Thursday, 7 August 2008
That was London last night.
We had night thunder in Norfolk too. Lightning striking fairly close, some two or three seconds away, the double neon flash, then that croaky barrelling sound, much like heavy gunfire. A few moments and the whole process repeated now further, now closer.
In 1989 the Hungarian Writers Union treated C and me to a week at Szígliget, one of their retreats consisting of an adapted ex-Esterházy residence complete with grounds by Lake Balaton. It was the first week of March. The state was slipping if not yet crumbling, but a major flashpoint was coming up the following week: 15 March, the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1848 revolution. One writer we met had advised us to store up enough food for a couple of weeks. He expected violence. The mood everywhere was anxiety and occasional exhilaration. Seeing a state shift was like watching heavy furniture gradually moving itself across the floor.
Szígliget is beautiful. A ruined castle sits on top of a high hill, the retreat being further down the steep slope, about half-way between the castle and the lake shore. We had the finest room - the guest room - with an ornate balcony and an enormous white faience stove complete with putti. Outside in the plain corridor moved Hungarian writers who were working in smaller plainer rooms, none of whom we knew but got to know a little over endless games of table tennis that were to strain my back for the next six weeks. The next president of Hungary introduced himself as we sat on a bench. We had no idea he would be the first president of the new republic less than a year later, nor did he I suppose. He wore a blue tracksuit. He wrote short stories and translated fiction from English into Hungarian. He turned out to be a very good thing.
We could see some of the lake from the balcony. There are occasionally spectacular storms over it. One night we woke and thought we were in the middle of a cannonade. I think the lake must amplify the sound. We looked out to check that it was in fact thunder. So it was.
There was a brief storm this afternoon too but its approach promised more, was nicely grandiose and operatic. We could see the cumulus swimming towards us, a mountain of relatively amiable grey growing darker and denser as it rose. Then the grumbles began but no rain. The lightning was always elsewhere, the barrelling never too close, yet the sky continued to darken and, finally, eventually, spat out a few drops of rain, hammering the yard for a minute or two, offering brief violence before moving on. Bright again now.
Later this month we shall be back in Szígliget for a writers' meeting where I do an interview.
I have finished the proof-reading and am back to translating, thinking I should be writing. I will be writing.