Happy Place: Somewhere in Abruzzo, Italy
Meeting Point: Cârțișoara, Romania
Somewhere in Abruzzo, surrounded by generous people and lovely Italian food. This is the Happy Place of Irina. We meet her in an absurd way, as we were losing what little hope we had left of finding something to eat in Cârțișoara. We finally encounter a man digging a hole in front of a house and with gestures we desperately ask him if there’s a place to eat. He smiles and opens the door behind him, screaming: “Irinaaa!”
There she is. Big round glasses, a smile that lights up the whole room and a fat laugh. “Siete italiani? Today we are re-opening our bar for the first time after one year of lockdown!” We look at each other “then we couldn’t have chosen a better day to be here and celebrate with you!” Her eyes sparkle like those of a mother ready to nurse her children with whatever food is in the house.
“Please get a coffee, or a beer, sit there with my family. Today is the birthday of my brother Gheorghe, here on holiday for a couple of days.” Irina is the only entry point of this fascinating cultural experience: she has lived in Italy for 14 years so we can speak Italian together. When she finds out I have Abruzzi roots, she almost cries tears of happiness and start opening up, telling her story.
A blend of cheerfulness and melancholy in her words. Her family is very good-hearted and despite being poor, their union is her strength. Since her children live abroad, she wants to take care of us as if we were her own. She cooks for us the entire evening and the next day as well. With every bite we feel her care and love. Lots of delicious Sarmale, Romanian cabbage rolls.
“Tomorrow we go all together to visit a castle. Beautiful! Very touristic! We have never been there, we have to go all together for Gheorghe’s Birthday!” We look at each other a bit unsure… we usually try to save money and avoid very touristy places. And… we remember we still have to find a place to sleep for tonight. We decide to pitch our tent in her garden and go with the flow, so… “Sure, family day it is!”
We spend the night eating and listening to Romanian folk music. Every time we try to help them they just say “state tranquilli, just chill.” Here we are, another night laughing about another weird but beautiful adventure before going to sleep in our tent.
Family day. We embark on a big adventure to the castle, squishing the six of us in a car for five. Gheorghe drives way too fast and while we feel a bit worried, they enjoy the adrenaline. From the excitement of Irina and the infinite amount of pictures she takes, we get proof once again of how important family is to her.
Italy for her is a place of hope. She first found a job there to afford an expensive operation for her daughter. The help she couldn’t receive in her native country, she finds in another one. “I love Abruzzo for the goodness of heart of the people. When I left Romania I didn’t have a cent. They paid the bus ticket for me. I will always remember that.” She strongly believes that if you do good, you will receive good.
The Story of a strong woman living in a simple village where people grow plums and potatoes. Cheerful, kind and generous. Busy taking care of her loved ones, remembering her happy times in Italy and hoping to be back there one day.
The Happy Place, is when she is in Italy, especially in Abruzzo, surrounded by the people she used to work for. Laughs, genuine help and lovely food. Community.
Of Irina, we keep the great lesson that strangers can become family. We can spend two days with people that don’t speak our language and have different backgrounds and suddenly feel home, wherever we are.