– We neighbours work with each other very well. We do a lot of cooking, grilling, cocktails…
– Ah, so you have a community here.
– Although the neighbours are Serbs, not Romanians. Unfortunately, in inverted commas, here, where the blocks are, most of them are Serbs. Because Torac at the moment, the census is due this year, I think we are 2500 inhabitants, with all Serbs, with the other nationalities. I am a musician by profession, I am the director of the Institute of Culture of Romanians in Vojvodina (ICRV), which is in charge of research. All this research that you are doing is already being done by many other teams in Romania. Although I didn’t give any interview so far, other people from the village did. You have arrived in the middle of the harvest, as we say, and now you should have at least let people prepare a day or two before, to tell them you were coming. The Toracians are a bit more specific. Although they welcome people into the house, but now you’ve come at the wrong time, so to speak.
The village of Torac once had almost 7000 inhabitants. It was one of the largest Romanian settlements in the Serbian Banat. As I was saying, when the census comes out this year, we hope that there will be 2500 inhabitants, together with all the other nationalities, Serbs, Roma, Hungarians, very few, and a large part of them are Romanians. Last time we were up to 30,000 or 25,000 Romanians here in Serbian Banat. I hope we are the same number, but I don’t think so. Why do I say this, because now, with citizenship, our Serbian brothers who said, let me take Romanian citizenship. Or others who did not declare themselves Romanians and were Romanians, now declare themselves again. This is a political issue that I prefer not to talk about. So I hope we will be 25,000.
It’s a thing for Torac – I don’t know how much you’ve heard so far – there were two localities, Toracul Mic and Toracul Mare, the small Toracens being from Ardeal. Where you look across the bridge or across the road, Toracul Mare begins. In 2017 we celebrated the 250th anniversary of the colonization, since our ancestors came to these lands, although the first records date back to 1332, if I’m not mistaken. So Toracul Mic, the ones from Ardeal,, and Toracul Mare, the ones from Banat.. The people of Toracul Mic came from Frumușeni, near Arad. And people from Toracul Mare are from Săcălaz. Although there are no more ancestors from Săcălaz. Toracul Mare twinned with Săcălaz more than 20 years ago. When you go there, if you go through Jimbolia and arrive in Săcălaz, on the right side you will see two monuments where it says Săcălaz and Torac, made in honour of ancestors who left. Now I didn’t see that board when you enter Săcălaz, but it did say: Săcălaz twinned with the town of Torac and with another town in Germany, that there were many Germans.
Of course, they differ in the traditional clothing, because in Transylvania it is one way, the one in Banat is another. The language is the same. I went to Frumușeni about 5-6 years ago with a team from Torac to walk in the footsteps of our ancestors – in inverted commas – and I didn’t see any Transylvanian language, it was still literally Romanian. But from the stories I understood that the Toracenians, the Ofcenians, the Glogonians (i.e. from the locality of Glogoni) came from more or less the same region. The only locality in which “ghe, ghi, unie meri, cie faci” is still preserved is Iancaid. The only locality that still speaks the local language. The rest of the others – because they are from the region, from Ardeal and Oltenia -they all speak the language of the region. With the people from Oltenia I had some problems when I was a student, when I spoke the language of Banat, they said, “What the hell did you say?” I said, “Hey, I’ll slap you right now. What don’t you understand, how do I speak Chinese?” And then they settled down. I like all the dialects, I love my mother tongue, I am Romanian.
– And the father’s language?
– My father’s language is also Romanian. (laughs). We had issues with the teachers at school, when we went there, the teachers used to say “you Serb” and I told them: “Teacher, I am Romanian”.
– Did you go to high school in Romania?
– No. I went to high school here, but I went to university in Romania. And here we have elementary school in Romanian, Romanian churches. I’m not a historian, but I should know a little bit about the history of my village. I’ll tell you in my own words and then maybe you’ll hear a lot more from others. Unfortunately many of the elders, who knew a much wider history, have passed away. From around 1963-64, during Tito’s time, until then it was Little Torac and Big Torac. Although even now they still say: they go to Little Torac and Big Torac, only that it is only one locality. Its name is Begheiți. Others have said that it got this name after “begunți”, which in Serbian means refugees, which is not true, because no one was a refugee here, people came, they settled here. Then in 1918 when it split, when the border was put, history, stuff, nonsense. The whole Banat should have been in Romania. In fact, Saint Tito named it after the river Bega. But before it always had the name Torac, actually with “ă”, in Romanian – Torăc. And then in 2001-2002 there was again pressure from the local community to go back to the name Torac. And then our Serbian brothers when they heard, let me, how to say Torăc. Well, honey, this is a Romanian village, sorry.
– So now it’s Torac.
– In Romanian it should be Torăc, but everyone calls it Torac. Have you been to the village?
– No, we just drove by.
