Learning Magyar on the Go, 1934

From Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Middle Danube to the Iron Gates, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 2, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 60-62:

Later, as Malek and I tittuped past a sleepy railway-halt called Pusztapo, the scene clears a bit; its name has stuck only because of its oddity. Hamlets like this were hardly more than a row of thatched cottages on either side of the dusty way. Sometimes I would stop and buy some oats; when the word kocsma over a door or painted in white on a window-pane indicated a tavern, I would dismount and sit on the bench among the budding hollyhocks over a small glass of a fierce country schnapps called seprü, or cseresznye, when made of cherries. Sometimes, blinking in the sun and the dust, a waggoner or two might be on the same bench and, though we were incommunicado, I was among friends at once because of the prevalent sympathy for horses: Malek’s fine looks won all hearts, and everyone stroked him. “Nagyon szép!” they would murmur, “Very beautiful” or “Az egy szép ló,” “He’s a fine horse…” (Sketchy vocabularies are jotted in the journal here and there: zab, oats; ló, horse; lovagolok, I ride; lovagolni fogok, I will ride; lovagolni fogok holnap Mezötúrra, I will ride to Mezötúr tomorrow. Gyönyörü! excellent or first class, it continues, and Rettenetes!, terrible! and so on.) Sitting with the reins loose in my hands under the transparent leaves of the acacias, I felt like a lone cowboy venturing among little-known tribes and the Gypsies and the shepherds with their tomahawk-staves supplied corroborative detail.

When a village fell behind, we were alone once more in a flat and now familiar landscape, half desert and half sown, with its flocks and its herdsmen and its solitary sweep-wells and its cloud-processions along the horizon. In the late afternoon we were picking our way through another enormous herd of cattle with those long straight horns. Soon Gypsy hovels appeared and a straggle of kilns and sheds and thousands of bricks set out to dry and a rambling overgrown churchyard; then solider houses multiplied and we were on the outskirts of the substantial country-town of Mezötúr.

Smaller than Szolnok, it was a place of some consequence nevertheless. (Between two coffee-houses in the main street with kávéház helpfully inscribed across their fronts, another shop-window full of cosmetics and lotions and pictures of women with lowered lids stroking their soft complexions had a mysterious superscription: Szépség Szálón. After a few seconds’ delay, like the working of a slow calculating machine, ‘Beauty Parlour’ came to the surface…) Many of the shops had Jewish names, German in origin but spelt in the Hungarian way. Others were simple Hungarian words—Kis, Nagy, Fehér, Fekete—which may have been translations of Klein, Gross, Weiss and Schwarz, changed during Magyarising drives in the past. A grocer called Csillag—Stern?—set me on the right track for stabling. There were plenty of horses about and many country carts; old and battered four-wheelers with their hoods down waited patiently under the leaves or trundled about in the dusty evening light. Down a back lane at the stables I fell in with an ex-student called Miklos Lederer. He had just been apprenticed to a chemist; when Malek had been watered and fed, he helped me carry all the tack to a room in the house where he had taken digs. Half Hungarian and half Swabian, he too spoke German. Like everyone else at this time of the day, we strolled about the town, while busy swallows whisked by; there was something indefinably oriental in the atmosphere of the place. (I only discovered later on that south of varying parallels of latitude the corso—this universal evening promenade—was a phenomenon that stretched all the way from Portugal to the Great Wall of China.)

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Filed under Austria, Britain, Hungary, labor, language, nationalism, Portugal, travel

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