Wednesday, April 30, 2014

So, A to Z is over. But wait! There is more!

To all my fellow A to Z-ers: Congrats on reaching the finish line!
To all my old and new followers: Thank you all for sticking with me through the entire alphabet!
To everyone else just wandering in: Where have you been all month?

The A to Z challenge is officially over for this year. HOWEVER, that doesn't mean the MopDog is dead. It takes more than 26 days to exhaust a puli, and definitely takes more than 26 letters to exhaust the naturally renewing resource that is Hungarian weirdness.
So, first things first: If you enjoyed the MopDog A to Z, sign up to follow the blog (to the right, to the right) in email or through your Blogger feed, or follow me on Twitter (@TarkabarkaHolgy).
What do you get for following, you ask?
MopDog is a regularly updated blog, so your weekly dose of Hungarian WTF will be delivered right to your doorstep with much wagging of tail. Thus:
What more could you possibly want in life?

Z is for Zanzibar, and ending on a musical note

So, there are a bunch of semi-serious and serious words starting with a Z that I could use for my very last A to Z post this year... But I have not been very serious so far, so I am not going to start now. Instead, I'll just throw some Hungarian music at you, hoping to get you hooked and make you stay around after April. See if that works.
Zanzibar is a Hungarian pop/rock band founded in 1999, and on top of them providing music for my teenage angst (which, me being a late bloomer, did not happen until college), they also have one of the most adorable founding stories. The group consists of four guys, and a female lead singer, Rita, who was originally a cop. On January 1st, 1999, she pulled over a car full of post-New-Years-Eve guy musicians, who declared her their new lead singer then and there. She let them go; the next day they ran into her at a bar, where she was catching up on new year's partying and singing a Janis Joplin song. That time, they were serious about the offer, and she became the raspy female singing voice that marks all their songs.
You will find a bunch of music videos is you search for them on YouTube, so I'll only post a random one here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for Yvonne Kerékgyártó, and some Hungarian young film scene goodness

I was going to showcase weird Hungarian letters for y (since we don't have any words that start with y), but then I remembered that I know a quite remarkable young Hungarian person whose name just happens to start with that letter, so here we go.
I met Yvonne through friends when she was working on a trailer for a film concept she had, and asked my help with the folklore elements of the story. I ended up getting involved with the production of the trailer as professional gawker and occasional folklore adviser during the three days of shooting the footage. It was my first first-hand experience with the world of film, and I enjoyed it immensely. Although the film itself did not get produced (so far) you can see the finished trailer here. The lady who sings the song in the trailer, actress and singer Anita Kosik, is also a friend of mine.
Yvonne is a very talented young director. She graduated from the Hungarian Film Academy and her first feature length film is coming out this year (I am very excited). The movie is titled Free Entry, and you can see the trailer for it here.
If you would like to see more of her work, you can search for her name on YouTube, or look at her Vimeo profile. I wanted to introduce you to her work not only because it is very professional and intriguing, but also because she is one of those young international people that make their work available in English, and think on an international scale. And also because I believe in showcasing awesome things young people do in Hungary, to balance out all the weird I talk about in this blog.

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for X Factor Hungary (and other talent shows)

(Told ya I'll solve for X!)
If 24 days of this challenge did not convince you that Hungarians had the X factor, this post definitely will. Whatever X is.
The international musical talent show known as The X Factor has had four seasons in Hungary so far, but I personally only watched one because my attention span and patience are both limited on these things. Megasztár, the unlicensed clone of the Idol series, came before The X factor, and lived for six seasons before the TV channel decided it was time to actually buy a licence and switched to The Voice.
Most Hungarians live in the mistaken belief that these shows are about singing voice alone. Even the judges tend to rank boring but well-trained singers higher than performing talent, which has always personally bugged me. I am saying this up front because I would like you to introduce you to my personal favorite of the above mentioned shows, a guy called Király L. Norbert, who came in third in the first season of The X Factor. I rooted for him all the way mostly because he was that one guy that just went "hey, they gave me the big stage, live television, and a microphone, I'm gonna have a blast with this until they kick me out!" and had spectacular and adorable fun on the stage, in a universal vacuum of zero f*cks given about the drama kids around him competing for best musical voice. It made the show worth watching. (Trickster warning)
This obviously does not mean that we did not have a lot of other great people with great singing voices on these shows. The best ones sometimes won and sometimes didn't, but as we know, that does not usually mean a thing. The following choices and opinions are all totally biased and personal.
Ibolya Oláh came in second in the first season of Megasztár, and is still everyone's favorite. She is Roma, she grew up in an orphanage, and she also came out a couple of years ago, so she is representing a bunch of minorities as a role model for music loving people.
Póka Angéla is one of my personal favorites, also from season one. She learned gospel singing in the US, so she's got the voice down, and on top of that she also had the musical taste, the eyes, and the personality.
Eszter Szabó was also trained singer when she signed up for the show. Her intro song is worth watching just for the reactions of the audience and the judges.

And then there is Magdi Rúzsa (remember her from the Eurovision post?), who was just born like that, and we still all feel sorry for everyone who had to compete with her. Obviously, she won.
If you want to hear more of any of them, go YouTube them. It's worth it.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for the Water Spider!

