Sunday, 24 August 2008


There are times when Hungary feels like a good place to be. Among friends, of course. In good weather (and we have good weather). At times when Hungary is winning a gold medal at, say, water polo, a sport at which the country has always excelled. In the streets, the most resonant streets in Europe in terms of light, space, shape and human presence. In restaurants, eating good, decently priced food. Along the Danube, the most glorious of European rivers. The city is clean, the transport is efficient, the baths (that I tend not to go to though C does) beautiful, sad, glittering. Film is good. Theatre is good. You can, as the posters should say if they don't already, have a good time in Budapest.

For me it is a great mass of conflicting emotions. I have moments when I am blissfully happy, and others when I am on edge. It is, I suppose, the emigré's lot. Boring, boring, boring. But let me put it this way. The hereness of here I can fully experience, the insideness of here, never. The insideness is elusive. What I think I know by instinct I don't know on the pulse. Or possibly vice-versa. Hence the confusion.

But back to the water polo. Or indeed to the rowing of one sort or another.

Hungarian TV sports commentary is quite different from the British kind, especially when a Hungarian competitor is involved. The build-up is heroic, the glorious past is rolled out, the hopes of the nation are firmly fixed on the team or individual who is to be the saviour of the nation. The race begins, the progress of the Hungarian is followed prayerfully, a prayer that becomes ever more fervent as the race progresses. The competitor is urged on with religious passion. Not even Saint Teresa of Avila in her wild lament knew such pain and ecstasy. Look! Look! the commentator points. Ecce! Ecce homo!

And should the Hungarian win, the hosannas are tearful, voluptuous, iconic. The honour of the nation has been saved, the martyred saints, the downtrodden, the bones of the dead have been raised on high and dance on the right hand of God for ever and ever. Made it, Ma! Top of the world!

A little de trop, mes enfants, don't you think? sniffs the urbane cosmopolitan in me. Yet, I think I understand this. I am sure I have not sounded the very bottom of the ecstasy but feel I have a handle on it. The question is what I do with that handle.


Shawn said...

A lovely piece.

I haven't watched this edition of the Games (for many reasons); however, I did follow Michael Phelps' pursuit of glory via many blogs. It's interesting to contrast the general malaise over his world-beating performances with the reaction you've observed from the Hungarian faithful as regards their own.

Hoping this finds you well today ...


George S said...

Thank you, Shawn.

All Hungary rejoices. Though the truth is they expected more medals, more golds.

But then they always do. The past is very demanding. The commentator quoted one older water polo player as saying it was time to stop learning from the young how to turn victory into defeat and to start to learn from the old how to turn defeat into victory.

The past is a very hard master indeed. This time of course, in fact for the third olympics in a row, they did win the gold.

Gwil W said...

Haven't watched any 2008 Olympics apart from the opening ceremony, and the lighting of the flame by the sun in Greece.
The hype was oh, so nauseating! The dubious flame (orig: 1936)
The fireworks unreal!
The singer not the singer!
Maybe the song was not the song?
Why not fix a Feedjit to the blog and get a visual feel for the real China.
Gwilym Williams

George S said...

What's a feedjit, Gwilym?

The real China sounds like a big project. My wife was born there. Her father spent eighteen years there. Near the Tibetan border.

Olympics? Yes, nauseating hype, chiefly because of scale. Otherwise there is little hype of the non-nauseating sort anywhere. One could perhaps do an entirely virtual Olympics. And wasn't there a 1960s TV play by Nigel Kneale titled 'The Year of the Sex Olympics'? One can but try. Might just make the heats.

I made my own suggestions for London's response in an earlier blog - here:

As ever, I do my best for international relations.

Gwil W said...

Hi George,
a Feedjit is a map of the world you can download - free from Google. It puts small red dots where your visitors are.
I have internet visitors to my blog from Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong etc. but China remains dotless - an empty white internet space - rather like the Antarctic.
best, Gwilym