Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The Flame-Red Fairy King: a short and weird Hungarian folktale translation

I was commissioned to translate another Hungarian folktale text, so I'm putting it up as a resource too.

The Flame-Red Fairy King 

Once upon a time there was a fairy king, who, for being completely red all over, was called Flame-Red Fairy King, and whomever he touched, he immediately burned. Once upon a time he had a daughter named Tündér Ilona (Fairy Ilona). Once, the devil in the disguise of a merchant asked for Ilona's hand in marriage, and having won her, he took her on his ship to a forest castle by the water, where he had four other ladies locked up in a room. To the same place he invited all the other fairies along with the Fairy King, claiming that he wanted them to visit his wife, but when they arrived, he attempted to murder the Fairy King. However, when he touched the king, he was immediately burned, and the fairies killed him. They kept the castle to themselves, but that magic building collapsed on them, killing all the fairies.

From Ipolyi Arnold's collection.
Text collected by Károly Weber in Szeged, Hungary, in 1835.

Someone needs to turn it into... dunno. A novel, or a movie, or something. Fill in the blanks. :)

Monday, July 25, 2022

Storytelling Cities: 8 storytellers, 6 countries, 3 weeks, 1 show

This spring I participated in an incredible European storytelling project.

I traveled to Sigüenza, Spain, on May 26th to take part in a project organized by Spain, Italy, France, and Slovakia. These four countries have created a collaboration named the European Network of Storytelling Sites and Towns (ENST). Since Spain was represented by the same organization that also organizes the Maratón de Cuentos in Guadalajara, part of the network's inauguration was a project within a project: getting storytellers together from all the countries and creating a multicultural, multilingual stage performance for the Maratón.

Each country delegated tellers. I was invited along by Bohdan Ulasin from Slovakia, whom I met in Guadalajra at the Misterios de Europa conference ten years ago. The lineup of our colorful team was as follows: Pepito Matéo (France), Clara Zénoun (France), Julien Tauber (France), António Fontinha (Portugal), Bohdan Ulasin (Slovakia), Roberto Anglisani (Italy), Susana Tornero (Spain), and yours truly (Hungary). Seven of us participated in the performance, and Pepito took on the role of director.

We had two weeks to put the entire show together. As soon as I stumbled into the hotel on May 26th, we immediately headed to the theater to start rehearsing. We worked hard all day almost every day, until June 8th, when we had our premiere in Sigüenza. The next day, we packed up, and headed to Guadalajara for the Maratón, to prepare for the big show.

The performance we created was whimsically titled "Il était una vez jeden utopická viaggio a történeteken keresztül em seis línguas" - and this title reflects the actual creative process. All of us selected short tales ahead of time, translated them to all the other participating languages, and selected the ones we wanted to include in the show. Pepito created an outline that we got to fill with stories, songs, rhymes, and playful interactions as we went along.

Our common language was Spanish. It took me a few days to switch my brain over to it (in my everyday life I only have the chance to read and watch TV in Spanish), but once it happened, I loved the opportunity to speak it, and listen to the others. Our little team had a whole lot of languages in common: multiple people understood French, Italian, and even English, although we barely ever spoke the latter. After a few days, we were all speaking some strange pan-Mediterranean mixed language, and my brain gave up trying to understand what language a word was spoken in, as long as I understood the meaning. Susana, as the only native speaker on the team, was super helpful and patient with our efforts to speak better and tell better in Spanish.

It was a joyful, playful experience to be a part of such a multilingual, friendly group of people. We shared meals every day, and our conversations often turned to "how do you say this in your language...?". We went around the table, comparing phrases, proverbs, riddles, and animal sounds, celebrating our differences and similarities. I learned a whole lot of fun new things - such as Antonio's comment on how these were "cherry conversations." Just like you can't eat just one cherry (he explained, as we were all feasting on ripe cherries from the market), you also can't just have one response in these conversation. One example inspires the next.

(Our theater stage in Sigüenza - first a medieval church,
and then a grain storage building)

We had rehearsal from 10 in the morning till 2pm every day, had lunch, and then started again at 4pm. We usually finished work around 8 in the evening (and headed to the town square for drinks and conversation). We played drama games and warm-up exercises in the mornings, and then launched into working on the performance. In two weeks, we created a 90 minute long storytelling show. The first half of it featured individual tales. We opened with a song, and proverbs in many languages, before we started on the storytelling. I told the old Hungarian legend Golden Bridge, Silver Bridge; Julien told the legend of The City of Ys. Roberto brought us a story by Gianni Rodari about roads not taken, Susana a Catalan version of the Musicians of Bremen, and Bohdan the story of legendary Slovak highwayman Janosik. Clara told the Armenian tale of Queen Anait, and Antonio brought us a lovely Portuguese version of The boy who could speak the language of animals. After the individual tales, we told some stories together, mixing multiple languages. We did Stone Soup (with each ingredient in a different language), Sennin (a literary tale by Akutagawa Ryunosuke), and the legend of the Journey of Malei from the Zhuang people. We closed the show with folk songs in all our various languages.

