SUSAN RUBIN SULEIMA
         Dept. of Romance Languages and Comparative Literature,
                          Harvard University

               _Postmodern Culture_ v.3 n.3 (May, 1993)
            Copyright (c) 1993 by Susan Rubin Suleiman,
                         all rights reserved.

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[1]       The excerpts that follow are from a diary I have been
     keeping since early February [1993], when I began a six-
     month residency at the Collegium Budapest, a new Institute
     for Advanced Study modeled on those in Berlin and Princeton
     When I was invited last year to come to Budapest during this
     inaugural year of the Collegium, I accepted immediately.
     Besides the usual luxuries of such a Fellowship period, th
     invitation offered me what I thought of as a near-
     providential opportunity to continue the autobiographical
     project I had started some years back, and which was
     assuming increasing urgency.
[2]       I left Hungary with my parents in the summer of 1949,
     and rarely thought of it again until thirty-five years
     later, when I decided to return as a tourist with my tw
     sons, then aged 14 and 7.  That return triggered a desire to
     reconnect with my childhood and native city, a desire that
     took the form of writing.  I published two short pieces I
     occasionally allude to in the diary ("My War in Four
     Episodes," _Agni_, 33, 1991; "Reading in Tongues," _Boston
     Review_, May-August 1992).  Then, as a preparation for my
     current trip, I wrote a longer memoir, still unpublished,
     about the 1984 return and the memories it brought back.  The
     decision to write the diary did not crystallize until after
     I arrived here--I simply found myself writing on my
     computer, sometimes for hours, at other times for a few
     minutes, from the first day on.  After a while, I realized
     that I was writing "for a public" as well as for myself, an
     the project of a published diary began to take shape
     Since these excerpts have had to be radically excised from 
     much longer text that is still in process, I decided t
     limit my selections to a few themes, chief among them the
     current resurgence of nationalism and anti-Semitism in
     Hungary (as in Eastern Europe in general), and, not
     unrelated to the first, my personal history.  Out of a
     desire to protect the privacy of people I mention, I have
     used only first names or initials, which are not necessarily
     factual.  In the case of public figures, I cite their full
     real name.  I have tried to keep the writing very close to
     that of the first draft, but have not resisted makin
     occasional stylistic changes.  The order and tenor of th
     entries have not been modified.  Some of the major cuts ar
     indicated by suspension points in brackets.
[3]       A few Hungarian words: %utca% means street, %ut% means
     avenue, %ter% means square (like "place" in French), %korut%
     is a round avenue, %korter% or %korond% a round "square,"
     %villamos% means tramway.  Hungarian names are cited last
     name first, given name second.  Hungarian vowels have 
     variety of diacritical marks, but they cannot be reproduced
     in this electronic publication.
[4]       I would be interested in readers' responses to this
     work.  Please send them to _Postmodern Culture_, which will
     forward them to me.

[5]       My apartment is the whole top floor of a three-stor
     building, very big and nice.
[6]       [...] I didn't want to sleep in the middle of the
     afternoon, so after taking a hot bath and changing clothes,
     I went to the Collegium.  I walked part of the way, down
     toward the Gellert Hotel on Bartok Bela ut, a wide, bus
     avenue lined with shops.  I stopped at one to buy a
     toothbrush and some paper handkerchiefs.  It felt strange to
     be speaking Hungarian to the young woman in the store.  I
     thought I was speaking badly, like a foreigner.  After
     walking a while longer I took a taxi, which cost 240
     Forints--just under three dollars.
[7]       The Collegium occupies a historical monument, an 18th-
     century building, newly renovated, in what is surely one of
     the most beautiful spots in Budapest--on Castle Hill abov
     the Danube, across the square from the Matyas Church.  The
     Church and square look positively dreamlike when they are
     lit up in the evening.  My first sight of them was that way,
     for it was dark by the time I got there.

[8]       Had a chat with the downstairs neighbor this morning, a
     woman of about 65.  She and her husband have been living in
     this house for over thirty years.  It was a state-owne
     building, but three years ago the tenants were given th
     option to buy their apartments.  The couple who own mine
     bought two--this one and a smaller one on the ground floor,
     where they now live.  They spent several years abroad, which
     may account for the fancy electronic equipment in my
     apartment.  Everybody had their place redone inside, bu
     they have no money left to repair the outside, which still
     bears the marks of World War II.  The front was just one
     street over, she said: Germans on one side, Russians on the
     other.  The pockmarks on our facade are due to flying
     shrapnel.  It looks very bad, but would cost too much to
     repair.  There are six apartments in the building.  Theirs
     was divided, that's why it's smaller than mine.

[9]       Shall I go back again to Akacfa utca and climb again
     the three flights of stairs to our old apartment, now
     divided?  Maybe the couple who lived there nine years ago no
     longer lives there, or maybe they have bought the place and
     had it redone.

