LIVING THE TRADITIONS OF FALL
Note: Julia de la Torre ’98 is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the country of Moldova, and will share her experiences as part of an occasional series for news@haverford. To view other articles in this series, click on June 2004 and August 2004.
Fall is finally here in Moldova, bringing with it one of the most cherished of Moldovan traditions: wine-making. This was my first time participating in this activity since joining the Peace Corps in June 2003. I am lucky because my host family has their own supply of grapes behind their house, so I decided to volunteer to help them with the harvest.
Never having made wine before, I wasn’t quite sure where to start. My host family’s advice? “Find the oldest clothes you own and change into them.” I took this as a warning, but I was also extremely curious as to what I was getting myself into. After I arrived in the back yard, my host mom promptly suggested that I cover my hair with a scarf to protect myself from the sun and to keep my hair out of my eyes. She said she had a very Moldovan head-covering for me, but instead I offered to use the REI bandana that I had in my pocket. Consider it a meeting of cultures. I was picking grapes in line with Moldovan tradition while wearing a bandana that would typically be used on a camping trip back home. I was geared up for the event.
We spent a few hours bent over, picking grapes in the hot sun. I talked about how I felt doing this for the first time, while my host family recounted their stories of harvesting grapes every year since they were in the fifth grade. During communist times, Moldovan students were required to work in the fields for two weeks to a month in September to help the adults with the grape harvest. Now, even 12 years after independence, many Moldovan schools (typically in villages) still take two weeks in the fall to share in this tradition.
After collecting all of the grapes in wicker baskets and metal buckets, we were ready to press the grapes in a kind of wooden contraption. My host parents loaded in grapes—blue and white—as I cranked the press, squeezing the juice out of each bunch. We did this twice to ensure that all of the juice was extracted. I alternated between cranking the press and punching down the grapes with my bare hands, making a purple mess out of everything. We then strained the juice and were ready to pour it into prepared barrels and jars. My host family then informed me that we must all “chiui” while pouring the first wine of the season. “Chiui” is a combination of shouting, yodeling, and singing. You “chiui” at the top of your lungs when the first drops are poured to guarantee that the wine will be good. When I asked my host father what would happen if we didn’t “chiui,” he simply said that the wine would still be tasty, but it just wouldn’t be as fun to make. A point well taken.
So after a long day of working in the sun and pressing grapes into wine, we sat down for a tasty dinner of goose and potatoes, and a satisfying glass of “must” (the freshly pressed grape juice). Never did food taste so good. I was completely exhausted, which forced me to consider just how hard-working my host family and all Moldovans really are. They work full-time jobs during the day, then return home to physical labor on their own land, sometimes turning on the outside light to work into the dark hours. They then sleep, wake up, and do it all again. For one blissful yet tiring day, I knew what it felt like to work hard for what I enjoyed; the complete satisfaction of participating in the traditions of fall.