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2016 Grateful 47

‘Ouch’, she cried.
‘What’s happened?’, I asked the group in general, as a rather large hairy man was blocking my view.
‘He’s just dropped his penis on her head’, someone said.
‘And it was nearly the end of me,’ she moaned.

IMG_3204 (800x600)Not exactly your usual Sunday afternoon pub conversation but then again, it wasn’t just any Sunday afternoon. We were in Mohács for the annual Busójárás festival, one acknowledged by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage. It’s been the locals’ way of saying ‘goodbye winter’ and ‘hello spring’ since the eighteenth century. Revellers parade through the town wearing hideous busós (masks), sporting wooden penises in all shapes and sizes. It’s not for the fainthearted.

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IMG_3164 (800x600)Some 80 000 people had rocked up for Sunday’s festivities and the place was jammed. Add that to the fact that Wales and Ireland were playing their first Six Nations match of the year and finding free wifi to stream the game was a priority. We got the kick-off time wrong but did manage to catch the second half on instant feed and over the radio in bar of the Szent Janós hotel. The 16-16 draw was a nice bonus given that we had both countries represented around the table.

With the wine flowing and palinka making miraculous apparitions, it didn’t take long to get into the belly of it all.

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IMG_3189 (800x600)IMG_3193 (800x600)Our bus of 23 split up into more manageable smaller groups when we parked up after a and wandered around the town. I wanted to see the coffin being thrown into the river at 4.30 and while the crowd standing on the banks was 3 and 4 deep in places, I did IMG_3196 (800x600)manage to get a view of sorts. I’d missed this when I was there in 2013 and have to admit to the whole thing being a little anti-climactic. I expected a little more fanfare. Still, the crowd seemed to be into it all so it was probably just me. And I was pleased to see the tip to neighbouring Croatia as one side of the coffin read Poklade (Croatian for Winter).

It was all little surreal, with the Busó popping up
everywhere. And as the day wore on, they became even more amorous. And daring. As I said, not for the IMG_3200 (800x600)fainthearted. The town was bopping with folks dancers, folk singers, traditional bands, musicians of all sorts. And even the spectators did their part turning out in national costumes and weird and wonderful fancy dress.

IMG_3267 (800x600)P1020750 (800x600)I met a lot of interesting people this week – from all over the world. At a workshop in Malta we shared interesting facts about our respective countries and learned to appreciate our differences.

I’m grateful for  the never-ending list of things to do in Hungary, for the diversity it serves up alongside the wealth of culture it offers. And I’m grateful, too, for the company I keep. The sing-song on the bus on the way home did Ireland proud. What’s not to love about life?

PS – Thanks to the irrepressible Mr Fulop for organising it all. And for counting so well.

 

 

 

Dead men, dead horses

Eighteen thousand men. Fifteen thousand horses. Dead. In just 90 minutes. And this before bombs or weapons of mass destruction were invented. Twenty thousand men facing an opposition of one hundred thousand all the while knowing their fates of most were sealed. A rather hopeless situation in any era.

IMG_0560 (800x600)All this happened, in Mohács, on 29 August 1526 when Hungarian soldiers took on the might and force of Süleyman’s Turkish army in a fight for Hungary. The memorial site, with its visitors centre built to resemble the Crown of Hungary, marks the mass graves in which the bones of these soldiers lie undisturbed by time. Over a hundred wooden posts in various shapes and forms testify to the hopelessness of their plight. This video depiction will give you some sense of what took place.

IMG_0569 (800x598)Intricately carved by four Hungarian artists, they represent the people, the weapons, the armour, and the horses all lost to the battle. The young King Louis the II  died that day, aged 20.  It’s hard to imagine a 20-year-old today having to face what he faced or make the decision he made.

But he to battle he went: ‘So that no one can look at me as an excuse to his own cowardice, and so that no one can blame me, I will on the morrow go, with the help of the Almighty God, to the place others are loath to go without me‘.

