PERHAPS. ARPAD GAVE US THE IDEA, for we had read the folklore of that nomadic Magyar chieftain.
Before he stormed into Hungary with his conquering horsemen in A.D. 896, Arpad dispatched scouts ahead to bring back “two pitchers full of water from the Danube and a bundle of grass from the dunes,” reported a medieval historian. And from those samples the chieftain formed his opinion of the land now known as Hungary.
Like Arpad’s scouts, we collected souvenirs all over the land, and as we packed, our loot itself told the story of Hungary today. We had gathered cookbooks, wine, and records of Gypsy violins and Bartok concertos—proof of delicious, romantic fun. We had also acquired some needlework, fine china, a riding crop, a humor magazine called Ludas Matyi, and some medals marking the centennial of Lenin and the millennium of St. Stephen. We could read the keepsakes as if they were tea leaves: For us Hungary had been a creative, lively place, with odd crosscurrents of thought. “And don’t forget my three invitations,” added my 13-year-old son Josh. Not tangible souvenirs, perhaps, but three families had asked Josh back to spend a summer in their homes—a fair sample of the spontaneous hospitality we found everywhere.
“But do these Communists let you travel freely?” asked an American tourist we met in Budapest. I assured him that we moved with complete freedom and that, if any secret policeman followed us, we had never been aware of it.
Since the abortive revolution of 1956, things have changed in Hungary. Nikita Khrushchev grumbled about its “goulash Communism.” The Wall Street Journal went even further: “Hungary is making a major departure from Socialist orthodoxy.” Unlike Russians, for example, Hungarians can own land privately. Their government no longer fixes all prices. Television broadcasts include a few commercials. And nearly 200,000 Hun¬garians work in privately owned bakeries, shops, and even small construction firms.
“I no longer think of Hungary as Iron. Curtain,” a Western diplomat told me.
Two years ago a Budapest friend of mine laughingly referred to Hungary as “the jolli¬est cellblock in the Soviet concentration camp.” Last year he made the same joke, but his manner refuted the words: He told it with¬out looking over his shoulder. And in two cabarets and the theater Mikroszkop, the political jokes had sharper teeth.
Still, some 50,000 Russian troops remain on Hungarian soil. And I noted other details: My airmail letters from Washington took nine days to reach Budapest—and every envelope had been opened. But the mail problem seemed slight; my mission was not political, but geographic and, in line of duty, even touristic.
During recent summers, perhaps the great¬est change in Hungary has come with the rising wave of foreign tourists—some six million last year, a figure increasing by 25 percent annually. “Soon they will outnumber us Hungarians,” sighed a hotel guest at crowded Lake Balaton. “Our population is only 10,300,000—and we increase far more slowly.” He was right. The Hungarian birth rate-15 per 1,000—is one of the lowest in Europe. (“How ironic,” added a young teacher, “that our favorite bird is the stork.”)
My son Josh and I were two of those six million visitors. And since this was Josh’s first trip to Europe, I began his tour with Budapest—the nation’s capital, .cultural center, and home to a fifth of the Hungarian population.
“You mean the Romans founded this city?” he asked in wonder. We walked through the ruins of Aquincum, and I saw only the tum¬bled columns, the excavated walls, and the two amphitheaters. But Josh, his eyes focused upon adventure, could see the flashing swords of Tiberius Caesar’s own First Hispanian Cavalry, camped here in A.D. 19.
“The name Aquincum comes from the Celtic Ak-Ink, meaning ‘abundant water,” explained our guide-interpreter Peter Mag¬yarics, a third-year university student major¬ing in history. We had just met Peter, so he was still carefully erudite. “Also, a professor once told me that Buda may derive from the Slavic voila, or ‘water.’ ”
“We have an ocean below the surface of Hungary,” said another professor. He was Dr. Marton Pecsi, distinguished geographer and member of the Academy of Sciences. “We have about 35,000 artesian wells, and under¬ground thermal waters ranging from 60° to 120° Fahrenheit.”
WE TRIED THE WATER from sev¬eral of Budapest’s 123 springs at local spas—among them the famous pool at the Hotel Gellert, with its wave-making machine, the acres of steaming outdoor baths of Margaret Island, and the domed stone Rudas Baths—one of the functioning relics left by 16th-century Turks payday loans
Yet the city’s major water resource re¬mains the Danube River; from our window at the new 350-room Hotel Duna Inter-Continental, we watched tugs, barges, and freighters—an impressive waterborne parade. Upstream at Vienna, Strauss waltzes have tinted the Danube a romantic blue. But here the river seems a workaday stream.* Though 850 miles from the Black Sea, Budapest enjoys an official maritime registry as a sea¬port—thanks to the Danube and the 19 ocean-going ships in the merchant marine of landlocked Hungary (map, pages 446-7).