– Then you saw the church in Big Torac and the other one is in Little Torac, also on the main road when you go to Zrenjanin. We have another Serbian church, it was built 7-8 years ago. They wanted to build it in the middle of the village, of course we didn’t allow it. And we also have a small church-museum, at the Casa Banat, this is in Little Torac, when you enter, it’s an ethnographic complex, it was donated by the late Sorin Frunzăverde, who was Prime Minister at the time, or whatever he was. And the academician Costa Rosu was the president of the ethnography and folklore foundation, which is the host or patron of that ethnographic complex. We have Romanian elementary school with eight classes. We learned the Romanian alphabet at school, we had good Romanian teachers, teachers from whom you had something to learn. The Romanian teacher terrorized us with grammar.
We have a cultural home, named after the famous folk rhapsodist Vichente Petrovici Bocăluț. He was known in his time even in Romania, in Banat. He is also one of those who founded the Lira folk music orchestra, the village orchestra, which this year celebrates its 95th anniversary. I think there is no older orchestra in the Balkans that has been active continuously. The men’s choir was in operation until 2002-2003, we called it the lay choir, when the two villages united and made a strong choir of 120 people. In the 1950s it was the first in the country in Yugoslavia. Everything they did was very good.
Toracians are such a kind of people that they don’t like to listen to bad quality music or do a bad job. In all the hustle and bustle, you see only on the holde how they work, they work full. That’s how Toracians are, they like to be praised, they like to be proud of themselves. I’ve been telling them lately: “Brothers, we’re living from the past”. Unfortunately, we don’t have what we used to have. Those beautiful times are over, because we are fewer and fewer Romanians. Our mortality rate is higher than our birth rate, and where there’s a small population, you can feel it. You will hear when you go around the Vârșeț area that there are most Romanian settlements, but the largest settlements are in the central part of Banat, that is, near Zrenjanin.
Unfortunately since 2020 when this poverty came from corona, and before that, we Romanians have kind of split. We organize two folk music festivals, we organize two carols festivals. Unfortunately, that’s it! The great folklore festival of the Romanians of Vojvodina, which this year takes place in Torac, also every ten years in that locality, is set up by Uzdin. And now that we are two camps, the Uzdin have gone over to the other side, the Toracians have stayed on this side. Torac and Uzdin have always been the biggest rivals. Torac and Uzdin have been the strongest localities in culture and in many other things. It is 62 years old, the oldest festival in the Balkans, I think. Unfortunately it will not be the right festival because half of the ensembles go to the village of Satul Nou and the others will come here. I don’t want to talk about this stuff because it really bothers me. It’s nobody’s fault, we don’t have to say us and you, it’s all us, we Romanians should be united.
But going back to Torac, the ICRV Institute is a relatively young institution, founded 13 years ago. We made the monographic album about Torac, with photos from the people’s dowry boxes and articles written by academics.
– Who did the research?
– There were many, in certain areas. There is a book coming out now at our institute, written by Professor Romanț Ivanovici, she is originally from Petrovasîla, but lives in Novi Sad now, she is a teacher of Romanian and works at the Institute of Textbook Publishing in Novi Sad. She is a linguist.
We had a team from the Village Museum in Sibiu, Ligia Fulga and Maria Bâtca, and they spent two or three years taking photographs of the Transylvanian and Banat traditional clothing in all the villages. I went with them on the field, academician Costa Rosu organized the foundation and then went to the institute. When we set up the institute, the level of the Romanians here also rose. We are not only known for our music, we are intelligent people, scientific people, who can talk to anyone from Romania, Serbia.
Everyone in the villages knows how to speak Romanian, but they are afraid to declare themselves Romanians. There are bad parts, but there are also many good parts: the costumes, the music, the customs, the language, the tradition. That’s why we exist. Still in the locality on the street you say “Hello”, not “Dobar dan”.
– Did you go to the university in Timisoara?
– Yes, the music faculty in Timisoara.
– Did you stay in the campus?
– Yes. And I had in my room an Oltean, a Moldavian, a native of the region. For four years while I was a student, I didn’t go out to party, if you’ll pardon the expression, with chicks, with friends from here. No, I was always with Romanians.
– Did you have other colleagues from Torac at the university?
– Of course, a lot of them. And from other places. People from here went to Romania to study, either to Bucharest, Timisoara, Arad, Sibiu.
– And what instruments did you study at the university?
– I didn’t study any instruments. Unfortunately I was a bit disappointed. I am a folklorist first and foremost, I love folk music, Romanian music first and foremost. When I came to Timisoara, Chopin, Beethoven, forget about them, they’ve been dead for 300-400 years. (laughs) Anyway, I managed.
When a man is interested in something in life, he manages. As an instrumentalist I started playing the accordion as a child, from the age of four I started singing. In my family pretty much everyone is musically talented, even though they are not musicians, whether they are church cantors, choir soloists, very good vocalists.
– Were they in that choir you told us about?
– My father sang in that choir. My father is still alive, but that choir has died out. In 2002 about 40 members left and then that was it.
– It was a mixed choir?
– No, men’s choir. I currently have a mixed choir that I conduct, an amateur choir, but a very good one.
