The Long Retreat

Middle School Greek Dancers at St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church

I remember a time when most foreign-born Americans were of European ethnicity. My father, Elek Paris, was born in what is now the Republic of Slovakia; and my mother, who was actually born in Ohio, was taken to Hungary to be raised by her grandparents. For the first five or six years of my life, I thought that Hungarian was the language of the United States.

What inevitably happens has happened. The children of European-born immigrants see their parents’ culture, religion, and language as something quaint which they are being reluctantly marshaled into accepting. The three-year Covid-19 lockdown has brought this tendency into sharper focus.

Yesterday, Martine and I attended the annual Greek Festival at St Nicholas in Northridge for the first time since 2019. Sure enough, the tours of the church were more perfunctory; the calamari was more breading than squid; and there were fewer people able to do the traditional dance steps. I noticed much the same at the two Hungarian festivals we attended this month. Only the Grace Hungarian Reform Church in Reseda had anything like the same quality of food and entertainment as before the lockdown.

Our neighbors downstairs are refugees from Putin’s Ukrainian invasion. I notice that their two little daughters are addressing their mother in English instead of Ukrainian.

When I first came to Los Angeles, there were at least half a dozen Hungarian restaurants. Now there are none. If I want real Hungarian food, I’ll either have to cook it myself or visit my brother more often. (He’s a far better cook than I am.)

If Martine and I expect to find more authentic ethnic events, we will have to concentrate on the Asian and Latin American ethnic events, as they have arrived in this country more recently.

“Long Torn By Ill Fate”

Melinda Borbely Singing Hungarian Folk Songs

Today was another Hungarian festival, this time it was the Tavaszköszöntő at the First Hungarian Reformed Church of Los Angeles. Although I can speak Hungarian (ungrammatically), I have a difficult time understanding the language when all the long agglutinative words are strung together in paragraph lengths.

Still, just letting the language wash over me, while understanding only bits and pieces, sends me back to my roots. As a child born in the Hungarian neighborhood of Buckeye Road in Cleveland, Ohio, I did not even know that English existed as the language of my home and neighborhood was strictly Magyar. Listening to spoken Hungarian makes me feel as if I were being washed by the gentle waves of the Danube as it flows through Budapest.

This is the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Trianon, which resulted in millions of Hungarians being assigned to Czechoslovakia, Romania, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia. One cannot go to a Hungarian gathering without seeing a map of the pre-Trianon borders of Hungary. It has led to a mythology of the lost cause, which is perfectly enshrined in the Himnusz, the Hungarian national anthem. Here is a YouTube video of the Himnusz:

Here are the lyrics in all the stanzas of the Himnusz:

Verse 1
O God, bless the nation of Hungary
With your grace and bounty
Extend over it your guarding arm
During strife with its enemies
Long torn by ill fate
Bring upon it a time of relief
This nation has suffered for all sins
Of the past and of the future!

Verse 2
You brought our ancestors up
Over the Carpathians’ holy peaks
By You was won a beautiful homeland
For Bendeguz’s sons
And wherever flow the rivers of
The Tisza and the Danube
Árpád our hero’s descendants
Will root and bloom.

Verse 3
For us on the plains of the Kuns
You ripened the wheat
In the grape fields of Tokaj
You dripped sweet nectar
Our flag you often planted
On the wild Turk’s earthworks
And under Mátyás’ grave army whimpered
Vienna’s “proud fort.”

Verse 4
Ah, but for our sins
Anger gathered in Your bosom
And You struck with Your lightning
From Your thundering clouds
Now the plundering Mongols’ arrows
You swarmed over us
Then the Turks’ slave yoke
We took upon our shoulders.

Verse 5
How often came from the mouths
Of Osman’s barbarian nation
Over the corpses of our defeated army
A victory song!
How often did your own son aggress
My homeland, upon your breast,
And you became because of your own sons
Your own sons’ funeral urn!

Verse 6
The fugitive hid, and towards him
The sword reached into his cave
Looking everywhere he could not find
His home in his homeland
Climbs the mountain, descends the valley
Sadness and despair his companions
Sea of blood beneath his feet
Ocean of flame above.

Verse 7
Castle stood, now a heap of stones
Happiness and joy fluttered,
Groans of death, weeping
Now sound in their place.
And Ah! Freedom does not bloom
From the blood of the dead,
Torturous slavery’s tears fall
From the burning eyes of the orphans!

