Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Home again

2 things about coming home:
1. It's as if I didn't leave at all and the whole year was just one night's dream - while everyone keeps telling me I was away for so long.
2. It's as if I lived a lifetime of adventures and I came home and no time passed here at all.
Yes, both of them at the same time. And I have jetlag too (although 17 hours of sleep did help a bit)

You know those fairy tales when someone spends some time on the "other world" and then comes home and hundreds of years have passed (Oisín, Urashima Taro and all the others)?
I've always loved them. Now I understand them.

I'll get back to writing as soon as I get settled in...

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Campin' out with the Nineteenth

Okay, before we start, just to make sure we are on the same page: in Hungary, in high school, American history was discussed in about 40 minutes or less. The only thing we heard about the Civil War was Gettysburg (that's how it's possible that when I "went down South" some of my friends thought I was in South America. Go figure.) So my first (and most complete) source of information about the war was Gone with the wind (and you can guess the rest). Ever since I came here, I was kinda picking up the pieces of American history and putting them together to get the bigger picture - I had a lot of help from nice people like Carolyn Stearns (who tells wonderful civil war stories) and Marilyn Kinsella (my fairy godmother during the St. Louis Festival who introduced me to the Museum of Westward Expansion and the whole Lois and Clark story) and so forth.
Now that I'm in the South, and I have Civil War soldiers camping out under my very window, I saw an opportunity no decent storyteller is allowed to miss. Go behind the scenes of historical reenactment.
("Civil War soldiers under your window? Wow! Which side?" "Whaddaya mean which side?! I'm in the South for heaven's sake, do you honestly think they would let a bunch of Yankees camp out there?!")
So this evening, after the "public" went home, and I got back from another mind-blowing evening of contra dancing (no need to explain - someone please marry me already!!!), I just walked into the camp, so ruining my reputation as a decent lady forever and ever (and I couldn't care less, really). The soldiers were a bit surprised at first; they were just getting ready for dinner and they were starting the campfire and I bet they were glad all the people went home with their questions, and then here is that weird young lady with the strange accents, marching into the camp and she doesn't look like she is planning on leaving anytime soon. Well, the Southerners are all gentlemen of course, so they offered me a seat and they kinda gathered around, and I started asking them about the war and stuff, and no matter how silly my questions were, they kept answering, and they told me the story of their regiment, and it was just THE perfect history lesson. The ice broke, we started talking, night settled in, and we continued talking among the firebugs and the candles; I told a Hungarian story to the soldiers, and it was a blast, I had so much fun (I told them about the siege of Eger, a story every kid in my country grows up with - I never thought one day I'd tell it in a Confederate camp and the soldiers would go "woooow" over it... talk about the right story at the right place. Another precious moment I'll never forget)
And we kept on talking into the night until I felt like I was gonna pass out (and, well, walking into a camp as a lady is one thing and passing out in a camp as a lady is another thing...) so I said goodnight to the soldiers, promised to visit them again tomorrow, and walked back to the 21th century side of the creek.
The North might have won the war - the South has won my heart.
(All my Yankee friends will just have to deal with it. I still love them too, though;)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Beware of the Hungarian story stalker

Yeah, that kinda covers what I am doing right now. I'm diggin' deep, deeeep into the archives of the Storytelling Center, pulling out one ancient, dust-covered festival program after another, and listing all the tellers in a database who performed on the Jonesborough stage. Ever.
Right now, I'm back to 1988 (told ya, deeeeeep - I was 2 years old!), and I got to the juicy stuff: I'm starting to find photos of tellers whom I know (and who still are performing on the same stage!), and some of those photos are actual blackmail material... Sounds like a story, "Back in the ooold, old days, when Connie Regan-Blake had long black hair and Ed Stivender had a mustache and Donald Davis had dark beard and David Novak looked like a shiny eyed schoolboy and Heather Forest looked... pretty much the same..." ack I forgot this is my English blog. Bummer, I'm only allowed to write impertinent stuff like that on the Hungarian one. Babelfish still has serious issues with my language. Thank God. XD)
(Just kidding ;)
Seriously, this is so much fun :) I probably read a lot more than I need for the research (Name. Country. Year. Done.) but c'mon, it's like a candy store for a kid. I love every minute of it! I read about tellers I've met and tellers I've heard and tellers I've heard about, and even legends like Ray Hicks and J. J. Reneaux who are not with us anymore (and yes, I firmly believe there are lots of good things in modern technology, one of them being the ability to hear the voice of a storyteller who is not with us anymore). And the history of the Festival is bigger and more colorful and more legend-like than I have ever imagined...
Uh-oh, Civil War troops are camping out under my window. Gotta go pull up the Confederation flag. XD
(Gettin' ready for Jboro Days...)
Fun fun fun.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Resident Trickster

T.I.R. - Teller-in-Residence. Right?
This week, it's Trickster-in-Residence.
Andy Offutt Irwin in da house.

Andy appears, Andy smiles, Andy runs up and down, Andy gets lost, Andy is found, Andy chats with the ladies at the front desk, Andy scares the kids at the front desk, Andy is in the way in the box office, Andy is ushered out of the box office, Andy gets lost again, Andy joins a school group, Andy greets the audience, Andy drives the emcee up the wall, Andy comes in, Andy whistles, Andy plays, Andy bangs on kids' heads with a plastic hammer, Andy threatens the crowd into laughing loud enough, Andy plays the guitar, Andy hops off stage, Andy visits with the audience at the gift shop, Andy randomly changes personalities. Andy is fun.
Somebody care to come up with a definition for 'trickster'?

(Yep, back in Jboro, being "office trained" at the ISC - my inner child enjoys playing with the cash register and the credit card batch, my outer child deals with the ticket office. I'm here for this week and the next week, er... working on my summer research project, which includes observing the professional storytellers' behavior in their natural environment... And I watch every single afternoon matinée. No pressure.
Jboro is getting ready for the big 4th of July weekend. Fun fun fun.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Crone is back!

Friday afternoon performance at the ISC. I am sitting in the front row of the theater, waiting, together with 50-something other people; waiting for Dolores Hydock. And I can’t even start to describe you the joy and exctiement and the huge, heartfelt smile that took over me when I saw the old, ragged Medieval woman leaning on her staff, climbing the stairs to the stage, while the sounds of the saltarello music filled the room...
It has been a long time since when I first heard Silence at the Festival; and today, the old crone was back, with a shiny new story to tell. And not just any story; the most amazing Medieval love story you have ever heard.
Well, I can’t really tell you about the rest of the audience, for the whole world could have crumbled around me in that one our and I would have never even noticed it. But I can tell you what I felt.
When I was not laughing out loud at the old lady’s opinion about minstrels and legends of 14-year-old „lovers” (quite true if you ask a Middle Ages – fanatic like me...), I was sitting with wide eyes, only drawing a breath when it was absolutely necessary, and it required some self control to keep my mouth from hanging open. Many times during the story, I was biting on my hand to keep me from shouting at the most dramatic turn of the events („Oh crap oh crap oooh crap...”) (seriously. I still have bitemarks on my thumb.) Towards the end of the story I kinda said goodbye to my makeup with the tears and all (and there was some sniffing around me in the audience too); when the story ended, we all jumped up from our seats and applauded till our palms hurt.
Yeah, the story kinda kicks ass.
Dolores does too.
The story has everything a good Medieval story needs – dragon-slaying, Crusades, jousting, action romance desire, a hero who is quite far from the moony-eyed Medieval ideal („My name is Adventure” - hell yesss!!!), drama, some traveling, and it all makes much more sense than the average minsterel song...
Dolores told me the original poem is quite short, and she had to work on it to fill in the gaps in the story; well, if you ask me, she did a wonderful job. A job a true storyteller would do – take the story where is came from, and play around with it with imagination and creativity, and present it to the audience with grace and wit and the sheer joy of telling. That is why we love her.
Yes, the crone is back too.
I can’t wait for the CD. Till then, I’ll just have to listen to Silence over and over again...

(Nah, she did not pay for this post... in fact, she doesn't even know about it. It's just me being hyper again...)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

So far, so good

So much about determination.
1. I lost the wifi at the gingerbread cottage, so my online time is quite limited...
2. Being here at the ISC is busier than I ever thought (and I'm having fun with it!), so looks like it will take a while to start posting again...
News in short sentences:
1. Storytelling yesterday at the Cranberry Thistle. Amazing, lovely, fun fun fun, lots of good tellers (and me), very supportive audience. Hungarian fairy legend, well received.
2. Dovie left (I keep listening to her CD just to hear her voice...), Dolores arrived, she did her Medieval story today, and rocked the world. She's such a sweet lady.
3. Still in love with Jonesborough. Wanna stay here. Somebody, marry me.
4. Working on storytelling research, digging up archives about the Festival. Lots of fun stuff there.
5. BIG Hungarian storytelling evening coming up tomorrow. Nah, I'm not nervous. At all. Well. Maybe. A bit. But we're gonna have free food...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The girl in the gingerbread cottage

Do you remember the pavilion in the park in Jonesborough, by the mill, where the infamous ghost story concerts are held? Ya know, creek, willow trees, eerie light, old buildings, train, that kind of perfectly creepy storytelling stuff.
Well, in the background of all that, there is a little cottage, with ivy on the porch, white rocking chairs, flowerbeds and bumblebees, and fireflies in the evening; tiny door, tiny windows, rust-colored walls, and all kinds of creaking noises. When you look at it between two haunted tales in a cool October night, you'd definitely believe the cottage is haunted itself. I did too.
Not by ghosts, but by spirits of stories, hundreds of them, and dreams and memories and laughter from many years ago piled up in the corners, awe and delight seeped into the walls, fantasies and colors and the breath of people who lived or visited here or never have been in the town in any form but their tales.
Well, our story starts when, on a warm summer afternoon that was not different from any other, cheerful and relaxed and almost unnoticed, somebody moved into the quiet little cottage.
It was me.