– When did you start it?
– In 2012 I re-established it, because in 1930-40 the famous conductor Ion Lațcu, who conducted this men’s choir that took first place in the country, founded a mixed choir in Big Torac. So I cannot say that I founded it. I re-established it.
– And then that mixed choir took a break?
– I don’t know, anyway, that mixed choir was not active for long. The men’s choir was the main focus.
– How do you rehearse? How often, when?
– Last week and this week we just had a break because of the harvest.
– When did you go to college in Timisoara?
– 2002-2006. I’m was born in 1983..
– When were you elected director?
– 2013. This is my second term. But since the Romanians have now split, I got the interim mandate, for two years, and this year in November I’m leaving. Maybe I’ll be re-elected, maybe not, who knows.
– So at Timisoara University you sang?
– I didn’t sing either, I did theory, music pedagogy, because I was disappointed when I saw that there was no cymbal. I studied the accordion, then I switched to the piano and then in sixth grade, in elementary school, I started studying the zither. The most difficult instrument to play is the violin. But also the zither, it’s hard to carry, it’s hard to play. I taught myself, nobody showed me a tune, and that’s what I wanted in Romania, but I think I didn’t inform myself properly. It’s a pity that Timișoara doesn’t have a school for cymbals. The late Mircea Ardeleanu. from Ansamblul Banatul, I went to see him, I wanted him to teach me, but he never did.
– Before you, did anyone in your family go to school in Romania?
– No, but they studied here in Romanian, with Romanian teachers. I’m not a historian, I don’t know when exactly teachers from Romania came. There were teachers from Serbia who went over there, I don’t know how they made these exchanges and teachers from Romania came here, in several Romanian localities, they stayed, they started families, they died, they are buried here. We have two cemeteries, because there was Big Torac and Little Torac.. And when you had to go to the girls in Big Toracu, you need to take chains and knives with you, they didn’t give you their girls very easy. (laughs)
– Did the men from older generations bring women from Romania?
– I think so. Not for the most part, but there have been cases before. During the 80s and 90s our folks went and brought wives from Romania, mostly from the Banat area, Foeni, Timișoara, Lenauheim, Ionel – my brother’s wife is from Ionel, or how you call it, Iohanisfeld.
– And how do you choose?
– (laughs) Some stayed faithful to the men, some went away, some were left by their husbands. In my case, unfortunately, my brother died, there were two children left, and we raised them. The daughter-in-law got married, she has no interest in family. There have been good cases, bad cases, it depends from family to family.
– I heard they sent a picture…
– I mean the way they communicate. Yes, yes, through photos. Our men shaved, got all dressed up and went to Timisoara…
– What do they call photography here?
– At Torac, we call it “molărai”
So the men went to a village in Romania and met the girls. How we all organize ourselves and in our locality, be it Romania, Hungary, Serbia, you see her at the bar, you go to her, stuff like that. That’s the first option.
The second option was through someone’s acquaintance. Someone I know said: look, I have a relative in Romania, he has a beautiful girl, she wants to get married, look, I’ll introduce you, you’re a nice guy, you work, you’ve got a house, you’ve got animals. And the boy went, liked the girl and brought her here. Another variant, one that was already married – that was my brother’s case. It was a friend, a colleague of his, with whom he grew up with, and they met. My daughter-in-law was also from Ionel like this woman, so the two of them were friends, neighbors. And his wife calls him: Lucian (that’s my brother), do you want to get married? He was crazy: yes, I do! I have a colleague, beautifu onel, good one, let me show you a photo.He liked it, he went to Ionel. So, through photos. Of course you, as a man, had to make an effort. Now women want to lead, but they want us to make an effort. A man has to stay a man all his life, but a woman is the head of it all. If you’re a real man, you have to make up, to the woman you say: yes, yes. Those who pretend to be great, don’t last long.
– At what age does a man start making an effort?
– In my opinion, men always have to make an effort, at any age.
– I mean, to get married.
– (laughs) I love these questions! But it’s nothing like it used to be, believe me. Do you know how many young married people there are in this village?
– I hear there’s a problem… For example, how long was your old man married, your father?
– That was before. Some people say, look how these gypsies are, they still get married now, they get married at 11-12 years old.
– Well, not that yound. How old was your grandfather when he got married?
– He must have been 22-23. But the great-grandparents had children at 15-16.
– And your father?
– My father was married three or four times. I actually broke that tradition. I found one good woman and that was it.
– They were all Romanian, your father’s wives?
– Yes, all of them, from LIttle Torac, from Big Torac.. I told you they went to the others to steal their girls.
– Do you know stories like that?
– No, just hearsay. It wasn’t like that in my time.
– Did your grandpa tell you?
