Cheile Turzii (or Turda Gorge, in English) is a karst canyon, caused by Jurassic limestone erosion. Some say the highest peaks are 300 meters, although that seems an overestimation. The walls are however extremely sheer, seemingly vertical, soar impressively while standing right next to you, silently, as if not even there at all. Until you look up. Or stumble across a spike for climber, a mark dating of a particular climb, or a commemorative or shrine indicating the site of a fallen angel. We passed through other Cheile on the trip and learned much about various “divisions” of Romania while passing through this part of Transylvania. Gold to the right, iron to the left. Water everywhere in between. The photos are mostly taken by Karolina Ossowska.

What shall I do now that I’ve seen and re-seen all the photos and they only remind me of the photos that couldn’t be taken, of things permanently left behind, or carried only in the mobile-home of memory? Faces of the people who picked us up while hitch-hiking. Or the shelter at the camp in Cheile Turzii, constructed– by sheperds or Romany wanderers — of freshly hewn leafy branches laying cross-hatched atop a rectangular roof-frame hoisted up by four columnar branches & a carpet on the grassy floor made of thick burgundy-colored felt. It stood for 3 days, tenantless, and then disappeared without ceremony, without a trace. Or what about the shepard hounds, the white one like a polar bear, the black one who chewed a plastic bottle, the brown (husky-blonde) one too, with the heavy chain around the neck and the distended udders that looked almost cancerous — and the snow-white pups of the mother-crooner? Of the boy who stumbled across the bridge over-run with a small shiver or slippery water thick with tiny minnows who then ran back screaming to his parents? Or the middle-class Romany family, the daughter of maybe 6 years who wanted to buy something with her money at the tourist trap shop. One must settle on a memory and move forward into the future.

At first glance, she seemed like a polar bear cub, head and snout, sniffing high on the air, rising over the grassy hillock, the snow-white & besmirched shepard’s dog, eventually revealing six full black udders swinging on her belly. For whom? She became the principal crooner of out first evening in Cheile Turzii, hitting at least 5 notes in her solfeggio, eerie and operatic, too human. She seemed to be calling into the night and there were no lack of apparent replies, the distances filled with nocturnal canine cackling on the verge of wolverine. Only the dawn light would later show me her two pups, resembling snow-seals, napping as they were with their paws curled up under them, ears-drawn back, sleeping, likes dogs around here so often do, in the middle of the road, anywhere they please.

It is in this valley just before the Cheile Turzii that it begins to be clear that the wild or stray dogs one encounters here in Romania are part of a long history. The legendary symbol of the wolf that suckled Romulus & Remus, the Roman link, only reveals one This only partially accounts for the world of the dog in Romania, as they seem to occupy a buffer-zone between the wild and the civilized worlds and oddly like the Greek dog with three heads, always on the alert, they are the jackal-headed Hermetic figures of mythical twilight, maintaining boundaries between the wild dead and the civilized inmates of life, carrying out a useful contemporary function of notifying humans about the presence of bears, wolves, fox and other chicken-thieves.

The urban equivalent of the shepard dog is an unemployed hound forced to scrounge in bins & beg for food. They often follow strollers in Bucharest or Pitesti for a number of blocks in hopes of the mercifully thrown or accidentally dropped morsel. They seem to enjoy pretending to be part of some happy family for a few moments before reverting to orphan-scavenger mode. The dogs of the country-side seem to have multiple roles being the intermediaries between the animal and human worlds and this unofficial duty, being the border-guard between the two realms, is perhaps the principle reason why the Romanians tolerate the strays. Those who keep their domestic pedigrees on leashes, the poodles and the schnauzers, tend to treat the free-roamers as untouchables and do not hesitate to shoo away contact. The dog seems to be in any case some kind of sentinel, the spike of territory itself. Where you stand in relation to the dog makes things appear to be what they may be. But they are not so necessarily. When we came into the village of Buru, alone, we had to run for our lives, until we gained a narrow bridge where the mastiffs could not attack us without falling into the river. In other places, walking with a dog meant that you would not be bother by any other dogs.

Sky on the Northern side of the Cheile bristles sonic. Thunder, Unzipping the tent on the last day of our stay here reveals a full rainbow. The two fronts meet but it’s a stalemate. Cloud covers the sun and leaves us favorable weather for walking up the hill to Cheia & to glance back at the peaks of the great gorge a few times before… A taxi driver tries to pick us up & we refuse his fee, only to find him waiting around the next bend offering to take us into Turda free of charge…
from Romania Phonographies, 2015, released October 10, 2015


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