Why Animalia

Animals have well-defined pigeonholes assigned by the traditional Romanian mindset. From wee to huge, all creatures are cast in distinct roles that any inhabitant of temperate geographical areas will recognize: hardworking as an ant (or bee), stupid as a goose, haughty as a peacock, nimble as a cat (or deer), faithful as a dog, sly as a fox, hungry as a wolf, stubborn as a mule, clumsy as a bear, strong as a bull, and so forth. State symbols varied from the Moldavian bull to the Wallachian eagle, but the lamb ewe, whose status was outlined in the ballad Mioritza (read a fragment here), is perhaps the Romanians' emblematic animal. Despite – or because of – this, people generally prefer any other meat, except at Easter, even though many rural households rely on sheep raising. Nonetheless, Romanian folk mythology is sometimes unpredictable: a popular version of Genesis tells of a God who, unable to set boundaries to an expanding Earth, seeks advice from an unusual counselor, considered then the wisest creature: the hedgehog. God's messenger to this original philosopher is not a dove, as one would expect. The messenger falls at the wrong moment, disturbing the hedgehog's siesta, which leaves the question unanswered, hence God's creation in danger. But this is a sly messenger (no, not a fox either), who will hide behind the hedgehog's door just in time to hear the latter grumble the desired answer. The messenger is a bee. A Folk Bestiary, the opening chapter, includes several more interesting outlooks. It is strange how one can both love and appreciate animals on his farm or in his house and at the same time despise or neglect their natural habitats. This may not be unique to Romania, but it is widely observable here. For some urbanites, pet care is extended into the street, to stray dogs – a real, sometimes lethal danger in Bucharest, condoned by a lenient law that allows the tender-hearted to take abandoned dogs from pounds – but also responsibility for their wellbeing and behavior. Most of these dogs end up back in the streets around their savior's domicile for lack of proper space and care, splitting the Romanian public into supporters of freedom for dogs, backed by various organizations that claim to be non-profit, on the one hand, and the many daily victims of aggression on the other, and pitching the mayor of Bucharest against an aging Brigitte Bardot, and the leader of a political party against dog catchers. The mini chapter Man's Best Enemy tells more about the canine experience of a Bucharester, while Dead Or Alive In The Open shows that, even when people at large do not seem to care about the environment, a few who do can sometimes impose the necessary rules. Hunting is another controversial topic in nowadays Romania. During communism, it used to be a privilege of party members, with Ceausescu, of course, the number one slayer and collector of trophies that would outrage more than animal rights activists. After Ceausescu himself was gunned down in the 1989 revolution, the symbolic smoking rifle was taken over by the new, capitalist nomenclatura. A few massacres among bears and boars raised for slaughter raised some anger in the press, but little more than a few eyebrows elsewhere. The common man will stick to his fishing rod rather than take to the woods or spinney: these are the fiefdom of politicians and moneyed foreigners. The chapter A Bloody Game blends the nightmarish, the funny and the cultured. Animalia.ro encourages a critical look at the way we treat our non-speaking neighbors. 

by Adrian Solomon