Moving from small-town Alaska, I craved city life. I wanted to be able to go to museums and art galleries. I wanted to have access to the cinema and theatre. I wanted concerts and recitals. And I got it. For a few years, it worked. It was all about entertainment. Each place I lived had a vibrant English-language theatre offer that I took advantage of. In Prague once, at the opera, I was delighted to see the ticker-tape subtitles, until I realised that they were translating Italian to Czech and not English. In Hungary, the Hungarian subtitles help hugely.
Nowadays, entertainment is more parochial. Gone are the broadway lights with world actors treading the boards. In their place are folk dances. Gone are the big-ticket international art exhibitions. In their place are exotic bird exhibitions. What passes for entertainment is simple, local, and steeped in tradition.
A neighbouring village, Esztergályhorváti, hosted a St Martin’s Day goose dinner this past weekend. We gathered at the village playground about 4:30 where one of the locals explained what was going on and the priest did his bit. We lit our lanterns and made a short pilgrimage to the village hall, the mayor and the priest from Pacsa leading a chattering line of young and old.
Ours was indeed a short walk, unlike the 2500 km route that St Martin took from Pannonia to Gaul [today Szombathely (HU) to Tours (FR)]. There are a host of sections of the route mapped out, one of which, Via Slavonica, passes through nearby Zalaszentmárton. We may not have been walking the road St Martin took, but what’s a few kilometres here or there?
Body temperatures checked on sign-in, we made our way into the hall to our tables. Bottles of new wine, all part of the St Martin’s festive celebrations, stood on each table. Bottles of pálinka made their rounds. The white wine came out later. Young and old alike sat waiting for the geese to arrive as the speeches, the recitations, and finally the music took centre stage.
A retro cabaret-style duo, Attila Hertelendy and Zsuzsanna Debrei from the Hevesi Sándor Színhaz in Zalaegerseg rocked the house with some Hungarian classics that had people showing their age. Hertelendy looked familiar in a TV sort of way and on checking, I see that he starred in Kristóf Lendvai’s award-winning 2019 short film Félúton (Halfway) and co-starred with Debrei in Lendvai’s 2018 short Majdnem Eltoltam (Nearly bungled). The pair definitely had a bit of the acting going on and the oldies loved it. Had the lights been dimmer, the tables smaller and rounder, and the air heavy with cigarette smoke, it could have been Paris in the 50s.
The traditional goose dinner of meat, red cabbage, and mash was served from communal plates adding to the neighbourliness of it all. Locals skipped from table to table, stopping to chat. English was in short supply so my Hungarian was pushed to its limit as I traded superstitions with a new friend between visits to the local crafters who had set up tables in the entrance hall selling Christmas decorations and wreaths.
As those I’d met on previous visits came over to say hi, I recognised something that is often hard to find in big cities, for all the entertainment they can offer – that sense of community. Esztergályhorváti isn’t my village but I’m grateful for regular invitations to visit and be part of it, even for an evening. As for the goose? Enough, I say, till next year. You can get too much of a good thing.