11. 18. 2013. 19:42

And God would taste and sense that it was good

Mád: a village in the Tokaj wine region

Oh, those late harvests! There were three starts to the school year: the first time at the beginning of September but a few days later the whole school would be working on the vintage, then it would be lessons again, but then at the end of October we would pick the late-ripened Aszú grapes, and afterwards, sadly, it would be school again.

the grapes are almost splitting with their sweetness;
struck dumb with joy, the mouth is rendered speechless
.

Dezső Kosztolányi: Pieties for September (1935), translated by George Szirtes

Photo: Mád Vineyard. Publisher: unknown, early 1920s. Zemplén Museum, Szerencs


1

ln the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, and on the latter Tarcal, Tállya, Tokaj, and Tolcsva. There ought to be one not beginning with T, thought the Lord, and he followed that up to a T as in terrain, and God created Mád: volcanic rhyolite, andesite, loess, red earth, crumbling zeolite, quartzite rhyolite tufa, brown earth, yellow earth, hard tufa, soft tufa. And He said let them bring forth crops, and give the marrows Furmint, Hárslevelű (‘Linden Leaf’), Yellow Muscat, Zeta, a crossing of Furmint and Bouvier and Kövérszőlő (‘Fat Grape’). All with Capital Letters, because God organised it well that the names of grapes and wines be spelled with initial capitals. But where should the centre of the earth be? Where? On which hill? Which dividing ridge? Danczka? Szentvér? Aranyos? Verebes? Szent Tamás? Sóhajtó? Mandolás? Percze? Záporos? Tehéntánc? Gyapáros? Tekenő? He savoured the names rather like their grapes, eying which hilltop to choose, but he could not do that. Or rather of course he could—He knew, all right, but he did not wish to infuriate any of the communities, and that was why he did not let on. Let it suffice that was thereabouts in the Tarcal—Tállya—Tokaj—Tolcsva—Mád pentangle. Anyone who doesn’t believe can look it up. Kishegy? Gomboska? Lantos? Hétszőlő? Petrács? Király? God alone knows.

Borsai Villa at 39, Rákóczi Street. Zempléni Múzeum, Szerencs

 

2

In 1944 my father was thirteen years old, with two elder brothers at the front. One night he awoke to a rapping at the window. He then heards the older of the brothers: Mum! It’s me, Pista! He had come from a field hospital. The wounded who were able to walk had been directed to their detachment. But Pista had come home; he had no desire to go any further. He had had enough. He lay down and instantly fell asleep. The next day, armed soldiers had come for him, but he was lucky, his unit had been posted to that part of the country, barely 35 miles away. His papers had been date-stamped two days earlier; he had to get moving immediately. He had just enough time to sling a haversack on his back. My father and grandmother accompanied him as far as the church.

On the morning of 22 October 1944 the Soviet Union occupied Nyíregyháza, and their advance units reached the area around Tokaj and Csap.

My father and grandmother are sitting in the cemetery—not the cemetery of their village. Here there were hills all around. This was as far as Pista got. He did not find his detachment, but he was thrown into the front line here. He had been brought to here, to this village. He died in the school, and that was also where he was buried. They cut a cross from a school blackboard, which had lines ruled on one side, graph squaring on the other. On the graphed squares was written: Lived 23 years. He was later taken to the cemetery to a communal soldiers’ grave. Some had their earthly remains taken away by relatives; he stayed put. “Don’t let him be disturbed,” said grandmother. His grave was visited; they even had a proper cross made. Then one day he vanished, cross, grave and everything. He was at the far end of the cemetery: new corpses had arrived, and the space was needed. That was all I knew about Mád when I was a child. That my uncle was buried there. Somewhere.

 

3

I have just come from Tokaj—the writers’ camp. Before that I was in Tolcsva, at the wine festival. I come from further away, Sátoraljaújhely—that’s where I was born. Because that’s where there was a hospital. My younger brother was from nearer—Sárospatak—because by then a hospital had been built there as well. I’m a Tolcsva-er, like the Hárslevelű. But I also drink Furmint, which is what the grapes in Mád are. Mád Furmint; they hold an annual wine festival there, every September. Right now it’s August; a blazing hot afternoon. I am coming by rail from the town of Szerencs, then I’ll walk from Mád railway station into that town—the Lower Miner’s Arms—an inn I’ll drop into on the way home. On maps anyway, displayed for strangers, I find my bearings. Even though here it’s home for me, this country. What are the salt flats of the seaside to me! Here, this is my world, as Sándor Petőfi said. I used to pay visits there with my secondary schoolmate. No, not courting—doing the round of cellars, of course. Now I’d not find my way there. I did it by bike on a number of occasions, from Felsődobsza via Mád to Tokaj, and back. Then (a good while ago) I used to make big trips like that, and I could cycle. I still can, I just never sit on one. It would pull me home. I have got there, I am at home. I don’t go astray as I’m not looking for anyone. Even Pista’s grave is no longer there. I look around. A monument to the First World War. Duck’s Tavern. I go in and drink a—Mád villagers will have to forgive me for putting water in their wine, but it’s really warm outside!—a Furmint spritzer. Furmint is vigorous, of high acidity, harmonious, white full-bodied wine, with aroma notes of pears, lime and other fruits. Characteristically, with Mád wines, due to the soil, a stronger acidity and fuller body can be brought out of the same four grape varieties as on any other hillside of the Tokaj-Hegyalja region. I have my fill on the names of the vineyards alone—Nyulászó (‘Rabbiter’), Szilvás (‘Plummy’) and Birsalmás (‘Quincey’)—so cheers to them! Good health, everyone! May our good health never be! Attacked! My godfather used to say, so be it! And so it was; it wasn’t the wine which did for him. Though in Ópályi he did not drink Mád wine. Mád Court. Unicum Cafè. No, not right now, thank you. Lamp & Folklore Memorial (so the sign says). A famous synagogue—closed. Tickets to Visit Available by Prior Arrangement. Opposite a football pitch of artificial grass. In the centre circle the Hungarian coat of arms, that is the elementary school, which is where wounded Pista was brought. Are you sure? I don’t know. Carillon—I’m not familiar with that either. The gateway of the Calvinist Church is open, but its door is shut. The damsons are ripening in the garden. A, I’m not sure how to put it, geranium tree—that is that it is: a tree, full of geraniums. A pitcher tree. A draw-well. And another. Everywhere around. There can’t be that many draw-wells! A brook is purling. A Roman Catholic Church—closed, needless to say. God did not wait for me here. The church clock is working. The first marvel. It’s three-fifty. A carillon again—it’s coming from here, from the church tower. I ask two girls if they know the tune. No. No doubt it shows that I’ve come from the train station. The slow train from Sátoraljaújhely. The bell tolls four. A row of wine cellars. I’m not going up there. You heard me right: up to the cellars. Nor am I going to go out to the cemetery. To Pista, who is no longer there, anyway; unmarked, so he has the whole world for a grave. I didn’t go out to see my grandfather either in Krasny Luch, Ukraine. He is there and not there, malenkiy robot—a little work. He was 37 years old, my grandpa. The cemetery is a long way away, and my train will have gone. Those could be first two lines of a Magyar nóta (Hungarian song). A statue. The Virgin Mary? I have no idea about that; I’m a stranger in town, even though I’m from hereabouts. From the Tokaj-Hegyalja region. Mád Mansion. Summer menu card, menu item. Duck with a duo of gherkins, Knuckle of lamb confit with sautéed heart of salad, Olive oil ice-cream with almond and pear tart and mint. I’m not hungry, but I have a mighty thirst. Olive oil ice-cream, eh? I got stuck at the choc-vanilla-punch. Oh, and the lemon sorbet. When my daughter asked for a forest ranger, a nice-cream, I mean, I was amazed. And what does confit mean, if it comes to that? I’ll look it up. (Meat that has been slowly cooked at low heat or boiled in its own rendered fat.) A handsome, but dilapidated, a crumbling relief of grapes. Embossment is nicer. A statue of St. John of Nepomuk.

Statue of St. John of Nepomuk, Batthyány Square. Photo: Szabolcs Barakonyi

A stump of a well sweep with a red pail. There is shrubbery growing out of the ‘well.’ I stroll in the virtually empty, summertime streets, tourist fellow compatriots, mortals, the locals are taking a siesta. Or else they have retired to the cool of the cellars. I got hot, and it was not just the summer. Mád is a terraced (it could be wine-growing) settlement, up-and-down, down-and-up. I look around as if at picture postcards. The looking at postcards is also time-travelling; I am remembering. A slight breeze, at long last; it is fluttering, thumbing through the postcards on the way. A guest house, window shutters with tulips. Drop in, wanderer, if your path lies this way / If your intentions are good, our fond welcome will be on display. Well, I am a wanderer, and my intentions are certainly good, but I have to move on, even though I know I can be sure of a fond welcome. It’s not that I see a (bad) sign in the closed church doors either. On the other hand, I drop in on the Lower Miners’ Club (I cannot pass up on a name like that!) for a spritzer. If I could get one there. Botheration! I’ll have a beer—at least let that be made in Borsod! And me being from Zemplén. Oh, well, it’ll have to be one made in Sopron, but don’t tell anyone. I make it out to the station. I’ve still got time. How much? Waiting room closed 22:40–03.55. It’s not that I want to stay the night, but at least that tells me when the last and first trains run.

 

4

In 1944, they were assembled in the synagogue following Passover. They were there for three days, then they were transported to the central ghetto in the town of Sátoraljaújhely. While they were being taken away the village was under curfew. From Sátoraljaújhely they were taken in three groups to Auschwitz. The total of 230 souls dwindled within a few days to 120, of whom altogether 30 stayed alive. The first returnees, seven young people, got back in January 1945. By 1946 they were 40-strong. Between 1950 and 1956 a lot left the community, and by 1956 only three Jewish families remained. There was still one family left in 172, but the very last long-standing Jewish resident of Mád died in 1994.

The burnt-down Kék Szöllő (‘Blue Grape’) Salle at 47–51, Rákóczi Street. The inscription says: 'I‘m in the same place as the Mád Jew' [a proverb in Hungarian, roughly meaning 'I'm between the devil and the deep blue sea']. Zempléni Múzeum, Szerencs

5

It is Friday. A wonderful bevy of girls are waiting for a train; they are going to a disco in Szerencs. That is what I think. An inscription over one door says WELL HOUSE. I wonder what lies inside? Another well? It is closed, like the churches. Almost certainly it’s wine which flows from it—that would be why. Key with the cashier. Who is not sitting at the window. A stove in a cage, the cage locked. On one of the benches: ALEX + DOMINIKA, on the other OLGA + DEZSŐ. Judging by the names, that’s two generations, and a great many years apart. The loudspeaker is mute; a train is coming. In Szerencs, when changing trains (I’m going to see my parents in Miskolc) it occurs to me that I forgot to buy any wine. Flowers for Mother, wine for Father. I can get some flowers at the station, but what about the wine? From Tolcsva, Tokaj and Mád and no wine? I nip into a housing estate’s pub; at the station I left out the apricot brandy at the refreshment room at Gönc—there, when it comes. Here there is another wonder of all wonders. Honestly. I did not make this up just so as to… They sell Mád Furmint. Wrapped up, what’s more. I buy a bottle; one of the drier type, which Father also likes. Kosztolányi no doubt had an eye on the Furmint from there when he wrote down: the grapes are almost splitting with their sweetness; / struck dumb with joy, the mouth is rendered speechless. It’s not as if I am biased, coming from Tolcsva as I do. I drink Furmint, the dry varieties. Oh, and Somló Juhfark (‘Sheep’s Tail’), though don’t pass that on, because I have still to go to Tolcsva, Tokaj, and Mád—to a wine festival, writer’s camp, a Furmint feast day. But then every day is a feast day if I can come here. The cellars are church crypts, and they never shut!

 

6

God Himself would go to the wine festival on Castle Hill in Budapest. And He would not wish to get drunk like Noah, therefore he would only drink wines from Hegyalja: Szamorodni Sweet, Szamorodni Dry, Muscat Blanc, Dűlőházasság (a blend of Hegyfark Furmint and Hárslevelű grapes from Bodrogkeresztúr and from the Bomboly Vineyard in Mád), Essence of Tokay, and Royal Tokay Late Harvest (Oh, those late harvests! For me there were three starts to the school year: the first time at the beginning of September but a few days later the whole school would be working on the vintage, then it would be lessons again, but then at the end of October we would pick the late-ripened Aszú grapes, and afterwards, sadly, it would be school again), Furmint-Hárs, Birtokbor Dry Tokay Hegyalja, Mandola Estate Winery, Szerelmi Vineyard Hárslevelű, Tokay Hegyalja Fordítás, Spumante Sec Habzóbor, mid-November Fordítás, ‘3 Puttony’ Yellow Muscat Aszú, the ‘6 Puttony’ Aszú Essence. God drank of all these, and He grew ever fonder of the world, along with its people. He saw the wines in church windows in the light of the setting sun, in the light which happened to be falling on the world, and He had a sniff at them (acquired a scent of their fragrances a vineyard owner would say, though I’m not too happy with that, the word, that is. My apologies), He would taste and sense that it was good. Divine wines. Tolcsva Hárslevelű, Tokaji Aszú, Mád Furmint! Tarcal Zéta and Tállya Kövérszőlő, not to leave them out, let the world be round, its middle. History. Betsek, Medve, Pengő, Mogyorós, Görbe, Galyagas, Szarvas, Meleg-máj, Mandolás, Szent Tamás. And here I would pause, God, in order to take a break in the wine tasting. He then saw the name of the vineyard: Úrágya (‘Lord’s Bed’). And He had a glass to taste, and that was the last straw. He lay down His head, soon fell asleep, and in His dreams he muttered the names of the vineyards: Danczka, Bohomáj, Jónap, Pipiske, Szerelmi, Kútpatka, Dorgó. And Sweet Mád Furmint (though other sources have it as Dry) drooled from the corner of God’s mouth.

Where the centre of the earth is… by now it’s not only God who knows.

This text was written as a foreword to Bernadett Piskolti's Mádi album (Mád Album, Budapest, PBooks, 2013). The village of Mád is situated in the Tokaj wine region where the world's oldest botrytized wine (Tokaji aszú) is made.

Translated by: Tim Wilkinson

Tags: László Sajó