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The American Caliban

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Slide away to the Lard Coast [Aug. 30th, 2004|02:33 am]
The American Caliban
[Current Mood |pleased]

A gem from 1997 that I had been missing for years, located again. Dork Zygotian is the creation of Bob Cohen, a writer and musician who used to write for a few English-language publications based in Hungary.



By Dork Zygotian <dork@deleteit.isys.hu>

It’s vacation time again, and eager travelers are trying to decide where to go this year. Will it be the warm seas and white sand beaches of the Caribbean, or the small hills and windswept plains of Hungary? Ocean breezes or Trabant fumes? Grilled Red Snapper or boiled carp?

Well, now you don’t have to choose between the two! Come on down to the latest tourist find in the Antilles! The tiny Hungarian island of Saint Laszlo awaits you!

Yes! Saint Laszlo is one of the last undiscovered gems of the Caribbean, an island so small and insignificant that even Hungarians had forgotten about this relic of their imperial splendor nestled between the Venezuelan coast and Key West, Florida. Since 1989, however, more and more Saint Laszlonians have been traveling abroad, and more tourists are discovering this Uralic sandbar in Paradise, with its quaint customs, savoury cuisine, and bad telephone system.

HISTORY

Saint Laszlo, an uninhabited island known to the Arawak indians of the Caribbean as “Guaccatuccaijandebrecen” was discovered during the 17th century by Spanish pirates, who used the tiny (one mile wide, four miles long) islet as a base to wash dishes and read the newspaper in between raids on English and french shipping. During the 18th century the island passed from the crown of Spain to the British, and then in quick succession to the French, the Swedish crown, back to the British, then to a Spanish concession, French again, then to the Danes, and then back to the British. The colonial powers imported African slaves via Brazil and Cuba to work on the clam plantations along the coast, but with the collapse of the inland’s aloe vera industry (shampoo having not yet been invented) the island lapsed into an economic depression and tropical torpor. During the Napoleanic wars, however, the local British commissioner for the island hosted a delegation from the Hapsburg crown, and the island was lost in a game of poker to Count Laszlo Turoczy de Lakotelep, a Hungarian nobleman. The Count was a great supporter of Hungarian independence, and as soon as the Hapsburg delegation had left the island, Count de Lakotelep hoisted the flag of the Hungarian crown, poured himself a stiff rum punch, emancipated the island’s population, and went fishing.

Spurred by postcards sent home by the illustrious Count, other Hungarians were eager to emigrate to this minute outpost of Hungary in the colonial Caribbean. The first shipload of fourteen arrived in 1817, with a couple more a few years later. After an influx of refugees following the 1848 Hungarian Revolution, the Count felt the island had gotten too crowded and stopped sending postcards. The economy of Saint Laszlo underwent sweeping changes with the collapse of the plantation system. A visitor from Trinidad wrote in the 1850s “Today I paid a courtesy visit to the Count’s aloe holdings in the parish of New Pesht, but as the labourers were far more interested in the drinking of their coffee and the reading of their newspapers, nothing could get done.” Energy was diverted from agriculture to bureaucracy, and soon Saint Laszlo was exporting rubber stamps and countless carbon copies of pointless documents to other islands.

During the negotiations leading to the historic 1867 compromise between the Hapsburg crown and the Hungarian Parliament, the colonial compact defining Saint Laszlo’s status was unfortunately lost in a stack of papers at a coffeehouse after one too many brandies, and Hungarian possession of the island was simply forgotten. Except for a few family contacts and a trickle of immigration, Saint Laszlo was to spend the next century in rum and palinka soaked obscurity.

After 1989, however, the island’s economy was on the verge of collapse, and increasing numbers of Saint Laszlonians chose to emigrate to London and New York, where increasingly met with other Hungarians. Saint Laszlonians are renowned for their skill as taxi drivers, and upon hearing Hungarian spoken in their cabs, they would respond in the native Saint Laszlonian patois, a rich mixture of Hungarian and Caribbean English and Haitian creole. This often resulted in better tips, and increasing numbers of Saint Laszlonians began taking their vacations at Lake Balaton. Today ties between the island and the Hungarian motherland are growing, although true to the scale of Saint Laszlo, in very small amounts.

In an effort to get Soros money for a women’s center and kick start a tourist industry, Saint Laszlo today celebrates its Pannonian heritage and is open to all who seek their own Uralic place in the sun!

THINGS TO KNOW!

Getting there. Difficult. Saint Laszlo’s harbor town, Portopotti can be reached by regular kayak, canoe, and rowboat service from Jamaica, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, and someplace off the coast of Panama (ask for Carlos). Air Saint Laszlo and Malev have recently agreed to provide regular service with a new fleet of ultralight aircraft and paragliders from their new hub air-service in Des Moines.

GEOGRAPHY: Flat, surrounded by water. On the north coast, Mt. Langos (7 meters) towers above the Hajdu National Mangrove Swamp Park, and expeditions can be arranged the nearby village of Old Laci. Be sure to visit the picturesque Puszta stretching for several meters south on the western peninsula. Take the cure at the famed medicinal baths in East Furdo, famous for treatment for arterial sclerosis, agita, and sunburn.

POPULATION: 2, 043 (maybe 2,044 by now.) The Saint Laszlonians are a creole mix descended from Africans, Hungarians, and a boatload of rather friendly Argentinean traveling actresses, who were actually French, who arrived in 1934 and never left.