“We even build ships for Norway and West Germany,” said jozsef Schuster, of the MAHART Hungarian Shipping Company. Burdened by three million tons of annual cargo, the Danube River here carries a pro¬saic reputation.
The city is quite another romantic matter. Or rather, the cities, for Buda and Pest—which were separate municipalities until legally wed in 1873—remain essentially individual. Buda rides the hills and slopes of the west bank, garnished by gardens, crowned by castles, church spires, and forts (pages 448-9). Pest lies wide and flat, a tabular city neat as a ledger, with big streets and tall buildings, crowded shops and government buildings, the busy center of Hungary. Be¬tween them, the Danube provides vistas, commerce, and cleavage (pages 454-5).
” pRESERVE EVERYTHING that is Hungarian,” King Stephen advised his son in an early document, “and do not for¬get that without a past a nation has no future.”
Such advice has not always been easy to follow. The Danube Basin has forever offered invaders a hallway to Europe. Historic evi¬dence bulges visibly upon the brow of Castle Hill. In 1241 the Mongols invaded Hungary, pillaged for a leisurely year, slew half the people, and then withdrew. Buda Castle was started then to guard Danube traffic and this, the new capital of Hungary, against the Mongols’ return.
The Turks came and conquered in 1526. Strolling through Buda Castle, Sultan Sulei¬man the Magnificent sighed, “Oh, if only this palace were our seraglio in Istanbul!” Such sentiment vanished a century and a half later when the Turks were driven from this hill and from Hungary. They set fire to the castle, making it look, one eyewitness said, like “an empty skull in which a candle was stuck.”
The Habsburgs rebuilt much of the castle as a part-time royal residence for their Austro-Hungarian Empire. We watched workmen rebuilding that palace again, for Buda Cas¬tle and its hill were wrecked once more in 1944 when the Russians shelled its German redoubt. Thus an epic struggle raged here through the centuries, or as British scholar C. A. Macartney puts it, “Europe and Asia strove for mastery, and neither ever achieved it quite completely.”
The contention continues. We drove around Pest’s semicircular Great Boulevard and watched the street names change: Franz, then Josef—for two Habsburg emperors—then Lenin, then St. Stephen. On other drives Josh called out landmarks honoring Gyorgy Washington, Roosevelt, Marx, Attila, and a prolific 13th-century chronicler, Anonymus.
“Have you heard the latest Lenin joke?” a Hungarian acquaintance asked me. Officially, Hungary had just observed Lenin’s centen¬nial, and posters covered the city with pic¬tures of the bald Russian. “You haven’t heard any of our Lenin jokes? Well….” Many of his stories just weren’t printable.
“The Russians even have a contest for the best Lenin jokes,” insisted my friend Rudolf Vig. “The winner gets 30 years in Siberia.”
Rudi had helped me with a book I wrote about Gypsies.* As a musicologist with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Rudi him¬self has collected some 5,000 Hungarian folk songs and knows more about Gypsy music than anyone else on earth. His wife Anna Vig is a leading fashion designer who still finds time to tend a lively brood of five children. Two of them, Mihaly, 13, and Balazs, 14, showed Josh around their town.
Together, they moved through the great museum of Buda Castle (“spooky lighting—but neat”) and spired splendors of the 13th-century Matthias Church, where many of Hungary’s kings were crowned, and over the roller coasters of Vidam Park. Yet one of Josh’s greatest thrills was his ride on the Bu-dapest subway at a brisk 45 miles an hour.
“Next to London’s, ours is the oldest sub¬way system in Europe—and the oldest on the Continent,” boasted Laszlo Udvari, chief of Metro technical development. We saw the quaint Metro car first ridden by the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef in 1896.
And-25,000 of us in one rush hour—we rode the newest section opened in 1970 to commemorate 25 years of Communist rule.
“Our equipment is Russian,” said Mr. Udvari. “But our rail width differs.” Pride rather than engineering seemed involved.
One morning we donned hard hats and went underground 90 feet where workmen are drilling new metro routes. Sloshing over cables and rails, we waded in the slime from seeping mineral waters. Over the noise of jackham¬mers, Mr. Udvari shouted, “Soon we will com¬plete this first tunnel under the Danube!”
ON A LOFTIER PLANE, I visited Budapest’s restaurants to sample my favorite paprika-flavored foods, the excellent white wines from Lake Balaton, and Gypsy violins. In the Matyas Pince restaurant and in the hilltop Citadella, I ran into old Gypsy friends.
“You’re back!” said Lajos, primas—violin¬ist-leader—of one six-man Gypsy band. “You were last here with the linguists.” And so I had been. professor Jozsef Vekerdi and his associate Eva Valis had introduced me to some of Hungary’s 300,000 Gypsies.
“They shy at no audacity in music,” Franz Liszt once wrote. And, indeed, Gypsies have supplied the background score for much Hun¬garian history—at least since the 15th cen¬tury. Melodic verbunkos helped recruit the army, and for centuries Gypsy violinists led troops into battle.
