Friday, 28 August 2009

Evening in the hills

Yesterday evening for supper with Elizabeth Szász and Miklós Vajda. L and G drive us over to Miklós's house, a little way further up the hill, away from town. Miklós is seventy-four now . There is a painting, by Tibor Csernus of him and two other literary figures of 1954 or 1955, titled Három lektor (Three Readers).

He is the one on the left, aged twenty-four. Next to him is the critic Mátyás Domokos and the editor and published Pál Réz, all three to become important figures in Hungarian literature. I don't think Miklós has changed very much except in years and the effect of years. The expression in the painting recurs. He has been through a series of half-bodged operations for heart and hip and now walks with great difficulty. One day, when I have the time, I must write all this in proper detail. Enough to say both C and I feel a deep love for him and it is hard to see him in pain.

Elizabeth has become a kind of late companion for him, caring for him. She lives even further out in the hills, where there is practically nothing but hill, dense foliage, fruit trees and crickets, not so as you'd know anyway. Sitting there is like sitting in a forest. It's a modernist flat in a modernist block, as it looks from the front, but you have to descend a long flight of stairs to get to her level, wedged into the side of the hill. Over the next hill the observation point of Jánoshegy (St John's Hill), the highest hill in Buda, is just visible, yet close by. The half moon starts in a dusky sky then brightens and disappears behind clouds. No noise apart from crickets. The observation tower glows amber yellow, like a lighthouse for moths.

Elizabeth was born in England and first came to Hungary in 1962 and soon married the writer Imre Szász who died in 2003. I suppose Elizabeth might have been described as county in the old days. Boarding school, riding, swimming, Whatever the case she would have been strikingly beautiful and still is. A sort of Joanna Lumley of the East. She has lived here through the slow relative liberalisations (that is after the savage repression and retributions) of post '56 revolution, the further economic liberalisations of post-68, the cold cold war of the seventies, the goulash communism of János Kádár, the decline and fall of Kádárism and of communism generally, and now watches the rise of the far right with a kind of patient apprehension. She still swims in the Danube when she can and goes riding. Life here is full of these incongruous stories. Miklós too is a handsome man, a gentleman-citizen. More than a nobleman. A noble man.

We sit and talk about the situation here which is deeply depressing, about language and the fecundity of Hungarian swear-words. I suggest that the preponderance of curses involving mothers is a product of Catholicism which is why there isn't very much down that line in Britain. It may be so, it may be so.

It is so beautiful though. We sit and eat on the dark terrace with only the light of the room behind for illumination. It has been hot and muggy but the air begins to clear, even grow a little cool close on eleven.

I am back with Márai. Pushing on.Reading chunks of Adam Lebor's novel, The Budapest Protocol, in the necessary breaks. It's a dark thriller, all too close to the knuckle here. The facts and possibilities, I mean.


Poet in Residence said...

George, I'm pleased you're enjoying life on the hill over the Danube. A couple of years ago I went to a tiny cafe' up there - it's quite famous, lots of photos etc. on the walls, you may know it or have been there - had cakes and coffee and I must say 'twas delicious.
Two days ago I swam in Austro-Hungarian waters - the Neusiedlersee - quite close to where the 1989 picnic took place near Sopron - an attractive village called Rust (on the Austrian side). The storks are still there. Not so many though. They had a poor early summer - too much rain. A lot of chicks drowned.
Today I went for a some rowing in an arm of the Danube near Klosterneuburg (Vienna). The water is about 23°c. Lots of people swimming. Boys jumping in from the tops of trees. Saw a beaver chasing a shoal of fish - they tried to jump out of the water -and a grey heron silent and still as a pike I also observed lying in wait in the reeds. George, we're almost neighbours!
Prost, Gwilym

Billy C said...

I enjoyed this very much, George. Thank you.

"More than a nobleman. A noble man."

What a wonderful compliment.

Anonymous said...

I am very intrigued about Hungarian swearwords and phrases, the fruitiest and most imaginative of any language I have come across. If Catholicism was a reason, why is swearing in the Romance languages relatively pale? Do Hungarians actually exchange such oaths and are they an especially aggressive race? Less so than the French, I would have said. Is the swearing a reaction to all the sufferings Hungarians have endured from the Turkish occupation onwards, if so is swearing on the wane?

George S said...

Just home from Budapest. Had we been closer to the border we could have waved to you Gwilym. One day we'll enjoy a coffee in Vienna together.

Miklos Vajda is an extraordinary monument, Billy. He has also been a sort of uncle to me - and to Clarissa - since 1984.

As to the swearing Frank, it was just a guess on my part. It wasn't to do with the sheer preponderance of curses as such, but with the frequent allusion to a person's mother involved in the process. That is much rarer in English, in UK English anyway. The conversation came about because one of the company said there had been a swearing competition and that one Hungarian went for over twenty-four hours of continual swearing. I asked whether he repeated himself, or how much repetition was allowed, but none of the company had been present.

There is, I'm afraid, a great deal to curse about in Hungary. Hungarians are not especially aggressive but they are pretty passionate, and like a verbal swagger.

Poet in Residence said...

A coffee in Vienna? I can already hear the rustle of newspapers in the Cafe' Central - and look George is that Trotsky over there?