Friday, December 18, 2009

Blue is everywhere

I wanted to write about Brother Blue. I have for a while now. I did a long-ish piece on my Hungarian blog, and tried to put it into English, to get away easy. It didn't work. I can't really tell you why; it just didn't. Maybe because that version was me talking about Blue to Hungarian people; telling them who he is. Nobody in the English-speaking storytelling world needs me to tell them who Blue is. So I didn't write.
I got a call yesterday, a last minute call for a performance, to the Christmas party of a gospel choir. Of course I said yes. You don't say no to gospel music.

This gig gave me waaaaay more than I bargained for. Actually it gave me more than most of my performances, ever.

When I arrived, people were still gathering; young people like me, no little kids buzzing around. Perfect. We started talking; soon they were asking questions about storytelling, and I was running my usual rounds explaining what kind of storytelling I do, and how it fits into the big scene of the international storytelling world.
Then the name Brother Blue came up, and it was not me saying it.
I got used to people knowing about Blue because I told (more like sang praises about) him all over the place. But this lady did not know him from me, or from my writings - she knew his tales from the Internet, and her face just lit up with an unmistakable light when she talked about him.
She'd never met Blue in person, but he did something amazing for her: he healed her heart after a loss, and his words stayed with her ever since. She talked about him with love and admiration. And there, at some Christmas gig, late one night, two people met, and there was something Blue in that moment.
We talked. I did my telling, but it was more friends talking to friends than anything else; I shared my favorite tales, and we sang, and told jokes, and shared Christmas gifts, and played music. And then we talked, and talked, and talked some more; we talked about people who changed our lives. I told them about Blue. And how I met him at Sharing the Fire, and how he heard my stories, and how his words stayed with me ever since, and how he helped me become the storyteller I am today.
Someone had tears in her eyes. She was not alone.
It was the most perfect Blue moment this Christmas could bring. Shredding tears for someone you have never met is one thing; spending an evening full of joy and laughter in his memory is another.

Hey, you all over there in the New World: the sky is blue above Hungary too!

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Tell everybody I'm on my way..."

" friends and new places to see..."
Guess what. I'm back in the USA!!!

That's right. I was invited to tell stories at the Kids Euro Festival in Washington DC!

It's a festival organized by the embassies of the EU countries for American children, promoting our cultures and values. And this year, I have the honor of repesenting Hungary. And storytelling as an art form.

Yes, I am excited! :)

Do you remember what I said about returning home after a year - that it felt like I've never left Hungary and things just went on? Well, returning to the US was exactly the same. I left the airport after a friendly two-hour customs check-in, and I felt like the past year-or-so since I returned to Hungary was nothing but a dream. America became reality again, and continued on from where I left it. Memories came rushing back, and so forth and so on.

I brought a bunch of new stories too. I hand-picked my favorite Hungarian folktales, then spent days thinking them over and over again, turning them upside down and inside out, and selecting the right music to help me build up the whole tale in my own special way. I tested some of them on my friends, others are brand new and shiny. I have traditional tales like The Land of Ice (with a very smart prince who climbs frozen mountains and rides a polar bear), The Wandering Prince (with duels and travels, and a friendly lion), The Fox Lady (which kind of turned into a Japanese-Hungarian cooperation story, but is still fun), The Bald Prince (and his trusty sidekicks, the Bear Boy and the little demon who was too good to be evil), The Lily of the Valley (with more princes, princesses, dwarves and fae folk), The Immortal Queen (and the quest to find her castle), and Princess Hide-and-Seek, and I'll get to her in a minute.

Today I had my first performance in a DC middle school. The kids (most of them 10-12 years old) were very well behaved, adorable and super creative. they were curious about Hungary in general, so we looked it up on the map, and I told them how many hours I flew, and they tried to pronounce my name, and all in all, it was already fun before it even begun. From all the new stories, I chose to tell Princess Hide-and-Seek (formerly known as The princess that saw everything), and she flew. It is always great to see a new story spread its wings, and this one is just perfect for a group of kids - they put in their ideas, and their imagination, and all in all, it turned out to be more successful than I expected. Not to mention we ran into modern mythology with all the "special superhuman abilities" stuff, but hey, this is America, and I dig comics anyway. :)

The list of my upcoming performances in DC can be found here.

