Category Archives: Hungary

Rijeka vs. Fiume

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 160-162:

Rijeka—Fiume—was a place of conflicting sovereignties long before the 1940s. Beginning in the late fifteenth century, Rijeka was an important seaport of the Austrian Habsburg Empire, and after the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy in 1867 much of it came under the rule of Budapest, with new rail links connecting it deep into Central Europe. If Trieste is a fault zone, then Rijeka is the very border of that fault zone. In fact, following the First World War, ethnic conflicts among the urban population and the decision of foreign diplomats to hand over the city to the new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes led 9,000 ethnic-Italian legionnaires to establish the vaguely anarchist and Fascist “Regency of Carnaro” here. That lasted a year, until 1920, when the Treaty of Rapallo declared Fiume a free state under Italian rule. In 1924, it became part of Fascist Italy. Through it all, the drama between Slavs and Italians nearby on the Istrian peninsula became a microcosm of the drama between East and West; between the free West and the Communist East. Though, given the cruelty and general insensitivity of the Italians towards the Slavs, something not restricted to Mussolini’s Fascists, one side was not always and not necessarily morally superior to the other.

For example, I look up at the balconies in Rijeka and think immediately of the leader of the Italian Regency of Carnaro, Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938), a name that emerges from time to time in conversations here as a vague and occasional background noise: mentioned quickly in passing, but rarely explained. D’Annunzio was a charismatic intellectual with a lust for power and adulation, who consequently loved balcony appearances. For him, the purpose of politics was to supply an arena for glory and the erection of the perfect state. In Fiume, in 1919, with the collapse of the Habsburg Empire and the city the object of rival claims and protracted negotiations by Italy and the new Yugoslav kingdom, D’Annunzio seized power at the head of the far-right legionnaire movement, itself supported by flaky youthful idealists. Though he didn’t last long, this romantic thinker stylistically paved the way for Mussolini: he was a warning against hazy ideas and intellectual conceit. For lofty themes, if not grounded in moderation and practicality, can be the enemy of healthy politics.

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Slovenia, Misfit in Yugoslavia

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 149-150:

Ljubljana: known in German as Laibach, a place more historically associated with the Habsburg Empire than with any particular nation-state. Here in 1821, one of the crucial congresses was held to stabilize Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. Thus, in the very sound of its name Laibach recalls such personages as Metternich and Castlereagh. I was last in Ljubljana in October 1989, just a few weeks before the Berlin Wall fell, on a concluding trip through Yugoslavia, from where I had reported often during the 1980s. This was still twenty months before the start of the war there. But I would ultimately leave Slovenia out of the final version of Balkan Ghosts, even though it had been a member of the Yugoslav federation, while I would include Greece in the manuscript though it was a long-standing member of NATO. Greece, I had argued to my editors, was Near Eastern despite its ties to the Western alliance, while Slovenia was Central European despite being for so long a part of the largest Balkan country.

Ljubljana in 1989 has left a deep imprint on my memory. A section of my diary from the period, published as a travel essay in The New York Times, records: “Mornings are a blank canvas. Not until 9:30 or so does the autumn fog begin to dissolve. Then the outlines of steep roofs, spires, leaden domes, statues, and willows and poplars emerge like an artist’s first quick strokes. At first it is a pen-and-ink with charcoal. By mid- or late morning come the richer colors of the palette: facades of orange and yellow ochers, pinks, sandy reds, and dazzling greens. As for the architecture itself,” I went on, “it is not only baroque and Renaissance but also Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and so forth. This was partly because, with the exception of five years of Napoleonic rule, Ljubljana between 1135 and 1918 was inside the Habsburg Empire, and thus artistic influences from the far-flung domain filtered in.” Truly, I was infatuated with the city.

