Friday, 22 April 2011

Thursday-Friday, Kiss to Karinthy

Interior of upper level, New York Cafe, Budapest,

There wasn't time for the internet light shop this morning. Packing, tidying, the handing over of the keys.

On Thursday we took the opportunity to walk a little around some of the VII district streets that used to be neglected but now look spruce and positively expensive, but for the fact that property prices are depressed. The VII district is the old Jewish ghetto - it is where I was born and grew up. Király utca, where we were staying is the edge of the VIth and VIIth. On the way back we buy a little gift for Marlie and stop for an iced tea at the New York Cafe, as above, a fin-de-siecle piece of post-rococo, pre-Hollywood extravanganza where writers used to meet, where even in the 1980s and 90s the editorial team of the literary magazine, 2000, made a show of meeting there. (I must put up the photo taken when I visited them and appear to be part of the company). It used to be full of pictures of the late 19th and early 20th century writers-customers but the pictures are gone. It's a little like being in Louis Armstrong's bathroom - I am going by descriptions of said bathroom some time ago.

At a little past 1pm, Judit K calls. It is her book I am currently translating, The Summer of My Father's Death, an excellent memoir, yet much more than a memoir. Her son Aaron arrives shortly after and we set off to walk to a gallery restaurant in Andrássy út, on the way to Heroes Square. We sit outside and eat in the shade. I know little about Judit apart from what is in the book and that she lives with her husband and two children in Geneva. It turns out she is a researcher and an authority on the arms trade - she goes to armaments factories and gathers information. She is a delicate featured woman of some 5ft height so she takes some of the factories and dealers by surprise. After lunch we walk to the Lukács cukrászda (cukrászda = German Konditorei, a cake shop selling liquor and black coffee. The Lukács is particularly elegant in a New York Café sort of way but on the way out we notice issues of a far right- wing newspaper on display. 'We'll not come back here,' says Judit. C and I walk back to the flat and rest.

In the evening it is our traditional parting dinner with L and K. It is balmy. The restaurant is in the old university district where we lived in 1989. Children are on school holiday and have gathered in front the the Law Faculty. Talk returns to politics. The ultra nationalist view of Hungarians as a noble race descended from the Parthians, in effect a nation of bold princes, dependent on no one but themselves, hating Europe, blaming the Habsburgs for spreading lies about the language's Finno-Ugric origins, which are, of course, all lies. They must have old Hungary back (that is the Hungary of the Habsburgs as it happens), including much of Transylvania, Croatia, Slovakia, etc. Many cars carry the map of Greater Hungary. Foreigners, Gypsies and Jews don't fit into this picture, but then they never do.

Except, it turns out, in the early 19th century of Liszt's time, when the gypsies were considered part of nationalist nation-building.

I have a bad night again. The next morning, after packing, I take a book from the shelf, Ferenc Karinthy's Budapest Autumn, which is a fictionalised memoir of the 1956 rising. I picked this up because I had translated his dystopian novel, Metropole (Epepe in Hungarian). Extraodinary as it seems I immediately recognise the first part of Budapest Autumn as the later part of Metropole, action for action, character for character, perhaps even sentence for sentence. It seems he lifted his own fictionalised memory from one book and simply copied it into another.

And then we're out of there, and back here. Maybe some reflections on the experience tomorrow, and a return to the photographic theme.

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