How Astonishing Women from Romania’s Past Inspired Me as a Woman Writer

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books:

When I started writing Dreamland, my second book of short stories about Romania’s history and folklore, I imagined I’ll write about what I know best, my native country. As I started my research, I discovered surprising legends and inspirational tales about women from Romania’s past that inspired me not only in writing, but in my life too.

A story was born from a legend that sits at the core of Maramures, this land in northern Romania: “Call of the Heart in Maramures, at Its Birth.” Its folk still share it by the hearth during long winter nights steeped in snow. It explains how the people of Maramures would not have existed if it wasn’t for the love and the self-sacrifice of one woman. She gave up her status just so that she can be with the man she loved. Never mind that she was a giant. Never mind this is a legend. 

More reality than legend, “A wave frozen in stone” was inspired by the oldest cave paintings of Central Europe, located in Coliboaia Cave, Bihor, Romania. Carbon dating placed them at over 30,000 years old; the Palaeolithic period.

Let’s pause for a moment. When we think of cave paintings and the artists who created them, who do we imagine? A man or a woman? Why do we give men priority?

I tried to imagine a woman. Her hands were raw from work and the freezing temperatures of the Ice Age. In brief moments of respite, when she hugged her babe and counted his tiny fingers, basking in their velvety touch, their sweet scent, and unconditional love… had she noticed the transformation her hands would have gone through? When she cured animal hides, had she noticed the snakes coming alive on the back of her hands? We call them tendons and veins. What word she used? Were they a mark of pride, proof of a life of hard labour? The only life she could have known. I like to imagine that she noticed. That she paused to draw breath. And that’s why she could render such anatomically detailed rock paintings. Bone and tendon and muscle. So distinctive that hand, the human hand. And a key anatomical feature by which individuals were, still are, defined.

Creating art, in its many forms.

I gazed at bas reliefs on Trajan’s Column countless times. Discerning the Roman army crossing the Danube River ahead of the first Dacian-Roman war; then battle scenes. I noticed Roman soldiers torching Dacian villages, but also Roman skulls stuck on poles around a Dacian fortress. And then, suddenly, I spotted Dacian women dressed in their beautiful attire, the Romanian blouse, “ia”, today a Romanian national symbol. An entire scene on Trajan’s column was dedicated to them.  I drew breath. What if the Dacian women were depicted on Trajan’s Column for another reason? Imagine the Roman soldiers’ surprise at having to fight against Dacian men… and women! The Roman soldiers were sourced from all the corners of the empire, fighting someone else’s war. But the Dacians, men and women, were defending their land. I imagined Roman soldiers, their arms lifting heavy swords, gladii, about to strike, then frozen in mid-air realising that among their opponents, handling the curved and feared Dacian sword, the falx, were women too. Thus, the story “Girl Warrior” came alive.

But could all women fight in battles to their hearts’ content?

In medieval times the Bistrita fortress was saved by the wealth of a woman. The stories I came across made me question if it was her material wealth that saved the town or her bravery. Ursula is depicted on her tombstone wearing a knit’s attire complete with a sword and a shield. The stone slab is known today as The Knight’s Slab. 

Link to the rest at Woman Writers, Women’s Books

PG had never heard of Maramures prior to reading the OP. He did a bit of online research and found it looked like and interesting place.

For example Maramures has a Happy Cemetery.

From Üdvözlünk a Wikipédiában!, Creative Commons, share and share alike

The author of the OP is Patricia Furstenberg, a Romanian author now living in South Africa.

Here’s a link to her Author Page on Amazon.

1 thought on “How Astonishing Women from Romania’s Past Inspired Me as a Woman Writer”

  1. Thank you, PG, for poking into something that I had also never heard of. Beautiful traditional work by the original artist and his successors.

    I would love to have such a headstone. Some time in the far future, of course, and maybe without the commentary…

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