But there is even more from my notebooks about Ljubljana that I did not publish at the time: Men smoking in the damp and cold hotel restaurant while waiters talked and ignored customers amid loud rock music (Blood, Sweat & Tears singing “Spinning Wheel”). People had ravaged eyes under matted hair, without the blow dryers and designer glasses that were already ever-present in nearby Austria at the time, and everyone with bad-quality shoes. It was a place where people began to drink early in the day. And yet one after another of the persons I interviewed back in 1989 complicated those initial impressions. For Yugoslavia was already starting to fall apart, even if it wasn’t yet in the news. “The Serbs look backward while we look forward: away from the archaic system” of Tito’s Yugoslavia. “In Slovenia, Tito [a half-Slovene] has been completely forgotten.” “Slovenes are like conscientious objectors in the Yugoslav federation.” “We watch Austrian television, not Serbian television.” “We are a small country that looks out, Serbia is a great country that looks in.” All in all, in October 1989, Slovenia was a poor and downtrodden place by Western standards that, nevertheless, evinced a distinct bitterness about having to prop up the even poorer and yet more powerful states within the Yugoslav federation, notably Serbia. Yugoslavia had, in a political and cultural sense, dragged Slovenia southward into the Balkans, and away from its rightful place in Central Europe, to which Slovenia’s own Habsburg legacy entitled it. Indeed, it was Slovenia’s very resentment over that fact which caused it, like Poland and Hungary, to fiercely aspire towards membership in the West, and thus towards liberalism and free markets.

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Byzantine Proustians of Bucharest, 1934

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 184-188:

Historians have been united in execrating the Phanariots. They have inherited the opprobrium that used to load the word ‘Byzantine’ with suggestions of flexibility, deviousness, lack of scruple, greed and tyranny. But there are signs that the Phanariots, too, are gradually being reassessed. It may be argued that their greed and corruption were laced by zeal for the Orthodox faith and that their share in the foreign affairs of the Ottomans, which the later sultans largely and most unwisely entrusted to them, was dictated as much, or almost as much, by anxiety for the Christian cause as it was by private ambition. It is possible that without their flexibility and genius for compromise, the principalities would have sunk into total subjection to the Ottoman yoke: that all the old national institutions, instead of degeneration, would have been obliterated completely, as they had been in the rest of south-eastern Europe. In nearly every family there was a prince with virtues to offset, in some measure, the vices of his kinsmen. Since the end of their long regime, many of their descendants have been prominent and devoted figures in Rumanian life, both in conservation and reform. But whatever their drawbacks may have been, in the period of their great ascendancy, the eighteenth century, in one thing they were pre-eminent: they were the only civilized people in south-eastern Europe. The Phanar itself was the last surviving fragment of lost Byzantium, and the courts of Bucharest and Jassy the last, faint, scarcely audible echo of the empire’s death rattle.

It was not only on their wealth but on their knowledge of languages and their wider European horizons, in a world of fanatic barbarism, that their oligarchy was based. From the first, when they became Grand Dragomans of the Porte, they were friends of literature and art; the first Rumanian bible was translated by the orders of Sherban Cantacuzene of Wallachia, and with all his faults, a figure as polished as Alexander Mavrocordato, Byron’s and Shelley’s friend and a leader in the Greek revolt, could have sprung from no other East European soil. They studied in Venice, Padua, Vienna, Paris and St Petersburg and it was mainly due to their civilized and cosmopolitan influence that Western ideas penetrated Rumania. The influence of French ideas, and the total linguistic hegemony of France among the elite, may have gone too far; there were certainly regrettable social side effects; but it did bring a vivifying blast of the Western world, a sort of belated renaissance, into the stifling isolation of the Middle Ages which Rumania was only just sloughing off.

All these different influences, it occurred to me later on (for I knew little or nothing of such matters then), had evolved into a society which was a mixture of late Byzantium and Proustian France. The architectural mood of Bucharest, after it had arisen from its oriental beginnings, was an amalgam of Second Empire and the fin-de-siècle, with a dash of early twentieth-century opulence. The modern buildings were irrelevant postscripts. A strong whiff of the earlier period hung unmistakeably in the social air: a climate which had also been subtly modified, during the last few generations, by a stern army of English nannies and governesses. But it left the bedrock of French influence among the boyars undisturbed, the result of a hundred years of study in the lycées of France and the Sorbonne, and of inhabiting Paris as an alternative capital.

The same life, in miniature, thrived in Bucharest; the most convincing relic of it was the plush, the brass and the chandeliers of Capșa’s restaurant. I could never tire of hearing tales of this not yet wholly evaporated epoch. Although it is the last period in history I would have liked to inhabit, there is an absorbing attraction about the robust, undoubting vulgarity and glitter which held Europe in its grip for these decades. The duels, too, which had played a large part in Rumanian, as well as the rest of European life, outside England – and, to a much lesser extent, still did – exercised a morbid, Dumas-bred fascination. Frequently fatal, they were fought with pistols or rapiers which made encounters with sabres in Austria and Hungary – where only slashing was allowed, but no lunging – sound much more innocuous. It was all frantically alien.