Hungarian dictionaries even note some special words for Gypsies: ciganyozni (literally Gypsying) and mulatni (to have a good time with Gypsies). In fact, Gypsy music has been such a festive part of historic Hungarian revels that Communist authorities at first banished the traditional orchestras as aris-tocratic symbols. “Now, no more of that nonsense,” shrugged Lajos, and he slipped into the melody of Lara’s theme from Doctor Zhivago.
“In the heroic age of Budapest … fortunes were wasted on champagne, flowers, and music,” wrote the nostalgic Gyula Kriady. Krtidy recalled “Kiraly Street . .. where Edward VII while Prince of Wales learned to dance the csardas,” and the time an enter¬tainer named Fifi “replaced her knocked-out eyetooth with a piece of a wax candle.” He described bald-headed waiters who “carried the wine … in silver coolers with the solem¬nity of funeral directors…. The lovely, glittering great world!”
It glitters yet. On any summer evening you can count the lovers strolling beside the Danube, holding hands, whispering, em¬bracing. Once a cabdriver pointed out some lovers entwined in the middle of Erzsebet Bridge. “The housing shortage causes this,” he explained, but I wasn’t convinced.
“Budapest is simply a romantic city,” said Mrs. Hedy Blum, manager of a town house for retired actors and actresses. “Next week we have a wedding here—an actor 75 and his actress-sweetheart 66. See her there? In the white dress. Theirs is an old love; they have known each other 40 years…. Yes, we often have romances. I recall one retired opera singer in his seventies. He lived on the first floor, his wife on the ground floor, and his sweetheart on the second floor. Difficult. Especially with the stairs. But the ladies never met.”
In less romantic fashion, the housing short¬age remains “our number-one national problem,” according to an official of the Institute of Economic Planning. “A third of our women say housing is the reason they do not want children.
“In Budapest half our population lives in two-room flats left over from before World War II. But we are now building 10,000 flats each year-6,000 of them state-owned and 4,000 privately built for family ownership.”
Planners hope to have 400,000 apartment units built throughout the country in the next five years. Meantime the humor maga¬zine Ludas Matyi prints a typical housing-shortage cartoon—proposing an apartment building skewered on a church spire: “No elevator, but what a view!”
“We are all crowded and rather poor in the city,” one housewife told me.
“Country people live better.”
Yet I noticed that she, unlike women in other socialist lands, dressed, if not with elegance, at least with style. I had also heard that the wife of Yugoslavian President Jozsip Broz Tito particularly enjoys shopping in Budapest’s boutiques.
“Is this really the Paris of Communist Eu¬rope?” I asked Anna Vig at a showing of her own collection.
“Warsaw does some better designs,” said Anna. “But we are richer than the Poles.” “At least the models are beautiful,” said Rudi. No doubt about it—Hungarian girls are lovely, with their high Magyar cheek¬bones, and—frequently—tilted Asian eyes.
“Ah, the girls!” exclaimed one young Ger¬man tourist. “Paprika, paprika!” “The secret of our girls is the fish they eat,” confided one Hungarian. “The Turks always fed their harem girls fish, called harcsa, from the Tisza River.”
WHATEVER THEIR SECRET, we admired the results on the popular beaches of Lake Balaton—the “Hun-garian Sea,” as people call this 230-square¬mile body of fresh water (map, page 446). In July and August city folk carpet the beach¬es with their bodies, and wade out half a mile to swim—for the depth of Balaton over-all averages only 10 to 13 feet. Hotel rooms are attractive, cheap (our double cost $7), and impossible to get on short notice.
“We have 11,000 rooms in all,” tourism director Robert Gombos told me. “And far more guests here today. We’re praying for a storm to make people leave. Fortunately, our new Hotel Helikon is 85 percent complete.
“But we’re also encouraging people to build private houses here. Our government tourist agency, IBUSZ, offers advice. The owner builds. He gets to use the house part of each season. IBUSZ acts as his agent, rent¬ing it to tourists. After a few years, the owner has paid for his house and can rent it outside of our office.”
I inspected 28 houses already built under these terms—and also some smaller private villas where owners rent out apartments and rooms (6 bedrooms, 2 kitchens, 4 ceramic-tile bathrooms, ample gardens with flowers and poplar shade).
“Yes, yes, privately owned—we may sell if we like,” said one landlord. I noticed a few dozen sailboats tacking smartly out on the lake—small yachts that were also privately owned. And without remorse—and without saying so—I wondered about something called “creeping capitalism.”
Next day it rained; amid lightning flashes we crossed by ferry to Tihany on the north shore. “But this is not a true Balaton storm,” Janos Varro, a blue-eyed, deeply sunburned fisherman, said with a smile as he led us into his house.