It took very intensive work to craft the show and create a flowing performance. It is not easy at all for storytellers to work together in this many languages, with this many different styles. We negotiated and compromised, and found creative solutions to fitting all the pieces together. Sometimes we grew tired, and sometimes we ran into communication barriers, but in the end, we all enjoyed the experience way too much to get hung up on the technicalities. It was something that allowed me (us) to experiment with different styles and techniques of telling. For example, I have never told a story before to empty chairs this many times... but after the initial discomfort of speaking into the void, I was beginning to see the upside of repeated rehearsals. The good news is: this project is a great experiment, and it is not over yet! We will take the show on the road to France, Slovakia, and Italy, changing things around every time to fit the new languages and new audiences.

We premiered the show in Sigüenza, in front of a very appreciative local audience - many of whom we got to know over the course of the two weeks spent in that lovely city. Among them were Fernando and Mirta, our gracious and lovely hosts from La Casona de Lucía - honestly the best little hotel I have ever stayed in, with definitely the best food. But they were not the only ones we got to spend time with while in Sigüenza: we also told some stories in other places!

One of those places was a center for refugees hosted by an organization named Accem. It was a lovely experience. We told some tales, and the people living there also told us some of the stories from their countries (such as Afghanistan and Burkina Faso). Then we had dinner together, someone put on music, and the whole evening turned into one big party, where we all danced and laughed together. Many of the children and adults from out audience later came to the premiere too - and whenever we met on the streets of Sigüenza, we always exchanged happy smiles.

We also got to visit the two high schools the town has, and tell stories at both. The kids were friendly and curious; suspicious at first the way all teenagers are, but they warmed up to be a great audience. I told to them in English so that they could hear a tale in another language too, and they followed along enthusiastically. After the tales we had conversations with them about storytelling as an art form and the importance of stories. I still love telling to teenagers. Such a great audience, wherever you go.

These two weeks in Sigüenza flew by, but they will stay with me forever. The town itself is beautiful, all pink stones and medieval buildings, and the people who life there were friendly and welcoming. And I cherish the experience of working with this international group of storytellers: the conversations over wine, the tales we exchanged, the laughs we shared. In a time when differences and conflicts get so much attention, it was good to be among people who seek connection through stories.

Thank you, all! See you on the road!

P.S.: The performance, and the rehearsal process, were documented by a professional film crew. Hopefully, there will be a video to share soon!

(I will write about the Maratón in a separate post, to keep from going on too long.)

Miska and Juliska (Hungarian folktale translation)

I was asked to do a full translation of a Hungarian folktale, and since I already have it, I am putting it on the blog as a public resource. Original text here.

CW: abuse

There was and there wasn’t, far-far away, a king who had three sons. They shared their bread, they loved each other, and they would have lived in peace – except they could not deal with the middle son, who was a rascal [never obeyed directions]. One day the old king grew bored of dealing with him, and told his other two sons: "Listen, my children! Get rid of this middle child of mine, Miska, because if he stays home, he will drive me insane!"  

The two older sons pondered about what to do with their brother. They can’t kill him, or get him killed! What should they do? At last, the eldest had an idea. They wrote a letter to Rút [Foul, Hideous], king of the devils, saying they have a brother who would like to be in his service. Then they worked on running their sibling out of the home. They berated him, abused him, they even blamed him for what he ate, until he couldn’t listen to all their cruel words anymore. He went into the stables, saddled the worst horse, and traveled to Rút, his majesty the kind of the devils. 

When he got there, he rested for three days, and got to know everything around the house – including Juliska, the devil’s daughter. They didn’t admit it to each other, but they fell in love. When the three days were up, the devil tells Miska: "Now, my lad! You shall start your service today. One year is three days. If you can fulfill your tasks as I say, I’ll be satisfied. Here is today’s task: there is a fishpond behind the house. If you do not drain it by tomorrow morning, dig it up, sow it with millet, and bring me a bowl of that milled with grease and sugar for breakfast, you’ll be finished! Do you understand?"

