After I woke up on Easter morning, I walked down the dirt road behind the school and cut some blossoming branches from an unidentified fruit tree (I’m sure someone can identify it; I just can’t). I put them in my room and hurried to the church as the bells began to ring. In my clothing choices I tried to balance my own spring-ish and Easter-y desire for breezy colorfulness with the formal black and white and sparkly Transcarpathian sensibilities. I certainly combined the two, but I’m not sure the result was all that admirable. Oh well.
The church service began with a baptism, and a tiny, wailing András joined our Christian community. After the singing and preaching, we took Communion, Easter being one of six times of the year that Reformed Hungarians take Communion. Every space in every pew was full, and the large congregation snaked around the circle from the bread to the wine glasses for over 5 songs.
After church, I got a ride to the nearby village of Almás, a community in the middle of a tiny Ukrainian peninsula surrounded by a sea of neighboring countries. There is only one road to the village, and it is rutted and pock-marked and barely two lanes. Ibolya, a young history teacher at the Péterfalva school, lives in Almás with her parents. I rode there with her aunt and uncle and cousins and would be staying there until Tuesday.
When we arrived, everyone exchanged greetings, and Ibolya’s brother approached, making some sort of my gesture at my shoulders. At first I thought he was religiously devout and making a kind of cross symbol, but as a whiff of perfume reached my nose, I realized what had happened. Hungarians have a tradition at Easter time which goes back to their pre-Christian era: boys and young men travel about their village to all the women, young and old, and sprinkle them with water or perfume. The women then give eggs or other treats to the boys. Historians say this is descended from an old fertility ritual. I’d been told many times about the tradition, but it caught me off guard the first time it happened.
The next day I was much more prepared, and the perfume sprinkling (squirting?) took place in a much more orderly fashion. Troops of little boys (and some older) were invited inside, sprayed perfume (and sometimes air freshener) on me and Ibolya wherever they could reach most easily (usually about stomach height), and then ate cake. The smell that soaked into my shirt and gave me a very strange headache is one not likely to be replicated again, ever.
Easter lasts for two days in Hungarian Reformed culture – Sunday and Monday – so not only did we have a huge meal after church on Sunday, we feasted on the left overs and even more fresh food the next day. I did a little visiting around the village with Ibolya on Monday, and at every stop we were encouraged – no, commanded – to eat. I always took less than I wanted, but lots of plates of less than you want adds up to a lot more than you want. Even if it is all very tasty.
The Easter reveling (which also included very forms of hard liquor, mind you) did not sit well with my stomach. Without giving too much information, I would like to say that my discomfort was increased by the fact that the only toilet available was an outhouse. I have no qualms with certain aspects of an outhouse. I just don’t like that it’s out of the house.
Tuesday, with a recovered stomach, I learned how to dye eggs with onion skins. Here are the results, along with the UFT (unidentified fruit tree) branches gathered Easter morning. The directions are simple: put a whole slew of onion skins in a pot of water and bring to a boil. Take some sort of fauna – parsley is especially nice – and place it against a clean, white egg. (You could use a brown egg, but the effects won’t be as striking.) Pull a piece of old pantyhose tightly around the egg to hold the leaf in place; secure it with string. Place the eggs inside the pot, under the skins, and boil for about 10 minutes. Remove and unwrap and tada! Beautiful, edible, hard-boiled eggs.
It was a neighbor to Ibolya who taught me the egg-dyeing skill. She came into the tiled, pink summer kitchen with me and Ibolya’s mother, and we sat around the table as the eggs boiled, eating stuff cabbage and talking about cooking and Easter. The neighbor lady later brought me a rag-rug and a chair cushion she’d made. And after the egg escapade, Ibolya’s mother taught me a little of the Hungarian embroidery that has for so long fascinated me. She gave me two unfinished kerchief patterns to take back with me and work on.
Hungarian hospitality knows no bounds.
While we’re on the subject of Easter/spring/new life/etc., I’d like to update you on the progress and growth of Princess Leia. Her lonely, single bloom gave way to a crown of flowers. I water her a little every day, and she reaches for the sunshine at my window, but I think it’s the naming that keeps her happy and healthy.