“I’ve been on a constant search to find my place, some place where I can move things from left to right without someone scolding me that it’s not okay or saying “why have you come into our house to change things?” Ariadne bought the property in Brebu Nou in 2011, but it wasn’t until 2021 that she decided to leave Timisoara and permanently settle in a mountain village. “This is where I finally began to feel what it means not to have everyone pulling at you in all directions. (…) This year I’ve probably been the most at peace since as long as I can remember.”
Ariadne is not her real name, but a pseudonym she has chosen for herself, though it might have been more accurate to call herself Scheherazade, because she tells the stories at length, dramatising them, with plenty of detail and a hindsight that shows she has detached from many of the events she talks about.
Ariadne was born in Timișoara, in 1964. Her childhood was scarred by domestic violence. “For me, it was clear, if anyone laid eyes on me, I was going to get my ass whooped.”
“I didn’t get along with my mother,” says Ariadne. “My mother was my mortal enemy. I either loved her or hated her or a mix. (…) When we finally sat down for a cigarette, I liked to get her to tell me stories. I wasn’t so much interested in the stories as in the fact that my mother was spending time with me.”
Her mother was from Bessarabia, near Chernivtsi, “close to where the border was drawn [in 1940],” Ariadne tells us. “When I went there, I could see the border from the yard. My cousin told me: ‘Look, by that tree over there, it is already Ukraine or the other Bukovina’.” Ariadne has only been there once, in 2006. From her mother’s stories, she remembers that “the Russians and the Germans came in turns.” People would dig holes in the ground, in the forest, and hide with the few possessions they had. Once, Ariadne’s grandfather went back to the hole and saw not only that the belongings were gone, but also that the hole had been turned into a latrine. After Ariadne’s grandparents died, the seven children, including Ariadne’s mother, scattered across the country.
The eldest brother, Dumitru, “joined the army, joined the Communists and ended up in a good post.” That’s how he got to Timișoara, where he also brought Ariadne’s mother. “He helped the other brothers as well, but he also got above himself. We were as if his subjects, ‘I brought you, I made you, what more do you want?'” Initially Ariadne’s mother lived with Dumitru, taking care of his daughter, “until she became a little emancipated,” says Ariadne. She moved into a hostel and started working as a weaver at the Cotton Factory. “My mother too was an activist, with badges of honor and stars on her chest.” She worked in the factory all her life. Ariadne remembers the deafening noise the machines made, which could be heard from around the corner.
Ariadne’s mother met her father at the tuberculosis sanatorium in Poiana Mărului, where they were both patients. He was from from Nevrincea, Timiș county. His mother had died when he was young, and his father had remarried a Moldovan woman who had “come with the famine” in 1947. Ariadne’s father was a locksmith at IRA (the car repair company).
Ariadne’s parents married in 1963, but the marriage was far from happy.
When Ariadne was six, her brother was born. The moment coincided with her starting school, but as she had to look after her brother and the house, she had no time to study.
Three years later, the family moved from their house on Bârzava Street to an apartment on Cetății Boulevard. This meant, for her, the end of “the drudgery of carrying water.” “Where we lived, there was a well, but it was next to the latrine and it stank. My mother wouldn’t even wash with that water,” Ariadne tells us. It was her chore to fetch water “from three corners away” for herself and the rest of the family. But the new apartment had a bathroom with running water. Ariadna remembers that her mother had chosen the top floor, “so she wouldn’t hear people walking over her head,” but her father was unhappy that he had to climb four flights of stairs.
During her high school admission exam, her father was going through a particularly violent period, so Ariadna and her mother left home. “I don’t know anything that happened related to the exam,” Ariadna tells us, “because I was like, ‘Where do I sleep? I finish the exam and where do I go?’” In this state of mind, she got an extremely low grade. But her mother intervened along party lines and got her assigned to a food high school. “During Ceausescu’s time, we didn’t lack anything at OJT [the County Tourism Office, where she ended up working]. It was a good job, that’s what my parents directed me towards it.” If it had been up to her, she liked the small, mechanical stuff, like taking apart clocks and her brother’s cars. She was also good at chemistry, she tells us. “But you don’t go where you want, you go where Mum and Dad say.”