– More my father, because I couldn’t really talk about these things with my grandpa, he was a churchgoer and when I was a child, he beat me, he pulled my hair, my ears, to go to church and I didn’t want to, of course. Interesting how the Holy Spirit gets into the man and eventually you start to love religion and everything. I love my faith, my Christian religion, I love the church. They wanted me to become a priest, but I’m a man of the world, I told them, I can’t be a priest. Well, you have all the affinities, but I told them: I can’t, brothers, I love women. Go to hell, they told me. Joke. (laughs) But no, I’m a man of the world, I can’t. It’s a big thing to be faithful. That nowadays priests… It’s rare to be a faithful priest, to kiss his hand or take off your hat. The priest, the teacher and the doctor were the three most respected people in the village. You took your hat off, hello, hello, hello.
Going back to that, I don’t know the details, but they were much more shy, they weren’t dating like they do in the 21st century. Mostly they met at the big game. The big game was in the center of the villages, it was in front of the churches, where people came dressed in the festive costume, the folk costume, which now we take only once a year, on the stage, where people attend the festival.
– But now they don’t dress up for the holidays, on Sundays, Easter, Christmas?
– Not now. At Easter you get a tracksuit so you can eat as much as possible. You can’t go to church like that, you know, what are the clothes for the church, for going to school, for going to see a doctor… After the Mass is over, the cemetery, and then lunch, roast meat, soup, sarmale, cake… Well, I can’t wear these trousers because I’m getting tight, I’m wearing sweatpants so that I can eat. If I go to visit my family, I dress as I want, but if I go to a colleague or a godfather, it’s different. Then of course I am not wearing a tracksuit, but I don’t really wear a black tie either.
– And what’s that saying, that you’re dressed up?
– They say you’ve changed. Or you’re dressed up, that’s what they say when you’re shaved and groomed.
– They say you’re “chicită”?
– Of course they do, that’s what women say. How chicită you are!
– And „făloasă”?
– They say it, but less often. You mostly say that when you’re happy about something.I mean I’m happy for you.
– And it’s “gazdă”?
– Yes, that’s what they say, that this man is a „gazdă”, if he is wealthy, has a lot of land, a lot of money…
I’ve been director of this institution for 8 years and you see where I live. I don’t drive a Mercedes, I don’t have a two or three-storey house, I have an average salary. I said: all directors buy boats, houses, nice cars, but I managed to buy a bicycle. (laughs) People tell me: go to hell, I don’t believe you. Let me show you, it’s there in the back. First I got one for my wife and then my wife got one for me. Two new bikes, to show that I’m director of the Institution of Romanians in Vojvodina. Others when they’re in power… but not me, I sleep peacefully at night.
– I saw that there are big houses in the village.
– Now I have to come with you. We have to go to the Casa Bănățeană, to the community center…. I should have known how to organize myself the day before. You want to get as much information as possible, but that takes time. We Romanians here are complicated, we have a beautiful history, and bad ones. Unfortunately, we don’t get money from the mother country. I don’t want to get into politics, I’m not interested, but anyway, we fight for our existence and we exist. The Serbian state gave us rights.
– There are big houses in the village, so people are doing fine. My question was, is this from agriculture or…?
– Agriculture. Mostly, 90% of the people in Torac are in agriculture. Torac is a rich village. It’s always been a rich village. When you go to Lokve, I mean to Sinmihai, you’ll see houses that you can’t even dream of. It’s the richest Romanian village, Lokve. 90% of the villagers of there left for Sweden, Germany, Denmark, America, and then they built a palace where just the wind blows now, nobody lives there, only the old lady and the old man are left. Then who the hell did you make that for? People don’t know what to do with money when they come into it. If you don’t know how to live life, take your wife by the hand and say fuck it, we’re going to the Himalayas, Hawaii, that’s life, not building palaces, what to do with them?. Where have you been, what have you seen? You know what? The one who’s only been to Zrenjanin gives you lessons about life. Unfortunately there are many rich people who are like that. But there are also rich people who have been all over the world and seen it. Respect! So 90% is agriculture.
– Where have you been around the world?
– Nowhere, just Zrenjanin. Just kidding. (laughs) I haven’t been to America and I don’t know if I’d go. In Europe I’ve been to Greece, Croatia, Hungary. I’ve been to Brussels, I’ve even been to the Parliament, because there are five cultural institutes: Romanians, Hungarians, Croats, Ruthenians and Slovaks, all the minorities here, apart from the Roma. They will probably soon have an institute here too. We presented the work of our institute and then the other directors came to us and said: Todore – my name is Todor, but everyone calls me Doru, it’s a Romanian name – we can all go home. I say: Why? Well, are you aware of what you’re doing? The only Romanian institution that collaborates with four academies of science: Croatian, Romanian, Serbian and Montenegrin, I am talking about the Romanian institution in the Serbian Banat. Institutions similar to ours, ICR, Timis County Council, Caras-Severin, county council institutions.
Last year we had up to 30 events with Romania. You just have to organize them. That’s in addition to what we’ve done here at home. And we’ve never demanded money from the mother country. We waited for them to help us, like Hungary, for example. The Institute of Hungarians has 11 employees… Hungary gives them I don’t know how many thousands of euros a year. The Hungarians are different here in the Serbian Banat, and the villages are more orderly, tidy, different mentality. We only get what we get from the Serbian state and that’s it!
