Sunday, September 16, 2007
Negreni 2007: Fekete Tó vásár update
I’ve noticed that some visitors have arrived at this blog by googling for the Negreni Fair (AKA the Fekete Tó vásár in Hungarian) which is coming up in October in the Transylvanian village of Negreni, in Bihor County, Romanian. Negreni was in the news last week, sadly, when a truck barreling down the main road in the rain swerved and hit a funeral procession, killing five people. Possibly the first time the BBC ever took notice of Negreni. The Negreni Fair is one of the last great peasant fairs in east Europe, and while a lot of these events have become folklorized tourist attractions, Negreni continues in all its grimy, smoky backcountry capitalist glory. It takes place on the second weekend of October each year, which means that it should be October 13-14th in 2007. If you expect to stay nearby, book your motels in Cluj or Oradea now – they tend to fill up weeks in advance.The easiest way to get to Negreni is by car – local families rent parking space in their yards – or by train – the early morning local trains running between Cluj and Oradea will stop in Negreni for the fair, but check to see when the afternoon trains are running back to the cities – there are not too many. The sellers at Negreni are a mix of local Transylvanian Romanian, Hungarian, and Gypsy, and you hear a mix of all these languages spoken simultaneously, a true Tower of Babelescu. For the local Bihor Romanians – a hardy mountaineers who still wear long sheepskin cloaks and play the vioara cu goarne (resonator trumpet or stroh fiddle) – the fair is the annual reunion event, with much palinca din Bihor drunk, and massive vioara cu goarne jams. A lot of folks write to me asking about how to get these fiddles. Well, it ain’t easy. You can get them at the Bucharest Village Museum shop, or at the Pro Folk Music shop at Almassy ter in Budapest. Or you can go to Negreni. The man to see is Dorel Kordoban, from the village of Lazuri in Comuna Rosia near Beius (directions here.) Another maker is Mircea Rostas from the village of Bratca, which is closer to the Oradea-Cluj highway. Mircea also makes fine instruments but likes to paint them in garish sparkle paint, whereas Dorel's instruments are finished in natural wood. Shopping? Well, there are great hats -kucsma - made from fetal lamb skin – yes, lamb fetuses provide the softest fleece for hats. You get the lamb fetuses by slaughtering the mothers for mici, those indelicately turdy meat sausages sold everywhere at the fair. Few hats can claim a back story comparable to that. It’s called hasi bárány in Hungarian “belly lamb” and it is not a hat for vegetarians or very sensitive people. But Romania is the kind of place where you can walk around with a horror story on your head and nobody thinks twice. Nice hat!Transylvanians are known for eating huge portions of meat and potatoes, and so of course you need a cauldron for cooking, and luckily there is an entire ethnic group ready to serve you, the Kalderash Gypsies, whose name originates in their occupation of making and repairing cauldrons (caldera.) What a wok is to Chinese cuisine, a cauldron is to Transylvanian cooking. Transylvanian cuisine is rather easy to duplicate. Simply take a normal Romanian recipe for stuffed cabbage sarmale, for example, and proceed to quadruple the amount so that each serving provides at least a kilo per person. To be safe, double that. You now have a distinctly Transylvanian portion of food. A lot of foreign antique dealers go to the fair and if you know the difference between antiques and junk you can find a lot of good stuff here. As for myself, I almost never buy anything. But the junk is magnificent. Unfortunately I can't make it to the Fair this year, as I will be playing music in New York that weekend. Finally... heading back to Oradea from the fair with Dorel and Florica last year, even after a very long day and a few too many palincas, there's always time for a tune on the train.