07. 29. 2006. 15:06

In the Valley of Arts

28 July–6 August 2006

It’s a fact: in summer, people go on holiday. Why? Because the sun is shining; it’s hot; work is scarce; or the family is together, and everybody is fed up with Budapest – where we all love living, if it weren’t for the concrete soaking in the heat, the streets stinking of dog shit and other decomposing biological waste.

Getting from one spot to another becomes impossible because of the seasonal roadwork. Even the byways are excavated and hopelessly jammed.

So Budapest, no matter how much we love it, is out. Let us then examine the alternatives: the Bahamas (out because of the financial implications), neighbouring countries (out because they are too near), other countries (out because they are too far, and above all, because we don’t want to talk about them), or other regions in Hungary. (Now, there we are at last!)

There’s one thing that should be kept in mind about the Hungarian people’s soul: it has been greatly damaged by one great drawback: lost access to the sea, suffered due to Hungary's historical tactical errors. So the small lake appearing on the southwest portion of its map, Lake Balaton, being the largest body of water in the country, has acquired a cult status – well, it has acquired the title of the Hungarian Sea, at least. The fact that its shores were also used for decades as a meeting place for Germans separated by the Wall – we may say that we took advantage of it as long as we could – has added to its appeal. The funny thing is that we don’t seem to understand why the Germans lost interest in the object of our pride after reunification.

Still, there are elements within our nation who, contaminated by Freud’s theories, show a more sublimated, more conscious emotional approach. They refuse to declare themselves so openly, and they seem to have made the right choice; for, theirs is the hilly region north of the Balaton. This region composed of tiny villages and plenty of basalt can be said to be one of the most picturesque parts of the country.

This is where the village of Kapolcs can be found, a village which, together with five others situated in its neighbourhood, decided one day to create an artistic festival under the name of Valley of the Arts. Since that day (more than ten years ago), every year at the end of July and for a period of ten days, the streets of those villages are filled with young people wearing satchels, who look like university students, and older people who look like vendors on their day off. Some come for the pubs and eateries that seem to operate out of almost every house. Others seek nourishment by filling up with contemporary culture. Tents are set up in every garden; the barns fill at night with dozens of figures in sleeping bags. Cars and hitchhikers occupy every road. The appearance of special buses also complicates the local traffic. Villages usually inhabited by peace and quiet now echo with jazz and acoustic concerts, classical and dance music, theatre performances and literary readings. Movie soundtracks and spontaneous burst of music bubble up here and there. The caves fill with hikers and the woods with onlookers.

The village of Pula, the quietest of all, is the harbour of Bárka Theatre, presenting theatre performances, concerts, readings and round tables. It is always – even at its busiest – much quieter than Kapolcs’s main street, with its pubs and eating places eternally crammed full. The local quarry looks like the stadium of Wimbledon on the day of a Sting (or say, U2) concert. Hundreds jump into the water of the quarry lake happily, ignoring the “Bathing Prohibited” sign. Everybody seems happier than usual – maybe simply because we are happy ourselves. Well, this is the Valley of the Arts.

Why are we so happy? Because there are ants walking on our bare feet and because the sun is shining in our eyes. Meanwhile, onstage, writers and poets - Ottó Tolnai or Lajos Parti Nagy, Péter Esterházy or János Háy, Magda Szabó or Endre Kukorelly - are talking about their concept of literature. We can lie down on the earth while the Budapest Ragtime Band is playing, and we can dance to the music of the gipsy band Ando Drom. If we look behind a fence, we may very well glimpse a dancer dancing behind it. If we get lost in the big dark wood, we might come upon a theatre performance. The covered bus stop is transformed into a bookshop and exhibition space for one and a half weeks. If we find two dustbins and manage to come by two wooden sticks, there will certainly be others who have the same idea, which means that we will have at least a half-hour drum session together. We will be taken by a car if we are hitchhiking; or, if we have a car,  we will pick up hitchhikers. Two tickets allow six people into a paying concert provided there is somebody going back and forth with the tickets. Sooner or later, we are sure to meet somebody we know, the wine is good, and giving blood or cutting ambrosia is rewarded with a free day-ticket. We can bathe in the crowd or retire and be alone. We can sit in a pub, on a bench, on a bus, on the floor or in a church. In the quiet village pub, there is a French Gypsy musician giving an international first-class guitar concert just for the pleasure of it. The plainest and most trivial local pubs cater for and adapt to the visitors’ invasion, but not so the village shop. We get a picture of the fact that there is life outside the city, and if it is not the same, it is at least as liveable – if not more so – than our own. It is always good to slip into someone else’s skin, which may just as well be our own. We can get a picture of the fact that there are lives other than our own – and that places us outside of ourselves. Even if it’s not quite being ourselves, it’s just as good, if not better, than being ourselves.

A few words about this year’s festival: the Valley expects its guests from July 28 to August 6 for the - by now - traditional programmes: among others, the festival of historical and sacred music in the village churches, the jazz festival in Kapolcs, Percussion Valley in Taliándörögd and Monostorapáti with the Amadinda Ensemble, spelunking excursions in Öcs, the local history site in Taliándörögd, the Bárka Theatre's All-arts Festival in Pula, potters’ and ceramists’ meetings, guest performances by the Illyés Gyula Theatre of Beregszász (Beregovo), and the folklore and handicraft fair. This year, there is also a series of novelties. The Hungarian branch of the Nokia mobile phone company organised a film festival for the first time; Heritage Valley presents an exhibition of local “history and values” for visitors; and finally, Öcs will be the site of the World and Folk Music Village, the Krétakör Company's new production at the so-called UFO base, as well as the three-day Csángó Festival.

Gabriella Györe

Photo by Róbert Kassay

Translated by Kinga Dornacher

Website of the Valley of Arts

Tags: 28 July–6 August 2006