Saturday, February 28, 2015

Séta Az Emlékek Ösvényén

Twenty-five years ago, Géza proposed to Noémi on the bank of the Ráckevei-Duna, the arm of the Danube that branches eastward between Budapest's districts 11 (Újbuda) and 9 (Ferencváros) to flow around Csepel Island before joining the main river again 35 miles or so to the south. Both Géza and Noémi grew up on Csepel Island, the largest island in Hungary (which, landlocked as it is, isn't a place I associate with islands, but the Danube is a very wide river).

The northern part of the island is Budapest's district 21, but the bulk of the island is fairly thinly populated, apart from a few larger communities. The "Little Danube" is a slow and fairly shallow waterway that has been a popular place for summer swimming and water sports for decades, and several day-camp organizations open up during the school break. They were closed and shuttered on February 15th, when we walked along the newly-improved path bordered by the recently-installed lampposts (all a part of the neighborhood improvement program, as well as a national waterlands conservation association, at least as far as I can tell from the semitranslated websites I'm using for reference here). It's a popular spot for Sunday afternoon walks, and though it was getting colder as the sun went down, the light hitting the trees on the other bank made for my favorite reflective photo opportunities.
The Danube being such a wide river, with massive amounts of water going by (21,000 cubic feet per second in the city), it's not surprising that floods have been a problem for Budapest. There were twelve major floods between 1730 and 1830, and in 1838 the government decided to improve and alter the water flow with a system of drains and locks; I believe that this part of the river gets regularly dredged as part of that ongoing effort. The Hungarian kayak and canoe teams practice regularly on the Ráckevei-Duna, and there's a memorial set up to György Kolonics, a multiple gold medal winner who died suddenly in 2008 while practicing for that year's Olympics.

There's also a major wastewater treatment plant on the island, and during the initial excavation for the project, archaeologists were called in once the workers started uncovering Bronze Age pots and tools, Iron Age Celtic graves containing weapons and jewelry, and ceramic fragments dating back to the time of Árpád, the 10th-century prince who united the Hungarian tribes. As with Paris and France, the first kings of Hungary found that a large island in the middle of a fast river is a pretty good place to establish a stronghold. Árpád, who may have been descended from Atilla and whose descendants ruled Hungary for four centuries, set up his summer palace on the island. Whether he went swimming or kayaking is not part of the historical record.
"A vizsla!" I remarked when we encountered this one of many dogs being walked (or more often running free) that evening. Árpád might have owned a vizsla, or more than one; they've been used as hunting dogs since at least the 10th century here in Hungary, and were almost as important as horses. Árpád set up his stables on Csepel Island, and probably had packs of hunting dogs kenneled there as well, waiting for the late summer and early fall season for grouse and hare.

Géza seemed surprised that I recognized the breed, and I explained that we used to have one, when I was growing up. I decided to leave the explanation at that, rather than taxing Noémi's translation skills with the whole story of the sweet-tempered and intelligent dog my family adopted while we were living on the Crow Indian reservation. Géza was fascinated by American Indian tribes when he was growing up, and one evening at the dinner table, when I had mentioned that I'd lived on a reservation, he brought out his childhood book containing a list of tribes and their history, though we didn't find any mention of the Crow tribe, even using the more traditional name Absarokee (Apsáalooke). Of course, since the book would have contained a Hungarian version of the American version of the Native American name, who knows if it was really in there or not.
I don't remember when I first saw that Indian dog, whose malnourished state led to his name of Kwash (short for kwashiorkor), and who was larger than a purebred vizsla, as he was a cross with a golden lab, making him twice as good natured. But I do remember what he looked like in his last days, patiently waiting for death from liver failure. Kwash died when I was in my second or third year at university, so he must have been at least 14 years old.

