By Steph Bradley 7th September 2011
Through Alpine slopes and picturesque villages of brightly coloured shuttered chalets with flowering window boxes and sloping roofs the train sped, taking its passengers through Italian peaks, German forested slopes, and Austrian river valleys, to finally arrive in the Hungarian station of Goja where a small rickety old engine awaited to make the journey onwards to Veszprem. Past station stops where people tumbled out to walk across the tracks past half derelict station houses, and where in between forested edges threatened to grow right back across the rails.
He of Calm Exactness waited there in the late afternoon to take WynnAlice onwards to the tiny village of Vigantpetend in the Valley of Arts. In the Old School House She of Light was talking to a small group of eager Transitionistas, and then it was time to visit the garden of a local woman of middle age. All the houses had land for gardens, though the houses themselves were in poor state of repair. The local guide took them into her house and told them of her childhood there, interpreted beautifully by the Fighter from the Wheat Fields. Five adults and children had lived and slept in a room the size of a small bedroom. They had shared a kitchen with the family that rented the room across the hallway. Now the woman had bought the whole house and was very proud of it, and found it hard to believe they had ever lived that way. The old narrow wooden bed her grandfather had made up against a wall in the bedroom was still there where now it kept company with two single beds.
Camomile dried from the garden hung in bunches from the rafters, for tea, and to sweeten the air, though originally brought into the house when there had been so much of it in the garden they had had to cut it back, then noticed it was useful. In the kitchen the old range stood, still in working order though they didn’t use it any more, its place taken by a modern cooker.
In the garden many herbs were grown, and fruit and vegetables. The woman and her daughter grew a lot of produce and were proud of what they were doing. They talked with enthusiasm and love. The herbs they gave to try were potent to the taste buds as herbs grown in WynnAlice’s land never were. They were alive with all the natural strength of living soils full of worms and natural compost that had never seen chemicals.
Finally, after much to-ing and fro-ing by various folk in the grounds of the Old School House WynnAlice found the kettle in the kitchen and made some fresh mint tea. After some time the freshly made pasta that had been laboriously produced with the aid of a tiny pasta maker fastened to the side of a wooden table in the garden, was found cooked on the kitchen table together with a pile of fresh tomatoes and freshly picked basil. The hungry Transitionistas ate the simple feast and then it was time for the first exchange of Transition Stories.
She of Light and Wynn Alice slept in the classroom up on the soft mats that served as seating during the day and awoke next morning to play the Quest. In great enthusiasm several Hungarians and an Austrian played, creating their ideal 2030, and at the end, the eager tales from Hungarian were translated. It was an idyll, said they, they hadn’t been at all perturbed when the internet had crashed indefinitely, for they had been far too busy living to notice, and most of the challenges they met had been received as great opportunities.
They had helped one another when an earthquake had damaged one of their communities and had gladly received refugees to assist in their work. It really had been a case of Great Community Happiness.
The two visitors soon noticed that time keeping was not something that was important to their group, though quite why this was, was open to interpretation. Maybe they were used to being told what to do more, and taking responsibility for their own punctuality was not something they were accustomed to and perhaps it was simply that the festival atmosphere had taken over rather. For they found themselves in the Valley of the Arts, a ten day event that spread across 3 villages in a valley not far from the largest lake in the land, Lake Ballaton, and each day there was feasting, and traditional dancing, folk music, and singing, and traditional craft makers and producers of fine honey from across the land hawked their wares.
Little of these festivities did the two visitors see, for the Transitionistas were hungry for information and contact with their fellow workers, though one evening they went to Kalpolcs, the neighbouring village and bought jars of propolis and honey made from mint flowers, heard music to set the feet a –dancing and saw two horses resting from pulling a carriage chomping on the large hibiscus flowers of the nearby tree, almost pulling it over in their eagerness to get at the fragrant blooms. A more sobering sight was the cycle display and an encouragement to cycle to raise money to raise awareness for the Romany family who had been shot dead by members of the right extreme right wing just 5 years before. In Hungary it seems there are three groups, those that have power, those that have not, and the Gypsies, and they all hate each other.
Then it was back in a rush to the Old School where WynnAlice had tales to tell, and more to collect.
