Some people who it may be assumed know what they are saying say that just as every tale has it counter-tale so every river has its counter-river. In the latter case it generally seems that the counter-river is somewhat broader than the river itself under which it winds, underground, but precisely following its route and, discounting one or two inexplicable exceptions, runs in the opposite direction. Albeit under the surface in point of fact it comes from the opposite direction to the flow of the original tale, although for understandable reasons it does not run slap-bang into it. It is fitting to know that the counter-river is not a figment of the imagination; it very much exists like the rivers which have been discovered to date under the seas. Like, for instance, the huge river that research workers recently discovered in the thick substratum or bottom (to use the technical term) beneath the Black Sea. They measured it and were astonished at how deep it is—35 metres—and with a length 350 times that of the Thames. If the Lord had created it on the surface, then it would be the sixth-longest river in the world. However, he didn’t create it there.
Here, though, we have the Danube. On the surface. With all its bridges, gulls and watermelon rinds. Though hitherto unexplored, every sign points to the fact that it has its own subterranean twin partner to which it is linked here and there by passageways, only these are not known with any precision. Not even as little as that mysterious little Venetian garden that writers mention, in the depths of which, hidden by ivy, is a lattice gate. One should know that whoever locates this may safely stroll over from one story into another. The wee gate is lubricated and so opens without a squeak, calling for no great effort, either intellectual or particularly not physical, yet at the same time it is attended by a memorable sense of pleasure. What do you mean memorable! Simply unforgettable.
Anyway, there are some who in connection with our now fair, now blue Danube (it is interesting that in some Slav languages the two words are denoted by one and the same word: plav for fair, plava for blue) suspect that one of the passageways may be at the latitude of Szentendre to the north of Budapest and another by the island of Csepel on the south side of Budapest. In olden days, in the time of the Dominican nun Lea Ráskai copying, with all the involvement and assiduity of an obsessed person, texts recording the life and miraculous deeds of our own exalted and blessed Saint Margaret, there may also have been one between Buda and Pest by Margaret Island, or Rabbit Island as it was known, but that passageway somehow became blocked. So, there are those two near to Budapest, their existence seemingly underpinned by a mysterious thriller of a yarn that shaken fishermen tell, whether asked or not, according to which, on a day which deserved a better fate, while they were angling by the Csepel branching of the Danube, a skiff came down the river which answered to the name of the ‘Julia Fair’, or at least that is what had been painted on its bow. In it was seated a small, but all the merrier, witty company, a pair of whom kept waving to the fishermen. The latter for their part were not lazy in gesticulating back, some of them furiously and scathingly sending them to hell, after which the skiff vanished. Peace re-established itself over the picturesque landscape and time proceeded onward. This was good and early, around seven o’clock in the morning, then around the time seven o’clock in the evening the ‘Julia Fair’ again approached down-river from the north, but this time without a living soul on board. It was drifting derelict with the current, much closer to the shore, but now there was nobody seated in it to steer it to the riverbank. Among the fishermen a man Péter Horváth, who by trade had been a greengrocer in the wholesale market until being pensioned off due to an accident, set off after the deserted watercraft in his own motor boat and caught the ‘Julia Fair’. Needless to say, this was made a matter for the police. It came to nothing, however—just one of countless inexplicable cases left to the ravages of time.
We have nothing to state in regard to a case which is left forever open, notwithstanding the fact that an explanation does exist insofar as the passageway hypothesis is correct. More specifically, these passageways from time to time perform a sort of respiratory action which is associated with a strong whirlpool. Sometimes so strong (albeit never witnessed) that it snatches water conveyances down into the depths and, upturning them in its gullet, so to speak spits them into the counter-river. As to what it might be like to boat as on the real Styx it is hardly something that anyone could report on. After all it is obvious, to be clear as clear can be, that the same inhalatory force under certain circumstances, bridling at these foreign bodies, or a couple of them, blows them out from itself, like Jonah was by the whale, by another passageway. Possibly that was what happened—that’s all.
On the other hand, an explanation is still needed for the faint underwater bell tolling which arises from a depth that is hard to estimate—possibly a Russian Orthodox bell—that on still summer evenings may be heard, leading Csepellers to raise their eyebrows questioningly as they prick up their ears in passing. Allegedly a Russian ship which was transporting a bell to Siberia once sank around there under circumstances that were never clarified. The ship was subsequently salvaged, but the heavy bell did not come to light. That is another story, however. A lock on the little Venetian gateway. For the time being.
Translated by: Tim Wilkinson
Tags: Attila Balázs