The other adopted stray from our Crow Reservation days was Brownie, the imaginatively-named coyote-Border collie cross who laughed when she stole the mittens from your hands and then led you on a tail-wagging circle in the snow trying to get them back. There was always snow in the winter, in Crow Agency. One year there was so much snow that the power went out for days, and Mom had to pour hot water into the tropical fish tank several times a day (and night) to keep them alive. Brownie had her health problems as well, half toothless from distemper and with oddly crossed back legs that never slowed her down. Even at the end, she still enjoyed going for walks, and though she was blind and deaf she could still track with her keen sense of smell. But one day even that failed her, and she lost her way during an evening walk in Corvallis, and ended up getting hit by a car.
After a few dogless years, Mom decided to look for another Vizsla-lab cross, and Kwash II entered the picture. Sweet-tempered without a doubt, he was nowhere near as intelligent as his predecessor, except when it came to food. That was when Mom was working for the Forest Service, and would often be sent to fire camps in the summer, requiring her to be away from home for weeks at a time. A Carpenterville local named Lee looked after Kwash II during those times, at his trailer home further up the mountainside. According to the story that Mom told me, she was once away for several days but not weeks, so she hadn't sent Kwash II up to live with Lee for the duration, and Lee was only coming down to the house to top up the dog's dish and keep an eye on the house. But Kwash II got tired of being alone, picked up his dog dish one day, and carried it up the mile or so to Lee's trailer, where he dropped it by the door and settled down in his new home, apparently being tired of the lack of constant companionship. Mom acquiesced with his decision, and now lives a dog-free life.

The Baranyi dogs are fairly quiet and undemanding. They're not exactly working farm dogs, however; last week when the calf escaped, one of the dogs - who is part pumi (or possibly komondor) and therefore should know better - was running and barking and nipping at the calf's heels in a very random fashion, and only making it more panicky.
There are several outdoor cats that hang around the milking shed, hoping for handouts and spills, and an indoor/outdoor cat who begs for sausage in the morning and loves to have his belly rubbed. There are no chickens, though Noémi said she used to keep a flock. Now she gets her eggs from the woman next door, who has about 700 hens and who sells eggs at a local Friday market, to which she and Noémi carpool. There are two turkeys, from which Noémi hopes to get a flock of chicks, and two geese that guard the property and are expected to provide a crop of goslings this spring. One of them bit me the first week I was here, but I have established my dominance by hissing and whacking them about the head whenever they get aggressive.

The swamp chickens and swans and mallards were settling down for the night as we walked back to the car on that clear February night. Tomorrow is another Sunday, but the weather's grey and unwelcoming, so I think we'll be spending it at home. However, that will give me time to catch up (I hope!) on my freelance work, and maybe get the photos of my trip to Budapest all sorted, plus the pictures from the chicken farm next door. Next week will be busy, with more cheese to make and a trip to visit another cheesemaker north of Budapest, who has invited us for a tour and lunch on Wednesday. I'll be back when I can, with more pictures and memories.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hungarian Comfort Food

Since my arrival Noémi has been regaling me with traditional and delicious Hungarian dishes. There was the wonderful paprikáscsirke the first Sunday after I arrived, and the fried chicken and mushrooms last Sunday, not to mention the hearty midweek lunches: babgulyás (bean goulash, with cranberry beans and the Baranyi's home-smoked ham) and the thick soups called főzelék; kelkáposzta-főzelék with tomatoes and chopped cabbage and onion and potatoes, and krumplifőzelék of potatoes and onions, flavored with bay leaves and thickened with flour (cornflour for me) and (soy) yoghurt. Because I've been at home doing freelance work on Fridays while Noémi is at the afternoon market, I've been making dinner those nights. I made a scalloped potato dish last week, which got a fairly lukewarm reception (though they were polite enough to eat it all), and this week I made them some Italian arancini, which were much more popular, with Noémi's mozzarella melting inside. I judge the popularity of the dishes by whether or not the two girls dig into them eagerly, or push the food around their plates a while, or cover it with ketchup. They're well-brought-up girls, though, and always eat everything they're served.

Today Noémi made stuffed cabbage rolls, filled with rice and pork and cooked in a light tomato sauce, and for dessert she brought out the cheesecake I'd made yesterday, using some of her French-style cheese that hadn't sold the week before, but which had firmed up to a texture and flavor that was just like Philadelphia cream cheese. I bought some sweet ginger cookies at the store and crushed them up for the crust, mixed the cheese with eggs and sugar, baked it and cooled it, and watched it being eaten with some homemade raspberry jam from another local cheesemaker, heated to a syrup consistency and poured over the top. I had a little tiny taste, and decided it was pretty good cheesecake, actually. Noémi is going to take the next one to the market, and hand it out as samples; a marketing tactic to give customers new ideas for the cheese, and encourage them to buy it. The girls cleaned their dessert plates, so I think it might work.

