Sighișoara. The Best of Medieval Transylvania
A Town in Time
Music: Fie să renască, Phoenix
Movie: Vlad Țepeș, 1979
Book: Sighișoara, Mediaeval Memories, Florin Andreescu
For once, she’s boarding the train on time. Usually, she jumps on the step just as the train sets in motion. Today she finished her exam earlier than expected, the topics right up her street. She is relaxed, relieved and confident the marks will be okay.
She’s seating on a different seat than the one she bought at the ticket counter. Next to the door, facing the direction in which the train will go. Mental note to ask permission to swap if the rightful holder of that seat shows up. She likes to be close to the passageway and pop out anytime she wants without disturbing the other passengers too much. Ever the conscientious!
Book in hand, she sinks deeply in lecture, blocking all the commotion and sounds around her. So deep that it takes her a while to sense that a shadow has stopped suddenly and remained unmovable a few metres away on the passageway. After a while, she sensed someone who stopped abruptly at some distance. The feeling that the person was there, waiting for a while, grows bigger. She unglues her eyes from the book.
The darn meeting at the Ministry of Culture took way too long. Worse, the deal he was eager to strike with them was left hanging.
So much bureaucracy and useless garrulity to cover a blatant lack of interest in a historical heritage that lays buried, literally, under a small medieval church in a small provincial town. A town nobody cares about when all the funding must go to the higher bidder conveniently placed so close to Bucharest. The profits raised in that far away corner of the country will never match those made next to the capital city.
He knew from the moment the museum manager sent him to Bucharest to negotiate funds that it would be a waste of time. His precious time would be spent wiser in the crypt, studying the new findings and correlating it with old documents brought to light ages ago.
How and when will they see the light of day, sort of speaking, if he’s robbed of precious time to study, research, reveal?
History happens as and where it is discovered, not in boring meeting rooms in the lavish ministerial building. He’d rather have dirt under his nails from digging and ink on his hands from scribbling than wear a tie and briefcase and talk to deaf walls.
At least he’s on the train, having boarded it precisely the minute the conductor whistled the departure.
With nervous brutality, he pulls the knot of his tie, loosening it to let the steam off. Suddenly he stops dead in the middle of the passageway, hand still on the collar, lungs devoid of air and unable to perform the simple physiological and most natural act of breathing. His bloodstream screams for oxygen, but his lips remain sealed, his nostrils blocked, the air supply cut off from him.
She is sitting in his seat, lost in a book. As all other commotion stops, he sees that she wears smart clothes. Blue checked tweed over a black turtleneck top, black trousers and medium-high hill black stylish shoes. With crossed legs and a relaxed posture, she seems lost in her book, in another world.
Her short-cut golden hair gently curls upwards revealing a high forehead, that of a thinker. Long eyelashes are projecting an enticing shadow over her delicate cheekbones. He cannot make the colour of her eyes, but her face line is clear. Oblong shaped face, proportionate straight nose line. Stunning!
He is still to inhale when she languidly lifts her eyes from her book.
“This is your seat.” A statement, not a question. She’s projecting a confident tone and a determined yet melodious sound of the voice. He picks an accent close to home. Before he opens his mouth to say something, she speaks again:
“I was going to propose a place switch if you’d be so kind. Mine is by the window, but it would be backwards facing.”
Statement again. It didn’t even sound as if she was asking for a favour, except that she worded it politely. More like a piece of evidence he should accept for she addressed him.
“Of course, no problem at all.”
The air finds a way in, eventually. He passes by careful not to touch her knees and places the briefcase on the railing above his new seat. As he seats down, he acknowledges the presence of the other travellers.
It is Friday afternoon; there is no empty seat in this train compartment.
She is seating diagonally from him, and he feels drawn to her like a moth to light. She meets his gaze and smiles with a slight bend of the head for a silent ‘thank you’. Her eyes are a deep ocean of dark blue. Her glance speaks volumes.
Instinctively, he mirrors her body language in awe of how much confidence this young woman oozes.
