Springtime in our garden

Spring has arrived and that means it’s time for my annual gallery of photographs from our garden. This is the sixth edition mind you, so it has become somewhat of a tradition for me. I hope you have a cup of tea or coffee ready — if you don’t, go get one — because there are 131 photographs for you to see. There’s also something different from previous years: I’ve taken most of the photos with my Olympus gear, particularly with my PEN E-P5 and the new lenses I bought for it. This equipment is so light and so responsive it feels like I’m almost cheating when I use it. And there’s no compromise in image quality. I love it. Enjoy the photographs!

In the countryside in winter

In the winter of 2010, we drove through the countryside between Luduș and Apahida in Transilvania, in what is known as lake country because of the many natural and man-made lakes in the area. As we traveled through, it began to snow and the drab grey and black landscapes suddenly turned white and beautiful. We stopped the car in several places to take in that serene quiet and fresh air that you can only feel and smell when it’s snowing. Enjoy the photographs!

Enough with the content algorithms!

I’m writing this because I’ve had enough of the mindf***ing algorithms that every single social media service employs these days, in varying flavors. What do I mean?

Well, have you indicated your preference for something on Facebook? Are you surprised by the fact that the posts you see are always geared toward those preferences? Are you surprised when the ads you see are also about the stuff you might be using or want to buy? Are you surprised that you see virtually nothing from stuff you didn’t indicate that you like or are interested in? Are your surprised when you see an ad along the very same lines laid out above, interspersed between every 3-4 posts, and it’s a video ad that repeats, over and over and over, until you have to hide it and also tell Facebook to hide all ads from that brand, but then a different ad for that same product pops up again from another account, and you have to hide that and hide all from that brand, only to go through the same s**t, day in and day out?

Have you viewed a few videos on YouTube on a particular topic, say the latest digital cameras, and now your YouTube homepage is filled with videos on that topic? How about the recommended videos in the sidebar? Did you get enough of that topic the first time around and already made your decision, but now you can’t seem to be rid of videos about digital cameras that make you doubt your decision, with reviews where “experts” are yelling at you that this other model is better, so much better than the other model you want to buy, and by the way, they have an affiliate link in the description that you should click on when you buy it? Do you struggle to find other content now, because all that YouTube recommends to you are more videos on digital cameras with more “experts” voicing their “opinion”? Are you afraid to search for some other stuff on YouTube because you know that for the next few weeks, you’ll be inundated with more videos on those very same keywords, even though you’ve already seen all you ever wanted to see?

Have you posted photos of a watch or a pen on Instagram, only to see tons of ads for watches and pens, and get recommendations to like more accounts on watches and pens? Do you find it hard to see anything else on Instagram, because that’s pretty much all they’ll shove down your throat, putting ads for watches and pens between every 2-3 actual posts (for watches and pens)?

Isn’t AI fun? Isn’t social media fun? Don’t you love how it’s catered to your very needs, even though you don’t know they’re your needs and you don’t want them to be your needs, but they’ll be your needs goddamit because that’s what the social media algorithms are force-feeding you?

Well, f**k all this s**t. I’ve had enough. Facebook, Google, you guys need to adjust your algorithms. This is absolutely ridiculous. The world is a varied place. Humans are varied, diverse individuals. Just because one day we want to see a video about [insert topic here], it doesn’t mean we want to see more videos on that same topic later in that same day, or the next day, or every damned day for the next few weeks, until your algorithms figure we’ve had enough. And we definitely don’t want to see ads for that s**t haunting us whenever we use your services and your websites and wherever else we might go (yes Adwords and Facebook Pixel, I’m talking about your omnipresent ads for whatever product we might have once seen somewhere). We want variety. We need variety. We need to see and experience opposing viewpoints on a topic. Sameness, day in, day out, is a real mindf**k. It’s not the real world, but since we tend to experience the world through social media, the responsibility falls on you to represent the real world in a real manner.