Tonight I'm going to tell stories at Kennedy Center - the first official stage performance of the Festival. No pressure. Good thing amazing people like the staff of the Hungarian Embassy have my back :) Not to mention Princess Hide-and-Seek.

"...with the sun beating down, yes, I'm on my way,
and I can't keep the smile off my face..."

(Actually, it's raining in DC right now. Not that I care :)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Rome sweet home

This was my fourth time in Rome, and I have never ever dropped a coin into the Trevi Fountain. How about that.

This time, however, was entirely different: in addition to two weeks of enthusiastic digging and shoveling and other highly scientific work up in San Potito, I happened to have another event to visit:

organized the first International Storytelling Festival in Rome!!!

I met Angela and Giovanna in Lausanne, and even before that, on the Internet. When I heard they are bringing together my favorite Urbs and Storytelling, there was no question where I'll be this September.
It was amazing.
Going to new places and meeting new people is one of the things about storytelling that I like the most. But going to a place I've grown to love over the years (I'm a Roman Archaeology major, in case you didn't know) and do what I want to do the rest of my life (tell stories) was a gift. A special, unique kind of blessing.
When I arrived on Friday evening, the tellers were already gathered in a tiny, friendly theater on the side of Monte Testaccio. Meeting friends again - people I've met in Lausanne - was fun, to say the least. We talked, we laughed, we discussed Rome and Italy in detail. Angela and Paola - the two young ladies who organized the Festival - greeted me with smiles and hugs. The only thing left to do was sit down and enjoy the opening of the Festival.
And there was a lot to enjoy too. Stories, and songs, and poetry, and music, and stories without words and laughter and fun. I told the Sad Prince there as an opening, and it was a blast! It all depends on the audience, you know. With a lot of enthusiastic young storytellers and story-lovers around, it is easy to make a story fun :)
And that fun was nothing compared to the evening concert: mainly, because that one happened in Santa Maria del Popolo, one of the most beautiful churches in the City. I've been there twice before, but never at night. It was grand and silent and gloomy and friendly at the same time, with shadows in the corners and echoes of our voices, and statues and paintings blinking at us as we disturbed their sleep. There was also excitement and laughter as our storytellers (Angela, Paola, Giovanna and Davide) prepared for their big show - Sisters from the Book.
If you ever visit Rome, make sure you go and see that performance. I don't speak Italian (apart from the words and phrases I picked up during three years of digging), but I did learn Spanish and Latin, and I could catch most of the story - but I didn't really need to. The rhythm of the language, the looks on their faces, their movements, the whole thing was just amazing as it was; I lost track of time completely as we sat in the shadows and listened to the age-old stories in awe. Later I asked them what the stories were (the ones I didn't catch), and they were just as beautiful as I thought.
I wandered home around midnight, and felt like I have been asleep and dreaming for a day.

Saturday was the second (and, for me, unfortunately the last) day of the Festival, and with the bright autumn morning came a new and exciting setting: the Via Appia Antica. One of my favorite places in Rome. It's full of history, and legends, and it's a road, polished by the footsteps of millions of people, leading us from the present into the past. Sometimes further away than we'd like though, getting of the overcrowded bus was a bit tricky, so I had to walk back from the catacombs to the meeting point at Quo vadis. I didn't mind it one bit. It was early in the morning, it was quiet, I was almost all alone as I walked towards the City, enjoying the sun and the silence.
The first half of the day was Graham Langley's storytelling workshop. I enjoyed every second of it. There were a lot of young tellers there, lively, cheerful and very very friendly. We told stories and played around with them; talked, laughed, made friends, and discovered things about our craft that we didn't realize before. Thank you, Graham :)
As for the second half of the day - we walked the road of tales. Raccontamiunastoria took us on a journey down the Via Appia from Quo vadis (you out there who are not familiar with this beautiful legend, go and read Henryk Sienkiewicz's amazing book, Quo vadis) to the tomb of Annia Regilla. There were Roman tales and legends from the Middle Ages; between stops we walked and talked and sang and admired the beauty of the Appian Way.
At the end of the road, there were chairs waiting for us under a huge tree, and some more stories to listen to as the sun set behind the hills and stars started to come out. After that, the nice walk back to the meeting point, warm dinner in a cozy little restaurant, and then the evening performance at Parco Egeria. Somewhere along the way it started to rain, but it didn't bother us much; David Ambrose (Wales) and Mats Rehnman (Sweden) made sure we forgot about everything beyond the storytelling tent. It was very interesting to see how the translation worked out - Angela and the others made an excellent job of playing around with the story, inserting a few keyword here and there, and not really translating anything but making the tales easier to understand. It was perfectly balanced that way.
Two hours of amazing tales and lots of laughter later it was finally time to find our ways back home and into our beds.