– And from Romania are these scholarships for students.
– Yes, you are a student and you get 50 euros a month, that’s what I got when I was in 2002. You couldn’t live on that. Now of course Romania doesn’t have to give you money to go out to striptease or whatever.
– Was it enough to pay a rent?
– No, I wanted to stay in the campus, where we could party and the police would come over (laughs), where we could show off in the nicest way, where I could learn my mother tongue. I make a lot of jokes, but there are a lot of things I did in life and I did them with love. In elementary school you normally speak in the Romanian literary language, we don’t speak the language of the Banat. That’s why I wanted to stay at the dormitory, where I was actually surrounded by Romanians.
– And you didn’t think of moving to Timisoara?
– I didn’t think about it because back then I had different plans. I didn’t want what happened to my brother, he died young, at the age of 26. In fact I dreamed of going to America, to see the world. But my brother died and I felt sorry for my parents, and I wasn’t going to go far from them. With my sister-in-law gone, the kids stayed with us, my parents raised them. We helped them with what we could. I mostly went, rehearsals, let’s do it for Romanians, voluntary and enthusiastically. And that’s why we still exist. There are still people who do it out of enthusiasm, but you know how it is with us, like a small flame, it’s gone and that’s it. And because the rest of us are trying so hard,, at least we can keep this flame. And then I was always like, go there, go over there. In the end someone makes fun of you or points a finger at you or criticizes you. If you want to do, come and do, just don’t criticize.
– And there are people in Torac who have gone abroad?
– Yes, there are many people who went to America and stayed there.
– What area did they go to?
– California, Chicago, New York, Canada.
– And those who had contact with the Revolution, are there any more?
– I don’t know.
– And in the war, in Bosnia?
– Be careful, it’s a very sensitive topic, I don’t know if people will want to talk about it.
– Has it been talked about?
– I don’t think so, it’s very sensitive. I suggest you ask about those beautiful historical things. Well, when the war was here and Yugoslavia broke up, there were young people who were sent to war and when they came back, they weren’t the same anymore. Of the older ones I can’t say they were sent. The year Yugoslavia started to fall apart, my father was 40 years old and he wasn’t sent. There were others, younger, 18-19-20 years old, who were sent to war, from several places.
In fact, I know one who’s been at war, he’s now in his 50s, not married, he was completely changed when he came back. For a while he walked like the priests, took his girdle, cross, wore a big beard.
Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, but these people here in Serbia have learned the hard way. And now there are wars, with Russia. Our president is telling us, be careful, in winter you won’t have that one, you won’t have that one, it will be cold, we’re not that scared. Probably because we’ve been through so much: the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1999…
– I’d like to go back to this period of college in Timisoara. Did you sing or play an instrument there?
– For three years I was in the Philharmonic choir. I liked it, I’ve always been attracted to choirs. And at choir rehearsals, Maestro Iosif Todea prepared us, he heard my voice, he came to me and said: tomorrow you come to the Philharmonic at 5 o’clock and we start rehearsals. Two rehearsals, on stage. Then you know how it is, when the Italian came to you, he took out the envelope “Signore, prego”. I mean, not the money, but it meant I was next to good, quality choristers. I was next to these guys who let out the vocals and that’s when I said to myself, come on, I’ll show up.
– Are you showing off a bit now? (laughs)
– No, no, I’m just teaching others now, I don’t have much time for myself, neither to study the zither nor to work on my voice.
– Have you played at weddings?
– I’ve sung, but less often. Mostly I’ve been as an instrumentalist, on accordion or cymbal, but with voice only occasionally. But the accordion got destroyed and I don’t have mine anymore. Now I have even had an international evening of Romanian guitars, I organized it at the Casa Banateana and now I go and ask for the accordion from one and another.
– Do you have another instrument?
– The cymbal is here at the cultural community center. So I mostly take care of the others. I have quite a few soloists with whom I work on Romanian folk music, from the region of Banat, in general, because I can’t play from Oltenia either, it’s very specific. Moldovian as well. Only from Transylvania and Banat.
– And do you collect traditional songs?
– No. You see, that’s another thing. There is Dr. Niță Frățilă. He’s originally from Coștei, and he works at the Academy of Music in Novi Sad. I think he is the only one who made recordings with the old people in 1965-70, he has an extensively rich archive, with songs played in Torac, in Ecica, and he has an audio archive. And he wrote a book, published by the Academy of Matica Srpska in Novi Sad, some of these songs, he transcribed them on sheet music, whether it’s a doina or a dance song. And he writes beautifully, Todor Ursu, Torac, 1973, taken from Mărie Țoncu, Coștei, for example. That’s a real treasure. Now there’s no one to pick from. Now there’s no point in having an ethno-musicologist come to me, because I’m passionate. I know only 0.01% of the repertoire the old folks had. I sing you 15-20 of those old songs.
