The rain started ten minutes before the fabled Illes concert was to begin on Friday night. It poured. Luckily we had stored away three ponchos that we had purchased for a trip to India last summer. It was monsoon season in India, but we never had to use them and they were still in their crisp packages. One loses all dignity in the rain; the three of us in ponchos had dry heads but the mountain-going Hungarians here seemed to grimace when they saw us. L. said they were jealous; I was sure we were the laughingstock of the town. Despite the rain, we faithfully stood in "Freedom Square" and I was impressed by the band. I must say the music was good and I even knew a few tunes. We had had visions of drinking beer until the wee hours of the morning, but our wet pant legs did us in.
Saturday we toured the city and enjoyed the festival before lunch. There was am impressive gulyas cooking contest. Think chile cook off. Different cities and organizations had bubbling cauldrons of their secret recipes. Do not think macaroni and ground beef. Gulyas is a soup with beef, potato, paprika and lots of other vegetables. There was even the "world's largest" pot simmering. I have photos of this that I hope to upload one day. We ran into some friends there who were leaving that afternoon to drive to Greece for vacation. Think about that.
We resisted the tempting smells and headed home to enjoy nagymama's home cooking: meat soup, beef, mashed potatoes, cucumber salad, and watermelon for dessert. It was worth it. Meat soup loses something in translation. It actually has no meat. It is cooked with beef and vegetables, but served only with thin noodles. The beef is the second course. The vegetables and leftover beef are then diced and mixed with a homemade mayonnaise into a salad for the next day.
Later L. awoke me from my afternoon nap (I've had a napping relapse) and we got gussied up to go to a gallery opening. We have these three artist friends in town who have had an "open studio" where they work and people can just drop in for a drink of palinka and a smoke (first or second hand, your choice). We have three small paintings by one of the artists, Janosi Antal, in our dining room (think psycho potatoes in a triptych). At any rate, they have just converted their open studio into a bona fide modern art gallery and museum. They gave speeches. Then a little barefoot man in a scary gas mask and a black robe performed. He had a map of Romania affixed to a meat grinder. His buddy played loud, eery music that grated the audience's nerves while he pushed beef through the grinder. The raw meat oozed through the cities of Romania. This symbolized how art is treated in Romania. Later I saw the little man who must have been the performance artist enjoying the abundant refreshments. I kept wondering if he had washed his hands. I grow maternal.
It is Sunday now and the rain is relentless. The city festival ends today, but the rain has already finished off the good spirits. People droop as they stroll and the heavenly smell of kurtos kolach (a bread covered in sugar and grilled over hot coals on a tube) is overpowered by wet dog. Kurtos kolach, by the way, is yet another food of the gods. I had a scheme years ago to try and sell it in America. I still think it would fly off the steaming hot wooden tube.
More family has arrived for a few days and the tiny apartment that is so cozy has become congested with damp socks and little boys shut in by the rain. You know the boredom level is pretty serious when even Game Boy has lost its allure. I finished reading Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang today, which was interesting to read here in this formerly Communist country. I also read Harry Potter Six this week. I had been reluctant to dive into Harry; I hadn't read the fifth one (sh! don't tell). I gave in mostly because D. and L. had both read it and had been whispering about it continuously. It is a quick read and worth it to keep a young reader enthralled with fiction. I'm not sure what I'll read next...I have been reading the Atlantic's fiction edition as a filler. At some point I will read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburger, which is a required summer reading for our resident 5th grader. I might revisit the Master Butchers Singing Club--make note of its memorable language and ponder its themes. Gots to get ready for Book Club this month! We will be back in the States in time for my August meeting. In fact we will probably leave Romania and return to Budapest on Friday. Then we will fly back to the States on Tuesday morning, a week and a day from now.
Incidently, if want to learn more about Csik and Transilvania, check out the Ballad of the Whisky Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hocky, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts by Julian Rubinstein. My Dad has read it and passed it along to my mother. The hero is from the very city I sit in now. It is a TRUE story, but you won't believe this guy's life. It gives a fairly accurate account of life for Hungarians in this region of Romania. Highly entertaining.