I can't really add any comments to all this, apart from

Oh, and I have some photos on my Hungarian blog, check them out here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The story of the Sad Prince

Egyszer volt, hol nem volt, az Óperenciás-tengeren is túl, a tüzes tengerek hetvenhetedik szigetének partján...
Once upon a time, far far away across the Óperenciás sea, on the seventy-seventh island of the Seas of Fire – lived a prince, whose name we do not know; everyone just called him Bús Királyfi, the Sad Prince. His father, the king, kept telling him day after day how useless he was; true enough, he was not particularly brave or exceptionally clever, he wasn’t talented either in war or in politics. His father used to roll his eyes and say „He doesn’t even have a good story to tell.”
So one day Bús Királyfi decided to set out on a journey – if he cannot become a good prince, he will become a good storyteller. He traveled for a long long time, searching for stories – but he didn’t even find people to talk to. At last, he met a little rabbit in the forest.
„Te nyúl, tudsz-e nekem mesét mondani?”
„Rabbit, can you tell me a story?”
„Van nagyobb dolgom is attól!”
„I have other things to do!”
And the Rabbit hopped away.
Bús Királyfi continued his journey, and met a wolf.
„Farkas testvér, tudsz-e nekem mesét mondani?”
„Van nagyobb dolgom is attól. Eridj innen!”
„Leave me alone!” said the wolf, and left the Prince alone.
Next, Bús Királyfi met a bear.
„Medve bátyám, tudsz-e nekem mesét mondani?”
„Van nagyobb dolgom is attól. Eridj az utamból!”
„Get out of my way!” said the bear.
The Prince went on, and reached the place when the forest met the fields; he stopped there, leaning against a lonely willow tree, and sighed.
„Hát ki fog nekem mesét tanitani? Mesélsz nekem, te árva fűzfa?”
„Who will teach a story to me? Would you do it, lonely willow tree?”
But the willow couldn’t even talk.
So on he went, ment, mendegélt; he walked into a town, and came to the door of a house; he opened the door, and here we are, telling our stories...
Bús Királyfi is always standing in the doorway, listening to us.

(The story was told by the traditional storyteller Fejes József, and can be found in the book A magyar mesemondás hagyománya, by Raffai Judit. This is not a literal translation of the tale, but the version I tell with my own words when I perform. Tell and enjoy! :)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

East meets West

Hungarians can't seem to agree about the location of our country. Some say Eastern Europe, others say Central Europe (and are seriusly offended by being called Eastern), many say Easter-Central-Europe, some say Balkans, and there is also a rumor that if you put the map of Middle Earth on top of Europe, we would be in the dead middle of Mordor. Go figure.
Whatever the case is, from a Western point of view we tend to look strange and exotic. It took some getting used to, when I wandered overseas, but I think I can live with being unique :) Which brings us to a new piece about the above (um, below) mentioned FEST conference and festival.
Eastern Europe (for the time being let's agree on this) was represented by the three of us: Birgit from Vienna, Jitka from the Czech Republic, and yours truly. You could say the Habsburg Monarchy reassembled for a guest performance... none of the three countries has any official storytelling organization or network (yet!), so we tended to stick together, first out of curiosity and shared experiences, then out of friendship. We talked, and talked, and talked some more, and we sang, and we laughed, and we made a storyteller out of Jitka who only came to observe the conference for ther phd research. Turns out she isn't only talented in telling, she also sings very well :)
Long story short - the Eastern European Special Interest Group came into being. Yay!

