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Well my good and gentle readers, as you know from my last giant info piece/exposition dump, things are starting to look up for me at last. My apartment is certainly modest by many standards, but it is a thousand times better than the squalid hole I had to live in for months. And with the weather so beautiful and gorgeous as it is now, and has been all summer, I’d say my small balcony is worth at least a million dollars, as I finally have a few free hours to soak in a little peace and quiet.
There is one small “catch” though – I’ve traded my anonymity and privacy for a new life in the Ograda.
I’d never heard of the ograda system of living in Romania, but it certainly exists there. Here in Chisinau, which I also call the Capital in the Forest, the ograda system is quite popular, which again proves my point that the Soviet influence on architecture was quite slight out here in the backwaters of the former Empire. But the ograda system of Chisinau has evolved a long way since its original feudal roots.
note: a lot of people point to the ugly bloc or giant grey/bland apartment (UK: council flats) buildings. Do they exist here in Chisinau and other cities in Moldova? Of course. And they also exist in Cluj, Timisoara, Bucharest and every other major city in Romania.
The word ograda in Romanian comes from an identical root in Slavic languages that means “fence”. In feudal Romania and Moldova, an agricultural nobleman named a boier (English phonetic: boy-air) owned vast tracts of land that the peasants under him would farm and work. The rich boier and his family would live in a grand house, and of course require servants and attendants.
And it is the “fenced off” nearby area where the servants and attendants lived that became known as the ograda. Close enough at hand to come serve Master and his family, but walled off and kept separate so as not to live too close to the lower ranks. Nonetheless, as students of American history know, being a house serf living in the ograda was far better than the life of the villagers who worked the fields and herds of animals.
Here in modern Chisinau, there are no rich noblemen or their palatial houses with an attached ograda courtyard. Instead, the ograda begins with a gate or fence that faces the sidewalk and street. Although the gate/fence isn’t very large, when it opens up it reveals a large courtyard or open central area, and surrounding that open plaza are a handful of (regular) homes.
In effect, you’ve got you’ve got your own private cul-de-sac that’s fenced/gated off from the street, so it’s perfect for children, cats, the elderly, and everyone else who likes to hang out and grill food and chit-chat and hang up clothes, etc, because there are no cars coming in the ograda (unless it’s a rare occasion when a neighbor is loading/unloading something). There are trees and gardens and outdoor furniture to lounge around in and have a smoke or a drink or a snack or a little party.
Everyone in the ograda has their own separate house, with their own separate mini yards/gardens/courtyards, and then we all share the larger, common space. The fence/gate to the street is locked and generally kept closed, and we all recognize each other on sight, so when the few weird strangers wander in (with the intention to steal or pick up anything not tied down), we already know they don’t belong there.
The bad news, of course, is that you’re stuck with the neighbors that you’ve got, and they are never going to change. If you’ve got some great neighbors, you’re all set. If you’ve got a bad one though, oh boy, watch out.
I’m lucky so far that none of the neighbors seem particularly “bad”, but of course that’s always subject to change, as it is abundantly clear that the number one sport around here is gossiping. Someone is always on the “shit list” and I know we’ve been on there once or twice ourselves. But, in balance, the neighbors on one side seem quite friendly most of the time and we’ve spoken and know each other’s names and so on and that’s great. Plus we got some awesome cherries from their tree a month ago.
And, with three cats in tow, I knew we needed a good ograda for them, and here is perfect as not only do the friendly neighbors have cats (and like them), but there are a total of three cats “officially” living in this ograda and 2-3 more from neighboring courtyards and add our three, and well it’s a fun mix LOL. But so far it’s been fairly peaceful.
There have been some weird things, and some disputes, but I’ll get more into that later. For now I just wanted to enjoy my new experience of living in the ograda. Some of it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, such as the story of our neighbor’s fence, but those tales will come later.
So yes, there are some “downsides” to living in the ograda with neighbors close by, but there are also a lot of benefits, many of which are similar to what you used to get in small towns and villages, where “everyone knows you” and the neighbors share things with you or do favors for you. That’s kinda cool when it works out. Whether in my first hellish apartment here in Moldova or even my quite nice last apartment in Cluj, I never knew the neighbors that well, and I know that few Romanians/Moldovans living in blocuri ever do (know their neighbors).
It’s an interesting experience, that’s for sure. Whatever we humans think, though, I can tell you for sure that the cats love it. So do the two dogs in the ograda, and the children, and everyone else, because there always seems to be plenty of space (and plenty of room left over for a garden).
Almost sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? Nah, just dirty old “Soviet” Moldova :P
AND NOW YOU KNOW!