Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Moment of cute

"What kind of story are you going to tell?" the little girl asked, sitting with her chin in her palms, eyes shining.

"Peruvian" I answered "It's an indian story."

"Ooh" she smiled, flashing milk teeth "We are indians too! Half."

They looked like it too. Two little girls with beautiful dark eyes, dark hair, and cream brown skin; one of them smily and chatty, the other timid and shy.

"Well," I started "Thi story is about a tatú. Do you know what a tatú is?"

"I don't." said the little one.

"I do!" said the other cheerfully "It's a little anyimal with a tail, and armor. And it can curl up into a ball."

"That's right, that's very good" I smiled.

"I still don't know what it is" the other girl chimed in.

"We saw in on TV" her sister explained "It has short legs."

"That's right; it's a small animal, it has nose like this, and ears like this..." I added "And yes, it has short legs."

"Maybe it doesn't" the chatty girl mused "Maybe it has long legs, you just can't see them from the armor. Like, you know. Icebergs. There is a little bit sticking out, but they are big. Under the water."

"I still don't know what a tatú is" the little one complained.

"I'll show you at home" her sister promised. "Listen to the story."

And so I told them the story of how peope stole the nigt from the tatú, because it was just the perfect length for them to sleep and rest, and how they never gave it back to the little animal, so now it has to sleep during the day. And ever since then, every day is followed by a night that has been stolen from the tatú.

"But but but" the girl held up her hand politely as soon as they story was over "Not all nights are the same length. Some are longer. And in the summer, they are short."

I really had nothing to say to that.

"I still don't know what a tatú is" the little one volunteered.

So, we went on, and I told them the story about the Fox who was saved by the cactus plant, and gave his claws to it as a sign of gratitude. Ever since then, cacti have thorns, and foxes still hide among them.
And then I told them the story about the Fox who was in love with the Moon, and how after a lot of adventures he managed to reach the sky, and stay with the moon forever.

"I think this is the same story" the girl concluded, once the tale was finished "I think it is the ame fox."

"It might be" I agreed - I had never thought about that possibility before.

"Do you think he is afraid up there?" the girl asked "It is very high up."

"I don't know." I admitted "Do you think he is afraid?"

"No." she shook her head firmly "I think he is happy."

I smiled. "I think so too."

"I still don't know what a tatú is." chimed the little one.

"Maybe he is afraid" added her sister, ignoring the change of topic "You know, when the moon is dark and you can't see the whole of it, and then the fox in under the shadow, and maybe he is afraid."

"Maybe" I nodded "But the Moon is still there, so he is not alone, right?"

"Right" she nodded with a smile.

"I still don't know what a tatú is." the little one insisted.

"Shush. I will tell you." her sister said.


That, my friends, is a storyteller in the making.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The True Tale of the Black Knight

"Tell us stories about the Black Knight!"

They really got me with that one.
The first time we met, I told them the story of Dame Ragnell (they are studying the Middle Ages this semester), and they greatly enjoyed it; interestingly enough the most exciting character for them was the Black Knight, who asked Arthur the question and threatened to kill him if he didn't find the answer. So, naturally, they decided they wanted to hear more about him.

And here I was with one week to solve the riddle: Who is the Black Knight, really?

There is a bunch of Black Knights in legend and lore; knights, especially evil ones, generally enjoy wearing black. My favorite Arthurian novelist, Gerald Morris, might have a word or two to say about that; but the question still stood: where could I finf the true story of the Black Knight?... In one week?

There was one other person I knew of: THE Black Knight, the one that conquers all other knights, and wins every fight in the end. Yeah, I'm talking about Death. There is a story about a princess who would only marry the perfect knight, the one that could kill all others - and she ended up being carried away by exactly that person. There is an amazing song about it, Der Letzte Tanz (The Last Dance) by Schandmaul.

Anyhow, back to my quest. I doubted a whole Story Club could be based on the Black Knight being Death, so I kept on searching for more apropriate and more... alive candidates.