IMG_0576 (589x800)IMG_0567 (596x800)Unlike traditional grave markers bearing names and dates of those interred, these carvings are more representative. Some are painted: in black for old people, in blue for children, and those having suffered a violent end are red. The paths are circular, with a rather labyrinthy feel. And as I walked around, I wished I had someone with me to explain what I was seeing. [The English guide we’d booked had been hijacked by another English-speaking group minutes before we’d arrived. Looking for a woman in a fur coat among the teeming masses was like finding a 10-forint coin in a bag of a thousand 50-forint pieces – not impossible but time-consuming.]

IMG_0570 (800x600)Although the IMG_0574 (494x800)site has been designed and well planned, there is no pattern to the placement of the poles. They’re scattered randomly, tilting this way and that in a manner that seems both deliberate and haphazard. It’s hard to decide whether they’ve been beaten down by wind and weather or placed this way on purpose. Perhaps it’s an artistic rendering of how the best laid plans in such a situation are subject to change.

Despite the crowds, there’s a sense of awe about the place, an almost hushed silence that hangs above the chatter of those wandering through. The death bell adds further to this sense of reverence. It’s said that to ring the bell is to salute those who perished.

IMG_0584 (600x800) (2)It wasn’t unusual then for mothers to kill their sons rather than see them face a certain death in battle – capture by the Janissary(the elite infantrymen that were the Sultan’s bodyguards). History has it that the local lady of the manor (or rather Siklós Castle), one Dorottya Kaniszai, went straight to the battlefield when she heard of the defeat and once there, buried many of the soldiers herself. Amazing fortitude, these women. Not for the first time am I wondering how I’d have reacted had I been there. What would I have done? Sat home with my embroidery?

IMG_0575 (598x800)It all started because Louis II refused to pay tribute to the Sultan. Annoyed, Süleyman decided to visit Hungary, capturing Belgrade on his way. Louis managed to rally some 25 000 men and left Buda to meet the approaching Turks. He could have waited for reinforcements from Transylvania and Croatia but didn’t. It was an expensive decision. Süleyman continued all the way to Buda but then decided to go home, taking with him more than 100 000 captives, and beginning 150 years of Turkish rule and the demise of medieval Hungary.

IMG_0577 (800x600)The future would see Hungary divided between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs with only Transylvania remaining free. There territories belonging to Louis, who was killed in flight, passed to Ferdinand I, a Habsburg who later became Holy Roman Emperor.

Admittedly, when István Fulop insisted on adding the site to our day-trip to Mohács for the Busójárás festival, I thought nah – not my thing. But I’m glad he did. And I’d go back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A hairy-man sandwich

Being caught in the embrace of two hairy men, their arms wrapped tightly around me as they shook me up and down all the while shouting madly, their bells clanging and their faces menacing – well, it wasn’t quite how I’d envisaged spending a Sunday afternoon in March.

IMG_0649 (600x800)The unique festival of Busójárás is celebrated in the town of Mohács, on the banks of the Danube. It’s so famous that it’s acknowledged by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage. Dating back to the eighteenth century, it’s the locals’ way of scaring away the winter. They parade through the town wearing hideous busós (masks), making quite the ruckus. It has to be modern man’s way of dusting off his cave-man tendencies and giving free reign to his neanderthal dream.

IMG_0725 (800x582)IMG_0785 (800x600)The festival itself runs from Thursday to Shrove Tuesday with the main events – the parade, the lighting of the bonfire and the floating of the coffin – all packed into Sunday. It’s the best known of Hungary’s carnivals – the season itself (Farsang) precedes Lent, starting on the feast of Epiphany (January 6th) and it ending on Ash Wednesday. If you ever wanted to see what it’s like to stock up on a good time in expectation of 40 days of fasting, don a busós and take to the streets of Mohács.

IMG_0762 (512x800)I had seen pictures, of course, but nothing quite prepared me for the childish glee that came with watching these asexual beings (perhaps they all were men but who could tell…) run riot, poking and prodding passers by with their sticks and accosting anyone who dared to make eye contact. Strange red-tipped objects occasionally protruded from the fleecy folds suggesting an even more devilish intent but they were so fleeting, it was easy to think I was imagining things. And on a Sunday. But then I saw one – for real – being paraded down the street, dangling from the end of a pole. And I did a double-take, twice. To be sure to sure. All in the name of fertility.

