Thursday, 22 May 2014
From Budapest 3: Inaugural
I put on my suit - a lightweight dark suit that Clarissa says is green and I say is blue. We can't even agree on grey-blue and she insists on green. We may both be right according to our individual optics, of course, but some sort of objectivity is required in such situations so I gracefully retreat.
We leave the flat with Gabi, walk down the steep steps by the Budapest Hotel, that big, round, probably sixties affair., cross the busy road by the lights - people still tend to go by the lights rather than by the actual traffic - hop onto a tram to what is now Széll Kálmán tér (tér mean square) but which was known through almost all the previous years we have visited as Moszkva, or Mosow, tér. The name has reverted to the period before communism. Street names in Budapest have a habit of changing regime by regime. I can't help thinking of it as Moszkva still.
From there we duck down the old 1970s Metro station, travel under the Danube on the tube amd get off by parliament to catch the 2 tram, for another two stops. The whole journey from door to door of the academy with a walk and two changes of transport is under 25 minutes. We wander in and I look for the organiser, C, going up the lift and down the stairs (it is only the first floor after all), without finding him. We are expecting our English friends so decide to wait by the front gate.
Slowly one or two people appear, old friends and acquaintances from the early days. A lovely exchange student from my time at the art school (she is now an Egyptologist). I have looked inside the hall where I am to speak and it is rather big, with room for a couple of hundred perhaps. Thank heaven it looks as though there might be at least a dozen present, I think. It would have been a little depressing to talk to just five or six. But I am expecting only a few: it's a hot day, after all,and I am going to speak in English, and I really haven't told everyone because I have a certain dread of pushiness, which is in fact stupid under the circumstances, but I can be very stupid that way, because I never once think that so and so might be upset that I didn't tell them or invite them, but will grumble, what's that big-head up to now? I suspect this is over-anglicisation. I did once begin to describe the protocol of receiving a medal here in parliament but had only finished one brief sentence before I realised I was boring the pants of my English colleagues.
But more frriends arrive, some elderly, some moving with difficulty, and once it's time to start the hall looks reasonably full. Gy makes introductory remarks then I step to the lectern and talk for some forty minutes as arranged with help from A, the poet who translated my poem English Words, the only poem I read. Mostly the talk is about poetry, language and, above all, translation. I feel relaxed. I haven't been nervous about talking to audiences for many years now. What can happen? I reason with myself. If I make a mistake I'll laugh it off. If I am making the wrong kind of speech, well, it's written and I believed in it, so what's done is done. As it happens I think it goes well, the applause seems warm and Gy makes a final summing up and presents me with the certificate. It is truly an extraordinary honour. The academy has, I think, a fixed number of members including from all the arts. I am now one of them. Wow! I think. What does this mean? And Bálaint, another ex-Norwich exchange student comes up. He has two children now with a third on the way. He is translating English fiction.
The speech is over. We drink bubbly in one of the offices. My dear Egyptologist has brought some strawberries. One of our company, a very senior academic and critic, drops his strawberry into the champagne. I do it too, soon a number of us are doing it. I joke with the others. Then we leave, part and six of us head over to the Petőfi literary museum where they have a restaurant in the yard. A pianist is murdering standards inside, but as the meal goes on I grow fonder of his heavy phrasing. Then home.
The text of the speech will be available in Hungarian translation, and I will put it up here in parts. It might find a home in some UK journal..
Delighted to meet another two Twitter acquaintances at the event, Piko Borsó and Nora, the art historian.
Now to head off to an interview.