This has got to stop. These algorithms have got to be changed. They need to become more human. Do you realize you can drive someone mad with your code, haunting them with more and more and more on something they only wanted to see once, something they can’t be rid of now? Do you realize you should be held responsible for the mental health of the people who use your services? It’s high time that fact dawned on you. Change your practices! Do it now.

Italian road trip – Day 6 – Rome

Day 5 ended with us exhausted, crashing onto our beds and having a sound night’s sleep after a paradoxical search for a hotel with available rooms in what is one of the largest cities in the world with plenty of hotels. But that’s how things were that night. We woke up to a beautiful day and we set out to explore Rome.

I had set a grand goal: to show my companions the Rome I knew from 1999, ten years earlier. The part I hadn’t worked out yet in my enthusiasm, was that I’d explored Rome in three weeks, by myself, and now I was going to drag four people in tow to see a lofty list of places in a single day. Make no mistake about it, there were repeated protestations as the day progressed, but it was hard to hear them as I walked ahead at a military pace…

When it was all said and done, after putting my incredibly patient companions through a full day of exploration with little food or drink (there was no time, we had to see everything on my list…), I set another goal: reach a seaside town called Ladispoli by nightfall and find a hotel. Yeah, I did that to them, too! I didn’t let them sleep, I packed them into the car and off we went. I still can’t believe they put up with me. I know I wouldn’t have. Now that I’m in my 40s (this was back in 2009 mind you), I know I wouldn’t do this to myself or to others. The pace was too hectic, we couldn’t take things in. By the end of the day, it was all a blur. Thank goodness we took photos, or else we wouldn’t remember much.

Enjoy our memories from that day!

The fortified church in Sebes

This fortified church looked quite different when it was first built using the Romanesque style in the beginning of the 12th century AD. It was soon destroyed by the Tartar Invasion of 1241-1242. Afterward, the work progressed more slowly and in the Cistercian Gothic style which we see today. Parts of the older structure were used and integrated into the new architecture, resulting in a larger, unified whole where you can still see that some things don’t quite belong. For example, at one of the main entrances you get to glimpse part of the older, lower entrance to the left of the Gothic arches.

The chorus balcony dates back to 1370, is 23 meters tall and the columns which support it are 11 meters tall. The main structural work ended around the year 1420, the Saxons having made a lot of progress in the late 14th century due to a period of prosperity. The church itself was fortified and an impressive defense wall was built around the edifice. A separate chapel was built on the side of the church where religious objects and clothing are stored.

In the 15th century, Sebes entered a period of Ottoman occupation that lasted 40 years. Somehow the guilds prospered in this period and that meant the church was further developed and decorated. The Renaissance altar is 13 meters tall and 6 meters wide and dates to 1520. The Gothic ceiling supports are decorated with sculpted Green Men, mythological and biblical creatures. The church has a beautiful and functional organ built in 1791 by the brothers Reiger and a black grand piano built in the second half of the 19th century. When we skip forward to WWI, we find out that the church bells were confiscated and used for cannonballs, but they were replaced in 1925. A restoration effort in the mid-1960s brought the church somewhat modern amenities such as electric lighting and it took care of various structural and decorative issues.

Services are still held in the church (see the schedule posted in the photo gallery) but very few Saxon parishioners are left (about 20 of them attend regularly).

Enjoy the photographs!

The Mihaileni Canyon

There’s a small canyon in the countryside between Medias and Sibiu called Canionul Mihăileni. A river split open a hill right down the middle, creating a rift where some fossils were found. The river’s no longer around. It’s an interesting site and one which we tried to find one day but couldn’t, because there are no signs and no guides in the area. We drove around till it got dark and then we figured we’d best stop and turn back, or else we might find ourselves stranded in a field overnight. There are only dirt roads there, with deep ruts in places and rocks sticking out of the mud — just the kind of a situation that can gift you with a broken oil pan and a seized engined. At the time we had a VW Golf, which is infamous for the low placement of its oil pan. It’s like a short-legged horse with low-hanging you-know-whats. One hit and it’s going legs-up… It happened to us more than once.