As for Hungary...
I told three stories at the festival; two of them were Hungarian folktales and one was a great story from the American South, which I coudn't help but tell at one of the evening story swaps. (I'm thinking there are some people out there who wouldn't think it appropriate to tell an American story when I'm out in the world, representing my culture and my country all alone... well, those are the people I don't really care about)
The first story was that of the Sad Prince (I'll put it on this blog later). It's more like a story opening, really; it's short, it's simple, and it fell right into place at the first evening of the festival. People seemed to like it. A lot. And when some telers cem up to me afterwards and asked me if they were allowed to tell the tale, I couldn't have been more proud... not of myself, but of the story!
(What did I say? Of course I said yes. Folktales are supposed to travel! :)
The success of the Sad Prince gave me a lot of self-confidence for the next day, when my performance was the very last one of the festival. I spent a lot of time pondering about which Hungarian tale to tell; actually, I have been thinking about it for months, and I came up with the right story on the morning of that very day. This is how it usually works with me.
The story I chose was that of Ludas Matyi (I'll also post it on this blog later, or maybe include it in my next Multicolored Newsletter... we'll see). It's a kind of trickster tale, funny and smart, and it includes some characters that are from other countries (or so they say). I had the silly idea to have some of the other tellers help me with the tale... it was already too late in the day for traditional storytelling, and after 4 days spent together with the great crowd of people already mentioned, I felt really, really playful. So this is how it happened that the story suddenly had a Czech architect (Jitka) and a Swedish doctor (Love) in it. (In the original story it's an Italian architect and a German doctor, and I couldn't care less...:) It was amazing! I've never had so much fun on the storytelling stage before. The three of us were the youngest at the conference; playing together at the end of those 5 days was everything I could wish for to make the Lausanne experience just perfect. The story worked, the improv came out just perfect, and the audience seemed to like it too.
And so we closed the festival, with laughter and playfulness.

Moments like this make me proud of my country. It has stories that work no matter where I take them and no matter which language I use; it has unique and curious things to tell, and I have ways to tell them to people from all over the world. Sharing the tales of my own culture is a great responsibility, but also a great joy; it is one of the things I want to keep doing all my life.

Left to right: me, Birgit and Jitka, a.k.a. the storytellers of Eastern Europe :)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

F.E.S.T. report - the nutshell version

A very wise American lady once told me that herding storytellers is like trying to nail jello to the wall. Well, try the same with about 70 European tellers from more than 18 countries, speaking 14 different languages, and that jello thing will suddenly seem like a welcoming way of relaxation.
For those of you who live far far away: F.E.S.T. stands for Federation for European Storytelling. Yay to that! This amazing organization had its first conference last year in Oslo, and now it was time for the next gathering! This time it took place in Lausanne, a wonderful city by Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Even better, this time I had the opportunity to join the conference, thus representing Hungary among a very international and multicultural crowd of amazing and friendly people. Storytellers.
Describing these 5 days in detail would (will) take a lot of time and several blog posts. Right now I have to work on my official report for F.E.S.T., as well as this same enthusiastic post in Hungarian for my other blog, so going into all kinds of delicious details and stories will have to wait a bit. I'll get to it as soon as I can. Until I do, I just want to give you a taste of "what happened in Lausanne". Because it definitely won't stay in Lausanne ;) So here comes the essence of F.E.S.T. 2009:

- The countries: Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, plus Canada and Cuba as outside-Europe guests.
- The languages: German, English, French, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Spanish, Portuguese, Gaelic, Italian, Greek, Czech, Hungarian, Dutch, Catalan and Basque.
- The time: 3 days of F.E.S.T. conference, followed by two amazing days of the Les 7 langues du dragon Storytelling Festival.
- The place: the ever-so-beautiful city of Lausanne, in Casino de Montbenon, overlooking Lake Geneva and the Alps. Beautiful sunshine, excellent weather, and a fountain to play in. Um, yeah. It can't really get any better than that.
- The stories: More than you can imagine! Mostly legends, folktales, myths, and all kinds of traditional stuff with some personal stories thrown in. Continuing their journey across Europe from mouth to ear, stopping by in Lausanne.
- The audience: besides the other tellers, we also had a crowd of local people coming in for the festival. They mostly speak French, but the understood English and German quite well. As for the storytelling - they seemed to understand quite a lot, no matter what the language was, actually :)
- The telling: all kinds of tandem and bilingual you can imagine - we spent most of our time playing around and experimenting with ways of translation. Most of them were great fun, and worked perfectly. I'll write more about them later on.