Vízipók-Csodapók (Water Spider - Wonder Spider) is a children's cartoon series that is single-handedly responsible for teaching generations of Hungarian kids about the miniature flora and fauna of sweet water ponds.
The series (40 episodes) aired on TV first between 1976-1984. It was written by Dr. Kertész György, the head of the Biology Department of the ELTE teacher's college in Budapest. It is beautifully animated, and, according to legend anyway, he also wrote some of his colleagues into it (the adorable water snails, for example, are supposed to be PhD candidates).
The story revolves around the Water Spider who lives in his crystal palace (a nest built of spider silk and air bubbles) under the water, and his friend the Garden Spider (Cross Spider) who lives above on a tree. They have a spider-silk phone line connecting them so they can call each other whenever something exciting happens (even though Garden Spider hates the water and doesn't understand why Water Spider has to live down there). Apart from the two friends the series also features many other miniature creatures such as water snails, the Ants, the Ladybug, the Backswimmer, the Caddisfly larvae, and dozens of others you have probably never heard about. It opens up a fascinating underwater and over-ground miniature world that teaches children (and adults) to appreciate tiny details and tiny life. It also has very deep other messages, such as "Just because a spider is not exactly like you" (says the Little Ant to the Garden Spider) "it can still be a very decent spider."
Here is a link to episode one. Sadly, no English subtitles. I wish someone made a dub for this.

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Vuk, everyone's favorite fox kit

Prepare yourself for an overdose of adorable.

Vuk is the tale of a tiny fox. Originally written by Hungarian writer István Fekete, famous for his novels featuring various creatures of nature, the story was turned into a children's cartoon in 1981 in the iconic drawing style of Attila Dargay.

The story essentially tells us the coming-of-age story of Vuk in the wilderness, his adventures featuring various other animals (frogs, hedgehogs, etc.) and his narrow escapes from the Hunter and his dogs. It is one of the big movies of my childhood, and similarly holds a special place in the heart of many Hungarians. One of the reasons I love it so much that it is adorable, but still realistic; the cuteness doesn't overshadow life in the forest and its (sometimes harsh) realities. Less melodramatic than Bambi and definitely less traumatic than Fox and the Hound (and many other beloved children's cartoons featuring wild animals), it is fun to watch, for children and adults alike.

Fun fact: The fox's name, Vuk, is actually an acronym, explained by his father: it's short for "Vadászok, Utamból Kotródj" - "I'm on the hunt, get out of my way."

Side note: The English dubbed version is available on YouTube. I was trying to find a subbed version so you can hear the original voices, no such luck.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Uzsonna, Tízórai, and All The Other Important Meals of the Day

You thought the Hobbits are the only ones with a Second Breakfast?

A balanced Hungarian diet consists of five meals a day. An un-balanced Hungarian diet, incidentally, also consists of five meals a day. We are consistent that way.

Reggeli (Breakfast) is usually whatever you can salvage from the fridge and the cupboard (I'm giving you the young adult version here)
Tízórai (Tensies) is essentially a second breakfast of some sort. It sometimes entirely consists of Túró Rudi. Doesn't necessarily happen at ten o'clock sharp, but does happen somewhere halfway between breakfast and whenever you expect to do lunch.
Ebéd (Lunch) is supposed to be the main meal of the day (which is what I went through a starving period in the US until I got used to the different schedule). It usually consists of a soup course, a main course with some kind of meat and/or pasta and sides, and a dessert and coffee (at least in my family). At fancy weekend lunches with the family, there is also wine.
Uzsonna (Afternoon meal) is something to hold you over between lunch and dinner. It is something like a five o'clock meal or teatime, except with food. Fun fact: Lunch boxes are called uzsonna boxes in most places in Hungary.
Vacsora (Dinner) is a second bigger meal in the evening (very often the leftovers from lunch, unless someone is taking you out to eat).

Obviously everyone's eating schedule, and how many of the above mentioned meals they get depends on things like how busy they are during the day (and how many they can afford). But we do have words for all of them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

T is for Túró Rudi, because what else is there in the Universe?!

If you have to name one essentially Hungarian thing, one thing that anyone will name if you stop them on the street back home: it is the Túró Rudi.

Túró Rudi, for lack of a better explanation, is a kind of candy bar. It is sweet cottage cheese coated in crispy dark chocolate.
(I'll give you a minute to get over the nausea. You are welcome.)
It actually tastes like heaven and unicorns (whatever unicorns taste like). There are other variations, some have different flavors of fruit jam in the middle, and some are coated in milk chocolate (also known as blasphemy). Some sacred sites around the country even have shrines known as the Túró Rudi Dispenser Machines. For the sacrifice of your lunch money, they give you a taste of happiness:

The full name of the product is Piros Pöttyös Túró Rudi, or Red Dotted Túró Rudi, to mark the original flavor and distance it for knock-offs such as the Fitness Rudi (eck). As the marketing tagline says: "Red Dots is the Real Thing." Túró means cottage cheese, while Rudi is (according to folk linguistics) is short for Rudolf. This often trips up Hungarian students at English language exams (and American teachers, trying to decipher why this "Cottage Cheese Rudolf" guy tastes to good).

Some heretics claim that Túró Rudi was first invented in the Soviet Union, and we only re-branded it in 1968, adding the red dots and the myth. But sshhh.

The tragedy of the Túró Rudi is that it does not carry well over long distances (dairy product), which makes it the No. 1 reason any expat will visit Hungary periodically, and gorge on it for a week or two (I know that's why I do every year). The good news is that it can also be made at home, although the results may vary in taste. The filling needs cottage cheese, and 1/10 of the amount powdered sugar and butter (and sometimes lemon peel for flavor). The coating is just dark chocolate. But if you want the real experience, I suggest a pilgrimage to the holy land of Túró Rudi. It will be an enlightening experience. Amen.

(Blessed are the makers of all dairy products.)

S is for Süsü the Dragon

Süsü is one of the most beloved characters in Hungarian TV and literature. He was created by children's author István Csukás.