Starting a conversation with her would be awkward, given the presence of other people in between them. Besides, she’s back to her book, engrossed in it almost instantly. Time for him to admire her shamelessly while ignoring the occasional smirks of the ripe woman sat across from him.
Time drags amid brief stops and dreary landscape until the plains of the south are left behind. The train slithers its sinuous way towards the mountains.
He feels too weighed down by failing to obtain a guarantee of funds to check the paperwork locked in his briefcase. Besides, he doubts that any change in the proposal will make a difference to the central power.
She does not once lift her eyes from the book, the pages turning at high speed. He cannot make the title of the book but decides it is captivating since she barely shifts in her seat.
Without notice, she places a bookmark on the last page read, closes the book, drops it on the seat and gets out on the passageway. She opens the window, bends an arm on the frame and leans her head on its curvature. She inhales the wind with uninhibited sensuousness and eyes shut, a satisfied smile spreading on her face.
“Are you travelling far?”
She squints a hint of annoyance at the intrusion but relaxes when she sees him at the other end of the rectangular window replicating her position.
Shorth dark hair strewn with silver strands. Mellow brown eyes. Honest and caring. An open mirror straight to the depths of his soul. No wedding ring on his finger. The first two things she observes in one look at a man: eye colour and wedding ring, or the absence of one.
The olive green tweed he wears highlights the brown of the eyes. It also pegs him as a teacher, maybe. His soft accent places him somewhere around central Transylvania.
“Just beyond the mountains. To Brașov. You?”
“A bit farther. To Sighișoara. I saw the book you’re reading. ‘History of Religious Ideas’ by Eliade. Not many people read this kind of book. Not as focused. Are you a history student?”
“No. I study literature: year three, one more to go. Today I had the last exam of the semester. Are you a teacher?”
“Close. I’m an archaeologist. I work at the History Museum of Sighișoara.”
“What brought you to Bucharest?”
“Boring and useless meetings at the Ministry of Culture.”
“Let me guess: denial of funding?”
“Is it that obvious?”
“You were tense when you got on the train.”
It’s not lost on him that she did not see him when he got on the train but a few minutes later. And tense he was, but the flipping Ministry was the last thing on his mind when she lifted her eyes from the book.
“Is that book on your compulsory lecture list?”
“No. It’s on my personal list. I went through a few hundred thousand, a few more million to read.”
“Wow, that sounds like a precise goal. What’s the aim here?”
“Just enlightening. Is there other reason people read books for?”
“I guess. When it gets to the specifics of work, I read to corroborate information that I need to substantiate discoveries.”
“What does an archaeologist do on a regular day at work, other than digging and reading?”
“Well, at the moment I have to put together a new gallery with recent diggings, including original documents that need special displaying conditions and some … other things.”
“A bit elusive. Are ‘other things’ bodies, for instance? Did you find Vlad The Impaler? It’d put an end to hundreds of years of speculations.”
“It would for sure. Dracula was indeed born in Sighișoara, but there is no indication that his corpse had ever made it back to his birthplace. Strange you made this connection, though.”
“I know Sighișoara, the house he was born into, plus, as any Romanian, I am familiar with his history. I’d hoped that maybe the veil that shrouded his demise in so much mystery had been finally lifted.”
“It will, one day. Like you, I would like to witness that. To answer your question, we’ve found proof recently that the Church on the Hill was built in 1345 over another one, one that was centuries older at that time. What makes it unique though is the fact that we found a crypt right under the altar.”
He cuts off the explanation. Maybe this is too much irrelevant information. It’s not his intention at all to dazzle this captivating woman with archaeological wonders or spook her with exciting news about corpses. It even feels wrong to mention old worlds long dead to a young person, barely out of her teenage years, although she seems genuinely interested.
“So you found bodies buried in a catacomb? I assume the crypt escaped plundering if it remained untouched over six hundred years. It sounds a little macabre, but people have all sorts of reasons. Was there anything of value other than … What exactly did you find?”
“Medieval art. A lot of it. Frescoes, pottery, metalwork. Apart from …” He hesitates, an uncanny thought creeping in his mind. Would she like to see what he found there? An image of him guiding her through the galleries and pointing to the walled tombs takes shape in his mind. He’s showing her the ones they’d opened, the mummified corpses sleeping their eternity in the dark, musty galleries, undisturbed until recently.
