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.