Time-warp, wrap-up, skip hop jump, or: What the heck is going on with this blog?

I can't keep putting it off any longer, no more excuses, no more exams, no more... whatever. I gotta get this blog going, because there are all those lovely friendly story people out there whom I want to share my adventures with...
And adventures I had. If you check back in time, you see I stopped writing in the middle of Sharing the Fire, which means we have lots of tasty stuff coming up, like the rest of StF, Northlands, St. Louis, a workshop with Elizabeth Ellis, and the legendary return to Jonesborough (if you're not familiar with all these, don't worry, just keep reading! I'll give you a clue: It's all about storytelling... you have been warned.)
Because I'm so far behind with writing (lazy, lazy me), I decided to start posting about what's going on right now, and fill in the blanks later. That means you will not only have posts about Jonesborough (where I happen to be right now) after (up up up) from this one, but you'll also have to scroll down (back in time) once in a while and check if I've filled in a chapter or two about the conferences. I hope you can deal with all that, it's gonna be fun!
Sooo... here we go!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sharing the Fire - Campfires, candles, fireworks

Toast with strawberry jam and more familiar faces in the morning cavalcade of colors and voices - what a perfect way to start the second day of the conference! And we had a lovely keynote teller to go with it: Susan Klein. "Storytelling is not for sissies" she said, and we all agreed; the elegant and sassy lady on the stage told us to behave ourselves because we are special, and that's always a good thing to hear. Her wit and humor and wisdom kicked off the first day of workshops and fun...
Did you realize how troublesome it is to choose one and only one workshop from all the amazing topics that are at the same time? Seriously, I spent half of my morning pondering about it.
Finally I ended up in Diane Edgecomb's workshop about Kurdish tales - and it turned out to be the best choice of the morning... The lady with the long braid and the long skirt told us about her amazing adventures and work with Kurdish storytellers, and how her book came to be (and yes I bought the book and it's worth every penny) (penny? I'm still not used to American coins...) She is doing an incredible job with the collecting and publishing and she is just that original kind of wandering storyteller who goes to the other side of the globe to rescue the stories she loves... cheers to her!
For the second round of workshops, I picked Ann Shapiro's workshop of storytelling and literacy, hoping that I'll learn some effective answers to The Question (I know, 42) (nah, not that question): Why hire storytellers in schools? I just see it coming, once I go back home, I'll really need all the training I can get... and Ann is a wonderful teacher. We played some games and we learned some answers, and I had much more confidence about telling in the classroom than before the workshop... yay!
Last round of the day, and I was pondering again - finally my vote went for Rabbi Rachmiel Tobesman (the third good choice of the day - not that I think that any other choices would have been less good...) and his Tales to touch the spirit... And they did. Listening to him telling those amazing stories and talking about how it does not matter what your religion is as long as you can find a message in them that touches your soul - I was thinking all the time "yessss, this is what religion should be about for everyone." He was wise and funny and entertaining, and I spent the whole 90 minutes going "True. Yes. Exactly. Wow."
And so ended the series of workshops for Saturday - and so began the Saturday night OLIO...

Sharing the Fire - The first spark

What a nice name for a storytelling conference, huh? You imagine nice friendly candles, colorful Chinese lanterns, lamps with flickering flames, torches in dark hallways of castles and campfires surrounded by moths and stories...
Well, for me, it was rather like a badass bushfire.

I just finished reading Neil Gaiman's Stradust - the most fascinating part of the whole book is the fairy market at the beginning. All kinds of miracles, people in colorful clothes, elves, goblins, faeries, wizards, flowers, colors, voices, music, stories stories stories...
Well, this is pretty much the same picture as the one that greeted us when we arrived at Crowne Plaza in Nashua, NH. Outside it was a miserable weather with puring rain - inside, well.... inside it was the inside of a very fancy hotel completely taken over by storytellers and so turned upside down. I just arrived to the front desk when I got run over by a whirlwind which was yelling "Csenge weeeeeee" in the voice of Meg Gillman, closely followed by a second, tiny and elegant one, Karen Chace. Felt like coming home.
(*humming* "Csenge got run over by the tellers...")
Check-in, greetings, finding my way across the corridors of the hotel; and then it was time for dinner, cheese and fruits (hey, I'm a college student, I eat whatever is free, and I have no problem refilling my plate). I was handed from teller to teller, introduced to dozens of people, and repeated the story of my life way too many times (although it got shorter and shorter with every telling, sic transit gloria mundi).
And then the fun began. We got some Irish music, and lots of greetings; then we got some storytelling, of course of course, young children of all ages can't go to bed without their bedtime stories...
Said stories were presented to us by five great tellers: Simon Brooks (and he just rocked. Every guy with a bodhrán rocks. Especially when he has a great story to tell), Meredith Bird Miller (fun story well told - we all just love the tales when the animal people can send their eyes out of their sockets), Uncle George Radcliffe (now he is a master, isn't he - he told the Tiger's Whisker from a female point of view, and we didn't care for a second), Jean Armstrong (lovely funny single lady), Roberta Burke (tell me more wonderful tales like that granny!) and finally Cora Jo Ciampi (and hearing her version of Cinderella we all just wanted her to be our Fairy Godmother...).
After applauding till our palms turned red, it was time for the open mike - more stories, more tellers, more fun (I like open mikes because you can never know what you'll hear). And when it was over too, I got introduced to another new person, a guy called Tony Toledo - Karen told me he is completely harmless (next think I know, he scared the hell outta me with the yelling and the jumping up and down - yeah, well, he is a true trickster) and we got invited to the secret storytelling evening meeting, with beer that bit back and pretzels filled with peanut butter, and lots of chatting and laughing and telling stories.
By the time I got back to my room, it was past midnight and my head barely touched the pillow before I passed out...
And so began the 27. Annual Sharing the Fire Storytelling Conference.
And the flames rose high...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Long way from Clare - Irish jam session

“Well, they should be somewhere… back there… at the bar.”

That’s what the waitress answered me at City Steam Café when I jogged in, asking for the Irish Jam Session. I wondered what kind of place can be where a waitress doesn’t know where exactly they have put 15 Irish musicians with full gear…

“Somewhere back there” turned out to be a half-lit small corner behind the bar and the tables crammed with people; I elbowed my way through the crowd and finally arrived to the small but cheerful island of Irish culture, where the jammers were just tuning up to start. Chairs were arranged in a circle; when I found one for myself and sat down to do a quick headcount, I came up with a following list: 3 guitars, 4 accordions, 1 violin, 2 Irish bouzoukis, bones, 1 wooden flute (12 people). When I looked around two minutes later, it was all mixed up and I just gave up the idea of keeping a proper list. Partly because there were new people coming in all through the first hour of jamming (finally there were 16 musicians, plus a baby – “she does the jig”), adding more and more instruments to the band (1 bodhrán, 3 harmonicas, a tin whistle, spoons, guitars, bouzoukis, a double bass and more accordions). I was quite happy to realize that except for the Irish harp and the uilleann pipes all traditional instruments were there for me to watch and listen…

And I listened.

First they just played medleys, one short piece after another; they were talking to each other while playing, and once in a while someone would stop to tune his or her instrument, or switch to another. Somebody went to the bar to order beer (Guinness I guess, judging from its color and the fact that we are talking about Irish musicians…) – the jugs and the glasses were put down in the middle of the circle and finally everything was ready to start…

The group was quite mixed, and people from various places just came to join in; but it did have a leader, and he played no instrument, but he started the songs with clapping and shouting, and he was the lead singer too. Once the jamming started, English and Gaelic songs got added to the program, and it went like this:

Someone (people took turns) would start a melody; then the whole band would join in, paying the same melody over and over again till everyone managed to pick it up and play correctly (sometimes the others would clap to help them adjust to the rhythm – sometimes some of them would even stop playing so the others can hear the bones or the clapping better). When everyone picked it up, they would play the piece for a while before someone came up with a variation or a new song; times like that the leader would point him/her out, and the others would stop playing or quiet down to listen and pick up the new melody, and then it started all over again. Sometimes during a longer piece, the leader would point out someone who would then play a solo (it was usually either an accordion or the flute) while the others continued playing the same tune. There were dozens of variations and solos during a medley (especially because the pub itself was so noisy that sometimes they couldn’t hear each other at all, and the two halves of the circle would start playing two completely different tunes before realizing where the dissonance came from…)

The songs were a completely different matter – someone would ask for one by title, and then the leader (or someone else) would start singing; the others would join in, and some of the instruments would follow, but only as background music – the emphasis was clearly on the words and the act of singing together as loud as possible with human throat and lungs, louder and louder till the final chorus.

Audience participation was limited to say the least (means I was the only one who actually went there just for the jam session) but highly encouraged (means the leader would show me what rhythm to clap, and sign me to join in during the singing too) and extremely enjoyable (means I kept clapping and slapping my tights all through the 3 hours straight – and I have bruises of nice shades of black, blue and green on both of my tights to prove it).

The essence of the jam session was the socializing part. The whole event was totally informal; people would talk, laugh and drink while playing, would pass instruments around, pass the poor baby around, walk away to talk to other people and then come back. They would start playing songs and then agree on something else. There seemed to be some kind of hierarchy in who could decide what to play – I only guessed that because the two youngsters in the group, two high school guys, were only allowed to start a song at the end of the whole 3-hour session (but it was greatly appreciated, and they played very well).

I talked to some of them at the end of the session (by that time they seemed to accept me as some kind of “clapping person”, sitting on the edge of the group and enjoying myself, dangling my legs from the barstool and drumming on the table with a huge grin). They gave me several addresses and dates for other sessions in the Hartford area, including “slow jam” – that means the place where new musicians can pick up the basic tunes and learn how to “Irish jam” (they told me that most of the jammers came from different Irish bands and music groups – means they are professionals – as well as from other jam circles, just like the youngsters who were picked up by the band leader at a high school concert).

All in all, it was a great experience – not only because of the amazing music but also because of the nice little community that gathered to spend an evening together, singing and drinking and making music. Irish music.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Tellers and Tales at Timp - See you on the road

Of course we still had the evening concert to go. But that was only the fun part of it...
The auditorium was full, and once again we experienced all the cheerful people coming in, eager to hear some stories - young children of all ages, as Donald put it. The colorful little bunch of storytellers was sitting in the front left corner, chatting and smiling and sharing the experiences and highlights of the weekend... until the lights went out and it was time to go on stage.
Cherie Davis opened the show, with a personal story about her mother (yes we all wished we knew her, it was such a nice story); then there was Meg Gilman (another personal story, absolutely hilarious and still deep; trademark Meg) and Kate Dudding who showed a piece of that historical storytelling I mentioned earlier (life of Irving Berlin) and then Linda Gorham, aka Lady Attitude (she is such a blur of colors on the stage - and we had such a PaaarTay:) and Jo Radner, elegant as ever, telling about Sir Maxim and his Yankee inventions (wow what a story... and now I feel I'm not supposed to say it was funny, but it was... in an ironic way...)
And then it was my turn to tell a tale; and because I promised it to all the dragon-lovers the day before, I told the story of the Dragon Prince (with the new name the heroine got - she is now calles Kerkenez, little hawk...). It was such a great experience to stand on the stage in front of a full auditorium of people... it really was. I'm getting seriously addicted to it...
And it was David again who had to close the show, and the conference. If I had to summarize the story experience I had during that weekend, I'd say something like "fairy tales will never be the same again"- his Cinder Girl just so rocks. It is really a big deal if someone can make my like a story I was not really fond of before... and he did. "Ashes to ashes, we all fall down..." And he also told a sweet little story about a salt shaker (I doubt I'll ever be able to pass a salt shaker after this without saying hi...).
And suddenly and way too soon the conference was over. It was getting dark outside; people, laughing and chatting, left us in the auditorium. We were happy and wide awake; people hugged each other like family, we took photos, we talked and talked and talked, and exchanged cards and phone numbers and good wishes for the journey home. It was a happy scene; I was already sitting on the plane back to Hartford the next day when I started thinking about what just happened to me.
It was a scene that is thousands of years old - storytellers travel to a place to meet, and tell, and listen; they share their own tales, and spend a day or two together in their own colorful family circle, and then they are on their way again, and one can never know where they came from and where they are going, and when they will show up again...
And it was David who gave me the perfect sentence to close the post and the conference, and start the journey:
"See you on the road."

Tellers and Tales at Timp - Baptism by fire

There are only a handful of better ways to spend an early morning than sitting in a room filled with storytellers, munching on strawberry marzipan muffins, sipping hot chocolate and listening to Donald Davis. Doesn't sound that bad does it?... Especially when he talks about why storytelling is important - scratch that, essential - for human beings and children in particular (yeah, we all love kids).
So this is how my second day started at the Timp Conference. I was much less sleepy and much more nervous (you would have been too if you had to do a workshop after hearing all those performances the day before...) and ready for learning more...
For the first session I chose Nannette Watts' workshop about coaching young storytellers and organizing youth storytelling events. My main reason for that was that I'd like to start something like that when I go back home (I have a whole castle for a setting... seriously), and one has to learn from the pros... and pro she is, with lists and tips and advice and handouts, and lots of games and fun (besides she is a bundle of energy, always moving and moving - yeah, dance major :D - reminds me of a hummingbird). I can't wait till I can try all the games and activities she taught us... (poor kids will be so exhausted XD ). And I also bought her book and it's gonna be very useful (and no she did not pay for this post XD )
Box lunch, enough said, and the show was rolling again: the afternoon performance was by the Resonance Story Theater (aka Wendy, Karla, Nannette and Steffani). They told us in advance that their show was designed for kids - and then they turned us all into laughing and yelling and squeaking 5th graders for almost an hour... there was drumming and singing and lots of funny faces, and a pleasant amount of audience participation... yay!
And there was only one session left. Because Wendy swore that the best workshop of her life was David's The Storyteller's Compass, I asked him if he would let me participate for the first half (of the 3-hour double session). And he did, and he did it with a smile (yay). It was a small and friendly group - the whole thing started out as a game of words and ideas, and soon I realized we were actually learning, no not really learning, discovering new things. David is a good teacher, he lets do draw your own conclusions... I felt a bit sorry I had to leave halfway through, but oh well, I had my own workshop to do...
Really, it's not my task to write odes about my own session... all I can say is that I had fun, enjoyed telling the tales, and... ow this won't work. Okay, one more try.
The whole experience of sitting in a friendly circle with people who came to listen to my tales; who asked me questions even before it started (even the day before) and told me in advance how curious they were; to see their faces and eyes while I was telling my stories, and the way they listened even to the Hungarian parts they could not understand (they could not, but they did, that's what Donald taught us...). It was just plain amazing. I was not nervous, I was not lost in focusing - I just had fun sharing something that is my own with people from halfway around the world...
The stories behaved well enough, Fehérlófia got the best telling I ever had in English so far; I had some surprises though - I'd never realized before that a castle spinning on a duck leg must sound hilariously funny for non-Hungarian people... Well, it was over before I realized it, and... I felt like an official international storyteller who had just presented her workshop at the Timpanogos Storytelling Conference...
What can I say? Yay!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Tellers and Tales at Timp - Taking the plunge

(Keep in mind, this was my first storytelling conference ever. I'm not childish. I'm enthusiastic;)

Remember what I wrote about David Novak and his standing-on-the-head performance? Now, that was not only my first encounter with him, but also the first experience on the conference's first day... and it made my day. He was the keynote teller, talking about standing on the threshold as storytellers (I especially like standing on the threshold of everything... and balancing on it... and swinging on it... and doing cartwheels on it... comes with the trickster nature I guess). The room was filled with people, tellers and listeners alike, and in spite of the jet lag and the sleep deprivation (that created black circles under my eyes to match my black blouse) I felt really awake, and ready to remember everything I hear...
The first workshop I attended was Meg Gilman's: Up Close and Personal, about character connections. It was not only fascinating and useful, but also gave us a new perspective about folktales and fairy tales (the Wicked Witch will never ever be the same again...). And of course, it was great fun. I was working with the Dragon Prince - and thanks to Meg now the heroine has a name, she never had one before. Yay!
Lunch was almost just as fun as all the workshops - sitting, talking, being introduced to more people than I can possibly remember (but they were all very nice), running up and down between tables (Wendy just had to show off my dragon egg - yes I have one, a tiny jade green egg, one of my good luck story charms...). Cookies, apples, sandwiches, and we were off to the next session.
Performance, that is. Debi Richan's My Antonia. Afterwards she told us everyone always asks her about the spinning wheel - but come on, this was the first time I saw a spinning wheel live in use, and I was fascinated... almost as much as by her storytelling. She changed into Antonia in outfit and voice and all the emotions; she was loud and sharp and lovable... and she even told a Czech story I immediately recognized as a version of Belfegor and Monna Onetta, and a couple of Hungarian folktales. And she told it well. Now that I come to think of it, this was the first time I saw historical personification on storytelling stage, and I just love it (goes on the "I have to try it once!" list)
Fired up by My Antonia I went to Kate Dudding's workshop, Voices from the Past to learn more about transforming history and biography into storytelling. Kate is a fountain of knowledge and advice on this topic. Historical storytelling is something new, something different from what I learned at home - I do write historical novels, but I never told them. Maybe I could?... Fun part is, Kate had a lot to say about research, but as I see it now, I will make the whole thing awfully difficult for myself - not many newspaper articles from the 2nd century A.D. Well, we'll see. The workshop started it all...
The last workshop of the day was Donald Davis's It's all in the Medium. The tools of a storyteller and all the ways you can possibly tell a story - and who would know that better than him... (and yes, he sneaked in some stories too, and man were they just great...)
Well, after we had dinner in a nice Greek restaurant, there was nothing left but the Friday evening concert (or, as I called it in myself, the concert of the "big brothers"). The auditorium of the Timpanogos High School filled up by the time we got there; it was amazing to see all the families and people arriving, all cheerful and eager to hear stories, stories and stories...
The tandem teller girls who opened the show were just great (it made me add "try tandem telling" to my list - yeah it's growing and growing...) and hip and sassy and totally professional (I wish we had contests or festivals for young tellers too, makes such a difference if kids can stand on the stage...)
David was great as ever. He had a nice Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story/Pyramus and Thisbe/personal story mix - definitely a 'wow' experience. I like the way he works with myths and fairy tales and the way he mixes them with personal stories and his own telling style; the result is really funny but still deep (means we laughed our heads off but kept thinking about it even days later). And I was especially happy about Pyramus and Thisbe (oh joyful high school days when I was Puck for a whole drama season...).
Donald was funny as ever, with a touch of 'owww how sweet' in the mix (I mean his story. But he's sweet too). As always: all the fun of being a kid, all the weird family members, all the touching moments and yes, all the trouble (trouble is Donald's trademark, after all...) (Wendy kept giggling at me from time to time when I gasped "Nooo, he didn't...." "Yes he did.") It's interesting to see how my attitude changed towards personal stories in the last couple of months since I arrived here; I think I had to learn how to enjoy them. Donald is a great teacher for that...
And the first day was already over before I even realized.
Great luck that we had one more to go...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tellers and Tales at Timp - The Setting

Utah rocks.
(Er... no pun intended. Really.)
When I arrived, it was foggy and all gray, and I could not see the mountains at all, and although people kept telling me they are there, there were so many other things I could actually look at... especially from the top of Hotel Utah, which was downright amazing, and the Salt Lake Temple (very impressive), and than we were in the car on our way to the Orem Public Library, and then I got hit by the next culture shock: the library was just incredible. I wish we had one like that at home. I mean, come on, they have a whole storytelling room!
I was greeted by Janet Low, and when she noticed that I just couldn't keep my eyes off the walls, she smiled and started to tell me the story of James Christensen's storytelling pictures.
I knew it. I so knew it.
I found Once Upon a Time on the web some time ago, and ever since then I have been looking for it; and there it was, it belongs to Timp (or as you might know it, the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival - Timp just sounds so nice and cuddly). And it has a pair, painted for the tenth anniversary, The Flight of the Fablemaker (and now I'll only remember both of them as Tales beyond Timp, and I don't mind at all). I can't wait till the twentieth anniversary, and it's coming up next year... And then there were those beautiful stained glass windows - at that point I wished so badly I had been a kid in Orem. They are all crowded with fairy tale and mythology characters. I walked along them, pointing out the stories I know, and finding new details with every step - it was so much fun!
And then Wendy arrived to pick me up; when we walked out of the building, the sun had already set, and the sky was clear, deep blue, the exact same shade as the dress of the princess on the window, and I finally met the mountains, face to face, drew with thin silver lines against the evening, and they were just wonderful... at that moment I could believe all the elves and faeries in Christensen's pictures.
(And here comes the getting fed part again) By the time the moon rose we were already sitting in a friendly restaurant with all the storytellers and the conference staff, talking and laughing; first we only saw a cloud with silver lining, then the thin crescent of the full moon behind a mountain we could not see; the talking and laughing paused for a minute as we all watched the beautiful scene. For me, it marked the beginning of a weekend of wonders.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tellers and Tales at Timp - The Cast

First and foremost and above all, there was Wendy. My personal Wendy straight from Neverland, with her smile and her stories, and her amazing family. She picked me up at the library (see Setting later on), and we talked out way through the whole weekend without ever getting bored... (that means expect that there will be lots of "Wendy this and Wendy that" in later chapters;)
Then, there were the big brothers, or the "rock stars" as Wendy's husband called them - Donald Davis and David Novak.
"Oh my God, I'm presenting a workshop at the same conference as Donald Davis." (Yeah I know, one of those things you know for half a year and realize them when you are already there). I already knew who he was, oh I did. He is the guy from Jonesborough with the bow tie and the smile and all those funny and touching family stories, I do remember (how could I forget anything that happened in Jonesborough?...). And then there he was, waving at me from the table when we entered the restaurant the first evening (just off the plane I felt myself a tad unprepared for a place where you have your own menu card and half of it is in French, but oh well, everyone was sooo friendly anyway). During the two days of the conference, he was here and there and everywhere, as you'll soon read, and I found myself waiting for the next story he had...
When I first saw David, he was standing on his head, telling the Maori myth of Papa and Rangi.
And now I'm seriously thinking if I need to say anything more...
Yes I do.
He is the myth-and-personal-mix kinda storyteller, the laugh-your-head-off kinda storyteller, the wow-he-has-a-point kinda storyteller, the this-is-my-version kinda storyteller; the one who was happy to chat about Gilgamesh at the dinner table (yeah, rare treat for me... first of that kind) and makes you like a story you... well, did not like at all... (in case you are wondering, I'm talking about Cinderella, but again, I'll get back to the stories later on)
And then there were The Storytellers who were all around, colorful and smiling and chatting and hugging me randomly like the little sister of an amazing family (little sister for sure. To quote the emcee: "She is young..."). Meg Gilman (with her "you are gonna hate me" workshop and her laugh that made sure we were gonna love her), Kate Dudding (aka living fountain of historical knowledge), Nannette, Steffani and Karla (aka Resonance Story Theater, together with Wendy a nice bundle of fun and smiles that made sure everyone felt like 5 again...), Debi Richan (who gave us one of the best performances of the weekend and lots of laughing) Jo Radner (the always so elegant walking (hi)story book with the mischievous Yankee smile) Linda Gorham (aka Lady Attitude with the strong happy voice) Teresa (fellow blogger, yay!) and Cherie (another one you can't ever see not smiling).
And there were all the story lovers and listeners, those who make the conference roll, and those who arranged everything and fed us (yeah, the feeding part again, I know I'm impossible when it comes to food sorry) and guided us and made sure we had just as much fun as the audience...
And now I spent most of the evening going hyper over all the conference memories, that's enough for a start.
Next chapter coming up soon...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tellers and Tales at Timp - Teaser Trailer

Ta-daaah! I'm home from the Timpanogos Storytelling Conference.
4 days. 2500 miles. 5 workshops. 2 concerts. 15 storytellers.
Too many moments of pure fun to count.
Too few days to come home without wishing I could stay more. (A lot more)
Way too many adventures to include in one blog post.
Way too few hours of sleep in the last week.
Title says it all.
I have been running on pure enthusiasm (or pure Glamour, for those who know what I mean...), and it was more than enough for the way to Utah, the two days of conference and all the way back, with an additional couple of weeks of aftermath for sure. I met wonderful people from all over the United States, I heard incredible stories, learned more than I can recount without a list that rolls all the way down to the floor, got fed like a queen (yes, for a college student with weekly menu of pizza and chili, getting fed in those great restaurants does count), oh and did I mention the stories and the storytellers?...
(Yes I know I did)
Details coming soon.
(Insert movie preview music here...)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ready, steady...

Three days to the Timpanogos conference. I'm getting a tad nervous here. And very, very, very excited.
Yes, the poll is closed, thanks for the voting to everyone who did! The result came out quite interesting. Especially because the same questions on my Hungarian blog came out with an entirely different order...
(And none of them has anything to do with the program I finally put together, but oh well, it's still good to know what people think... and it can count as an anthropological research of people's interest in folktales from other cultures - even though some individuals voted more than once for the sake of their favorite stories... cheers to them!)
The Fairy section's winner is The Secret of the fairy lake - one of my favorites, that is. Good choice, good choice. Looks like English-speaking readers prefer happy ends over doom and gloom (just so you know, Hungarians voted for the Fairy of the Hany. Everybody dies...)
The Castle legends section was a close race between Beckó and the Castle made of salt - I love both, Beckó being one of the tales my father had to tell me over and over again when I was a kid. Still, I chose Bátorkő for the program, wanna know why? It's both a castle legend and a Mátyás tale, and because our favorite trickster king just won the third poll, I decided to put them together, so I can tell one more story... (oh my god, the program will be so crammed with all kind of great tidbits of Hungarian folklore... I'll really have to try hard not to run overtime...)
I need guinea pigs to time it before Thursday. *Goes to drag her friends to a quiet corner for an hour of storytelling...*
So I'm almost ready for the first storytelling conference of my life...
Wish me luck!