What distinguished these people then, and later, from the rest of pleasure-loving aristocratic Europe was their anti-philistinism: a fastidious passion for erudition for its own sake, for literature, painting, music, sculpture and the movement of ideas, that turned their houses into the haunts of Academicians. (Rather like France, again, Rumania has always been a country where a few women, through their brilliance, wit, beauty or hospitality, have played a more important role than in other countries.) The devotion to writing, in particular, went far beyond literary dilettantism and emerged, in many cases, in works of great distinction. Not alas, in Rumanian, a chauvinist might sigh. But at least these extra-territorial exploits released them from the wheel of patriotic nationalism, to which the poetic and literary genius of resurgent nations is indissolubly bound. Paris after all is no mean arena in which to shine. No wonder that Proust should have been so deeply intrigued by Rumanians in Paris and sought them out as friends.

I have gone on rather a long time about this because it was so different to anything I had come across in similar circumstances in the Danubian capitals further upstream. In Hungary the candlelit talk at the end of dinner would be more inclined to concern shooting or horses, a serious weighing of the comparative merits of bootmakers and saddlers in London or long discussions about mediatization, morganatic marriages, primogenitive quarterings, Hoffähigkeit, the exact degree of cousinage between the Festitich and Fürstenberg families and how many yokes of land the Esterházys owned. So it might, mutatis mutandis, in Bucharest, but not for long.

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Meeting a Transylvanian Rabbi, 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. 210-213:

My interlocutors looked bewildered when I tried to explain my reasons for not staying at home. Why was I travelling? To see the world, to study, to learn languages? I wasn’t quite clear myself. Yes, some of these things, but mostly—I couldn’t think of the word at first—and when I found it—“for fun”—it didn’t sound right and their brows were still puckered. “Also, Sie treiben so herum aus Vergnügen?” The foreman shrugged his shoulders and smiled and said something in Yiddish to the others; they all laughed and I asked what it was. “Es ist a goyim naches!” they said. ‘A goyim naches,’ they explained, is something that the goyim like but which leaves Jews unmoved; any irrational or outlandish craze, a goy’s delight or gentile’s relish. It seemed to hit the nail on the head.

The initial reserve of the other dwellers in these mountains had not lasted long; nor did it here: but the Jews had other grounds for wariness. Their centuries of persecution were not ended; there had been trials for ritual murder late in the last century in Hungary and more recently in the Ukraine, and fierce deeds in Rumania and pogroms in Bessarabia and throughout the Russian Pale. Slanderous myths abounded and the dark rumours of the Elders of Zion had only been set in motion fifteen years earlier. In Germany, meanwhile, terrible omens were gathering, though how terrible none of us knew. They came into the conversation and—it seems utterly incredible now—we talked of Hitler and the Nazis as though they merely represented a dire phase of history, a sort of transitory aberration or a nightmare that might suddenly vanish, like a cloud evaporating or a bad dream. The Jews in England—a happier theme—came next: they knew much more than I, which was not hard; and Palestine. Sighs and fatalistic humour spaced out the conversation.

Everything took a different turn when scripture cropped up. The book in front of the Rabbi was the Torah, or part of it, printed in dense Hebrew black-letter that was irresistible to someone with a passion for alphabets; especially these particular letters, with their aura of magic. Laboriously I could phonetically decipher the sounds of some of the simpler words, without a glimmer of their meanings, of course, and this sign of interest gave pleasure. I showed them some of the words I had copied down in Bratislava from shops and Jewish newspapers in cafés, and the meanings, which I had forgotten, made them laugh; those biblical symbols recommended a stall for repairing umbrellas, or ‘Daniel Kisch, Koscher Würste und Salami.’ How did the Song of Miriam sound in the original, and the Song of Deborah; David’s lament for Absolom; and the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley? The moment it became clear, through my clumsy translations into German, which passage I was trying to convey, the Rabbi at once began to recite, often accompanied by his sons. Our eyes were alight; it was like a marvellous game. Next came the rivers of Babylon, and the harps hanging on the willows: this they uttered in unfaltering unison, and when they came to ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,’ the moment was extremely solemn.

