Chris visited us as WWOOF volunteer at the end of April / beginning of May 2014. Thank you Chris for the nice words about Stanciova :)
After a night of drinking homemade tzuika (basically Romanian moonshine made from plums), and discussing architecture, I awoke on the top bunk, still dizzy, with what felt like the beginning of a cold. “Impossible!” my friend Victor later told me. “Tzuika is a medicine.” Medicine or not, I had the sniffles and morning greeted me with the sudden urge for a bowel movement. I hadn’t even had my coffee. A few quiet moments of reconnection with nature in the outhouse, and then I returned to the Stanciova association house for a light breakfast which consisted of bread, some delicious natural honey, dates, coffee, and jam. At around 11am Victor, his girlfriend Teo, and I returned to Teodora’s household (note that Teo and Teodora are two different people) where we should have fallen asleep the previous night. A hungover walk about a kilometer through the horse-trodden fields, past big shaggy dogs covered in dirt, and packs of geese. After saying goodbye to Victor and Teo, who returned that day to their flat in Timișoara, I got back to work… Stanciova is an intentional community/eco-village integrated into an existing traditional Romanian-Serbian village a bit east of Timișoara, Romania. The actual members of the community are no more than around fifteen and slowly growing. Victor and Teo, for example, are friends of Teodora, looking to buy land in the village and build their own home. But the total population of the village is about three-hundred and fifty. The fertile earth of the village rests nestled between the low hills rippling out from the western edge of the Carpathians. Between the humble clay-tile roofed homes are the dirt roads where teenagers race along in horse-drawn carriages, chickens roam free everywhere, cattle and sheep graze. Nettles, wild fennel, and a kaleidoscope of flowers grow up to your waist. In the creeks besides the roads, you can find deep reddish-green mint growing. Dapper little old village men walk bow-legged with their cigarettes and fedoras passing “bună” (“good day”) along as we walk by. I stayed with Teodora and her mother for only less than a week, yet I feel as if I have gained something immeasurable in that brief time. What I got to see was a group of passionate human beings actually living an alternative form of life. Perhaps for the first time, I was given the chance to converse with people who not only felt alienated and dissatisfied with the dominant culture, but who actually did something about it. They’re building their own homes out of natural materials. I overheard many plans about do-it-yourself architectural designs for homes made of compacted earth or straw and heated with wood-burning stoves. They’re making their own foods and crafts. They’re growing mushrooms and keeping bees. They are not 100% self sufficient but they are working toward it. Most of my trek through Europe so far had been through major cities. The cities of Europe are beautiful, pulsing with flavor and style, bleeding with history. Each has a lifetime’s worth to discover. Yet like any city, they are noisy, unforgiving, oversexed, highly materialistic, and filled with desperate and empty people thinking they are having a good time. It was more than a relief to visit Stanciova – It was a revelation. I’ve always known this kind of life is what I wanted. But I had my doubts until I saw others living it. I had read Thoreau and I knew these kind of Waldens existed, but somehow, it felt like nothing but a pipe-dream, and there in my adolescence and early 20s it soured into nothing but a misanthropic what-if. Every morning, after a bit of coffee, I helped feed the rabbits and clean their cages. Teodora and her mother raise them for meat. And if you think that’s awful because rabbits are so cute and cuddly, well, yes they are, but they are also assholes, you’ll discover. Other jobs varied by day, depending on the weather and what was needed at the moment. I cut grass, pulled weeds, dug, planted new beans and tomatoes, among many other sorted tasks. One of my favorite experiences was building a new and larger enclosure for the chickens with Victor. We dug holes for the reinforced concrete posts, around which we secured the wire fencing. From an old wooden frame we recut and constructed a gate, drilled the hinges and latch into the concrete. Seeing something as simple as a functional door -that you built – swinging open and closing properly is such a joy. And it was even more of a joy to see the chickens pecking around in their new home.
“Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.”
