BY ESTHER TURAN/ AJT//
This is the first in an ongoing series. Here, our author – visiting the U.S. from Hungary – shares the beauty of her birthplace.
I’m Hungarian, a native of one of the largest Jewish communities in the world. I was born and raised in the capital, Budapest, one of the most picturesque cities in Europe.
To set the scene, the city is split into two unique parts: Buda, where I once lived, is lush and hilly; Pest is the industrial part of the region, has an expansive and impressive downtown and, notably, is where Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, was born.
Buda and Pest are divided by the Blue Danube, which, truth to tell, isn’t all that blue anymore. It’s still lovely, however, and is spanned by a number of majestic bridges.
Those are some facts about Hungary. Now, for some of the many reasons I love the country…
A Wonderful Childhood
My parents and family are all Hungarian, and they filled my childhood with lots of love, care, joy, fun and wisdom.
I studied at an awesome neighborhood school during the last days of the country’s socialist regime. People were naïve, and many dreamed about life in the “West.” Still, we all considered Hungary to be the “happiest bunk” in the socialist block.
For instance, I was able to visit the U.S. – something that wouldn’t have been possible if I lived in one of the other communist countries in Eastern Europe – when I was 11.
Growing up, many of my friends weren’t Jewish; it simply wasn’t an issue. I didn’t attend a Jewish day school and didn’t pick my friends based on their religion.
My friends and I spent hours having deep, meaningful conversations. We also had our share of arguments when we were discussing these deep beliefs, but that’s what friends do.
Finally, it’s important to mention that no one – let me be clear here, no one – parties like Hungarians. When we go out, fun is guaranteed. Hungarians know how to drink and, well, go crazy.
All of this partying is fun and filled with laughs. Okay, there are also hangovers – but they come with some great memories.
Rich, Vibrant Culture
Hungarian cuisine is earthy, robust and tasty. Our meals are filled with the likes of goulash soup (it runs through my veins), halaszle (an amazing fish soup), chicken paprikash with dumplings and cucumber salads.
We also use tons of paprika and onions with, well, more onions – sorry, that’s a joke that only Hungarians will understand.
Then, there’s goose liver; and all this goodness finished off with somloi galuska, a chocolate-vanilla sponge cake. Delicious!
Just as important as the food, the country is filled with writers, poets, filmmakers and photographers. Unfortunately, Hungary remains somewhat isolated these days and doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves in the arts.
But it’s worth noting that the country’s theater – real theater – is outstanding. Its filmmakers and photographers are also world-class and, believe it or not, it was Hungarian Jews who actually helped make Hollywood the success it is today.
Laughter and Tears
Hungarian humor – especially that with a decidedly Jewish accent – is simply unbeatable. I find myself crying from laughter every time I watch old clips featuring certain comedians.
Truth to tell, however, there’s a melancholy that fills the country. Hungarians can be a pessimistic people, even flat-out negative at times. But it’s this melancholy vibe, I think, that fuels the country’s artists.
A perfect example of this bizarre synergy is the suicidal song “Gloomy Sunday,” composed in 1933 by Rezso Seress. The tune was a major hit all over the world, but it also tragically played a part in many people’s suicide.
Such mixed emotion is simply part of our culture. There’s an old saying: “The Hungarian frolics while crying.”
One final example of this overarching feeling: Hungarian director Michael Curtiz, a genius in his own right, used the melancholy that is part of Hungary to create the classic film “Casablanca.” A movie that’s filled with laughter and tears, it is – in my opinion – an American movie with a distinctly Hungarian atmosphere.
Needless to say, my home country remains a special place in my heart, the land where I was born and a place that continues to inform my life.
Esther Turan is a film producer at Moviebar Productions (movie-bar.net); additional input for this column provided by Julie Turan. Next week, Esther continues her remembrance of Hungary with a loving look at her grandfather and the role anti-Semitism had – and continues to have – in her homeland.