I’m a sucker for a parade. Give me a uniformed marching band and a row of kiddie majorettes dropping their batons on the ground and I’m a happy guy. Growing up, I used to love to get up early, turn on the TV, and watch the giant balloons in the Thanksgiving Day Parade and the petal-covered floats in the Rose Parade, too. In Hungary, I’ve discovered one parade that could never be televised in America. Well, maybe only after the children have gone to bed.
It’s Carnival season now in Hungary, and over here Carnival is called Farsang. The most famous Farsang festival in the country takes place this weekend in the city of Mohács. Hundreds of years ago, this area was occupied by the Turks. Legend has it that the citizens of Mohács got tired of their Turkish invaders. So, they made frightening masks and scared the Turks away. Since the Turks aren’t there anymore, now the townspeople make masks to scare away winter. These mask-wearers are called busó.
I’ll never forget my first Carnival in Mohács. I went with my Hungarian friend Imre. When we arrived, throngs of people were walking toward the center of town. As we searched for a place to stand along the route, I spotted a group of hulking creatures covered with layers of sheepskin and wearing carved wooden masks with horns. Giant cowbells hung around their waists. “Those are the busós,” Imre pointed out. “They’re the ones who scare away winter.”
When the parade began, hundreds of busós processed down the street. Groups of veiled women carrying umbrellas walked along with them. Well, those busós were having more fun than the people who came to watch them. Throughout the parade, groups of them would run into the crowd and wipe coal on people’s faces or throw goose feathers at them. After about a half hour, I had so many feathers on me that I looked like I’d been in a terrific pillow fight.
But that was just the beginning of the busó shenanigans. All along the parade route, teams of them would huddle around young women in the audience and start jumping up and down, cowbells ringing, in the humping dance. Many busós carried long, erect wooden sticks with red bulbous tips that they’d happily poke at pretty women in the crowd. The first time I saw this, I turned to Imre wide-eyed. “Uh…is he holding what I think he’s holding?” Imre smiled. “Yes. Welcome to Farsang.”
The veiled women in the parade were just as naughty. They would walk up to the men along the route, slide their umbrella handles between the guys’ upper thighs, and yank! These women were particularly good at doing this when a man was holding up his camera with both hands and couldn’t protect himself. After about my fifth surprise encounter with an umbrella handle, I stopped taking photos.
Midway through the parade, one giant furry busó with donuts hooked on his horns like a game of ring toss walked up to me and held out a bottle of clear liquid.
“What’s he doing?” I asked Imre, nervously.
The big busó pushed it into my face again. When a scary giant in a scary mask thrusts a bottle in your face, there’s only one thing to do. I took a sip. The busó handed the bottle back to me. Apparently, I hadn’t taken a big enough swig. I took another.
Well, word in busó land must have gotten out that there was a lightweight American in the crowd to have some fun with. Pretty soon, a second busó stepped up to me and handed me another bottle. I obediently took a swallow. Later, a third pushed more pálinka in my face. I downed that, too.
By the end of the parade, my face was black with coal, my hat and coat were covered with feathers, my male parts ached, and I felt like Lucy right after she finishes downing the whole bottle of Vitametavegamin. Dirty, sore, and hammered, I tottled off to the car and slept the whole way back to Budapest.