Wednesday, February 3, 2010


In an effort to procure some meaningful birthday presents (and maybe a sacrifice to the pagan ikon Valentin), I took a short field trip this afternoon to Nádudvar, a small village about an hour outside of Debrecen. When I got on the bus, it was cold and cloudy, just as the weather report the night before had indicated. When I got off the bus in Nádudvar, I found myself in the middle of a blizzard.

Nádudvar is famous for its black pottery. Though the shape and patterns might otherwise resemble the prototypical Hungarian pottery, in lieu of a white background glaze and colorful painted flowers, the pottery is black. In fact, so black, it resembles lead. Folk-art flowers are drawn into the black glaze with the aid of several types of pumice stones that create a matte, shiny, or textured finish.

After walking two kilometers through the blizzard from the bus stop, I finally arrived at 152 Fő utca. Err, what was supposed to be 152 Fő utca (152 Main Street). In actuallity, it was 152 Vörös Hadsereg utca: 152 Red Army Street. Perhaps the street name has been changed on the map, but it looks like someone forgot to change the street signs and address tiles. Ajaj!

With two inches of fresh snow on the ground, 152 Red Army Street looked just like every other house on Red Army Street (surprised much?). But instead of curly-haired Mangalica pigs inhabiting the old adobe shed's thatched roof, the windows revealed tables and table of pottery. The shed was empty and locked, so I crunched through the snow over to the main house's steps to ring the bell. A middle-aged man answered the door, and I stammered out as fast as possible, “HelloSir,IamsorrytobotheryoubutIamlookingforsomeblackpotteryDoyouknowhereIcanfindsome?”. He took one look at me, the frizzy-haired American covered in a centimeter of snow (I had been walking for over thirty minutes!) wearing bright blue rubber boots and ringing his doorbell in the middle of a blizzard, and said “ I will be right out, just let me grab my coat.”

We walked over to his shed/studio, where he proceeded to give me a twenty minute tour of his operations. He showed me the pottery his direct ancestors had made in 1772 – they have passed down the craft since the beginning of the eighteenth century. He showed me his family tree, and gave me the lowdown on each of his family members and their skills. He showed me the whole in the ground where he stores the wet clay before use. He showed me his kiln, essentially a closed adobe beehive fireplace. Only then did he ask what type of products I was looking for. But instead of showing me something he already had in stock, he started writing notes. Then he asked me to write down the name of the person it was for, and what designs I was looking for. At first I didn't understand – was my Hungarian that bad? Could he not understand me, so was resorting to hieroglyphics? I had no idea that my trip to buy some pottery would require a second trip to Nádudvar: he wanted to make the pieces specifically for me, so they were exactly what I wanted. When I asked how much it would cost, I almost felt guilty accepting such personalized work for such a low price. But then he asked me to drink some of his házipálinka (homemade fruit brandy fire water) with him to celebrate the I quickly forgot any such guilt whatsoever. A burning throat and a buzzing head is rather distracting.

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