[10]      After lunch at the Collegium I took a taxi to the hom
     of B., one of the editors of a recently founded monthl
     journal, whose name was on my list of people to call.  He
     had told me on the telephone yesterday that he lived in an
     old-style building with a balcony surrounding the courtyard,
     and asked whether I was afraid of heights.  No I wasn't, I
     assured him--and a good thing, too, because really his
     balcony is very narrow and from the third floor where he
     lives one has a plunging view.  The building reminded me of
     Akacfa utca, but it was less nice--narrow balcony, n
     wrought iron, a smallish courtyard full of parked cars.
[11]      The man who opened the door was tall, around 50
     pleasant face, almost bald and what hair he had, white.  The
     apartment's clutter matched the exterior mess.  He invited
     me into the tiny kitchen while he made coffee.  He has a
     very charming, informal manner and a boyish air which 
     suspect he cultivates, as if he didn't want to flaunt his
     authority or power--or perhaps as if he didn't want
     completely to grow up.  After the coffee was made, he
     invited me into his study, a large pleasant room lined with
     books which we reached by crossing a small bathroom.  His
     computer was still on, and he showed me the database he has
     been working on for the past fifteen years, just finished:
     a complete %repertoire%, in French, of Hungarian poetry
     written before 1600.  A true work of erudition, which
     somehow didn't fit in my mind with his image as an editor of
     a chic journal.  But B. turned out to be a man of many
     interests and talents ("Je n'ai pas un violon d'Ingres, j'ai
     un orchestre d'Ingres," he joked at one point), and we spent
     a pleasant few hours talking about everything from opera to
     French structuralism, with which he feels a great affinity.
     At first we spoke Hungarian, but when things got really
     interesting we settled into French, which he speaks ver
     well with a heavy Hungarian accent.
[12]      I asked him about the journal.  "Well, I think you have
     great areas of empathy in you, but you simply cannot imagine
     what it was like to be an intellectual here around 1987-88.
     Suddenly, everything seemed possible.  I had purposely
     chosen to specialize in literature before 1600, just to mak
     sure I would never have to write anything about politics.
     Under the communist regime, that was the only way I felt I
     could survive.  But then, when things began to change, I
     felt I could and should take an active role."  So he and
     some friends founded the journal, in the very room where we
     were sitting--and he didn't even have a telephone at the
[13]      After looking at the "Contents" of _Subversive Intent_,
     which I had xeroxed for him (the book is on its way), h
     asked: "Are you close to feminism?"  Yes, I answered.  H
     smiled broadly: "I wrote one of the first feminist articles
     in Hungary--about a 16th-century poet, the first Hungarian
     woman poet, who wasn't mentioned in any of the official
     literary histories."  But now, he no longer considers
     himself a feminist because all the ones he knows are to
     angry.  He likes women, but not feminism.  Are there an
     women on the editorial board of the journal? I asked.  (
     knew full well there aren't any, I had read the masthead.
     No, he answered.  There are too many "fistfights"
     (%bagarres%) among the editors, and in a woman's presence
     they might not turn out the same way.  Some men become to
     wildly competitive if a woman is present, as if to prove
     themselves to her.  What did I think about that?  That it'
     very hard for men to think of women as equals, I answered
[14]        He gave me his latest book--about three kinds o
     readers, all of them "played" by himself.  As he was tellin
     me about his three readers I couldn't help thinking of th
     four sons at the Seder, especially since he had mentioned a
     short while before that both of his paternal grandparents
     were Jewish.  He said neither he nor his father thought of
     themselves as Jews, though of course, at the first sign of
     anti-Semitism, he identifies himself as one.  He inscribed
     his book, in Hungarian, "To Zsuzsa, with much affection--B.
     the feminist."  I gave him some of my essays.  The visit
     lasted more than four hours.

[15]      Spent the afternoon in my office, reading final papers
     for my "War and Memory" seminar.  The first one I read was
     K.'s interview with her father, about the last year of the
     war he spent in Budapest.  He is three years older than I,
     so he was eight years old in the harsh winter of 1944-4
     when all the fighting was going on.  Many parallels between
     our stories, including the fact that all of his immediate
     family survived.  K. writes that she has always known he
     father was a Holocaust survivor, and he told her many
     stories when she was a child.  The stories were always
     doctored, or as she put it "filtered," in such a way tha
     they were tales of good luck and triumph, not of fear or
     anxiety.  It was only now, in this formal interview, that
     her father, with her prompting, spoke about his fears.
[16]      Reading her essay, I wondered why I never told suc
     stories to my children--why, in all innocence or
     thoughtlessness, I never considered myself as a survivor al
     these years.  I finally decided it had something to do with
     the fact that I left Hungary in 1949, not 1956 like K.'s
     father.  He was 20, he has an unmistakable accent when he
     speaks English--there was no "forgetting" his past.  I, on
     the other hand, looked and spoke like many other smart
     middle-class American Jewish girls by the time I graduated
     from high school.  So I could easily pass, "forget" where I
     came from or consider it irrelevant, and want other people
     to consider it that too.

