Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wining & Wining

I've been doing my share of whining lately (I always do), but it's been far less than my wining, because it's WINE season in Moldova! I know you might think that every season in Moldova is wine season, and I can't say that you'd be wrong, exactly.. But the beginning of autumn is decidedly more of a wine season than the rest of the year. (My host mom has informed me that they made more wine this year, so they'll definitely have it until I leave.. Apparently they ran out a lot earlier than normal this year, so.. Oops.)

The start of the parade!
Traditionally, National Wine Day is held the first weekend in October in Chisinau. The wineries come and set up booths, there's food and music and dancing.. Kind of like a tiny Oktoberfest, but in Moldova, and for wine. Lately though, Moldova has been having a tough time politically. There has been protesting going on for a while in the main square (really throughout the country), so this year the Wine Day celebrations were cancelled in Chisinau and held other places instead. Individual wineries hosted events, for example. While I didn't participate in any of those, I knew that there was a Wine Day in my raion center that same weekend, and I had planned already to go with my village. 

Villagers and PC friends at our booth
After the "wine weekend" last year, everyone at work asked me why I didn't come to the Stefan Voda Wine Day - where was I, what had I been doing?! Well, guys, you sort of forgot to tell me it was a thing, soooo.. That's why I wasn't there. But this year I knew it was a thing, so I got to go with the mayor and some ladies from the gradinita to the raion center. 
Our delicious spread, which I wish I'd eaten more of..

Another village's super cool display
We dressed in traditional costume and set up a booth for our village - most of the villages in the raion were there with booths, some with elaborate setups of crafts and food and wine. It was like every village brought out their fanciest things to display, including mine! Some of them were really cool, and there were other displays out too - art exhibitions, a display from the best metalworker in the raion (who just so happened to make the fence for my park - I could tell it was the same work so I introduced myself, and of course he already knew who I was), a setup from Et Cetera (the cutest winery in the raion), and people making and selling food.  

We're in the parade! It wasn't led by even ONE trombone.. But there were many accordions.
Once we were dressed and the tables mostly set up, we suddenly had to rush over to the main road. The women were practicing a song and asked if I would sing with them. I mean, sure, but I don't know the words, and you seem to have them memorized.. But I'll stand there and look pretty if you want. We didn't end up having to sing, but we did find ourselves the correct spot in the village parade, which was starting without us, because we dawdled a little bit I think. How we found our spot, I don't know.. Though I suspect the villages were lined up alphabetically, it was still pretty confusing. The parade was very short; we walked past the big crowd in the center, cheered for Caplani, and then we were done. Back to the booth! I found my friends and had lunch and wine with them, and eventually got a call from the mayor asking me to bring my friends over to the booth to have a glass of Caplani wine! Then I changed out of my borrowed costume (though not before a quick photoshoot so I could send photos to my mother, which they are always pretty concerned about) and my village left, so I spent the rest of the day with my friends in the raion. It was fun!

Last year I got to spend a long day with my friends picking grapes for wine that I would unfortunately never get to taste, but this year I didn't have the opportunity to do any grape-picking. I thought that was kind of unfortunate, so I figured maybe I could ask the mayor if I could join him one day while he was working on his wine - his wife is known in the village for making very good wine. I've been at masas where I try to leave, only to be informed that I've only tried Ana's wine from x year, and I need to also try it from y year (and maybe even from z year? It's all a blur). 

Once the mayor knew I wanted to learn how to make wine, I think he got pretty excited. He seems to really love when I participate in things, which I find curious because I can't imagine not participating in community events and traditions and such. But he's always very happy to share things with me. He loves taking my picture so that I have a record of my time here, which I think is sometimes just adorably silly, but which I'm also pretty thankful for.. There's only so much you can show in a selfie, but when you essentially live alone, there aren't too many opportunities to have your picture taken in this place where you're living for two whole years. So it's nice to have some photos of me in my village, thanks to the mayor. And on this particular day when I went with him to make wine, he did not disappoint on this front. I now have over 100 pictures of myself making wine - he appointed himself the photographer for the afternoon and took his job very seriously. 

One day soon after the Wine Day, I talked to the mayor at work and he asked if I wanted to learn to make wine with him at his brother's house. I think I probably said something like, "OBVIOUSLY!" So he picked me up at my house after lunch and we went over to his brother's house - coincidentally, it's right next to his. (Sorry, Hannie, but I don't think I plan to move in right next to you in the future.) I was actually confused when we arrived and thought I'd misunderstood about where we were going, but we walked through the "backyard" and were suddenly at Misha's house.

I don't know what I thought would happen, but it definitely wasn't what happened. I guess I assumed they would be at some point in the process, and they'd explain what they'd done prior and what they would be doing after. I didn't think they would be midway through every single step and that I'd get to try them all! But I did! I had barely greeted Misha when the mayor asked for my camera to start snapping, and immediately I was turning a crank to grind grapes while smiling for the camera. They were almost done with that, so we quickly moved to the next step, which involved handing me a caveman club so I could beat the grapes that were in a barrel. I was not very adept at this step, but Misha kept adding grapes and I kept attempting to squash them. At some point he decided there were enough in there, so he put a top on the barrel, weighed it down with a bunch of stuff, and added a handle, which I had to turn to squish the grapes more so that juice would come out. Eventually a longer handle was added so I could just walk around and around the barrel - this part was the most fun, I think. 

Wine (or the beginnings of it) started pouring out into a container below the barrel, which we took in buckets to the REALLY big barrels in the garage area and poured it in, where it would ferment for 40 days. Luckily, they already had some fermenting (I told you they were midway through every step!), so I got to fill a jug from one of the barrels and we sat down to drink and eat - the mayor, his brother, their wives, and me. The mayor's wife thought the whole process was pretty hilarious, especially, I think, because the men would explain something really quickly, I would take a minute to understand so I'd look confused (I clearly need to add feedback to language learning - need more wine-making vocabulary), and then I'd attempt to do it while the mayor shouted directions - not about the wine, but about posing for the camera. So she laughed and laughed and took her own pictures while we were working.

Now we'll interrupt this blog post for a complete documentation of this event. 

The tiny masa afterward was just as fun - it was one of those days where you feel really good about your Romanian so things make sense. I was even able to make everyone laugh with a joke or two (clearly I've MADE IT), and it was just like I was at home for family dinner. Or family wine night. Afternoon. Whatever! They joked about how whenever I went back to America, I needed to stop at the house first to get a bucket of wine to take on the plane, and when I told them how long the trip was, they said, "Oh. You're going to need two buckets."

Both Wine Day and my wine day were really fun, but odd as it feels to say (because of my love for wine and all), I don't think it was at all because of the wine. Both days were time spent with different people in the community that treat me more like family than like a visitor in their village. Last year at this time I was having kind of a hard time, but this year I feel like I'm in the right place, doing what I'm supposed to be doing, and I'm part of the community in a way that I wasn't before, and frankly, didn't expect I ever would be. It's like I belong here, and these people are my neighbors, friends, colleagues, and family. (I'm even getting along GREAT with host mom, so you'll be happy to hear that!) The majority of the majority of my days are happy, and it's got nothing to do with the wine.