The Ghost of Baranvárga

There is a highway that runs between Budapest and the city of Pecs, weaving through the Hungarian countryside. This road was built recently, and will, one day, continue down into Croatia.

ghoshMany years ago –back when cars looked like carriages and double-lane highways didn’t exist, there was a tiny village named Baranvárga in this Hungarian countryside. The village was a place of farming, because of course that’s what you do in the countryside, but it was also the birthplace of a talented musical family.

They were the Szezards, headed by Szezard Tomas. Tomas had fourteen children (almost all boys), thirteen of whom moved to the newly merged city of Budapest to play in the orchestra. The remaining child was a girl named Zsuzsanna, who  married the local Baranvárga butcher, Edes Ivan.

Tomas’ sons were renowned throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire for being masters of the classical composition. While they were never quite good enough to become a Brahms or a Liszt, Tomas himself certainly might have become one of the greats if only he had left the village and moved to Budapest.

But he loved his village life, almost as much as he loved his music.

In the morning he’d wake with the violin tucked beneath his chin. He’d eat his boiled egg with one hand with plucking strings with the other. He’d sit amoungst the chickens in the yard tuning his instrument, waiting for his daughter to bring lunch. And in the evening, he would rest on the edge of the small Baranvárga fountain in the centre of the village, and play his heart out to the moonlight (and to the barking dogs, who were always mysteriously quiet during the best parts of his songs).

Tomas’ sons encouraged their father to move to Budapest, but the old man refused. This was his home (and the burial ground of his wife. While he didn’t mention this reason aloud, Tomas was very sentimental).

“Give me the morning light and fields of grapes,” he would say between the breaks in his playing as he reached for more pálinka and a slice of goose fat toast. “This is where I play and this is where I stay.”

They offered him an apartment overlooking the Danube. They offered him an audience of thousands at the Hungarian State Opera House. They even offered him indoor plumbing.

“Here I play, and here I stay,” he replied.

And so Tomas played his ingenious compositions to those who passed by the village, and his music, even if not witnessed by crowds of thousands in the concert halls of Budapest, trickled its way into Hungarian folk culture.

“This is my home. This is where I play, and this is where I’ll stay,” he would whisper, over and over as the years went by.

Then one day Tomas died right there in the centre of the town with his fingers still clasped around the violin neck. They buried him next to the fountain. And time went on. The Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed. The world had two wars. Hungary was sliced into pieces. The Russians arrived. Revolutions happened. The Russians left. Democracy took over. A highway was built.

There was some controversy in the building of this highway, and if you drive from Budapest to Pecs, it’s quite clear why. There in the very shallow hills not far from the wine region of Pecs are three absolutely unnecessary tunnels. Instead of blasting away these tiny lumps in the landscape, someone made a lot of money with construction. (These tunnels are shallow, by the way, that they had to make one of the hills larger before they could dig through.)

What no one remembers, because it hardly seems important now, is that the middle tunnel is built right over the original village of Baranvárga, just below the grave of Tomas Szeszard (now completely untraceable since the village was destroyed during the first world war).

There he rests between the rubble and the tunnel.

“This is where I stay,” he had said. And that’s where he plays even today.

Floating through the tunnel is the ghost of Tomas Szeszard himself, playing with the strings of his violin. (Occasionlly accompanied by Zsuszi’s high pitched singing voice. She wasn’t buried too far away either. It was a very small village.)

You can listen to him if you like. All you need to do is drive through the tunnel with your radio on. Zsolt and I are generally blasting Katy Perry on the national pop station. But there are no rules, just be sure to have your radio on. He’ll float into your music with his glimpses of his bouncing violin, and he’ll float out again just as you drive back into the daylight.

And that is the entirely made-up reason for why the tunnels in Hungary are haunted with folk music. It’s Tomas, head of the Szeszard family. He’s still playing, even in his grave.

Budapest: a great night out

Before myMonday post, I’d just like to say that Friday night was fantastic. FANTASTIC. We began at this hole-in-the-wall Slovakian restaurant behind the Hungarian Parliament and ate some truly delicious food. It was jammed packed with flavour. Cami ordered something off of the menu that no one recognized, which translated to her plate – it was like a pork pancake, combining potatoes, meat, cheese, sour cream and gravy.

After the food we stuck around the restaurant and had some drinks (couldn’t get a tea, settled for a milky coffee instead) and some friends came by to meet up.

I love meeting up with Zsolt’s friends in Hungary. These are people who I’ve known as long as I’ve known Zsolt – actually, I met them before I met Zsolt (exclusively) and there hasn’t been an instance where we haven’t had fun together.  Therefore, we were a happy table of laughter and good times. It’s been too long since I’ve seen them, because last summer all plans of a Hungarian visit were cancelled (duh) and last Christmas I was lucky enough to fly home to Canada.

Turns out that one of them – you know who you are – reads my blog frequently and uses it to improve her English. Wonderful, eh? I’d like to say a big “Hello, Szia!” if she’s reading this today.  Maybe that’s a good idea for me as well. Can anyone recommend some easy Hungarian blog to follow? There must be a million to choose from. It might be a good learning experience for me as well.

And after the restaurant we headed out in search of a nightclub. Honestly, this was my favourite part of the evening. Trolling around Budapest, passing the hen parties in the Octagon, stopping at every fast-food joint available (complete with bouncers at the door, things must get crazy in Budapest if even McDonalds needs a boncer), and just having a laugh. It was great.

Eventually we ended up at this club called Instant, which was really cool and I’d definitely recommend it, but their main disco was closed for the evening, so we ditched Instant (because Friday was set with a mission to DANCE/TÁNCOL) and caught a tram across town.

(By this point I was nearing a state of sleep-walker, but we hadn’t even started dancing yet, so there was no way I was going to call it a night).

Eventually we settled at this outdoor disco on (I think) Margaret Island. It was huge, the night was warm, the music was loud.  Tick off my box to ‘go dancing’ because finally, finally, finally I had my chance for fun. Geez, eh. Things have come a long way, and I’m so thankful my body has recovered so well.

It was a fantastic night. Fantastic. So to preface tomorrow’s post (authors are allowed to do this, we can preface anything with an explanation if we want, because it’s our story to tell), Friday night was wonderful – everything I’d hoped for and more.

Have a lovely Sunday.

OH MY GOODNESS. It’s father’s day.

Ok, PS. Today is father’s day, and I’ve yet to call my Dad. However, it was in my plans, and I will do it right now. Dad, you are awesome, as you know, and I’m lucky to be your daughter (and I don’t even mind that people constantly say I look so much like you, even though you’re totally a man.) Have a wonderful day, and I hope a garr bites your line – that’d probably be the very best father’s day gift you could receive. Fingers crossed. 😉