I became fascinated with craft, in the idea of working with my hands. I was inspired listening to others who are interested in preserving the traditional arts of woodwork, stonework, metallurgy, and all sorts of construction. Had I stayed long-term, I may have gotten the chance to start to learn a craft I could begin to call my own. Nonetheless, I was honored to work with the earth and learn about gardening with Teodora.
“Timing is everything in gardening,” She told me.
In the world of the village, conventionally measured time becomes meaningless. “You know what I love most about this?” Victor asked. “You have no idea today is Monday.” This is not to say there is no need to follow time. Only there is no need to follow factory time. To garden, you follow the earth’s time: weather patterns, seasonal changes, lunar cycles, equinoxes, and solstices. It is not the homogeneous and linear march of following the calendar, but a sensitive attention to the conditions of reality in the present and a readiness for action without hesitation. I’m imagining the Daoist equanimity of those cranes in Chinese paintings, waiting for the right moment to strike a fish in the water.
Physical work is tiring but does not leave one mentally and spiritually exhausted the way that office work does. Little jobs throughout the day never really end. Yet there is still much time for relaxing and conviviality, much more time, in fact, than one has in the 9-5 world. Visitors and other friends from the community were always coming and going. In the evenings, we would often gather at one of the households and share food, wine, cigarettes, and stories. Barefoot on patios in the rain, in the company also of spiders, caterpillars, cats, and dogs. There were parties with many homemade sweets. During the day, work was interrupted by small adventures. The heavy rain produced great rainbows, which we’d chase in the mud, looking for tastes of awe. One day we visited a ruined manor house, tucked away in the hills past the Orthodox church. The kind of old home where they built the ceilings and doors so high to give room for the soul to feel it’s own grandiosity. Some ceilings had collapsed and plants were growing in the soil that was once used as insulation. That night we watched the sun go down and talked about beauty and impermanence and the human love of quiet, forgotten, and ruined places.
About a week or so earlier, in a hostel in Brașov, I met Erick, the Minority Nomad, and I confessed to him my restlessness and fatigue from traveling. “You haven’t found your second home yet,” he said. For him, this is Bangkok, Thailand. Maybe I had found it in Stanciova? Or at least the idea of a place like Stanciova, where I know one day I’ll plant myself.
My restlessness was not fully quenched, though. I’ll admit I often felt like a bit of a lazy volunteer, absent and hazy minded and still uprooted. And with my time in Europe counting down, I was looking ahead to Serbia, Greece, and then my return home in three short weeks. Part of my mind was elsewhere and elsewhen. But I’m happy to say now that the past is holding my attention less and less, and the future is becoming less of a nebulous and nagging daimon and more of a clear and hopeful citadel in the distance. Goodbyes did not feel so terminal. My last morning in Stanciova, Teodora and I talked quite a lot about my new directions. I had determined that after my travels are concluded, I’ll settle into an intentional community like Stanciova and work as a psychotherapist from my own self-built home. Much of our discussion brought me again to the horrible question of returning to school. Is it really necessary? And if I decide to, will my time spent traveling instead of building a CV put me at a disadvantage? The conventional answer, the one that PhDs, even the ones I respect, have given me is Don’t wait too long! The unanimous response from those sages I’ve met along the road is that of course my professor’s believe that. Ironically, Plato’s Cave is the Academy. After spending so much time in the real world, it’s hard to accustom one’s eyes again to the world of footnotes and deadlines. But it can and maybe should be done, not just for my sake, but for theirs. And there is no real time limit if you are determined enough. The professors are tired of passive, perpetual students parroting back shadows to them. The other serious question of career is how, exactly, to carry on a psychotherapy practice in an intentional community. Teodora suggested that when I return to the US, I should tour other similar eco-village communities which already have psychotherapists and alternative healers practicing and leading there (They certainly exist) and observe how they work. So this is what I’ll do. Despite my laziness, I hope they enjoyed my company there as much as I enjoyed theirs. Because I may be strolling by again, hefting my bags, my drum, and accordion through the hills of western Romania. I know I’ve gained so much more from my time at Stanciova than what I’ve written here. I think, however, that much of it, like good tzuika, must first rest in the oak barrels in the cellars of my brain for a while.