I have been reading of late that Barack Pálinka, or apricot brandy is somewhat of a national Hungarian drink. I have also read that it is almost unheard of and actually rude to refuse an offer of a drink of it. The unfortunate thing is that one might end up in a state of inebriation because of it.
It reminds me of an experience I had between December 23rd and 30th of 1971. I was studying in France for the Academic year at the time and while in Paris one weekend, I procured permission, a visa I think, to go to Budapest for a week. My maternal grandparents were still in communication with their relatives and we had addresses. The plan was for me to visit my grandmother’s nephew, István Kovács, and his family.
Things went awry and I arrived only to find the address that I was searching for to be non-existent. I frantically asked for help on the street and finally, in broken English, Hungarian, and French, found someone to help. He helped me hail a taxi and I went to the American Embassy, not being able to find the address.
The Embassy people helped me send a telegram to my grandmother’s relatives in another part of Hungary and then find me a pension to stay in. That was on the 23rd of December; on Christmas Day I received word that gave me the correct address. I am not even sure how it occurred, but apparently my Esperanto-speaking Pension owner called them and within hours they came to pick me up.
We went to their apartment on the tramway and they told me how my friendly Pension proprietor told them to ‘watch me’ as I was suspicious in my behavior. He had given me ideas on what to do in Budapest while I was waiting to find my relatives and I did some of them but not all. Basically I did my own thing. These were the days of Communism and I had been creeped out as I walked along the Danube mid-afternoon only to find the sun going down. Being the only one there on a December afternoon, I actually even felt as if I had been followed!
The Pálinka story came when we took an excursion to Csepel in a very working class suburb (I think) of Budapest. There my cousin, István, his daughter Eva and I met my grandmother’s sister and her son-in-law. This is where the Pálinka came out and I was confronted with the most non-stop drinking ever experienced in my twenty-year-old life. I found it hard to refuse and ended up drinking a lot more than I wanted to. Little did I know that I was just following custom.
Great story, great time, but despite my trying to refind my relatives that I have lost touch with, it hasn’t happened. I have no connection whatsoever to any of the relatives and no hope of doing so. I took all of my names and addresses and sent letters in Hungarian (thanks to a student I took to France who happened to speak and write Hungarian) but no response. I keep hoping something will change in that arena.
Meanwhile, I could go for some Pálinka!