The Essence of Beauty
In today’s world the nation state is supreme. People are identified by the country in which they live. It is hard to imagine that there was once a time not long ago when nations hardly existed.
During this bygone era, empires led by royalty ruled over people of many different ethnicities speaking a multiplicity of languages. The nation that is today the republic of Hungary looks back to those bygone days when it was a Kingdom as a glorious age.
Local cultures and traditions flourished. That has now all changed and many would say for the better. Others say it is for the worse.
Sure there are immense benefits to being a Hungarian national (universal education and health care) and also being a member of the European Union (a common market, vast employment opportunities).
Conversely, this has led to homogenization, mainly for economic expediency (English as the international language of business, chain stores offering the same products in many different countries).
It is almost unfathomable to grasp the astonishing rapidity with which this has occurred. Globalization continues to expedite the process.
For the modern traveler to countries such as Hungary this creates a quandary
. They are confronted with unique cultural elements integrated with the same symbols of capitalism they find back home.
For instance, a visitor disembarks at the iron and glass Nyugati (western) train station in Budapest. They step out into a gigantic glass covered space, a fine example of the late 19th century architecture conceived by the famed Eiffel Company.
In this same station the visitor finds a McDonald’s housed in the old station dining hall. Here the world’s most ubiquitous fast food establishment is housed in a magnificent space.Looking at the walls, the ceiling, the decorative elements, it feels like a belle époque style ball might break out at any moment.
Nevertheless, it’s time to order that Big Mac. Long lines extend outward from register to register as visitors peer at a menu laden with burgers, fries and McNuggets, never noticing the incredible chandelier hanging above the hall.
Is this the golden arches or golden age? It gets confusing. And this is one of many bizarre moments where old Europe meets modernity.This can leave the visitor searching for authentic culture, something pure, something real, something local. Fortunately, the real thing is just a rail ride away.
In just a little over two hours the rail lines from Nyugati can transport visitors to a place filled with vibrant folk culture, a place called Mezőkövesd.
The small little city of 18,000 inhabitants seems unprepossessing at first. It has a nice baroque church, neatly swept streets, a fine town hall, much like other Hungarian settlements of a similar size.
Then you get to the district of Hadas and everything changes. It is filled with white washed, thatch roofed 19th century peasants houses. A deeper look inside reveals the houses are alive with age old traditions. Doll and furniture making, weaving and of course embroidering all take place inside.
This is the legacy of the Matyó people, who in the 19th century soared to prominence with the most colorful, ornamented peasant costumes in a kingdom filled with peasants. Legend has it that their skillful embroidery started during the times of the Turkish menace.
When a young Matyó man was kidnapped by the Turks, it was said that a girl who was in love with him pleaded for his release. The sultan demanded that she pay a seemingly impossible ransom.
She was to go out in the dead of winter, gather all the flowers she could find in the snow covered meadows and frozen forests.
The girl being quite resourceful embroidered her apron with all the flowers of spring and summer. The astounded Sultan set her young love free. A wonderful story made a bit more believable by the elaborate handiwork of Matyó embroidery.
At the Matyó Museum visitors can see for themselves the stuff legends are made of. The Matyó have woven dreams into reality. Clothes and linens display a fabulous array of colorful patterns.
Take for instance, the aprons which have a black or dark blue background. They are covered with floral designs done with flat stitched embroidery. The hand drawn patterns emphasize floral designs such as tulips and roses.
Rich colors embellish the linens in a mesmerizing complexity. And this is no static folk art. It is constantly being reimagined, building on foundations from the past to create new and dynamic ensembles.
Is it any wonder that the most in demand embroidery of Central Europe comes from the Matyó people?
In this area of northeastern Hungary between the Bükk Hills and Tisza River a rich culture flourishes. In the lavish embroidery we see the essence of Matyó creativity, beauty distilled to its purest form.
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