“Excuse us, please,” apologized Mrs. Varr6, “but we rent our upstairs rooms to tourists in summer. We move to the kitchen —television, washing machine, children!” “Yes, we catch that whitefish you like– foga,” said Mr. Van& “The law protects it on Balaton; we must throw back all foga shorter than 13 inches [page 478].
“Now: our famous storms. First we see high white clouds with edges like lace; then a long mist cloud. In five minutes the sky turns dark green. The northwest wind blows down—sometimes 75 miles an hour. The danger is the shallow water, when boats are dashed against the sand bottom in the troughs of the waves.”
Each year some two dozen swimmers drown in Lake Balaton. “But we number 75 fishermen on the lake—and we never drown,” said Mr. Varro. On the hilltop above the Varro house, we visited the famous Tihany Abbey, founded by the Benedictines in the year 1055.
“Yes, our charter was the first to record words in the Hungarian language,” explained Abbot Lajos Hegyi. “Mixed with its Latin, we can find some 59 Hungarian words.”
IN PURSUIT OF HISTORY, we drove toward Szekesfehervar—meaning “white residential castle.” “King Stephen was buried here,” Peter explained, “and thus it became a ceremonial center for the kingdom.” Stephen became something more.
Converted to Christianity, he became the first Hungarian king, and brought his subjects into the faith. His technique was humane and practical. Ac¬cording to modern historian Gyorgy Gy6ffy, he decreed Sunday as market day so shoppers could be herded into church; even now the Hungarian word for Sunday is vascirnap, or “market day.” Canonized, Stephen became the patron saint of Hungary and his feast day, August 20, the greatest national celebration for the Hungary of old.
After World War II, Stalinist Communism put St. Stephen into eclipse, and August 20 was called Constitution Day. But three years ago, when I visited Budapest during this national feast, a friend pointed out a news¬paper editorial to me. “Look—it praises King Stephen as devoted to constitutional rule! Such a comment could not have been published a few years back.”
Now, as the feast day approached again, the People’s Republic of Hungary was offi¬cially planning to celebrate the thousandth anniversary of King Stephen’s birth.
GREAT CROWD had gathered in the square at Szekesfehervar. We watched as dignitaries filed onto a platform: government officials, Communist Party func¬tionaries, then two Protestant bishops, three Roman Catholic archbishops, and the Presi¬dent of Hungary, Pal Losonczi. In his speech, the president praised “the statesmanship of the state-founding Stephen.” Together the prelates and the party functionaries applaud¬ed. No one mentioned J6zsef Cardinal Mind¬szenty, Primate of Hungary, who since 1956 has preferred refuge in the United States Embassy to exile. Likewise, no one seemed to notice that the ceremony had no precise precedent in any Marxist land.
“We’re hopeful,” remarked Dr. Ulrik Mons¬berger, prior of the Benedictine Pannonhalma Abbey. “We have enough religious vocations for our task. Hungary has nine religious grammar schools. And the state pays salaries to all our teachers—yes, even to the priests.”
The faith seemed firm next day in Buda¬pest’s Basilica of St. Stephen. There we filed past a jeweled reliquary where lights blazed on the brown, withered right hand of St. Stephen (page 467). We stood in a steaming crowd through the Mass, then pushed our way out into the fresh air. Thousands of worshipers unable to get inside were loudly singing hymns: old men with bristly mus¬taches, young citified dandies, girls in mini¬skirts, peasant women wearing the embroid¬ered Moto, or topknot cap.
Still with the crowd, we moved to the Danube bank to watch a parade of floats that Enduring as the hill it crowns, vast Pannonhalma Abbey (following pages) steadfastly serves the faith, undaunted by a thousand years of buffeting from the wars that have swirled across Hun¬gary. Founded by the teaching order of Benedictines in 996, Pannonhalma today still harbors a parochial high school, a home for retired priests, and renowned archives containing treasured medieval manuscripts. In a typical rural scene, two countrymen patiently travel by wagon. A single animal pulls this two-horse rig.
actually floated—fireboats, military craft, rescue and excursion boats. Paratroopers splashed into the water. Bands played. Children consumed ice cream and got separated from their parents. Gypsies drank cheap wine. Finally, by night, we watched a double display of fireworks—once, blazing up from the Citadella atop Gellert Hill, and again as reflected in the Danube below.
And already the jokesmiths were at work. Pondering King Stephen’s recent rehabilitation, they now remarked, “It is sometimes difficult to foresee the past.”
HUNGARY, about the size of Indiana, has good roads that bring every town within half a day of Budapest. Even the mountains seem like scale models, for the highest, Kekes, rises only 3,330 feet.