Süsü is a dragon who was exiled from the land of the dragons by his father, the king, for an oddly specific reason: Süsü only has one head. While dragons in Hungarian folklore and fairy tales have many heads (directly related to their power levels), and most often have seven, Süsü was born with the slight disability of only having one head. Also, he is too kind for his own kind; he enjoys looking at butterflies, eating wild pears, and learning etiquette. In fact, when his father sends him against an enemy, he nurses the enemy back to health instead of killing him. For all of these, he gets kicked out of home (Süsü literally means silly or simple in certain contexts), and starts out on a journey looking for a new life.

Süsü soon teams up with a wandering prince looking for adventure. He learns about the rules of chivalry and manages to scare half the kingdom while doing it. Then the two travelers come up with a plan: Süsü will pretend to fight the prince, win, and then he will get half the kingdom and the princess' hand in marriage, finding a new home.
The plan doesn't exactly work out: Süsü turns out to be too soft-hearted to hurt or scare anyone, and their secret is outed on the battlefield. In the end, however, things turn out well: Prince and princess fall in love and become king and queen (the old king is happy to retire), they have a little boy who becomes best friends with Süsü, and Süsü becomes the official dragon of the kingdom.

Süsü and the royal family go on to many adventures. At some point, Süsü and the prince save the kingdom from a siege from an evil king in quite a heroic way. Eventually, Süsü gets news that his grandfather arranged for a marriage for him with a lady dragon. After constructing a very elaborate all-kingdom plan to get Süsü out of the wedding, the lady dragon shows up and turns out to be quite lovely and kind. Finally, Süsü gets his own home and his own family, right next door to the human kingdom.

Süsü was the first non-picture book I ever read as a kid, so it holds a special place in my heart. It is a lovely children's story that teaches values like kindness, friendship, bravery, and finding pleasure in the small things in life.

Here, enjoy the opening song of the puppet show series based on the book:

Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy Wet T-Shirt Day!

(This is a side note. For today's A to Z post, scroll down one.)

It is Easter Monday, which means one very important thing in Hungary: It is Sprinkling Day!
(Easter Monday is a national holiday in Hungary, much like January 1st)
Sprinkling Day, simply put, is the wet t-shit contest of our forefathers. And foremothers. On this day, the boys and young men of the village/town go around visiting houses where girls/women live, carrying buckets of water (classic), bottles of soda water (practical), or vials of perfume (pffft). They knock on your door, and when you open up, they recite a short poem of the "Roses are red, violets are blue" variety, asking your permission to sprinkle you, you gorgeous flower, so you don't wither away this spring. If you say yes, they douse you in water/perfume, and then you pay them in dyed eggs (classic), chocolate (for kids), alcohol (not for kids), or money (practical). Then they move on to the next house and you put on the next shirt. Repeat.

Yes, people, this is a fertility rite. What gave it away?

At the end of the day, all guys go home loaded with gifts, and all girls' hair washing schedules sync up (Nowadays, sprinkling is mostly done with perfume, and if you get twenty different kinds a day, it stinks to high heavens.) My survival technique is to push my little sister out the door first. One time, I woke up to the neighbor's two little boys walking into my bedroom and dumping a glass of water on my head.
Sprinkling Day also tends to turn into a popularity contest: Girls keep count of how many boys showed up at their house. It is, essentially, Valentine's Day meets Spring Break meets Trick-or-Treating.

In some areas girls were allowed to return the sprinkling favor on Easter Tuesday. Sometimes the sprinkling took on more of a trick-or-treat quality: If the sprinklers were not allowed in a house, they would prank the family. According to my grandfather, they once propped up a barrel of water against the front door, and rang the doorbell. (Then again, that might just have been my grandpa, not tradition).

If you know a Hungarian woman, don't forget to sprinkle them today. Keeps 'em fresh.

R is for the Right Hand of St. Stephen, or lack thereof

You can't have a good Catholic country without a good juicy relic.
Remember István, the guy that sings about war and religion? The guy that was our fist Christian king? We are talking about the same guy today. A bare 50 years after his death, he was declared a saint by the Pope (things like that were on the fast track back in those days, especially when you were the converting sovereign of a new kingdom). And once István was a saint, that meant that every bit of his body was also a potential relic.

Enter the Holy Right Hand, also known as the Szent Jobb (which is Hungarian for Holy Right, duh). We don't know exactly when it stopped being attached to the rest of our holy king, but probably very soon before or after he became a saint. The right hand was revered in its own monastery, until it wasn't. Hungary had a long and tumultuous history, involving the Mongolian Invasion, the Ottoman Rule, and other lovely times of intense cultural exchange, so the Jobb, much like other pieces of art and history, went on an adventurous multiple-century Odyssey before it found its way back on the map in the 18th century. It is currently being kept in the St. István Basilica in Budapest, in its own chapel.

According to some historical sources, the relic originally included the entire right arm of our revered king. But, as Medieval business goes, the more relics were needed from a limited pool of saints, the smallest bits they got chopped into. At some point during the middle ages, the arm was detached from the hand, and then further divided to satisfy all the demand for mummified sacred royalty. As it stands today, the relic includes the wrist and the hand. Periodically it is carried around on August 20th (For Americans: Our version of the 4th of July) in great pomp, and it frequently visits other cities around the country. Sometimes on a boat.

How do we know after a thousand years that the hand belonged to István? We don't, really. It is one of the favorite pastimes of scientists and historians to banter about it. There are facts on both sides. Some people think it is the hand of a mummy that the Turks sold back to the Christians as a relic (since they ruled Egypt at the time, so mummies were easy to come by cheap). There is a possibility for a DNA analysis (we have various bits and pieces of confirmed kings around the country), but it has not been done yet.

If you stick around after A to Z is over, you can read some more about our national relics (among other gory things). Follow in email or through Blogger on the Right.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for (Twenty) Questions, and what it has to do with the Jewish-Roman wars

Everyone's familiar with the game known as Twenty Questions, right?
Well, when I first came to the USA, I wasn't. Turns out, I gave the blank stares to all my friends when it came up because I know the same game under a different name.
In Hungary, we call it barkóba.