She graduated two years of high school and specialized as a pastry chef. There was no question of her studying further. Her parents wanted her to begin work as soon as possible, to start earning money. She was 17. She got a job with the County Tourism Organization (OJT), asking to be assigned, along with two other friends, to the Motel, and infuriating her father who had arranged for her to be requested by another hotel. But for the first time, she imposed her will. During summers, she was assigned to work on the Black Sea coast, at Cap Aurora, in one of the three hotels belonging to OJT Timiș: Granat, Topaz and Opal.
Alongside high school and her job at OJT, Ariadne also had access to the world of her childhood friend Ștef, who came from a more stable family. “The way [Ștef’s father] looked at them [Ștef and her mother], the way he talked to them, the way he hugged them, it was surreal. It was like a fantastic fairy tale that was in fact a reality unfolding before my eyes. For them, things were very clear: school, tutoring, knowing what you’re good at. Education makes a difference.” Ștef went to university and introduced Ariadna to her new circle of friends. Of their parties, Ariadna says: “There was music of a certain kind, maybe even jazz, disco music not so much.” Then, dreamyly and stretching out her vocals, she continues: “And stooories were told. And they played gaaames. But they also learned.” Ariadna would find things to do in the kitchen or watch other people play. “It was a world within a world. I learned that things could be different.”
She met her future father-in-law before she met her husband. He was the head of the car fleet at OJT, “the director’s trusted help, the car doctor.” One day, he was leaning against the bar watching her work when he said: “That’ll be my daughter-in-law.” This earned her the nickname “Dobrin’s daughter-in-law,” making her the butt of her colleagues’ jokes, as well as piquing her curiosity about the son’s identity. His name was Sorin and he was a basketball player at the time.
But Ariadna and Sorin did not interact until Dorbin’s niece’s baptism, which was celebrated at the Motel. Ariadna was there as a cook. Both she and Sorin ended up succumbing to the teasing of those around them: Sorin came to invite her “upstairs” and Ariadna accepted. “That evening, when Sorin drove me home, I said to myself in my little head: ‘If he kisses me, we’ll meet again. If he doesn’t kiss me, we won’t.’ And what do you know? He kissed me.”
The baptism happened shortly before the winter holidays. When they met again at the Motel after the New Year, Sorin invited her to a party. Then, on January 9, Ariadne’s father succeeded in having her moved to Hotel Central. “If it hadn’t been for this period, with the baptism and the invitation, it wouldn’t have happened,” muses Ariadne.
They were married on April 25, 1987. “And then all the hassle started,” she says. Ariadne wanted to leave home to get away from the atmosphere in her family. After the wedding, she and Sorin moved into a house in the same courtyard as her in-laws lived. “I went from bad to worse,” says Ariadna. “The place was very crowded, [there was] no privacy, no water, no toilet. I went back to having to go bring water from the fountain to wash.”
“Those were my personal traumas regarding married life,” confides Ariadne. “He [Sorin] was tied to the mother, the father, the place. [It was as if he said to me:] ‘You are here to be submissive, to work for us, not to be paid attention to. (…) I have my own group of friends. But [in marrying you] I have earned a kind of peace of mind. No one can pester me that I’m not married, that I haven’t settled down.’” > (…) [But] no one asks me about what I’ve been through,” says Ariadne.
She remembers that at the Revolution she was nearly hit by a stray bullet when she used the latrine in the courtyard, and the way the plaster fell off the walls when the tanks passed by. Two of her brother’s friends were wounded and disappeared from the hospital. Ariadne wasn’t a party member because she didn’t want to become one, a decision that had cost her the position of Head Cook at Hotel Central.
After the Revolution, Ariadna found out she was pregnant. “I wanted to have children before I knew how children were made.” She first felt her eldest daughter kick on the bridge between Germany and Czechoslovakia; she was still nursing when she went to Turkey by bus. The borders had opened, and she was thirsty to travel. Two years later her second daughter was born. Ariadna taught her daughters to seek to know themselves and do what they want in life. Both daughters live in Timisoara.
Ariadna and Sorin now live in their comfortable house with a bathroom, a well-kept garden and a beautiful view of Brebu Nou. “I fell in love with this place,” says Ariadna. “I used to come here, to the lake, with Sorin and the children, when the girls were younger. (…) [But] I think that at some point, for me, it’s not the place itself that matters, but the peace and quiet that it offers me.”
Photo credit: Petra Dobruská