05. 12. 2011. 08:52

Legendary Danube II: Just a little moment

But what became of the Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani, my friend... what of your mouth odour and evil thoughts, the acrimony of your chastity, dear chap, caro mio Giorgio; what became of the precious desire for vengeance; what kinds of insects did the Creator pluck out from that?—that is something a Hungarian is curious about.

To Cold Comfort
American scientists have demonstrated that we Hungarians—a tidy, though not particularly enviable subset—think of Saint Gellért Sagredo as being in a tubby little barrel like the caviar of sturgeons, rotted plum dregs or pickled sauerkraut—if one may put it like that, because we are uncultivated, self-confident and stuck-up, don’t give a damn about close reading, nor handcarts portrayed in nice and tidy sequences, as a result of which in the contemporary Hungarian imagination Saint Gellért rolls rather than bumps along, collides and comes clattering down in roughly the same sort of patchwork as the Creator is depicted in the portrayal of ‘Autumn’ in a pack of so-called Hungarian cards,
    for which reason if we falter in our fantasising, we turn to the green ace for assistance, even though the thingumajig in that image is more a tub; anyway, suffice it to say Gellért is rolling along in his (let us be generous) barrel, like so, and as he is rolling every bone in his body is broken to smithereens and he breaks his neck, his will to live takes leave of him for good and all; consequently due to the staves piercing his body and the hoops that have twisted into crumpled blades, not to mention the succour of the Lord’s astounding grace, he was already dead on hitting the waters of the Danube and, as if he were clutching to himself an old Saratov fridge, which in this weak situation has undoubtedly lost its function, and sinks forthwith.
    Let us remark that this is where uninstructed posterity comes to a standstill, like like a katydid’s chirping and looks up from today at the monument to the Lord’s stocky rearguard, and in turn the Stone Guest looks back on us in the same way as back in the Seventies the bench looked from the garden of the Nagymaros artists’ retreat at the writer Péter Hajnóczy, to whom, with all due respect, a statue would be far more befitting—a statue in your hearts, a statue out of clotted blood, rusty nails and a couple of bottles of red plonk.
    What would be the real reason why, as against the above-outlined, more than likely exaggerated and idly clodhopping line of thought, one should place any belief in legends and admonitions from the Árpádian age—“A peasant wight, since he had a scabby ulcer on his head, and his external appearance was repulsive, was not allowed to enter the gate to the monastery, but instead the saintly martyr’s vestment was held on a pole over the scabby ulcer and was waved to and fro in a sign of the cross, with the people standing further away, and the ulcer dropped off onto the ground, and the peasant wight was healed”—which had it that the good bishop’s body not only did not sink anywhere at all but was expressly salved and so forth then laid for seven years in the ground only for it then to be disinterred and the coffin reopened, with the lily-white and thus redundantly alabaster body (the sex appeal of death!) apparently intact, whereat it was forthwith put on a ship as an outcast of the chemistry of horror, and while it was being transported, along the way, accomplishing—notwithstanding its seeming passivity—numerous remarkable miracles first and foremost, and practically speaking, for the rehabilitation of the weak-sighted, the disabled and the multiply disadvantaged who had got wind of the news and were desirous of its touch, to its final resting place—mark my words, but why in the name of blue blazes should we believe the account of Gáspár Csóka, of all people, when in reality of course, as every Hungarian who dips even slightly into the turbulent marshes of his mind knows perfectly well, what happened is that the saintliness departed from the body, being distributed into coloured bubbles, like from the fraying pockets of a disconsolate dealer, as it sank in the channel of the Danube, so that on reaching the surface of the water it formed a myriad of colourful butterflies and returned to the Lord as a strange billowing shawl, much like the ripped off cover of a 1984 issue of Stern magazine is casually discarded—in all honesty the whole thing is like one of those never-ending trashy Brazilian TV soap operas which all at once, if you don’t watch out, is obviously airbrushed in order that there be somewhere for you to puke when the patrolman makes you spread on the excessively ample bonnet of your apple-green 1957 Lincoln Continental—that’s why.
    But what became of the Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani, my friend, what about the wormwood and gall of the soul when the mortal being was split into spare ribs; what of the bitterness and apostasy; what of your mouth odour and evil thoughts, the acrimony of your chastity, dear chap, caro mio Giorgio; what became of the precious desire for vengeance; what kinds of insects did the Creator pluck out from that?—that is something a Hungarian is curious about; that’s what he subscribed to; that is why he extended broadband accessibility, so show us your hand, buddy boy! Out with it: what was the nitty-gritty on it, the dope? what was the low-down?
    That’s where it stayed for a couple of centuries, chummy, the bitterness that is; submerged in the sludge of the Danube, it slipped out of you to settle down, like a spoiled egg in the wall of the uterus—that’s the stinking big picture.
    Just a little moment.
    It must be remarked that I am sitting in the usherette’s seat in the back row of the Tanács cinema that my grandma only ever called the Fleapit or Bughutch, watching James Mason playing Captain Nemo, this would have been in 1965, and in order to twist a loose milk tooth by the roots from its socket with a hankie I had hit on the ingenious, albeit startling brainwave of having that to grab my attention yet not completely interfere with my elated observation, thanks to which I recognise Satan, Satan’s glancein the mysteriously emerging searchlights of the Nautilus, which  surfaced from one ocean or the other, piercing/transfixing the dark blue and emerald waves ; moreover, yielding to that spectacle, let us imagine the Dragon hatched from Saint Gellért’s bitterness, buried in the sludge, his suppressed hubris, and a remnant of suppressed hatred (unextinguishable, however zealous the prayers) that had been inflicted on him, who grew up in the recesses of the river to some 16-20 feet tall, put on from nowhere a metallic sealskin, and muttered a vulgar joke from underwater to a sidekick in a vegetable delivery van, who, not suspecting the true origins of the joke, instantly passed on the punchline to the driver in such a way that the latter, tears in his eyes from disproportionate guffawing, failed to observe due caution while cornering and did not notice my grandfather who was on one of his customary morning strolls, as it happens on his eightieth birthday, setting off from beside the railings of Upper Quayside on the Pest side of the Danube, from where goodness knows many times we had looked at the flashing blue, purple and yellow lights of the fountain on Margaret Island in order to step out onto the road  within the lethally lengthening brake distance, due to the concerted efforts of the sidekick of the van driver being possessed by the devil; due to the driver who, a few days later, i.e. after my grandfather’s death following a two-day coma, condemned himself to death, specifically, the agony of dying on the rope; and naturally, above all, due to the Dragon