Remember one very important thing: Children are always right about stories.

So without further ado I present you our very own personal Black Knight: Sir Breunor.
He was interesting enough to tell about; we could start with how he became a knight (and slaying a lion in King Arthur's court was something the kids just loved to act out - Guinevere ran screaming around the Round Table pursued by a roaring lion until Breunor (or, Bruno, as we called him) killed the beast, and got knighted for his deed). We went on with the tale, and it was an absolute win: the little girl and the knight were an amazing couple, constantly yelling at each other and calling each other names until they gave up, the girl got kidnapped and rescued by a whole team of Arthurian knights, and they became best friends forever.

And this is not all. To my utter surprise, there is another story about a Black Knight, and that Black Knight is nobody else but the grandson of our very own King Arthur! If it wasn't for the kids' request I would have never found the Renaissance romance of Tom a'Lincoln and his two sons, the Black Knight and the Faerie Knight. It's a tragedy, really, but a very colorful and well written one. And because I discovered our very own Black Knight (Bruno or not Bruno) had a brother (well, half brother), there was a straight linw to walk from Black Knight to Faerie Knight (which, by the way, is the lamest name ever for a knight, according to my kids), and from faerie knight to faerie princes, and so we ended up with the story of King Cormac.

It was amazing to watch them act the story out. It was as if they knew what was going to happen the moment I started the tale; most of the time I didn't even need to tell them, I could just sit back and watch as the story progressed. They just felt their way through the entire story. I gave Cormac a string of bells I use for storytelling, and he shook them every time he needed to, and they figured out the tale on their own. It was really a fascinating sight - a story, thousands of years old, and they had no trouble coming to the same conclusion it originally had. Once it was finished, we talked about what makes a good king and why, and they all agreed that good kings talk to people and listen to their problems. They also agreed the bells were awesome, and I had some trouble untangling them before I could tie them back around my ankle.

I think I learn just as much from these kids as they learn from me. Now I know a lot more about the Black Knight, and he'll remain just that, our very own Sir Bruno, with his half-brother the Faerie Knight, who has the lamest name ever. Sometimes, just sometimes, fairy tale villains turn out to be so much more than just an evil guy in black armor...

God is a birl

"You know. Boy and girl. Like snails."

I swear I was not the one who brought the Bible stories up. It was the third meeting of the Story Club at a certain international school in Budapest, and my adorable eight-year-olds decided to take matters into their own hands, and requested stories from the Bible. They brought the book too, a colorful and easy-to-read kids' version of it, and told me they had been reading it and found it very exciting, and they were almost at the end now. It was fascinating to see the sheer enthusiasm they had for reading through the greatest story of all for the first time in their life.

The Story Club is a colorful bunch. Kids from all corners of the world, native and non-native English speakers, from different backgrounds, cultures, families and languages. And they work perfectly together. They are amazing, creative, friendly and lively. I honestly have no idea if they are having more fun at the Story Club or I am.

One of the boys opened the book on the first page, and started to read the story of the Creation. Since they made it their own rule that they are going to act out every single story we tell, as soon as the tale begun, we were in need of a God. This was the moment when the question of God's gender became an issue. They pointed out that "in this book, God is a he" (since he was picutred as the stereotypical old man with the long beard), but they also knew quite clearly that that's not the whole truth. And then, snails came into the picture, and the group cheerfully agreed that God was a birl.

Chosing one of the boys to create our own story universe, we went on with the tale. One girl ran to the light switch and turned it off and on, illustrating light and darkness. Pillows made the clouds, and the blue carpet was excellent for water, with the green sofa rising from it, forming firm ground. Animals and plants were never a problem for such a creative bunch.

