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Her Body & The Mountain Corpul Ei și Muntele

Writing by Stanca Radulescu. Artwork by Lucienne Saisselin.



This is a piece of prose that honors the unique stewardship & care that Romanian people, particularly Romanian women, take for their own land.


I think of my grandmother as I write this. I call this feeling a visceral one, an imagination, a remembrance, to title it, “mountain womanhood.” I dedicate this piece as an homage to women as the stewards of the Romanian landscape, the women whose care of it means survival, means remembrance. I dedicate this piece of writing to the reclamation of the Body of the Romanian woman, the land, the mountain, the valley, the garden, the forest, which holds her in her being, and is held within her life. I dedicate this to the mountain that is her dress, the land that is her house.

Romanian women treasure the traditions of their history for generations- one that has been quickly washed away within lower altitudes where the fast-paced life of capitalism and Western idealization strips younger generations of the familial values of stewardship, and a connection to their mountain

lands. Romanian womanhood, entrenched in patriarchal oppression and suppression, finds tradition through manual labor, despite what the patriarch has ordered her to be. This places limits on her body - which should be a home, a haven - yet in modern society, she is still expected to use her body as a vessel for service, or work. Such oppression would limit what the body should be, but using the body in such a way makes the Romanian woman a motif of resilience, strength & humility. A community blooming from mountain womanhood emerged after the fall of the Soviet power, where women migrated down into cities, old roles in new names, their bodies still upholding roles of service to children or men. But women converse in supermarkets, or exchange hellos and talk of the mundane at the hair salon, sewn in the same verbosity of a shared experience.


My grandmother enjoyed going out of the city, whether to the house my mother lived in before I was born, or to retreat in the mountains, as she had friends that vacationed up there. An homage to domestic life is a rite of passage and standard for Romanian commonwealth women, as well as those who live in rural communities, to physically partake in. Through a quiet resistance to patriarchal docility, these women defy becoming a mere reduction of the husband’s family name. To watch my grandmother hold millions of wild blueberries, or golden yellow mushrooms in her hands; I call her a woman of the mountain, for her presence as it rectified an imprint on every place she left, defining every landscape she stepped into.


Growing up with and being surrounded by immigrant Romanian women, as well as being raised by one, examining the Romanian diaspora where women are meant to be reduced to being the providers of their households, (Bucur; 2018) has allowed me to realize that they become essential providers and caretakers for the land instead. Despite strong Christian influences (Bucur 2018; 19), reducing the bodies of Romanian women to their biological functions as a means to accept docility, Romanian women do nothing of the sort as there is no woman I or my mother knows whose body is no longer hers. Despite receiving no autonomy in education, a reduction of women & their work to manual labor, in the fields, collecting crops and “producing a range of agricultural goods, ranging from cheese to țuica” (a kind of liquor) (Bucur; 2018), women seemed to cultivate everything of their livelihoods with their own two hands.


A friend once told me that all Romanian women are bound by a sort of communal sorrow, a communal suffering. And still, neighboring grandmothers in apartment buildings will knock on each other’s doors to offer food and a seat at the kitchen table. My grandmother taught me to milk a cow in the cold July nighttime when I was 13. A woman’s hands plummet deeply into soil, I wonder if it makes her think of her childhood. To connect with every part of a landscape is a commemoration of a life, of an existence, of a kind of resistance to being sentenced to societal exile by the imperialist man. For women who have been destined to be no more than providers for the man’s mouth instead cultivate community amongst one another. There is no woman in a Romanian city or village that does not know another, that could not meet when buying flowers at the Saturday market, woven through an ancestral relationship of oppression & dictation; their community of this womanhood is fuel to any time I find myself in loneliness.


I speak about the value I have for Romanian women who treasure the traditions of their history, one that has been quickly washed away in lower altitudes where the fast-paced life of capitalism and Western idealization strips younger generations of the familial values of stewardship of and a connection to their mountain lands (Ford; 2022). Village communities who live in tight-knit tradition, where only the women are left, heavily propelled by faith, and whose values of sustaining animals, land & family steep through the milk of generations. I admire and remember the longevity of women who have outlived their husbands, who live in the quiet of observance, whose aging skin begins to write stories. The lives of women who are tucked away from larger cities, or on a quieter street. Entering a house feels like coming home to the boyhoods and girlhoods of my parent’s generation. Even the mothers of family friends of your mother & father love you as though you were their own child; you will always be welcome in their homes. It feels like a lineage.


Within my honoring of the Romanian woman’s reclamation of her body as the vessel for family, for her community, in a collective carrying of the mountain & of the land, I live to tell a story of the

history & lives of the women I know, and will come to know. I recite Romanian womanhood as an anthropological experience, one of identity. Romanian womanhood is the mother’s hands which mend tears in clothing, nourish children with recipes kept alive through generations, hands shucking corn, leading me through the garden.


The grapevines along the walls of my grandmother’s house still grow to this day. My grandmother, whose hands could grow roses and peaches & tomatoes, whose arms know how to feed, carries the heaviness of abandonment & abuse – yet her body is an entity that allows for lumination, that picks blueberries in a forest & has taught me how. I have a picture of my mother on a mountain, and she goes now with her friends; such an embodiment embedded into such a life. For all mothers who pick mushrooms out of the ground and hold them gently to show their children, the Body & the land exist as one, in this scripture of this kind of woman.


Although I do not identify with womanhood myself, the use of the body as a marriage to the eternal land is something that lies within me forever, as an anchor to my family & the roots of any mother’s wrinkling skin as she becomes fossilized into the village from which she was born. The Body is an honor in Romanian womanhood – it is a medium for loving, for care, for the nourishment of the land and of children, for breathing & healing. The reclamation of the body of Romanian women is the lifeline of cities, of communities that keeps a rubble of a society, although fueled in monotonous tradition, the body cradles the lives of every woman, din fi-e care femeie, that walks into a church to pray for her mother.


My grandmother’s house lies on top of a hill, and sometimes it feels like the city is singing her name.



Sources:

1. Abstract from Harsanyi, D.P. (1994). Romania's Women. Journal of Women's History 5(3), 30-54. https://doi.org/10.1353/jowh.2010.0230.

2. Bucur, M., & Miroiu, M. (2018). Women from Romania’s Past into the Present: A Short Historical Overview. In Birth of Democratic Citizenship: Women and Power in Modern Romania (pp. 18–40). Indiana University Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv65sw3t.6

3. Ford , Judy. “‘There Is Wisdom Here’: Romania’s Last Peasant Women – a Photo Essay.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 May 2022,

www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2022/may/09/romanian-rural-workers-photo-essay.

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