– These recordings haven’t been digitized?
– I have to make a long story short. I want to do that at the institute now, if he is willing to give us the audio material. The Hungarians have a huge music archive. We have just signed a protocol with the Banatean Cultural Association, where Professor Emil Rosca is president. The priest Adrian Boba is there too. We even discussed this and we want to do it. It’s such a shame if it doesn’t come out.
In 1973 those people must have been about 40-50 years old, they were born around 1920-30 and they surely knew the songs of their ancestors born in the eighteen hundreds. Unfortunately we only got what we caught from them, from the last men standing and we attended some parties and they sang to us. When you attended a choir party, that was a party, bro! When they started singing your hair stood on your back. You loved listening to them even more, they sang in two or three voices, they were all breakers. They had no amplifier, what amplifier are we talking about…
This famous orchestra, Lira, which I told you about, covered almost the entire Banat here. Almost all the villages had them during Vichente Petrovici Bocăluț’s time. Some of them had musical training, at least they knew how to read a score. These people had such a voice, that when they started singing – that’s what the elders told me – from one end of the village to the other, their voice was heard from the “shire” – as we say. Todor Gică was a famous accordionist, how he played! And they didn’t just play for two hours, but for three or four days. And now you see the singer after three hours “can’t do it anymore” (he speaks hoarsely).
Ana Pacatiuș, I recognize her as one of the best folk singers of their generation, said to me: oh, but how can you take a breath between this verse and this one. And you can’t mix the local dialect with literary language. The first time I meet young soloists from Romania, I will draw their attention to it. Ana Pacatiuș said either you sing in dialect, or you sing like that and I respect that. And now all these young people, not to mention the production from Serbia, manele and so on.
– Are manele fashionable here too?
– Not in Torac. Even in the Romanian villages here, I’ve rarely heard manele. The villagers listen to much more Romanian music. The villages here in the central Banat are a little bit left with our village music.
– And with Ana Pacatiuș did you take any classes?
– No, I brought her here when we had some festivals, I brought her to the jury as a specialist. I didn’t sing in competition on stage, I sang outside the competition and maybe it happened that I took air where I shouldn’t have. The woman said to me very modestly, very nicely: Mr. Ursu, you have finished school, don’t you know that you are not allowed to take air between this verse and this one? Well, I’m playing on stage, on the cymbal, and I’m thinking: did I put coleslaw in the colander or did I do that?
So I’m telling you, there’s a handful of people organising this in the village, and I have to set the table, wrap it up, put the olive oil on the table, cut the pita, serve that one, but I was on stage playing before. So I’ll tell you, I often played the cymbal, not singing, because I had to concentrate on the text, but with the cymbal, which is my favourite instrument, I can think.
– And you said your mother is not from here in the village?
– No, she’s from Ecica, she came here, got married and stayed. And when I started working at the elementary school, shortly after I finished college, I got a job as a music teacher in a village here near Torac, 4 kilometers away. My classes started at 8 and I was in front of the school at 6:20 because that’s when the morning bus got there And until 8:30 there were just me and the ghosts outside, and then the sun was coming up. I was waiting there and then the bakery guy would come and open and people would come for bread. And I went there for about three months and then I didn’t want to go anymore because of that. After that I got a job in Ecica, where my wife is from. I worked there for a year and a half, almost two, also as a teacher. I really like working with children. And that’s where I met my wife, she and her sister trained the folklore group, she’s a very good dancer. And so began a love story like in the movies… and now we’re married.
– And how did you get to Timisoara when in college? By train?
– Usually by car, to the border. I didn’t have a car to drive to college at 19, like they do today. I paid for a taxi, or with people I knew, friends, they took me to the border, I walked through the border station.. I still didn’t have a cell phone in 2002. I knew a guy named Mafia. I say: boy, tell me your real name! And he says: Mafia. I’m at the border and I asked a customs officer or a policeman there to give me his cell to call a taxi. And I had this guy’s number and I said: Mr. Mafia and he said, I’ll be right there. Can you imagine their faces when they heard that. So I took a taxi to the train station in Jimbolia and from there I took the train to Timisoara. And when I arrived in Timisoara, I took a taxi to the dorm. That’s how I travelled for a long time. Or when I had neighbours who were going to Timișoara I went with them, directly by car to the dorm.
I also happened to walk from the customs to the train station, it’s 7-8 kilometers. I see them as good memories, not bad ones.
– Did you bring food from home?
– Of course I did. My mother’s food is better, anything, sausages, steaks. The problem was – you can tell that by looking at me, right? – that I’m a big foodie. I like cooking and eating. If I hadn’t been a musician in this life, I think I would have been a chef.
– What do you cook?
– Everything. From soups… I didn’t buy a stove until I was a student. So I didn’t bake pies and stuff, but otherwise I cooked everything.
– What’s your best recipe?
– Well, there are many. I don’t like tuna pasta, seafood pasta, I like pork, beef. So when I make pasta, I make more with pork, chicken. I like pasta most with white sauce, with cream, not tomato sauce.