This week I made crêpes for Shrove Tuesday, which were also very popular. We ate them with jam or sweetened soft cheese or Nutella, depending on our respective ages and dietary restrictions. I made more on Thursday, for the traditional dish called Hortobágyi húsos palacsinta, a recipe I came across while looking for vegetarian Hungarian dishes. The Baranyis observe the Catholic tradition of meatless Fridays, so I've been trying to find new ideas for recipes they might like. And I found this, a popular dish with meat - and one of Noémi's favorites, as it turns out - so we had it for Torkos Csütörtök, or "Gluttonous Thursday," an old custom that the Hungarian Tourist Board has recently revived. In the old days, the meatlessness of Fridays extended throughout the entire 40 days of the Lenten season, except for this one day, so that people could consume all of the leftovers from the Fat Tuesday feast, to avoid waste. Today, restaurants around the country offer 50% meal discounts.

Hortobágyi húsos palacsinta is crêpes wrapped around a stewed meat filling, and baked in a sour cream sauce, though we used yoghurt instead. The meat can be veal, or chicken, or whatever you like, and is traditionally ground before cooking, but we cooked the chicken meat with onions and paprika (lots of paprika) and then ground it all up after. I made the crêpes with soy milk and oat flour, and used soy yoghurt for my sauce.

There's yoghurt (or sour cream, if you like) mixed in with the meat filling, and more thinned with water and spiced with paprika (lots of paprika) and poured into the baking dish and over the top of the crêpes before baking them in a hot oven until browned and bubbling. Savory and soft in the mouth, soothing and warm in the belly, it's just the thing for a cold winter day. It's going in my mental recipe file, and if I can find a source in the States for fresh sweet Hungarian paprika - because it's the quality of the paprika that makes the difference in this and most of the other dishes - then I will make it again. It has to be fresh, you see. Last season's harvest, not the old fusty powder that's been sitting in the back of your spice cabinet so long that it's caked together at the bottom. Noémi uses the csemege paprika that a local farmer produces, and gave me a big bag of it to take to Mom when we meet up in Italy in May.* If she can get it through customs, I'll use some of it to make Hortobágyi húsos palacsinta for her and John when I get back to Oregon. If she'll let me, that is - the stuff is worth its weight in gold.

* I still can't believe that my life is such that I can say things like that.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Year Of The Caprinae

Gyúró, Hungary, February 19, 2015

Opinions are divided as to whether this will be a good year for me. Some websites (and if it's on the internet, it must be true - even more so when you're looking at astrology websites) say that this will be an average year, while others warn that strong (yang) wood dragons, as I am, need to watch out for trouble. One source warns me about the negative energies that come from rolling up my tongue (卷舌 = li juan she) but since this is something I have never been able to do, I'm not too worried about that. On the whole, however, it appears that my path through the next twelve months will be fairly smooth.

Vén kecske is megnyalja a sót.
(Even the old goat will lick the salt.)
- Hungarian proverb

It's looking good for my romantic life, as well, the experts agree. I'll have lots of friends, and more chances to find love this year. If I come across a man who also wants to make a career (in quotes) of wandering the world working and writing, I'll have even more good luck, according to one website that recommends I find a business partner of the opposite sex to maximize my fortune. I'm only 50; it's not too late for romance or a career, right? Rats, tigers, and snakes are my best match for love, apparently, though I think I'd rather go for someone who's simply compatible: a rooster (of course), or a monkey. Pigs are my good friends, et j'ai trouvé que c'est bien vrai l'année dernière, chez les Bergeras. Whether with a partner or not, I need to work hard to make money. Whew! It's a good thing I read that horoscope or I'd be lolling about every day, reading silly books. I haven't had much time to read lately, with 12- or 16-hour cheesemaking marathons on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays; more cheesemaking and then at least 4 hours of computer work on Thursdays; 6-7 hours of computer work on Fridays and Saturdays if I can stand to sit and type for that long; and blogging the week on Sundays. Thanks to the Multnomah County Library's online book system, I did read the third installment of Brent Weeks' "Lightbringer" series and am looking forward to the fourth book in the trilogy, but mostly I just fall asleep at the end of the day.