The crazy girl with the camera

The collective thoughts of all the Trinity students who saw me on campus during last week:
"Oh. My. God. It's freezing out here... and I thought it was warm when I looked out the window, it's so beautiful, the sun is shining, there is not a single cloud on the sky, gee, I can't feel my nose and fingers... hey, what the heck is that girl doing on that tree?
Whoa, she is nuts. Look, she is climbing up the tree. And she is talking to herself... hey, isn't she one of those European students, now where are they from, Czechoslovakia?... er, no, Poland?... that's it, Hungary. But why on earth is she out there in this weather? Come on, I can see my breath...
Look, she is not talking to herself, she is talking to that camera. Oh, I got it, she is shooting a video of herself. Wow, ten more seconds and I'll be frozen solid... c'mon, let's go."
Or something along these lines.
Yes, it was kinda cold. Kinda below zero. Fahrenheit, I mean. That's why I like Celsius better... of course I had no idea it was that cold when I started my quest/mission/crazy afternoon to shoot an introduction video for an internship.
So most of the afternoons people could see me walking around the cathedral, sitting on a bench, climbing up somewhere, lying on my stomach trying to prop up the camera in the right angle, hanging upside-down from a tree (poor tree) (just kidding, no trees were harmed during the shooting of my video, I swear), talking talking talking to myself. And freezing to the point of numb fingers and very painful melting process afterwards (did you ever wash your hands in warm water after they were totally numbed by cold? Hurts like hell). I just hoped the camera would bear the weather better than I did...
It's not as easy as it sounds (does it sound easy? I wonder...). When I have time I'll put a second video together (the first one, by the way, I mean the one I put together with three days of work and several Windows Movie Maker bashing, is kinda cool) - I should preserve all the bloopers, like the one when I noticed after 15 minutes of talking that the wind just blew my gloves in front of the camera, or when I prepared for the speech of the year and then the church bells went off above my head... or the laughing fits I had, totally alone in the middle of the campus (it's a good thing I was alone, otherwise people might have thought I was... well, high).
But it was absolutely worth it. I never thought I would enjoy watching myself on video (my family is rather the taking-photos kind), or making a video, or cutting the video (till 3 o'clock in the morning when my eyes were tiny and red) - but here I am, ta-da, and hopefully soon I'll be able to upload it to this very blog too (let's hope for the best, because the uploading speed here is just scandalous).
One thing I've learned: ideal lighting and weather does not mean you won't catch a bad cold while filming the movie of your life out there...
Well, whatever.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Little museum of friendly medical horrors...

(Vote vote vote! One week left!)

(It's about time to start the final project for the Museum Studies course... we need to pick an exhibition and dig deep into the background of how it came to be... interesting enough :) Here is the first scouting report...)

Just got back from the museum… it was an unusual experience… weird in a positive way. Judging from the information on their website, I was expecting something strictly arranged and accurately labeled, with white walls and… people?
Well, it started out with the taxi driver not even knowing what I was talking about… but we managed to find the place before we left the city completely. That’s a good start.
The door was locked; when I started making noise with the doorknob, I could see a lady appear on the other side of the small window, with utter shock on her face, and a wonder-like expression of surprise. I found out the reason soon enough: according to the guest book right next to the door, I was the first visitor in two weeks…
Good news is I had the whole place all for myself, and all the time in the world to wonder around. Bad news is, it turned out they were actually about to take the whole exhibition apart for good…
I started walking around in the first hall, looking at the showcases; I found them very interesting, and spent an awful lot of time reading the labels and the stories next to the objects; laughing out loud at the surgeon’s biography who was “the fastest man with a knife in England” (25 seconds for a leg amputation in 1846, no kidding) and getting somewhat sick watching all the horrible instruments the doctors used 200 years ago… ("Where would they stick that? *reads label* "WHAT?! Urgh, NO WAY!... Eeeew...")
And now comes the question, why on Earth did I choose this museum for a field trip. Well, I’ve always liked medical history (maybe because half of my family consists of doctors, and I grew up in my grandparents’ offices playing with medical stuff and writing “recipes” for the teddy bears) (no, no autopsy); I’m also writing my Archeology thesis on Roman medicine and surgery. And I needed to find a museum within Hartford - without a car I can’t get around so easily, and I know the final project would require a lot of time spent in the actual museum I choose… so this was the most interesting among all the museums listed on the Internet.
When I was finished with the first hall (that is, the most arranged and nicely done part of the exhibition), I moved through a narrow hallway (crammed with medical kits and bags and huge boxes with really old microscopes) to the Bicentennial Room. It was arranged in 1976 (from the collection of medical instruments between 1776 and 1976), and it shows the signs of the beginning stage of chaos. I was somewhat surprised to see many artifacts here and there without a glass case or any kind of protection (maybe because I was the once in a blue moon visitor from whom they should be protected – not that I’d touch them anyway). The clear concept of their arrangement was lost, themes were mixed up; the only coherent part was the case in the middle of the room, with 17th century manuscripts in it.
Moving to the next room, I found a couple of dentist’s chairs set up with all the cupboards and medical kits around (there was a green teddy bear and a plush frog sitting in one of them). It was even more crowded with stuff than the one before, and I needed quite a long time to look around and register every detail before moving on.
When I ran out of rooms, and accidentally walked on into an office that looked like a crossover between a library and a storeroom, I finally realized the exhibition was over… backing out of the office, I met two ladies who were very friendly and asked me if I’ve met George. When my answer was no, they led me back into the office (that turned out to be an actual storeroom which looked like a crossover between an office and a library…) and introduced me to a skeleton… turns out George was an actual human being… a long time ago… and was found in some other museum’s or society’s back room, and bought by someone who started the HMS.
After getting to know George, I got to know the living crew of the nice tiny chaotic museum – who soon informed me that they were about to take said place apart, sell and give away most of it, and transfer the rest to UConn. I was a bit disappointed… but when I told them about the project, they got more excited than me, and assured me that I was most welcome to dig into their archives and whatever I’m interested in, if I’m not bothered by the fact that the exhibition is being taken apart above my head… and I don’t think I am.
In the meantime a photographer broke down the door and strolled in with huge bags, and then came the next surprise: the museum has three gigantic volumes of a really old medical dictionary that used to belong to Mark Twain himself – he even wrote a short story based on them, and they are full of notes and newspaper clippings… fun part is, the Mark Twain House does not want them (he himself did not want them, that’s how they got passed down to a doctor who donated them to the Society). So the photographer came to take digital pictures of them, and then there was the four of us, chatting and turning the pages of the rare historical artifacts (i.e. the books) enjoying the fact that we were allowed to touch something Mark Twain touched too… they were really old, the books, Mr. Clemens says (writes) they were confiscated from a Southern physician in the Civil War. How cool is that.
Well, that’s it for now; I got business cards from the museum crew (except for George, who was quite reserved) and left the place, plans of invasion already forming in my head…

Friday, February 1, 2008

Live from Downtown Atlantis

(Just one of those titles: "Why didn't I come up with this?!" It's really a pity, because it kicks ass)

(By the way: Voting. Stories. Please. Enough said)

Mandatory concert for the World Music class: Mixashawn came to Trinity. Why is it that the word "mandatory" makes everything sound like a pain in... erhm, yes. But this is not the case with Mixashawn. Oh, not at all.
The only thing we were told was that we are going to hear some Native American music, so we were more or less prepared for that experience. Well, after the first 2 seconds (or rather, after seeing the instruments) we could throw that concept out the window. And we didn't mind at all (although I really don't have any problems with Native American music;)
He played the saxophone (and blasted my ears out - that's what I get for being a good girl and sitting in the front row), he played the flute (oh I just love that sound), he played the birimbao (which, dear Dr. Bones, is not a small kind of flute - come on, not even a wind instrument), he had rattles and a drum, and bells on his ankle, and the most amazing voice that makes the glass in the windows resonate. He told some stories, he told us bits about music and history, and sometimes he switched to poetry before we even noticed.
It was modern and ancient and very very interesting (really, I mean it), it was jazz and blues and rock and some griot tradition in the mix, and Native chants or sounds too, and he made us all sing with him, and clap, and turned music history upside down.
We had a great time; it was nothing we expected, and it was so much more.
It's all about the waves.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lunch at the International Table

(Stories. Voting. Polls to the left. January 19. You know the rest ;)