We drove around easily from hilly Sopron near Austria (“on good days we see the Alps”) to Debrecen, the “Hungarian Calvinists’ Rome,” on the eastern plains. Only a shortage of hotel rooms proved a problem. “But don’t worry,” said Peter. “In Sopron, we can stay with my aunts. They are tailors, and they have a large apartment.” They were also excellent cooks and bountiful hostesses. So were Peter’s cousins in neighboring Kliszeg. And from such family visits, we got an insight into Hungarian home life—as animated and exuberant as the decor: embroidered pillows, painted plates, lace doilies, framed religious prints, and pots of flowers.
Traveling along the Danube, we got another kind of insight: into modern Hungarian industry and its close ties to the U.S.S.R. “We have great bauxite resources, but no cheap electricity for processing aluminum,” said Laszlo Horvath, an executive engineer at the Almasfilzito Timfoldgyar—meaning “alumina factory.”
“No mountain rivers for generating power. Yet we have solved that problem; we reduce the bauxite to alumina and ship it by train to the U.S.S.R. The Russians process it with their cheap electricity and return finished aluminum to us. Within six or seven years Hungary will produce a million tons of alumi-na each year.”
FARTHER SOUTH, near Szeged, we turned off toward the new Algy6 oil field. A red-letter sign proclaimed “978,000 tons of oil greets our Tenth Party Congress.”
“We got our first well five years ago,” said the director, Aladar Juratovits. “By 1975 this Algy6 field will supply oil for half our national gasoline production, and in only a few months we’ll finish a pipeline to the refinery.” Some¬day, with more oil supplies of their own, Hun¬garians might purchase less Russian oil from the Friendship Pipeline that now stretches to the Danube.
Hungary almost lost this oil field last spring. “Our elevation here is the lowest in Hungary,” said Mr. Juratovits, “and, you can see, the Tisza River cuts right beside us. Well, in full flood the Tisza rose 32 feet—the highest water in recorded history—enough to sub¬merge us completely. The army brought sandbags; 20,000 volunteers pitched in. In one week we built a new riverbank here with 90,000 cubic yards of earth. Then 70 frogmen lined that bank with plastic, so the Tisza would not undermine it. The floodwaters remained from May 20 until July 1. We barely slept. But we saved Algyo.”
Between our industrial stops, as we drove across flat Hungary, Peter kept Josh enter¬tained with a large supply of student jokes.
All Hungarians collect jokes: Lenin jokes, as we had already noted, policeman jokes, fool jokes, Chinese jokes, and jokes about a certain Ivan Ivanovitch. In a special way such stories show how Hungarians feel about life, letters, and authority; Josh doubled up laughing at all of them.
But he quickly grew serious each time we passed a castle. At the town of Siklos, we rat¬tled across a drawbridge and checked into the castle itself.
“It’s real!” Josh shouted. “Built before 1294 —see the plaque?” Only 13 refurbished rooms were ready for renting, but ours measured 40 feet square by 20 feet high. We found more history in the neighborhood when we drove northeast to Mohacs to see a famous battleground.
“Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent waited on Merse Peak—there—in 1526,” said our guide Laszlo Harsanyi. “He had 80,000 Turks. The Hungarians stood here—only 25,000—sweating in their armor, for this was late August.” Mr. Harsanyi described the 90-minute battle and how one of the sul¬tan’s scribes saw that “like a black cloud the Gyaur [the Christian dogs] were running.” And thus began a Turkish occupation lasting a century and a half.
We followed Sultan Suleiman to other castles. At Kfiszeg, 1,000 defenders held off the Turks and saved Vienna in 1532. At Szigetvar the sultan, at 76, died quietly dur¬ing his 33-day siege in 1566. His generals propped up the sultan’s body, kept his death a secret, and fought on to victory. Aptly, Sulei¬man’s heart remains buried there—near the battlements his warriors stormed. Josh no¬ticed dormitories inside the thick stone walls and made inquiry. “It costs only 15 forints to stay here-50 cents a night,” he reported. “Good for students.” I agreed.
Castle accommodations with a clean cot and indoor plumbing fetch similar sums all over Hungary. Near Sopron, the 126-room Eszterhazy Palace of Fertiid—Hungary’s Versailles—rents double rooms with splendid antique furniture—though without a private bath—for $1.70 a day. In the hilly north country near Tokaj, the 15th-century Saros¬patak Monastery charges 65 cents for a dor¬mitory bed—and $3 for a split-level double room complete with a grand piano.
YET WE HAD little time for grandeur. We left our Siklos Castle, for example, by seven o’clock each morning to visit cooperative farms. Our first was at Bares, on the River Drava, smack on the Yugoslav bor¬der. Here we saw the Red Star Cooperative farm, a 4,050-acre establishment with 410 farmers and 80 industrial workers.
“We’re not the largest or the smallest,” said Mihaly Losonczi, the cooperative presi¬dent. “Just one of the 2,676 cooperative farms in the country.”
Along with raising corn and wheat, the Red Star co-op is moving into pork produc¬tion on a large scale. We tramped around a new pen facility that soon will handle 15,000 pigs. “With mechanization, we’ll have only 17 people working here to produce 1,600 tons of pork a year,” Mr. Losonczi informed me. “And as our people become more productive, we will need fewer workers elsewhere. So we are starting a small plastics factory—yes, right here on the farm—where the discharged people can work.”
NEARBY, the 4,000-acre Hungarian-Bulgarian Friendship Cooperative was also diversifying. “Sure,” said Zsig¬mond Rosko, the administrator, “we even raise Thoroughbred race horses—just sold some to Austria. We have 43 brood mares. My daughter rides each afternoon. And now our cooperative has built a restaurant. No, it’s not strange at all. One cooperative farm out¬side Budapest owns an auto-repair shop; an¬other manufactures prefabricated houses in the winter. People joke—they say farms will be in the city and factories in the country.
“Still, our 360 families do well here. A count owned part of this land; the church owned some, too.
Peasants owned the rest—parcels of 3 to 15 acres. A regular co-op member gets a house and land for his personal garden—one acre for each working member of the family. Some large families have more land now than before. They sell their personal crops, of course. One man just made 60,000 forints [$2,000] from his family garden. People here are wealthy.”
But a cooperative farmer faces one signifi¬cant restriction: High taxes prevent him from hiring full-time labor outside the co-op. And not every co-op farmer likes the collective arrangement.
“At first—in the 1940′s—we feared my uncle might kill himself,” one man told me. “Now, he is happier—but you talk to him.”
And so I talked with Uncle Janos Csorba. “Satisfied? No, I have no choice,” he sighed. “Look, I inherited one and a half kataszter of land [about two acres]. I worked—two jobs. Saved. And bought more—six kataszter in all.
It was taken from me, all but my house and the tenth of an acre where I raise grapes for this wine.” “Our son has television,” said Mrs. Csorba. “But I believe no news except Uj Ember.” That is the Catholic weekly newspaper. Still, we toasted the future and ate stacks of bogacsa biscuits. “We don’t starve,” conceded the old lady.
Hers was an understatement. Hungarians hold food in a reverence that is almost re¬ligious. I once thumbed through a collection of traditional children’s stories; instead of “living happily ever after,” the happy end¬ings are edible—”one hundred chefs cooked,” “their wedding feast lasted for two weeks,” and “such a magnificent wedding that they can still taste the flavor of the food.”
The greatest Hungarian poet, Sandor Petofi, wrote gastronomic odes (“Fine food, fine wine … both sweet and dry. A Magyar nobleman am I!”); and novelist Gyula Kills:1y described a desirable lady “plump as an oriental dream.”
“My husband and I eat almost 40 pounds of lard each year,” one dear old melon-shaped peasant woman told me. I believe her. In the country, you can often tell Hungarians’ ages by their girth—like a tree-ring system. Lard, onions, paprika, and flour provide the base for most Hungarian dishes.
“And pork—our people complain if we give them beef,” Mr. Losonczi told me. In peasant homes I was often served brandy with breakfast and a lunch of bread, bacon fat, paprika, and wine. My dinners always weighed heavy with calories, cholesterol, and my own feelings of guilt.
‘I SOON LEARNED that true Hungarian goulash (gulyds) is less a stew than a soup, and that Hungarian cookery has been historically flavored by the Turks, Italians, French, and the food-loving Magyars them¬selves (“Escoffier’s assistant at the London Savoy was Hungarian!”).
“And what are your favorite foods here?” Hungarians asked me time and again. In summer I always enjoyed the cold fruit soups and paprikas csirke galuskdval, paprika chicken with dumplings. The best was served me by Peter’s mother in their home. I also recommend libamcijfile roston burgonydval-fresh grilled goose liver with potatoes—and ciganypecsenye hideg koritessel—pork with cold vegetables, Gypsy-style.
Appreciatively, I visited cool, moldy cellars from Budafok to the hills of Tokaj, sampling casks of what Hungarian Communists still advertise as “the wine of kings and the king of wines.” Vintners boast that “ours are the strictest wine laws in the world.”
In Szeged I examined a scarlet harvest of paprika (page 457). “Yes, our scientist Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who now lives in the United States, won the Nobel Prize when he isolated vitamin C from our paprika,” one son of Szeged assured me.
I then tasted my way through the nation’s most famous factory of strong red salami: “Now this is our scale where we weigh all crates of salami. Care to step on? Yes, sir, 89 kilos.” Roughly, I calculated 196 pounds and hoped that the scale made allowances for the crate. But I didn’t dare ask.
“We consume more calories than anyone else in central Europe,” one Hungarian boasted. “More than 3,000 a day.” Thereafter, I tried switching to saccharine-flavored es¬presso—the fresh, steaming coffee essence that people sip all day long.
