Word of the Day: Slava

Well today (Thursday) is probably the greatest of all American holidays, translated into Romanian as Ziua Reconstintei but known in English as Thanksgiving.

There’s a lengthy explanation of the origin of the holiday at the link (goes to Wikipedia) but there are some details missing, some of which I’ll elaborate on in a moment. Putting it very succinctly, a group of Europeans who had emigrated to escape intolerance founded a colony in America and were rescued from their poor diet and ignorance by the natives. Being somewhat grateful in those days, they commemorated their overall salvation by giving thanks and thus a holiday was born.

Quite obviously there are parallels to my own life, wherein an American emigrated to escape intolerance and paranoia, and while I’m not here to colonize anyone, I was indeed rescued from a lot of my ignorance and poor diet by the natives. The good news is that, unlike the Puritans, I am not here to impose my own brand of intolerance or commit any acts of genocide :)

This year, for the first time (that I’m aware of), a group of people (Americans, Romanians and others) here in Cluj are actually celebrating Thanksgiving the traditional American way with a lot of the traditional foods. Unfortunately, I cannot join them due to something that happened many years ago when I was working on this holiday. But at least for me, it is nice to have a day off from work (the stuff I do over the internet for American clients) here in Romania where it’s an ordinary day and thus all of the stores and businesses are open. I get to sleep in and do some leisurely shopping and run some errands, which is nice.

I am prohibited from eating the foods or joining others for fellowship on this day but I still can give thanks, which is the ultimate meaning of this holiday. And despite the many awful and sometimes truly evil aspects of American culture, it is a good thing to take one day out of the year and enumerate and give voice to the things you are grateful for. The Romanian translation of this day can also be put as “The Day of Giving Recognition”, from a Latin root meaning to “think again” or “be aware of something again” (re+cognit) and that’s really what gratitude is – calling to mind the good things in one’s life and thinking about them consciously again.

I certainly have a lot of things to be grateful for. One of my longest held secrets is that I do not just enjoy my life here in Romania as some kind of elitist dalliance in the hinterlands of Eastern Europe but that I am actually grateful for the chance to live here. It’s a secret because neither the people from whence I left (America) nor anybody here would ever understand it. To my American friends and colleagues my gratitude is a puzzling mystery while to Romanians it is taken as proof that I am feeble minded and perhaps genuinely crazy.

You know, I’ve spent a long time talking to Romanians about my life here, and talking to ones who who have left their own country in order to work or live elsewhere. I’ve told many of those stories here on the blog before but it always can be summed up in a few words – they left in order to find a better life. Well guess what? For me personally and individually, the same is true. I came here in order to find a better life. Think of it any way you want to but my life here is better than it was there and that’s just how it is.

Food is a big part of the Thanksgiving holiday and a big part of why I’m so grateful to live in Romania and so it’s time to return to those Puritans back in the 17th century and what’s missing from the Wikipedia entry. All of us living here in 2011 sometimes can forget quite easily just what a European diet was like in those days and just how much that trans-Atlantic contact really changed the ways we eat.

A man named William Bradford who was on the Mayflower (the most famous ship to carry the Puritans to America) wrote a book detailing his experiences called Of Plymouth Plantation. After a two-month journey, the colonists arrive and you can see here what led to their hunger and eventual rescue by the natives:

Afterwards they (as many as were able) began to plant ther torne, in which servise Squanto stood them in great stead, showing them both the manar how to set it, and after how to dress and tend it. Also he tould them excepte they gott fish and set with it (in these old grounds) it would come to nothing, and he showed them that in the midle of Aprill they should have store enough come up the brooke, by which they begane to build, and taught them how to take it, and wher to get other provissions necessary for them; all which they found true by triall and experience. Some English seed they sew, as wheat and pease, but it came not to good, eather by the badnes of the seed, or latenes of the season, or both, or some other defecte.

Squanto, who had earlier been a slave for other Europeans, was now back in America and could translate for the Puritans. Here he teaches them to use fish as fertilizer and how to recognize and harvest a lot of local foods. But the English were used to eating a diet of wheat and peas (Rom: mazare) and these crops largely failed.

There is also a detailed record of exactly what foods were brought on board the Mayflower and what those future colonists were used to eating:

Breadstuff’s, including,–
Biscuits or ship-bread (in barrels).
Oatmeal (in barrels or hogsheads).
Rye meal (in hogsheads).
Butter (in firkins).
Cheese, “Hollands” and English (in boxes).
Eggs, pickled (in tubs).
Fish, “haberdyne” [or salt dried cod] (in boxes).
Smoked herring (in boxes).
Meats, including,–
Beef, salt, or “corned” (in barrels).
Dry-salted (in barrels).
Smoked (in sacks).
Dried neats’-tongues (in boxes).
Pork, bacon, smoked (in sacks or boxes).
Salt [“corned”] (in barrels).
Hams and shoulders, smoked (in canvas sacks or hogsheads).
Salt (in bags and barrels).
Vegetables, including,–
Beans (in bags and barrels).
Cabbages (in sacks and barrels).
Onions (in sacks).
Turnips (in sacks).
Parsnips (in sacks).
Pease (in barrels), and
Vinegar (in hogsheads), while,–
Beer (in casks), brandy, “aqua vitae” (in pipes), and gin [“Hollands,”
“strong waters,” or “schnapps”] (in pipes)

Minus the alcohol what you’re left with is mostly pickled eggs, salted meat, oatmeal, a kind of horrible cracker (ship’s bread), cheese and a few root vegetables plus cabbage and a whole heck of a lot of peas.

You might notice what’s missing from both the Mayflower cargo as well as the “traditional” Romanian diet and those are all the New World foods such as tomatoes, bell peppers (Rom: ardei), sunflowers, potatoes and corn. Indeed peanuts and most squashes (Rom: dovleac) are also New World foods as well.

Try to imagine the Romanian diet today without corn (no mamaliga), without potatoes, without peppers (no zacusca) and without sunflowers (or sunflower oil)! It’s nearly impossible. For those of you who enjoy such things, both tobacco and chocolate are also New World crops as well. And as intolerant and ultimately genocidal as all those early Europeans were, they brought back foods that completely changed the diet of the continent they left behind. For that, at least, I am grateful as well.

And thus we finally come to the Word of the Day, which is slava. In some senses this word refers to the adjective or adverb “Slav” or “Slavic”, similar to English. But it has another root (from those Slavic languages) which is used in an expression in modern Romanian:

Slava domnului (or sometimes more rarely slava tie, Doamne)

This translates into English as “thank God” and is used both secularly in normal conversation (as in “thank God the bus finally came”) as well as liturgically in churches. But the word slava (modern Russian: слава) doesn’t mean “thanks” but rather glory.

Therefore to borrow from the English of the Puritans, the most accurate translation of slava domnului can be found in the King James version of the Bible in 1 Corinthians 10:31:

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.


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