All day long we seemed to dawdle through a country which was full of beauty of every kind. Sometimes we saw little towns or castles on the top of steep hills such as we see in old missals; sometimes we ran by rivers and streams which seemed from the wide stony margin on each side of them to be subject to great floods. It takes a lot of water, and running strong, to sweep the outside edge of a river clear.
At every station there were groups of people, sometimes crowds, and in all sorts of attire. Some of them were just like the peasants at home or those I saw coming through
Franceand , with short jackets, and round hats, and home-made trousers; but others were very picturesque. Germany
The women looked pretty, except when you got near them, but they were very clumsy about the waist. They had all full white sleeves of some kind or other, and most of them had big belts with a lot of strips of something fluttering from them like the dresses in a ballet, but of course there were petticoats under them.
The strangest figures we saw were the Slovaks, who were more barbarian than the rest, with their big cow-boy hats, great baggy dirty-white trousers, white linen shirts, and enormous heavy leather belts, nearly a foot wide, all studded over with brass nails. They wore high boots, with their trousers tucked into them, and had long black hair and heavy black moustaches. They are very picturesque, but do not look prepossessing. On the stage they would be set down at once as some old Oriental band of brigands. They are, however, I am told, very harmless and rather wanting in natural self-assertion.
It was on the dark side of twilight when we got to Bistritz, which is a very interesting old place. Being practically on the frontier--for the
Borgo Passleads from it into Bukovina--it has had a very stormy existence, and it certainly shows marks of it. Fifty years ago a series of great fires took place, which made terrible havoc on five separate occasions. At the very beginning of the seventeenth century it underwent a siege of three weeks and lost 13,000 people, the casualties of war proper being assisted by famine and disease.
[Text snagged from Project Gutenberg.]
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
I am rereading Bram Stoker's Dracula, for the first time since the fourth grade, when it drove me, an atheist child of atheists, to sleep with a cross over my bed. (Where did I get the cross? It was a fairly large wooden one, though not large enough to sharpen and shove through a vampire's chest. It was probably my grandmother's.) I figured I would find it turgid and unscary this time around, like Frankenstein. Not so! Check out this detailed ethnography (I have no idea if it's accurate; if not, more props to Stoker for his vivid imagination) at the beginning of the novel. Talk about creating a sense of place: