ProemCards from Hungary (Part 1)

The following pieces are based on my 2010 visit to Hungary and a journal that I kept while there. They are in a form I call “proemcards.” Proemcards are a hybrid creation of mine composed of prose and poems, thoughts, observations, impressions and experiences I had during my stay. This is the first part in a series to appear in the Hungarian Free Press.


Going back. Again. To visit family and friends; the dead and the living. This country still has me on edge.

The “Jobbik Party” is on the rise. Jobbik is a right wing party. Their name means “better” but their name has a more sinister connotation. Jobbik also implies more correct, superior— as in race.

Here is something I found that might help you to understand this movement:

“The Jobbik Party was founded in 2003 on a virulently anti-Roma platform that encourages nostalgia for Hungary’s history of far-right parties stretching back to 1930s, including Gyula Gömbös’ Hungarian National Defence Association and the Arrow Cross movement, which received direct funding from Nazi Germany.

In 2007, Jobbik even founded its own paramilitary outfit, The Hungarian Guard, which wore fascist uniforms while marching through Roma neighborhoods. The Guard was (finally) banned last month by the government. In response, Jobbik party activists gathered on Budapest’s Elizabeth’s Square to protest. Not surprisingly, things turned violent. More than 100 protestors were arrested and 20 injured in clashes with police.” —Alexander Zaitchik,, July 12, 2009).

Hungary, something is eating you. I can’t resist the pun. It’s the first line of a poem from my first book Szerbusz (Hello/Goodbye). I wrote it after my second visit in 1972, after my family’s escape in 1956. And it’s still true thirty-six years later. But now I would also add, “Hungary you are eating me.”

I tell you, to have such a country of birth kick you out of your cradle and not allow you to call it Mother(land), home, mine, is a strange curse and blessing.


The day morphed into day— it’s a day earlier. There was a thin string of horizon-red, a theory of new beginnings, strung across the sky at 39,000 feet; a bloodless slash outside my window stretching like a scar from the old world to the old world.

My mother and I flew to Debrecen for the unveiling of her sister’s gravestone. And after that we were going to Hajdunánás, my birth town, to visit the grave of a grandfather I never met (my father’s father) and then to Hajduhadház to another grave yard where my other grandfather (with whom I rode in his horse drawn wagon) and my step-grandmother were buried. I was flying to visit ancestral ghosts.

Flying always scares and amazes me. It’s worth remembering and noting these emotions. Anyone who isn’t afraid has lost the capacity to be awed.

The headset filled me with music. The TVs on the backs of seats too closely packed did what they could to distract us from thinking the worst. But I am sure that at the first rattle of turbulence, we all looked for our inner Mommies and Daddies. I did.

Alice in Wonderland and Ghostwriter got me across the “almost night” over the Atlantic.

Breakfast over Ireland. I can’t believe Air France serves such weak coffee and rubbery rolls.


Debrecen, Hungary’s second largest city, the Protestant center in a Catholic country, is a city beautiful in its past and bustling in its present. Perhaps this holds true for all old cities in Europe. The core; its past/its tourist trap, its stucco, pastel coloured, art nouveau buildings line both sides of Piac (Market) Street. The street is really a very wide boulevard— so beautifully, luxuriously European. You can imagine the Sunday strollers of old—parasoled ladies, stiff-collared gentlemen, and children: girls in their starched crinoline dresses, boys in their short pants.

Streetcars in Debrecen. Illustration: György Ozsváth.

Streetcars in Debrecen. Illustration: György Ozsváth.

I suspect there were also the poor, the drunk and disorderly, who once traversed this street. Now, the well-to-do are distinguished by the flashy Mercedes and BMWs they drive and park wherever they want. But they, along with the working stiffs and tourists, are generic.

The hole-in-the-wall stores and glassy boutiques are full of cute, ugly, essential and unnecessary merchandise. Western (made-in-China) brand name knick-knacks, knock-offs, clothes, purses and luggage fill their windows. Fast-food kiosks of local specialty, rich, sweet, fragrant pastry invite caloric decadence.

I was unable to resist the terrace of Eve’s Café Lounge.

At a nearby table, three good-looking young men lounged. Each sported differing degrees of long blond hair. The one wearing a black T-shirt, slouched with a certain confidence while the second, in white, smoked with the seriousness of the young. The third, sitting between them, in a narrow lapel brown, tweedy suit jacket with thin orange and blue horizontal stripes listened intently. I couldn’t make out what they’re talking about. Probably philosophy or literature or music. Soon a fourth, with a bold armband tattoo, joined them and they began an exchange in fluent but accented English about working out. After he left they returned to their foreign-tongued chatter. German? No, too many dark vowels. Maybe Polish or Russian, I was too far away to tell for sure. And besides, two pretty young women sat down at the table next to mine and prattled away in Hungarian about work and the boys that they knew. They – the boys – according to them, were all idiots. I couldn’t make out everything; their rapid talk was difficult to follow. I felt like an outsider with a faulty universal translator.

I shut down my eavesdropping and let the other senses, smell and taste, overtake me. I focused instead on my strong cappuccino and sweet dobos torte. Dobos is my favourite Hungarian pastry. Each slice has a crunchy, golden, glistening, caramelized icing that can test the strength and enamel of your teeth. Underneath this diamond-tough glaze are alternating layers of cake and chocolate cream. The fact that it requires nine egg whites, eight egg yolks, a cup of white sugar and a cup and a half of sifted all-purpose flour – among other ingredients hard to come by in Communist 1956 Hungary – made it a once-a-year treat during my childhood. Now that it’s everywhere, I mean to get my fill.

This one was a bit dry. It has made me all the more determined to find the “perfect” dobos.

Endre Farkas


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.

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