“The Hungarian used to drink tea,” a friend told me. “Then one day a waiter asked him, `Do you want Russian tea or Chinese tea?’ `Well,’ he answered, ‘just bring me coffee.’ ”
Besides fine food and drink, other aristo¬cratic pleasures flourish in the People’s Re¬public. Great hunting preserves once owned by noble families have simply changed man¬agement. “Hunting was discouraged after World War II,” said young Bela Berdar, of the Ministry of Agriculture. “But the wild game multiplied dangerously. Now we must reduce this surplus with a 10-year plan: from 32,000 deer to 20,000, from 140,000 roe deer to 100,000, from 14,000 wild boar to 7,000.”
Foreigners, especially West German busi¬nessmen, come to the refurbished hunting lodges to bag trophies and leave behind $500,000 a year in hard currencies. I can testify that they get their money’s worth. Near Nagykanizsa, at the Budafa preserve, I went out on a game-inspection trip with chief hunter Bela Horvath.
We followed paths neatly trimmed for an easy stroll, climbed into well-tended blinds, and saw a wealth of pheasants, foxes, and smart little roebucks. Then, by moonlight, Horvath inhaled a deep breath and began to bark into a cow horn—an imitation of a barking deer so convincing that three big does came out of the forest and followed us half a mile back to camp.
“Conservation is really the theme of our World Exhibition of Hunting this Septem¬ber,” said Dr. Zoltan Tildy, the distinguished naturalist who is helping to plan the pro¬gram. No one can talk with greater authority of local wildlife or of the 300 nature sanctu¬aries in the nation (“Of course, some are small—like one very old tree”). His remark¬able photographs of Hungarian birds—spoonbills, purple herons, white storks—are famous throughout Europe.
“It all started in 1944 when the Gestapo put me in jail,” Dr. Tildy laughed. “I could not see outside, and my cell had whitewashed walls. I didn’t know white could be so horri¬ble. I was thirsting for color—green, red, anything. My mother once sent me a food package that included a red pepper. I saved that beautiful pepper and looked at it until it rotted. I promised myself then to work for nature when I got out—and so I went into the forestry service.”
In the same spirit, we sought the open spaces of the flat, wide puszta to meet a friend, Mrs. Dorothy Grant, at Hortobagy. The owner of a riding stable in Washington, D. C., Dorothy Grant has organized horse¬back tours of Hungary for five summers now (above). “Towns are just the right distance apart,” she says. “And these farms have no fences to jump. Sometimes we even ride the best stallions from the stud farms, but all the horses are good. Want to try one?”
Josh did. So, at the state farm stables, he mounted a bay gelding 173 centimeters tall. “More than 17 hands,” Josh calculated in apprehensive awe. “Don’t worry, your son can handle him,” said Minas Flandorffer. A former hussar officer, Mr. Flandorffer started Hungary’s postwar breeding stables and the cross-country horseback tours that bring 500 lucky riders here each year. “We keep the tours small and individual,” Mr. Flandorffer ex¬plained. “We have a tradition.”
“Indeed they do,” said Dorothy. “At Lake Balaton, we ride a steep trail up to a castle drawbridge—climbing steps that were spaced for the stride of 13th-century Hungarian horses. Ours follow the same hoofprints.”
“Your son’s horse is called Bulcsu,” said Mr. Flandorffer. “That was the name of a Magyar chieftain from the time of Arpad.” Through history, almost all the country’s conquerors have come by horseback, and as we watched Dorothy’s group quickly ride off —and they were visible for miles on the oceanic horizon—I could understand the horseman’s advantage here. He could swiftly traverse this terrain to rule or plunder, ac¬cording to his pleasure. With the horseback invasions came the great variety we noticed in Hungarian faces.
Yet the marshy puszta was often spared the worst of the wars. Not until the 19th century did engineers transform this great flood plain. Then 300,000 people worked here to build dams and dig drainage canals for “the world’s largest civil-engineering proj¬ect in that century,” as economic geographer Dr. Gyula Bora calls it. “And when their work ended in the 1890′s,” he adds, “many of those people emigrated to Canada and the U.S.A.”
In a one-horse buckboard, we drove around the wide, flat pastures, stopping at water holes to see herds of gray long-horned cattle. Here I met some csik6s, the native Hun¬garian horsemen.
“You want to see us do our stunts?” one csikos asked. Proudly he ordered his neat cow pony to lie flat; then, standing atop his patient mount, he expertly cracked a horse¬whip like a rifle—and in perfect rhythm. I envied the csikos his nimble way of mount¬ing a horse, for he uses no girth on his saddle. But the small, lonely wagon where the csikos sheltered I envied not at all.
pUSZTA LIFE has always been isolated. Author Gyula Dyes has written, “I still remember the stark, palpitating astonish¬ment that gripped me … when at the age of eight or nine I first entered a village. The streets, the houses built side by side … all filled me with endless amazement and ter¬ror…. Up to that time I had never seen two houses deliberately built in line….”