Revenons à nos moutons.
(Let us get back to our sheep.)
- French saying

Saint-Pée d'Oloron, France, June 12, 2014

A woman named Susan Levitt thinks that while this year should be pleasant, next year is going to be awesome for me, in my lucky monkey year. And if I don't find a partner this year, perhaps I will in 2016. "Dragons tend to marry later in life, if at all," she says, "since they are unwilling to to let go of adventures and dreams to live within the confines of an ordinary domestic life." This is true. This is how I like it, this life, at least now that I'm in one place for a longer period of time. Hauling bags around - on and off trains, up and down stairs and escalators, in and out of taxis and car boots - has worn very thin as entertainment. I think when I am eyeing prospective partners, I'll rate them by luggage-carrying capacity.

I am here with thee and thy goats, as the most capricious poet, honest Ovid, was among the Goths.
- Touchstone, in "As You Like It" (Act III, Scene III)
I bless the twist of fate that brought me here, and the continuing good luck I am having finding wonderful friendly compatible people to live and work with. I've updated my CV (now with more cheese!) and will be sending it off into the world, specifically to Oregon, and even more specifically to Portland, where there are several people who make cheese in the city. If I can't find a farm situation, I at least need to be somewhere with good public transit.
And thou shalt have goats' milk enough for thy food, for the food of thy household, and for the maintenance for thy maidens. (Proverbs 27:27)
And I think I need to be with people, and not by myself; the alone me falls into bad moods and worse habits. I don't mind being alone, per se, and definitely need my private time and space on a regular basis, but it's looking as if I am a happier and healthier person when I am interacting with people daily. I never noticed this before, because I always (well, almost always) had a job, and mostly it was a relief to get home to silence. Silent except for the cats, that is. But the six months of housesitting has shown me that I should plan for a future in company. And I do hope it will be the company of cheesemakers, and their goats and sheep.
Séchilienne, France, August 18, 2013 Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!

Where it all began: Logsden, Oregon, November 28, 2006

Sunday, February 15, 2015

At Home In Gyúró

People have been living here since the 14th century, in this one of several small villages strung along the border between the counties of Fejér and Pest, as in Budapest, which is about a half-hour's drive to the northeast. Or half an hour by train from the town of Martonvásár, which is 15 minutes away by bus from here, and that's how I'll get into the city soon. I could take the bus all the way into Budapest but it would take much longer, though I might see interesting things on the way. Noémi and Géza's two girls, Panna and Dia, take the bus and train to Budapest for school every day, leaving the house at around 6:15am and getting back home again some time after 3:00pm. Unless they miss the bus, in which case Géza drives them to Martonvásár; on Mondays and Wednesdays, when he has to pick up the tall plastic canisters of cow's milk at a farm between here and there, he often drives them in anyway.

He picks up a loaf or two of spongy white sliced bread on the way back, mass quantities of which are eaten every day here for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I've got my own supply of gluten-free bread from Auchan, which I toast and slather with the roasted eggplant and onion spread Noémi buys from a local farmer, and top with slices of deer-meat salami, fresh cucumber, sweet pale zöldpaprika peppers, and sometimes tomatoes, if they appear. The rest of the family tops their bread with margarine and liver paste, or with the spiced spread called körözött that Noémi makes from túró, the cow's-milk cheese that's a cross between ricotta and cottage cheese in texture, and made by draining lightly-renneted curd for a day or two. She whips it with salt and fresh onion purée and mustard and enough dried and ground paprika to turn it a lovely color of orange, and it's very good. There's usually plain soft cheese on the table as well, and bits of cheeses that weren't sold at market, and a variety of purchased and homemade salami. I have my coffee (sometimes black, sometimes with the coconut-rice milk I also get at Auchan) and the Baranyis drink hot or cold tea, one Earl Grey tea bag to a tall pitcher of boiling water, with five or six heaping tablespoons of sugar and some citric acid powder stirred in. It's usually too sweet for me, but sometimes in the afternoon, in the middle of a long day in the cheese room, a small glass of cold sweet tea is exactly what I need.