By this time the other-worldly Rabbi and his sons and I were excited. Enthusiasm ran high. These passages, so famous in England, were doubly charged with meaning for them, and their emotion was infectious. They seemed astonished—touched, too—that their tribal poetry enjoyed such glory and affection in the outside world; utterly cut off, I think they had no inkling of this. A feeling of great warmth and delight had sprung up and the Rabbi kept polishing his glasses, not for use, but out of enjoyment and nervous energy, and his brother surveyed us with benevolent amusement. It got dark while we sat at the table, and when he took off the glass chimney to light the paraffin lamp, three pairs of spectacles flashed. If it had been Friday night, the Rabbi said, they would have asked me to light it; he explained about the shabbas goy. This was the Sabbath-gentile whom well-off Jews—“not like us”—employed in their houses to light fires and lamps and tie and untie knots or perform the many tasks the Law forbids on the Seventh Day. I said I was sorry it was only Thursday (the Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday) as I could have made myself useful for a change. We said good-night with laughter.

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Emblematic Attire in Transylvania, 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. 156-158:

But all along my itinerary the chief difference between country Hungarians and Rumanians had been the wide-skirted tunic or shirt, caught in by a wide belt, which the Rumanians wore outside their trousers. Both dressed in white homespun linen, but the Hungarians’ shirts always buttoned tightly at the throat; their trousers were unusually wide from the waist down and sometimes pleated, which almost gave them the look of long skirts. Gatya Hosen, István called them; these were often replaced by loose black breeches and shiny knee-boots. But here the peasants, almost to a man, wore narrow white homespun trews like tights stitched together out of felt. Across the Hungarian plain and in Transylvania, the women’s clothes had been varying all the time. Each village and valley enjoined a different assembly of colours and styles: braids, tunics, lace, ribands, goffering, ruffs, sashes, caps, kerchiefs, coifs and plaits free or coiled: a whole array of details announced whether they were betrothed, brides, married, spinsters or widows. Sometimes coifs framed these heads like spathe and spadix; among Saxons, they shot up in stiff scarlet cylinders. There were bodices, flowing or panelled sleeves, embroidery, gold coins at brow or throat or both, aprons front and back, a varying number of petticoats and skirts jutting at the hips like farthingales, and occasionally these were accompanied by coloured Russian boots. This village finery gave all gatherings a festal air, especially as the level of beauty among Hungarian and Rumanian girls was very high. Populations were inclined to remain aloof; but the more they overlapped and mingled—Magyar, Rumanian, Serb, Slovak, Saxon, Swabian and sometimes Armenian and perhaps some Ruthenes in the north—the more striking they looked. Their everyday dress was a sober version of their gala outfits; but these exploded on feast-days and at weddings in ravishing displays. Clothes were still emblematic, and not only among peasants: an expert in Rumanian and Hungarian symbols, looking at the passers-by in a market-place—a couple of soldiers, a captain in the Ros, iori [= Roșiori], an Ursuline prioress, a sister of St. Vincent de Paul, a Poor Clare, an Hasidic rabbi, an Armenian deacon, an Orthodox nun, a Uniat archimandrite, a Calvinist pastor, an Augustinian canon, a Benedictine, a Minorite friar, a Magyar nobleman, an ostrich-feathered coachman, a shrill-voiced Russian cab-driver, a bear-leading Gypsy with his spoon-carving fellow-tribesmen, a wool-carder, a blacksmith, a drover, a chimney-sweep, a woodman or a waggoner, and above all, women from a dozen villages and ploughmen and shepherds from widely scattered valleys and highlands—would have been able to reel off their provenances as swiftly as a herald glancing along the flags and surcoats of a fourteenth-century battle.

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Transylvanian Harvest Season, 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. 139-142:

The summer solstice was past, peonies and lilac had both vanished, cuckoos had changed their tune and were making ready to fly. Roast corn-cobs came and trout from the mountains; cherries, then strawberries, apricots and peaches, and, finally, wonderful melons and raspberries. The scarlet blaze of paprika—there were two kinds on the table, one of them fierce as gunpowder—was cooled by cucumber cut thin as muslin and by soda splashed into glasses of wine already afloat with ice; this had been fetched from an igloo-like undercroft among the trees where prudent hands had stacked it six months before, when—it was impossible to imagine it!—snow covered all. Waggons creaked under loads of apricots, yet the trees were still laden; they scattered the dust, wasps tunnelled them and wheels and foot-falls flattened them to a yellow pulp; tall wooden vats bubbled among the dusty sunflowers, filling the yards with the sweet and heady smell of their fermentation; and soon, even at midday, the newly distilled spirit began to bowl the peasants over like a sniper, flinging the harvesters prostrate and prone in every fragment of shadow. They snored among sheaves and hay-cocks and a mantle of flies covered them while the flocks crammed together under every spread of branches, and not a leaf moved.

