows are returning home, usually with just little guidance from their masters. During the day, they are grazing a common pasture, herding or not, completely independent but controlled by electric fences. One of those days, a pregnant animal failed to return, and that gave birth to concerns to the owners, which easily hassled and agitated the neighbors. A local tragedy was about to unfold. The missing cow was in great danger of having to give birth in the so-called wilderness. They formed a rescue team in a matter of minutes, all climbed up on a tractor and drove toward the pasture. Right afterward, the peaceful silence of the evening fell again over the village, despite the tension being felt in the air. Most locals resumed their toils, toils that never end. There is always something to do on the farm. When the roar of the tractor’s engine broke the stillness of the hot air flowing invisibly over the streets, the country people raised their heads, bowed down to the grounds and rushed to the fences to see the squad returning gloriously home. The small agricultural monster running in low gear, headlights on, pinching the moist darkness, was followed by the disturbed mother cow, agitating, running, trying to stop the machine or just walking behind it. The rescuers, driving, sitting on the tractor’s fenders or walking victoriously behind, spread wide smiles that couldn’t be seen but could be felt. As the procession passed the behind the fences watchers, a small platform attached to the rear of the tractor could have been observed, improvised on the spot in the very minutes that preceded the action. On it, the freshly born calf was laying, still weak from her encounter with the enormous world, but healthy and secure.
This was one moment that proved the meaning of the country life, the dedication of the farmer to his cattle, the determination with which the villagers live and work daily, a small victory, a hope for a tomorrow that should be the same like today, stable but challenging, different but still the same.
Summer is still at its debut. Various forms of animal life just spring to life, various insects, birds and mammals are at the end of their mating season. Different small creatures join the magnificent cycle of nature. Birds are special and their frenzy is more obvious. A small one built a nest inside a metal pipe used as a pillar to sustain a fence, just underneath the edge of a roof, providing shadow and rain proof at the same time. The small babies are squeezed inside it, silent and trying to black out from the dangers, but they excite tremendously when their parents fly back carrying food with their beaks, offering it to the offsprings. It is an outstanding example of care and patience. Then the day arrives when the parents, as pushed by some invisible hands, stay at close distance watching but not helping them away. It is the great impasse in which the babies, suddenly left alone, have to spread their wings, imitating parents. It is a tedious and almost impossible process, a great struggle for them and you can see them trembling on the ground after their first landing, unsure where to go and what to do. The adults will just watch, hidden on branches, behind large leaves, abandoning completely, apparently lacking any form of compassion. As cruel as it can seem, it is the way they, birds, live. A natural way of life that suffers no change and no evolution, at least not at the tiny time we have to observe it. The swirl of time we live thinking it is the greatest because it is our present, but which has almost no significance in the great, incomprehensible infinity of seconds.
This is an idyllic place on earth, an island of tranquility, but only when seen from the side. The big world will swallow this place as well as it did with some many others. A world in which humans created the means to migrate at great distances, in which barriers of all kinds were broken, a world in which a great mingle is happening. Inside the big whirlpool that mixes races and cultures together, there is hardly a place that will face no threat, and Mizies is probably one of them. This small village can be an example of how people can self govern, authorities barely visit the place, in three months I never saw a police car patrolling, because there are no infractions. But they are events that cannot be managed at the local level, things that can’t be taken care of, or things that got forgotten just because of the existence of a more convenient one. A hose caught fire and dense black smoke melted and carbonized the structure. An event like this had to be managed by the neighbors in the old times, but nowadays an emergency call brings the professional fire squad into action and locals have only to watch. It is the hand of the state that comes to save the locals. Big brother had to come and clean the mess. A state that is equally hated, harassed and ignored. The new era exposes the individual to many external influences, and they will choose only what they like. The social media opened the door to a more perfect manipulation, and people will usually pick sensationalism and radicalism. Ignorance and lack of proper models produce uneducated choices. The number of options is continuously growing. Some people choose to move forward, some people choose to do it backward. And, after all, what characterizes this beautiful community is homogeneity, a result of a natural process but exposed to the risk of diversity as any other biological entity in the world. These villagers chose to either stay or flee, come back or not. The mentalities are diverse and opposed. One praises the moral values of the church but builds, most of the times, unnecessary material things. Another one praises the religious stoicism in the face of illness or disaster, but desperately asks for help from the “system” when things get messy. Isolation means enclosure, both physical and intellectual. Openness relays on putting one in front of challenges of the big world. A great Romanian intellectual said that: “Eternity has been born in the village.” But “Eternity” is such an abstract thing that it is incomprehensible to the human. We are the product of our personal choices. We all are heading in different directions. This lead me back to the Lockean paradigm: “We all have different choices, yet we all might be right.”