And then we got to Adam and Eve. Adam was a bit shy, and stood next to God, listening to the story; Eve, on the other hand, did an excellent job of acting like she'd never seen... well, anything before. She poked and prodded at things like pencils, bags, pillows, walls and people, and she made funny squealing noises when something surprised her. One little girl with an amazingly deep voice volunteered to be the snake; another boy became the angel with the flaming sword. I couldn't help but smile as one of my favorite books came to my mind.
(Good Omens, what else.)

After we got through creation, we went on to Noah's Ark. All piled onto the green sofa, we floated on the blue waters of the Great Flood Carpet. There are several folktales about animals on the Ark; we acted out quite a few of them. Why the dog's nose is wet; why cats sit on the threshold; why the woodpecker's head is red. When floating on the Ark got boring, we decided to skip to King Solomon.

I know it's not a Bible story per se, but I've always loved the tale of The Butterfly that Stamped. And it has King Solomon in it. And the Queen of Sheba. And genies, which I had to explain to the kids - to my surprise they didn't know the story of Aladdin. Anyhow, we got into the story of the King and the butterflies, and the parents waiting for us outside the door could hear the whole group chanting "Stomp! Stomp! Stomp!". We got a great King with a magic ring, a very smart little Queen, and an amazing genie who could lift the whole palace into the air.

In the few mintues left at the end of the story club, we finished with the tale of Moses dividing the Red Sea (the folktale version of it, where a girl has to walk into the waters first in order to show God the bravery of the people). It was a much more quiet story, and the kids watched in awe as one of the girls walked across the blue carpet with determination in her eyes. That story has a lot to think about. "God doesn't give you a miracle until you give something from yourself first."

I was not planning on bringing Bible stories to them; when I asked them one week earlier what kind of stories they wanted to hear, I was expecting to hear 'dragons', 'princesses', 'fairies', or something along those lines. But they said Bible, and so Bible it was.
We had great fun.

I can't wait to hear what they'll come up with next time.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Traveller, like me

Sometimes, unique chance meetings can happen between two people who live centuries apart.

This time, one of them is (obviously) yours truly. That one, I don't need to introduce.
The other one... now, that's a story.

His name is Ács Gedeon, although he complains yankees changed it to Ácsy, and then to Archer, since translating it to Carpenter would have been a pain. He was born in Hungary, in the year 1819, and he died there in 1887. He spent 58 years of his life as a pastor of the Reformed Church in a tiny village in what back then was Southern Hungary, and now belongs to Croatia. People loved him there; and he loved the people. He was born and raised among them; he knew all their stories, their customs, their lives.
Gedeon was 30 years old when the Revolution and Freedom Fight of 1848-1849 swept across the kingdom. He joined the army; fought in the fighs; and when it was all over, like so many of his friends, he followed Kossuth into exile. First, he spent a few years in Turkey; then, he travelled to the New World, and ended up living in New York, Boston, Syracuse, Ithaca, and a few other cities in New England. After he couldn't make a living as the pastor of the Hungarian community, he neded up working as a railroad builder, factory worker, carpenter, and finally as a photographer.

Why is he special?
He was also a writer, although nothing he wrote ever got published until a hundred years after his death. He kept a journal, or rather, a notebook full of short stories, musings, anecdotes, and other scribblings. A little more than four thousand pages; barely one tenth of it has ever been published in print. This is the book I started reading last week, and got through the 400 pages as if I was eating candy, enjoying every word.
I love 19th century travel journals. I just disocevered this lately, and naturally it started with Mark Twain. Finding someone who wrote in the same era from a Hungarian point of view was truly fascinating.
Ács is a good writer. His notes are full of humor, wit, elegant style and cheerful curiosity. All the more fascinating since he was in exile,constantly hoping he would be allowed to go home to his family; he did not choose to travel, fate chose it for him. And sill, he travelled with an open mind and an open heart. Even in his darkest days of poverty, he always had a good word or two to say about his friends, the people surrounding him, the weather, or anything, really.
And he wrote about everything.