My colleague Joseph Scherschel, taking photographs in the Hungarian hinterlands, recently ran into cases of similar isolation. Joe, whose mother was Hungarian, recalled a few phrases of greeting. “Why does the photographer speak so strangely?” an old farmer asked Joe’s translator.
“He is a foreigner,” the translator replied. In deep puzzlement, the old man then asked, “And what is a foreigner?”
It came as a shock that in such a modern country this question could still be asked. Hungary, after all, has given America conduc¬tor Eugene Ormandy, entertainer Zsa Zsa Gabor, and physicist Edward Teller, and the forebears of quarterback Joe Namath and publisher Joseph Pulitzer—a disparate but obviously gifted crowd.
Yet the prior of Pannonhalma Abbey (pages 464-5) jokingly toasted me with the famous Latin maxim—”Extra Hungariam non est vita, si est vita, non est ita.” (Roughly, and in rhyme: “Outside Hungary, no life you’ll find. And if you do, it’s not our kind.”)
HUNGARIANS have withstood out¬side pressure only with strong cultural defenses. A hard language helps. “Our code,” laughs Rudi Vig, but he adds affec¬tionately, “If only our poets could be properly translated, they would be as famous as com¬posers like Kodaly and Bartok.”
Foreigners, however, will not soon master such single glued-together tongue twisters as Legeslegmegengesztelhetetlenebbeknek. (It means “to the most irreconcilable ones,”) One engineer told me, “Don’t bother with the name of our bauxite mine—no foreign jour¬nal has ever spelled it correctly.” On behalf of the Society’s typesetters, I accept his chal¬lenge, though nervously: The mine is named Iszkaszentgyorgy—Iszka Saint George.
Behind the cultural bulwarks, Hungarians are a lively, demonstrative folk. Emotions—whether of love or anger—find easy outlet. “We are quick-tempered—a straw-flame people,” says Miklos Rabai, leader of the famous Folk-Dance Ensemble. “We are small, but like pepper.”
With all the changes in their land, the Hungarian character prevails. And most of all, the national personality asserts itself in small villages. With Rudi Vig we visited Bogies, the village near Eger where Rudi himself grew up. We passed a cluster of old men smoking pipes under a locust tree. “Our parliament is debating world affairs,” he laughed. Rudi introduced me to the village elders, to his cousins and aunts, and even to the Gypsies who live on the outskirts of town. “I remember that narrow walled street—always useful for the drunks,” said Rudi. “Yet there are changes. Electricity—television—even that espresso house for the youngsters.” Recorded music shook the windowpanes while village youths danced. “We were always more shy in visiting the girls.”
Each village changes at its own pace. In Zsambok, popu¬lation about 300, we stopped to watch the tomato harvest, met the postvvoman as she delivered the mail—and got invited to a wedding. Our invitations were better than en¬graved. Here guests are invited by superbly embroidered lace-trimmed handkerchiefs that they then pin to their shirts.
THE BRIDE, Margit Povazsonyi, came from Toalmas, a village three miles away and considered quite pro- gressive. The groom, Erazmus Toth, was the son of a Zsambok widow who embroiders fokiitii caps for a living.
We met at the bride’s house, danced to a country band, and—before leaving for the church—sat down to a huge paprika-flavored feast. “How can you stay so slim?” I asked our pretty bride.
“I pick many tomatoes,” Margit laughed. But she also has worked in Budapest—and thus Margit and her sisters wore city clothes. Not so the traditionalists from Zsambok. The women came in big swirling skirts with bright em¬broidery and lace, as they have done for generations.
“Let’s start for the church, in the name of God,” the best man declaimed in verse. So we walked through streets where flocks of geese had left wedge-shaped footprints in the dust.
After the wedding Mass, Margit took leave of her parents, while the best man recited more verse (“My mother, I have much pain in my heart. ..”). Everyone shed tears, including the groom, and some relatives sobbed loudly.
But tears dried quickly; we returned to Zsambok and the groom’s house to find a six-piece band, pitchers of beer and wine—and a second feast. The bride herself served us, but only between tunes, for men paid money to dance a csardas with her. “The bride is mine!” they would shout, and dance away, one-two, one-two, sweating away their beer. The bride’s parents now arrived in their city clothes—and as jolly as any of us. “You must not leave until you eat some more!” insisted the groom’s mother. But this time we could not; the evening had been full—and so were we.
Hungarian life goes on, full of noise and tears and laugh¬ter. And in a land with strong customs and strong tempers, no proletarian dictatorship can long be considered total.
“What is the difference between an optimist and a pes¬simist?” asks the comic in a Budapest political cabaret. With a twist of lemon, the answer comes back: “A pessimist is better informed.”
When a comic can publicly say such things, he makes me optimistic. And I know I haven’t been brainwashed. Heart washed, perhaps.