‘The light was soft … They were so graceful. They are the last peasants, the last of their kind’
In 2012, I travelled to Transylvania to document what is effectively the last remaining bucolic landscape of Europe. England, for example, has lost most of its hay meadows because of large-scale agriculture, but in Romania this kind of small-scale sustainable way of farming persists. It survived the Ceaușescu regime. It survived the EU. Today, however, it is a vanishing way of life as young people increasingly choose to migrate to western Europe in search of work and faster money.
I spent three weeks in Maramureş in the northern Carpathian mountains, exploring life in six tiny hamlets, each with no more than 500 inhabitants. It was August, the height of the haymaking season. Families worked in the fields from dawn to dusk. These women were from a village called Breb. I saw their haystacks from the road as my translator and I drove past. I shouted “stop!” and ran out of the car towards them. They smiled at me, but we didn’t talk, they just carried on with what they were doing. It was late in the day, and they were getting ready to go home. The women wear trousers to make hay because the wind blows their skirts up. Here, they were putting their headscarves and their traditional skirts back on. Then they gathered their baskets, in which they’d brought their lunch, and walked back to the village. I followed. The light was very soft, and the shadows long.
Cutting hay and stacking it is physically demanding, I tried doing it myself and failed miserably