Tuesday, July 18, 2017

My Hometown, Sarospatak #OurAuthorGang

Sarospatak will always be my hometown
no matter where I choose to live.
by Erika M Szabo

I grew up in this lovely historical town, Sárospatak, in northern Hungary of the Bodrog river valley.
The area has been inhabited since ancient times and Sárospatak was granted town status in 1201 by King Emeric. Today the town is a tourist attraction and an important cultural center.
The Rakoczi var's ground was one of my favorite playgrounds when I was a kid. We played the wargame with my friends and defended the castle against the Habsburgs with toy swords and muskets.

The cultural center was beautifully rebuilt after I moved away. I have fond memories from my childhood researching in the library and enjoying the wide variety of programs in the theater.  

I found this picture of people relaxing in the cultural center's plaza. 

The waterpark is a major tourist attraction today. When I was a kid, there was only one pool where people relaxed in the hot thermal water that is known to ease arthritis pain. 
There is a beautiful tradition every year when the town celebrates the patron saint, St. Erzsebet's life. People dress up in costumes and reenact Erzsebet's life from birth to her death.

Hungarians have a special bond with horses and there is rarely a celebration without them.

Even Santa comes to town with the Krampuses on horseback.

The novella I published last year plays out in Sarospatak. Jayden, an archeologist from New York is fascinated by Hungarian history and participating in an important dig in Sarospatak. His sister, Emily, decides to spend her summer vacation from medical school in their grandmother's home and joins her brother. By coincident or fate, she meets her childhood playmate, Daniel, at the airport. Daniel never forgot his first love and they rekindle their bond on the long flight to Budapest. Emily meets her excited brother and Jayden tells her that he found a leather book in his grandmother's secret room. the book was written in 426 by a shaman. Emily can read the ancient runes, and they learn about their family's curse. They also find out that the curse cast by their ancestor remains unbroken, it will bring tragedy and ruin their lives as it destroyed many of their ancestors' lives for centuries. Will they find the way to break the ancient curse? Could Emily find happiness with her childhood friend, Daniel?

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Excerpt from the novella:
Emily woke from a jumbled dream about the happy summers she spent with her grandma and Daniel. In her dream, she saw bits and pieces. For a few seconds they were riding the neighbors’ horses in the woods, and next, they were swimming in the river and rescued the tiny kittens that a cruel woman threw into the water. They played soccer on the field with Daniel’s friends and then snuck out of the coffee shop without paying for the pastries.

Emily turned to Daniel who was looking at her, smiling, and asked, “Do you remember the cream puffs? We never paid for them.”

Daniel laughed, “Oh, yes! I felt so guilty that the next day I broke into my piggy bank and went back to pay for them. Good morning, by the way,”

“Where are my manners? Good morning,” Emily replied.

The flight attendant started serving breakfast and announced that they would land in about an hour.
The time passed quickly, and, sipping their coffee, they felt the great plane begin to descend. Soon they saw Budapest from bird view, and the Danube River separating Buda and Pest. Daniel handed his camera to Emily and asked her to take a few pictures as the plane circled the city before taking the position for the final descent to the airport.

The landing was smooth and everyone thanked the captain and flight crew for the safe flight by clapping and cheering. After the plane had taxied into the arrival deck, the passengers started gathering their bags and left the plane.

After getting their luggage, Emily turned her phone on and texted her brother. “I’m here.” Jayden texted back. Emily, feeling a slight disappointment about parting with Daniel, texted back, “I’ll be out shortly.”

She turned to Daniel and said, “Jayden made it. I guess I don’t need to take you up on your offer.”

“Too bad, I was hoping we could ride together, but can we have dinner at my house? I’ll cook,” he asked with a smile.

“I’d like that,” Emily answered, and with a twinkle in her eyes, she said, “You cook? You’re a keeper, then.” She blushed as soon as the words left her mouth, “I mean… I didn’t mean to make it sound like that; it was just grandma… she always said that a man who cooks is a keeper.”

"I remember your grandma’s wise words and her wooden spoon too.” He laughed and continued,       "She was very quick about slapping our butts with her long-handled spoon when we stepped over the line of her rules.”

“Yes, she was strict.” Emily giggled and said, “But we learned to follow her rules quickly.”

“Emily!” She heard Jayden’s voice, and when she looked in his direction, she saw her brother standing by the door, unshaven and disheveled in faded jeans and dusty sneakers.
Emily hugged him and then took a step back, “I guess you didn’t have time to shower. You stink!” She grimaced.

