A prestigious event at the 2018 London Book Fair was the Romanian Cultural Institute’s evening at Waterstones. On a distinguished panel of professors and a celebrated poet, I was very much the easy-reading grit in the academic literary oyster. My bit starts at 1hr 11mins in.
8th July 2010
My poor little car rolled into Magura, loaded to the gunnels, bringing me to the village as the newest resident. We trundled across Europe for 8 days, after leaving London SE1 on 1st July, taking the scenic route and having adventures in six countries.
The house was nowhere near ready, even for camping in.
And it was years before every room was habitable. But I had my books and other comforts, and I acquired cats.
First, skinny kitten Hobbs, who blackmailed me for biscuits and tins of food.
Then she became Mama Hobbs, producing three kittens in May 2011. Mouse, Buster and George grew to become handsome and all bigger than their mum. Officially the happiest cats in Romania.
I only survived thanks to my neighbours, who have been kind and tolerant of the odd English writer in their midst: they’ve fed me, entertained and helped me since I arrived.
There have been furry souls in need of rescue:
…and members of the neighbouring family, and occasionally a new and beautiful friend.
There have been visits from friends, strangers and family over the years, the strangers becoming friends, of course.
But every day there is beauty all around me, in every season, wild and domestic, rain and shine.
This is indeed a little corner of heaven, my stake in Transylvania.
Sarah, a friend in Bucharest, writes to tell me: “Oscar adores your wonderful book Arabella McIntyre-Brown. He’s been reading it all the afternoon and purring up a storm. He says he particularly loves all the “nature stuff. Especially the birds…”
There’s plenty in the book for cats, dogs, birds, chickens, sheep, horses, cows and moths. Creatures great, small, tame, wild, furred, feathered, scaled and winged all get a look-in.
An excellent present for gardeners, nature-lovers, cat and dog fans, herbalists, chefs and tea-drinkers.
Journalist Ioana Nicolescu’s latest interview in online journal Vocea.biz is here, but below is a rather bad translation (Google Translate + me):
British writer Arabella McIntyre-Brown has lived for six years in a village on top of Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania, and is committed to never leaving Romania. She bought a house in Magura village and moved there permanently in 2010. This month she has published a book about her life in Magura, which she wrote over several years. “It’s been a while since I published a book, I think eight years. It’s great to get back into the world of books. How did I realize I should write a book about my life here? It’s simple – it’s Transylvania, and people from outside the country are very curious about this place; Transylvania is one of the most romantic names in the world.
“For years I’ve been writing notes about my life here – not regularly, but occasionally I’d put my thoughts on paper. I remember the first time I heard the sound of the scythe as it cut the grass and saw people scything the meadow, it was like a ballet. In the book I wrote a little about my life in England, for readers to understand where I come from and why I make this parallel between Romania and Liverpool. I write mostly about my life in the village, about animals around the house, about my cats, about the rhythm of life here, in the heart of the mountains,” she said in an earlier interview for Vocea.biz.
She says that many foreigners do not believe that Transylvania is a real place. “I get the impression that people believe Transylvania is a mystical realm, like Ruritania, or Avalon in the legend of King Arthur, because they read about it in a book. When they hear that I really live there, they’re amazed, and ask me How is it possible? How is life there? Are there vampires?” says Arabella, laughing.
She says that the brand of “Transylvania” is very strong, one of the strongest tourism brands in the world, and surely the most famous brand name in Romania: everyone has heard of Transylvania. Romania gets rather negative publicity, and this is often the perception of foreigners. Romanians are aware that the outside world does not have a good opinion of their country. “People are fascinated but know nothing about Romania. The stories that we hear in the UK are quite negative. For example, when I moved from London to Liverpool, people said I was crazy, because the country had a negative perception of Liverpool. In the case of Romania, the world does not know what is actually here and make assumptions based on limited information. They get their information from the right-wing press, which appears to be ignorant of anything outside the UK. It’s very similar to what Liverpool had to put up with for years.