– But traditionally from here in the Banat area do you like to cook? Do you make sausages?
– Of course I do, when I butcher the pig. Once I overdid it with the spices, I brought spices from Romania, and I didn’t taste them. They were edible, but they lasted a long time. After that I said no more spices, just garlic, pepper and salt.
– And when you were passing food through customs, did you have any problems?
– Do they make zacusca here?
– No, but they are making something similar, we call it “aivar”, in Serbian. With more piparca, pepper. We came with recipes from Romania and tried to make it, it wasn’t bad, but far from original. I had a colleague in my first year at university, he went to law school, he was from Ocna Mures and every evening he put something on his bread. And I said to him: what are you eating there? He said: come and taste it. Me: no, give me meat. When I tasted the zacusca, he had to hide the jars from me. Interesting that you don’t need meat, you just put it on bread and eat it. It was like a pâté, creamy. A lot of people came up to me and said: do you like zacusca? I do, yeah. When they gave me the jar, I said what the hell is this? So that was made by the people there, from Transylvania, tasty, when you put it on bread, you just whistle at night in your sleep.
– You said you bake cakes too?
– Yes, I do. I just don’t to festive cakes. I told my mother: I want to make a crazy recipe. I put a layer of pudding, a layer of raspberries, a layer of strawberries. What are you, crazy in the head? Well, that’s how big it is. I make soufflé and it comes out pretty good. My wife and I are never hungry. If she’s away, I’m home, we have lunch. If I’m away, she’s home, we have lunch. And when we’re both busy, because we’re both tied to culture, you hunt in the fridge. You open it, see what’s there, and eat it, because there’s no time to cook.
– And traditional food?
– There’s no traditional food anywhere, that’s my opinion. There may possibly be one or two, the rest were taken from others. The Serbs say sarmale is traditional Serbian food. I don’t think so. Like beans. Or mamaliga, in Romania, is not traditional food. People during Ceaușescu’s time had a hard time and you had to eat what you caught. The Serbs over here still ate mamaliga, with sheep’s cheese, so whose tradition is mamaliga then? I mean, these are the dishes: sausages, beans, broth, soup, roast pork, chicken, cow, duck, goose – the ones that people grow themselves, although it’s rare – cakes, cookies. Not the food you eat in a restaurant, but the food you eat at home.
– Do you make Ghibanița?
– Yes, It’s not burek, like a kind of burek, but for me much better than burek. You take those sheets, like you’ve seen your grandmothers do, they spread it on the table when they make pie. Now I’ll give you a taste, it’s made fresh with cherry. I didn’t make it. And with apple, because it’s Sanpetru today. We’ve all modernized now and we don’t spread anymore, we buy.
So you take those sheets and put three kinds of cheese: cottage cheese, sweet cheese and one more kind. And cream goes and four eggs, a glass of oil and a glass of mineral water. You make that composition, then you take a pastry of that, you dip it, you grease it, first in the pan you put 2-3 so that it has a bed, and then you dip it all over, but don’t dip it too hard, you arrange it and if there’s any leftover, you put some more on top, you cover it with others and you beat a yolk or a whole egg with half a glass of cream, you beat it, you put salt, with that you grease it and you bake it for 30 minutes.
– Do you make stew?
– Well, it depends. Tocăniță, stew, the name is a little different. Stew, as we say, is made from crumps, potatoes, that is, onions and bacon made from voreț. We say “hoară” to chickens, turkeys, and “voreț” to the yard. Or pork. And the roast is made not with flour, with spices, but with some vegetables if you have them, parsley or something like that. That’s it. That’s what we call stew.
In Romania stew is made with mutton, with potatoes. In Ecica my wife calls it popricaș, not stew. Torac’s pottage is different, two kinds, with or without the sauce. The one without the sauce is called goulash. We make the same pottage and goulash, except that we make popricaș with bones, sometimes they put a lamb with all the fat. So we don’t use potatoes when we make popricaș or goulash. I don’t like it. If you’re a greedy like me, you eat with a spoon. If you’re a nicer man, you eat with a fork, you eat with a knife and fork.
– When do you eat sheep?
– If you have it, you eat it. The village used to be full of geese. Unfortunately that’s not the case anymore. The people from lower or middle class have two or three pigs, for the family, possibly chicken for eggs, and that’s it. Those who are more affluent, have many pigs, they also have cattle, sheep, ducks, chickens. Now it’s interesting there are almost no geese here in the village. I don’t know about other villages, but here in the village there are two or three families who still have geese. They keep them because they like to eat goose meat or they need feathers for their pillows. The world has modernized and we buy from the shop, pillows. I don’t know how, you dream of angels when you put your head on them. That’s it, we’re modernizing. But if I say I sleep with my head on a goose pillow, they tell me I’m still in the Middle Ages.
– What did they use to fill the pillows with?
