Life on a Romanian Monastery: Pestera Romanesti’s Concert in a Cave

Concert Simfonic in Pestera Romanesti - Timis, Romania by Anika Mikkelson www.MissMaps.com

Not sure how I ended up here? Read Life on a Romanian Monastery: One Unforgettable Month, Figuring It All Out,  and The Facts to familiarize yourself!

Annually since 1984, between one and two-thousand people bundle up in winter coats and boots and gather together, squeezing into a chamber dark and damp. Typically home to bats, fossils and running streams, for just one day each year this vesicle welcomes world class performers. The space fills with Mozart and Strauss, claps, cheers and operatic sounds. Accompanied by spotlights red yellow and blue, violinists, cellists, bassists join a symphony directed by an energetic man with luscious locks reminiscent of Beethoven’s.

Waking early on a crisp Sunday morning, five volunteers and two nuns loaded into the Skoda to attend an event we knew nothing about other than four attractive words “Cave in a Concert”.

We were warned that no toilets were present except for Mother Nature’s own expanses, so we stopped on the way for a quick break and a Snickers, which I’ve learned is a favorite treat for many Romanians. We passed through several small towns, catching glimpses of ornately decorated gypsy houses towering high above traditional Romanian homes, and slowing down as we spotted an airplane regally sitting on display at a roadside restaurant. As we neared the prestigious concert hall, we slowed down to talk with the town’s police. The two who’d had to ride in the back of our hatchback car ducked down low to avoid being seen and we stopped to ask for special permission. May we drive rather than hike the five kilometers toward the entrance, as so many others were having to do?

Permission granted: Of course we may drive. The two in back managed to escape being seen, and we continued up the gravel road, bypassing hundreds of pedestrians on our way. A treacherously steep incline covered in ruts too deep to traverse on four wheels made us stop for good, and we eagerly filed out of the car to begin our final ascent. We waited at the ropes blocking our access to the cave for the time being, and were told a man would be coming from the nearest city to bring us tickets. Meanwhile, we left in shifts to grab a bite to eat from one of several vendors grilling fresh Mici (a ground and grilled meat popular in Romania) and sweet corn, as well as to use Mother Nature’s expanses as our squatty potty with a view.

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Just before noon, our ticket dealer arrived and introduced himself as the Mayor! Bowing to kiss the hand of the nun accompanying us, he was surprised as she pulled away. This symbol of reverence is not welcomed by all, including her. Flustered and a bit embarrassed at the event, he respectfully spoke with her about the coming event and soon thereafter invited us to duck under the ropes and continue toward the cave. The sooner we arrived at the cave’s entrance and were allowed inside, the better view we would have. He even told us precisely where to stand: on the right side on top of some rocks so that we would hover over those in front of us. Seats were few, so standing would be the best option.

Once inside, we stumbled over ridges, rocks and ledges toward a bright blue light. At the end of a dark corridor only 2 meters high, musicians were seated, delighting our ears with a cacophony of slides and scales.

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The entire walkway was filled with eager ears, and the music began: musicians from Filarmonicii Banatul Timisoara (Timisoara Philharmonic) were led by a Spanish director and boasted solos by both a talented violinist and baritone. After the first song was complete, the mayor stepped up and microphone in hand, greeted all those in attendance. Listening carefully to his Romanian speech, we were impressed to hear some familiar words: “Americanii, Japoneză, Costa Rica…” He announced our presence in front of everyone! How great is that?

Throughout the hour long concert, audience involvement was frequent, from claps to cheers to singing out of tune. Some songs were more popular than others, and every one was performed with perfect proficiency. Standing on cold rocks, our toes were happy to warm up with uncontrollable taps and turns. It was outstanding, such a treat to experience this annual tradition. Our day away from the monastery wasn’t needed but it was welcomed by all!

Here’s a Taste of What We Heard!

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3 Comments

  1. Great story! Your mom said you will be in Israel next week. My son Kevin will be also. May I email you his itinerary? If you are in the same place maybe you all can meet up.

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