Festivals for the rest of us

Trip Start Jun 20, 2005
Trip End Jul 07, 2005

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Friday, July 8, 2005

July 7 (Thursday), Budapest-Krivan

Jon came back to Krivan with us on the train, as he is going to join us at the famous Detva festival this weekend.

The next day we went into Zvolen to pick up our wedding photos. Jane and I sat down and went through the photos, sorting the ones we liked (about two-thirds) into one pile and the ones we didn't into another. Just as we were finishing doing this, the photo lady started jabbering away to Jane in Slovak. A rapid conversation ensued. Jane turned to me and said "um, she's pissed off". Apparently the lady had expected us to buy every single one of the photos she had taken. "What about this one?" I said, "it's all out of focus. Or this one, she cut off our heads". The lady countered by scribbling down a bunch of random numbers, dramatically double-underlined the figure of 6000sk (around $250), then plonked it on the table like a poker player declaring a royal flush. I didn't really understand all the cultural and political ins and outs so, in the interests of avoiding a fight, we just paid the money, took our photos and left.

Most of the photos are actually very nice, it just seemed a bit silly to have to buy the crap ones as well.

Janko was waiting for us in the parking lot and when we told him what happened, he flipped out. He called the photo lady on his cell phone and, with much gesticulating and eye-rolling, gave her a right old ticking off. Janko is a great brother and brother-in-law to have. Not only is he a policeman, so can get things done that normal people cannot, but he is very protective of his family and always sticks up for them. When we got home, Jane's dad got involved and started calling people too.

Anyway, the main event of the day was the Detva Folk Festival, a tradition in the region that draws thousands of people from all across the country. Ostensibly it is a celebration of music, dance, crafts and culture but, for most of the young people it is a chance to get royally shit-faced and have a big old outdoor party weekend.

We walked up to the festival site at around 3:30pm, via 'The Well' restaurant that we had visited a week or so earlier. Jon was with us this time of course, so I suggested that he and I order the meals. Then we kicked off the drinking, which would continue for almost another 12 hours. Each time we got a new beer, we would get a photo taken with us holding up the corresponding number of fingers. Mirka, Janko's wife, joined us, and the five of us continued up the hill. The weather was not quite as nice as it had been last year, with intermittent drizzle. The music and dance show was pretty good, despite the inclement weather. A whole bunch of suited VIPs showed up, including the Prime Minister and some of his ministers.

Immediately after the show we got started on the food and drink. The festival site is laid out in two parts. The stage area is built into a hill, with seating right up the slope and the large wooden stage at the bottom. The other, much larger part, is the flat area behind the stage. For most of the year it is just grassy fields but for this one weekend it is transformed into a mass of sausage and beer wagons, makeshift tents with rows and rows of tables and benches and throngs of people. With a plastic cup of beer in one hand and a delicious klobasa sausage in the other, we shuffled our way through the crowd of young party-goers in search of a table. Naturally, Jane seemed to know every second person despite her not even having lived here for 12 years. We found a corner of a table and somehow the five of us squeezed our way into it. Unfortunately, the combined weight of nine or ten people on a bench designed for four, on top of damp grass caused the bench to collapse in a heap, sending bodies, beer and sausage parts flying off in all directions. The other patrons of our tent found this very amusing, with the notable exception of the original inhabitants of the bench, who trudged off to find a tourist-free area.

Successfully re-established on a new bench, we settled into some fairly steady drinking. Janko and I were the heavy drinkers of the group, downing 12 and 10 respectively, with the photo evidence to prove it. Conversation also begun to flow, despite the locals not speaking any English and us not speaking any Slovak. Alcohol has the ability to break down language barriers, so we were suddenly best friends with a collection of Detvan twenty-somethings.

By around 3am, the festival was still going strong, albeit with a smaller number of die-hards. Despite the presence of a few policemen, the festival had a kind of anarchic free-spirit to it. People were stumbling around, clearly smashed, urinating against anything vertical, sleeping on the ground, shouting loudly at nothing in particular and generally being rowdy without any official intervention. No one was being stupid though, so the police just let them be. We decided we'd had enough, so we stumbled off into the night. Fortunately we only had about a 30 minute walk to Janko's apartment, where we managed to fall asleep without difficulty.
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