And so it was that amongst a display of pictures of the food people eat in differing parts of the world, from the shocking amount of plastic bottles, cartons, and cans of drinks that the average German family ingests and the boxes of cereal and tinned food that the Americans eat, to the mounds of fresh fruit and vegetables that feed the Chinese, the Italians, and the Indonesians, and the small piles of grains and flour that the average African family have, that the Hungarian Tales were told and heard…
Of old bikes swopped for geraniums, to be used for spare parts to create new bikes in Wekerle telep, of plant swops where everyone got a free tomato plant for attending and the tales of people exchanging notes on how their plants are doing on Face Book, and of how those that tried to buy plants and found they couldn’t went home to dig plants up so they could participate, and those who had brought strawberry plants on seeing how popular they were and that they had run out rushed home to dig up more, all of these tales were heard and enjoyed.
Then came a tale from Austria, from the big city of Vienna, where cargo bikes have begun, from just one bike capable of pulling a large trailer to a fleet of ten, hired out for free across the city, so that it is possible to hire all ten and move house bicycle powered! From Vienna too came the tale of the square in the centre that was guerrilla gardened and now full of vegetables and now is used by many diverse groups from all across the city for events, and the delight of those original pioneers to watch the gardens gradually being used by more and more everyday folk.
He of Vienna said too that he would take tales of Transition back to Austria, for he thought it was a thing worth starting.
Of Hungary more tales were told; of the TV reporter who had asked a family how they got to school each day and they had said they went by bike. Then what if the weather were bad asked he, by bike, came the reply, and what if the weather were really bad said he, why then said they, we walk! Tales of the shame of the poorer families, ashamed to admit they share their bath water, and shocked to learn that this was more a thing to be proud of than ashamed of, when considering the environment. Tales to be shared far and wide indeed, a reminder that the world we live in is not at all the way we who have enough assume it be, but only pockets of wealth here and there, where those that have plenty ensure that they who have little have little indeed, for that which is not shared out equally by definition ensures that some go without.
At the festival itself a tale was to be had too, for She of Great Skill and Story had yet again held the Creative Recycle, and She of Light had watched as a group of teenaged rockers, with leather jackets and hair to match had sat down together to make half a dozen woollen owls, from old socks, buttons and thread. When She of Light asked if this was the first time they sewed they looked up from their work and said No, this was the second time….the first had been at the festival last year, when they had made little horses!
…And what of the tale of personal misfortune leading to great community fortune? From another town came the tale of the market gardener who sold to Budapest who hurt his back and could not go to the city with his produce as usual, and of how She Of Shaven Head and Big Heart had taken what produce she could carry on her bicycle across the town to sell it to locals, and so discovered that they had no access to local produce for it was all taken to the big old city on the Danube, and so it was that the town came to receive its fruit and vegetables, by bike, from their local marker gardener.
Great courage and heart indeed was to be found amongst the small band of Hungarian Transitionistas, and much work they still felt they had to do, and much to learn from the tales of Transition from across the land and across the oceans too. Yet, what they had in heaps was humility, and what they were doing to be greatly admired and WynnAlice & She of Light commented that indeed their land had much to learn and wished that they would come over the ocean and tell of their tales, and of the lands and systems they were working within.
So the Transition gathering came to an end and She of Great Skill & Story handed She of Light the owls she had made, and presented one to WynnAlice too, to remember the tale of the Transition Owls, and talked too of She of Fairy Tale, the woman who had left the city to come and live by the lake to offer her home to young children whose lives were bad to terrible to come and spend a holiday and learn through fairy tale therapy (www.mesekozpont.hu ) . The first two or three days were always the same, theft and bad language, but by the end of the three days those children were transformed, given a story by which to live, and a fabric bag hand stitched by the local women to take away and keep. One little boy, cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth had refused his where the others were in awe, that some mothers had actually sat down to make these bags for them, and was persuaded to take it to keep his cigarettes in and then he too was as attached to his new bag as the others. There is nothing like the power of story, believes She of Fairy Tales, for redeeming a lost soul.
The Fighter from the Wheat Fields and He of Great Bike Feat took She of Light and Wynn Alice to the lake where they fed them on Langos (the local large flat doughnuts) and took them down to the water as twilight descended, and they were amongst the Hungarian holidaymakers at their summer place of choice, the only large body of water in all the land.
