"Wake up, Magyars!" Part I

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August 22nd 2009
Published: December 15th 2010
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Kristen and I are awoken from a deep sleep by a group of men who have decided to erect their tents right beside ours, in the dark and hopelessly drunken. The longer their absurdly loud conversation goes on the more I wish I knew Hungarian. But language and cultural barriers being as they are, we decide to wait out their commotion and it is shortly before dawn by the time we fall asleep again.

The daylight begins pouring over the Great Northern Plain. “Wake up, Magyars!” comes the call, in Hungarian, from the man in the powered parachute as he flies over the campgrounds, his buzzing fan providing the background noise.

Gabe is already awake, packing up his tent. He warns us to avoid the closer Port-O-Potties and use the ones near the entrance, but the trek seems too daunting on a full bladder. Access to the portable toilets had cost 50 forints the day before, and I had assumed that this insignificant fee would go, in part, to the poor sucker who would clean them throughout the day. Apparently, though, there is no intention of cleaning them until the festival ends after the weekend. Kristen tries to enter one and turns right around. The smell is already making me gag. We take Gabe’s advice and the extra ten minutes to walk swiftly across the grounds to the lesser used Port-O-Potties – some of which thankfully still have soap and water to wash up.

After finding some breakfast we look over the festival schedule. We see that archery and sword sparring demonstrations are beginning now and quickly make our way over to the area. We arrive 8 minutes late to see the demonstrators walking off the field to a polite applause. The half-hour timeslot is not meant to be filled, it seems. As we are about to leave, music – drums and spiritual chanting – comes over the speakers and we see horsemen approaching in the distance. As they get closer they increase to a trot and circle the field. Anticipating more feats of horsemanship, we watch them circle the large field again. And again. And again. And again. Defeated, we decide to shop the vendors.

Looking over quality blades and armor pieces, at prices considerably lower than what can be had in the U.S., I once again wish that our budget was larger as our travels are coming to a close. Kristen and I purchase a piece of pottery, handmade by a motherly Hungarian woman in the method and style of ancient potters, with twisted, anthropomorphic handles and simple etchings.

We wander for a while before packing the car and trying to find our way back to Kengyel, with Gabe at the wheel and me trying to read the map and helping to interpret traffic laws. Again we see prostitutes on the side of the two-lane rural roads which crisscross the country. As someone who is accustomed to seeing girls working in history’s oldest profession on urban corners, seeing them beside sunflower fields is still a curious juxtaposition for me.

We get to Kengyel in time to wash up and rest a little before heading out again. Józsi’s friend, János, whose van it was that transported us from the Budapest airport, wants to treat Gabe’s family and us to dinner. He owns a pizzeria in Tiszaföldvár, and has invited us to dine there, no charge. While much of the town is rather depressed, János’s place is a nice, inviting little restaurant with outdoor seating along the sidewalk. He proudly shows us around the place, even giving us a tour of the kitchen and back room. As we sit with him and chat, Gabe acting as translator, it becomes obvious that János is no three-hundred-dollar-a-month Hungarian. He shares the same passion for American automobiles as Józsi, opening a catalogue of incredibly expensive Harley-Davidson parts from which he plans to buy to build a custom bike. I do not know how János makes all of his money, but it certainly is not through the restaurant business, and I am not entirely sure the methods are within the boundaries of law.

He has our drinks made while we look through the menu. Various pizzas are listed in Hungarian, though I am able to translate familiar words. “Is this one called a Mexican pizza?” I ask. János confirms it. “What makes it Mexican?” Peppers. Okay, I nod; I understand how this works now. Much like American pizza has become distinct from its Italian ancestor, Hungarians have also adapted the dish to their own tastes and cultural understandings. Most importantly, I’m starving and the pizza is tasty and satisfying.

When we arrive back at Kengyel Gabe tells us that he and his brothers are heading to the bar. Sensing a rare opportunity for Kristen and me to be alone, and wanting to give Gabe a night off from translating, we decide to stay in our room and make it an early night.

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