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The Good Life in Aggtelek National Park Part 82: Szomolya Cherry Festival Saved by the Frim Fram Band

frim fram bandLast year Kata and I represented Aggtelek National Park at the Kaptarkő Festival in Szomolya, and we were told then that there is also an annual cherry festival held in the village. We decided to return in 2016 and try and get a few cherry saplings for our new orchard while we were at it.

We arrived just as the rain started. We needed the rain, and it is something we could deal with. Otherwise I expected more from the event. Walking into the village, the first 100m of stalls were the typical kitsch plastic shit and candies that seem to be represented at any festival or village day throughout the country (this stuff could and should be banned from traditional cultural events).  Following over two hours in the car we immediately went in search of a toilet. The festival attracts an average of 30000 visitors a year, but there were only 3 toilets available in the community centre and not even a single port-a-potty. We took shelter in the community centre and had a look at the mini retro exhibition. Besides old photos and a display of Hungarian pengő money, there was an interesting glass cabinet of ads from old matchbox covers.

We walked around and were disappointed not to find any cherries, cherry saplings, cherry strudel, or cherry themed handicrafts to speak of. We finally settled on very good potato bread (krumpli lángos) for lunch. I would have had a beer with that, but the Debrecen Microbrew stand was charging 500 HUF for a small beer. As we discovered, everything was very overpriced. In Hungary there seems to be a festival price, and the normal price if you buy the same product any other day of the week at the shop. This is especially the case in small villages, like Hollokő (and Szomolya), that appear to want to squeeze every penny from their one yearly tourist event. In addition, I was cheated on the coffee I ordered from a swearing tuk-tuk coffee vendor. While eating our potato bread and discussing our disappointment, the woman sitting next to us came to our aid and said to stroll down cherry lane by the church. We never would have spotted it on our own.

This is where all the locals and cherry products had been hiding. We sampled several types of delicious cherry strudel for a normal 200 HUF a slice, and I had a massive slice of cherry wedding challah (esküvői kalács) that I nibbled at for the rest of the day. Back on the main street we bought a kilo of fresh crunchy cherries for 1000 HUF, but back home the next day we were able to purchase cherries from the same area for only 300 HUF/kg. No cherry tree saplings were available, and we were told by everyone we spoke with that no one in the village or the area deals with this.

The rain finally let up enough for us to enjoy a show by a group of folk dancers and singers from the Csepp-Csepel Dance Group. They travelled a long way, and the children were very enthusiastic. However, I have never seen folk dancing and singing by groups at festivals or village days that employed lip-synching - no matter how young the performers. 

I was ready to go by this point and we headed back to the toilets. While I went in, Kata had discovered a smaller stage and said there was a harmonica player I should check out. I was enchanted by the Frim Fram Band - they saved the day. The duo of Canadian Eleanor Young - vocals and rhythm guitar and Péter Modos - harmonica and guitar (bassist László Koós was not there) play a mix of swing, blues, folk and gypsy jazz. I was very impressed by Eleonor's voice and Péter's harmonica playing. They perform at various places in Budapest, but are currently making the summer festival circuit. Catch their show if you can! In the meantime, here is their soundcloud link.