[17]      The funny thing is, these days I am irritated when I
     discover that someone I know thinks of me as "just another
     American," or even an American Jew.  The other night, at the
     dinner for Ruth Wisse in Cambridge, D. expressed surprise
     when I told her I was born in Budapest.  So I immediately
     sent her my two memoirs, as soon as I left the dinner
[18]      Two days ago I bought _Magyar Forum_, the weekl
     newspaper of the ruling Magyar Demokrata Forum--or more
     exactly, of the party's far-right wing, led by Csurka
     Istvan.  I finally read it this morning.  Csurka's column i
     on page 2--a piece extolling the Hungarian people (Magyar
     nep), the "silent majority" against the political "elite."
     Since the column  starts out by talking about a former head
     of the National Bank who seems to have been mixed up in some
     scandal and who "has an Israeli passport," I think "elite"
     may be a code word for Jews, or groups that include a lot of
[19]      A pretty piece of populist rhetoric, on the whole.  I
     imagine it's the kind of thing that the grocery store lady
     of this morning whom I overheard complaining about the price
     of life might find comforting.  But maybe I am jumping to
     conclusions about the poor lady.  At any rate, Csurka is not
     a nice man.  His name should be Csunya, for he stirs up ugly
     feelings (%csunya% means ugly).
[20]      Last night all the Fellows were invited by the Recto
     to a concert at the Kongresszus hall, a kind of Conventio
     hall that also serves as a concert hall.  Our host, V., wa
     most affable, and also invited us to dinner at a small
     restaurant not far from the Collegium.  We had a wonderful
     time, talking about frivolities, but also after a while
     about Csurka and the reasons for the resurgence of
     nationalism in Central Europe.  V. enumerated the usual
     political reaons: a reaction to the internationalism of the
     Communist regimes, economic and social inequalities that
     cause resentment (but B. had told me that it was under
     Communism one saw the greatest and most unfair
     inequalities), and generally the recession.  But that still
     doesn't explain the deep psychological attraction of
     nationalism and xenophobia in these parts.  We agreed that
     this was an important subject of discussion for the
[21]      Things noticed: People can be awfully touchy in stores
     around here.  Last Wednesday, on my first day here, 
     stopped to buy some shampoo in a small store on Bartok Bela
     ut, which was quite crowded with customers.  A young woman
     near the cash register was surveying the clients, and at one
     point she said to a woman: "Don't handle the merchandis
     too much."  The woman got terribly upset, and stalked out o
     the store without buying anything: "You're too
     disrespectful (%pimasz%), so I won't buy from you," she said
     in a huff.  Similar scene the next day, at the flower vendor
     stall on the corner of Bartok Bela and Bocskai.  The old
     lady told a young woman not to handle the flowers, and the
     young woman went away saying, "Then I won't buy any."
     Finally, a similar scene at the concert at the French
     Institute on Saturday night.  During intermission, many
     people were swarming around the bar ordering coffee, tea, or
     other drinks.  A young man calls out to the waitress: "One
     coffee, please."  His friend, another young guy, adds:
     "Some cream," and then "A milk."  The waitress thought he
     was ordering a glass of milk, which was a little bit strange
     for that time of night for a young adult.  She was about to
     give it to him when he said, very rudely, "Didn't you
     understand I was asking for milk in my coffee?"  She said:
     "But you didn't say that, you didn't say 'a coffee wit
     milk.'"  He then replied: "Well, you heard me ask for cream
     didn't you?  What did you think I wanted to do with it, pour
     it behind my ear?"  At that point she got very angry and
     threw his change at him on the counter.  He grumbled, "You
     don't have to throw things at me, madam."
[22]      The whole scene was imbued with a degree of aggression
     I found quite astonishing, directed largely by the young man
     at the young woman.  In the other scenes, it was two women
     who were involved each time, so it's not a gender issu
     (though in this instance I think there was some gende
     tension as well).  One thing all this shows, I guess, i
     that Hungarians have easily bruisable egos; another,
     perhaps, is that under the new democratic regime, they won't
     "let themselves be pushed around anymore"; or, finally, tha
     they're feeling generally anxious, especially about things
     related to money.