Behind the thick walls and the closed afternoon shutters of the kastély [manor house], sleep reigned fitfully too, but resurrection came soon. The barley was already in and István was busy with his reapers and the last of the wheat. (In Hungary, the harvest began on the 29th of June, the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, but it was a bit earlier hereabouts.) … After the long weeks of sickles and scythes and whetstones, it was threshing time. Old machines were toiling away and filling the valleys with their throbbing, driven by engines with flapping belts and tall Puffing Billy chimneys expanding in a zigzag at the top. Up in the mountains, horses harnessed to wooden sledges and rollers for shelling the grain trotted round and round on circles of cobble. Winnowing followed, when clouds of skied grain sparkled and fell and then sparkled again as the next wooden shovelful transfigured the afternoon with chaff. The sacks, carried off in ox-carts, were safe in the barns at last. If the waggoners were Rumanians, instead of crying “stânga!” or “dreaptă!” in their native tongue when they wanted their oxen to turn left or right (or “jobb!” or “bal!” in Magyar if they were Hungarians) they would shout “heiss!” [hăis] and “tcha!” [cea].  I had first noticed these arcane cries when buffaloes were being coaxed or goaded along. István thought that the Turks had first brought these animals here, probably from Egypt, though they must originally have come from India. But the words are neither Turkish, Arabic, Romany, Hindi nor Urdu.

July brought a scattering of younger Transylvanians and their relations in search of refuge along the river valley from the heat of Budapest, which summer had turned into one of the great tropical cities of the world. There were parties and picnics and bathing, and tennis at István’s till it was too dark to see the ball, on a court sunk among thick trees like a shady well; and feasting and singing round pianos in those long disintegrating drawing-rooms, and sometimes dancing to a gramophone. A few of the records were only a year or two out of date, many much older: Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Blue Skies, Lazybones, Love for Sale, Saint Louis Blues, Every Little Breeze Seems to Whisper Louise. In case of need, István was revealed as a proficient pianist—“but only for this sort of stuff,” he said, vamping, syncopating, honky-tonking and glissandoing away like mad; then, spinning completely round on the piano-stool, he ended with a lightning thumbnail sweep of the whole keyboard from bass to treble.

The village calendar was starred with feasts and saints’ days and weddings. Gypsies throve, the sound of their instruments was always within earshot and the village squares were suddenly ringed with great circular wreaths of dancers in wonderful clothes with their hands on each others’ shoulders, a couple of hundred or more: and the triple punctuating stamp of the horă and the sârbă, falling all together, would veil all their bravery for a moment in dust-clouds. (I learnt all these dances later on.) It was at night that they impinged most insistently, especially on the eve of a wedding, when the groom and his paranymphs went through the slow stages of a mock abduction. If the rhythms of High Hat, The Continental or Get Along, Little Dogie flagged for a moment among the faded looking-glasses and sconces and portraits in the kastély, staccato cries, high-pitched and muted by distance, as the bride was hoisted aloft, would come sailing up from the village below and through the long windows. “Hai! Hai! Hai! Hai!” The dancing was spurred on late into the night by the new apricot brandy, and the fiddles and zithers and clarinets and double-basses were heckled by the distant yelping of wild rustic epithalamia; then strings, hammers and the shrill reeds would be drowned once more by Dinah, and our own hullabaloo under the chandeliers.