Another thing I would like to put in my pocket and take home with me: language tables in the diner. Turns out we have Tavola Italiana and Mesa Espanol and however it's called in German. Spanish should be the biggest and most popular - but it looks like students around here don't want to torture their brains with foreign languages outside class, let alone during lunch. In a totally packed, crowded, crazy diner the only table with empty chairs is the Mesa Espanol. Not that I mind.
All the international students (who have no choice but to torture their brains with English every day during meals and everywhere else... so switching to Spanish or Italian or German doesn't really make a difference) gather around these small islands of food, friendship and fun. Today it was our dear teacher from Bulgaria, two girls from China, two of us from Hungary and another teacher from Spain.
The conversation is lively and multicolored - one Chinese girl does not speak Spanish but speaks French, Dani does not speak Spanish but speaks Italian, the two of us speak Hungarian, the girls speak Chinese, and when we have absolutely no idea what the others are saying, we switch back to English.
Sounds like Babel? You bet! And it's more fun than any other thing you could do during lunchtime.
I really, really don't get it why the American students avoid the language tables. The people are nice, helpful, and they wait patiently till you put a sentence together (maybe because they are munching their lunch); we talk about classes, movies, our homes, our family (so it's not like you have to follow a deep conversation about philosophy or politics in a second... third... fourth... language). We laugh a lot, and get lost in grammar and tenses and sometimes we mix up everything within one single sentence. But hey, it's part of the game!
In my opinion this is the ultimate way to learn a language.
(No no no I just can't close the post with that sentence. Urgh. Go again.)
Those American students have no idea what they are missing!

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Scrapbook Tradition

(You know, you know: the voting for stories is still on, polls to the left, story synopsis and further explanation under January 19th, or click right here)

I finally remembered to look up the correct definition of "scrapbook" in the dictionary.
I definitely like the idea.
Wherever I go I keep picking up all kinds of stuff, fliers, brochures, freebies, postcards, whatever; I tend to keep tickets and receipts... not to mention the photos I take, and the notes I scribble on the back of all the above mentioned stuff. I still have the rather worn out tiny red notebook with half sentences and fragments from my first trip to Rome, containing all kinds of valuable information (for example: "spiderweb on the Laocoon statue..." or "small oranges in the Palatine gardens - not edible..." and "lizard on Vicus Tuscus, dark green").
Problem is, as soon as I get home after these trips, I have to start composing a "normal" travel journal immediately, otherwise I forget the meaning of half of the notes... (I still can't decipher "Ostia, 6 hours... we are totally nuts" er... why would anyone be nuts who spends any time in Ostia?...)
Yesterday I decided it was time to start the semester officially with cleaning up my room. So I spent my afternoon sitting on the floor with an incredible pile of notes and fliers and papers, sorting through them, and putting scrapbook material into a separate box (a rather huge box, that is).
I think unconsciously I have been doing the scrapbook project all my life, I just didn't put it together. Now I will.
(*imagines grandchildren turning the pages of an enormous book and Granny Csenge saying "Well, that was my boarding pass on my first flight to the US..."*)

Semester of Independence

(The voting for stories is still on, polls to the left, story synopsis and further explanation under January 19th, or click right here) (and yep, I'm gonna keep repeating it till the end of February...)

One of the (many) things I definitely wanted to try while at an American college is doing an Independent Study. The whole idea is quite new to me (project, independent work, making my own schedule, being creative, coming up with ideas, and of course our favorite can-do spirit... nobody takes a single step without it), so I kept nagging teachers and students and other random people till I found out how to start...
And here I am.
The Role of Storytellers in Traditional Communities
(What, you thought I wanted to do an I.S. on Applied Mathematics?...) (er...seriously, where did you get that idea?...)
It's gonna be so much fun!
Well, maybe I went a bit hyper on my mentor: we (I) decided I'll write 3 shorter research papers on 3 different cultures, following the same list of questions. After almost 5 whole minutes of thinking, I came up with 2 of the topics: the griot tradition of West Africa, and the Irish bards (*eyes go pink and heart-shaped*) (er, sorry). I'm still not sure about the third one though (or even whether I, being a mortal human being who needs sleep once in a while, would have time to write three, or should drop the idea of the third...). Right now I'm getting interested in Chinese storytelling... (I came across a nice book about it while browsing the library shelves, looking for the Romance of the Three Kingdoms - one of those books that you start reading and the words just echo in your head... and just talking about those books I suddenly feel the itch to read Water Margin again... not to mention my best friend Sun the Monkey King... oops I got distracted)
So... yeah. Chinese might be the third one.
(And one day I will become a real traveling storyteller and visit all the places I read about... and then I will definitely have to visit a storytelling school in China) (sorry, distracted again, hehe).
Anyway. I thought I would be well off with making my own schedule... but I realized I have to make myself read and get the work done, and I can be more annoying than I thought... I'll get used to it, I guess. I started a new notebook for the notes (it's pink, blah. But this was the only one I could get), and created a pretty two-page syllabus (so funny, at home college teachers don't even know what a syllabus is, but now I can't live without it...) Now all that is left is to start doing my homework...
I just don't know whether the huuuge pile of Griot and African Folklore books on my table is the fault of the "teacher-me" or the "hyper-student-me"... eh, whatever.
Let the fun begin.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lost in fine arts and lost again

I still have winter break adventures I haven't shared with you! (Nope, I have 24 hours in a day just like any other mortal - I'm just too curious to rest. Sleeping is for home; when I'm on a journey, my schedule is usually full from dawn till dusk - and God help anyone who decides to keep up with me...) So, here is another episode:
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
(Digging in my new scrap... scrapbox, I guess, I just found the stuff I bought there. Having lots of friends has the strange side-effect that every time I'm "somewhere else", I find stuff that just cries "She/he would love me!" and so it happens that I end up buying small surprises everywhere, and now I'm starting to get worried about going home with all those boxes and bags... not that I mind)
We knew that we need a full day for it. In fact, we even knew that one day won't be enough. But we tried anyway.
Have I told you that I can get lost in museums? In two ways:
1. I just so enjoy walking through exhibitions and reading labels and admiring artifacts that I forget about time and reality, and
2. I can actually get lost in museums. Totally. No kidding.
Both of them happened in the MFA.
We started with Ancient Near East, hoping that somewhere in the labyrinth of the museum we will reach Greek and Roman Antiquity and then some Middle Ages... but I've never thought they had this much Egyptian stuff. Not that I mind (*I heart Archeology*), but still, after a while it was weird - if I had to summarize the MFA in one sentence, I'd say "Egypt! (and the rest of the history of humankind, by the way)"
And now I could get started on Greek vases (and parents who intend to give their kids some early history education "Look, sweetie, that is a... er, no, don't look!") and Roman mosaics (some muffled squeaks from me, hands on mouth, and eyes go pink and heart-shaped again) and Renaissance paintings and Chinese furniture and Japanese prints (the Far East collection is the most amazing part of the whole museum - and also the one where we hardly met any people... I don't get it) and modern jewelry and African masks and that amazing map from Oceania and the touch-screen computer in the Ancient America exhibition (it looked like something from Star Wars, and we spent quite a few minutes playing with the images)...
...but then this post would be so long that no one would read it... (I wonder how many people read blogs, and who reads it frequently and who stumbles upon it via Google... and now I got distracted again).
The museum is amazing. Really.
And really easy to get lost in (even with the maps they gave us).
The problem is, there is a limit of time and effort, and if you cross that limit and continue walking around after a while you start to feel dizzy and your feet start to hurt and you are like "Another room of paintings, oh joy". We crossed that limit somewhere after 6 and a half hours... (including lunch in the museum café, with a menu that beats native speakers' English, not to mention mine...) (maybe because it was actually in French... who knows).
But the first 6 hours were just bliss.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Stories under the full moon

(The voting for stories is still on, polls to the left, story synopsis and further explanation under January 19th, or click right here)

The blinding silver light of the full moon accompanied me once again to the Hither and Yon meeting.
Nope, no fancy story talk this time - I just realized that somehow we managed to schedule every single storytelling meeting for nights of the full moon (yeah, I know, prepare those silver bullets). Not that I mind, not at all.
I also just realized that I haven't mentioned Hither and Yon before... which is rather shocking, because this was the fourth evening I spent with this great little group of storytellers.
If we lived in the Middle Ages, this would be a way more cool, with a campfire and the wind singing in the trees, and stars and the full moon, and weird people in colorful clothes gathering, arriving from the shadows to tell a story and then be on their way again, and we'd probably freeze our... everything off, because it's just so unfairly cold tonight. Ah, anyway. What was I going to say?
Oh yes, Hither and Yon. Even though in these lazy modern times you just find storytellers sitting in a warm, cozy room munching chocolate and sipping tea, it still has its ancient magic.
And there are countless useful things one can hear about at these meetings.
Oh yes. Very very useful things.
For example, today I heard about a king who "collected stuff", and then gave it all away (for a quilt, that is); I heard about a blacksmith, and a doll made of iron that could breath, and bled when cut (how cool is that); I heard about a leaf of the Tree of Knowledge that was blown away from Eden (nope, they didn't smoke it); and a cottonwood tree that learned to walk (I'd so like the cherries to learn that trick).
I picked up a lot of other stuff too along the road. For example... well, tidbits and shiny colorful nothings, such as hints of Japanese, and charms to rescue a changeling, books I must read one day, and 5 or 6 ways to become a real werewolf (from being born as one, which I think I missed out, to being rubbed from head to toe in boiled dead cat - so much about picking stuff up along the road...) (nope, I didn't try) (but hey, it would a creative way of recycling roadkill), and also the fact that sniffing around in Carol's garden for some legendary fruit can be an official part of a storyteller meeting...
I also add my own part to the meetings; today it was The Castle Made of Salt, and a handful of Hungarian Christmas candy; on other meetings, it was other stories and the fact that I tend to listen with eyes wide open, holding my breath, which can really motivate a storyteller (or just creeps her out).
Today I also discovered that someone wrote about me in the newsletter of the Connecticut Storytelling Center (and that really made my day). One of my friends from back home was musing about that "completely unknown part of the universe that is the storytelling world" just this afternoon, and it kinda made me feel like I was a free mason or something.
So, weird people in colorful clothes appeared under the full moon, they met, told their stories, talked about all kinds of everyday magic, and then they went on their different ways, carrying on their tongues a couple of new tales, and the taste of Christmas candy and jasmine tea.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Vote for stories, please!

