Mád, Hungary is little more than a dab on the eastern Hungarian landscape – a tiny town among hundreds of time worn villages sprinkled across rural Hungary. We came to Mád to visit the beautiful and distinctive baroque synagogue. Little else would warrant the two hour trip from Budapest.
We finished touring and photographing the shul with an hour before our wine tasting reservations at the Budahazy Pince. This allowed just enough time to walk a kilometer through the village to the farthest end of town to glimpse the Jewish cemetery.
As we set off, we heard a cow mooing and eventually came upon a lone cow grazing in the lot next to a tidy stone house. I am sure this single cow provides the family with milk – a mournful, lonely cow which we cornily nicknamed; “Mád cow”.
Abandoned homes with collapsed tile roofs and smashed windows dotted the street between those more charmingly decorated with lacy curtains and flower filled window boxes. We saw virtually no cars on the streets, children playing, people working in their yards. The town felt nearly abandoned with few sounds or sights of life (minus, of course, the incessant mooing).
Then, we came upon these two friends drinking wine from plastic cups, laughing and talking as though they have known each other for ages. Most likely they have. They may have been anyone – from the town drunk to the village doctor.
Pat took several photos. Once they noticed him, they began to mug for the camera. When he finished, I considered if we should give them some a few coins, a tip. We decided not to.
As Americans, our first inclination is to hand anyone who looks the least in need some spare change. I still struggle to differentiate a welcome gift to the truly needy from an offer which smacks of superiority and completely dismisses an attempt at friendship. Certainly, they weren’t sitting on the bench with the expectation of making a few dollars.
We talked as best we could, declined the pro-offered wine from the recommissioned soda bottle, and eventually moved on. Whatever their circumstances, these two friends appeared to be having a fantastic day.
Not much further down the road, tomestones peeked above a stone fence. Fields of grapes rose up from the back cemetery wall – the source of wine which is the most famous export of this tiny Tokaj village. And still, not a sign of life.
Heading back towards the center of town and Budahazy Pince, a woman worked in her garden. She set aside her tools for a moment, brushed her hair from her eyes, and tried to engage us in conversation. We never did figure out exactly what she tried to say. As we turned to go, she called after us, “do svidaniya”. “Oh my gosh, was that Russian?”
Hungarians tend to do that. Given almost no foreigner speaks their native tongue, if they know a second language, they are going to put it in play. For most Hungarians of a certain age, that second language is Russian (and occasionally, German).
As we travel across Hungary, one town blends into the next. I can’t remember the unique characteristics of the main square – whether the buildings were painted minty green or mustard yellow. Is that where I selected the goose or pork for dinner?
Yet our interactions with people almost always stand out. Do svidaniya – “until next time”. While the next time will be in a different village with its own unique characters, I look forward to that place and those people – the next time.
Categories: Central/Eastern Europe