The world elegantly underlined by Spellcheck above is the simplified version of Bar Kokhba. As in, Simon Bar Kokhba, the leader of the Third Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 132-136 AD.
Wait, what does this have to do with a children's game?

Nothing, if you ask the rest of the world. But in Hungary, for some reason (probably the strong influence of Jewish culture that gave us several writers, poets, and also most of our Nobel prize winners), the game has always been known as barkóba. And there is a story to go with it.

According to legend, one day the Romans captured one of Bar Kokhba's soldiers, and before letting him go to serve as a warning to the rebels, they cut out his tongue and cut off his hands so he would have no way of giving away any information about the Roman camp. But Simon Bar Kokhba, being the leader he was, found a way to interrogate the soldier anyway, by asking him simple yes or no questions that he could answer by nodding or shaking his head.
Ta-da! Twenty Questions.
(Although it probably took more than twenty to get all the military information out, which is why our version of the game is not limited to a certain number of questions at all.)

Happy Sunday break, A to Z people, I'll see you back here on Monday bright and early! I shall tell you about mummified hands, dragons, and more weird Hungarian randomness.

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Pipás Pista, Cross-Dressing Assassin for Hire

Eat your heart out, Quentin Tarantino.

The year is 1886, and the place is Átokháza (literally Cursed House), a remote village somewhere on the Hungarian plains. A little girl is born into a dirt poor family. Viktória Fődi is abused by her alcoholic father, and sent to work at another farm at the age of 13. She takes up smoking a pipe, which is the only good thing resulting from her job. She is abused by her boss, gets pregnant, and is forced to marry a man who is also abusive. Has five children, only one survives.
And then her husband dies, and the girl decides she had had enough.
What follows after is the stuff of many folk legends.

By this time, the scared little girl is gone. Viktória is tall, strong, a tireless worker, and most men know that she can wrestle them to the ground with no effort at all. She lives alone on a farm, works for others, and has her own table at the local tavern, no questions asked. She dresses in men's clothes. She is known as Pipás Pista (Steve with the pipe).

One day, another woman approaches her. She tells her about a man. A contract is made, she is paid in food. And thus begins Pista's career as a killer for hire. Women around the countryside ask for her help in getting rid of husbands - good for nothing, or abusive husbands, specifically, which holds a personal interest to her. She brings a length of rope every time, and hangs the man from the rafters, disguising the incident as suicide. They call her an executioner.

She was arrested in 1933 together with some of her accomplices, accused of two murders for certain, and another seven possibly. She was first sentenced to death by hanging (poetic justice), which was later changed to life in prison. That is where she died in 1940.

There are many legends and anecdotes going around about her, past and present. Her character appears in comics, books, documentaries, and museum exhibitions. Some of the above may be the embellishments of the people who tell and re-tell the tale. The tale itself, however it is told, is dark, and makes you re-think many romantic notions about the 19th century countryside. Either way, she is a character worth knowing.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for the Owl with the copper d*ck

Yeah, you read that right.
(oh, slight ADULT CONTENT, by the way.)

Here is an image from an art exhibition that portrayed some of the weirdest Hungarian sayings in their literal rendering (yes, that's a door handle):

This folklore gemstone is our version of the Boogeyman. One of many, actually. The Hungarian term, rézfaszú bagoly, means exactly what it says in the title.
Would you like to hear the explanation behind the copper appendage?
Too bad, there is none.

The full saying states "Vigyen el a rézfaszú bagoly" which means "May the owl with the copper dick take you away." I am not sure why, where, or what comes after, but I definitely would not wish it on my enemies.

Something tells me we will not see this particular creature of legend in Rise of the Guardians anytime soon. Even though it would be epic.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Nicknames, in case everything you ever called your significant other was Just Not Sweet Enough

Have a Significant Other but never knew what to call them in moments of "awwww"? Tired of repeating "babe" and "sweetie" over and over again? Worry no more, you can always borrow any of the lovey-dovey nicknames below, all translated directly from passionate and exotic Hungarian! Spice up your relationship with more than just "honey"!
Here we go (with phonetic pronunciation guides):

Nyuszibogyó (New See Boh Gyoh) - Bunny Berry
Nyuszibogár (New See Boh Gar) - Bunny Beetle
Nyuszifül (New See Fuhl) - Bunny Ears
Nyuszikutya (New See Kooh Tyah) - Bunny Dog
Nyúlmalac (Newl Mah Latz) - Rabbit Piglet
Cicabogár (Tzih Tzah Boh Gahr) - Kitten Beetle
Tücsöknyúl (Tuh Czok Newl) - Cricket Bunny
Mókustojás (Moh Kush Toh Yash) - Squirrel Egg
(I swear I'm not making this up)

Bogárkám (Boh Gahr Kham) - My Little Beetle
Macikám (Mah Tzih Kahm) - My Little Bear
Mókuskám (Moh Kush Kahm) - My Little Squirrel
Tündérkém (Tuhn Dehr Came) - My Little Fairy
Manócskám (Mah Noh Czkahm) (I realize I didn't make it easier) - My Little Kobold
(I can see a trend in possible My Little Pony spinoffs here)

Cuncimókus (Tsun Tsee Moh Kush) - Cunci Squirrel (not sure what the first part means)
Kincsem (Keen Czehm) - My Treasure (also a very famous Hungarian race horse)
Cicafiú (Tzih Tzah Fee Ooh) - Kitten Boy (for manly men, obviously)
Cukorfalat (Tzuh Kohr Fah Laht) - Bite of Sugar
Csillagvirág (I'll not ever attempt this one) - Starflower
Szívem csücske (See Whem... eh, nevermind) - The corner of my heart (csücsök specifically means a pointy corner, like on a pillow)

And something for less significant others:
Pocok (Poe Tzohk) - Gerbil (usually for younger siblings)
Kisdisznó (Keesh Diss Noh) - Little Pig (ditto)

Use all of them at your own risk.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Makó, who is very far from Jerusalem

There is a saying in Hungarian: "[It is far off as] Makó from Jerusalem." We usually say it when someone is really far off the intended mark, or something is particularly far away.
There is a town called Makó in Hungary, so most people automatically assume that the saying refers to a geographical distance (which, by the way, is about 5000 miles, according to Google Maps, and includes tolls.) However, the saying does not refer to the town. Instead, it refers to a guy who also happened to be called Makó.

