Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Chef

I dream of seeing my grandchildren's accomplishments
The main reason I am so passionate about photography is its documentary dimension. Technology advancement has made it so easy: we are able to preserve the ‘here and now” and save it for the next generations at the press of a few buttons. The easiness of the entire process gives us an even bigger moral obligation to do so; after all, these fleeting moments can document history stages and civilisation progress in ways we could never think of at the time of the events happening. But in years to come, our photographs will document ways of life that will be forever lost. One of my biggest regrets is that even if I owned a camera since I was 6, it has never occurred to me to take more photos of my grandparents and their farm. I was too busy being a child and then a self-centred teenager. The way we lived in those years will never be brought back and the farm is long gone.

I have always appreciated the way both our parents protected me and my sister from the realities of living in the 80s in the Communist Romania. But I also appreciate a frank conversation about it now. It is an important part of my life, although I was too young to realise how hard it was for them to hide their insecurities and keep going.

This is a very personal and highly emotional post for me. It is about an ordinary woman with a remarkable, extraordinary existence. A woman with a lot of common sense who made her own way through life. I am privileged to call her MUM.
She lives thousands and thousands of miles away so I decided to take advantage of her visit and document her life story for my children. She feels the happiest when she cooks for us; so I asked her to make plum dumplings (a Romanian traditional dessert) and to be my sitter in this project. It was an interesting feeling, interviewing my own mother. But her words are full of meaning:

“I am an ordinary 63yo woman, coming from a different part of the world – from a very beautiful country called Romania. I was born in a beautiful village where two cultures have been blending along the years. On one side, we had the Romanian culture, on the other, the Transylvanian Saxons - I learned a lot from both. In the 50s, society didn’t ask much of a girl: some education (usually high-school), get married and have children. Naturally, observing my mother, the first dream that I can remember as a little girl was to have my own house and be a great housekeeper. 

When I was little, my favourite book was “Childhood Memories”, because it depicted the perfect childhood on the country side – very much like my own. I had an extremely beautiful childhood with everything a kid can wish for. The scenery of my village is still breath taking and I remember vividly our adventures when my sister and I climbed trees, picked wild flowers or when we played cops and vagrants. I don’t think there ever was a tree in the school yard that didn’t “know” me. One of my fondest memories is dad’s payday: he always bought us a chocolate on his payday. And the size of the chocolate got bigger as my father’s pay check increased. 
I always wanted to look after the others, although I wasn’t really prepared for it. Coming out of high school, my dreams were simple: I wanted to get married to a nice man and to look after our own family. I wasn’t actively looking for him; it happened through a joke, really. A phone call made to pass time resulted in meeting my future husband. We agreed on the phone to meet but we didn’t know how the other one looked. I was told he would be in his officer uniform, holding a Tehnium magazine in his hand. When I arrived, there were two officers with Tehnium magazines – both good looking but one was tall, one short. I was hoping he would be the tall one but in the end, I was in for a lifetime of heels height adjustment. 
I always knew I was made to be a wife and a mother. But I wasn’t ready for it, when I started. In my early years I was a terrible cook and it took time and practice to become good at it. One time, I remember I mistook the baking soda for vanilla sugar and I poured a hefty amount into the rhubarb compote I was making. I didn’t realise it until my daughters complained about the strange taste. There was nothing else to do but poke fun at myself and the entire situation so I pulled a joke; I told them that if they stay in the sun, they’ll raise and grow, just like the bread. I was secretly worried about them having tummy pains but this is how you go through life – any failure turns into a good joke. One grows and learns and when looking back, there will be many stories to tell.
Slowly but surely I have learned a lot about everything: cooking, household and children. Once I got more experience, I found the courage to take on different menus and the complexity got higher and higher. I am very ambitious and when I get something in my head, I get it done. My kids used to joke about my cooking so I told myself that I can do it; that if I wanted I could achieve Master Chef cooking – level. So I did. I started cooking and I enjoyed more and more. It became a life style. I feel the best in my kitchen – it’s my sanctuary. I feel the happiest when I achieve what I wanted. Seeing the pleasure on my family and friend’s faces when I present them with my culinary creations cannot be compared to anything – I don’t know a greatest happiness than that.

Who I am now? I am an accomplished woman: I had lots of achievements; I had failures too. I have a good heart – this kept me going in my toughest moments. Without false modesty, I like who I have become.
My biggest dream is to have my entire family together, even if just for a few days. We are all scattered in two opposite sides of the world and no matter which side I am, there is this feeling within me like the thespian masks: one side of me is happy, the other side cries. When I am here, I miss the ones I left home. When I am home, I miss my Australian family. So I keep travelling, to be able to spend time with my grandchildren and my children.

Another of my dreams was that I would become a lovable old lady, to have enough money and travel a lot. Money is not that much but the travels – oh, boy! I got to go to the other end of the world.

I never had a particular role model; I never felt the desire to imitate anyone. I just wanted to be myself and learn from my own trials and errors. I made my own way, building on my own experience. There was one person I looked up to: my auntie Maria – she was a very simple country woman but extremely hard working, intelligent and giving. She used to say “I haven’t got any education but I know how to look after myself”.
My favourite character ever is Scarlett O’Hara – she is a strong woman and I learned from her that tomorrow is another day and that it is not worth stressing for the things one cannot control.
Life hasn’t always been peaches and cream; when I was 27 I found myself looking after two young children and after my parents who were both very ill. My mother suffered a stroke and was left with a hemiparesis. My father came down with cancer soon after.
It wasn’t easy – living in the 80s in the Communist Romania had its challenges. I didn’t have any of the facilities we see today – we didn’t have feeding chairs, disposable nappies – we used cloth nappies that had to be washed, disinfected and ironed. I didn’t have a washing machine and sometimes there were weeks without hot water; I had to warm up the water on the stove and wash by hands.
Food was rationalised and you could only buy it with special cards: you would get 1 kilo of sugar, 1 litre of oil and 1 kilo of flour per month per person in a family. They ticked it off when you bought your ratio; if you lost your card, they would issue you a new one but you had to go without for that month. Meat was hard to get by too; but I always found ways of looking after my family.
In the end it was a matter of who knows whom and bribing the store keepers. My co-workers nicknamed me Mrs Satchel – I always seemed to be buying and carrying things home. My kids used to joke about “hunger marching” when I was doing the preparations for winter. But I was the happiest when I had enough food to put on the table and they didn't feel the pinch.  
Every end of fall I would go to the farmer markets and buy large amount of fruit and vege and make my own preserves, jams and pickles. Money was never a problem – we just had to find the places where the produce was. 

If I had to be granted the ultimate dream it would be this: to see my grandchildren’s accomplishments. But only God knows if I will – he decides where, how and when we all go”.