[23]      Very interesting TV program, this evening--the first of
     two films on what appears to be the political history of
     Hungary from the 1930s to 1956 (I came in late, so I
     didn't see the beginning).  Tonight's installment stopped in
     1949.  It's based entirely on interviews with men who were
     involved in politics, non-Communists of course.  The three
     this evening were Nyeste Zoltan, who was a leader of the
     Kisgazdasag (Smallholders) Party after the war--for a while,
     part of a democratic coalition with the Communists; Fabry
     Pal, a journalist and diplomat who stayed out of Hungar
     after 1949; and someone whose name I'm not sure of, who was
     a chemist and then an opera singer.  They all talked about
     the war--by 1944, when the Germans occupied Hungary, it was
     time to resist.  Nyeste, a big bearded fellow, had a good
     story: he and some other students composed a text protesting
     the German occupation (March 1944), and their plan was to
     have it made up in posters and post it all over the city.
     The plan was never realized because the young man carrying
     the text to the printer was arrested by the Hungarian secret
     police.  But nobody got hurt or even thrown in prison,
     because the police chief found out that not a single
     Communist or a single Jew had been among the plotters.  "You
     understand, the myth was that only Communists and Jews wer
     resisting Hitler--no authentic Hungarian would dream of suc
     a thing.  So, they preferred to hush up the whole affair
     rather than have to admit the truth."  And he gave a big
[24]      After the war, all these men were involved in a
     democratic alliance, and their story is essentially the
     story of how Rakosi and the Communists succeeded in taking
     over the country.  There was some very interesting footage
     of mass demonstrations of the time, huge crowds gathered on
     Hosok Tere, addressed by Rakosi and other orators.  In one
     around 1946, just before the elections that brought the
     Communists into a position of power (though not into a
     majority yet, if I understood right), people chanted "Long
     live Stalin!" and carried huge photos of him as banners
     floating above the crowd.  I must have seen some crowds like
     that.  The film (or this first part) ended with a bunch o
     children, boys and girls, dressed in their %Uttoro% (Young
     Pioneer) uniforms, white shirt, navy blue pants or skirt,
     string tie, singing a song about the smiling future
     Reminded me of the time I recited Petofi's poem about
     hanging all the kings, on Prize Day in 1949 at the end of
     fourth grade, my last year here.  I really believed in tha
     stuff--and so, judging by their uplifted faces, did the
     children who were singing that song.
[25]      Took my first %villamos% ride this morning--I rode fro
     Kosztolanyi Dezso ter all the way to Deak Ferenc ter,
     traversing a good part of the inner city, or rather its ri
     formed by Muzeum korut, Karoly korut, etc..  From Deak
     Ferenc I went to the bank, in a small street off Jozse
     Attila utca; opening an account didn't take long, so I
     strolled over to Vorosmarty ter, which is truly a wonderful
     space--no cars allowed, and in the middle is a large statu
     of the poet, now wrapped in burlap to protect it from th
     cold.  From Vorosmarty ter I walked toward the river with
     the intention of finding a taxi, but as none came I ended u
     near the Chain Bridge, on a beautiful big square with
     elaborate buildings facing it, and yet another statue in the
     middle.  The square is so big and full of traffic that I
     didn't cross over to see who the statue was of.  Instead, I
     crossed the bridge.  It's quite magnificent, heavy granite
     and elaborate ironwork, with a superb view on both sides
     even today, when it was a bit hazy.  Walking on the narrow
     passageway for pedestrians, I thought I felt some memories
     stirring of having crossed there as a child.  But when, and
     with whom?  Mother used to take me for walks, and so did
     Madame, after the war.  Would we have walked this far from
     home?  Maybe to go up to the Castle, on a Sunday afternoon.
[26]      Right in front of the bridge is the Budavar siklo, the
     cable car to the castle.  It goes up at almost a 90 degree
     angle, quite impressive--drops you off very close to the
     National Gallery and the theater, about a five minute walk
     from the Collegium, where I arrived tired but happy at 3:30
     p.m..  I felt elated by the beauty of the city.  "It really
     is a great capital, it really can be compared to Paris," I
     told myself at various moments during the day.  That thought
     somehow makes me feel very proud, and also in a strange way
     "integrated"--since Budapest turns out to be a city I can
     put up there with the city I find most beautiful and
     seductive of all, and that has been part of my mental and
     emotional life during all the years when Budapest was
     totally outside it.  Finding the link of beauty is a way to
     connect Budapest to my whole life, the life I spent not
     here, which has nothing to do with here

[27]      Saw a new Hungarian movie, _Roncsfilm_ ("Junk Movie"),
     which turned out to be a cross between Monty Python and the
     French hit of two years ago, the gross _Delicatessen_, "film
     bete et mechant."  This one was funny and postmodernly self-
     conscious (people speaking directly into the camera,
     "testifying" about the action we are in the process of
     seeing), but it got a bit tiresome because almost all the
     episodes involved some kind of violent confrontation--
     between men, between men and women, between women.  In
     keeping with postmodern humor, though, no matter how badly
     people were beaten up or stabbed or burned, they always
     reappeared in the next scene perfectly fine.  The idea was,
     I think, to show the pent-up frustration and rage in people,
     always there just below the surface.  The film starts wit
     the breaking down of a wall, intercut with actual footage
     from the taking down of the Berlin wall.  But the
     implication is, nothing has really gotten better--the
     subtitle of the film is "Vagy mi van ha gyoztunk?" "Or how
     are things now that we've won?"  They're not too good, is
     the answer.  The theater, incidentally, was full, mostly
     very young people.  I was one of the few people above 25
[28]      Afterwards, I walked down Terez korut to the Oktogon,
     where the busiest place was the Burger King, again full of
     very young people.  I actually went in, but when I saw tha
     everybody was around 20, I decided to come home and make an
     omelette.  I walked down Andrassy ut to the Opera House,
     very elaborate but dark (no performance tonight) and took a
     taxi from there.  The taxi driver was extremely talkative,
     the first one like that I've met since coming to Budapest.
     He asked if I had seen _War and Peace_ on the TV last night
     I said no, which one was it?  The American one with Audrey
     Hepburn and Gregory Peck.  He said Audrey Hepburn was not
     his type, he finds her ugly.  We spoke about her death, and
     about illness and how doctors can't necessarily cure you if
     you're sick.  Then he asked me what I did for a living, I
     wasn't a doctor by any chance?  No, I said, I'm a %tanarno%,
     which can mean either a %gymnazium% (high-school) teacher or
     a university professor.  He said it's a nice profession, on
     that requires heart--only people with real heart can be good
     teachers.  I asked him whether he had gone to university.
     Yes, he said, he had studied for five years there.  Really?
     And what did he study?  Engineering--he's an engineer.  An
     now?  "Now I drive a taxi."  I didn't want to probe any
     further, and besides we had arrived home.  But if what he
     said was true, that gives one pause: since when do
     engineers drive taxis for a living?

