Arts Lab 3.0: Fiona O'Neill - Romanian hospitality

Dress tells us so much about a country’s history - what values they held, what techniques they mastered, how they structured society. On a rainy afternoon, we found ourselves in the Ruginoasa Cultural Centre; an ethnographic museum dedicated to traditional Moldavian life. The centre is warm and inviting, as if you’ve been welcomed into somebody’s home. Artefacts are scattered across the room; a baby's cradle full to the brim with intricately decorated blankets, a loom with an unfinished weaving, waiting for the right person to finish it, and handmade costumes standing proud. 

The majority of pieces on display had been donated by local residents, giving a personalised touch to each artefact. In an age of industrialisation and fast fashion, the handmade almost assumes legendary status. At the front door of the centre, there is a traditional Moldavian blouse, embroidered with apple blossom motifs. As I was running my finger along the sleeve, admiring the delicate needlework I was told that the blouse was over 200 years old. Instinctively I pulled my hand away, but this is classic Romanian hospitality! There is such a deep pride and appreciation for their cultural heritage that they want visitors to have the richest experience possible, including getting up close with precious antiques.

In a room towards the back, we were met with traditional costumes that were equally beautiful and terrifying. A bear skin draped over a mannequin, a sinister looking mask with a mischievous grin, and a beaded headpiece that was a perfect replica of the local palace. Here we met Augustine, our surprise tour guide. Appearing seemingly out of thin air, a little boy no more than eleven years old introduced himself to us as Augustine and told us, in perfect English, that he could tell us anything we wanted to know about the museum.

Without hesitation, he started talking us through each costume - when it would be worn, who it would be worn by, and the significance it carried. It was such a delight to see a child so animated and enthusiastic about history that we couldn’t help but smile as we listened to our self appointed teacher.

Before we left, Miss Cristina, the founder of the museum, was kind enough to gift me two pieces. I was speechless. As a child I used to imagine taking home exquisite pieces from museum archives, but now it was happening in real life. I didn’t have the words to properly express my gratitude.

Romanian hospitality continues to amaze me, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to it! I can’t wait to return to Ruginoasa and hopefully this time I can try to repay Miss Cristina for her incredible generosity. 

An article written by Fiona O'Neill. She is volunteering within Arts Lab 3.0 project, funded by European Solidarity Corps, with the support of European Union.