No, not that guy. Another guy.

Aaaanyhow, the story goes back to the age of the Crusades. Since attacking the Holy Land was an international pastime in Europe in the Middle Ages, obviously the Hungarian Kingdom could not pass up the opportunity to get in on the action. Our King András II recruited an army and set out in what was to be known as Crusade No. V (1217), and also as a very embarrassing disaster in the history of the crusades. We really didn't win any glory, and the campaign ended up being a very expensive tourist trip for our good king who eventually had to pawn his wife's crown to get back home. Ouch.
(András II is not one of our most popular kings.)

According to legend, Makó (or Chief Makó) was one of the soldiers in the Hungarian crusader army. Waking up from a drunken stupor on the deck of a ship one morning, he looked around and thought he was gazing at the walls of mighty Jerusalem. Turns out, they were still in Spalato (modern day Split, Croatia) and the army had not even left the port yet. And because soldiers are big on nicknames and hazing, the event soon gave birth to the widely known saying: "It is far off as Makó from Jerusalem."

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Linda kicking ass

Welcome back from your Sunday break! Ready for another week-long round of Hungarian weirdness?
You'd better be.

Let me introduce you to Linda. She is just a Hungarian girl fresh out of high school, who wants to be a cop. People, including her parents, are not very fond of the idea, but Linda knows what she wants and she will not give up on her dream. She joins the police and works her way up the ladder. While even the police tries to keep her away from fighting actual crime, fight she does, and she does it with kung-fu and a lot of screaming.
Linda is the main character of a Hungarian TV show that first aired in the '80s. Admittedly, the creators wanted to present a show in the vein of kung-fu action movies, but also add a lot of humor (and a female lead). As a result, there is pretty much an entire generation of girls in Hungary named Linda, and for a while, the police force experienced a heightened popularity, especially in the number of women who applied to join. Also more women started pursuing martial arts. Go figure.

Here, feast your eyes on some Linda action:

Vandalism is bad, kids:

I know what this looks like, but she is ours. We all love Linda.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Kontroll, one of the few Hungarian movies of international fame

I'll say this up front: Kontroll is actually a darn good movie.
I wanted to say it because I have been feeding ya'll all kinds of Hungarian weirdness lately, but today, we talk about something that we are all very much proud of, and not because it makes foreigners twitch. 

This film came out in 2003, directed by Antal Nimród, the same guy who also did Predators. (Fun fact: He has a cameo in the first Machete film. He even speaks Hungarian in it.)
The movie was filmed entirely in the Budapest subway system. Its official description is "comedy-thriller" but it has been called many things, from action to film noir. The easiest way to describe it is that it is a story about people on the subway, both ticket inspectors and travelers, and some daredevils who like to race the subway trains (that actually happens from time to time, they don't always win). There is a lot of symbolism, a lot of situation comedy, a lot of weird funny characters, and a lot of cameos from everyday occurrences that are familiar to everyone who travels on the Budapest subway.
Definitely worth a watch, and not hard to find online.

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for the Jungle Book

I swear I will run out of musicals real soon.
Like, right now. Promise.

J is for the Jungle Book (or, as we say it, Dzsungel Könyve, but Dzs was already taken), which on top of being a Kipling classic, is also a Hungarian musical, first released in 1996, which makes it the music of my childhood.
The story is the same, more or less, so not many surprises there. The music, on the other hand, is delightful. My favorite song is generally known as "Monkey Funky" and I have repeatedly used it as a theme song for various monkey tricksters in my storytelling work:

(Note: For extra laughs, turn on the English captions. The entire song is just a series of puns, and the translation is obviously the courtesy of Google Translate...)

Another crowd favorite is the song of the vultures, who apparently run a funeral home business:

And here is a dark and lovely little song sung by Shere Khan who is riling the wolves up for murder:

Bonus note: Péter Geszti, our very own (desperately white) punster rapper wrote the puntastic lyrics to the monkey song (which he also sings) among other hits; he also happens to be the voice of Sid the Sloth in Ice Age.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for István, a Király - an opera that rocks

Does your country have a classic rock opera about a religious war fought a thousand years ago?
Because ours does.

István, a Király (István, the King) opened in 1983, and it has been staged and filmed in countless versions ever since (I kid you not, my high school even had a showcase of it starring our vice principal and our English teacher). It tells the story of our very first Christian king, István (Stephen) who founded the Hungarian Kingdom, and was crowned in 1000AD (to make it easy for students in the future).
The story, historically, actually starts with István's father, Chief Géza. While he had no intention converting to Catholicism, he recognized early that the Hungarians needed to become a Christian kingdom in order to survive in Europe. So he raised his son, Vajk, into the religion, and declared him his heir. This was, however, the way Christian European kings did things, and not the way pagan Hungarians did. Eastern nomadic people often inherit power according to a different system: The closest adult male relative, the strongest possible candidate, follows the chief in power, not the eldest son. This left the Hungarians in a weird situation after the death of Géza: Some of them sided with Vajk (baptized as István) and his Western Christian entourage (courtesy of his German wife), while some of them sided with Koppány, his oldest male relative, who was not only not Catholic, but also claimed the wife of Chief Géza, Sarolt, István's mother, as his wife, according to tradition.
And the rest is war. And a lot of singing.
Koppány (spoilers) lost in the end. His lands were given to the church, he himself was cut into four pieces and nailed to the gates of four prominent cities in the kingdom. Hungary became a Catholic kingdom, István became King István I, and then they sang some more.

