Rumour has it that how you spend the first day of a new year is how you’ll spend the rest of that same year. To be on the safe side, we decided to visit somewhere we’d not been before and where better to head for than the village of Bázakerettye.
Báza where? No points deducted for not knowing about this place. If you’re not interested in the origins of oil in Hungary and don’t have relatives from the area, you’re excused. I don’t have the relative but I do have an interest, so off we went.
Bázakerettye, because of its oil, had a big old target painted on it during WWII. I was in Alaska for 9/11 working on the oil terminal and remember it being supposedly on a list of the top ten targets in the USA after those that had already been hit. Oil is always a target. But when did this village, once home to Americans, Germans, Americans (again) and Russians, find oil in the first place? Thank the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and EUROGASCO for their persistence in the 1920s and 30s.
Imagine the change, overnight. The village had just 13 houses when oil was struck and workers started pouring in from all over. Soon, with its kindergarten, school, swimming pool, cinema, football pitch, and cultural venue, the village crossed the urban/rural divide and was a little metropolis in the otherwise rural Zala county. Janós Fehér wrote a lovely piece for Index (translated by Zoltán Kóvacs) that’s worth a read.
The oil company that from 1938 operated under the name MAORT (Hungarian-American Oil Company) was attracting workers in large numbers, but settling them was difficult due to the housing issues in the area. Hofstadter said that he read in a book that there were only 13 houses in Bázakerettye when the oil industry started moving into the village. “People tried to find shelter at these houses, but all sheds could be rented in the surrounding towns too.”
The American influence was felt; the houses built for the workers had a distinctly American suburban feel and came with the novel flush toilets and running water. But the visitors didn’t last long. When the USA joined the Allies in WWII, they were banished and the company nationalised with the oil now going to the German army. Hence the target. After the war, the Americans returned and stayed till 1948 when, once again, they were sent packing. This time, the Russians got the oil. And they were a little too hasty in taking it all out of the ground:
The 12 square-kilometre fields had 514 wells and more than 200 kilometres of pipelines.
Even I know that this can’t have been good. When the oil stopped, the village’s fate was sealed. From boom to bust, it’s now like so many other small Hungarian villages stripped of their young people, hoping against hope that weekenders will buy up the empty houses and put them back on the map.
And it seems to be happening. Apart from the Oil Museum (sadly closed due to COVID), there are signs of life.
Bonne Chance, a local five-star hotel and restaurant is attracting guests to its főzőiskola (cookery school) where it teaches that Hungarian cuisine is more than goulash and lángos. The rooms look rather lovely, as does the menu. Worth checking out, methinks, when hotels reopen; it’s skipped to the top of my list rooms to book. A two-hour drive from Budapest, it’s also close enough to Croatia, Austria, and Slovenia.
There’s also an amazing-looking bunker that we missed (damn COVID) but worth going back to see. And the Azalea forest, when it blooms. And a beehive air inhalation house for curing asthmatic, respiration, circulatory and stress-related health issues. The aborétum in nearby Kiscsehi (Budafapuszta 9) is also on the list when it opens in April.
And then there’s Szécsisziget, with its waterwheels, its buffalo reserve, and the lovely eighteenth-century Baroque-style Szapáry-Andrássy mansion. All closed for COVID, but on the list, once the world reopens.
No surprise though, that of all we saw that day, I was most intrigued by this healing stone. It’s one of four in the region; the other three are in Lenti in the Szent-György Energy Park, in Gosztola next to the chapel, and on the church hill in Tornyiszentmiklós. I know I’m susceptible to suggestion, but when I stood into it, with my head in the circle, I felt an amazing sensation of stuff rushing out of my body, particularly my head, neck, and shoulders. No doubt my MRI next week will be all clear.
Lithopuncture, the Earth equivalent to acupuncture, was developed by UNESCO artist for peace, Marko Pogačnik. This is one of his stones.
Lithopuncture basically means positioning stone pillars on acupuncture points of a place or a landscape. The pillars have, as a rule, a pattern – a “cosmogramme” – carved upon their surface, which reflects the spiritual identity of the corresponding site and brings the consciousness level of the place into the work.
Was it worth the trip? Definitely. Will we go back once things open? Of course. And will this morning of exploration and adventure herald more of the same for 2021? We can only hope.