Miska nodded like he understood, but he didn’t understand at all! He went to the stables, sat behind the horse, and pondered. As he was sitting there thinking, Juliska was looking for him inside the house, and didn’t know where Miska had gone. After a lot of searching, she found him sitting on the plank that covered the stable drains [hídlás]. "Dear beloved of my heart! I will love you till we die! [Only spades and hoes shall divide us]. What ails you?"  
"Don’t even ask, Juliska dear!" said Miska. "You can’t help either way!" 
"I can’t? How do you know? Tell me, maybe I can fix things!"  
Miska then told her all of what his majesty Rút had ordered him to do. 
"Well, if that is all" said Juliska "then we can deal with that!"  

She went inside the house, took out the big book, and for every page she turned, a devil jumped in front of her. When she had enough of them waiting, she ordered them to do what Miska was told, and finish it all by morning. All the devils ran like hell, got to work right away, and by the next morning his majesty Rút had on his breakfast table a nice bowl of steaming porridge, with grease and sugar. He had a hearty meal of it, filling his stomach till it was almost bursting. When he finished, his wife came to him and said: "Listen! You know one thing, this lad knows two! [for every one thing you know]" 
"He does, the rascal!" said the devil, licking his lips. 

 By then Miska knew that all had been resolved; he did not need to worry, as long as he kept carrying on. Once the devil was done with breakfast, he came out of the house to see Miska. "Now, my lad! You are a man. So far, I am satisfied with you. Now I shall give you a new order, and if you fulfill it, you won’t be harmed. There is a great forest here. If by tomorrow morning you don’t tear it all up by the roots, plant a vineyard, and bring me a plate of grapes and a bottle of wine from it for breakfast, you’ll be finished! Count on that, and remember it!"  

This time, Miska did not ponder much; he knew Juliska would help him [pull him out of the mud.] And so it happened. Miska was sitting in the doorway, smoking a pipe, when Juliska came to him and asked what news he had. Miska told her everything in detail. Juliska went and picked up the big book, turning pages and summoning a devil with every turn. Then she stood in front of them and strictly ordered them what to do. They were happy they were not in trouble, and went and did what they were told. By the next morning there was a plane of grapes and a bottle of wine on his majesty Rút’s breakfast table. In the place of the forest there was a vineyard, with vines heavy with ripe grapes. Rút’s wife said to him: "Well! You know one, he knows two!"  

When the devil swallowed the last gulp from the bottle, he went outside to see Miska. "Well, my lad! You have fulfilled two of my orders; if you fulfill the third, you will be a real man. Across seven times seven kingdoms, even across the Óperenciás sea, I have a very good friend. If you don’t take this letter to him, and return by morning, you’ll be finished!"  

And with that, Rút handed him a letter. Miska was shocked; he thought not even Juliska could do this. He paced up and down, waiting for Juliska. She arrived soon enough. 
"Hey! What’s wrong?" 
"Hey! I am in serious trouble. Not even you can fix it!" 
"Tell me anyway! Maybe I can."  
Miska told her, but he was on the verge of tears. She said: "That’s nothing! You know what? Let your horse out to pasture outside the village, and I shall turn into a golden haired mare. You can ride me, we’ll go."  

So it happened. The girl turned into a golden haired mare, and rode with Miska, flying like the wind [through bushes and thickets]. When they came near the palace, the golden haired mare said: "When you go in, only say: May God grant you a good evening, I brought a letter! And then come out, not through the gates, but over them."  
Miska did what he was told. When he handed the letter over, he said no more, and when he came out, he vaulted over the top of the gates. They could hear applaouse behind them, and someone yelling after them: “You did well! Otherwise you would have been turned into tar!” 

 When they reached Juliska’s house, dawn was breaking. His majesty Rút and the old lady were still fast asleep. Juliska turned back into a girl, and Miska went in to announce that he’d returned. The devil shook his head, and his wife said once again: "You know one, he knows two!"  

And with that, Miska’s year of three days was up. But on the way home the lovers had decided to escape, any way they could. They wanted to leave the devil’s lair. Juliska went inside the house, spat on the table three times, and at the break of dawn they both fled. The wife woke up in the morning, called into her daughter’s room: "Wake up, daughter! The sun is up!"  
The first spittle called out: "Coming, mother! Coming right away!"  
After a while, the wife called out again: "Wake up already, daughter! Sweep the house!"  
The second spittle called out: "In a moment!"  
Finally the wife was out of patience, and yelled in very angrily: "Come on already, and start the fire!"
The third spittle only answered: "I’ll be right there!"  
The young lovers were far away by now. The wife called out a fourth time, but no voice answered her. She looked in, and saw no one in the room, except for the three spittles on the table. She grew furious. She grabbed an iron shovel from the corner. "Now, shivel-shovel, iron shovel, we’ll catch up to that pretty girl!"  She sat on the shovel and went after them. When she was high up, she turned into storm clouds dark as soot. She was flying after them like a bird! 