IMG_0645 (800x684)IMG_0866 (800x600)The masks are disconcerting. It seems that the eyes behind are looking directly at you – even if they’re not. And they get up close and personal – in your face. And you find yourself smiling inanely, hoping for a reaction but always being met with that wooden implacability. The childish antics are greeted with squeals and giggles as everyone – just everyone – gets involved. I saw one old dear chase after a hairy man to retrieve the hat he’d stolen from her head. Anyone caught in a sandwich and jiggled to within an inch of their life couldn’t help but join in the fun. Mohács, on this particular Sunday, is no place for the bad-tempered or the sulky.

IMG_0721 (800x600)IMG_0641 (600x800)Other, even more sinister-looking bodies float around in stocking masks. These are the Jankele, the helpers. The Limerick duo – The Rubberbandits – would have been right at home. Masked women regaled in bright colours brought a bit of style to the proceedings while others were brandishing their ugly genes like badges of honor. And believe me, at times, it was hard to tell what was real from what was not so good were the effects and the in-character depictions.

IMG_0913 (598x800)IMG_0737 (600x800) (2)IMG_1165 (800x600)That evening, in defiance of every health and safety manual I’ve ever come in contact with, the bonfire was set alight. And heat was fantastic. The effigy that was winter was set alight and the crowds went mad. Sparks flew. And yet the people, phones held aloft in unison, pressed forward, capturing it all on camera. They stayed to the bitter end.

STA_1196 (800x600)Fifteen of us made the journey from Budapest, following the call of István Fulop of the IHBC. All of us made it back. Unsinged. Tired. Replete. And in fine form. It was a great day out and an experience not to be missed.

There’s a lot to be said for living in a country that has so much on offer by way of culture. And there’s a lot more to be said for living in a country populated by a people so willing to share their culture with foreigners, be they expats or tourists. Without exception, everyone I met on Sunday was on top form, willing to pit their English against my limited Hungarian. And with a country this rich in tradition, there has to be plenty more to explore…. ahem… István? Where to next?

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2014 Grateful 44

The seven-year itch is a psychological term that suggests that happiness in a relationship declines after around year seven of a marriage. The phrase originated as a name for irritating and contagious skin complaints of a long duration.

I read that on Wikipedia so it must be true.

Last night, one of my three kitchen clocks fell off the wall and smashed to pieces. It was the one that was set to Hungarian time. It happened at 11.36pm. And I’m sure my downstairs neighbour wasn’t impressed. My question: is this a sign?

Early this week, I had some long conversations with friends about a restlessness that seems to be in the offing – not quite here yet, but waving precociously from within viewing distance. Then I realised that this coming September I’ll have been in Budapest for seven years. The only other seven-year term I did since leaving Ireland back in my early twenties, was in Alaska. And it took 9/11 to send me packing. That and a host of other things, admittedly.

In the last month or so, a number of friends and acquaintances (both expat and Hungarian) have been muttering about job applications abroad. There has been talk of  possible opportunities in Australia. Thoughts of moving back to Ireland with family in tow are increasingly common. And I’m left to wonder at the changing landscape of what has become all too familiar territory.

I’ve been a little dissatisfied with my life lately – hard to imagine really, considering I lead a rather blessed one. But there’s something niggling beneath the surface that no doubt will rear its head in the months to come. All the signs are there. I weeded through my books yesterday and have some ready to mail to friends who will give them a good home and others ready for the book swap shelf in Jack Doyle’s. Divesting myself of my books is a sign I recognise.

I walked away from a pair of shoes the other day, too. And from a jacket I’d had my eye on. And from a heavy-duty frying pan. The shopping gene shutting down: that’s another sign.

And it’s as if my powers of observation have upped a notch or three. Yet another sign. When the mundane starts being novel again, I know that something’s afoot.

I have 18 months floating around in my head – it came from nowhere. It’s just there. I have no idea what my intent is. I have no idea what it is I’d prefer to be doing. But I see the signs.

As I get ready to cross Mohacs off my bucket list tomorrow, I’m grateful that now, after so many reinventions and relocations, I have the experience to recognise the signs of oncoming change and the patience to react accordingly. I’m grateful for the newness that coats the old, and the fact that I’m noticing stuff I’ve overlooked for years. Like this:

sorry we're open