The village where I was born was split in two parts by a river. The river had high margins and the water flowed quietly, unless no storms or heavy rains made the water grow and run at a higher speed. A large and long wood bridge connected the two communities of the village.
I first crossed the bridge while going to the other side of the village with my grandmother to buy some cheese. People living on the other side of the bridge were “the others”.
The “others” were sheep breeders. Their income was higher and so was their life standard. Their welfare was visible: larger houses and good clothes. During the 60’s the authorities were more relaxed with the private incomes. All people in the village used to label someone as belonging either to the sheep breeder group or to the other group. The other group, the group I belonged to, was working in a sort of collective association, an “invention” of those communist times.
Crossing the bridge was something exciting. I, of course, feared about the “unknown” but I felt protected by my grandmother, so I went on to enjoy the new experience.
I was fascinated to discover that their houses and surroundings had different configurations. Each house had its own huge sheep place, with a lot of noise at evenings and an unknown and heavy smell around. I was also fascinated to see how the cheese is made, from the fresh milk to the final outcome. I must admit I did not feel threatened by the new settings. On the contrary I wanted to discover and learn more about them.
We took the cheese and went back to our place by crossing the bridge. The bridge impressed me with its size. I still bear that image in my memory as my first attempt to “bridge” my own worlds with the others around me. The bridge stays as my first symbol of getting to know other cultures. Whenever I see a bridge either in front of me or in a picture my mind goes back to this first symbol.
The bridge was the means of getting news and people from far away places. I remember there was a photographer visiting our village with his motorcycle once or twice a year. He used to invite people to sit on his motorcycle and take pictures with them. The motorcycle was such a strong incentive for people to queue for a picture and get one in the end.
It was my parents’ turn. They wore their Sunday clothes. The picture was delivered some weeks later. We were very excited watching the picture in a frame placed on a wall in the best and largest room of the house. Years later we kept asking them why not having our own motorcycle to travel the world and do the same as the photographer does? What a silly question for those years! That question has never been answered…
During his breaks the guy did not allow us to touch his camera. It was, I remember, a Russian model, famous in Romania by that time. I could not understand the entire workflow of making a picture, so for the time being, I believed it was just some magic around it.
The roads leading to the bridge rarely were populated with cars or lorries, but full of horse and donkey carriages, early in the morning and late in the evening, carrying people to or from the field where they need to do their daily duties. The “others” were busy with their sheep.
In winter, the roads were our favourite playgrounds for winter games or for people driving their sledges. We did not have time to enjoy too much any games during the other three seasons, where we were supposed to help our parents. And the bridge witnessed all seasons, from the hot summers, with short showers in the afternoon to the fresh springs, where the dark grey fields got a little green smile.
The bridge also connected us as kids from the two sides of the village. I used to play with mates from the other side of the village and I enjoyed their “different” approaches to playing games. I always appreciated the novelties they brought to the games we played and I enjoyed and accepted new ideas on how to improve a game. I left the village when I was 14. I still remember a number of conflicts between the adults. As kids, we ignored them and played games without letting the conflicts shadow the strong connections we earned through the games.
We used to tell our parents we were leaving for school early, but instead my brother and sisters and I stopped at the end of the road and played games with the neighbours before or after school. During those games we enjoyed a short magic. For a moment, it didn’t matter who lived in a big house or a small one or who did well in school or who did not. We all ran and laughed enjoying games that needed no equipment but our imagination.
The games I remember most from my childhood were not commercial games with printed rules but rather those we learned from our parents, grandparents and other children. I still remember some of the games my parents and grandparents taught us. Many times we would ask them to take time from their work to show us some moves or steps or to teach us a new game. Very often they began to talk about the games they knew and then shared wonderful stories from their childhood. The games’ rules were simple, but sometimes challenging.
Later on I realised that the games I played were a main step to getting familiar with the unwritten laws of my community. The village bridge witnessed those games and the joy we spread around in an effort to become adults one day.