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My Take – Mărțișor, and March Is the Sweetest Month

These days a Mărțișor is pinned down on my jersey as my Romanian experience has been producing a major change in my mental attitude 

March is the sweetest month in Romania. Here springtime is a deeply felt moment in the calendar year: climate change allowing, it pops up after long frozen winters melting away any form of hardship. On Mărțișor day, March 1, Romanian women of all ages are presented with spring tokens called Mărțișor by male friends and beloved ones, to which they reply with a smile and a kiss on cheeks, instinctively aware – and proud – of their crucial role in nature’s life cycle.

Mărțișor are tiny adornments tied with a red and white entwined cord. They belong to a very ancient Romanian tradition with roots back 8,000 years. The red cord symbolises the winter and the white one the spring, which other symbols of joy and good luck such as a four-leafed clove or a heart are tied by. It is also said that white and red are strong amulets against evil eye and a token of purity and innocence. The Mărțișor is worn for a week or two on outer garments.

These days a Mărțișor is also pinned down on my jersey, which I have not been doing as a form of acquiescing to a local habit but as the effect of a major change occurred in my attitude. Let me try to sum it up in three steps.

1 What Am I Doing Here?

Admittedly, when I lived in Italy I never used to be a keen observant of Woman’s Day rites on March 8. Rather, any all-female celebratory dinner made me feel bored and, if attending, I would invariantly end up with the same old question: “What Am I Doing Here?”, keeping at a safe distance from any form of Indian-reserve syndrome having always been my major concern.

2 Us vs. Them 

Then we moved to Romania and my perception changed. I packed and took along also some bits of cultural bias, like the Us vs. Them commonplace: Us Italian vs. Them Romanian Women. On my first flight from Milano to Cluj Napoca I started taking notes on every Romanian woman onboard. Far from realizing that I was just contemplating my mirror images: women flying back home, încet încet/ slowly slowly regaining their native background, so allowing themselves to drop their exotic masks to recover their original selves. Anca, Camelia, Adina: no more the foreign wife or fiancée, the saleswoman, the waitress, the badante, the nurse, the businesswoman, the hairdresser, the gorgeous East European beauty, but just themselves as  daughters, sisters, mothers, lovers, singles. In fact, at that time, as aware as I was of the risk of generalization, I could not help assimilating them all to a unique threatening Romanian female type. To serve my prejudices I could even indulge in tracing back some of their proud beauty – long thin legs, fiery eyes – to their Dacian ancestors so powerfully outlined in the relief scenes on Trajan’s Column in Rome. Take  its scene XLV: nude and bound men shown being tortured by women, the latter traditionally identified as Dacian women (war widows?) maltreating captured Roman soldiers. Also  back to present times, Romanian women seemed quite successful in conquering the hearts of a number of “our” Western European men…

Step 3 – The Reckoning

Since that first naive flight to Romania I have had the opportunity to unpack my heavy luggage and finally get rid of whole sets of shameful prejudices. Now that I have begun to master Romanian, I can get closer and closer  to the people and their very thoughts. Which, in fact, for an Italian, are not so abysmally distant. By now most of my acquaintances and even friends happen to be Romanian women of various ages and cultural background:  from the artist to the hairdresser, the school teacher or the entrepreneur, the doctor and the journalist. I realize now that we have so much more in common than what would make us different.  So, no room left for prejudices, just a healthy sense of challenge due to their many talents: their  inborn sense of femininity, their resilience, their pride and their will to fight for a better future. I should stop here not to incur in another set of dangerous generalization and just chose to celebrate the great news: Spring is coming! Happy Mărțișor to us all.

This post is also available in: Italian

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