2 November 2017
As we were driving through Romania, we kept seeing pylons for electric lines or highway lights decorated on top with wheels of branches, like some great ceremonial hat, or bird’s nest. I’ve seen birds’ nests, but these were far too large for nests. Maybe some iconic national decoration. I’ve seen cell phone towers here made to look like trees, so this, I figured, was a way to soften the hard edge of industrial design. We assumed that was it and so forgot about it.
Once back, though, we mentioned it to a friend who has traveled to Poland several times, telling her of this odd, but pleasant, Romanian way of decorating pylons. Not decorations, she said with professorial surety…they are stork nests.
Stork nests? Could it be? We reddened at our naïve assumption that they were merely decorations. You mean there are real storks, not just drawings on Hallmark birth announcements…a smiling stork, a sling hanging from its beak and an airborne newborn…an enduring folklore tale. (Not that central and northern European folks were ignorant about the actual delivery procedures, but it was a less lurid answer, when children asked where babies came from. And, conveniently, the storks were there.)
I told her we didn’t see any birds using the nests. They probably have migrated, she said, you know what Polish, Romanian, Ukrainian winters are like. True enough. Storks migrate south in the autumn, likely a week or two before we got there, down to sub-Saharan Africa. Then in spring, riding the updrafts from thermals, they come back, religiously, like swallows to Capistrano…sometimes to the same nest. And I thought Google Maps was good. Not to burden with too much detail; there are 5500 mating pairs of storks in Romania alone. The nests can be six feet in diameter, four feet deep and weigh 550 pounds. They do capture attention.
One other distinctive fact of Romanian life…the traffic circle…a bit of competitive jockeying to us westerners accustomed to the certainty of traffic lights…red, green; stop, go. Just choose your destination from the signs on the way around and off you go. And if you have a question about where you’re going, circle again. For a tourist it’s not perfect, but you know, when the road you’ve taken goes from two lanes to one, then pavement to dirt, you’ve likely taken the wrong exit. So back you go to try again.
A final note. No feeling is more helpless than a kid separated from his parents. But two companions separated in a foreign country, late afternoon without cell phone service at Bran Castle (of Dracula myth), well, that’s a close second. Roberta balked at climbing the narrow steep stone steps to the rooms at the top, so I did alone. We’d meet at the exit later. And there I was, half an hour later, having descended the worn steps to the exit, waiting as fewer and fewer visitors were left to come out and no Roberta. It leaves the mind awash in awful imaginings. I ran downhill to a coffee shop, figuring she’d be sitting there in distress. Not so. I ran back uphill, thinking we were permanently separated. And there she was, casting me a “where the hell have you been” look (any look was fine at that point). It was only our third day in Romania. We had cappuccino and apple strudel at the coffee shop down the hill, a wonderful anti-anxiety remedy, and then, hand in hand, walked to the car and drove gratefully to Brasov.