And I really mean everything. He wrote about Turkish marriage ceremonies; Hungarian smoking customs; American underwear; Lincoln's election; Boston's main street and the newsboys there; flowers in Turkey, Native Americans in Washington, gang fights in Baltimore, superstitions in his hometown, curious words and phrases, interesting people, newspaper articles he'd read, Greek gods, the Underground Railroad, snowstorms in New England, female fashion items, kissing customs of different nations, his childhood and the schools he went to... really. Everything. His notebook is a treasure chest of shiny bits and pieces; every time I turned the page, another interesting topic would pop up, and more than once I would giggle aloud at his anecdotes. He was a man with a full heart, bright eyes, a solid sense of justice, and a curious story for all it was worth.

"I did not want to become a pastor; I was following my father's footsteps. The first time I baptised, if I remember correctly, I baptised twins.
I was the pastor at my own sister's wedding, and she was barely 15 years old.
Once I married a young girl to a man she did not love; she loved the pastor instead.
Once, when I asked him if he loved his bride, the groom said no.
I only had one sermon about murder; I told it at Laskó [at home], and I was only halfway through it when someone ran into the church yelling someone had been murdered outside.
I did not want to become a pastor; I was following in my father's footsteps. But I have reason to belive that most of my listeners - in all three continents - loved me."

Amen to that.

(I really need to translate him into English. I don't think anybody ever did that.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Reporting from the National Folktale Conference

It was the 6th National Folktale Conference, and I have no clue how I missed the first 5. Really, no clue.
But. I have been to all kinds of story conferences, and this one was smaller, and shorter, and maybe less crowded - but it is ours, and it was awesome.

It took place in a small city on the Danube south from Budapest; the place is called Százhalombatta, and it was there even before the Romans came here. As a reminder of the town's rich and logn history there is a big open-air archaeological park and a museum worth visiting. They also have a brand new building for cultural events and conferences. They decorated it for the occasion with big puppets of fairy tale characters.

As for the conference itself, I give you only the highlights:

1. Hungary now has a unique Fairy Tale Therapy Centre, dreamed and designed by psychologist and story therapist Boldizsár Ildikó, specifically for children. Read the information on the homepage, it really is fascinating!

2. We heard about HUNRA's (Hungarian Reading Association) latest program; the name of the program would translate to 'Reading Partner', and it has dozens of volunteers who go out to families and children in need to read with them (and tell them stories!) and help them improve their literacy skills, and their enthusiasm for literature.

3. We heard tons of good lectures on folktales and folklore; this year's focus was the Croatian minority, so we got equal parts from the folklore of Hungarian minorities in Croatia, and the Coratian minority in Hungary. Lots of amazing stories! Lots of book titles I had to write down. I'm hitting the libraries tomorrow.

4. And then there was STORYTELLING. From master Berecz András, who is in my (and many other people's) opinion the greatest living storyteller in Hungary, to young girls from various parts of the country who recited folktales in wonderful regional dialects; from Kóka Rozália, traditional folktale teller to Kovács Marianna, a lady with delicate features and a rich, deep voice who told stories in Croatian and in Hungarian (she was my personal favorite). There was Agócs Gergely, the mentor of the only storytelling course available in Hungary (in a place called House of Traditions) and his current and former students, a lively and colorful group of story-loving people who took every opportunity during the two days to tell a good tale or two. It just felt like suddenly storytellers were springing up from the ground left and right. I was so happy!

5. And then, I told a story too. I told the Jewish story about the baby storyteller and Laila the angel, and it was a very precious moment. It's one of my favorite tales, and it is a perfect story for a huge goup of tellers and listeners. And people listened, so intently it felt like everything stood still. After the performance, some of them told me they had goosebumps, and some people said they cried. Lady Rozália shook my hand and told me she'd collected a story in Transylania that begins with the same words. Funny; they were my words. I translated the story from English.

6. There was a lot of storytelling, amazing folk music, some dancing, and many stories. More cute, amazing, cheerful and memorable moments than I could recall in one blog post.