Sometimes I spread my toasted bread with homemade apricot jam instead - I haven't tried the peach jam that Noémi's mother made - and pour some of my nondairy milk over the whole rolled oats I bought at Auchan, topping them with local chestnut honey. I was sorting through the different oatmeal options at the store, and when I bought the rolled oats, Géza said, "We feed that to our rabbits." At least that's what Noémi said he said; Géza doesn't speak any English, really, though he does understand some, and I am very fortunate that Noémi is there to translate. I am very fortunate to be here, with this family, who are so very kind and funny and full of love, a love that they extend to me, to my eternal gratitude.

Although the website I'm looking at does say that this area has been settled since the 14th century (at least - there are apparently traces of old Roman roads running through here), you wouldn't really know it from the houses in Gyúró. Wars and communism and change in general have left it full of fairly modern buildings, rather than the centuries-old stone granges I lived among (and in) in Agnos. This house used to be a post office, Noémi told me, but now it's a spacious home for her and her family; the three sons are all living elsewhere, at university and on their own. I've got the guest room, and a comfortable place to sleep in the lower half of a painted wooden bunkbed; there's a desk and chair for my blogging and writing, and an extra plug near the bed so that I can use my backup computer to read in the evenings, if I have the energy. The sun comes in through a glass-block window at 7:00am, which is when I get up to start my work up at the barn, or in the kitchen and cheese room, or, on my days off, at the computer.

Except for a few days of blowing snow showers, it has been dry and cold and clear since I arrived. I've taken a few walks around town, and yesterday I walked all the way to the next town of Tordas and back. There are three churches in Gyúró, and this house is framed by two of them, one of which rings the service at 7:00am and 9:00am and noon and several times in the afternoon and evening. It's my alarm clock, along with the sun. The Catholic church in town was built in the first part of the 19th century, and the Lutheran church dates back to the end of the 18th century. The Calvinist church is on the main road out of town, and I think it's under construction; I haven't been in any of the churches here. The Baranyis are devout Roman Catholic, and attend services at a church in Érd, a large town that borders the southwest District 22 of Budapest, which stretches down along the Danube (or Duna, as I now need to call it). I went to mass last Saturday night with them and understood nothing, of course; the mass was led in Hungarian, though I would have had a chance if it had been in Latin, after all of those years singing Bach and Mozart. However, I did manage to pick out the fact that the second lesson was one of Paul's epistles to the Corinthians. And I was able to use the projected text of the psalm and the hymns to practice matching letters to pronunciation, though I had no idea what the assembled letters meant.

Sometimes the village reminds me of Bethel, with dusty streets and dogs barking and broken things piled up in the yard because they might be useful again some day. Sometimes I'm more reminded of the houses in the dodgier areas of South Bend, where people are doing their best to keep the place in shape and in good repair, but where jury-rigging is the order of the day. On my way back from Tordas yesterday I passed a wire-fenced yard where an old woman was digging out weeds from her border, dressed in a headscarf and skirt and shapeless coat, her white hair framing her face. I thought of Little Grandma (who wouldn't have been caught dead with white hair) and wished I could take her picture, but I'm feeling shy, here where I can't communicate easily.

Hungarian has no relation to any of the languages I know or even have a passing familiarity with. I can't suss out meaning from things that sound similar, because nothing sounds - or looks, in the written text - even vaguely familiar. Nothing from any Romance or Germanic language is helping me here, and of course Japanese is of even less use.

The only word of Hungarian I knew before arriving was vigyázz, though I found out that I've been mispronouncing it. The "gy" isn't a "j" sound, but instead sounds like you're half-closing the J before eliding to the Y. It means "look out!" and it has been helpful, in fact, especially when the side porch was slippery with snow, and we were hauling out the buckets of whey to the barrels that go to the pig farmer down the road.

