Plague Diary 1: Kárpátok

I Violate the Plague Laws Prescribing Social Distance

In the new environment of worldwide plague, I must carefully pick and choose what I can and cannot do. I started out with a major violation by attending a folk dance performance given by the Kárpátok Hungarian Folk Dance Ensemble. It was well attended with several hundred audience members, many of whom within the six-foot danger zone of contagion.

Martine particularly loves the performances by Kárpátok, and so do I because I like to revel in my Hungarian background. Of late, I have used the Magyar language primarily to damn to hell cruise ship passengers in Mexico who try to use me as an information resource. At the United Magyar Ház in Los Angeles, where the concert was held, virtually everybody present could cuss me out more correctly and picturesquely than I can do. So I am on my best behavior.

The Kárpátok Hungarian Folk Dance Ensemble is one of the best things about Los Angeles. Martine and I have been attending their events for upwards of ten years.

It is unlikely that there will be other plague law violations in the weeks to come, mostly because just about everything is being closed down. The supermarket shelves are being emptied by hoarders of food, hand sanitizers, and toilet paper. When I go shopping tomorrow, I will have to be careful about confronting hoarders: Particularly in Southern California, people who are the most guilty are also the most aggressively defensive about their deeds.

My postings here in the next few weeks will discuss how my life has changed as a result of living in a plague zone. I anticipate that my life will change in many ways over the next few weeks. I remain hopeful, however, because of the following reasons:

  • I have a personal library of several thousand volumes, including all the classics
  • My cable television configuration includes about a dozen movie channels
  • Plus I have hundreds of DVDs
  • One of my hobbies is cooking—useful when many restaurants are closing or cutting back
  • I make a point of maintaining frequent telephone contact with my old friends

Strange New World

Who Could Have Expected This?

When I returned from Mexico on February 7, it was to a vastly different reality—one that grew increasingly strange with each passing day. With the cancellation of music festivals, sporting events, live audiences, and even schools and libraries, it is a strange and unexpected new world in which I find myself.

Tomorrow night, Martine and I are attending an event given by the Kárpátok Hungarian Dance Ensemble, which we both love. It is not a large event, and Martine and I plan not to stay for the socializing after the folk dances. Even a week ago, I would not have been so conscious of the danger of contracting Covid-19. Now, alas, I am: I am a walking encyclopedia of pre-existing medical conditions, including panhypopituitarism, type II diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and a few others not so prominent. If I caught the virus, I would likely be at risk not to survive it.

It has been a particularly strange week, partly because of the draconian measures to minimize casual social contact, and partly because of a rare week-long “Pineapple Express” rain event which is leaving us with a certain degree of cabin fever.

At present, an average of 350 people per day are officially identified as having come down with Covid-19. I suspect the number is actually much larger because of the nationwide shortage of test kits. Supposedly, something is being done about this—but then I don’t usually expect competence or any degree of helpfulness from the Trump administration.

The only good news about the coronavirus is that it has all but chased the 2020 presidential election from the news. But it has not replaced it with anything more palatable.



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.