Sunday, April 5, 2015

Hungarian By Love

On my last full day in Hungary, I played tourist, and went to Martonvásár, just down the road from Gyúró and a place I could have visited at any time in the seven weeks I was there, except that I wasn't in Hungary to be a tourist. I was there to be a teacher, a student, a cheesemaker, a freelance writer, a dish-washer and pálinka-drinker and unwilling-but-grateful participant in the Hungarian medical system. Still, it would have been remiss of me not to take the bus over to the main tourist destination in the region, Brunszvik Castle Park.

Regrettably, in doing so I was remiss in the area of cheese-related photoblogging, because I chose not to go with Noémi that morning to the market - in fact, I didn't make it to any of her markets, so there will be a distinct lack of official farmer's market marketing photos when I finally get around to writing up the post on my apprenticeship / stage / goat-filled interlude with the Baranyis. On the other hand, I didn't have to get up at 4am ...

And I did walk through the small market in the Martonvásár town center that sunny Saturday morning, where there were a few booths of trinkety gifts and toys, several vendors with homemade jam or fruit syrup or wine, a woman selling pickles out of the back of her car, and a handful of cheesemakers. Just to scope out the competition, I wandered by all of the cheese stands, taking pictures. One young man layers his mozzarella with pickles and bologna-style salami; an older couple makes thin braids out of their mozzarella before smoking it; and a man with a generous pálinka belly mixes his curd with everything from poppy seeds to roasted garlic before smoking and aging it in large cloth-shaped lumps. I bought a few samples for Noémi, for taste comparison and possible inspiration, and then walked across the street to the park grounds.

The Brunszviks were a noble family dating back to the late 16th century in Hungary, and by the 19th century, when they were granted the large estate in Martonvásár, they were active participants in the political sphere as well. They traveled to Vienna frequently, home to another prominent noble family, the Erdődys, noted supporters of the arts. Joszéf Erdődy was one of Haydn's patrons, and Beethoven wrote music for Anna-Marie, the wife of Péter Erdődy and an accomplished pianist. He dedicated several works to her over the years; some people speculate that she is the "Immortal Beloved" addressed in three of his letters. Beethoven met the Brunsviks through the Erdődys, and was convinced to give piano lessons to the older Brunsvik sisters Teréz and Jozefin when they were in Vienna. He later visited the family in Martonvásár several times between 1800-1810. Both sisters are also candidates for being the "Immortal Beloved" depending on which historian you believe, as is Giulietta Guicciardi, one of their cousins, also a piano student of Beethoven's and to whom he once proposed marriage. But according to a diary written by Teréz, her sister Jozefin was Beethoven's only true love, though he had to worship her from afar during her two unhappy marriages.

There's a "Beethoven Museum" built into one side of the castle (more of a large manor house, really) and I paid the entrance fee to spend a half an hour wandering around the three large rooms containing musical instruments, sheet music, painting and sketches of Beethoven and the Brunsvik family, and two pianos, one or both of which were likely played by Beethoven himself. There were plexiglass shields on top of the keyboards, alas, so I could not place my fingers over the traces of musical greatness.

The Brunszvik brother, Ferenc, was also a musician (a cellist). He married Szidónia Justh in 1823, a woman who, according to the museum's literature, "was an excellent pianist and one of the most outstanding female Beethoven interpreters of her age." The couple started a concert series in a tradition that continues today, highlighting the music of Beethoven, and hosted other prominent musicians like Vieuxtemps and Liszt.

The youngest Brunsvik daughter was named Charlotte, who doesn't seem to have been interested in music or Beethoven. In 1840 Charlotte's daughter Emma Teleki married Auguste de Gerando (in Hungarian "De Gerando Ágost"), a French author and historian who became an honorary member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. They were only married for nine years, and he died in Dresden, Germany at the age of 30. There's a memorial to him on the park grounds that reads "Magyar par Amour" ("Hungarian by Love").

Ferenc's son Géza was the last of the Brunszvik line, and shortly before his death in 1899 the castle and grounds were sold to Archduke Joseph Karl of Austria (József Károly Lajos), who appears to have been a sort of third cousin, or second cousin twice removed, of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (at least if I am tracing my way through the Hapsburg-Lorraine family tree correctly) whose assassination in what was then part of Serbia intensified an already simmering conflict between that state and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Relations had been fairly unpleasant for centuries due to the presence of the Ottoman Empire, under whose rule the former Hapsburgian Kingdom of Serbia became the property of the rulers in Constantinople. After the First and Second Serbian Uprisings at the beginning of the 19th century, Serbia was independent of both empires, but exactly how much territory belonged to the new country remained (remains) in dispute, especially the polyglot region north of Belgrade called Vojvodina, or Vajdaság if you speak Hungarian, which nearly a quarter of the population does today.