On my first foray around the four or five small shops (very small, all with a bush-Alaska variety of products for sale on the half-empty shelves) I tried to ask what a particular kind of salami was made of, as it had a horseshoe on the label, and I was curious. Not having prepared myself with the words for "pork" or even "pig" I had to resort to pushing the end of my nose up and making grunting sounds. And then later I tried to ask the woman at the post office if she had postcards, but she had no idea what I was talking about. "Postcard?" I ventured. "Posta carta? Posto carto?" She was closing up, so I didn't have time to try any other pidgin combinations, but I never would have arrived at képeslap (KAY-peh-shlap). But now I know how to say a few words: goat (kecske), boiling hot (forró), pickles (savanyúság), thank you (köszönöm). I need to figure out the numbers sooner rather than later, especially after accidentally withdrawing 100,000 forint from the ATM at the airport.

Noémi has a smartphone with translation software on it, and I pull out their tattered English-Hungarian dictionary to look things up from time to time, or zip in here to type words into Google Translate and then write them out. Her English is good, though she only really learned it a few years ago, and through creativity and mutual understanding we manage to keep the conversation going. I was in the kitchen a few minutes ago, grinding up some toasted gluten-free bread for the chicken and mushrooms she's coating with egg and cornstarch and breadcrumbs before frying in hot fat, doing my batch first before turning to the regular flour and crumb version for everyone else. Noémi was describing a dessert she'll make for me, a potato/lard/flour dough (oat flour in this case, bought at the farmer's market on Friday) that's wrapped around whole plums and then boiled like a big dumpling before being rolled in breadcrumbs and sugar. It's a good thing I expend so much energy on cheesemaking days, or I would look like a big dumpling, with all this good food. Anyway, she was explaining the spice in the dumpling, and couldn't remember the name, so she said "special tree skin." "Cinnamon," I immediately said. And that's how we cobble together the phrases throughout the day, although in the evenings when she's tired, it's harder for her to translate. Having been in the same state of bilingual brain numbness many times in France, I understand that all too well.

I'm so happy to be back with goats, and to be staying put for a while. I'll be here another five weeks, which I hope will be enough time to learn more Hungarian by heart, and to play around with new cheese recipes. Right now Noémi mainly makes farmer's cheese, a simple drained curd cheese that she sells fresh, though she coats some with wax to keep it moist. She also makes mozzarella, some of which gets turned into a type of burrata filled with túró, or flattened into a thin sheet and filled with túró mixed with chopped red onion and rolled up again. I suggested that she fill a third of the rolls with the red-orange körözött instead, and use some kind of green filling for another third, so that she could slice them and arrange them in the colors of the Hungarian flag, which might attract more customers. "That's a good idea," she said, and it worked, to my delight. She makes the rolled smoked parenica every week as well, and a soft-curd "French" cheese that gets sold fresh and milky, though she has tried letting some age and get moldy. Moldy in a good way, that is. However, she's not currently using penicillium candidum or geotrichum candidum so there's no easy way to get the true bloomy rind that she wants. But now that I'm here with my computer full of French cheese recipes and semiconfident background in hands-on cheesemaking in France, we're giving some new recipes a try. I'll let you know how they turn out.

In the sitting room there's a big oven/fireplace that heats up the space as well as a boiler full of water that gets piped around the front half of the house; the back is heated by a modern boiler and pipes. The oven/fireplace is a traditional Hungarian construction called a kalyha. It's a version of the kemence I remember reading about in Kate Seredy's "The Good Master," a book I've tried to explain to Noémi, and from which I occasionally recall a word, like puszta, the wide grasslands of eastern Hungary, some of which is now Hortobágy National Park. There are no men in pleated split pants and tall black riding boots here, beribboned hats on their heads; there are no women in heavily-embroidered skirts and dozens of petticoats, shawls draped over their arms. But there is sour cherry soup simmering in the kitchen right now, a very traditional dish, except for the soy yoghurt that Noémi just asked me for, in place of the regular yoghurt she'd normally use. She makes her own yoghurt to sell in the market, too, and the girls enjoy eating it after adding a bit of sweetness. "Do you want a bit of yoghurt with your sugar?" I asked Dia the other day, watching her pour a fifth teaspoon of sugar on the third of a cup of yoghurt in her bowl. As she doesn't speak English, it wasn't very funny, I suppose. She and Panna are learning English in school, but can speak English about as well as Leah speaks Japanese, which is not very. Dia reminds me a lot of Leah, and I think they'd get along well; they look alike, and at 13 years old Dia's love of horses, P.E., and a mainly meat-and-sugar diet recalls my niece at that age. And you'd never catch either of them sitting in a parlor doing needlework.