The conferences are coming up! Oh my god, I just realized that Timpanogos is just a month from now! I should be working on my showcase... problem is, I still haven't decided which Hungarian tales to tell. There are too many to choose from, even among my favorites...
(What conferences?... Timpanogos, Northlands, Sharing the Fire. Three great storytelling events, where I will be presenting my showcase called The Land of Dragon Riders. It's about Hungarian folk and fairy tales. It's gonna be so great! Once I decide which stories to tell, that is...)
It's not like I have no idea what to tell. Quite the contrary. I have lots of different versions... I just can't pick one.
So, here is my dilemma. I already know two stories for sure, I just need to pick the other three. I have several options. I designed three polls, you will see why if you keep reading.
Now I need you all to help me and decide what you would like to hear!

I definitely want to include one legend about Hungarian fairies. Here are my Top 4 favorites:
1. The Secret of the Fairy Lake (Legend says the lake in the woods has magical powers; it can make anyone beautiful like the stars of the sky. What happens when a shy young girl, mocked by all the others, decides to go any try? Even if she can't swim...)
2. The Fairy of the Hany (Bittersweet legend; love between a mortal and a fae of the marsh, who can only be together during the summer. What happens when he chooses a mortal bride instead?)
3. The Legend of the Water Lilies (The fairies are leaving our world; the cruelty of mortals and the sound of church bells chased them away. But there is one young girl who would like to stay... can she?)
4. The Fairy Castle of Backa (Times are changing; church bells ring out loud; the fairy folk is preparing to leave. What happens when they don't want to give up their castle? Can they stand and fight?)

I also would like to include a castle legend (one of the hundreds we have... because I just love castles, and every one of them has at least one story...)
1. Beckó (I grew up on this story. A smart jester, a cruel lord, a castle built on a dangerous rock; and the fate of the lord whose people died, building his castle...)
2. Bátorkő (Another smart jester, who became a thief, and now has to come up with something very clever is he wants to avoid the gallows... love, intrigue, adventure)
3. Rezi (A princess who cannot leave her bed; a brave young prince; a wise woman, a prophecy, and the mysterious healing springs...)
4. Castle made of Salt (the last Queen of the Avar people; a castle made of salt; witchcraft, fate, a young hero, a magic sword, and a battle between fairies both good and evil...)
5. Eger (this is history, not legend; the siege of Eger in 1552 - the mighty Turkish army of 70.000 and a small castle with 2000 brave men and women to hold it...) (yeah, like Helm's Deep, except that this one is true and a hundred times better :D )

And I still need to pick one more. I'm not even sure about the type. So, here are some options...
1. A story about King Mátyás, our favorite trickster king (*apologetic glance towards all serious Hungarian historians*)
2. A legend of a Hungarian saint (the princess of the roses, or the brave knight king's duel with the evil warrior)
3. A Gypsy story
4. A fairy tale from a Hungarian author
5. One of the various legends of the Lake Balaton (water fairies, wizards of the forest, princesses, curses and heroes...)
6. One of the legends about the origin of the Hungarians (they are rather long, they need to be cut)

So... the polls can be seen on the left. Vote vote vote :) Please. Thanks!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Meeting the Fox People

(There is only one place missing from my unofficial and random Top 3 list; I think it would be this one. I really don't like setting an order between them. But I'm sure that if someone asked me "And what did you do over the winter break?" I'd say something like "Oh, LOTS of things. I stayed with a very nice family; they took me to all kinds of interesting places, it was so much fun! We even visited an Indian reservation..." And so it was.)

I always knew I just can't leave the US without visiting at least one Indian reservation. If I had to choose my favorite folktales, Native American stories would be among them... and I was just curious beyond measure. More than ever, after hearing Dovie Thomason and Gene Tagaban at the National Storytelling Festival. I wanted to know more about the First People, because I know that what I know now is close to nothing (except for the stories, of course. My latest favorite is Coyote and the Anthropologist, because it's so true... out dear Coyote's bringing down the folklore department... tricksters tricksters tricksters). Gail, of course, soon got to know all my interests, and she came up with another surprise.
Trickster Tales in the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. Do I have to say more?...
(They call themselves the Fox People. Now isn't that just cool?:)
The first thing you see at the reservation is the casino. Because it's just HUGE. According to Gail, it looks like the Emerald City - she has a point. It's definitely bigger than the royal palace at home (nope, we don't have kings anymore in case you wondered...:). I'm not really interested in casinos (and the only form of shopping I pursue is shopping for books), so we just passed it on our way, huge, shiny, modern, fancy, great, so much about the casino.
The rest of the reservation was quiet, the sky was gray, the weather was dull, and it was half-raining, with patches of fog between the pine trees. The woods were deep and green-and-brown, smelled like pine needles and rain. It must have been such a wonderful place before the roads and... well, white people and modern stuff (and the casino. Okay, I admit it, I hate casinos, sorry) (random humming "Hate is a strong word, but I really really don't like...") (no worries, sometimes I just start thinking in lyrics out of the blue, you'll get used to it...)
The museum itself was much more quiet (surprise surprise), a nice modern building with glass walls and a tower. And the exhibition itself... whoa.
They told us it usually takes 3-5 hours for an average visitor to go through the whole exhibition (if he doesn't stop to read everything word by word). We somehow jogged through it in 2; we just didn't want to miss the storytelling...
First we had to go downstairs, back to the Ice Age, with white and dripping walls and all kinds of wild animals (huge wolves, yay:), and a reindeer hunt scene in the middle of the hall. Scientific or not, I decided I love dioramas (we have very few of them at home; museum people think they are not... professional... or whatever... enough.) I did not have the time to read all the info, but I couldn't miss touching everything that was there to touch, stone weapons, furs, everything. They did a very good job on the natural background too. And then there was that place where stone age tools and weapons were in pairs with their modern equivalents - fun fun fun. Goes on the list of good ideas (preparing for next semester's Museum Exhibition course, hah).
And then (and then, and then, and then... I could go on like this for days, insert 5-year-old me hopping on one leg up and down cheerfully...) there was the best part of the whole exhibition: in a big hall they set up a full Pequot village, with wigwams and a lake and a small fort and people all around (they looked like they would start moving any moment; very realistic). There were huge trees and animals and... really, everything. People eating, fishing, making tools, sleeping, tending the crops, women weaving, shaman healing... it made it so easy to imagine how life went back in those times. And even though I am not familiar with Native history, I saw lots of familiar things (ghosts of long past Prehistory classes came back to haunt me... not that I mind, professor, really ;) It was one of those walking back in time experiences which make the heart of a storyteller beat faster (and make her grin like crazy). They did an excellent job with the diorama, and the additional rooms of further information, the videos, the computers where one could listen to the Native languages (oh my god, those sounds... and I thought Hungarians were cool with the gy and the ű...) and of course, all the artifacts.
I think mortals like me have to go back there more than once just to go through the whole thing (or at least spend a full day in the museum). It's really, really worth it.
They even have a movie about the Pequot war, if it was longer it could be a "real movie", I mean, played in theaters. It's bloody and cruel and... well, history. "And then white people came." Not many cheerful stories start with this sentence... I was somewhat shocked to learn that the Mohegans of Granny Squannit sided with the English. The whole war started out as a personal offense, and ended with a nasty massacre... the movie was great, Native people spoke their language, the actors did well, the costumes were nice, and the main character... well, he had a beautiful face;) All in all they did a great job with it too, just like with the rest of the museum (which is now officially one of the places I would like to show to some people at home: "Now this is how it should be done.")
And we made it back to the main hall just in time for the storytelling.
The guest teller that day was Johnny Moses (his traditional name is Whis.stem.men.knee - Walking Medicine Robe); a fragile small man with a cheerful smile and face and gestures that can show you anything in a story. The program promised us tricksters, and tricksters we did get - he was one himself, for a start. He was funny and lively, and so were his stories; Coyote vs the great rock, and Octopus Woman vs Crow, and Ant vs Bear, and the kids all just loved them all (especially the gross parts - oh yes, every trickster tale has a gross part... at least one;). He speaks lots of languages, it was so much fun to hear him talk... well, he is a real storyteller, heart and soul and all. I realized again that I have so much to learn...
And of course I couldn't leave the museum without buying some small stuff for my Story Bag (a shell; an obsidian arrowhead; a small stone with the sing of the Otter, my other favorite animal next to the butterfly).
Before we left, we went up to the tower to look around - unfortunately the weather decided to get worse, and there was a heavy fog hanging above the woods and the hills, so even though with windows all around, it was like standing in an empty room with white walls... which of course did not keep me from pressing my nose against the glass and staring at the deep green ghosts of the trees below.