[29]      Long lunch with G. today.  She told me it was hard for
     her and N. to readjust to life in Budapest after their year
     in the States--as I imagine it will be hard for me to
     readjust after my six months in Budapest.  But in their case
     it was more than just the "return to routine after a time o
     freedom elsewhere" syndrome, because life in Budapest is
     harsher in economic terms.  After ten years of teaching and
     a good scholarly reputation, N. is on the second rung of 
     four-rung ladder that ends with the title of Professor, and
     he earns 15,000 Forints a month--less than $200.  G. was
     also offered a regular teaching job at the University this
     year, at a salary of 13,000 Forints a month, which shows th
     double absurdity of the whole thing: first, because no one
     can possibly live on that amount, and second, because the
     difference between a starting salary and the salary of one
     who has been teaching for ten years is 2000 forints pe
     month, or $25.  In fact, everybody who teaches in th
     university has at least one more job, often two or three
     more, to make ends meet.  G. turned down her offer and
     accepted a private administrative job instead, in which she
     earns three times as much.  "At least you can live on that,"
     she said.  But in the meantime, she feels every day that
     "nothing is happening" to her, because she doesn't like that
     kind of work.  She'd much rather be in the library, reading,
     or else translating an American novel into Hungarian.  "I
     feel this job is good for my present, but not for my
     future," she said.  But for now, she has no choice.  She
     simply cannot afford to take a university job

[30]      Read Csurka's column in last week's _Magyar Forum_,
     which I only bought yesterday.  His rhetoric is disgusting,
     but so clever (and at the same time so predictable) that it
     fascinates me.  This time, his theme was: The good
     Hungarian Christian people are being silenced by "George
     Konrad-type liberalism" (he actually named him: "Konrad
     Gyorgyek-fele...liberalizmus")--that is, the old leftist
     and Communists who now call themselves liberals, but it's
     still the same old clique.  Once again, it's those Jews wh
     are trying to keep us true Magyars, Christian Magyars, down
     They control all the media, radio and television, plus al
     the major papers, and they have all the wealth and power.
     The current talk about the renewal of anti-Semitism in
     Hungary is just a smokescreen--what really should be talke
     about is the "robbing of the country" ("az orszag
     kirablasarol kellene szot ejteni").  In fact, this clique
     would like to hound the Christian Magyars not only out o
     politics and public life, but out of life %tout court%:
     "without persecution, there is no liberalism.  They nee
[31]      Note how, first of all, he equates the current liberals
     and the old Communists--conveniently forgetting that someone
     "like George Konrad," or more exactly Konrad himself, was
     during all his adult life a dissident in relation to the
     Communist regime.  Csurka implies (more than implies, almost
     states outright) that all the Communists were Jews, hostile
     to true Magyar thought and spirit.  He speaks of "Nag
     baloldali liberalis kommunista nyilvanossag," "great left
     liberal communist declarations," as if all the adjectives
     were interchangeable--and at one point he mentions the name
     of Revai, who I think was a much feared cultural commissar
     in the 1950s, the man for whom B.'s father worked.  "Revai
     and his culture band, Aczel and his %shameses% jumped at the
     throat of the national culture," writes Csurka.  He never
     actually uses the word "zsido," "Jew," but %shames% (Yiddish
     for "sexton") is about as explicit as you can get.  I assume
     Revai and Aczel were both Jewish, or if not, had lots of
     Jews working for them.  Indeed, a few paragraphs later
     Csurka makes a nasty dig at some of today's liberals who
     "sing the song of Let's forget the past, it's no use looking
     backwards, we have to look forward."  That's because, he
     says, some of them "had a Daddy who tore people's nails
[32]      I wonder who Csurka's Daddy was.  On the same page as
     his column there is an ad for the Magyar Forum publishing
     house, which has just reissued a 1938 novel about provincial
     life at the turn of the century, by one Csurka Peter.  Any
     relation to Csurka Istvan?
[33]      Saw the second half of the documentary about the three
     men which started last week.  It turns out that what the
     all had in common was that they left Hungary in 1956 an
     went to the United States--so the film was a documentary
     portrait of these men rather than a film about the political
     history of Hungary, but of course the two subjects ar
     closely linked, since the reason they left Hungary in th
     first place was because of politics.  Fabry Pal was the most
     successful, becoming a big businessman in New Orleans--
     founder of the first World Trade Center in 1962.  The
     chemist/singer, Kovesdy Pal, did all kinds of physical work
     and eventually ended up as an art dealer in New York, where
     he now owns an important collection of works by the
     Hungarian avant-garde of the 1920s, which he is trying to
     sell to a museum.  As for Nyeste Zoltan, it's not clear what
     he does--he seems to have been in some kind of publishing
     venture.  He is the least assimilated into American life,
     the most "true Hungarian" of the lot.  But curiously,
     neither he nor the others have hurried back to Hungary, now
     that communism is gone.  Fabry comes often, but with a
     American wife and American children, he can't possibly com
     back to live here, he says.  Kovesdy is thinking about it,
     waiting to see how things turn out; and Nyeste says he never
     stopped being Hungarian for a single day or a single minute
     since he left--perhaps implying that he doesn't need to come
     back, for he carries Hungary with him wherever he is.
[34]      In tonight's program, like last week, there was ver
     interesting newsreel footage from the 1950s and later: at
     Stalin's death, for example, newsreels showed mournful
     workers assembled, then marching in silent funeral parades;
     there were several other mass marches and demonstrations
     with enormous portraits of Stalin and Rakosi floating abov
     the crowd.  As late as 1985, one party speaker (was it
     Kadar? I didn't recognize him), discussing Hungaria
     politics at what looked like a dinner meeting, stated tha
     experience in Hungary has shown a one-party system is best
     There is nothing wrong in principle with a multi-part
     system, he said, but Hungarian history shows that in thi
     country it hasn't worked.  Doesn't leave much hope for
     Hungarian democracy, it would seem.