“Sorry, I didn’t want to waste time,” he said. And then he noticed Daniel standing a few feet from them asked, “Who’s the guy?”

Emily motioned for Daniel to come closer, “This is Daniel. Do you remember? He was grandma’s neighbor, and we played together when we were kids.”

“Oh, yeah!” Jayden extended his hand, “How are you doing man?”

Daniel accepted his handshake, saying, “I’m doing fine. We ran into each other at the airport. I’m going to start medical school in the fall in New York.”

“Great, nice to see you,” Jayden answered hurriedly and turned to Emily, “Let’s go. I have so much to tell you.”

Emily and Daniel exchanged phone numbers. Emily promised to be at Daniel’s house at seven, and then they parted.
Jayden hurried toward the parking garage, pulling Emily’s luggage.

“Slow down, Jay,” Emily cried out as she lagged behind with her carry-on bag. “I can’t keep up if you’re running like that.”

“Sorry.” Jayden looked back and slowed down, “I’m so eager to show you what I’ve found.”

“What is it?” Emily tried to catch her breath.

“It’s a kind of book, leather sheets sewn together. It’s written with ancient runes. I think the letters were burned into the leather. I should’ve learned from Grandma to read it, like you did.”

“That’s so exciting.” Emily started walking faster. “Did you bring it with you?”

“Yes, it’s in the car, I thought you could start translating it on the ride home. Here is my car in this row.”

They reached the old Porsche that was their grandma’s car and Jayden packed Emily’s luggage into the trunk. He reached into the back and pulled a duffel bag from the back seat. He opened the zipper and took out a package wrapped in old-looking leather sheets. When Jayden unwrapped it, inside she saw what was indeed a book, made of leather sheets sewn together.

Jayden handed it to Emily and asked, “What do you think?”

She fingered the soft leather, “It’s old and still so pliable,” she mused. “Look, the Sacred Turul is burned into the cover.”

“May the sacred Turul guide and protect us,” they chanted the ancient line that every Hun whispered when they saw a falcon, alive or in a picture. The spirit of the falcon called Turul in ancient Hun mythology is the protector of the Huns for eternity.

Emily got into the passenger seat, opened the book, and scanned the pages. Jayden started the engine and pulled out of the parking space. The traffic was heavy in the city, but soon they were driving northeast on the smooth highway.

“So, what do you think?” Jayden asked.

“Wow! Let me read it.” Emily turned to the first page and started translating.

I am Zoan, the humble Shaman of the Roaring Falcon tribe. I’m going to write Aisa’s story in details with the hope that the descendants of Aisa could read this and break the powerful curse in the future. It happened on the third moon of the year 426, the events that led to Tuana’s curse. The day Aisa was forced to leave her happy childhood behind and take the reality and responsibilities of adulthood.
Emily lowered the book to her lap and turned to her brother, “Jay, could this be written so long ago?”
“I think so, or rather hope so. Please read on.”

Emily lifted the book, and said, “I’m winging it here because I’m not familiar with this word átokja, but I think it is the old version of átok, which means curse. Also, there is another phrase— akarata erősségje. I think it means powerful.”

“Just do your best and you can do a more detailed translation later.”

“Okay, here it goes.”
Aisa, unaware of her fate, gave her horse a gentle squeeze with her knees, to run faster. Willow zigzagged between the jurtas that were lined up in a semicircle, leaving a broad plaza in the middle. Aisa glanced up at the tall wooden pole that stood in the center of the square. It had intricate designs carved into it and was painted with brilliant colors. On top of it was a giant carved falcon, standing with wings open wide, as if it was getting ready to take flight. Oh, I’m so late; my mother is going to kill me, she thought and prompted her horse to run faster. An old woman who was carrying firewood stopped and shook her head in disapproval. “These youngsters are riding like demons,” she mumbled, looking after Aisa.

Aisa reached her home. She slid off the mare’s back in a hurry and fastened the horse’s rein to a wooden pole. Her breaths came in short puffs, and her rosy cheeks glistened with perspiration. She patted the horse’s neck, gave her an armful of hay, and poured fresh water from a leather bag that hung on the pole into a clay bowl. She whispered, “I have to hurry, but I’ll be back soon, Willow, promise.”

She hurried up to the entrance of the tent-like building, called Jurta, with a few long strides. She parted her kaftan-like dark blue overcoat, pulled up her baggy trousers, and smoothed her white tunic that her mother had adorned with delicate flower designs. Aisa pulled the leather entrance cover aside with a heavy sigh, and she braced herself mentally for the long lecture that she knew she must endure.

