Monday, August 18, 2008

34th Annual Birmingham Ethnic Festival

Isten Hozott!

Thirty-five years ago, the Birmingham neighborhood in East Toledo was about to be bull-dozed in the name of "progress." They rallied the neighborhood by rolling out their traditions and heritage for a one-day event under the mid-August sun. Thanks to that large hand-full of active, forward-thinking individuals who stood in middle of the intersection of Consaul and Genesee--under the shadow of St. Stevens Church--and stared down "progress," the traditional Hungarian neighborhood still exists today. Subtitled "A Sunday in the Old Country" the Birmingham Ethnic Festival has celebrated the victory with a street festival that functions as a large family reunion. I overheard comments like "If you want to see someone from the old neighborhood, this is the place to be" and witnessed embraces from friends who may only see each other when they make their annual return to the Birmingham neighborhood.

Unlike the rainy day last year, it was a gorgeous day for the festival; I hope they experienced record attendance and that the coffers of the community organizations, that depend upon this festival to provide funding for their activities all year, burst from the proceeds. This year, Michelle and I attended the Calvin United Chicken Paprikas Dinner--delicious--of a perfectly seasoned chicken breast and wing, perched atop on a bed of dumplings, all covered with Paprikas Gravy, with hand-made Kolbaz, a side of creamed cucumber salad, crusty Vienna bread, butter and choice of beverage (water, fruit punch, coffee) in the basement of the historic church.

Out on the street, there were options galore. Calvin United had a stand selling Szalonna Sütes(Hunky Turkey) Sandwiches. Their version differs from that prepared by the Hungarian Club, in that the Jowl Bacon is freshly roasted over a apple wood fire and the rendered fat is drizzled over the entire combination of bacon, pepper, onion, and tomato on a single slice of crusty Vienna bread:

And there is beer, beer, beer, running through the streeths. I'm amazed how much beer there it here. Each church has a beer stand, the bars are open, and according to one of my informants from last year it's a tradition of sorts for him "Uncle Andy" to introduce the underage nephews to their first beer at the festival. Not only is this ritual tolerated, it's expected--it's part of the culture in Birmingham.

There's music:

And Dancing:

Games of chance:

And no trip to Birmingham is complete without a stop to George Takacs's Market for foot-long links of their delicious kolbasz sausage.

Best, NC

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