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J159 - Wednesday, March 24: Iernut – Cluj Napoca

75.39km – 10H21’
Altitude: 556m

Yesterday, while I was looking for a place for us to sleep, I stopped at the monastery of Recea to ask for hospitality.  It wasn’t possible and I didn’t ask why.  This magnificent monastery is very well maintained by nuns.  Serban explained that generally speaking, men are not allowed to sleep in women’s monasteries.  And, we are in the season of Lent.  Serban, who is an Orthodox Christian,  also explained that for 40 days before Easter, Orthodox Christians don’t eat any food from animals (no butter, milk, eggs, meat, etc., etc.). He also told us that besides this fasting period before Easter there are other periods of fasting during the year: August 15th, Christmas and I have forgotten the other one because there are four.  The rule is also observed on Wednesdays and Fridays all year long.  However, drinking sprits is permitted.
Many traditions are still observed in the country and feasts such as Easter, Christmas or marriages are grandiose. Music and traditional dances are very popular and give the country an undeniable charm.
This morning Serge goes to the departure point at Lernut with Serban, who accompanies him for the first 35 km, on a road which is unpleasant because of the traffic heading toward Turda.  The smaller support team has been well broken in.  The afternoon temperature is summer-like.  There is a pass at 711m before the descent to Cluj. It was an excellent day.

For some time I have been thinking about a text on the subject of the Romani people and it’s today that I will talk about them, even if we have been seeing Romani villages and Romani districts in the cities since we arrived in Greece and even though it is a rather touchy subject.  The word Romani does not come from Romania and vice versa.  The Romani people are called by different names in different places and in France we find: gitans, Tsiganes, Manouches, Romanichels, Bohemians “les gens de voyage”. Their dark skin comes from their Indian background.  The first Romani people arrived in Eastern Europe in the 12th century.  Originally, they were nomads, but over time they have become more settled.  Today this community is spread over Europe and in other countries in the world, but the biggest population is found in Eastern Europe.  
We saw our first Romani communities in Greece, where they live in makeshift housing on the outskirts of cities.  In Bulgaria around the countryside or in cities, they live grouped together in a place we tend to call a “Romani village,” and lastly Romania has a big Romani community that it is difficult to count (there are unofficial and official numbers).  The Romani travel and migrate easily.  In France, we are used to seeing the Romani people from Romania and Bulgaria, with their networks of prostitutes and handicapped who beg on the street (there are also Albanian, Serbian and Russian networks).  It is not rare in read about “the Romanians” in cases of fake credit cards and often these cases concern Romanian gypsies.  The difference between the Bulgarian and the Romanian is the following: the Bulgarian network is Mafia run; whereas the Romanian is family run (the Mafias could not enter the country during the Ceausescu regime).
So, things get lumped together, which inevitably gives a completely inaccurate picture of these countries.  Besides, many Greeks, Bulgarians and Romanians don’t like the Romani people, whose life style they don’t understand.  In Romania, for example, there seem to be wealthy gypsies who build huge homes which are sometimes uninhabited and are known as “Romani Palaces”.  Where do they get the money?  And why don’t they live there?  Those are the questions asked by the Romanian people.
This Romani community suffers from discrimination, to the point that while I was doing research I saw a report from Amnesty International condemning Greece in 2004 for having destroyed a Romani quarter in Patra, a village we went through.  The European Commission wants these European countries to integrate the Romani people more into their society: work, education, health care, etc.  The unemployment rate of this community is 90% and not all the children go to school.  Petty theft and robbery is rare in Romania, which is a safer country than France as far as delinquency is concerned, which is often blamed on the Romani.  In spite of this, there is a minority of Romani who work,  pay taxes and live like the Romanians.  But each group bears the weight of its past and integration is a vast subject which concerns all the countries in the world, France to begin with.
One thing is certain, the Romanians feel somewhat “ashamed” of their country and to my amazement are almost apologetic about it.  It reminds me of when we went through Iran a few years ago.  All the Iranians we met were afraid of what we would think of their country!  So, behind the stereotypes, behind the images we are served on our dear screens, all the countries in the world are full of unique people with their own richness and their own culture so the Romanians can be proud of the spirit which emanates from their country.

Town : Cluj Napoca

GPS : N 46.44027° E 023.35189°