Long story short, the photos you’ll see here are “not exactly” from the Mihăileni Canyon. They’re from the approximate area. But it was autumn, there were rolling hills all around and the foliage was beautiful, so photography-wise, it wasn’t a disappointment. Maybe someday we’ll make it to the actual canyon. Enjoy the photographs!

The fortified church in Moardas

There is a fortified church in the small village of Moardăș in Transilvania, also known as “Mardisch” in German and “Mardos” in Hungarian. A strange-sounding name in Romanian, Moardăș it seems has cuman origins and comes from the precursors of the Hungarians of today. The older name seems to have been Ardesch (as the Saxons pronounced it), first mentioned in written documents in 1373 along with a priest named Michael of Ardesch. The village later became known as Mardesch, with the other variations being Muardesch and Muerdesch in the Saxon dialect.

In the village of Moardas, Transilvania, Romania

Just to show you how small it was, a census taken in 1516 counted 40 households, three widows, a shepherd, a miller and a schoolteacher. By 1532, when Johannes Honterus visited the region to draw a map of Transilvania, the count shrunk to 32 households. In spite of the village’s small size, it had a schoolhouse even in the early 1400s, a fact known because one of its bright young people, a Michael Eckhard of Ardisch, enrolled at the University of Vienna in 1434 to become a lawyer.

We jump to 1850 or so, when the village school gets rebuilt (1848) and a new census reveals the place has gotten bigger. It now has 545 inhabitants. In 1930, 628 inhabitants live in the village. That number shrinks in 1945, when the Communist regime ships quite a few of the Saxons in the village to the Soviet Union, into forced labor camps. Another census taken in 1946 reveals that 44 Saxons had been sent to the USSR, 45 emigrated to Germany and 262 were still in the village. After the Romanian “revolution” (read coup d’etat) of 1989, almost all of the Saxons emigrated to Germany.

I took the photographs you’ll see in this gallery in 2009, 20 years after the Saxons had left the village, leaving only a few of their elderly around. You’ll see them in these photographs below. We stopped to talk with them a bit.

Gypsies had moved into the empty Saxon houses and had systematically destroyed them: sold whatever they could (furniture, goods, etc.), burned the rest for firewood and when one house would fall down, they’d move onto the next one and suck it dry until it fell. By the way, in the States there’s a term for this: it’s called house-squatting and it’s illegal. It’s also illegal in Romania. It’s easier to evict illegal squatters in Romania than it is in the States. All that needs to happen is for the families of the Saxons who own the homes to reclaim the property. Even if it’s been decades, the heirs can successfully reclaim a house. It takes a few months to work that through the legal system but then the problem’s solved for good. I say these things because my heart aches when I see solid, beautiful Saxon homes, built by hard-working, honest farming folk, defaced and brought to the point of ruin by irresponsible social scum. I could show you stuff that’s much worse, in this village and in many others in Southern Transilvania, but I don’t want to go near those places because I’ll get too angry when I see the horrible damage.

Enough crap! Let’s get to the good stuff! Here are images of the fortified church. When we visited, the surrounding fortified wall had mostly fallen down but the church itself was in surprisingly good shape, and so was the parish house next door. That’s because they had the good luck to be renovated in 1913 and again in 1959. By 2009, the altar had been robbed of its valuable center painting and the various religious symbols and objects. The organ had been sold off. The church walls were still standing though. The floor could do with repairs and there were some leaks coming through the roof.

Good news though! Only a year later, in 2010, a work of restoration was spearheaded by a local Saxon, Fritz Roth. Specialists from Germany (Hans Seger and Hans Gröbmayr from München) came to help, a workforce of 30 volunteers was brought in and funds were obtained in part from the US Ambassadors’ Fund for Cultural Preservation. Mark Gitenstein was the US Ambassador to Romania at the time. The restored church was re-consecrated in October of 2011. My photos don’t tell this last part of the story, because they were taken in 2009. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to revisit the place and see how it looks now.