When I first went to Liverpool and Romania, I noticed that in both places, people apologised for the city, for their country. Romanians and Liverpool residents are proud of their birthplaces, but at the same time are aware that the outside world does not have a good opinion of them, so they asked: ‘You like it here?’ Obviously I really liked it, I’d just bought a house there,” said the British writer.
Once local people learn about her story, the first question they ask is “Why did you move here?” After finding out that she’s been here for six years, they ask “How come you haven’t left yet?”
“Why ask me that? For years the foreign press and even the media in Romania said that the country is ugly and that its people are lazy and dishonest, which is a colossal stupidity. This is the level of intelligence of the British tabloid press and their readers; this very distorted image of Romania has been absorbed here and has destroyed people’s confidence over the years,” said Arabella.
She mentioned what she first knew about Romania. “Immediately after the revolution, I heard about the execution of Ceausescu; I even kept newspapers from that day because it was something shocking. I didn’t know anything much about Romania – it wasn’t generally discussed in the UK outside specialist circles. I met my first Romanian in Liverpool – a young man who helped to illustrate one of my books – and his parents, both doctors: wonderful people. I first came to Romania in 2003 to do a short course in Zarnesti. It has changed a lot since then. What I remember is that people were very eager to know that we were enjoying ourselves and we liked it here. It was superb. We were taken by horse and carriage up to Magura and I felt great, as though I had gone back in time to 1960s’ Sussex, where I grew up. I went home after the holiday, but the next year I bought a house here,” said Arabella. The decision to move here came after some tragedy in her life. Several family members died within about 14 months, first her sister, then her aunt, and her mother. “I became overwhelmed – it’s hard to describe what happened, but I was not able to think straight; I couldn’t work, so there was no way to pay my bills. I realised that I had a house in Romania and I could move here, so I sold the house in Liverpool and in July 2010 I settled here, “said the writer.
Neighbours were already accustomed to her eccentric presence and received her with open arms. “Few people in the village spoke English, but I knew a little Romanian – very limited, but it was okay; one of my neighbours is a teacher at the village school and speaks English, so I have someone to talk to if my Romanian language fails. I’m something of a hermit, I like to be alone, I do not want to be disturbed. If I do not see anyone for a week, and it’s just me with my cats, it’s okay. What I love is that the rural world is full of life, of nature; it’s not always silent, but the sounds are animals and birds, not the sound of city traffic,” she said. Life here reminds her of her life as a child in the famous English country landscape. “I loved animals, and was given a piglet – we were friends even when she was fully grown and had piglets of her own.
“I think the reason I feel at home in Magura is that the earth itself is made of the same elements: chalk and limestone, and both places have the same animals and plants. I immediately felt something in the air here, I was back in my element.
“Another reason Magura is an ideal location,” she added, “is the cost of living. I heard recently that the fifteenth century house where I was born was sold for over two million pounds. My home here cost 1% of this price.
“I’m very lucky,” said Arabella.
A couple of stories have appeared today, in the TEDx Brasov magazine (which has a link to my TEDx talk in May) and Vocea.biz. Thanks to Tibi Ruczui, Ioana Niculescu and Miruna Tudor.
This piece follows on from my TEDx talk in May, about creativity, imagination and innovation. “Imaginaţie, creativitate, inovaţie. Toate reprezintă acelaşi lucru, corect?
În realitate, de fapt, sunt trei lucruri total diferite.” Astfel şi-a început Arabella, englezoaică de provenienţă, discursul…. Read more
A piece in today’s Vocea.biz, about the launch on Saturday. “Cu o pălărie mare tip joben și o pană prinsă chiar pe mijloc, Arabella McIntyre-Brown atrage imediat privirile publicului care s-a adunat la târgul de carte Gaudeamus ce are loc în acest weekend la Romexpo în București. „Din Liverpool în Carpați”, cartea pe care o lansează astăzi, este despre viața pe care o trăiește într-un sat din inima Transilvaniei, Măgura, despre oamenii de acolo, despre animalele din sat, despre natură și despre liniștea sufletească pe care Arabella a găsit-o aici, în România, unde dorește să rămână….” Read more