As they were fleeing, suddenly Juliska says to Miska: "Whoa! One of my cheeks is burning, Miska! My mother is after us! I’ll turn into a mill, and you turn into a miller. Take an ax in your hand and work on whittling something. But take care that when my mother comes in a dark storm with a whirlwind she doesn’t pick up a splinter of wood, otherwise I’ll die. Understand?"  
Juliska turned into a mill and Miska into a miller. He picked up an ax and started whittling. Suddenly the dark storm clouds reached them with a great whirlwind that almost swept the mill up. Miska stepped on the splinters to make sure the wind did not move them. The storm saw it couldn’t succeed, so it descended on the mill. Miska took up the ax and slashed at it. Blood fell from the clouds like rain [as if from a rain bag]. The storm saw it couldn’t do anything, and turned back. The mill transformed back into Juliska, and the miller into Miska. 

 The old lady got home, and her husband asked: "Did you see them?"
"I didn’t! I saw someone else." 
"Who did you see?"
"A mill and an old miller whittling something. The miller slashed my arm with his ax so bad, it’s still bleeding." 
"You ass! [donkey, idiot]. It was them!" said his majesty Rút furiously. 

The young lovers continued on their journey. They barely made it half a day’s distance, before Juliska’s cheek started burning again. The woman was flying after them again. Juliska says to Miska: "You turn into a dry weed, and I’ll be a little bird."  They immediately transformed. The old lady goes to them: "Listen, you tweeting little bird! Have you seen such and such young people passing by?" 
"I have, but back then this dry weed was still green." 
"Ooh! That must have been a long time ago! Not recently…"  The old lady turned the shovel around, and shoveled home. There, her husband got started again: "Have you seen them now?" 
"I have seen nothing except a dry weed and a tweeting little bird. I don’t know where they have gone."
"You ass! It was them!" said the devil, and he was so furious he almost knocked his wife over. "Go after them right away, and bring them both back to me!" 

The old woman set out again. She sat on the iron shovel. "Shivel-shovel, iron shovel, we shall catch up to the pretty girl!" and she set off. Juliska sensed her again. She immediately turned into a golden duck, and Miska into a lake. The woman came, stripped off, put her clothes on the shore, pulled off her ring and placed it on her underskirt. When she was up to her neck in the water to catch the duck, the duck flew up, picked up the ring from her clothes (because all the devil’s power was in it), and the lake went dry. The devil’s wife was left standing. No Juliska, no Miska, no ring! Well, her husband will take it out on her! When she got home, his majesty Rút asked her. "So, you are not bringing them after all? Didn’t you hear what I ordered you to do?" 
"I did! But they even took my ring!"  That was all the devil needed to hear. He lunged at his wife. He became like a lion. If you ever wanted to see a beating, you should have been there! The kind of beating the woman got, I wouldn’t take for a hundred forints [that was a lot back then]. She roared desperately like a cow after its calf. But now that they had lost trace of the young lovers, there was nothing to do but accept that they were gone. 

 Miska and Juliska traveled on, more calmly now that no one was pursuing them. They reached the edge of the village were Miska’s father and mother lived. There Juliska told Miska: "Now, I can’t go in with you. Promise that you won’t kiss anyone, and won’t let anyone kiss you. If you do you will forget me, and marry someone else!"  
Miska promised, and said “What are you thinking, my dear Juliska! How could I forget you?” But when he walked through the door, someone ran up to him and kissed his hand. He immediately forgot Juliska.

Everyone rejoiced at home at Miska’s return. He was a changed man, a better person, obedient and tame like a lamb. His father found him a nice girl from the village and announced the engagement; all that was missing was the wedding. Gifts were brought to the house, there was so much kalács [sweet bread] that there wasn’t more space for them even on the benches; many chickens, roosters running around the courtyard, tripping everyone up. Juliska heard the news that Miska was getting married, and grew very sad. She took a pair of doves, male and female [a goose and a hen], put them under a sieve, and brought them to Miska’s. Miska happened to be home. When she handed the gift over, she set the male dove free from under the sieve and only said: "The same thing happened to us, Miska, as to these doves. One of them was left alone."  

Miska immediately remembered his promise. He returned the engagement handkerchief to the other girl, and kissed Juliska. They got married, and they are still living happily today if they haven’t died yet.

Mese, mese, mátka, 
Fekete madárka. 
Uj mente, kopott róka, 
Vesd a vigyorgódra! 

[This is a folktale closing rhyming formula, app. Story story, black little bird, new coat, old fox fur, out it on your face] 

Collected in Besenyőtelek, Heves county. Storyteller: Ragó Lajos, 32 year old peasant, former soldier. Recorded in November, 1903.