I felt completely at home - after all, I was home.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Another leap of faith

I can't believe I wrote my last post in February! I have been slacking off once again. I don't really have an excuse. Except, in the past months, I finished my thesis and got a Master's Degree in Archaeology (with a specialization in the Roman era and Early Middle Ages, not that it's important).
School's over.
From now on,
I am officially a full-time professional storyteller!
Does it rock, or what? :)
I have a few gigs lining up in September, and hopefully there will be more.
(Or I might starve.)
(Just kidding)
I do not know how it will work out, but it is fun so far, and all kinds of exciting, and I really hope it remains so. My head is buzzing with plans, and stories, and ideas. It's a good kind of dizziness.

Also, there will be a National Folktale Conference in Hungary in the first days of October. I am really excited about it! It's the sixth time they organize it, and this time the featured minority is Croatian. There will be lectures, and presentations, and stories, and Hungarian storytellers! Yay! I can't wait!
I'll keep you all posted.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

This is Blog Hop!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Journey to the West

This time, it's the real thing! (Not me going overseas one more time, although the title would fit that too just fine... ;)

No, this time it's the ever so famous and amazing Chinese story about the Monkey King and his companions!
(All right, so the Buddhist monk and his companions. But seriously. Xuanzang vs. the Monkey King? Talk about stealing the spotlight!)

What I'm talking about is an exciting international storytelling project started by a Swedish friend of mine, storyteller Ulf Ärnström, and yours truly. Here is the link with all you need to know:


Come join us on this adventure! :)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


The Multicolored Lady is on Twitter now, under the username TarkabarkaHolgy (which, surprisingly, is Hungarian for 'Multicolored Lady'). She has no idea how useful or fun it is going to be, so she's just putting this out there in case there are other tweeters lurking around. Come and tweet :)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

"Pali bácsi"

Have I ever told you about the person who was responsible for my adventures in the United States? The one who gave me one of the most wonderful gifts in my life?

You would probably know him as Paul Kellner, but we used to call him Pali bácsi.

He and his family support seven Hungarian students every single year with a one-year scholarship to the United States. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of us, and definitely a life-changing experience for all.
And you know what the most wonderful thing is about this scholarship?

It took a lot of paperwork, all kinds of references and records, a language exams and an interview - but when we got to the final meeting with the Kellners, they still didn't know who we were, not really. They chose us for an incredible adventure, and they barely knew what kind of people we were. I remember sitting there, very very nervous, and them asking me why I wanted to go to the USA... I told them about storytelling, which was a new thing for me back then, a dream that was still vague and fresh, and because I myself couldn't really make sense of it, I told them a story instead. One of my very fist tellings in English.
(Do you know the tale of The Three Dolls? That's the one.)
And so begun the journey of the Multicolored Lady. The rest is history.

I still can't believe it. I have been back home since then, and back in the US again, and now back home once more, and I still can't wrap my idea around the fact that someone would just read my records, and talk to me for a while, and then spend that amount of money on sending me to the US. For a whole year, filled to the last day with new friends, stories, adventures, and all kinds of wonderful things. They bet their own reputation on how we'd fare in a strange country, a strange culture. I spent the whole year trying to make them very proud of me. Or at least not disappointed.

It is a rare thing nowadays to meet people who believe in you that much. So when I say 'gift', I don't only mean the scholarship itself - I mean that incredible amount of trust they showed towards each and every one of us they chose. It makes my head spin, just thinking about it.

So here is my advice to you: notice the people in your life who truly believe in you. Treasure them. Whether or not they support you financially, respect them, and treasure them, and remember them. They will change your life forever.
And when it is your turn, be brave enough to believe in others. It is the best way to repay their trust.

I didn't expect having to write another post of this kind so soon after Blue's. But here it is, and I and grateful and proud that I was able to write it. It means I knew someone very special in my life.

Rest in Peace, Pali bácsi.