Koppány in the rock opera is not a decidedly bad character, however. He is presented as decadent (three wives, huh), but a leader who wants his people to be free from the Church. Over and over again his main song (with the chorus "Fly, bird of freedom") has been used in political ways to promote Hungarian national sentiment. And rock and roll. Also, the guy playing Koppány used to look like Khal Drogo, back in the '80s... Observe:

István, on the other hand, is presented as a good guy, but also a deeply conflicted character who was raised Christian and now he has to fight and kill in order to keep his country from falling into chaos. He does not enjoy the war, and the responsibility is putting pressure onto his life, both as a king and as the husband of a foreign princess. His prayer ("You are so far from be, but still so close") is one of the most beautiful parts of the show.

Interestingly enough, the story addresses the fact that they have no real personal hatred for each other; they are just on opposite sides of politics. There is a really cool duet they do when István offers to give up the throne if Koppány agrees to become Roman Catholic (he is officially baptized as Orthodox). The song is aptly titled "It's too late for peace."

The rock opera ends with István's coronation, and a celebratory song.

The latter two of the videos above come from the Csíksomlyó production of the rock opera. That is especially interesting because while Transylvania used to belong to Hungary, now it is part of Romania, so a huge part of the audience shown in the video is Hungarians who live in a foreign country as an ethnic minority. This gave a special meaning and atmosphere to the whole production. I don't think there is another rock opera or musical that has been applied to current political rhetorics as often as this one. But the music is still good.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for Hófehér, a cartoon that will melt your brains

Hófehér literally means Snow White. And that is pretty much where all similarities begin and end between the film and the beloved Grimm fairy tale.

Hófehér (translated as Slowhite) is a Hungarian cartoon parody of Snow White, released in 1983. It is not, I repeat, NOT suitable for children. On the other hand, it IS chuck full of puns, both visual and linguistic, as well as weirdness that makes some Cartoon Network series cover in shame. 
The girl hero of the movie is created in a lab by the royal court's hedge wizard after the queen is poisoned by her lady in waiting. She is quite the peculiar little magical critter, who grows up in a court full of misfits and creeps, for lack of a better term. She has supernatural strength, and while she is not the brightest person, she definitely is not in any form of danger from the hunter the new queen sends after her. The dwarfs, in turn, are not particularly keen on women, but once she gets them drunk, they are willing to let her stay. Once they sober up though, and see what the girl's good-natured cleaning attempts have done to their home, they personally go and ask the queen to hunt her down. I will not tell you the end of the story, but I promise it is just as weird as the rest of the film.

This is one of those movies Hungarians like to use to creep the heck out of foreigners. We do have a soft spot for its quirky humor and painful puns. It is a work of art, but designed for a very specific cultural taste. That's the entire point. Kind of.

And, more importantly, this one is also available with English subtitles on YouTube. For your viewing pleasure.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for Géza Gárdonyi, and some really good books

Short and sweet post, after all the crazy.
I am always on the lookout for good Hungarian literature published in English. There is, unfortunately, not a lot. However, I and happy to say that at least the two best books of one of our most famous novelists, Géza Gárdonyi, have been published in a fairly good English translation.

The Eclipse of the Crescent Moon (Egri csillagok) is the one book every single Hungarian person has to read in school. Sadly, we usually read it before we get to the corresponding curriculum in history, so generations of seventh graders have learned to hate it (and reading in general) for reasons that have nothing to do with the story itself. It takes place during the Turkish wars in the 16th century, when the Hungarian kingdom was repeatedly invaded by the Ottoman army. In 1552, a single castle, Eger, manned with barely more than 200 people stood the siege of the entire army for weeks. It is an epic tale of an epic battle, fairly accurate historically, and full of adventure. Definitely worth a read.

Although I do love Eclipse, my favorite book by Gárdonyi is another historical novel, published in English as Slave of the Huns (the original title, The Invisible Man, was sadly already taken). I have recently found out that Attila the Hun is still taught in many American schools as an evil monster, which is kind of mind boggling for me, since I come from a country where we pretty much think of Attila the same way Western Europeans think of King Arthur. This book is written from the perspective of a young Greek boy, Zeta, who becomes enslaved to a Hun nobleman in Attila's camp, and slowly learns to understand and even like the Huns. The book does not only offer a glimpse into the eclectic Hun world and the personality of their legendary leader, but it also contains the all-time most epic battle scene I have ever seen in historical fiction. And believe me, I read a lot.

Monday, April 7, 2014

F is for Flying Gizi, the Queen Mother of Thieves

This is not a joke. Repeat, this is not a joke.
Flying Gizi is a character that has been ruling the media for a while now in Hungary. Her actual name, obviously, is not Flying Gizi. It's Gizella Bodnár. The nickname Repülős Gizi (Flying Gizi or Gizi of the Airplanes) she earned through decades of hard work in the thievery business.

