Friday, 8 March 2013

Food flair

Lighting effects of a blast foundry through thankfully without the deafening noise produce a novel atmosphere for lunch in Cluj. It’s Wok and Roll in Strada Gheorghe Sincai, 14, almost hidden in an anonymous building on a narrow street. Inside, high stools and heavy high tables crowded with customers dressed for art school are a backdrop to the cooking area that is  open like a modern theatre stage. Two gas fired burners and two tall lean chefs who wear headscarves smooth and black as the woks they flip and flare. The food is mildly Asian, not enough spice or raw herbs for the real thing but even halfway Asian is worth the visit.



Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Houses museum


Squirrels greyas soot look down as we walk to the sleeping museum. Farm houses made of wood darkened by age or bright ochre clay plastered on wooden beams are surrounded by the outhouses and fences of their industry. Cottages of wheelwrights, potters and glaziers recall a life that is still lived in remote villages of Transylvania. The buildings in Cluj’s museum of ethnography date from between fifty and almost three hundred and fifty years. In this winter display of village architecture and rural industrial workshops the snow binds the vistas together. Church spires stand in the distance between the broad silhouettes of barns and the high roofs of single storey farm dwellings. The museum is set out like a village on the slopes of the hill that carries Cluj’s mysterious and infamous Hoia-Bacieu Forest. At this time of year the village is deserted and eerie. The doors are closed and the windows dark and uninviting. Over large paw marks criss-cross the snow suggesting the possibility of wolves. The sun melts snow on the roofs and makes the thatch steam as if the houses are breathing. The rural buildings of Cluj and surrounding Transylvanian counties are honest and practical, their modest decoration is used sparingly Their beauty comes from their faultless proportions and simplicity. They belong in this rich landscape.



Monday, 21 January 2013

Made to measure


Stairs, stone and wooden rafters all make the Centru de Cultura Urbana a stimulating exhibition centre. Inside the 15th Century Turnul Croitorilor four exhibition floors and a café have been imaginatively fitted into the ancient tower’s lofty space. The current exhibition of artworks and photographs is all the more delightful for the modest scale of the pieces. Alexandra Tatar’s work in fabric and paint jumps at you as you get to the top of the stairs leading to the main exhibition space. The pieces are bright and arresting carrying a mix of femininity and a youthful brazenness akin to the early punks who pierced their skin with safety pins. The quiet, almost unobtrusive monochrome paintings of Corina Oprea appear unexpectedly, prompting delight in their discovery. Some are almost like strips of Rothko in his purple patch. The first floor houses an exhibition of photographic nightscapes of Cluj covered in the recent snow. Dan Tamas took pictures from several of the vantage points surrounding Cluj. He brings a wonderful array of fresh views of a familiar subject, our dear city. His photographs in the main exhibition have the quality of dreams, surreal and disturbing yet something you want to remember, something that makes you wish to go back and look at again. Above all this, completing the quartet, Valeria Dragan’s air-work of paintings are literally ‘Head in the Clouds’. The canvases are suspended in space coloured on both sides instead of being pinned flat against the wall. They are butterflies that are alive rather than brought to earth in an entomologist’s box.  This exhibition does more than justice to the city’s urban culture centre, it makes it shine.



Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Age of Diana?

Incompatibility was Dana’s way of introducing her provocative talk on modern women and the age-old power of the penis, her chosen way of representing men through history. She charted a dynamic dominated by man the hunter and woman the prey from the cave to the current day. Modern times, with women having jobs and independence have upset that ancient balance and left men not knowing what to do and women high and dry. In this rather bleak view men and women are fundamentally different, conspiring only as long as they share an objective. The mainly female participants at this Pig & Pepper workshop were quick to add their views and experiences in a spirited discussion. The workshop included Pig & Pepper canapés and wine together with an analysis of participants’ drawings of the genitals of the other gender. The context for the discussion was definitely Romanian. The disruptive wolves of post industrial advertising were at the door with their high heeled fashion images that extenuate women’s sexuality rather than femininity turning women into hunters and men into headlight frozen rabbits. However, since we each contain male and female within ourselves, the more the men and women outside are incompatible, the greater our unease with our own identity. If there was a conclusion it was that the tender trap of this light-heartedly entertaining evening was generalisation rather than anything anatomical.



Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The essence of health

People selling houses know that the smell of baking bread or freshly brewed coffee makes their house appealing just as a whiff of broken drains or cabbage soup does not. It isn’t surprising, then, that my mood lifted even before I stepped into Oana’s Grigorescu apartment. The sweet spicy smell of a Christmas season blend of essential oils she was diffusing into the air had spread out onto the stairwell. The smell was gentle and made me feel light and happy in the way warm sunshine on your face does. Essential oils can be used singly or in blends to strengthen your immune responses and help your body to cleanse itself of toxins. Some oils can be effective in helping healing and recovery from disease. For instance, nutmeg is anti-inflamatory, anticoagulant, antiseptic, antiparasitic and analgesic. It protects the liver and stomach and stimulates the adrenal gland and circulation while relaxing muscles and increasing the production of melatonin. The right ones can also enhance moods and sharpen attention. The essences are distilled from the high quality natural ingredients and are concentrated into therapeutic grade oils. They are so powerful that only one or two drops are needed at a time for diffusion, massage or more specialist use by an experienced aroma therapist. Oana can help if you want to know more



Sunday, 13 January 2013

The love of Soap

Archimedes got his big idea in the bath, Anamaria got hers in the shower. She says that is when she realised that the water was alive but the soap she was using was not, nothing in it had ever been alive. That moment of revelation started Anamaria on the road to becoming an artisan of boutique soap. She uses natural materials with the love and care of a Michelin starred chef to make her sublime soaps. They smell and look like pieces of art and feel as soft as your skin will when you use them. Soap making like this is closer to cookery or alchemy than chemistry. There is magic in Anamaria’s soaps if you are open to it. She was amazed to hear Hawaiian hula music when she was using the soap she made while that music was playing. Soap is personal, you use it on your body so it should be made with love, just like food. Judita, who hosted Anamaria’s evening with soaps in her painting workshop, likes lavender and had blue and white bars to admire. I bought a crescent shaped bar that smells of the cloves that are studded into it. Other soaps breathe the soft clean fragrances of their ingredients including lavender, rose and lemon. Anamaria’s soaps not only smell, look and feel special, some even contain surprises, Anamaria likes stones so she made herself a heart shaped soap decorated with small smooth pebbles. In other soaps she puts Himalayan salt which has the same texture as small stones You can learn more about these boutique soaps from Anamaria’s own blog 'Where the sky kisses the earth'  



Saturday, 15 December 2012

Slightly off the rails


Trains hold a fascination for small boys of all ages. The Transylvania Model Railway Society demonstrated train and trackside modeling at the main station in Cluj. Visitors had their tickets punched to remind them of the good old days. More nostalgia was available in a collection of railway travel documents dating back more than 100 years. Most of the excitement was reserved for the trains. Would they run on time? Would they run at all? Eventually they did, keeping to a Romanian pattern of stop, start and stop again just for authenticity. I searched in vain for a mischevious Count Dracula figure, perhaps he was hiding in a tunnel waiting for nightfall.