When You Strip Away the Surface …

Dancers from the Kárpátok Folk Dance Ensemble

… of me, what you will find is a strange sort of Hungarian. Although I have read no studies to this effect, I think that the first language you learn to speak is what determines, at the deepest level, who you are. My first language was an older dialect of the Magyar language from the region just to the southwest of Budapest. Today, when I speak the language—haltingly—Hungarians laugh at my choice of words and horrible grammar. Yet, my ever-so-sophisticated American English is merely an overlay on a base that was set in concrete before I was five. I feel myself to be a kind of Brummagem Hungarian.

Last night, Martine and I attended a Hungarian folk dance program at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church just south of downtown L.A. The dance was put on by the Kárpátok Folk Dance Ensemble, which has just recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. That a city like Los Angeles, which does not have that large a Hungarian population, could support an organization like Kárpátok is an unending surprise to me.

For many of the fifteen-odd dances they performed, I was in tears. There are certain themes in Hungarian music that take me way back to my beginnings. I could not lay my finger on it, but a deep emotional chord is struck deep in my core.

The people in attendance were curious about me. My pronunciation is near perfect, but I might as well be retarded. As for Martine, she doesn’t know a word of Magyar and depended on me for many things I was unable to explain.

Flyer for the “Thousand Faces” Dance Concert We Attended

That didn’t keep up from enjoying the music and dances—and the Hungarian meal that was served afterwards—even though we were both suffering from nasty colds. She might be French, but Martine enjoys these Hungarian events as much as I do, though in a different way. I do believe she prefers Hungarian food to the great cuisine of France, especially where pastries are involved.


The Deal

Dancers from Karpatok

Dancers from Karpatok

The deal was made at some point before I was born. Because my father was a Roman Catholic Slovak and my mother was a Protestant adhering to the Calvinist Hungarian Reformed Church, my parents decided that any boys in the family were going to be Catholic and any girls, Protestant. As it happened, there were two boys born to Alex and Sophie Paris, my brother and I.

We were a religiously tolerant family: My father (occasionally) went to Mass, and my mother (occasionally) listened to the Reverend Csutoros’s weekly radio program and his sonorous sermons.

So what am I today? In Peru, I was a Catholic. Here in Los Angeles, I am evenly torn between the Hungarian Reformed Church—in honor of my mother—and the Greek Orthodox Church. Wherever I go, I find God.

Today, Martine and I attended the church fall bazaar at the First Hungarian Reformed Church of Los Angeles in nearby Hawthorne. We had some good Magyar home cooking, renewed our friendship with several families active in the church, and listened to the usual excellent program of music and dance. Present were members of the Karpatok Hungarian Dance Ensemble (shown above) who put on the usual spirited performance.

It is good to be a Hungarian from time to time, to speak the language of my youth with some good people and share a few hours with them.



Listening to Irish Music

Playing the Celtic Harp

Playing the Celtic Harp

The Big Irish Fair that Martine and I attended last Sunday was mainly for the music (and not to be catapulted into the afterlife by a rampaging sheep—about which see yesterday’s post). Martine and I spent most of our time listening to Celtic harp solos and ensemble playing by a group primarily from Orange County. Soloists included Dennis Doyle and Joanna Mell, who were excellent. Martine was particularly eager to listen to attend as she had never heard any live before. And I enjoyed it as much as she did.

Kathy Sierra and Maggie Butler of Golden Bough

Kathy Sierra and Maggie Butler of Golden Bough

On the same stage where the harps were played, there was also a talented trio from Modesto that performs Celtic music under the name of Golden Bough. I couldn’t get a good photo of all three playing at the same time, so I inadvertently cut out the multi-talented Paul Espinoza. In addition to playing the harp, they also played half a dozen other instruments in their concert of music from Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, and Spanish Galicia. I was impressed at the fact that they kept their end up for more than an hour and a half without taking a break and with no diminution of quality.

Irish Stepdancing

Irish Stepdancing

Finally, because I am a dirty old man at heart, I convinced Martine to watch the Irish stepdancing competition so that I could stare at the young legs of the bewigged teen dancers. I do not profess to understand the popularity of stepdancing. (It doesn’t hold a candle to Hungarian folk dancing, such as practiced in L.A. by the Kárpátok Hungarian Folk Ensemble—though I may be prejudiced—but the young Irish girls did have cute legs.)

There was also a lot of bagpiping, but nothing close to the standard of what we heard in Scotland.

On Hungarian Time

Hungarian Cowboy, or Csikos, on the Hortobagy

This weekend was spent attending two Hungarian events: A Los Angeles Hungarian Meetup Group get-together at Mishi’s Strudel Shop in San Pedro and the Fall Bazaar of the First Hungarian Reformed Church in Hawthorne.

It was interesting to spend a weekend on Hungarian time. At the strudel shop, Martine and I were there on time (at 2 pm), but no one else was. At the church, the bazaar was to begin at 1 pm. We got there fifteen minutes early, and found the place was full because everything started much earlier than the posted time, perhaps by as much as an hour. (And it ended an hour and a quarter early, too.)

I am usually fanatical about being not only on time, but a little early, for everything. It was strange to be outdone in this regard by my fellow Magyars.

Fortunately, it didn’t matter. We just took our seats and enjoyed ourselves immensely through the dinner and musical program. There were two opera singers—Sándor László and Huba Marcsi—singing old Hungarian folk songs to be piano accompaniment. This was followed by a singalong led by Dr. Tai Chen of other old folk songs based on music passed out to everyone. (My Hungarian, being sub par, made it difficult for me to participate.)

There was also a number of rousing folk dances by the Kárpátok Hungarian Dance Ensemble, whose flawless execution of a series of stunning and complicated maneuvers is always a crowd pleaser. I see tthem at least twice a year and find their work to be exhilarating.

It was such a good weekend that I feel like manhandling a bunch of horses like the csikos in the above photo, which comes from Flickriver.