Verse 8
Pity, O Lord, the Hungarians
Who are tossed by waves of danger
Extend over it your guarding arm
On the sea of its misery
Long torn by ill fate
Bring upon it a time of relief
They who have suffered for all sins
Of the past and of the future!

It is a powerful anthem. Hearing it sung at the festival today, I felt like taking my sword and riding to the border to stop the Turkish invader in his tracks. It is such a powerful hymn that it is forbidden to be sung at international sporting events—which just adds to the Hungarian sense of grievance.

Magyar Blood

Folk Dancers from the Kárpátok Troupe at Grace Hungarian Reformed Church

For the first time since the Covid lockdown began, Martine and I were able to attend a church festival, in this case the Hungarian festival at Grace Hungarian Reformed Church in Reseda. I was raised on Hungarian food, and Martine, although French, prefers Hungarian food to the cuisine of her native land.

So we chowed down on stuffed cabbage and krémes (Hungarian style cheesecake) and watched a program of folk dancing. Plus I had the opportunity of practicing my rusty Hungarian. Although it is my native language, my vocabulary and grammar are atrocious. Yet my pronunciation is still pretty accurate. As I’ve mentioned before, I speak a rural Fehérmegye dialect dating back to the 1930s. This is what we spoke at home in Cleveland.

Still and all, I want to stay close to my Magyar roots as much as possible. I see it as an escape hatch when I get too disgusted with my fellow Americans. I like to stay current with Hungarian literature, even though I have to rely on translations into English, of which there are few.

Below is the announcement for the festival we attended today:

Not a single word is in English, and yet I understood most of it. And what I didn’t understand, I looked up.

Martine and I have been attending this church’s spring festivals for most of the last eleven or twelve years. Great fun!

27. Magyar Majális és Tavaszi Fesztival

Don’t Worry If You Can’t Read This

Every year on the first Sunday in May, the Grace Hungarian Reformed Church in Reseda has a festival with authentic Magyar cuisine and Mothers’ Day entertainment. Unlike previous years, I couldn’t find any mention of the festival on the Church’s website. Martine made the perfectly logical suggestion for me to call the Church, except she made it to the wrong person. I have something of a telephone phobia, especially when I’m calling people I do not personally know. So Martine went and made the phone call herself. And yes, the festival was taking place at the usual time and place.

My rudimentary knowledge of my native language prevents me from being able to translate the above information sheet in its entirety, but I got the gist of it. The festival is a combination Spring, May Day, and Mothers’ Day event. For an admission fee of five dollars, one could have some of the best homemade Hungarian food in Southern California. For lunch, I went for the Gulyás Leves, usually referred to in English as Hungarian Goulash. What most Americans don’t know is that it is a hearty beef and vegetable soup served with chile peppers. After the kiddie Mothers’ Day entertainment, which was exceedingly cute, we ordered two stuffed cabbage dinners to go, which furnished our supper once we got home.

The highlight of Hungarian cuisine for Martine—and, in fact, for most Hungarians—is the pastry, particularly a kind of cheesecake referred to as crémes, pronounced KRAY-mesh. I get the impression that Hungarians in a pastry shop are even more dangerous than bulls in a china shop, and that they are not above packing away 25,000 calories or more.

This is aided and abetted by the Hungarian love of a fried dough concoction called lángos (pronounced LAHN-goash), richly slathered with sour cream, cheese, or garlic. It’s very like Indian fry bread, except with a different selection of toppings.




Celebrating May Day and Mothers’ Day Together

Celebrating May Day and Mothers’ Day Together

On the first Sunday in May, the Grace Hungarian Reformed Church in Tarzana celebrates May Day and Mothers’ Day together. Although we are not members of the church, we regularly show up for some good Hungarian home cooking and some cute children’s singing and recitations.

Available were not only the world-class Magyar pastries, including ground walnut rolls and a lethal type of cream pastry called crémes (pronounced CRAY-mesh), but two kinds of soups—including Hungarian goulash—sausages, flekken, and assorted beverages. You can see the menu in Hungarian below:

Program (and Menu) for the Fesztivál

Program (and Menu) for the Fesztivál

The only unfortunate event is that, toward the middle of he afternoon, I saw one elderly lady trip over a concrete parking stop and break her right shoulder. She was scared and didn’t know what to do, but one of the parishioners drove her to a the hospital. It was eerie actually seeing the same sort of thing that happened to me happen to someone else. Except that I was in the company of a friend who is a nurse for the county and who knew exactly what to do. It’s no picnic, especially at her advanced age.