She has been known by the police for more than 50 years. She has been arrested more than 20 times, sentenced to 40 years in prison, and spent 17 of those behind bars. Last time she was arrested in 2011, at the ripe old age of 85, and she is still out and about.
Legend says they call her Flying Gizi because she found a great way of exploiting Hungary's domestic flight network in the middle of the 20th century. She would hop on a plane in the morning in Budapest, fly to a remote city, spend the day breaking into houses and stealing stuff, and the hop on the evening flight back home. Since the local police was almost always looking for local criminals, she avoided detection for quite some time.
She is also quite the cheeky old lady. There are many anecdotes about her getting caught and then getting out of the jam. One time she broke into a policeman's house, and when he walked in on her she claimed she was a teacher that wanted to talk to them about their children's grades, and just happened to find the door open. The policeman, after a friendly chat, escorted her out of his own home, oblivious to the many valuables she was hiding in her purse.
Another time, she gave an interview to a reporter who walked out with great journalist materials, but about $200 lighter...
Despite her obviously criminal activities, Flying Gizi is exactly the kind of character that would become the hero of folk ballads had she lived a hundred years ago. As of now, she is just a beloved returning face on the media. Seriously, who can be angry at an adorable grandma with a 50-year thieving career?
(The people she stole from, obviously...)

Flying Gizi made the news in many countries outside Hungary; she was featured in the Washington Post, and also in CBS news.

She claims that she has kleptomania, a psychological condition that compels her to steal things. Looking at her career, we are in no position to argue that statement. She also claims that she mostly did it for the excitement, and never stole more than about $2000's worth from anywhere.

In her autobiography, published in 2007, she called herself the Queen of Thieves. Amen to that.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

E is for the Eurovision Song Contest!

It's that time of the year again! (I am recycling this post from two weeks ago, because E.)

I believe that "Eurovision parties" should be a thing in the USA. For one, people would hear non-American pop music for once (Canada doesn't count), and two, the Eurovision is the most hilarious thing on TV every spring. It is kind of a running joke. Essentially, there are two kinds of countries in the Eurovision Song Contest:
1. The country that takes it completely seriously and sends their honestly chosen very best, and
2. The country that says "f*ck it" in their respective language and sends in the crazies. (Take Moldova, for example)
Sometimes it is hard to tell which one is which. Nations with a sense of humor are usually more memorable.
Of course Hungary has been participating in the noble tradition of comparing pop songs with other cultures for a very long time. Let's look at some of our recent contributions:

Kállay-Saunders András: Running (2014)
Obviously Category 1. Careful with domestic abuse triggers. For once, we have a singer who actually sings well in English. The talented young man is from the 2011 run of Megasztár (Hungarian Idol?...)

ByeAlex: Kedvesem (2013)
Hungary's first dramatic encounter with hipsters. People freaked the **** out, in all possible ways.

Compact Disco: Sound of our Hearts (2012)
I have no idea who these people are. But look, Budapest scenery!

Wolf Kati: What about my dreams? (2011)
Our own personal Celine Dion! (At this point I am starting to think we are just trying too hard to be American, and yes I say it as a Hungarian person living in America...)

Rúzsa Magdi: Aprócska blues (2007)
She won the Xth run on Hungarian Idol and is actually a pretty amazing singer.

Apparently the closest we have ever been to winning was 4th place in 1994, with this song:

Watch the Eurovision people, it's endlessly entertaining!

Friday, April 4, 2014

D is for the Dog with Two Tails

To honor the upcoming elections this weekend, here is the only Hungarian party worth voting for.
Many countries have their own mock political parties. We do too. It is called the Two Tailed Dog Party (Kétfarkú Kutya Párt) and here are some things you should know about them:

1. Their logo looks ADORABLE!
(The caption  reads: "He is more afraid of you than you are of him.")
They are in fact so adorable that one of their posters says "So adorable, we are sure he will not steal from you."

2. Their official slogan is: "Tow tails, two feet, one way!"

3. Their election slogans crop up all over Hungary, and they are freaking hilarious. Talk about guerrilla PR.
Poster on the lest says "We will promise you anything!"
Poster on the right says "More everything, less nothing!"
Among other things, their campaign posters promise us:
- Eternal life
- Free beer
- Eternal life plus 20 years
- Less Mondays
- "We won't have to work but there still will be money!"
- A mountain for the city of Szeged (the flattest region in the country)
- Space station in the city of Szeged
- A smaller Hungary (parodizing all the "Greater Hungary" politicians who are campaigning to get back the territories taken away from Hungary after the world wars)

4. Apart from election promises, they also put up random posters advertising:
- Pyramid building workshops ("Bring your own stones!")
- Uranium enriching services
- "I found a drunk beaver."
- "I found a wallet! Good for me!"
- "We want yesterday tomorrow!"
- Squiggly lines with a footnote saying "This is for the Martians! Stop reading!"
- A soon-to-open store in downtown Budapest selling used clothes from Africa.
- "Elizabethtown is for Elizabeths!" (one of the districts in Budapest where they actually had people running in the elections, campaigning to rename every resident Elizabeth).

5. They were officially going to run in the 2014 elections, but they didn't make the official list. Their application was turned down with the following reasons:
- The name can lead to associations with indecent imagery (the Hungarian word for 'tail' can also be slang for boy parts)
- The name does not describe appropriately the political stance of the party. (Duh)

6. Their official opposition is the One-tailed Dog Party (Egyfarkú Kutya Párt).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

C is for Cat City

Whenever I have to show people something Hungarian that has nothing to do with alcohol, unhealthy food or traditional embroidery, sooner or later I always wind up with Cat City.
Here is the ultimate truth: Hungarians are good at animation. Like, really good. And Cat City is an all-time classic.

Cat City (Macskafogó, literally, Cat Trap) premiered in 1986. It tells the story of a secret agent of the Intermouse, trying to help mice oppressed by feline crime syndicats (see what I did there?!) to fight back with the invention of a Japanese mouse scientist. It is essentially a parody of James Bond - type secret agent movies. I have never been on particularly good terms with cats (I was raised as a dog person), but I suspect most of my concern about feline pets could be traced back to this film.
The film itself is chuck full of linguistic and visual puns, and also not-very-well-concealed criticism of certain political systems. Some of it is very specific to the humor of people who lived in Eastern Europe during Soviet times, but from what I hear the movie is still very enjoyable to Westerners.
They also made a sequel in 2007, aptly titled "The Cat of Satan" but I have not seen it yet. I am always suspicious of sequels to grand classics.

