Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gallivanding in Győr

Monika VS Hungary

Győr is a darling little medieval city, the outskirts are concrete and boring, but the inner city is a wonderful collection of labyrinthine cobble-stone alleyways, french neo-classical buildings and baroque palaces, all pastel colours and cream frosting. There is a lot of history here, and I enjoy learning the significance behind certain daily rituals. The bells toll at midday, a reminder of the fact Győr was the first town to oust the ottomans, after they only managed to capture the city for 4 years. Every hour a strange little song is played from the tower of the Town Hall, a melancholy tune that infuses the air with a heavy loneliness, particularly at dusk, as it softly floats across the town.

I am mainly left to my own devices, but am immensely enjoying wandering the streets, visiting decrepit little museums with a few musty badly framed artworks, drawing and painting in my sketchbook, eat icecream (at 80 cents a cone I am giving up all the other food groups).

Whilst wandering the quaint little back alleys I happened upon a hippy alley, complete with a little tree-of-life style shop, flags strung up in the narrow space between the buildings, and Hungarian hippies lounging about. Venturing further into the maze I found what has become my little haven, "Mandala" - a tea house filled with cushions, rugs, Buddhist shrines, a laid back bohemian vibe. There are kids smoking shisha's in a dark corner, and Cannabis tea on the menu (with a footnote stating "THC free, of course. Respect".) There are 15 flavours of hot chocolate on the menu, I am never leaving this place, heee. One late afternoon as a thunderstorm rolls in, I escape to Mandala seeking refuge. I curled up in a corner with a pot of Irish Cream Liquor-spiked tea, drawing and painting in my sketchbook.

From the Puszta to Győr


That means I was a month into my grand trip into the yonder lands of paprika and potatoes.
At the beginning of my final week on the farm two German girls arrived as wwoofers (willing workers on organic farms) staying in the room next to mine in the little cottage. They've been on farms all over Europe, one has been wwoofing since June last year, and they were both seasoned bohemians. You know the sort, dreadlocks, undercuts, piercings..... I'm just a slightly filthy little city mouse compared to them. Communication round the table was interesting, as I don't speak German, the dad (who is German) doesn't speak Hungarian or English, the mother doesn't speak English either, and the girls don't speak Hungarian. Three separate languages go on at once, depending on who is talking to who, with translations for the others following. The weather warmed up significantly that last week, and we were all able to change into t-shirts and shorts, wading through the fields dotted with crimson poppies, pumping water from a well hidden in shoulder-high grass to water the crops.

On our last day on the farm we were told there was a local horse-and-cart races day happening. We peeled potatoes as quickly as our work-weary fingers could manage, brushed up, then trekked into town a good hour away to the "Races". I'm talking about a bunch of hard-faced peasants with big mustaches and baggy white shirts, racing horse drawn carts around a dusty field awkwardly fitted with some sort of obstacle course. Cheesy Hungarian music blares from a distant loudspeaker, and the snaggle-faced youths drink their beer and peer at us three bohemians suspiciously.

In the evening a Spanish family of four arrive to take over the farm work from us, since we are set to leave the next morning. The table is spread outside, not only with the usual fare we've grown and produced on the farm, but a few more Mediterranean options like olives and roasted almonds.... mmmmmm. It was a really nice way to end the first month of my stay.

In the morning the Germans convinced me to forget paying for a train and to hitch-hike with them to Budapest instead. This was an experience my sheltered little city self did not enjoy, and I will definitely not be ever doing it again if I am on my own, ever ever ever. I'll pay for my train rides thank you very much.
At Budapest I boarded my train to Győr, it was a two hour ride, and the stations of these tiny towns are barely signposted, so I sat on the edge of my seat, the landscape flying by, ready to leap up and haul my bags out the door if need be, as the train stops for like 4.5 seconds before hurtling off again.
I arrive to a decent sized town, though it's grey and drizzly, and this affects my first impression of the place.

