Earth Language - “I Be Earth Again”

By Jheri St. James

This is a photograph of the soil collection site for Common Ground 191 in Moldova. Orheiul Vechi is home to a monastery complex carved into this massive limestone cliff, and surrounded by wild, rocky, remote terrain. Overlooking the Raut River, the monastery was dug by Orthodox monks in the 13th century. It remained inhabited until the 18th century, and in 1996 a handful of monks returned and began restoring it. A small chapel is part of the complex, which acts as a church for three neighboring villages, as it did in the 13th century. Adjacent is the area where up to 13 monks lived for decades at a time, sleeping on pure bedrock in tiny stone nooks (chilii), opening into a central corridor. There's also a stone terrace. The cliff face is dotted with additional caves and places of worship, dug over the millennia by Geto-Dacian tribes from before Christ’s time. In all, the huge cliff contains six complexes of interlocking caves, most of which are accessible only by experienced rock climbers.

After WWII archaeologists started uncovering several layers of history in this region, including a fortress built in the 14th century by Stefan cel Mare, later destroyed by Tartars, and the remnants of a defense wall surrounding the monastery complex from the 15th century. Some of their finds are on exhibit in Chisinau’s National History Museum. In the 18th century the cave-church was taken over by villagers from neighboring Butuceni. In 1905 they built an additional church above ground dedicated to the Ascension of St Mary. This church was shut down by the Soviets in 1944 and remained abandoned throughout the Communist regime. Services resumed in 1996.

Our soil collector for this site was Alexandru Leanca, who collected his sample in August of 2007. Mr. Leanca was affiliated with the American Embassy in Chisinau, Moldova, at that time, but we have lost touch with him. We have also lost touch with John O. Balian, who assisted. It’s a big world and a big project! Thank you, Alex and John, for your contributions. We will not forget our gratitude for your help.

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“Rumanian, more correctly spelled Romanian, is, as its name suggests, one of the romance languages. It is the only such language spoken in Eastern Europe, having descended from the Latin introduced by the Roman Emperor Trajan when he conquered the region in the 2nd century A.D. Rumanian is more archaic than the other romance languages and has been influenced by the non-Romance languages spoken in nearby countries, especially, Hungarian, Albanian, and the various Slavic languages. A variety of Rumanian is spoken in the new nation of Moldova, but there it is written in the Cyrillic alphabet.”
(Katzner, Kenneth, The Languages of the World, 1977)

The Republic of Moldova is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, located between Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east and south. Moldova has had many different names, beginning as the Principality of Moldavia; becoming known as Bessarabia and Romania when it was part of those countries. After changing hands in 1941 and 1944 during World War II, the territory of the modern country was subsumed by the Soviet Union until its declaration of independence on August 27, 1991, and it once again became Moldova, was admitted to the UN in March 1992, and is a member state of the Council of Europe, WTO, OSCE, GUAM, CIS, BSEC and other international organizations, as well as aspiring to the European Union. Chisinau is the capital city.

Moldova enjoys a favorable climate and good farmland, but has no major mineral deposits. As a result, the economy dependsheavily on agriculture, featuring fruits, vegetables, wine and tobacco. “The air of Moldova is very clean,” says Wikipedia, a heartening statement in our world today. Moldova is famous for its wines. For many years viticulture and winemaking were the general occupation of the population. With a well-established wine industry, Moldova has a vineyard area of 360,000 acres, of which 253,000 acres are used for commercial production. Many families have their own recipes and strands of grapes that have been passed down through the generations. Most of the country’s wine production is made for export.

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Mihai Eminescu was a late Romantic poet, novelist and journalist, often regarded as the most famous and influential Romanian poet. In his poems, he often used metaphysical, mythological and historical subjects influenced by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. He was born January 15, 1850 in Botosani, Moldavia.

One Wish Alone Have I One wish alone have I: In some calm land Beside the sea to die; Upon its strand That I forever sleep, The forest near, A heaven near, Stretched over the peaceful deep. No candles shine, Nor tomb I need, instead Let them for me a bed Of twigs entwine.

That no one weeps my end, Nor for me grieves, But let the autumn lend Tongues to the leaves, When brooklet ripples fall With murmuring sound, And moon is found Among the pine-trees tall, While softly rings The wind its trembling chime And over me the lime Its blossom flings.

As I will then no more A wanderer be, Let them with fondness store My memory. And Lucifer the while, Above the pine. Good comrade mine, Will on me gently smile; In mournful mood, The sea sings sad refrain ... And I be earth again In solitude. (Translated by Corneliu M. Popescu)

Eminescu’s father was from Aclinesti, a Romanian village in Bocuvina, which was then part of the Austrian empire. He crossed the border into Moldavia, settling in Ipotesti. He married Raluca Iurascu, an heiress of an old aristocratic Moldavian family. Nicolae Iorga, the Romanian historian, considers Eminescu the godfather of the modern Romanian language. He is unanimously celebrated as the greatest and most represented Romanian poet. His poems have been translated in over 60 languages. Studying his life, work and poetry is a requirement in Romanian public schools and often memorization and analysis of his work is mandatory for high school graduation exams. Today he is considered the national poet of Romania, Moldova and of the Romanians who live in the Ukrainian part of Bucovina.

John Roshka Photograph taken in Moldova

No discussion of the soil of Moldova in any language would be complete without a mention of Moldavite, a dull greenish vitreous substance arguably formed by a meteorite impact. It is one kind of tektite. Sometimes cut and polished as an ornamental stone, its bottle-green glass color led to its being commonly called Bouteillen-stein, and at one time it was regarded as an artificial product, but this view is opposed to the fact that no remains of glassworks are found in the neighborhood of its occurrence. For a long time it was generally believed to be a variety of obsidian, but its difficult fusibility and its chemical composition are rather against its volcanic origin. Another argument about Moldavite glass is that it was formed 15 million years ago during the impact of a giant meteorite in present-day Nordlinger Ries. Splatters of rocks that were melted by the impact cooled while they were actually airborne and most fell in central Bohemia. As such, the glass can be found in the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany and Moldova. High-quality moldavite stones are often used in hand-crafted jewelry and thus enter the market away from mainstream jewelry fashions, more centered around art and craft, and as such have gained an almost cult status.

The soil of Moldova has been named by conquerors of many tongues. She is a template for the goodness of Mother Nature--home to Orheiul Vechi monastery; producer of fruits, vegetables, tobacco and wines; birthplace of Mihai Eminescu; and one of the few places in the world where the gemstone moldavite can be found. Our collectors transited Moldova at one time and blessed us with this soil collection, ultimately to be part of the unified fresco of all the soils of the earth. “I be earth again,” said Mihai Eminescu, speaking for the future of all of us in one of the 60 languages into which this line has been translated. While we all wait to be earth again, let us lift our glasses in a toast to Mother Earth! The word for peace in Moldova is “mir".

Wine Fountain, Criuleni, Moldova




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