There is no sidewalk along the road between Gyúró and Tordas, but there wasn't that much traffic, and there was enough of a space between the pavement and the ditch that I could step aside when there were cars passing in both directions. If there was just one car, they'd veer over to the center of the road to give me some room, unlike the drivers in France, who tended to steer closer. I was wearing my light rain coat when I started, and gloves, but when I turned around in the middle of Tordas to head back, I was warm enough in the sunshine that I took both off and stuffed them in my backpack for the trip home. There are twice as many people living in Tordas as in Gyúró, and even in my brief glimpse of the town it's a hotbed of cultural activity in comparison, with a sports club and cultural center and a big manor or palace or church complex or something I can't translate, but that is now a school. One of the houses along the main road has a tall wide carved gate spanning the driveway, with a smaller door to the side, and intricate carvings everywhere. When Noémi saw the picture, she said it was erdélyi, or "from Transylvania," that the family there is not originally Hungarian. Though there have been many peoples in and out of this country, and the country's borders have changed over time, something we talk about occasionally.

The original Hungarians, whoever they were, used runes for a thousand years, and they're still used today in some places. The street sign above to the left says "Tordas" and the one on the right says "Gyúró." The runes are written right to left, and make me think of Tolkien and Vikings and the fact that the language of the Sámi, the reindeer herders in the north of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, belongs to the same family as the language of the Huns, herding their horses and cattle far to the south.

Lunch break: the sour cherry soup, served hot as a first course; fried chicken and mushrooms, with potatoes and chopped parsley, tossed with olive oil instead of butter for my sake; and pickles, always pickles - beet, hot pepper with cauliflower, and my favorite cabbage/cucumber/carrot slaw, slightly sweet and with just enough onion to make it interesting. Noémi brought some back from the market the first week I was here, and I gave her money to buy four times as much this last week, so that I wouldn't feel guilty eating the stuff by the bowlful.

I hope to learn more about the history of Hungary, and see as many of the sights as I can. We might go for a drive this afternoon, and there's a castle with some connection to Beethoven not far away, and of course there's Budapest with its thermal baths (and maybe a massage ...). Kapuvár, where my great-grandfather was born, is two hours by car to the north and west, and there's a possibility we might get there some time in the next month as well - I'd like that. But first, and foremost, there is the cheese, and after this long and lazy and food-filled Sunday, the work will start again first thing in the morning, here at home in Gyúró.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Boldog Bálint Napot!

Happy Valentine's Day to all of you everywhere, from all of me here in Gyúró. I've assembled some Hungarian farmer's cheese for you, flavored with chives, spiced with dried tomato and garlic and basil, plain, with slices of fresh red onion, and seasoned with dill; plus some of the Slovak smoked mozzarella-type cheese I've learned to make called parenica. Hugs and kisses and my best wishes for a delicious day! (A real blog post soon, I promise.)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Norway Post

