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New Europe

Day Fifty-six: Viseu de Sus, Maramures

All Soul's Day in Ieud 
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All Soul's Day in Ieud. The superbly graceful wooden church.
Michael Palin - New EuropeAfter yesterday's surfeit of fine Carpathian scenery, my view from the window of the Hotel Gabriela at Viseu de Sus is a bit of an anti-climax: a main road, a railway line and some semi-derelict industrial sheds, on one of whose doors the words 'Night Club' have been somewhat unconvincingly splashed in white paint.

It was yesterday's surfeit of Carpathian food and drink that did for me in the night. At a bar/restaurant next door to the hotel I had a pork stew with mushrooms: thick, rich and garlicky, and I certainly should have resisted mixing it with palinca brewed by our driver Andrei's father-in-law and dispensed from a recycled plastic bottle.

The result was a night of racing heartbeat and an awful inability to get selections from The Sound of Music out of my brain.

This is All Souls' Day in Romania, and in this conservative, rural, intensely religious corner of the country it's taken very seriously. We drive a short way over the hills and into the small side valley of the Iza River. The undulating countryside is fringed with low trees and wreathed in a chilly morning mist.

The small town of Ieud (pronounced 'Ay-ude') is situated in a fold of the hills, at the end of the road. It's been described to me as fervently Orthodox. Apparently there were no divorces in the town between 1787 and 1980.

It doesn't feel forbidding or strict, indeed as I walk through the lych-gate of the churchyard where today's celebrations will be going on, I'm greeted by two very jolly ladies in black headscarves, fur-trimmed jerkins and wide black skirts, who offer me doughnuts, special All Souls' Day bread baked in the shape of a bow, and a warming concoction called afinata, which tastes like fortified cranberry juice.

Colleagues of similar size, age and shape are tidying up the graves that surround the church, weeding, raking, laying out flowers, or in some cases simply arranging a decoration of petals over the black soil. From somewhere down in the town comes the insistent buzz of a chainsaw.

The priest, a tall, imposing figure with a black robe, long beard and a shock of thick grey hair just about held in check by a black pillbox cap, is already at work blessing the graves. He and an assistant chant prayers, sing responses and he then twice sprinkles holy water on each gravestone before moving on.
All Soul's Day in Ieud 
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I watch with Ionut as children light candles and stick them into loaves of specially baked bread.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Fifty-six: Viseu de Sus, Maramures
  • Country/sea: Romania
  • Place: Ieud
  • Book page no: 136

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