ECONOMY: Gross national product in 1996 was USD$ 874.32. The local currency is the Pingo, which trades at SLP 2,987,560.54 to the US dollar, and is depreciated each Thursday at four pm. Bring lots of brightly colored baseball caps for cab drivers! The main industries are taxi driving, politics, drinking coffee, clam gathering, lard patty manufacture, and tourism.

GOVERNMENT: The 2,043 residents of Saint Laszlo have a lively political life represented by 432 political parties, 89 non-governmental caucuses, 650 NGOs, and three all-night bars. The ruling coalition, the LLLU (Liberal Laci Litigation Union) has ruled since 1908.

RELIGION: Catholic 45%, Calvinist 45%, Jewish 5%, followers of Afa, the local Afro-Caribbean-Hungarian religion, 100%.

ACCOMMODATION: Laci Panzio, in the capitol (three beds, also a comfy chair in the TV room, swimming pool, sauna, pig-killing shed. Tel. (965-1) 4) Also the Forum Hotel, Chickentown, offers excellent accommodation on Jozsefvaros Bay (4 beds, 2 comfy chairs, conference center, swimming pool, toilet, ice box. Tel. (965-2) 3)

CUISINE: Laszlonian cuisine combines rich Hungarian cooking traditions with fresh, local Caribbean ingredients. The cuisine is unique in the tropics in the predominance of heavy, starchy foods cooked in lard and smothered in sour cream. Try the local specialty, Conch Gulyas, traditionally cooked outdoors by clam gatherers known as “klamos”. Delicate Caribbean fish such as snapper and kingfish are boiled into the paprika flavored stew called “Halasz pot”. Goat lecso, tripe ‘n’ yam, creamed “kids and livvies”, and stuffed cabbage made with jungle snails appear on all menus. Pork is the favored meat of the islanders, and has led to a wide array of island specialties including lard soup, lard fritters, lard balls, lard ‘n’ yam, lard flowers, lard surprise, “fat ‘n’ lardy”, lard croquettes, lard patties, lardos and the more delicate, almost feathery larditas, the perfect end to a Saint Laszlonian meal. Coconut strudel, mango pastry, and passion fruit fried in lard and topped with bacon are available on almost every street corner on both of the streets. Wash your meal down with some light and fruity Mango Tokaj wine, or a North Coast Bikaver, reputed to be among the best of south Caribbean red wines! The local tipple is palinka, a form of rum made from beach plums, which is available in both three and five liter bottles.

FOLKLORE: The majority of the population are members of one or another sect of the Afro-Hungarian religion called Afa. Afa is a traditional syncretic belief system which combines features of Afro-Caribbean world view with a more pessimistic central-european outlook on fate, and is enriched by a mythical obsession with the poetry of Endre Ady and re-runs of the TV series Dallas. “Afa will get you!” goes the folk saying, “Nothing is stronger than Afa!”. The earthly representation of Afa is the spirit Apeh, pervasive and nosey, which demands that each and every transaction made be consecrated to the Gods of Afa with a slip of paper representing some form of sacrifice. Descendants of various African and Hungarian families often maintain separate cult houses in which to worship Afa and Apeh, and a visit to the Afa cult shrine in the Yoruba-Paloc village of East Nograd at carnival time is not to be missed. The priests of Apeh stalk the village homes looking for sacrificial hard currency transactions, while the local people, dressed in fantastic creole-hussar costumes, parade through the streets to the accompaniment of drums and cimbaloms singing the ancient cult songs in the local creole, such as “Apeh! Apeh! Menya franzba! Menya franzba! Afa! Afa! Penzunk mar neench! Tunj mar ell!” (Prof. Hilton Kayeftee, of the University of Saint Laszlo, gives a translation of this song as ‘God of Greed, go to France! God of Sacrifice, we’re broke, eat tuna!”) At the height of the festivities, the main square of Saint Laszlo is crowded with carnival dancers doing the national dance of the island, the “Szamla” to the sound of booming drums and the ever-present cimbaloms, waving hundreds of colorful little pieces of paper (the “szamla” from which the dance gets its name) and spitting in the street. The evening ends with the parking of hundreds of little cars on the sidewalk to the raucous singing of the creole song “Trabby, trabby, ohhh! Budosh, budosh trabby, ohhh!”

LITERATURE: Saint Laszlonians are particularly proud of their local poets, and no visitor should leave without picking up an anthology or fourteen of their work. Zoltan Banana is one of the younger generation, and his “Hymn” exhibits the creole synthesis that defines Saint Laszlonian verse: “I want to jump off / the bridge of freedom / the dark hours close in on me / the noose tightens / but then I think / I’ll just smoke something and drink a rum-palinka / daylight dawns anew!”. James Turofej’s work shows the deep tradition of Laszlonian creole language and folklore in his community, Csongrad Cliffs, such as in the poem “Taxi Man” : “Born between de Tisza and Trinidad / Gleaming fields of coconut an’ poppy / I drive me taxi / and pay it all to Apeh / life cyaan go on / mebbe me jump offa bridge”. The use of bridge symbolism is significant - there are no bridges in Saint Laszlo!

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

WRITE TO:

Saint Laszlo Dept. Of Tourism
Darvas Lili Road 2
Csongrad Cliffs
Saint Laszlo
Caribbean
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