Though I was in Flekkefjord, Norway for 10 days, I don't have much more than 10 pictures of my stay there. The late sunrise (after 8:30am) and early sunset (before 5:00pm) combined with the low arc of the sun that kept it behind the hills for an hour or so at the beginning and end of the day meant that there wasn't a lot of time to take photos, and the rainy sleety drizzly weather on several days did not create good opportunities for wandering around and playing photoblogger. Many days it was quite icy on the streets and sidewalks as well, even with the thick layer of grit and snow the town spreads around liberally. Finally, I spent a good part of most days in the nearby internet-enabled cafe, keeping up with my freelance commitments. Or almost keeping up - I have some catching up to do tomorrow and Saturday. Because Betty-Ann Rynning-Tønnesen, or Bea Couchman to those who met her as I did in Ashland Senior High where she was a French language teacher for many years, is still teaching (only now it's Norwegian), I had the time to work without feeling weird to be staying with a friend but spending most of the day apart from that friend. Bea teaches Norwegian to the doctors and pharmacists who come to Norway to work in the local hospital. She's got students who from Britain, Hungary, Germany, and Portugal (that I know of) and is fairly busy herself during the week, so we were both happy with the arrangement. We had the mornings and evenings and weekends together to visit, or to take walks if the weather cooperated. She lives in a small apartment on the canal that connects the inlet to the fjord (if that isn't redundant) to the first of a chain of lakes going deeper into the mountains. When the tide changes, sheets of ice come floating up past the house; most are smallish shards, but I watched an unbroken slab at least fifty feet long slide slowly by one day.

Ice on the water, ice on the streets, ice tumbling down the steep rocky walls lining many of the roadways. The local community basketball (or some sport anyway) court was turned into a skating rink, as it is every year, and Bea took her spike-tipped walking sticks with her on our walks. I had a few of those moments where you slip and catch yourself, providing a little breathless "whoops!" feeling, but my hiking/tennis shoes (the only pair of shoes I have now, so it's a good thing they're versatile) coped with the terrain, even on the steeper hills, as long as I stayed on the grit or the packed snow on the sides. It never got much below freezing, but not much above, either, and I was glad once again for my warm wool coat, even though it's been a bit of a pain to pack in the suitcase during the non-freezing parts of my travels.

The basic greeting in Norwegian is "hi hi" or "hei hei" and using that plus "takk" (thank you) and a quick peek at the display on the cash register made it easy to purchase things (easy, that is, as long as I didn't think about the exchange rate) but since nearly everyone I met spoke rudimentary to excellent English, I never had any problems communicating. Sometimes the words seemed familiar enough that I felt I almost understood a phrase, though that did land me in trouble once or twice. Bea was out at dinner with friends one evening (I'd been invited, but declined as I don't like bother strangers with my dietary restrictions) and I was watching a Norwegian show featuring a stand-up comedian and singer, and while I had no idea what he was saying 98% of the time, there was one song I liked, a jazzy number halfway through which I said to myself, "He's singing about 'first world problems' and modern technology." I'm pretty sure I was right about that, too. An earlier joke featured the word "buttplug" but I have no idea what the joke was ...

Work and weather only left us two days in which we could take a walk. On the second day, we went down by the harbor and then up to the top of a rocky hill (as if there are any other types of hills around there), then down to a marshy pond, which we circled before heading back into town. In the middle of town there's a small park; the first day we walked through the park under the leafless trees, past a young woman doing something aerial-yoga-like with a big swatch of fabric that she'd somehow tied around a high branch, and a dry fountain with a nice sculpture of three goats cavorting, and I wish that the picture I took of that had come out better. The next time we walked along another edge of the park, where I took a picture of a bust of Ole Christian Axelsen, a famously successful businessman in town around 1900.

You're never far from water in Flekkefjord. Early-morning kayakers woke me up one day, as they shouted across the canal to each other while paddling upstream. A motorboat went by a few days later, towing a smaller boat behind it; half an hour later, it went chugging back out to the inlet alone. Swans drifted by regularly, and a small flock of mallards nosed (beaked) hopefully along the edges of the porches on the string of waterfront flats where Bea lives, looking for handouts. I was just happy to look out at the changing colors of the water, and the reflections, and the moonlight glimmering on the ripples.

I am so happy that I had the chance to get back to Norway and visit Bea, and I truly hope that it's not the last time I go there. However, I'm going to do my best to plan the next trip in spring or early summer, so that there will be more opportunities for hiking, and maybe even a trip up to Bergen or places further north. There are cheesemakers up there who are looking for help, including a family who lives on a wooded island where they herd the goats through the trees to higher pastures. And there's a French woman in the very far north who has been making goat cheese for a while; I don't know if she's looking for help, but I'd love to visit some day.

À la prochaine, BeaBea!