Let there be no doubt that it was the same Dragon—you bet it was!—who on November 4th 1956, in the voice of a Russian soldier who did not speak a word of this strange language of this Suez on the banks of the Danube, said to minister István Bibó, who was drafting his celebrated appeal: “From now on, Stevie, only shit will be coming up from the sewer !”*

* Sources attesting to the anecdote are ignorant of this sentence and emphasise that the soldier, on seeing the strength of mind manifested by Bibó’s irritated dismissive wave of the hand, assumed his message was superfluous and departed without having effected his purpose. Those of us who believe in the miraculous life of St Gellért, however, can state categorically that the minister’s hand gesture did not express irritation so much as astonished puzzlement in the form of the kind of irresolute sign of wishing to brush aside as a pointlessly remaining stray scrap of mahorka smoke the sentence which came out in Hungarian, while Satan, having accomplished (and not failed in) his purpose, made tracks. To say nothing, given the pocket-handkerchief-sized space I am allowed to write this, of Baron Wesselényi, or a pair of hobnailed Jewish boots left on the embankment, or Gyula Csortos’s celebrated pronouncement.

Saint Gerard Sagredo (980–1046) was a bishop of probably Lombard origin who played a major role in converting Hungary to Christianity. He was martyred in Buda, on a hill by the Danube that bears his name to this day. He was hauled to the top of the hill, rolled down, and, still alive at the bottom, beaten to death.

Translated by: Tim Wilkinson

Tags: Danube, Gábor Németh