As I sit here to write my mind wanders off into serious thoughts like, “why isn’t there a way to eat this popcorn and type at the same time.” And then I realize how absurdly American my thoughts are as my Euro-chic boyfriend sits next to me completely content to eat his popcorn at appropriate intervals, unaware of my internal struggle as I silently count to ten between handfuls. I mean, its 2016, and if there isn’t a solution yet I might be on to something. Coming from the land of the Snuggie and Slap-Chop, I was raised for this mentality. After all, necessity is the mother of all invention. And while ill admit that it might be the time of the month getting the best of me, I think its important to remember that the pool noodle is sustaining the lives of some grossly privileged trust fund babies somewhere. I digress.
In these moments I reflect, humorously Ill admit, at the differences about life on this side of the world. From a literal standpoint, things are a lot smaller. Homes, roads, cars, kitchens, washing machines, dishwashers, horse trailers, and portions are just petite compared to our American counterparts. It’s like stepping into a scene from Alice in wonderland; was that potion or pinot they were serving on the flight over? It’s still unclear. I used to park the ten-horse trailer on three thousand acres, and then put the extra double mega cab Dodge diesel in the four-car garage and swap out 45 pounds of laundry before heading into the house to raid my double-door-walk-in fridge. It was an adjustment to realize that no, that’s not a toaster oven, it’s the washer.
But in all reality, it works. There are five of us in this house and while at times it is an exercise in cooperation to share one bathroom and a Frigidaire most college students would consider to be merely a beer locker, it’s far from impossible. Environmental awareness and sustainability here are just a part of every-day life, and people go the extra mile without a second thought or feeling as though they need to wear a hemp-woven “I heart 2 compost” tank purchased at whole foods. Everyone here has a rich and deep-rooted history with the ground upon which they live, and it’s not without reason. I can’t drive thirty minutes in any direction without encountering ruins dating back three times the age of America, and while I love the land of the free for oh-so-many reasons, I cant argue that with today’s political cat fight I think I’ve chosen an OK time to peace out and explore lands afar.
On the topic of all things historical, there lies a river valley in Hungary called Visegrád. Here there is a castle and fortress set upon a mountain where the Danube River makes a sweeping u-turn. The view is incredible and the history is far too elaborate for me to expand upon in this brief post, though the location was home to the Holy Crown of Hungary for many years. On these grounds the people of Visegrád host elaborate festivals all summer long, and there I traveled with the Vermes family to assist in a weekend slam packed with performances and shows.
Now, I have been to more Renascence fairs in the states than I would like to admit to, and they typically happen in large abandoned parking lots or parks on the side of town that you might have been to once but try to avoid at large. While I’ve seen memorable jousting performances, the whole shebang can be a little lack-luster and the attending audience; well they’re not exactly my cup of tea, and don’t get me started with Medieval Times -although the blue knight was adorable... Knowing we were headed towards the holy Mecca of Ren-fair, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But let me assure you, it started off with a flash, and I’ll explain why.
After arriving to the location, which was beautiful to say the very least, our team of 15 men women and children began to set up camp and horse facilities, which consisted of a large yurt and a pasture set up on a sprawling grass field bordering the venue grounds along the Danube. The pen was easily erected hot-wire and the horses all cooperated as they filed into place and began to graze. At nightfall we all hit the sack early as there were nine, yes NINE, performances to be done over the subsequent weekend.
At about midnight I woke up with the urge to pee. Knowing that the formal restroom was a lengthy walk away through a puzzle of camp sights, I opted to go natural and wee with the horses in the shadows of the brush. Barefoot, I waded through the tall wet grass to a safe spot and upon emptying the tank sprung back up only to meet the hot wire with my bare ass. The shock cracked like a bullwhip and thumped out of my naked feet unlike any “I touched the wire” experience I have ever had. They don’t joke around with electric wire here, and from that point on I understood why the horses maintained a healthy respect for that damned white tape. I poked my way back to camp, ego a little bit bruised, but at least no one saw me!
The next day started early as we kicked off the festivals with a parade through town, and I caught my first glimpse of the extent of the seriousness with which these people take their historical reenactments. After all, we were within the walls of the fortress, and the whole thing felt like I had stepped onto a movie set. Hundreds of men clad in shining armor meandered about in-between a full cavalry of mounted and trained human weapons. Balázs and co. were horseback in full traditional attire and all of us ladies wore long white lace dresses. The place was a-buzz with ancient instruments and the half-mile stretch of road along town was packed with attendees and vendors selling everything from chainmail hoodies to sun hats, food, and drinks.
The crowd was an interesting mix of people from all walks of life; families, children, elderly, teens, and hoards of college aged adults were all eyeing the spectacle. The parade wound itself down the narrow roads and ended in a large stadium set along the walls of the castle’s garden. There, all of the performers parked for the opening ceremony. There were falcons and freak shows and flag twirlers and I could see on Balázs’ face that he was enjoying my wide-eyed amazement as I took all of it in.
After the opening ceremony all performers scrambled back to home base to prep for the onslaught of shows, which started every two hours and played to a packed stadium of onlookers. It was a mad dash all day long to keep the horses and performers on schedule and sufficiently fed, watered, and rested, and by mid day Sunday with two shows left we were all entirely exhausted. Fortunately, it was my turn to watch camp as the team headed to the stadium so I landed myself in the shade on a saddle pad and passed out for the better part of two hours.
The neighboring camp, whose equestrian act wrapped up just before ours, caught me sleeping on the job on the way back to base and, in silent ambush, encircled me with horses and weapons at the ready. In coordinated battle cry they all screamed “GOOD MORNING LAUREN” and I flew to life, ripped from my peaceful slumber. Though it was short lived, at least I was getting some rest, as the nightlife at Visegrád only got wilder.
By the time the last show wrapped, the musicians and performers all made their way to the local pubs, which admitted that this particular weekend, which is within the top historical festivals in Europe, made up for the vast majority of their yearly revenues. This amazed me because you could purchase spirits and tumblers of wine for the Hungarian equivalent of forty cents. Needless to say it was a great time and we danced with such ferocity that my favorite pair of flip-flops suffered tragic casualty. You will be missed, sandals.
Fortunately the flips were the only loss suffered over the weekend, despite thousands of gory battle scene replays. It was an incredible experience and gave me a whole new respect for the seriousness with which these people take their history. There is a lot of it, and unlike in America where the closest we get is textbooks, old-town, and a handful of pioneer villages, it is all still erect here (to varying degrees) and at our fingertips for exploration.
We made it back home for work and reality on Monday morning, which came entirely way too soon. I’m starting to get more comfortable in town and I’ve found a local gym where I am taking functional fitness classes three days a week. Thankfully most people here speak enough English for me to get by, though I find myself acting out and using sign language through most of the day. I’m convinced that with a bit more vocabulary I could take on a teaching position and bring my boot camp training to life overseas, because Ill admit I really miss my classes! One thing is for certain, though; that look when you are fifty squats in with fifty to go, its universal.
The painting is well underway, with ten originals to complete and a long list of commissions, I am loving every second of it. The ranch kittens are getting large enough to leap onto the table; so much of my time is spent on active cat defense, as they have made it their own personal mission to traipse through my palette… I sat my work down for three seconds and came back to find white paw prints trailed across the canvass. Touché, feline friends, you got me.
Ill be painting and gathering more content for next time as we gear up for a week straight of sleep away horseback archery camp here on the farm. Until next time, my friends, and thanks for reading!