– Goose feathers. And for the duvets also.. When you got under the duvet, it could be -50 degrees outside and you were just fine. But I’m telling you, geese are dying out, people can’t keep up. And now if you take the geese out and they start messing around on the street, excuse me, everybody’s going to be: I got my shoes dirty. But up until 25-30 years ago all families had everything. If they stepped in something, they’d wipe their shoes on the grass a little bit and that was all. Things have changed, they’ve modernized. But it’s also very good. 20 years ago you could see your mother if you went to America once every few years. And now you’re in New York and your mother’s at home, you can talk to her. It’s just that this technology is not used properly, it’s too much. And we can’t blame the kids, we’re like that too. We get home and immediately we’re on the phone. You’re married, you stay inside and you don’t talk to your wife. And then of course young people wear glasses from 6-7 years old, children get less social…
– How often did you come home when you were in college?
– Twice a month. It also happened that I came every weekend, because it’s close. But if I had gone to Moldova to learn the zither, like I wanted to… I would have come maybe twice a year.
– And now you go to Timisoara?
– Of course, because that’s my job, the institution I run has a lot of links with the mother country. I go 2-3 times a month. Once I had a crazy time, in a year and a half I filled my passport. And no one came to ask me, KGB. I only went to institutions where there are high people, they check you.
– Do you have a Romanian passport now?
– I don’t! Because I’m stupid. That’s what you put in brackets. (laughs) For five and a half or six years my documents have been in the drawer and I haven’t handed them in. I should have been one of the first to get Romanian citizenship. I want Romanian citizenship. But they ask for some absurd things, what contributions have you made to culture. Talk to him. What more proof do you need? And the last name, the origin, where I’m from. What more proof do you need than when you sit with someone and speak Romanian. With me you can never say I’m Serbian.
– So they ask for all kinds of papers?
– Yes. And still people want to hand over papers and get citizenship. I think we deserve it, because we are Romanians.
– Can you pass with your ID or just with your passport?
– No, with the passport.
– What documents do you need to obtain citizenship?
– If you were baptised in the Romanian church, if you graduated school in Romanian, what your contribution to culture is – you were a singer, you were a choirboy, you were a vagabond – and a recommendation from a Romanian institution.
– And where are the applications evaluated?
– In our central Banat, they are evaluated in Vârșeț, at the consulate. But I don’t know which villages hand over the documents to Belgrade, to the embassy. We know Mr. Consul Gheorghe Dinu very well. Then the consul gives the recommendation, I don’t know what the procedure is in Romania, what departments they have to go to, what checks they have to make. And then they wait a year and a half, up to two years for citizenship.
– From what age can you get it? And children can?
– Yes, I think so.
– And if you were a child who was not artistically inclined, did not go to events, to sing in choirs, then you are not Romanian?
– Then he’s not for the record, but he’s Romanian. Then you feel sorry for him and you want to help him. Then the man comes and says, come help me, but he doesn’t know anything about music. He’s only baptized in a Romanian church, he went to a Romanian primary school, he only has two proofs that he’s Romanian. Then we’ll make him from the cultural home that he was for a while. Because people want it.
– What if he’s not baptized?
– It doesn’t happen here that Romanians aren’t baptized.
– Don’t you have any neo-Protestants?
– Neo-Protestants I don’t think, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were, the Sabbatarians, those are the repentant. But there have been no cases of Romanians being baptized to something else. There are situations where, unfortunately, they switched from Christianity to Sabbatarianism. But not in our village. But the vast majority, let’s say 90% are Christians.
– I think it’s harder for Romanians in Serbia to get Romanian citizenship than for citizens of the Republic of Moldova.
– I don’t know what the procedure is in Moldova. But it could be a bit easier for us. In Hungary they made it simple, Romanians and Serbs and Gypsies went there, they spoke three words in Hungarian and got their citizenship. And they got a lot of them, now they have stopped. But I want to get citizenship, to do it for myself, for my wife and for my children.
I made fun of my friends, that I don’t want to get citizenship. And and-and why? Go! And I told them – jokingly, it’s not true – that the Romanian state had given orders that all those who took Romanian citizenship had to go to the front to defend there from Putin.
– And you also have chains of land here?
– Yes. Now I don’t have much. In the 90s I had 45 (chains), that was a lot. Just God forbid when you have to sell land for trouble. Easy is the one who buys from me and beats his chest, but don’t be in my shoes. I’m content to have all I have, thank God, I don’t need more.
– Do you work the land yourself or is it leased?
– It was leased and I took it back, I work it, I also feed my father, if and when he wants to. When man reaches a certain age, he starts to fear death. He’s 72. I understand him. And when I see him have that will to get up and ride the tractor… go! Take your medicines with you and go. Not everything, he goes plowing, he goes hoeing, that’s what he does when it comes to old age. The rest, sowing, preparing, I go. I’m glad when I see him want to, that means he’s on his feet.
– Then we’ll go to the Casa Banățeană (Banatian House)?
– Yes, I’ll take you, I have the keys.
Photo credit: Diana Bilec