So, this is it for now. Stay tuned, I'll return with all the stories and details soon enough. Believe me, I have a lot to tell! :)

Oh, and as for the jello on the wall: we nailed it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Louisiana meets Hungary

Almost a year ago (can you believe that?...) I spent a week in New Orleans, visiting a dear friend of mine, Angela Davis, the Yarnspinner. She showed me the city, took me to lots of fun places (e.g. the Laura Plantation and an alligator farm), and of course she told me stories, stories and more stories.
This week, it was her turn to visit me in my home.
All the fun we had!
We told stories together in two summer camps - it was a blast! One camp was pretty much like all the other camps I've ever known: dozens of children running in around, doing whatever they felt like doing, under the supervision of a handful friendly but tired-beyond-measure people. There was music, and food, and a stray dog under the table; few children were actually in the barn when the storytelling started.
Hungarian kids are not used to storytelling, not to mention tales told in English, American style. First, there was surprise, and shyness, and then it just went BANG, and suddenly the barn was full of excited children, crowding around the stage. They were enchanted, mesmerized, and all kinds of long synonyms I can find in the English dictionary for "totally amazed". Angela told her stories, and I translated for her; it felt like riding a tornado, I had to keep up with her rhythm and speed, not to mention finding the right words to give back the shades and details of the original tale. After an hour of telling, I felt like I've been knocked over the head with a hammer. And it felt good :) The kids had a great time testing their English knowledge. As the performance continued, some of them actually started to translate words to the others, and guessing what happened in the tale before I had my chance to translate. It was great fun! When I told my story, they were already on the stage, and not willing to give up what they received from Angela, so I ended up with a whole bunch of cheerful kids around me, acting out everything I told in the story. It. Was. Fun.
The other camp (the one in my former high school) was a lot more organized, but not less fun. We earned a watermelon for an hour's telling :) After the show we were overrun by the kids, each one of them wanting autographs, and our webpages, and our favorite stories. Cuteness ensued.

Apart from telling stories, we also traveled a lot with Angela. First I had to show her around in my hometown, Győr; for that occasion I had to blow the dust off of my childhood's stories and the local legends. It's a very true cliché that you don't know anything about your home until you have guests from far away. I was a tourist in my own town.
We also took Angela to Pannonhalma, the archabbey that's more than a thousand years old, and can be seen from Győr, shining white on the top of a hill. The monks make excellent wine there. And lavender oil. It's a peaceful island of history; the Benedictines have only been there since 996 A.D., but they had finds dating back to the Roman age (which I didn't know, but really appreciated).
We spent one day in Slovakia, visiting castles (Trencsén and Beckó) and telling legends about kinghts and lords and damsels in distress. We tried our best to give Angela an impression of Hungarian history, Medieval life (as we know it...) and bits of history like the Turkish occupation. The story of Beckó has always been the "castle legend" for me (is that an existing phrase? It is in Hungarian. We have a whole bunch of them).
The next day we spent in Austria, where we went all the way up to the Ottohaus on the Rax. It was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Clear, bright, with wild flowers, butterflies, high mountains, pine woods, and (naturally) lots and lots of stories.

We (me and my family) did our best to show Angela a glimpse of real authentic Hungarian specialities like Túró Rudi (dark chocolate and sweet cottage cheese), Hungarian literature (high literature with hints of depression), the puli dog (Hungarian, not Rastafarian), and a bunch of other things I forgot. Hopefully she won't.

All in all, I had a great time.

Prague is the place to haunt!