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First Impressions of Romania, 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. 87-88:

When the fog lifts, the landscape shows little change from the Great Plain I thought I had left, except for wooded hills in the distance. It was a geometrical interlock of chocolate-coloured ploughland with stripes of barley, wheat, oats, rye and maize with some tobacco and the sudden mustard flare of charlock. Clumps of trees broke it up and every few miles russet and sulphur-coloured belfries rose from shingle roofs. Each village had a rustic baroque church for the Catholics and another for the Uniats, and sometimes, though not so much hereabouts, a third for Calvinists or Lutherans; for though the Counter-Reformation had triumphed in Austria, lively and varied crops survived in Hungary and Transylvania. These churches were outwardly the same, but once indoors, the Stations of the Cross or a roodscreen encrusted with icons or the austerity of the Ten Commandments in Magyar above a Communion table gave their allegiance away at once. There were storks’ nests and sweep-wells and flocks and cattle and Gypsies on the move. I began to like buffaloes the more I saw of them; their great liquid eyes, which seemed to lose the resentment I thought I had discerned on the banks of the Tisza, now looked aswim with pathos. But there was an important difference in the people. After the last weeks of blunt Magyar faces, the features were different—or was it merely imagination and recent reading that lent them a more Latin look? I fell in with a party carrying sickles and scythes and slung babies. Their ample white homespun tunics were caught in with belts as wide as girths and sometimes covered in iron studs, and, except for those who were barefoot, they were shod in the familiar canoe-tipped moccasins and rawhide thongs. Their rank sheepskin jackets were put on smooth side out and their hats—bulbous cones of black or white fleece over a foot high—gave them a wild and rakish look. They could all understand my hard-won fragments of Magyar; but I soon felt that the language they spoke to each other would be much easier to learn. A man was om, a woman, femeie; and ochi, nas, mâna and foaie were eyes, nose, hand and leaf. They were a little puzzled at first by my pointing at everything in sight with gestures of enquiry. Dog? Ox? Cow? Horse? Câine, bou, vaca, cal! It was marvellous: homo, femina, nasus, manus, folium, canis, bos, vacca and caballus thronged through my brain in a delirious troop. Câmp was a field and fag a beech-tree (‘…quatit ungula campum!’…‘sub tegmine fagi…!’). How odd to find this Latin speech marooned so far from its kindred! The Black Sea hemmed it in to the east and Slavonic to north and south, while the west was barred by the Finno-Ugrian dactyls of the Magyars.

By late afternoon, these linguistic exchanges brought us to the little town of Ineu—‘Borosjenö’ on my pre-war map—where a market day was ending. The place was full of lowing, bleating and squealing, carts were being loaded, pens broken up and hurdles stacked. Women and girls were busy with long goads keeping troops of poultry together. Kerchiefs of different colours were knotted under their chins and pleated skirts, with embroidered aprons back and front, sprang from girdles woven in patterns of red and yellow. A few of them had scarlet boots to the knee like figures out of the Russian ballet.

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Musical Rapture and Melancholy, 1934

This one’s for Dumneazu.

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. 62-63:

We shared a paprika chicken in an eating-house and had coffee out of doors. Then noise and music enticed us into a much humbler vendéglö full of shepherds and drovers. They were tough, tousled and weather-beaten fellows in knee-boots or raw-hide moccasins lashed on with thongs, and they wore small black hats and smoked queer-looking pipes with lidded metal bowls and six-inch stems of reed or bamboo; the collars of the smarter ones, worn with no tie, were buttoned with apoplectic tightness. The instruments of the Gypsies were a violin, a ’cello, a double-bass, a czembalom and, most improbably, an ornate harp, chipped and gilded and six feet high between the knees of a very dark harpist; his sweeps across the strings added a liquid ripple to the languor and the sudden fury of the tunes. Some of the customers were groggy already: spilt liquor, glassy eyes and benign smiles abounded. Like all country people venturing into towns, new arrivals were shy and awkward at first, but this soon dissolved. One rowdy tableful, riotously calling for wilder music and for stronger wine, was close to collapse. “They will be in tears soon,” Miklos said with a smile, and he was right. But they were not tears of sorrow; it was a sort of ecstasy that damped those wrinkled eye-sockets. I learnt about mulatság for the first time—the high spirits, that is, the rapture and the melancholy and sometimes the breakage that the stringed instruments of Gypsies, abetted by constant fluid intake, can bring about. I loved this despised music too, and when we got up to go after a couple of hours, felt touched by the same maudlin delectation. A lot of wine had passed our lips.

I wonder how much Cuman and how much Jazygian blood mingled with Hungarian in the veins of all these revellers?