(My camera rendered a whole lot of my sketches this eery blue colour, to which one of my friend's back in Aus commented, "Beyond the Blue Danube, everything is Blue". )

Glimpses from Pusztaszer - Part Four


I smiled when a few of the girls commented on the Easter Celebrations I described :) At any rate, that's something I've always liked about Hungarian folk culture, there are a lot of traditions that offer a chance for some shameless flirtation amongst the young, thinly veiled as an age old custom. Obviously most of these are not so much practiced in the cities anymore, so I'm glad I'm in a more rural region where they are still managing to continue some of them. A young lady who was visiting the farm was telling us how a friend of hers from a nearby village exclaimed how excited she was that May 1st was approaching. This was met with some surprise from the others that they still celebrate May Day - where the custom is that a boy that is interested in a girl will steal into her garden before dawn to set up a May Tree, so that when she wakes up and looks out of her window in the morning there it is. I didn't manage to catch what on earth a May Tree actually is, and why this is met with such excitement on the girl's behalf, but I think it's something covered in ribbons and possibly bearing gifts. At any rate I imagine it sends a very clear message during the day to any of the other boys that said young lady has already had interest shown in her. Zsuzsa was telling me another form of May Tree is where a communal one will be set up, I think it must be more like a very tall may-pole, with gifts hanging from ribbons tied to the very top, and the local boys have to try and climb up to retrieve them.

Edit: I also found out a bit more about the may-pole celebration I was telling you about, as Miraela mentioned that in her city of Cologne they do actually still celebrate it, and it's quite a big thing

So yes, it's a young tree that a boy covers in ribbons, then hauls the thing to his sweethearts window in the dead of the night and digs it into the ground. Now the thing is, not every boy is so good as to go to the trouble of doing this, so the tradition of tree stealing has become quite popular. It's of course a gamble, as those boys who have spent the time making a tree, don't want all their hard work stolen by some lazy shmuck, and vehemently guard their trees through the night. If it's a leap year, it's the girl's turn to take over this little tradition. 
Before they came to the farm, the two german girls had been living it up in Transylvania, and got to witness the wonderfully weird tradition known as "The Wetting of the Wives". The young women who were married off in the last year sit at home, trembling. Their husbands desperately make the rounds of the village, having to pay a ransom to the other men. The punishment if he forgets to pay someone or they feel he didn't hand over enough? They drag his poor wife to the river and throw her in. This is of course a great shame for her, that her husband didn't/couldn't pay enough to save her dignity. At the end of the day the men all get drunk and then throw each other into the river. 

Another wide spread (and still very much celebrated) celebration here is your Name Day. Mine was on May 4th, and I got a litle bouquet of wild flowers and chocolate - a very rare treat. Your birthday is a much more private affair, but everyone that knows you will be able to wish you well on your name day, and give gifts. It makes sense if you are of the belief that your name shapes a great deal of your personality.

Glimpses from Pusztaszer - Part Three


So are you all ready for some more thrilling stories about my life as a farmer? Of course you are, here we go!!
Because my days are so similar in that I wake up, work, then eat, then work, then eat, then work, then I read Dracula, then sleep, I feel like I have nothing much interesting to say "Today I fed the hmmm." I will try though.

One thing I have noticed is that the type of physical labour means that you have many hours of repetetive toil, where you are working physically but there's nothing for my brain to do. So I've since discovered I have a really weird brain that thinks weird things in an attempt to liven up the day.

One day as I was working in the fields I suddenly heard Zsuzsa calling out "NO MOLLY NO, NOOOOOO". I frown, Molly??? Molly was the sheep that died last week of mysterious circumstances and I helped bury her. I look up startled, to see a great white thing hurtling towards me. Oh good lord, this is it, I'm gonna die, that is a zombie sheep on the rampage and it is going to tear me limb from limb.

Now the thing is this family has a habit of calling all their animals by very similar names. Molly, Polly, Poula, etc.. So it was actually Polly, the hulking great Komondor dog, covered in matted white dreadlocks rampaging about, not some undead rotting sheep. But in the moment, it was almost believable. Almost, I swear.

Yesterday we all packed ourselves into the family van and went hurtling along random dirt roads, driving further and further into strange peasant back villages. I watch the people I see out the window, wondering at them. There's not a town in sight, they live their entire lives out here. I look at the children, and wonder what their lives are like, when they will be like when they grow up. Crooked toothed and googly eyed, gangly limbs and a wary spark. We finally wind our way through a labyrinth to a farm where we pick up three little Hungarian Mangalica pigs. You pick them up by their hind legs, whilst they squeal and shriek... and put them into sacks, then into the back of the van, where they squirm about and squeal the whole way home. I was a little, I don't know... surprised by this. Now they're back on the farm in a happy little pen, getting on with it. Just a little snippet I found interesting.

