THE SMALL MOUNTAINS. They stand upon the left Bank of the Golden Bistrița River in an area once called Bukovina and are composed of two parts: Giumalău and Rarău. The most stunning and well-known place here is a remote stony fortress, a craggy pinnacle of white limestone called Pietrele Doamnei or “Lady’s Stones”. It reaches skyward, high above the surrounding forests and grazing lands, feet planted among the rarest of mountain grasses. Once at its base I gathered yellow oat grass, beautiful and silky.
The Rarău Mountains were where I first saw people making homemade lime. A group of old men stoked a blazing kiln – a devil’s forge – cracking off chunks of limestone and baking them in the fierce heat. Sweat poured off them as they merrily worked the bellows, and all around the limekiln, nothing but grass and forests – inspiration for the rest of the world’s factories.
A few kilometers on, a group of monks mowed grass amid trees and meadows. Young and old, dressed in black, with tall hats and coal-black beards. Sweat poured off them too as they brandished their scythes, their dark cassocks fluttering behind them. A short way on, there stood a small solitary monastery, and the sound of orthodox chants floated through the still air.
In a merry little hut beneath Lady’s Stones, wine flows to the spluttering of a kerosene lamp and a voice there sings long into the night. Drinking is not frowned upon in Romania: it seems moderation is the law of the land, often reinforced by grave-looking constables in faded blue uniforms, though they are not the real reason for restraint. After all, beată – the Romanian word for an inebriated woman – is nearly identical to the Latin word, beata, meaning a blissful woman. Thus, blissful women sing among the Giumalău Mountains as Lady’s Stones gleam softly in the moonlight.