Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Reforming Paula

I'm quite sure there's some pithy quote that is used to make it clear that children are destined to repeat their parents' lives, or mistakes, or something. Anyway, assuming there is, it would be very apposite here, if only I knew what it was.

When I was very young, and I mean very young, way too young for me to have any memory of it, I was christened in the Church of England. (Christened is the CofE word for "baptised" - I've no idea why they use a different word). Anyway this christening came about despite my parents being avid non-church goers, because my (also non-church going) grandmother kind of pressured them into doing it, since it was traditional and the thing you did and anyway what would the neighbours say? So I was carted along, had my head washed a bit, and was granted some kind of curious non-blood relationship with some of my parents' friends. Having come out of the church, they (my parents that is) turned to each other and vowed never to do that again with any future children as they didn't believe a word of what had passed for the ceremony. Hence neither of my brothers were christened (much to my grandmother's disgust and trauma and fear that whole country were talking about us).

When Paula was born, Erika and I briefly pondered getting her baptised, but since neither of us ever go to church or have a religion to call our own, this seemed a little bit silly. Plus we live in the 21st century and not the 15th, and so were not living in fear that Paula's soul would somehow be forever in limbo unless some bloke in funny clothes put some water on her. But, increasingly we too became aware of grandparently pressure which was gradually being ratcheted up. This despite the grandparent in question (my mother in law) also, like my grandmother before her, not having set in foot in a church for as long as anyone could remember. Last weekend, with my mother in law fairly unwell, we decided to go ahead and perform this meaningless act, as a kind of get-well soon present.

So we fixed up with the priest (when I say we, I mean of course Erika, who takes care of most things that involve language beyond basic shopping vocabulary) to have the ceremony. We went for the Hungarian Reformed Church (since the other two options available in Csikszereda are Roman Catholic - and they are way too serious and would probably need some kind of conversion from me to agree to it - or Romanian Orthodox - which is kind of out of the question for many reasons). I'm not entirely sure what the Hungarian Reformed church is, dogmatically speaking. I don't really understand all the various gradations of protestantism, but I think the Hungarian Reformed Church is Calvinist (though since I have no idea what "Calvinist" means, that's not much use).

The Hungarian Reformed Church, as I discovered when we entered, is very Hungarian. By which I mean it has all the Hungarian paraphernalia on the walls, the red white and green banners and so on, and the priest was the most Hungarian looking man I've ever seen - the big moustache, the works. He should really have entered the church on a horse wearing a wide brimmed hat for the full effect.

Paula, of course, was restless and bored. We quickly discovered why people tend to baptise their kids when they are very young - they may cry, but they don't try running all over the church. As the aforementioned moustachioed priest stepped up the pulpit, she looked up from whatever piece of dirt/hymn book/protruding nail she was focussing on and shouted out "Bácsi! Mit Csinálsz?" (roughly - at least as far as Paula is concerned - "What are you doing, old man?"). The service was, fortunately, mercifully short (another reason to favour the HRC over the Catholic and the Orthodox), and before long we were up the front going through the ritual motions. I have no idea what exactly I agreed to, but since I don't believe in any of it, that doesn't seem terribly relevant. An oral agreement is not worth the paper it's written on. Paula took the opportunity of a break in proceedings while the priest told us our sacred duties or read out his shopping list or just talked about the weather for all I know, to scarper up the stairs to the pulpit itself, so I had to go and rescue/capture her. She was a bit stunned when he actually blessed her, which seemed to take the form of him spreading his arms wide, looming over her, and letting out an odd kind of barking sound in the manner of someone attempting to scare away a mountain lion, but she got over that quickly.

After the service, and after I had handed over a small envelope containing our donation (most transactions in Romania seem to end in this way - even going to the doctor) we repaired to our flat for a traditional slap up feast and traditional slap up palinka with the various new godparents, and other assorted hangers on.

The only negative side to the whole thing (as with more or less anything that involves organised religion) is that because there's all this dogma and tradition involved, there are myriad opportunities to offend. Which we inevitably have unwittingly done and have pissed off about three separate groups of friends who felt that they should have been godparents. So what started out as a nice gesture to cheer up an ailing grandmother, has turned into some kind of icy friendship wasteland (a friendship tundra?). Obviously this is not the fault of religion or the church per se, but it does seem to match up with most of the problems that the church does create. Rigid adherence to arcane rules and bizarre practices, causing conflict and tension.

Anyway, just as Tőkés László is always referred to as a reformed bishop, Paula can now be referred to as a reformed toddler. Mind you, I have to say that she never stuck lego up her nose before she was baptised. There's got to be some kind of message in that.

7 comments:

LucyRM said...

Szia Andy, Congratulations on Paula's reformation!
Thanks for adding my Disappearing Bp blog, I've added yours too. A quick question on halapenz (can't do accents on this machine). Do you think a tourist visiting Transylvania would be expected to hand over a brown envelope stuffed with Lei? Should I mention it in the health chapter? And are there any other envelope-passing occasions that I should point out to visitors? Eggie-sheggie-leggie, hope the palinka-fest was suitably sozzled! Lucy.

Andy H said...

Hi Lucy. No I reckon toruists don't need to worry about it. The "tip" one gives the doctor on departing is after the treatment and not before and is sort of a "thanks for looking after me/my wife/my child, next time something happens hopefully you'll bear this little token of our gratitude in mind" present. Every doctor I've so far seen has actually refused my discreetly proffered envelope - not sure if it's because I'm foreign, or because they've all been nice doctors

LucyRM said...

I had an operation, quite invasive, in Budapest and the surgeon seemed pretty pleased with the envelope....(!)
I had absolutely no idea of the amount to give and everyone was very vague so I hope he wasn't too cheesed off when he finally opened the envelope...I couldn't find the anaesthetist on the day I left (ran out screaming) so never passed her the envelope, thank goodness I didn't have to go under again...:-0

Tinshed said...

We lost a friend for life when we decided upon someone else as Godparents for our first born, Zsófi. Oh well. I enjoyed reading your account of the "reforming" of Paula, but took, like lucyrm, special note of the pálinka reference. I am sure it was "istáni finom" :-)

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

So I'm not godfather, I guess. Not even stay-at-home godfather. Huh, thanks a lot, Andy. I mean, really, don't worry about it.

And next time you come to Washington DC you can sleep in the frikkin' gutter, you god-bothering bastard.

Andy H said...

Oh, woe, not another one.

I'm thinking of creating new categories for atheists, Ian. How does not-in-any-way-god-related-parent sound? Or god-forsaken-parent?

Anyway, choose a title and the role is yours.

Carlysle said...

Stumbled across this blog... very interesting. For what it's worth, you may want to check out "Why Angels Fall." http://www.amazon.com/Why-Angels-Fall-Orthodox-Byzantium/dp/0312233965

I am still working on a long-distance relationship (if you see my blog) and have a lot of 'watch and see' moments that you have been having.

cheers!