Kalocsa: Pretty Flowers and the Bones of a Saint

Kalocsa is the paprika capital of Hungary, or at least one of the two centers of paprika production in a red-powder-crazy culture. Being as I foresee a further investigation of the ubiquitous spice in the blog future, I won’t go too much into it here. I’ll only say that we visited the town specifically for the Paprika Museum, but stumbled upon a number of other curiosities and treasures. Of course, all exploration happened after a paprika-laden lunch, which included this cheese stuffed pepper and two fiery red bowls of soup.Kalocsa used to be a very important town, housing one of four Hungarian archbishops. The palace nearby had an incredible library, which we didn't have time to explore. The cathedral's exterior was mostly obscured by construction scaffolding, but its interior was splendid. The pink and gold fabergé egg walls were shocking to us, wandering in with no expectations as we did. It's amazing to think that all the churchgoers we'd dined next to had just come from their weekly mass in such a magnificent setting.
Tucked away in the corner, behind a flowerbed of prayer candles, was a gilded casket. Inside, the remains of Saint Pious were wrapped in a gauzy outfit, complete with little pointy shoes. An incredibly narrow ring was slid over his gloved index finger, sitting right below the visibly knobby knuckle. If you look closely, you can make out the saint's skeleton face. How bizarre.
The folk art specific to Kalocsa is some of the most famous in Hungary. The embroidered patterns are never repeated and never symmetrical. Some designs are made entirely of white embroidery and holes, others depict bright marigolds, tulips and roses. The collection of dresses, vests, socks, tablecloths and the like at the Károly Viski Museum were incredibly impressive. The flowers covered just about everything you could possibly decorate. Porcelain, wood, pottery, clay walls were all painted by the 'writing women of Kalocsa.'
They say that nothing in the town went undecorated in the second half of the 19th century. This bit of wall, between two shuttered sneaker stores, gave us a glimpse at what the entire town must have looked like. The Museum held a number of non-folk art related things, including one seemingly obsessive man's collection of rocks and minerals and a hall filled with ancient coins from around the world. The rooms had motion detecting lights, which would flicker on and buzz a few seconds after entering. That first dark moment in each new room, I was ready for just about anything to pop up. Kalocsa felt like a dusty, heavy-lidded trunk in your grandmother's attic, filled with any number of unexpected things: everyday items from another time and place, heirlooms and treasures, maybe a skeleton or two.
On the drive home, we spotted a barn full of cotton? dried flowers? Stopping, we realized it was garlic. Almost every house had at least a few clusters hanging on the sides of gutters, down from porch ceilings, on their mailbox. Little tables sold the heads next to dried peppers. A few also sold colorfully painted wooden spoons.
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