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.

No comments:

Post a Comment