Hugs from Hungary

Apple picking is old news but good. When the Autumnal leaves were a fire of colour against sunny blue skies in mid October, Sean and I packed a picnic and rode the old Russian rattler to Pomaz just outside of Budapest. There were no guarantees of fruit, only of fun, as the picking (and the palinka) are essentially a family affair protected by language and tradition. But luck was on our side. A picturesque jaunt from the train station brought us to one man at a gate, flagged by a huge umbrella and a weighing machine. All we had to do was find the apples and carry whatever we picked back to the beginning. There were thousands of trees, and positioning ourselves in front of the weary professional pickers meant trees were laden, each apple a treasure in a chest of choice. So delicious! The crunch of the first bite was better and juicier than it would ever be again, so it was an in the moment sensation, with every apple in the 22 kilo collection, and every ensuing pie, cake and crumble, a recollection of that gorgeous day in the country.

Google can take no responsibility for getting us there. The old green trains, the HEV, that extend out from the city metro system do not show up as options in Google maps. Maybe these old Soviet-built transports are too shaky to pick up a signal. But with their moody velour upholstery and under-seat pipe heaters, the ride is an adventure in itself. So on a freezing day last week, Sean and I headed towards the Hapsburg royal retreat in Gödöllő with some wild ambitions. Our film script calls for wolves to run with the stylish but nasty femme fatale, and at the Horkai Animal Center, Zoltan had some furry actors looking to snap up a role.

Potty trained pigs, Oscar nominated deer, and wolves with their own show on the Discovery Channel are all part of Zoltan’s family. But these animals are far from circus performers – it is more like they are ‘stars’ living in a gated community that has uncompromising respect for their wildness. Most of the wolves like to work in packs, they prefer to rehearse the day before the shoot (rather than the morning of), the Alpha has made it clear he doesn’t like working with children, and they all like the catering truck to offer rabbits. Zoltan lays out these details as any good agent would, and does much more than just talk for the animals, he works with them on film sets as though it was their own idea in the first place. So calling him ‘the wolf man of Hungary’ or ‘an animal trainer’ doesn’t really fit, it is more that he is their champion. A dog will look you in the eye for acceptance and direction, Zoltan says, but not a wolf, a wolf doesn’t care, a wolf does what a wolf wants to do. No argument from me. In fact standing at one end of the field with treats in my hand so as to witness the wolves running towards me was breathtaking. They have the part! ( And I still have my hand). But the star who stole the show on the day was the baby bear that lives on the porch in front of Zoltan’s house. What an unbelievable experience. Disney and Dr Dolittle combined could not have delivered such heartwarming joy. The bear wanted to play, and hoisted himself onto a picnic table so as to be eye to eye with Sean. Under direction from Zoltan, Sean showed him his hands, patted the dog so the bear would know he was a friend, and then let the magic happen. It did, so the bear hugs I am sending from Hungary this week are real….


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18 Responses to Hugs from Hungary

  1. Amanda says:

    How absolutely amazing and wonderful. I have always loved wolves and wanted to hug a bear to be so close to both bear and wolf WOW and too gorgeous. The train looked cute too. Looking forward to the finished project and as always Gabriel your story telling makes me feel part of me is there. All the best to you both 🙂

    • Thanks Amanda – I would never thought it possible to be so close to a bear, and such a happy bear at that. If we didn’t have the photos I would have to wonder if it ever happened. But having Zoltan there and seeing how he ‘talked’ to the animals made all the difference. Hope all goes well with you and life is good!

  2. Lyndl Marshall says:

    Dear Ones, What a bountiful adventure you are having. I envy you. To hare off and follow the dream… make pies, play with bears, live the life. I’ll be so happy when you breeze through Gotham and await a personal catch up. Big hugs.

  3. Bernadette says:

    So happy to see the Fitzy report pop up in my in box. And what a fabulous story and adventure you continue to have. Thanks so much for sharing and beautiful pics.
    Happy Christmas to you and Sean and more adventures in 2019
    Bernadette 🌺😀

    • Hello Bernadette – thank you for your warm wishes. Yes, the adventure continues, and what an unexpected menagerie to share it with! It was actually Sean’s birthday on the day of the bear hug so it could not have been more perfect. Let’s see what we can do for 2019 and wishing you all the very best!

