Proemcards from Hungary (Part 5)

Proemcards by Montreal author Endre Farkas – a combination of prose, poetry and reflections on a journey to Hungary after having fled decades ago – concludes with this final installment, which is a continuation from Part 4, Part 3, Part 2 and Part 1.

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14.

It was 38 degrees Celsius today, hot enough to make you hallucinate.

It was Turkey Day in Debrecen. The turkey, I learned, is Debrecen’s bird, the same way that the eagle is the USA’s. The difference is that the people of Debrecen celebrate their bird by preparing it in various ways.

To mark the occasion, a fair took place in the city square, with all sorts of turkey-based offerings made on the spot by individuals and organizations. I overheard someone say it was the first time that the Debrecen Jewish Congregation was participating. They were serving turkey cholent. It didn’t sound kosher. You don’t make cholent with turkey! It was nowhere as good as my aunt Margit’s.

No turkey dobos, thank god.

15.

In every culture, there is a word, a phrase, an expression that captures the character of the people. The French have mais oui. The Americans have wanna make somethin’ of it? The Canadians have sorry.

Persze is the word I would equate with Hungary.

Its literal translation is of course. Of course is, of course, a confirmation of an act or an idea. It is also a reaffirmation of the obvious. One plus one is two, of course. The world is round (for most of us, anyway) of course. The use of persze is universal in Hungary. However, for Hungarians, this is just the beginning. Persze is used as often as “you know” or “like” in English. It is the reply given by Hungarians to make it obvious to the person making the statement that, no matter whether it is true or not, the listener is aware of the obviousness of the statement being made by the speaker. Whether you are explaining string theory to a Hungarian or telling him where he can get the best Dobos in the world, he will inevitably reply persze. Not only is he saying persze, the entire country is saying it to you. National honour is at stake here. Never be it said that a Hungarian doesn’t know something. How can they not?! It is inconceivable. It is neither in their nature nor in their DNA. Persze.

Hungary is a small landlocked country in the Carpathian Basin of Central Europe, with an area of 93,030 sq. km (35,919 sq. mi), extending 268 km (167 mi) N – S and 528 km (328 mi) E – W. Comparatively, the area occupied by Hungary is slightly smaller than the state of Indiana. It is bounded on the north by Slovakia, on the northeast by the Ukraine, on the east by Romania, on the south by Serbia and Montenegro and Croatia, on the southwest by Slovenia, and on the west by Austria, with a total boundary length of 2,171 km (1,349 mi). It has a population of 10,020,000. Persze. It has had a disproportionate number of world-class musicians, poets, scientists and soccer players.

It has lost most of the wars that it has fought. It has been successfully invaded by a number of its bigger neighbours, who have annexed much of its former territory as punishment for being on the losing side. Hungary was on the wrong side in both world wars, and it hasn’t had a decent soccer team since the failed Revolution in 1956 when my parents and I left. Perhaps it is because of these defeats that Hungarians know everything. Persze.

It’s not only the word but the way it is expressed that reflects and defines Hungarians. There is a tone of conviction attached to persze that makes it cocksure, unequivocal, powerful and irritating beyond belief to those who are not Hungarians. It is said in a way that suggests to the sayer that he is an idiot (persze) for stating something that is so obvious. In fact, he should be ashamed of himself. But unlike most Canadians, the Hungarian receiver of this put-down does not take it as an insult. He, persze, will be saying persze in the same way when someone else says something that is as idiotically obvious. Persze.

Debrecen / Watercolour painting by Miklós Fülöp.

Debrecen / Watercolour painting by Miklós Fülöp.

16.

I was at the train station in Debrecen about to leave for Budapest. My cousin and her husband arrived to say goodbye. She handed me a box of dobos. I ripped it open and tasted one. It was delicious beyond belief. Persze, she said. I hopped on the train. It was 37 degrees Celsius and the dobos were beginning to melt. I wolfed down six of them in ten minutes. I was in heaven all the way to Pest.

Hungary, I am eating you.

17.

Turbulence at 37,000 feet over the Atlantic. In this turbulence, in this second-hand air, buffeted by puff-cheeked clouds, I remember escaping in the middle of the night, holding onto my parents’ hands. There was only mud, each step sucking me down. There was only darkness— except for a pinpoint of light in the distance, the three of us trudging towards it in circles, in circles, in circles, the light fixed, forever far away.

We were in No Man’s Land, escaping from my country of birth. Trying to get to the light.

I am in no man’s sky, staring out the window at the morning light. Longing to be home.

Endre Farkas

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Endre Farkas, a poet, playwright and novelist, was born in Hungary and escaped with his parents in 1956. He has published ten books of poetry, had three plays produced and his novel Never, Again (about the 1956 uprising) is due out in Fall of 2016. His videopoem, cowritten with Carolyn Marie Souaid, “Blood is Blood” won first prize at the Berlin International Poetry Film Festival in 2012. The poet lives in Montreal.

8 Comments

  1. Lovely piece, Endre, especially 15. It is strange how some words in a language carry such weight, even though they are everyday words. I will go back and read your earlier pieces. Thank you!

  2. György Lázár says:

    Wonderful as always! Where did you find the watercolor? That is the Library building next to Nagytemplom. During the Kádár-regime it was called Megyei Könyvtár and I’ve spent countless hours in the reading room behind the three giant windows…. Turkey is the unofficial bird from the folk song… Debrecenbe kéne menni, pulykakakast kéne venni… If I’m not mistaken Debrecen’s official bird is the rising Phoenix…

  3. Thank you for your kind comments. I can not take credit for the image. Christopher Adam placed it there. As for the turkey being the “unofficial bird”, everyone I spoke to told me that the turkey was the official bird. So if it is the phoenix, then someone needs to tell the people of Debrecen, at least those who told me otherwise. I will the next time I will go back.

  4. Can you please tell me what dobos is….besides being a drummer? My parents escaped after my father & his friends tortured & killed several police in Szirmabesanyo”. I was left behind, until I was taken frm my schoolroom by the Red Cross in ’61 & flown to Canada….separated frm the only family i knew to be re-united with people who were strangers to me.

  5. GEORGE GROSSMAN says:

    Please let me know when Never Again becomes available. Do you know the song: Debrecembe kéne menni – pulykakakast kéne venni – vigyáz kocsis jó kas a kas – ki essik a pulykakakas.

  6. I had that song sung to me a number of times while walking about in December on Turkey Day.

    I hope my publisher will let the whole world know when my novel hits the shelves.

  7. That should be Debrecen. Autocorrect is a dictator.

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