14 September 2008


I had an excellent weekend with Petra's family -- great company, great food, great company. It turns out that last Friday, 8 September, is my (and Petra's mom's and grandmother's, and half of the parish's and a good amount of the entire country's) name day. So we had a nice day and went to church Friday evening. Saturday we made this really excellent cake, and then today preemptively celebrated my forthcoming birthday.

Also today, we went to a country house in Hungary that used to be owned by the Károlyi family -- they were somehow closely connected to Ferenc II Rákóczi, but I am largely ignorant of the history of the Hungarian aristocracy -- they also were owners of extensive vinyards and connected to the Hollóháza Porcelain company. This house is in Füzérradvány (try to pronounce that), which is really very close to the border. In fact, it would be very possible to go there via bicycle from Petra's house, that's how close it is. The house is beautiful, with some unusual architectural details that really make it unique. There were two really cool things in the house -- reliefs of phoenixes in the backs of the fireplaces, and really nice built-in bathtubs.
Of course, the house had undergone many changes over the years, and one notable euphemism being when the house was "put under government management" and made into a hospital or sanatorium or something, and all of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque-era furniture the family had collected was lost. There remains beautiful columns. We were guided through the place by a really well-meaning docent who spoke like no English and no Slovak, only Hungarian. This meant that Petra and I were completely unable to ask any questions, and there was a lot of lost in translation going on. But it was fun to listen to Hungarian, which has such an interesting sound and yet is also totally incomprehensible to me.

It was rather strange seeing such a strictly Italian country house so rather out-of-context, but maybe in some ways the diverse Austro-Hungarian Empire was like a precursor to today's cultural pluralities and globalization.
Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me... Here are some other pictures.

¡¡¡I almost forgot the most adventurous part of the afternoon!!! The grounds of the country house were used as hunting grounds by the family, who used the house mainly as a hunting lodge. We had some trouble finding the way in (all of the signs are in Hungarian, most not translated) and so we walked in towards the house through a park that is related to the house but isn't part of it. The house was fenced in, and we were walking along the outer perimeter -- so we could see the house but couldn't get to it. It really didn't matter because it was a nice day, and they were pleasant woods. Anyway, at one point as we were walking, Petra spotted a grenade, intero as they say in Italian. Alas, these sorts of things are around, but wow. Who knows how it got there, or how long it had been there, which doesn't diminish its potential danger.

I was concerned because I didn't have my passport with me, but it wasn't even a problem because now Slovakia, Hungary, et. al. are Schengen countries now, and we entered Hungary by turning off the road onto a short gravel section that was paved once we entered Hungary -- they used EU funds to pave the road (previously a path for bicycles and local foot traffic) -- and once again I heard the phrase, "Welcome to Slovakia." No guards or control whatsoever. Evidently this region of Hungary is autonomous, and they have spent a lot of time and money developing a tourist infrastructure, because it's the only part of Hungary that is mountainous, so people like to visit it.

On the way back to Slovakia, where I was going to get the train in Michaľany, we stopped to see if we could get into the Greek Catholic church in the village. An old lady who lives across the street was out, and Petra's mom got out of the car to go talk to her. It turns out she spoke the local Zemplen dialect perfectly, which is good because otherwise there would have been major communication issues. It's so amazing, from their houses they can see what is now Slovakia, but really only the older people can communicate in either the dialect or Hungarian. It turns out that these ladies knew someone from Petra's village because she grew up there and then married someone from Petra's village -- and Petra and her parents knew the lady but had never heard her speak Hungarian -- because no one else in the village does!

There's one train a day that goes directly to Prešov. It starts in Čierna nad Tisou (cf. 1968) and goes as far as Prešov, via Košice. As far as Košice, I was with a friend of Petra's family who I'd met years ago in Rome, and we had a pleasant time chatting on the way about a lot of things. Quite excellently, she said to me, "You're at home here with us" which is very, very true. Also excellently, she extolled the virtues of we Rusyns, though stopped short of self-identifying as one.

Originally, I was going to go straight to Ružomberok, but I had to come back to Prešov to take care of something. The weather is getting colder and it's going to be rainy (last weekend it was so hot and humid, this weekend it's the opposite). I had wanted to go walking in the hills around Ružomberok and thought I'd be able to tomorrow because it's a holiday and we have off -- and obviously normally I wouldn't be able to, but this is just as well.

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