September 7, 2008

Prosthetic Limbs, Crumbing Houses of God, and a Backyard Barbecue
Biharkeresztes, Hungary

We've been settling in well in tiny Biharkeresztes—Tatiana, Aidric and our hosts are all in good spirits. It turns out that Josef is quite a knowledgeable character. His English is flawless, and when he gets going, one might think he's as laughably eccentric as Roberto Benigni in 'Life is Beautiful'.

We were treated today with a run across the border—our first sojourn into Romania. Even though Romania is a member state of the EU, we're leaving the Schengen zone, and as a result had to go through the standard passport stamping loop that normally accompanies travel between countries. Our hosts are spared the trouble, as they need only show their photo ID cards to travel to and fro.

The border control is still tight at this crossing, as entry into Hungary represents unchallenged movement within Europe. Returning we saw plenty of cars getting tossed, with most people found guilty of violating the cigarette import limits (a total of 200 are only allowed to cross the border per vehicle, and many try to sneak a cheap carton or two over for personal use, but are still penalized for it).

Prosthetic Limbs

Homemade leg from the countryside

After taking the opportunity to use some much needed Internet at Josef's place of work, he showed us around the facility. The man is involved in prosthetic limbs—a technician of sorts—working with replacement appendages from start to finish.

The workshops are equipped to create the prosthetics from scratch, with Josef and his few colleagues accepting clients from all over the region. A second location south, near Arad, and a third, in the remote northwest of the country, keeps the small company very busy.

Hot Orthodox Girls

Afterwards we drove to the center of town, where the two took us on a wonderful walking tour of the center of town. You can instantly feel the difference between Hungary and Romania—communism has not been kind to this country.

At one point during our tour we happened across an Orthodox church that was mid-stride through a wedding. I quickly came to realize that this was the first time I'd been in such a place of worship (finding it very interesting how in this faith there are only a handful of chairs for the elderly, leaving the rest of the attendants to stand), and that the majority of the women attending the ceremony were smokin' hot.

I laughed with Tatiana a bit about how these girls looked more ready to walk into a nightclub than a wedding. I think I've been checking out the wrong kind of churches these past years.

Abandoned Places of Worship

A crumbling synagogue in Oradea

The Jewish population of Romania has almost entirely up and gone in recent years, leaving the degenerating synagogue I photographed in the city center without a congregation to support it. But here's the thing about religious buildings that I don't get: Chapels, mosques, synagogues—these are believed to be houses of God, right? People worship in them, and consider being inside them a holy thing. The structure itself is sacred, on consecrated ground. So how is it that these structures are allowed to be abandoned and left to rot? Or worse yet, turned into a bar, restaurant or nightclub. Is there some practice of "unconsecrating" a structure? Would it not be better to tear such things down?

Some thoughts from a discussion on abandoned churches:

As water without the Word is not baptism, so a building without the people centered around the Eucharist is not the church—even if it does have stained glass windows.

Once the church ceases to house the Divine Service it is no longer a church. But the problem remains that the church is treated like any other abandoned building. It might send a message that the place of worship is not particularly important and distinct from other buildings.

Backyard BBQ

The conclusion of an already good day, turned perfect, with the addition of a barbeque dinner (complimented well by the champagne we brought for our hosts on our arrival). The little sausages are called Mici, a traditional Romanian dish of grilled minced-meat rolls made from beef (usually mixed with mutton and pork).

More photos from the day-trip are in the gallery.

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