[35]      It snowed today.  I had another very long Hungarian
     visit, this time with A., who teaches literature at the
     University and has two other jobs as well, like most
     Hungarian academics. [...]  A., a woman about my age,
     received me in her office on the ground floor, which she
     shares with another person who was not there.  She is a very
     pleasant and warm person, who immediately asked if we could
     "tegez" each other (say "te," like the French %tu%)--i
     makes life so much simpler, she said.  I was delighted, of
     course.  We chatted for quite a while, then she took me up
     to look at the library, which has a good collection of
     French literature--plus, of course, an excellent collection
     of Hungarian literature.  A. introduced me to the librarian
     and obtained permission for me to borrow books.  Great!  I
     immediately borrowed _The Oxford History of Hungarian
     Literature_ by Lorant Czigany, which she recommended.  I've
     been reading it all evening.
[36]      After the library we went back to her office an
     chatted for another hour.  [...] Earlier, we had spoken
     about feminist criticism, and she confirmed my sense that
     people here know very little about it.  But she also sai
     that right now, with so many bigger problems that also
     affect men, she doesn't particularly want to dwell on
     women's problems or pit women against men.  This sounde
     like the Marxist-feminist thesis in France during the 1970
     ("First the revolution, then women's problems"), and I
     didn't want to engage in an argument about it at this point
     I did, however, remark that not all feminist criticism i
     directed against men.  She still wasn't fully convinced

[37]      We spoke at some length about Csurka.  Csurka Peter, as
     I suspected, was his father and was also a right-winger.  It
     seems that Csurka himself wrote ("Alas!" A. said) some very
     good plays during the %ancien regime% (that too was he
     expression), and no one could tell from them that he was an
     anti-Semite.  In fact, he and Konrad considered themselves
     on the same side!  "You have to understand, that was in the
     good old days when we were all together in opposing th
     regime.  Our opposition was so strong that none of us
     realized our differences--it was only afterward that we
     found ourselves split into two hostile camps."  "But didn'
     anyone notice his anti-Semitism?"  "No!  Oh, there were
     stories occasionally, about how he got drunk at the writers'
     club and started to 'Jew' (%zsidozni%, you see we even have
     a verb for it in Hungarian--to badmouth the Jews), bu
     otherwise, he kept it all under wraps.  Maybe if we went
     back and reread his plays now, we would find indications
     ...."  He also wrote some good stories, she said.  He i
     around 60, the same age as Konrad.  I should read some of
     his stories and plays--it pays to know your enemies well.
[38]      The Czigany literary history is very interesting--I
     could hardly put it down.  It makes many things come to
     life, including the place names of Budapest, of which an
     extraordinary large number are those of writers: Vorosmarty
     ter, so central, is named after Mihaly V., a 19th-century
     poet, the first of the great poets after the language reform
     of the early years of the century.  Kazinczy utca, which I
     had always associated with Jewishness--no doubt because of
     the synagogue there--is named after one of the architects o
     the language reform, which involved, mainly, standardizing
     orthography and expanding the vocabulary so that abstract
     concepts and technical terms would no longer have to be
     borrowed from Latin or German.  The Eotvos of the Eotvos
     Collegium and the University was both a writer and a
     political figure.  To an American, it's astonishing how man
     streets and squares and institutions are named after writers
     and intellectuals: Jozsef Attila, Moricz Zsigmond
     Kosztolanyi Dezs, Arany Janos, Madach Imre, Karinthy
     Frigyes, Jokai Mor and many many others, including of cours
     the hero Petofi.
[39]      [...] I kept thinking about Mother this evening,
     especially when I spread out the map of Hungary to look for
     Nyiregyhaza, after reading the _History_.  What a pity that
     she's not alive now, for her and for me!  I would so much
     have loved to ask her about her childhood, and some of th
     small towns she knew besides Nyiregyhaza.  A few names in
     the same region sound very familiar, for exampl
     Hajduboszormeny and Hajduszoboszlo.  I want to find Mother's
     birth certificate, though I couldn't say exactly why.