As usual, she was late for her herbal lessons with her mother, a beautiful, statuesque, dark-haired woman who slowly rose from a curved sofa-like piece of furniture. Soft light coming from the opening at the ceiling shone on her green, delicately-decorated calf-length tunic that she wore with loose black trousers. Her hair was braided with thin leather thongs and hugged her shoulders.
Aisa took off her boots and placed them by the entrance. She winced when Mara’s high-pitched, angry voice hit her like a whip. “You are late, again, young lady! Didn’t I tell you to be home by the time the sun reaches the head of the Falcon? Look!” she pointed at the pole through the door.

Aisa quickly let the leather curtain slide back to cover the door, dutifully bowed, and whispered, “Yes, Mother. Sorry, Mother.”

She always wanted to please her mother, she really did, but she could rarely live up to her expectations. Luckily, Mara’s anger and lectures were as brief as summer storms, so Aisa obediently stood by the entrance and lowered her eyelids to hide the playful twinkle in her eyes. Her long, black hair, which was braided in two rows, slid off her shoulders as she bowed her head, and she adjusted her delicately-woven horsetail headband that kept the stray hairs out of her face. Aisa took a hesitant step forward on the thick, wool carpet that covered the dirt floor of the Jurta.

“Where were you?”

“We were… I was… I got some herbs, too. Look!” Aisa hoped that she could divert her mother’s attention, so she quickly opened the leather pouch that contained some flowers that she had collected. Lying wasn’t in her nature, but concealing the truth a little by trailing the conversation away from the sensitive subject was widely used in her tribe, especially by teenagers.
Emily looked at Jayden with suspicion in her eyes. “Jay, where did you get this?”

“I found it in a secret room in grandma’s house. It was wrapped up and hidden in a wooden trunk with a bunch of other books and stuff. When I opened it I saw it was Hun writing and it made me angry that I couldn’t read it.”

“A secret room?” Emily mused. “I thought I knew every nook and cranny of grandma’s house. How did you find it?”

Jayden gave her an excited look and said, “A few days ago Aunt Julia asked me to fix the leak on the roof when the ceiling in the corner of the living room got wet after a long rain. When I was trying to figure out the location of the leak on the roof, I noticed that above that corner of the living room the guest bedroom seemed too small. So, after I fixed the shingles on the roof, I looked around carefully in the room. I couldn’t find anything, but when I knocked on the wall, it sounded different in one area about the size of a narrow door. So I kept searching and the only promising thing I found was a round shape, a darker spot about the size of a dime on the wooden floor close to the wall.”

“And?” Emily urged him, her interest peaking.  

“So, that small dark spot wasn’t smooth. The impression of a flying falcon was carved into it.
I pressed it with my finger and when nothing happened, I tried to push it and tap on it with different tools. I almost gave up when I remembered the ring that grandma gave me.” Jayden extended his left hand and showed it to Emily. “See? It looks like a seal and it has the Falcon on it. So, I pulled the ring off my finger and tried it. It perfectly fits into the grooves of the dark spot on the floor and when I turned the ring, the hidden door in the wall opened.”

“Wow! It’s so exciting! Did you tell Aunt Julia about it?”
“Nope, I searched when she went shopping.”

“Maybe she knows… So, what else is in the room?”

“There is a lot of stuff in there. Old clothes, bows and arrows, and I saw a beautiful leather saddle and statues. Lots of statues.”

“Why didn’t you take the book to the Museum?”

“Maybe one day, but it belongs to our family and I want to know what’s in it. You can translate the pages a whole lot faster and more accurately than anyone employed by the Historical Society.”

“But if you don’t submit it, you can’t even have the book dated. How can you be sure is authentic?”

“My girlfriend works at the lab and I gave her a piece of the leather covering and a corner of a page two days ago. She said she could run the test and keep it a secret.”

“Can you trust her?”

“Oh, yes. We met last summer when I was working here. I asked her to come with me to New York when I went home in the fall, but she turned me down. She said that she couldn’t leave her home and family. We kept in touch as friends and when I came back and we found out that neither of us had started a relationship with anyone else, we started dating again. Anyway, her future with the group depends on her keeping it a secret because she’s not allowed to do unauthorized tests. So, she will keep it a secret, trust me. Anyway, she doesn’t know what it is. I told her that I found the small pieces in grandma’s attic. I asked her to do the test as a private testing and don’t document it anywhere.”

“Are you sure she wouldn’t tell anyone?”

“I’m positive. She could lose her job doing unauthorized tests anyway. Would you read more?”

“Alright. Let me see.” Emily turned the leather page and continued reading.

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Enjoy some ancient music