One of the most interesting of these craftsmen is Marinel Györfi, who revived the traditional Saschiz blue pottery in the Saxon village of the same name, 20 km north of Viscri. In a studio in his Atelier de Ceramică Saschiz, at the end of a narrow lane opposite the imposing fortified village church, I watched him skillfully hammer and turn clay into pots and plates which were then glazed in a rich cobalt blue. He etched the designs into the glaze, rather than painting them, a sgraffito technique that Saschiz’s previous potter used before him in the late 18th century. What Marinel does depends on the weight of the clay and his state of mind that day. “Making a pot is about the journey, rather than the destination,” he told me. “It all depends on the emotions you feel along the way.”
Saschiz, like Viscri and all the other villages of Târnava Mare, has remained relatively unchanged since the Saxons settled here: it consists of two parallel rows of pastel-hued houses, built in a line on either side of a stream. Villages were originally organized into different neighborhoods, or Nachbarschaften; supportive communities that worked together to perform common tasks, a practice that continues today. Livestock owners, for example, still have to spend some time (depending on the number of cattle or sheep they own) clearing pastures and meadows of brush.
It was a creaking horse and cart ride to the cleared pastures between Viscri and Criț. Liviu Damian, the man chosen to tend the village flock this season, spent the whole summer at the sheepfold here, his only company a few local shepherds and the fierce sheepdogs who (mostly) herd wolves and bears of the remote region. His temporary home was a bare-floor shack, where he cooks, eats, sleeps and – in the next room – makes cheese using an assortment of wooden troughs and trays. There were about 180 sheep in his care, which his shepherds milked by hand each evening; most households have between 10 and 20 sheep, and they all receive a few kilos of cheese from Damian each week.