Once home in Wekerle telep the two visitors slept and slept, and then awoke to fresh tomatoes, blackberries, and cucumbers straight from the garden, and homemade plum jam made with just plums, no water, nor sugar, just cooked gently for hours, and freshly brewed tea of lemon balm and mint, heard the tale of how He of Great Bike Feat had cycled all the way from his land to his beloved’s home in the far off northern land of the Scots to ask for her hand in marriage, and soon after the two visitors set off to the Baths, Budapest being greatly renowned for its spas thanks to its underground thermal springs. Spent most of the day luxuriating in that warm water, steamed and heated, relaxed, the two women returned across the city aboard the rusty old oldest Underground in Europe where the signs for the stations appear just once and if you miss them you don’t know where you are and it’s as well to count the stations if you would not get lost.
Then to Kos Karoly square, to sit by the illuminated fountain shining on the old houses, and hear the tale of 100 year old garden city and the Transylvanian architect of whom they were all so proud, who had designed the beautiful shuttered and arched windowed homes that surrounded the square and radiated out throughout the garden city district. Every avenue lined with 100 year old trees Wekerle telep is indeed an experience not to be missed in Budapest, a little like living in a forest in the centre of the city, with cicadas singing, and plants and flowers growing profusely where they have been planted, and where they have not too. And, within this grid like forest, magical fairytale houses with myriad tiny roofs atop brightly coloured shuttered windows nestle side by side in the centre of their spacious gardens, each house containing many small flats, home to many people.
Maybe 9000 people live in this neighbourhood, and it being one with a history of being a garden city, designed a hundred years ago to embody Transition ideals, it is no wonder it became the first transition town, with its active members busying themselves with projects like She of Great Skill & Story’s weekly knitting circle in the square, and the Fighter from the Wheatfields never ceasing networking amongst they who believe they have power and they who perceive they have none. We meet He of Earnest Work and hear how this Dutch resident has been befriended by the local architect of extravagant works and how the unlikely pair are working together to find common ground to change the laws of the council as it applies to old houses, so that a way can be found to update the out dated rules, and so that solar panels may one day be able to sit upon the roofs of these old heritage buildings in peace.
The next day everyone leaves town, their hosts to cycle off across the land to a community event and She of Light to board the bus all the way back to the far northern lands of the Scots, and WynnAlice is left to her own devices and after a morning soak with She of Light at another of the numerous Baths, she wanders off to sample the delights of a very Eastern looking city with a very South American feel.
Huge buildings of exquisite architecture tower above her with minarets and statues, two towered churches, and bullet shocked walls, the chequered history of this land is forever etched in its masonry.
Searching for meatless sustenance the Falafel bar is found, and savoured. Just as in the East one would expect, a glass of piping tea is given free on arrival, and the delights within the packed pitta pocket more than satisfy the taste of the hungry traveller. No two or three dry Western attempts at this Eastern delicacy, but half a dozen or more succulent falafels cushioned in creamy smooth smoky humous and fresh crisp salad try to escape the stuffed bread. Munching on chocolate baklava WynnAlice hits the streets once more and entering the most ornate tiled and mosaic-ed roofed building finds herself in the central city market with three floors of the freshest most colourful and tasty food she has seen since leaving South America .
Mesmerised by spice stalls filled with heaps of saffron and paprika, powdered and hanging from the rafters, and wrapped in gift bags with tiny wooden serving spoons, WynnAlice walks about the wide paths between the stalls, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells. Here a stall with fresh propolis and honey, and there blackberries and blueberries by the heap, and further in, huge chunks of meat, chickens feet, and tripe.
And there, at the back, an exhibition of all the fungi of the continent; of deciduous and coniferous woods, all carefully sculpted and life-sized, in glass cases designed to represent each season of the year, and each labelled, edible, non edible, and poisonous.
Upstairs, the crafts; the lovingly embroidered costumes of the traditional dancers, tablecloths and handkerchiefs, hand carved wooden spoons and bowls, Hungarian playing cards, and wooden figurines of traditional figures that top bottle openers and stoppers. In the corner; a bar, for the men to sit and watch the shoppers go by.
It is time to leave now, a cameo of Hungarian city life to sit beside the village cameo in the pictures of her mind. A people neither quite Western nor yet Eastern either, with a language quite like no other, both Slavic and Turkish in its roots, and with a sense of the importance of everyday life, amongst the uncertain nature of a politics of fear that swings from left to right.
There are lessons to be learnt here, of how it is that very often it is the most disempowered who carry the knowledge of how it is to live well with uncertainty and how those that hold any power at all very often do so out of fear of losing it and in the doing so are too frantically working to maintain or recreate structures that they quite miss the joy of simply living, and the low impact that has on its surroundings.
Is it not perhaps time, Transitionistas, that we, in order to change things, begin to simply live simply…