Thursday, 27 August 2009

Memento Mori

I really don't know why I forgot to mention this as part of the excursion to Gödöllö. We stopped off at Vác, a small, elegant town to the north west of Budapest specifically to see the museum of unearthed coffins and mummified figures from the eighteenth century. They were discovered, well preserved, in a crypt of the old Dominican church. The conditions had somehow contrived to keep the clothes, the shoes, the ornaments and, in some cases, the very skin of the bodies fresh.

Comme ça (look away now if squeamish or superstitious)

It's not creepy - it is human and sad and touching to see the ribbons and baubles and rosaries and tiny slippers, and the care with which the coffins were painted in blues and browns and green, often the usual motifs but also brief legends about age, station in life and reputation. I hadn't realised that rosaries from the Holy Land (and many were brought from there) interspersed tiny hands and feet among the beads. The stigmata.

Outside is a big church with a large square before it where people were setting up for a concert later that evening. We nipped into a cafe that specialised in versions of chocolate as drink. We all opted for something different and took a taste of each other's. It was all delicious, a small bitter-sweet sensuous melting.

Death and chocolate. The perfect combination. Must go back.


This morning into town to coffee with Adam LeBor. It is rather surprising that we had never met before, but we had corresponded briefly. Now it was a cafe on St István körút (ring road). After a few minutes of slight awkwardness the talk ran to historical and current matters. He has been here since 1991, a Kilburn boy. We talked about the rise of the far right and how the corruption and nepotism in the current (socialist, alas) government has more or less destroyed any left-leaning opposition to FIDESZ the main centre-right party who will form the next government. But the far right is rapidly expanding, not among the old fascists but the young. Their websites are superbly arranged, says Adam. We both agree that we are very much living in the continuation of 1989 by other means. The poverty in the east of the country is very bad, he says. We exchange books and agree to have dinner next time.

Now home. Out tonight for dinner with old friend Miklós Vajda and Elizabeth Szász. One more full day left after this. Beside translating also dealng with post grads back in England. My schedule when I get back looks a little frightening.

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