He shakes the enticing images from his head. Even the thought of bringing her down to that chilling place that only he finds exciting feels wrong. She belongs to the sun, to life.
As if to approve his thoughts, she turns her face to the open window sunbathing in the early spring sunshine and inhaling the air with a sensuousness that arouses him. With eyes shut and head slightly bent backwards, she has an expression of pure voluptuousness etched on her perfect face.
Breathing becomes an elusive mission again.
“Apart from what?” she asks although she seems lost in a world of light, wind and aromas that entice her senses too much bothered to look him in the eye as she addresses him.
“I could show you all that. You’d see it as we found it. We haven’t moved too many things yet. But …”
Hesitation. She wonders if it is something that comes with age. Maybe she too will change in time. From as confident as a lion, perhaps she’ll grow to doubt herself or feel insecure. It’s wisdom, surely. Yes, she’ll become older and wiser.
Right now, though it is almost impossible to imagine a significant change in her personality. Do people change at all? She makes a mental note to her nineteen-year-old self to revise this question in twenty years when she’ll be his age.
“How would you feel to be underground with corpses from another age entirely? It doesn’t seem to be a place where you’d want to be. I don’t know; you seem so lively, it’s unnatural to imagine you walking among the dead.”
“Long dead. Beyond desecration. Possessing a historical meaning. Acknowledged scientifically rather than unnerving. Something like seeing everything through an archaeologist’s eyes, let’s say?”
“Would I see it this way or would I like to see it?”
Witty. Stunning and witty.
Suddenly, he feels so ancient, dejected, obsolete.
She avoids a direct answer. She avoids an answer altogether, replying with questions. She’s turning his own words against him.
“You belong to the light. There is a certain way the sun dances shades on your face that is almost otherworldly!”
She opens her eyes and turns to him, an expression of bliss on her face. Only her eyes have an intense hue of violet in direct sunlight now. Even more mesmerising!
“So, you decided that I should not see the underground of the Church on the Hill.”
Statement. The woman smiles.
This amount of self-assurance in such a young person is disconcerting. He keeps quiet. Answering a statement is pointless.
She turns her hypnotising gaze back to the scenery and changes the subject.
“I love the mountains. They’re so vibrant. I recharge here after a week in Bucharest. The plains are so tedious. I belong to the mountains. To their light and energy.”
Her profile line is just as enticing—long neck, straight nose line, high, slightly tilted forehead. The wind barely messes with her thick, curly hair. Her wide eyes absorb the scenery avidly. She seems ethereal.
“Brașov is halfway to your destination.”
Statement. Does she imply that she would possibly consider continuing the journey?
Where she has statements, he has questions. How wonderful must it be to be so young, free, at ease and confident that the world is yours and it will always bend to your whims!
Wasn’t he just like that twenty years ago? A student at the same university she’s studying, only a different department. The world was his, except a shadow on uncertainty was continually looming over his head. The future did not always seem a pastel picture. And life proved it right.
The tunnel through the mountains is the last leg of the journey to Brașov. It is a long one. It will take the train a little over three minutes to slither through it.
During the day, the conductor won’t bother to put the lights on for such a short time. The darkness is dismal—the noise coming through the fully opened window deafening.
His indecision is almost palpable.
She can sense its weight in the darkness. She knows her age is preventing him from making a move—only that.
She is so confident. So bright.
His world is grim.
Light invades the train as it emerges from under the massive rock.
Their hands resting on the open window are almost touching. Almost.
The train stops on platform one. She steps inside the compartment to collect her bag and book.
“I hope you’ll get the funding needed for the old things to come to light. And I hope I’ll see them one day.”
They shake hands. She’s still hoping that he’ll ask for her name, at least. It’s a lost expectation.
“I hope you will. Maybe I’ll still be able to show them to you.”
He follows her with wistful eyes until she disappears in the crowd flooding the deep neon mouth of the staircase that took her down to the station.
Albeit she belongs to the light. Life is so dual!