The Archduke only used the manor for four years, and sold it to Budapest's "King of Beer," Anton Dreher, whose father started brewing beer in Kőbánya (District X in southeastern Budapest) in 1854. The Dreher family (or the "Dreher family of industrial magnets" according to the park literature) owned Brunszvik Manor for nearly half a century, but during World War II it was used as a military hospital, taken over by the Hungarian state, and then largely abandoned for a decade. In the 1950s the Hungarian Academy of Sciences restored the building, and several research campuses are established in the 70 hectares of park grounds, which is maintained by the Hungarian Centre for Agricultural Research. The English-style garden includes a variety of imported trees (Japanese pagoda tree, Swamp cypress, English oak, Ginkgo, Giant sequoia) and they have lots of conferences there on topics like invasive species, wheat production, bat-borne viruses, and plant breeding.

On one side of the grounds the wild garlic (called "bear's garlic" in Hungarian, as it is in French) was coming up through the fallen leaves, and several women were crunching through the undergrowth, filling plastic bags. I walked around the lake, enjoying the sunshine and thinking about my time in Hungary, and how much I hope to be able to return. There are lots of places I never got to in Budapest, including the suburb of Isaszeg, where my great-grandmother was born. And the medieval town of Kapuvár, my great-grandfather's birthplace. And the entire Nagy Alföld, the Great Plain that is the setting for Kate Seredy's 1935 children's book "The Good Master", with its lyrical descriptions of late 19th century rural life in Hungary, filled with horses and hard work, the first of which I yearned for as a child, the second of which I am only now beginning to appreciate as an adult.

There's so much more to explore in Hungary: the musical history, the different wine regions, the language, and of course the cheese. I'll have to come back with a car next time so that I have more mobility and can easily get around, though the train system is pretty comprehensive and easy to use. Mom and I have a very tentative palacsinta-in-the-sky plan to perhaps, maybe, go to Hungary in 2019 to celebrate the 111th birthday of her mother, my grandmother Katharine Kish (or Katalin Kis, had she been born in Budapest like her sisters). I'll have to start saving my forint now.

I'm grateful for my time as a temporarily-adopted Hungarian, in any event, and for the generosity of the Baranyis. I am so glad that it was Noémi who answered my mass mailing to Hungarian cheesemakers offering to work for room and board, and I wish her all the success in the world with her cheese and her farm and her family. Someday, when I wake up fluent in Hungarian, I'll be back, une Magyar par amour.

Il est impossible de ne pas être frappé de la beauté de cette race. Les Magyars sont grands, élancés, musculeux: leurs yeux et leurs moustaches sont noirs; ils ont le nez aquilin, les traits réguliers, et cet air de dignité que est l'apanage des Orientaux ... Vous ne trouverez dans aucun pays de l'Europe un peuple qui ait conservé ce caractère belliqueux, qui du premier au dernier homme soit éminemment cavalier comme "a' vitéz magyar nemzet," la vaillante nation magyare, ainsi qu'on dit toujours. Il n'en est pas qui ait acquis une telle réputation de loyauté, d'héroïsme et de bravoure chevaleresque ... La langue hongroise est colorée, pleine d'images et de métaphores. Le paysan appelle sa femme csillagom, "mon étoile"; gyöngyöm, "ma perle."It is impossible to not be struck by the beauty of these people. The Hungarians are tall, slender, muscular; their eyes and their mustaches are black; they have aquiline noses, regular facial features, and that dignified air that is characteristic of the Orientals ... In no other European country will you find a people who have retained such a martial bearing, who from the first man to the last is so outstandingly brave, the valiant Magyar nation, as all call them. No other people have earned an equal reputation for loyalty, heroism, and chivalrous deeds ... The Hungarian language is colorful, rich in imagery and metaphor. The farmer calls his wife "my shining star," "my pearl."

- from "Essai historique sur l'origine des Hongrois" by Auguste de Gérand (1844)

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