Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Post-postscript from Marai

All day I have been working on Márai and am only ten pages from the end. In the meantime I sneeze and sneeze and sneeze again, possibly because I've got a cold (it feels a bit like a cold) or, more probably, because of an allergy. I suspect an allergy because a number of times I have started what I think is a cold, running, sneezing, red-eyed, but within a day it goes. In the meantime it isn't constant. It comes and goes. So now I have taken antihistemine and have some hope that all manner of things shall be well.

In this end part we are left with the drummer who had become the last lover of Judit Áldozó, the maid who married the young master, became a society woman, then, eventually, rejected society. When we last saw her she was delivering her story in the hotel room in Rome to her young, vain, and rather stupid lover. Her story is as extraordinary as her mind.

But then her story finishes and we are left with this coda. The young drummer is now in New York, some time in the seventies, I would guess, serving in a smart off-Broadway bar and that is where he begins his monologue to a customer, a fellow Hungarian newly arrived in the USA. He talks in Hungarian street slang some of which is genuine and some invented. My impossible task is to translate this not into British but American English. I am working on the assumption that the editor - or a friendly nearby American - will correct my feeble efforts. As it happens, this part is relatively straight.

The drummer is in New York because he skipped across the Hungarian border a few years ago, straight after being asked to file reports for the AVO, the much dreaded security police. He tells this story and that of his escape, his feelings presumably close to Márai's own, albeit more crudely expressed. After recounting his escape he starts reminiscing about Judit. We mustn't expect too much of him, of course.

The photo? It was the one in the passport, I’ve just had it enlarged. Where could she go without a passport? To join the angels, friend. You don’t need passports or photographs there. No jewelry either…. Take a good look at her. That’s what she was like. But not just like that. By the time I met her she was like a flower at the end of the season.

I don’t like talking about her. She’s been gone ten years. Soon after that I too said 'ciao Roma' and crossed the big pond. They say what’s gone is gone, why fret about it?.. Yes, but heaven knows it’s not always like that. Some things don’t disappear quite so easy… because this picture isn’t the only reminder I have of her. I remember more… her voice for a start. And some of what she told me. She wasn’t like the usual kind of woman I met. The rest have vanished without a trace. But I remember this one.

Because, as you probably know, with artists like me, chicks more or less just pass each other the house key. There were all kinds, I needn’t list them all. There were cute little thin girls. There were big ones. There were showgirls with boobs out to here, but also women with class, women with a position in life… women with taste who sensed their time was almost over, who'd grown wild and started firing on all cylinders… but, let me be clear, all of them wanted just one thing, which was that I should love and adore them, and only them, for ever.

This one was different. She wasn’t a bag of nerves. She told me straight from the start, no beating about the bush, that the only thing she wanted of me was that I should let her adore me. She wasn’t insisting on full blown romance with hearts and flowers… Cigarettes were all she needed, that is apart from adoring me and making a fuss of me.

At first I thought she had fallen for the artist in me. I’m not one to boast, I’m simply recognizing the fact that there’s something irresistible about me… especially now that I’ve had the bottom set of my teeth fixed. What you laughing at?...

As I said we don't expect much of him, but the book finishes with his words. And there's just a shade of Iris Robinson there, further news of whom seems to bubbling through the Austrian papers, according to Gwilym.


Nicole S said...

The Marai reads beautifully and is really gripping. I can't wait to read the whole book. Re shades of Iris Robinson, it looks like you will have to revise your tragic opera. Perhaps more of an Ibsen drama?

George S said...

Rather splendidly spirited defence of La Robinson in The Times, Nicole. Can't go all the way with the article but I'm glad it has been said. It was worth saying.

Mind you I do love this bit:

'Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, most women in a similar predicament would have got a divorce and a new BMW, or gone on daytime telly.'

Getting a new BMW! That's on top of the old one? Class tells! And daytime telly is obviously where Nora would have gone, if she were living now. If only Ibsen knew.

Billy C said...

Like Nicole S, George, I will be eagerly looking out for Márai when its published. I've followed your blogging on it with more than a passing apreciation of your translation.

I have a sneaking admiration for Iris.

Lucy said...

Get well soon, George.

I think quite a lot of women in that position could do worse than getting a nice dog...

Gwil W said...

The woman, the ubiquitous person from Porlock, rushes into the room: "Oh, such terrible news!"
"Oh...?" (gathering my wits - what is it now? Haiti, Princess Caroline, Iris?) I decide to go for the jugular. Suck on the bite of tragedy: "Ah yes, the Haiti earthquake. A tragedy."
"No, the cat!"
"The cat?"
"I heard about so-and-so's cat..."

Sympathy is clearly called for. Withdrawing the fangs of tragedy, I delicately offer: "A lovely cat. I'm sure it went to heaven."
Deathly silence. And the red glare of the deeply offended.

I had forgotten. I was in the presence of the religious fanatic; one whose God can have no place in his heart for the planet's other creatures.

This poor cat, three cancer operations behind her, a companion to an old person living alone, had recently died because of an inoperable tumour on a lung. It was the best end. It was merciful.

"Heaven?!" she somehow splutters.
"Yes, heaven. Perhaps cats go there?" I muse. I think of the Egyptians and their famous cat temple with its 4,000 dead cats.

The red woman, blood vessel pounding, sits down and for the next 30 minutes proceeds to lecture my two companions on the value of the belief system to which she belongs.

George, it's all a bloody tragedy. Beckett was right.