Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Wonders of Fabled Nyíregyháza!

Nyíregyháza! Who has not heard that name and dreamed of one day seeing this fabled city with one's own eyes while alive on this earth? Nyíregyháza! Oh flat city of wonders, of glorious Tescos and Spar markets spreading riches to the Ukrainian border, the enobled capital of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg county! Nyíregyháza! A city whose name resonates deeply among lovers of apple pie! Nyíregyháza! Nyíregyháza! Nyíregyháza! The last time I was in Nyíregyháza was around 1991, and I remembered a dusty, flat provincial burg that was famous for... apples. Yes, the eastern region of the Nyírség - "the birches" in Hungarian - is the apple producing center of Hungary, and a lovely place to drive through on your way to somewhere else. Last week we had a gig at the Vidor Festival and so it was with a smidgen of trepidation that we drove the band out to Nyíregyháza.
And guess what? Nyíregyháza has grown into a really beautiful and smart town. On a scale of 1 to 10 for Hungarian provincial town attractiveness (with say, Pécs or Veszprém a 10 and Szolnok a 1) Nyíregyháza rates at least an 8. If you have to choose to live in someplace that was extremely flat (if you are confined to a wheelchair, for example, or perhaps almost perished climbing Mt. Everest and are subsequently traumatized by elevation of any sort) this would definately be on the A-list of places to move to.The Vidor festival was one of the best and most well organized events we have yet played in Hungary - they brought in really good World music acts like Selim Sessler from Turkey, Ba Cissoko from Guinea, and the Bollywood Brass Band from London, filled out with younger bands from Transylvania and some of the best local folk and Gypsy bands. These guys were playing in the square right outside our dressing room tent - real old fashioned local Szatmár style Gypsy band nóta music, nothing too polished, stuff you never hear in Budapest anymore. Made me wonder why we were on stage and not these guys.
Playing at festivals means arriving early and waiting a lot - for sound checks, for accountants, for band members... you wait. They had a pretty nice spread for us, although I think the chef was pushing the BBQ chips and diet coke a bit hard, but this will be home for the next ten hours. A musicians life is best described as "hurry up and wait."
And after you have done a sound check and tuned up, and told all the new jokes you've heard since the last gig and inquired if your kontra fiddler has recently added to his already vast brood of illegitimate children, you get a bit silly and start jamming new tunes and taking the verses of beautiful Transylvanian folk songs and changing them to reflect the fact that your dressing room tent is located next to the portable toilets... this can evoke shock and moral outrage from astute Hungarian musicians.
The top band for the evening was a Spanish World fusion outfit called Canteca de Macao (but I can't help thinking that they were having a play on words with Manteca de Cacao) who were a damn hot dance band and, luckily, although they juggled a lot and had dreadlocks and tattoos, were not vegetarians, since we had lunch with them and lunch was some fine beef goulash. Thus they redeemed themselves from my harsh and shallow judgement. It's OK to be a hippie if you eat meat.
This is the stuff you never get in Budapest: real, honest hard core granny gulyás. As soon as you get 25 kilometers out of Budapest the food always starts getting better. It makes it hard when working on travel guide books and trying to recommend Budapest restaurants (only twice the price for half the portion!)
Another feature of Hungarian provincial towns is the local fast food: lángos and lapcsánka , which is essentially a potato latke, a flat fried starchy filling spud pancake. It's getting harder to find good lángos on the street in Budapest - heck, you won't even find it on the streets in Budapest anymore, regardless of what I write in tourist guidebooks because my editors want me to say so ("lángos is widely popular as a street food in Budapest..." NOT!) But get out to the countryside (Miskolc, in particular) and you still find cheap fried spud bread kiosks all over town.Nyíregyháza used to be home to a large Jewish population, both orthodox Hasidic and Status Quo Ante traditional Ashkenazic congregations. Today there are about 300 Jews living in the town, and we met the president of the community but had no free time to visit the synagogue. The Nadvorna Hasidim make a pilgrimage to Nyíregyháza annually to visit the grave of one of their most influential rebbes, and not far away is the small town of Nagykálló, the home of the Kaliver Hasidim. Since this are is right up against the Ukrainian border, there was a lot of interaction between the Jews here and those in Munkács, today in the western Ukraine. And since we are next playing at the Művészetek Palotája on October 1 with the Técső Banda, who often play for the Jewish communities around Munkács, what could be better than a full set of Hutsul tunes played by them last week in Budapest at the Kertem garden bar in the City Park. This is a really fine take - Yura's singing and drum playing really put him in a category above most "folk" musicians. These guys are playing traditional music at their prime - it is almost like hearing blues played in Missisippi in 1932, or Klezmer in Lviv in 1910. It's a changing world, and we need to be grateful for musical holdouts like this. There won't be many more like them in the future.

8 comments:

Studiolum said...

A fascinating report and a hilarious overview of the edibles situation in Hungary. But seriously, why can’t you tell about your gigs in advance so that one could go and see?

Paul Hellyer said...

A wonderful post, especially the clip of Técső Banda. I really enjoyed reading it and it made want to be there. Thank you!

Fumie said...

szuper video!!!

I can't wait to see your band and Técsői Banda on the stage together.

Na, gyerünk! October 1 at Müpa!

Jack said...

Studiolum,

The Nyiregyhaza gig was on the DNK website (www.dinayekapelye.com) and also on the band's MySpace page (http://www.myspace.com/dinayekapelye). We really do try to keep these pages up to date.

Yankl

Studiolum said...

Sorry, Yankl, I did not watch these pages. I will do so. In any case, I will be there on the first of October.

Ruth said...

Hey, Szolnok should get more points than that, if only for the Lipot Baumhorn synagogue....

Neinfectat De Comunism said...

foarte interesanta situatia din ungaria...

te astept la mine pe blog unde discutam despre: Octav Grohaitoru' Cozmanca, scarbit de cat de mult se poate fura in PSD, se "autosuspenda" si vrea sa pregateasca campania felcerului Oprescu

Managua Gunn said...

Absolutely fascinating..I was in Nyiregyhaza in 1991 also, ad remember those desolate years...and also heard it has really changed a lot! (I have linked this to my blog http://managuagunntoday.wordpress.com)