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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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Eliciting Romany in Hungary, 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. 44-47:

Three camp-fires, spreading spokes of light through the tree-trunks, lit up the canvas of tents and shapes of men and horses. A party of Gypsies had settled for the night by yet another sweep-well, and our arrival caused bewilderment. Except for the fires, there was no glimmer in any direction and I saw, half with excitement and half with a touch of fright, that we would have to spend the night there. I had heard many hair-raising stories about Gypsies recently and I was chiefly scared about Malek. … Shaggy and unkempt, they were the darkest Gypsies I had ever seen. Some of the men wore loose white Hungarian trousers, the others were in ordinary town clothes and black hats, all in the last stage of decay. … Beautiful girls, flounced and bedraggled in green and yellow and magenta, stared with effulgent eyes. Beyond the fires there was a munching of unyoked oxen; horses were hobbled under the branches and a couple of mares grazed loose with tall foals beside them. Dogs bickered and snarled and the poultry, loosed from their travelling coop, pecked about the dust. Black and brown tents were stretched over crossed poles and the ramshackle style and the jumbled scattering of household stuff gave no hint of a thousand or two thousand years’ practice in pitching camp; except for the reeds and withies and the half-woven baskets on which brown hands were already busy, the whole tribe might have fled half-an-hour ago from a burning slum. I think they were heading for the banks of the Tisza to cut a new stock.

I escaped the hubbub for ten minutes by walking Malek up and down before watering him at the trough, where a man called György helped with the bucket. I had been wondering whether to tether Malek to a tree; there were some oats and a headstall in the saddle-bag, but the halter was far too short for him to graze. Best to hobble him as the Gypsies had done with theirs, but I had no idea how to set about it. György showed me, linking Malek’s forelegs with a neat figure of eight. I was anxious about this: Malek couldn’t have been used to it; but he behaved with great forbearance. I gave him some of his feed and some hay from the Gypsy, then took the saddle and tack and settled with the rest of them by the fire.

Thank heavens, their informal supper was over! Apart from hedge-hogs, delicious by hearsay, the untoothsomeness and even danger of their usual food were famous. There was a sound of rattling metal: a dog was licking out a cooking-pot by the fire. Seeing my worried look, a girl of ten, who had just begged for a cigarette, hurled an accurate stone at the dog, which scuttled off with a surprised yelp; then, tossing up the vessel so that it caught on a convenient twig, she coiled to the ground again with an indulgent smile as she let the smoke stream lazily from her nostrils. The chief item of [his last host] Berta’s supplies was a salami nearly a yard long, ribboned half-way down with the national colours. I made a good impression by cutting off a third and handing it over; it was the signal for a brief uproar of grabs and curses and blows. Then thirty pairs of eyes, accompanied by a soft chorus of whispers, watched raptly as I ate a sandwich and an apple. I took three fast gigantic gulps out of my wine-bottle before surrendering it. They seemed half-fascinated; also, and I couldn’t make out why, half-alarmed by my presence: perhaps all strangers, except as prey, boded ill. We were incommunicado at first; but I had been alerted by what the oldest man had said to György before he helped me give Malek a drink: the mumbled sentence had ended, I thought, with the word pani—immediately recognisable, to anyone at all in touch with Anglo-India, as the Hindi for water. When I pointed questioningly at the water-jar and asked what was inside, they said “Víz,” using the Magyar word; I cunningly answered, “Nem [not] víz! Pani.” There was a sensation! Bewilderment and wonder were written on their firelit features. When I held up the fingers of my hand and said “Panch!”—the word for five in both Hindi and Romany (öt, in Magyar), the wonder grew. I tried the only other words I could remember from Lavengro, pointing to my tongue and saying “Lav?”; but drew a blank; tchib was their word for it. I drew another blank with “penning dukkerin,” Borrow’s—or rather Mr. Petulengro’s—word for ‘fortune-telling.’ But I had better luck with the word petulengro itself, at least with the first half. The whole word (‘horseshoe-master’ in Borrow, i.e. blacksmith) caused no reaction, but when I cut it down to petul, and pointed to the anvil, a small boy dashed into the dark and came back holding up a horseshoe in triumph.

As soon as they got the hang of it, each time I pointed at something with a questioning look, back came the Gypsy word. Most of them laughed but one or two looked worried, as though tribal secrets were being revealed. A finger pointing to Heaven, and “Isten?” (the Magyar word for God), at once evoked the cry of “Devel!,” which sounds odd at first; until one thinks of Deva in Hindi and its probable Sanskrit ancestor.

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