The other night Eszter and I visited some friends of hers. Being helpful television addicts, they decided to teach me about Hungary via an 80’s childrens’ television series about walking across Hungary. It was super evocative—the clothes, the soundtrack, even the look of the light, the quality of the film. Kids in red short shorts and tube socks hiking through a real-life fairy tale: Forests, rural towns, feasts in peasant courtyards, medieval churches and castles…
Since it was a hiking-themed show, there were plenty of shots of the kids walking through leafy woods, with their trusty packs strapped on their backs. One of the kids was pushing a unicycle in front of him. I thought this was really weird since the group was walking along forest trails, and there was nowhere level for him to ride his unicycle. A mountain bike I can understand, but a mountain unicycle? It seemed like a colossal waste of energy to walk this unicycle over hill and dale, searching for a level strip of ground. What had gotten into this kid? Why?
Then I remembered just how often I see people in my neighborhood riding unicycles. I had thought that this was because we live near a unicycle store (seriously). But could there be something more to it? Street performers here often have unicycles. Coincidence? Or pattern?
Sarah: (going out on a limb) So why are unicycles so Hungarian?
Sarah: I mean, what’s with the unicycles? Seriously.
Eszter: Sarah, what are you talking about?
Sarah: Hungarians and unicycles. Is it like Mormons and trampolines?
More confusion. Unicycles explained as not particularly Hungarian, and how did I get that idea?
Sarah: Then why on earth is this kid pushing a unicycle all the way across Hungary? There isn’t even a place to ride it!
Eszter: What unicycle?
Sarah: What do you mean, what unicycle? The thing with one wheel and a handle!
Eszter: This is for counting the steps. It’s a…a pedometer. The program is called 100,000 steps in Hungary. So they count the steps.
Anyway, as the night wore on the talk turned to children’s television. Of course when my friends were kids, this was still a socialist eastern block country. And they had socialist TV shows. Like the Czech cartoon Bob a Bobek.
It’s about two little rabbits that live in a hat. Every morning they get up, do their exercises like good little socialist rabbits, then go to work because “Work Makes You Noble!” (translation courtesy my girl Andi.) Of course one little rabbit always wants to sleep in, and his gung-ho proletarian brother must gently remind him of his rabbit duty. Then they go contribute to society.
Rick and I have watched a number of these episodes and, as someone completely unable to understand the dialog, I have some observations.
Not only do these rabbits go to work every day, but they do really punishing work for such little rabbits: stacking bricks, industrial dish washing, shoveling coal on a fucking steamship, etc. Even their job serving ice cream to hordes of school children looks harrowing.
Second of all, Bob and Bobek are often called upon to help foil thieves. They’re not detectives—they just run into a lot of bungling burglars with big eyes. Now I, like others who have visited Czech Republic, have my fair share of pickpocket and restaurant rip-off stories. Coincidence? Or is this a Czechoslovak thing? You’re a good citizen if you lay bricks and fight crime? Am I crazy here?
Alright. So I’m still pretty ignorant about my surroundings. But at least I’m not poor Kelly Pickler:
8 months ago