Every city should have a book just like Václav Cibula's Legends and tales of Prague.
We spent 3 days in Prague on a family vacation, and let me tell you, I have been to several cities around the globe, but never one that was so filled with stories and legends. And because I'm a storyteller I also know that this is not so because Prague is a unique place for tales to be born. I mean, I have been visiting Rome regularly for years now, and even there I never felt like this. Like I am surrounded by an invisible web of tales, connecting places to other places and people; like the air itself is buzzing with words whispered long ago, like I can hear the footsteps of shadows, like every corner I turn leads to the world of another legend or fairy tale. It's all in the details. And the stories. It's all in an old used book I found in an antique shop years ago, and never thought about it until we were on our way to the Czech Republic.
Now go ahead and tell me stories don't shape the world we see.

The hotel we stayed in belonged to the Church of St. John on the Rock. It was a nice old building, with friendly people and cozy rooms; also it was in the New Town, right in the middle of everything. And by 'everything', of course I mean the stories. I mean, come on!
Right next door there was the Faust House; we didn't realize it when we arrived, and when I opened The Book to search for local tales, I almost fell over with surprise. I expected there would be a lot of stories about the Castle, the Charles Bridge etc., but never thought there would be tales all around, right next door to our hotel...
So, once I realized we had Dr. Faust for a neighbour (his house now converted into a hospital and pharmacy - the irony of it...), I started browsing through the book's New Town chapter. Soon I found out that in the monastery just across the street the Devil used to be the cook in the good old days (and when we went in, no one knew why I was giggling at the "Catering" sign); that one street over from us the ghost of a young girl dances people to death; that we were a 2-minute walk away from Prague's most haunted street; that one of the houses close to us used to be the headquarters of a secret brotherhood for people who left their bodies and traveled through paintings; and that one night long ago someone had a nun buried alive in one of the neighboring buildings.
Not to mention the Vysehrad towering over us in all its beauty.

We couldn't take a single step without bumping into stories. Most of them I only had time to read after we came home; tales about old gods, cruel water spirits and their babies, cursed artists, the blinded clock-maker and ghosts, ghosts, and more ghosts.
And, of course, the Golem.
I've always loved the story of the Golem; now I had the chance to walk around in the old Jewish quarters and re-tell it to myself. Of course, in the Jewish quarters mostly everything is about the Golem. Not that I mind, not at all.
One evening, we took a "ghost tour" there. It was just me, my father and the tour guide; she told us that very few tourists are interested in Jewish tales and the place itself, which surprised me. A lot. Ever since I've been a storyteller (and before that a story-reader) Prague was always one with the Golem and Rabbi Löw for me. Apparently, not for most people. I don't get it.
(Did you know there are policemen walking around at night, guarding the Old-New Synagogue from people who might want to sneak in and find the Golem? :D How cool is that?)
Unfortunately, the Charles Bridge (am I the only one who feels silly writing Charles Bridge instead of Karluv most?...) was being renovated, so the famous Bruncvik-and-lion statue was nowhere to be seen. Bummer. I liked that story, even though I didn't quite approve of the slaying of the bride. She had snakes for legs, then what?...
All in all, we wandered in Prague for three days, and it was wonderful, unreal, and filled with stories I won't forget anytime soon. So, my point is, one book made a HUGE difference in how I experienced Prague itself; I bet that if I went with a local storyteller, it would have been even better. That's why I believe that every single city should have a book just like that. Or a storyteller for a tour guide. Yep. Every one of them.
Or at least the ones I'd like to visit.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Land Ho!

What was that about getting settled in again?...
Okay, it took me 8 months, and finally I can say with the outmost confidence that I'm never gonna be fully settled in again. Anywhere. Except for nonexistent places, but that's a different matter.
I'm thinking about renaming this blog - I'm thinking Briar Rose. It certainly has been sleeping for a long, long time...
Now, here is the thing. I could start going through everything I didn't write about since... let me check... Jonesborough last July, but I suspect I'd never catch up to the present day.
So, how about we pretend the past 8 months have been compressed into 8 days, and go on with the story without much catching up at all? Sounds good? Fine by me.