As a nr. 8 bus whisked me into the centre of Cluj on Thursday, it passed a little park where I noticed one or two shiny new tractors on display. I was dazed from the flight and the heat, and wondered idly what was going on there. Three hours later I was back, meekly following in the wake of my energetic farming friend, Alina, who informed me that this was the 19th edition of the Cluj Agricultural Show, which is the second largest farming extravaganza in Romania – Bucharest hosts the biggest one.
It was a sweltering afternoon – 30 degrees – and I felt sorry for the caged and penned animals in their thick coats who had only a light awning to keep them cool. They had been washed and brushed to perfection, and strolling up and down the rows gave me a chance to do some homework: at last, thanks to Alina, I know that the Tigaie is not a cross between Turcana and Merino, but a breed of its own which has a shorter fleece and better meat than the elegant Turcana (my favourite), and that the Mangalita pig, which is a small, demure animal with a bristly, reddish coat resembling a wild boar’s, is low in cholesterol which ought to make it a winner in the food-faddy West.
Alina gave me some other interesting information about how certain sheep farmers of her acquaintance manage to obtain subsidies for hundreds of animals that they do not in fact possess, thanks to their relationship with certain mayors who hand out these subsidies – butter would not melt of course. I also learnt that the priest who officiated at the mass exorcism I witnessed just over a year ago also keeps sheep: his name was on two pens containing some Turcana ewes. Except that I believe his ‘volunteers’ do the hard work. It does make me worry about the Orthodox Church’s attitude to Christianity.
Leaving the animals, we walked in the sunlight along rows of glistening red, blue and green machinery – not two shiny tractors, but scores of them together with combines, cow presses, spanking new Allen scythes, which are a boon to mountain farmers with lots of pasture to mow but a crying shame for those of us who love to watch men at work with the slow, sweeping rhythm that they develop when wielding a manual scythe, which cuts short and close without making a horrid noise. Having tried a bit of manual scything myself, I know how hard it is on your back and hands but it does a better job around tree trunks!
Finally we went into the food and crafts tent, which was about to close. There, in a corner stand, almost alone, was Mrs Pascu, the pretty, buxom, happy-looking (though not in my picture) wife of a transhumant shepherd called Vasile who has just given up his regular sheep walk between Muntele Mare in the Apuseni and Satu Mare (at a rough guess, a distance of 150 miles). She was clearing away a bowl of delicious telemea – salty sheep’s cheese, a bit like feta – and sucking on a few stray pieces, we passed the time of day and shot out again, Alina first, with me in her slipstream, to look at some peperite (quails). Alina wanted some for her own farm. The fowls and rabbits were also beautifully coiffed, but housed in cages that were too small for them so that the quails were falling over each other, and on wire bases so they had to walk gingerly if they could move at all. It was depressing, but not as bad as real factory farming, which is little comfort to the beasts. All of which ought to turn me into a vegetarian. I’ll let you know…
Note: I’ll give the pictures captions later, must get some sleep now because it’s 3.55am here. I must be barmy.