  4. Pam says:

    I am just loving your blog and I pass it in to my Australian Hungarian friend

    • Thanks Pam. The Hungarian people are much more private than New Yorkers, so I hesitate to take pictures and write stories like I used to. But oh the joys of the everyday. We went to a chestnut festival a couple of weeks ago and there was a woman making waffles, one at a time, in a beautiful old press, so each one looked like a perfect flower. No one complained about the wait, maybe because it took that long to decide on sugar or syrup…. Then there are the handmade Christmas wreaths at the Saturday markets – and the mulled wine outside the Basilica that gets more delicious as the temperature drops. It’s a magic place to be!

  5. Anne Kelley says:

    Was wondering how your film was progressing, what an interesting story. Added bonus to see your fabulous pics.

    Thank you,

    • Thank you Anne. Hungary really is such an interesting place, we are lucky to be here. Getting to discover the talent and opportunities that exist will make all the difference to what you see on the screen in the end. So we just need to jump through a few more hoops and we’ll be there. With the wolves!

  6. Chrissyhirst says:

    How delightful and funtastic G!! The animals are magic!! We off to NSW in 2 days timeHappy Christmas to you both and here is a toast to that movie🍾🍾🍷🍷😻🙏

    • Thank you Chrissy and congratulations. Hope you get to the beach before you go and that the bush creatures you have nurtured there come to wish you well. As do I! Merry Christmas to you both and happy unpacking!

  7. David ord says:

    It’s 8.30 pm I’m camping at inskip point which is where you catch the barge to Fraser Island in Qld. We have just experienced a wonderful sunset and then a thunderstorm that nearly blew us home, all good thankfully.
    Once again reading your report is like watching a movie I’m actually there.
    Thank you Gabrielle

    • Sounds like a beautiful place to be David. If there’s one thing I love about the internet, it’s that you can be on opposite sides of the world and share a moment in real time. Hope the sunrise is equally spectacular and the morning swim is glorious. Safe travels!

  8. Janet says:

    It is some time since you sent us your Report Gabrielle, but so worth waiting for. Those uncompromising wolves are glorious creatures and the bears, well who wouldn’t want to hug a bear. Look forward to your chat with Rod…..he said he’d be talking to you soon. As I prepare for Christmas here in Sydney I send my very best to you and Sean for your Christmas and look forward to reading more blogs in 2019. With thanks.

    • Thank you Janet! Yes, my reports don’t come as often unfortunately, but not because of any lack of stories to tell, more to do with time and not being so trigger happy with my camera. Not surprisingly people are not so keen to have their photo taken here! But once the film starts there will be a flood of stories so stand by… In the meanwhile have a great Christmas and wishing you all good things for 2019.

  9. Peter says:

    Dear Gabrielle, what an adventure and glorious story from Hungary. You are such a wonderful story teller, for me from describing the trains and apple orchards and tasting them (were there many varieties?), but was blown away with the Wolves and Bear at Zoltan’s home. I could be overstating it but I think from the photos Sean is very brave. Those shots for me ard spine tingling! Your blogs are getting increasingly better yet I didn’t think you could possibly improve on your last blog but you have! As usual and will write soon, much of everything to you and Sean including my prayers for your film financing. Peter.

    • Ah thank you Peter – you are such a champion. Since we visited Zoltan last week all I can think about is the pure joy of that bear hug. Of course age makes a big difference to the approachability of the animal. Zoltan said if you hand raise a male deer from birth, once it turns 3 it will kill you because it sees you as competition. But if you engage for the first time with a deer when it is 3 years old, you can work with it on a film set without any problems. And of course once the little bear comes of age it will not be living on the porch anymore! But Zoltan puts the dog in with the bear to play so he understands how far he can go with the rough and tumble. It’s amazing what you can learn and how lucky you can be. With friends especially!

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