Attila #8: ‘It’s Very Flexible’

Day 7: 24 July 2004

Saturday. I sleep well but for far too short a time. We stagger out tired and zombie-like to the tractor – and thence to the worksite. Jessica, who has slept for a full eight hours, is, in sharp contrast to the rest of us, wide-awake. Steven and Ewan linger at the bottom of the orchard to finish up to finish up the last bit of hay cutting, while the rest of us make for the upper, shady, part.


Remaining in our scything partnerships of the last two days, I work with Jessica and Helen, cutting swathes of grass on the upper left. We are breaking through he orchard fast now, past the hornet’s nest.


At eleven-fifteen, we have a discussion over waterbreaks versus finishing early. The group is split, and in the end it becomes an optional ten minutes of work. Zoë, Helen, Jessica, Imre and myself opt to stay on site and cut our last bits of hay, squaring off the orchard. As we finish up at the end of our first three days of work, we look up the valley at just how much more there is to do.


Back for lunch and on today’s menu we find haricot bean soup followed by chicken with sour cream, mushroom and sour cream dumpling. Over lunch we make plans for the siesta period – now that we have become acclimatised the siesta period is much less over relaxing but for choosing activities that are out of the heat of the sun. For Zoë, Jessica and myself we plan to go up to sketch the church…


This plan is put back an hour. While Martin goes with Gabor in the ‘Green Monster’ – his old-style skoda – to see the countryside and collect Gabor’s girlfriend from a neighbouring village, Attila offers those who want to a bicycle tour.

And so a little after two o’clock, Helen, Jessica, Ewan, Claire and myself take off to Kelemer on the half dozen bicycles to be found in the village.


This is the first time that we have left Gömörszőlős since our arrival four days ago by foot. Thunder rolls around the horizon, and occasionally we feel the odd spot of rain. We cycle up a small hill to a ruin of a house with crumbling stonework and a fine example of the traditional trellising and woodcarving to the veranda posts. Above the front door can be seen a single remaining panel showing a dragon. There once was a pair for this panel on the other side of the door, but it has long since been destroyed or stolen.


Outside the house is an old mulberry tree with a swing hanging from its branches. We stop and gorge ourselves on the juicy fruit until our hands are black and stained. Once we have had our fill of Vitamin C we make use of the blue water pumps – that you find every ten metres or so even in rural areas – to wash our hands. The purple-red stains remain on our skin though as we cycle for home, perhaps to sketch the church…


…maybe later. Ewan has stopped at the shop to buy a watermelon which, after being served up on a silver platter, we devour. Chomping crisp mouthfulls out of the wedges, we send seeds flying across the veranda until Atilla calls us over for a tour of the village museum.


We stash our sketchpads and pencils in our daypacks as we will be up near the church and may have time to draw. Being shown, first the ‘Smokey House’ as Attila calls it – a property now for rent, which has a large open fire but no chimney. Then we cross the garden to see the poet Tompa’s old house, which is now a museum and art gallery. After our aborted efforts at finding the famous oak tree, we realise that this wasn’t just the story of some solitary old man writing poetry in a tree. This was a published poet with a vast cannon of work. We resolve to try again and go and find the tree once more.

Just as it looks like we may at last get to go and sketch at the church, it is time to head home. Supper is served, and tonight it is potatoe á la Drahos, although exactly what that actually was escapes me now. Doubtless to say, sour cream, paprika and most likely dumplings were involved!

After supper it is a talk about honey production on the organic farm by a lady beekeeper who lives next door – who, Zoë discovers later – partakes in topless scything. The talk is interesting, though mainly for the entertainment of Attila’s at times loose translation and demonstration of the pollen dance, we learn that she has 32 hives at present and hopes to have nearly 50 hives. This is not just expansion for expansion sake, for she tells us in order to earn a good business she needs that many as a minimum. Thirty-two just isn’t enough. For some beekeepers they do manage with less hives, but they over-winter the bees by feeding them a syrop cooked up sugar and water, but she is going for the best organic quality, and so they will be fed on their own honey.


Then comes a tasting; two types of honey including the darkly delicious linden tree or lime honey. Sooty and Morgó join us and beekeepers young dogs to the delight of us all. As the light fades we retire to our balcony, Martin and I to write our diaries, Louise to read her book – an autobiography of Hans Christian Anderson that she must read for school.

Attila joins us in his usual jokey style; he Gabor and Francois are going to work on the redcurrent wine, and offers for us to join him. Most go with him to the organic farm, but us three and Ewan stay behind to write and to read, and eventually to decamp to the dining hall for peppermint tea.


As we predict, just as Ewan’s peppermint tea is ready, its smell is a siren call across the call, and the throng descend upon us. The jug for four is remade and the evening continues on for a bit. Finally, Helen, Steven and I are left talking about this and past BTCV holidays, comparing and contrasting them into the small hours.

Day Eight: A lie-in till 7.15, cellar crawling and bull’s blood wine, and gypsy musicians till late…