Magic on Wings

(A couple of days before the Friendship of Salem, and close behind it on my Top 3 list)

Remember Gail? I told you about her when I wrote about the Tellabration. (You don't? My my, someone skipped entries from earlier... never mind, you can still go back and read;) She was so kind to invite me over for Christmas break! The next couple of entries will be mainly about our adventures together, and the stories we shared... (don't worry, I'm not writing anything personal, I promised in one of my first posts...) (go back and read again ;)
This one is about my birthday gift from her and her husband Steve.
(Yeah, I am one of those "Happy New Year! Oh, and happy birthday, by the way" babies...;)
They didn't really tell me where we were going, and I didn't really ask; I was happy sitting in the car, watching the road and the woods and the towns and everything I could see through the window. We were talking, about stories and storytellers, and places we visited or wanted to visit, and New England in general.
When we stopped I still did not know where we were; we got out of the car, and that was when I saw the sign: Magic Wings, Butterfly Conservatory. And I was close to squeaking again.
(Check the top left corner)
If I have any kind of spirit animal, animal symbol, nature soul or whatever, I am 100% sure it's the butterfly. It's about the colors, the changing, the moving, the flying (even the whirlwind, which must be a close relative of mine...) and all kinds of things that are just... me. Plus that huge butterfly story and legend collection I have. I just admire them. (I'd write "I just sooo love them, they are so cuuuute..." but that just feels plain wrong XD Hello Kitty mode off.)
At first I didn't even know what a butterfly conservatory is. I was more than happy to discover that inside it was a huge garden, open to people, full of plants and flowers and live butterflies (I can't stand the ones stabbed to death and behind glass). Now that I think of it I think I was actually jumping up and down, and laughing.
The whole place is like a fairy garden. You walk in, and before you realize what's happening, something orange and light as a flower petal flutters in front of your nose and then flies away; and then what seemed to be a quiet garden at first sight starts moving, and in mere seconds fills up with butterflies of all color and shape. They were all over the place, sipping nectar, and resting on the plants. First you only see the small ones, with transparent wings, or black and blue patterns, and the orange ones that just loved my orange purse (I bet they thought it was a kick-ass big guy), then from the corner of your eye you catch something huge and blue and lazy, like a tipsy big flower, flying around your knees, and your jaw drops in awe (they were so shy, those blue ones. The instant they landed, they closed up, and gave us the ugly brownish back of their wings. They just didn't like being photographed.) I was wandering around, taking pictures, whispering "aaah" and "oooh" and "wooow", bumping into other people in the process (who were fortunately doing the same) (except for the kids, who were running around... well, chasing butterflies) (even though they had strict rules against molesting the butterflies, some of them looked somewhat... exhausted). I couldn't sit still long enough for them to settle on me (one sat on my head though, for a few seconds). I tried, I really tried, but there was too much to see, so after all it was Steve and not me who managed to attract a big blue one. It sat on his leg, and closed up, then shrugged (well, I didn't really see it shrug, but I'm sure it did) (eternal love to Mr. Kipling for The Butterfly that Stomped) and opened up, and it was shiny bright blue, and a little bit tired, and I took lots of pictures before it flew away.
There is a Native American tale about The Butterfly Man; he is red and black and huge and has wings like velvet, and he lures you away from you family, and you have to hold onto his belt as he leads you to his home; and he leads you across a valley, full of other butterflies, all colors and shapes, and if you raise your head and look around, and let go of him to catch another one, you are lost forever, chasing butterflies in the valley till you drop.

(Okay, let's do justice to the tale: it's called Tolowim-Woman and the Butterfly Man, and read the original one in the book called The Inland Whale by Theodora Kroebel, because it's amazing and beautiful.)

Big ships first

(It's gonna be totally random. I could go over the whole thing in chronological order, but usually when people ask you about a period of time when at least three amazing things happened every day, you tend to pick out the Best Of category first. So here is one of my Top 3 experiences over the winter break)

Two storytellers got into a car and went to Boston. And after two days of exploring Boston (Appreciate the adventure. Two words: Minus. Fahrenheit.) we went on to spend the last half a day in Salem.
The first thing you hear in the Tourist Center of Salem is "It's not just about the witches, you know." Well, hearing it after you passed two different witch museums and a couple of statues makes it a bit... hard to believe. We even watched a short movie about the history of the city, about trade and economy and stuff, and we came out of the theater and we thought "Nope, it's really about the witches."
And then they told us that there was a ship in the harbor.
Not just any kind of ship.
A sailing ship.
A real, big one.
You have to know one thing about me: when watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, every female in the room screamed for Johnny Depp - I screamed for the ships (all the way. Give me the Flying Dutchman, and you can have my heart. And any other inside organs you want.) But, Hungary being an inland country, the biggest I could get was still kinda small. Compared to a sea vessel.
Compared to the Friendship of Salem.
I jogged down the streets in the morning sunshine, Lethan following close behind, still amused, I guess, by my sudden rush of excitement (like a 5-year-old in a candy store). We turned around the corner, and I almost broke down the door of the tourist office; we signed up for the next tour, just in time. The office itself was amazing, with small models of ships, and maps on the wall, and books and a real sextant behind glass. For an inland girl who grew up on old and dusty books of sea legends, that place was "kinda near to Heaven".
And still not as near as the ship itself. When our small group walked down to the wharf, the sun was right behind the ship, making it glow with a clear and white light. The salty smell of the sea (even though the water was half frozen over, I could feel it - I guess my nose picked it up because I like it so much), and the seagulls, and the wharf with the lighthouse... and the Friendship. And it was all real.
Yeah, I know, I did know that it's "just a replica" of the original, 18th century ship - but still, it was real. It had bright colors and the smell of fresh wood and paint, and sails, and ropes, and we went on board (and I was grinning like mad). The guide told us about life on a trading ship, and the places they visited and the ports they were in, and the goods they brought back. We went down to see where the sailors slept and where they had the cargo, and the room of the captain.
We had three kids with the group, but I don't think they enjoyed it nearly as much as I did, and I don't blame them. Trading is not as interesting as pirates (unfortunately the pirate museum only opens in April) (one of the kids had a really weird Pirate Mickey Mouse hat on his head with the ears and an earring, on top of a Superman hat. I don't want to know who came up with that idea.) (Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate's life for me...)
I didn't really want to leave the ship, but after a while I had to (not till I took nearly a hundred photos, including some with me as captain... yeah I know, women on board, duh)
We walked up to the Customs House, that's really original, left there from the 18th century, and it was like walking through the door and back in time (this is the customs house where Hawthorne used to work) (no, I never really finished reading The Scarlet Letter) (but still, it was amazing). I suddenly became interested a lot of things at once; the list of taxes, the story the guide was telling us, the books on the bookshelves, Hawthorne's pens behind the glass, the stairs leading to the first floor, and the "dusty office museum smell" (totally unhealthy and so smells like home... I mean, the places I spend most of my time since I've been in collage, haha)
The rest of the day we spent with wandering around, visiting some historical houses with another guide (we missed the group tour so he was nice enough to tell all the stuff for just the two of us). The Derby House was my second favorite sight; it was old and full of stories, from Elias Hasket Derby's mismatched eyes in the portrait to the tea papers on the wall of the children's room.
So, by the end of the day, we concluded that Salem is really not just about the witches. It's about the sea and trade and pirates and ships (big ships!) (capital letters. BIG SHIPS. Like this.) and history.
And then we went to see the Witch Museum.

Long time, a lot to see

Back again. Looking at my two blogs, I think I might be a bit lazy about this one... (yeah, a bit... stop snickering!!!)
And as hard as I'm trying to come up with some kind of excuse... I can't. So here is the deal: instead of apologizing for the past two months, I'll start writing all kinds of interesting stuff, right here, right now, and catch up on everything new and story-related and fun.
Okay, here is the trailer:
One Girl
Two Months
Three celebrations
Four States
Five cities
Plus butterflies, ships, witches, Native Americans and stories stories stories. Comin' up.