And the good news? Cat City is not only available in English (with a fairly well done dub), it is also on YouTube. You can check it out here. The opening sequel in itself is definitely worth a watch (one day Disney will descend upon our country for this...).

(Warning: While it is a cartoon, it is not always quite child friendly. Drugs, crime, the whole nine yards. Enjoy!)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B is for a Bear that Spits

You didn't think I would do Budapest or Balaton for B, right? Give me some credit, people.
I have something much better:
The TV Bear.

Tévémaci (TVBear) for the long years of my childhood was the character that announced that it was time for the evening cartoon. Thus:

(Yes indeed, Dear Visitor, that was a naked bear in a shower. You are welcome.)

And, once the cartoon of the day (which had nothing to do with the bear whatsoever) had concluded, the TV Bear dutifully told us that it was time to go to bed. Observe:

There is also an extended version of the video that includes a crucial moment in TV Bear history: The brushing of teeth (or fangs, I assume):

This is the version that gave birth to the popular colloquial expression in Hungary: "The Bear has spit, it's time to go to bed." Or, alternately and quite ominously: "The Bear has spit for me."

(Extended side note: In Hungarian, "spitting" also stands for "snitching," so in post-socialist Hungary the common joke is, "Why did the TV Bear go off the air?" "Because he spat." Post-socialist humor. Gotta love it.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A is for the Aggressive Piglet

Welcome to MopDog! Ready to dip your toe into the ocean of Hungarian Craziness?
Too bad. Here comes the push.
Aggressive Piglet (Agresszív Kismalac) is the hero of many Hungarian jokes. Aggressive Piglet jokes essentially make fun of a certain a personality type: incapable of admitting whe he's wrong, bullying everyone around him, and completely oblivious to subtle hints - or, rather, hints of any kind.
We all kow that guy.
Yes? No? "What the heck?"
Well, fortunately for the rest of the world, many Aggressive Piglet jokes translate into English without a hitch. And because no one has been doing the global favor and injecting Aggressive Piglet into mainstream culture, I decided it was time Piglet made the jump onto the big stage.
(People will claim that Piglet has a lot in common with Grumpy Cat. Make no mistake. Piglet was first.)
Telling an Aggressive Piglet joke is easy. Start telling it as any other joke, then randomly scream at people in your rudest voice. For some reason I have not quite figured out yet, the vast majority of people thinks it is funny to tell them that way.

Aggressive Piglet, no matter how cute and cuddly the name would lead you to believe, is not always politically correct, not child friendly, and sometimes just all-around rude. I replaced all the questionable words with asterisks. Proceed at your own risk.

Here we go.

Piglet is sitting on a tree. Rabbit walks by.
"Piglet, what are you doing?!"
"I'm eating cherries!"
"But... Piglet, that's a pine tree!"

Piglet is riding a bike. He turns a corner, runs into a wall, falls over. Rabbit runs up to him.
"Oh my god!!! Piglet are you all right?!"

Pretty blonde walks down the street with a piglet in her arms. She meets a friend. Friend cheerfully: "Oh my god it's so cuuuute!!! Where did you get it?"
Piglet: "SHUT UP! I BOUGHT HER!!!"

Aggressive Piglet and sparrow are sitting on the tram. It's winter, bitter cold. Sparrow chirps up:
"Piglet, could you please close the window? It's cold outside!"
Piglet mutters something, stands, closes the window. A few minutes later he yells at Sparrow:

Piglet walks into a train station.
"I want a round trip ticket!"
"Sure. Where?"

Piglet is driving a truck, and gets stuck under a bridge. The police shows up, the officer walks over to the truck.
"Hi there Piglet, are you stuck?"

Piglet walks into a bus station.
"I want a ticket!"
"Where to?"

Piglet travels on a bus. Old lady shows up. Piglet:
"Would you like to sit down?"
"Yes, please!"

Piglet shows up at the doctor's office.
"I got kicked by a camel!"
"Where did it kick you?"

Piglet to the doctor:
"I think I have anger issues."
"What makes you think so?"

Piglet is failing an exam. Finally the teacher decides to be nice:
"Fine, I'll let you go with a D."

Piglet runs a red light, gets pulled over by the police. Officer:
"Piglet, that will cost you 200 dollars."

Piglet falls into a pit. Rabbit shows up.
"Wait Piglet, I'll get you a ladder!"

Piglet is cooking a golden fish by the river. Rabbit shows up.
"Oh my god, Piglet! That fish could have fulfilled three wishes!"

Piglet meets a nun and headbutts her.

And finally, the all-time classic:

Piglet needs a lawnmower. He decides to go over to Hedgehog and borrow his. On the way over to Hedgehog's, he starts thinking:
"I'll just stop by and ask him to lend me the lawnmower. Hedgehod is such a nice guy, I'm sure he'll agree. I mean, he is usually nice. Most of the time. He has usually been nice to me. Except once. I don't think he really likes me. He gives me those looks. I think he thinks I'm not good enough. I bet he doesn't trust me with his lawnmower. He will be all like 'Piglet, you are goin to break it'. I think he hates my guts. What a jerk. And that lawnmower is ancient, so what's the big deal? Just because he's always thought I was stupid, that's no reason to refuse me!"
Piglet finally gets to Hedgehog's, knocks on the door. Hedgehog opens is.
"Oh hey Piglet, what can I do for you?"

(Admit it, we have all done this at some point.)