Oh, a few of you asked, since I didn't specify my living quarters. I am lucky enough to have a cottage all to myself, built in the old peasant style, it is freezing cold and there is no hot water. But beats sleeping on a bed of hay. In the evenings as twilight descends on the farm, the evening nightingales sing hauntingly beautiful songs that carry over the fields. These are the lonely hours, when I wish I had someone with me to share in the peaceful tranquility of those moments. I try to compose my letters and postcards then, so I still feel as if I am "in company".

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Glimpses From Pusztaszer - Part Two



During my stay on the first Organic Farm during April and May, on one of my days off I was given captainship of a rusty old bicycle, given simple directions (turn right, then right again, then ride on till you get to the only existing landmark in this great, flat, open, wide, stretching, never-ending plain.) 
So an hour and a half later I get to my destination - I've never ridden a bike for more than 2 minutes, but thankfully, the country here is completely flat (I am on a farm in the great plains, known as The Puszta, the "badlands".) I went to a big park that was a Historical Memorial Park, and my highlight was seeing the panorama painting - a round room with a mural painted on the walls, depicting when Árpad and the first seven leaders entered Hungary back in the good old days.

Easter Monday was a treat to experience, not only because I have never experienced "Spring" and "Easter" at the same time, but also because a unique Easter tradition takes place known as "Locsolás", where the boys visit the houses where there are girls, recite poetry likening the girls to wilting flowers that need to be watered, etc etc, and then spray perfume on them. In return the girls give them painted red eggs (traditionally, these days they tend to be made of chocolate.) True, the boys that came were all about 6 years old, but I found it funny anyway, I helped little Sara try to remember her poem that she was to say in return as thanks.

Before long I am in full swing of peasant life. After two weeks I think I might not be so incompetent as when I first got here, as I'm a little stronger or at least not every single muscle hurts anymore (just every second or third, hee.) Mornings tend to be the hardest, a cold snap has descended upon us and when I was told that it was about 3 degrees one morning I was ready to have a meltdown. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Glimpses from Pusztaszer

Whilst I have been traveling and exploring the amazing countryside and incredible cities of Hungary, I have been keeping a regular "Travel Log" that I send out to my dear friends back home. I didn't really think to share them here, but it was recently suggested to me I should, as they have been influencing me greatly, and the encounters and crazy adventures I have had will definitely find their way into my art. So without further ado, I shall start slowly transcribing my Dairy here (copy-paste, how wonderful you are to me)

I went straight from the Hungarian airport to the first farm I was staying on. I cannot express how grateful I was to actually have a firm grasp of the language, even so, I just about lost my sanity trying to figure out how to get around. From my first few hours in the country I would have been forgiven for thinking that it was not only illegal to smile, but punishable by death to help a sorry looking traveler out.

I watched the landscape out the window and reveled in how different it was to anything I had seen before. The houses especially. When I got to my stop I found it very interesting to see that most of the passengers hopped on to their bicycles and rode off - including a tiny little ancient granny. In the country side here many people ride bikes. I don't know why I found that so strange and foreign, but I did.

The reason I was heading to a random organic farm in a random small town in Hungary was I had signed up as a WWOOFer (willing worker on organic farms). The farm is very interesting, they have many traditional breeds of Hungarian animals, including Racka sheep, Mangalica Pigs and Bead hens.

The table is spread simply, but with plenty. Everything that we eat is grown here. The milk and cheese and yoghurt is made from the Racka milk, the bread is made from the flour that they make themselves here, the greenery is picked from the garden, its all completely organic, no pesticides. The only thing we consume that is not grown here on the farm is the water - as the well water cannot be drunk.

The work is intense, and the first few days were very hard for me. I have grown up in the city, and am a sensitive artist-type. What persuaded me to do this is beyond me, but partially I feel I need to "experience" a bit of the world beyond my drawing desk if I am to try and create stories and illustrations one day. Your imagination can only reach so far into the unknown - experiencing something first hand is very important to properly understand it.