Hungarian Adventure by Joyce Shaw

I suppose if you have not travelled to certain cities or countries, you make general assumptions…. eg Paris=the city of love, Bondi Beach=the surfer’s Australian paradise, Havana=the best place for cigars, New York= the city that never sleeps. Hungary= goulash and Brahms’ Hungarian Dances etc

It seemed a wonderful and exciting adventure to be chosen to perform in Szolnok in the centre of Hungary, in an international festival, representing not only County Durham but the whole of Great Britain!! Needless to say it turned out to be everything, and more, that I could have imagined….the goulash (actually all the food) was wonderful and the folk dance and costumes were so colourful and spectacular. 

    Szolnok is located in the heart of the Great Hungarian Plain, at the confluence of the Tisza and Zagyva rivers.

It was an International folk festival in the centre of Hungary and the one disappointment on my part was the fact that we (my daughter Zoë and myself) had no national costume to wear in the splendour of all the other countries around us.

    The English have no national costume!!  There was no way I was going to concoct a fancy dress outfit depicting St George or milkmaids! The rest of the UK  (N Ireland, Wales and Scotland) all have authentic, colourful outfits and, until this moment, it had never concerned me, but now I was asking myself WHY??

Luckily, the people were very kind, warm and generous and no doubt we lived up to the reputation of being the conservative, modest English!

      When we had settled into our hotel, in tremendous heat!, we were taken to the mighty town hall for the inaugural welcoming ceremony. I have always thought that the world’s a small place, and at this ceremony, I spotted 2 French friends in the international queue of foreign representatives, waiting to be presented.  They were part of the French group and had hosted me when I sang in Amiens, in France, in the previous year, but little did I expect to meet them 800+ miles away in a different country!!!

         We were given a special welcome by the Director of the Council but little did I realise that he was the man I had hosted in my home when the Hungarian choir had visited Consett!  We were taken through heavily padded double doors in the Council Chambers to find him behind a massive desk wearing a big grin! This was followed by a special invitation to visit his home (a beautiful house in the countryside) where his wife was the perfect hostess…another unexpected re-union!!

The next day, after the very formal welcome, we all met again in the main street where there was a fantastic procession of all the international artists in their colourful outfits. 

       There was flag waving from Italy and France, great horsemanship from Hungarian dressage experts, yards of tiny pleated skirts that swirled colourful rainbows as the dancers from many other European countries all displayed their agility …and we, in our modest black outfits, stood still and sang North Eastern English folk songs! From there, we went to the town’s beautiful theatre and each country presented its music, so diverse and colourful and was well appreciated by the fantastic audience.

The language was no barrier, as music and laughter were common to us all. In the wonderful hot weather, many meals were eaten outside and during the festival, small groups were sent out to various areas in the region to entertain and be shown Hungarian hospitality. 

Zoë and I went to a beautiful lake where we were guests of honour and given a boat ride and the invitation (which we declined!) to water ski!   One of the outlying places that we visited was Turkeve in the Mezotur region, which was the birthplace of Alexander Korda, the famous film director who eventually settled in Britain in  the 1930s.

There, we were given a tour of the town and its ancient antiquities from the Bronze Age. The town is famous for its natural health giving properties in the spa  and we were expected, as VIPs to change into bathing suits and enter the warm (but smelly!) spa baths with many spectators enjoying the nervous strangers! However before this happened, we sang from a wooden outdoor stage and having no instruments or microphones, I rendered “The Cullercoats Fish Lass” to people who had never even met anyone from Britain, least of all from Cullercoats! The mayor of the town hosted us, and, in broken English she very graciously said “I understood “fish!”

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