[40]      Exhausted.  I must have walked miles today, all around
     my old neighborhood.  %Villamos% to Deak Ferenc ter, then up
     Kiraly utca to the yellow church, then right on Akacfa utca.
     Kiraly utca has some beautiful turn of the century buildings
     on it, or even older--from the last third of the 19th
     century, I was told later by T..  Very interesting an
     varied decorations on all of them.  Some look in bad shape,
     others look redone, and it's the same in that whole
     neighborhood.  Kiraly utca itself is a grab-bag: some
     decrepit shops and some newfangled ones selling computers,
     electronics, etc..  Akacfa utca is mostly decrepit, at least
     the part I walked on, from Kiraly to number 59, in the
     middle of a long block.  The first two houses on the odd-
     numbered side are black with soot and practically crumbling,
     though once they must have been quite noble, with columns
     and other elaborate decorations.  Then comes a long low
     building which I didn't remember at all, and after that no
     59, which could be quite beautiful.  I don't think I
     noticed, last time--at least, I didn't remember--that there
     are three statues decorating the curved top of the facade.
     The three balconies, including our old one on the top left,
     look as if they're ready to fall down--I don't remember that
     from 1984.
[41]      I went into the courtyard, which is very rectangula
     indeed, and then into the stairwell.  The wrought iron
     railings are still there, still very fine.  An elderly woman
     dressed in red was crossing the courtyard when I walked in
     and looked at me curiously.  I felt odd, a bit like an
     intruder.  No question of going up to the third floor and
     knocking on the old apartment door again, though I may do it
     one of these days--maybe if someone else is with me.  In th
     meantime, standing at the bottom of the stairwell, I
     remembered the time after Daddy's heart attack when he ha
     to be carried up the stairs every day, since there was n
     elevator and he was forbidden to climb.  He had hired tw
     men who would come and join hands to form a seat, on whic
     he sat with his arms around each man's neck.  I think this
     must have gone on until we left the country--or rather
     until we moved out to the summer house in Romai furdo, wher
     he didn't have to worry about stairs.  That was around June
[42]      He had the operation for his ulcer in March o
     thereabouts, then the heart attack a few days later
     followed by the long recovery, first in the hospital and
     then at home.  It must have been around May or early June
     that he gave the "thanksgiving" dinner for all the Talmudic
     scholars, of which I have a photograph at home: a large
     table full of men dressed in black caftans and black hats,
     with Daddy the only one wearing a regular suit.  He wrote a
     learned speech for the occasion, a textual commentary he
     practiced for weeks beforehand while I listened.  It was i
     Yiddish, so I didn't understand a word, but every time he
     said the word "Rambam" I would go into gales of laughter-
     for some mysterious reason, I found that inner rhyme
     hilarious.  After a while it became a whole production, 
     would laugh even though I no longer really thought it was
     funny, because I thought he expected me to.  What did i
     matter that Rambam was Maimonides, a great scholar of
     antiquity?  All I cared for was that Daddy should find m
     rapt and charming
[43]      Coming out into the street again, I noticed that the
     building directly across, no. 60, had been knocked down--
     they seem to be getting ready to build a new house there.  
     crossed the street and stared intently at the facade again
     A little girl, walking home from school, went by and turned
     around to look at me.  I felt too self-conscious to take out
     my camera again (I had photographed the statues on the
     facade before going into the courtyard), as if people would
     notice and not like it.  I noticed, or maybe only imagined,
     that a man standing in front of the building was staring at
     me suspiciously--what was I doing there, inspecting the
     place so closely?  I suddenly felt tired and hungry, and
     besides I had had enough nostalgia for one day. [...]
[44]      The "Evening with Vajda Miklos," sponsored by the
     journal _2000_, was very interesting, but I'm too tired to
     report on it in detail.  Suffice it to say that VM was born
     in 1931 of a Greek Orthodox mother and converted Jewish
     father, and is the editor of _New Hungarian Quarterly_,
     whose mission it is to publish Hungarian authors in English
     translation.  He said he thought of the war, including the
     "ostrom," the last terrible year, as an adventure; Torok
     Andras, who was doing the questioning, remarked that just
     last month George Soros, who had been the invited guest, had
     used the same word ("kaland"), and I thought of what I say
     in "My War" about adventure.  It must have something to do,
     I think, with having been so %choye% before the event, so
     loved and surrounded by adoring relatives, that we thought
     we were invincible.  That, at least, is how Vajda explained
     it (his parents had very powerful friends, including the
     great actress Bajor Gizi, who had been his father's
     girlfriend and was his own godmother), and I tend to agree
     with him.  In my more modest way, I too was a totally
     spoiled and adored child who took all the adulation as her
[45]      The other thing worth noting is that the evening lasted
     almost three hours!  Unheard of, back home.  Scheduled to
     start at 7 p.m., it actually started at 7:20, with about 100
     people in the audience.  The two men sat on the stage with
     microphones and talked--or rather, Vajda talked about hi
     life with just a few well-placed interventions and question
     from Torok.  At 8:40, Torok announced we would take a break,
     just as I thought the thing was going to end!  Break lasted
     around twenty minutes, and then we were back for another
     hour.  The audience sat patiently on the uncomfortable
     chairs, listening intently.  Vajda said, at one point: "To
     be here in the darkest period of the Rakosi era [ca. 1953],
     one could only survive by laughing a lot"--which is what he
     and his friends did.  Around five minutes before ten, Toro
     asked the audience if they had questions.  I had been
     reflecting for close to an hour that this kind of dialogue
     could never happen in the U.S., where questions from the
     audience would have taken up at least half the time.  Here
     sure enough, there were only two questions.  As if one could
     get a discussion going with an audience that had sat through
     almost three hours of its own silence!

[46]      Party at T.'s apartment, a huge place across from the
     American Embassy.  There must have been hundreds of people
     there--writers, academics, politicians, plus a large
     contingent of foreign visitors.  I saw Michael B., and G.,
     who was coiffed and made up quite provocatively, very rouge
     cheeks, spikey hair--she was wearing tiny black lace glove
     plus a fox collar over her loose-fitting culotte dress
     Michael introduced me to an interesting woman, Judy S., 
     journalist from Toronto whose life story resembles mine
     except that she's a few years younger--she left in 1956
     after three years of elementary school.  Her Hungarian is
     pretty good, somewhat like mine in that she doesn't know
     many abstract words
[47]      She told me about one of the men there that he had
     published a moving essay in a Canadian journal last year,
     about how he had discovered that he was Jewish.  Another
     Hungarian "of Jewish origin"!  %Zsido szarmazasu%: I'v
     heard or read that expression half a dozen times since I go
     here.  Few are ready to affirm, simply, "I am a Jew."  Bu
     to be "zsido szarmazasu," of Jewish origin, is quite
[48]      %Hovirag%, snowdrops.  Small white bouquets wrapped i
     green leaves, beckoning at the flowerstands.  Evening on the
     boulevard, the shops are still open when darkness falls.  I
     stop with Madame and we buy a bunch of %hovirag%,
     snowflowers for the end of winter.  A few weeks later it
     will be %ibolya%, violets nestled against velvety leaves--I
     bury my face in them, inhale the sweet smell.  How I love
     the coming of spring!

[49]      I bought some carnations at a stand on the way to th
     tram stop this afternoon, to put in the vase on my desk.  A
     the young man was wrapping them, I noticed the bunches of
     snowdrops, dozens of them with their stalks in a shallow
     pan.  These flowers are smaller than the ones we have in
     America, so you need quite a few to make a tiny bouquet.  It
     must be a huge amount of work to make dozens of bunches,
     each one wrapped in a green leaf and tied with string.  I
     wasn't sure of the flower's name, so I asked the vendor.
     Until then, I think he took me for a Hungarian, but my
     question obviously told him I wasn't.  "%Hovirag%," he said,
     looking at me curiously.  Snowflower.  I took a bunch out of
     the pan and gave it to him to wrap up.  "Are you from
     England?" he asked.  "No, from America."  After that, he
     spoke to me only in English.
[50]      Neither a foreigner nor a Hungarian, but something i
     between.  Just a little off-center, not quite the real
     thing, but sometimes close to passing for it.  One could
     make this into a sign of unhappiness, or on the contrary 
     sign of uniqueness, special status.  Except that there are
     whole armies of people like me--not unique, unless it's a
     collective uniqueness.  Is that what we call history?
[51]      Most of the current issue of _Magyar Forum_ is devoted
     to the founding meeting of the %Magyar Ut% movement, th
     Hungarian Way.  So Csurka got to be on page 1 in a larg
     photo showing him on the platform at the meeting, on page 
     with his weekly column, and pages 3-4 which printed th
     complete text of his speech.  There is a close-up of him a
     the podium, a thick, blunt-faced man with receding hairlin
     and double chin.  ("His name really should be Csunya," I
     said to myself with some satisfaction while studying the
     photo).  He wears tinted glasses.  Looks a bit like Le Pen-
     why do all these right-wing demagogues look like beefy
     parodies of "real men," the kind that would never in a
     million years eat quiche
[52]      Well, anyway.  The page 2 column is about the
     ministerial shakeup of last week.  Mr. Csurka is not happy
     that the MDF may be contemplating a move toward the Young
     Democrats (Fidesz), which would definitely require them to
     squeeze out the "national radicals" whose leader he is.
     National radicals, the phrase comes up at least four times
     in his article--sounds ominously like National Socialists to
     me.  The usual theme: the People, the %Nep%, is being kep
     down by the "nomenklatura," who used to be the Communists
     but who are now the liberals.  They will certainly do all in
     their considerable power to keep the Hungarian Way fro
     developing.  But it will win out in the end, because yo
     can't keep the People down, etc. etc..
[53]      The speech?  More of the same.  True Hungarians have
     "Hungarianness" (%Magyarsag%), a matter of blood.  They're
     descendants of King Arpad.  Christians.  What all true
     Hungarians detest is "Naphta-liberalism"--and here Csurka
     the one-time playwright and short-story writer opens a
     parenthesis to explain about Naphta.  Thomas Mann, he tells
     us, modeled this character in _The Magic Mountain_ on the
     philosopher George Lukacs, who "as everyone knows liked to
     vacation in Swiss resorts" during the years before "he threw
     his lot in with the terror and with the Hungarian Red
     soldiers"--that's an allusion to the short-lived Bela Kun
     government of 1919.  And of course everyone also knows that
     Lukacs was Jewish, or rather, "of Jewish origin," as were
     all the other members of the Kun government.  So basically
     liberals=Communists=Jews, the tried and true formula.  But
     he says that the %Magyar Ut% is neither right nor left, just

     WEDNESDAY, MARCH 24, 1993
[54]      Second visit with B. this morning, almost as long as
     the first!  And very interesting.  We spoke in Hungarian
     this time, and a lot about the current situation here.  My
     head was spinning by the time I left, he mentioned so many
     names and factual details I wanted to retain.
[55]      He looked somewhat younger today, and in fact he
     mentioned later that he was younger than I, born after th
     war.  His manner was still charming and somewhat
     scatterbrained, but not quite so "bumbling" as last time--
     and certainly not after we went into his study, where the
     really intense conversation began.  "So, what do you think
     about what's happening--the extreme right and all that?  Ar
     you worried?" I asked him.  "No, I'm not.  I'm optimistic,"
     he answered.  That's because, in his opinion, things are
     very different from what they were in the 1930s: most
     importantly, there is now a counter-offensive to nationalism
     and anti-Semitism.  "We are here too," he said.  Well, of
     course, there were anti-nazis in the 1930s too, I pointed
     out.  But I don't recall his responding to that.
[56]      About anti-Semitism: "I think it's time to become
     aggressive.  Paradoxically, I have become much more aware of
     being a Jew because of it--you know that Hungarian Jews have
     generally been very much assimilated, and my family
     certainly was.  But this changes things."   His idea is to
     write an article in which he will defend not the idea of
     tolerance ("Let's be good Magyars and tolerate difference,
     those who are not like us"), but rather the idea of a
     "loose" [%laza%] Hungarian-ness: "I am not Magyar the wa
     Petofi was--and if Csurka is a Magyar, then I'm not one at
     all.  We should love difference, not tolerate it," he said.
     I liked that. 

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