János Lackfi: HALF FULL


Then Magyar man downs his coffee, the clouds disperse, the pain wanes in his back and he coughs up all the gruff he had stuck in his throat. He suddenly recalls that his homeland is actually a country of wonder and anyone fortunate to live there has reason plenty to be proud. Its lovely landscape, rolling hills and strikingly symbolic endless plains are a constant inspiration to the nation’s poets who wax long and lyrical in a language entirely unintelligible to the rest of Europe and beyond! It might not have a sea to speak off, but it has got world-famous curative waters and then there’s Europe’s largest lake that the locals modestly describe as the “Hungarian sea”. And there are all those picturesque ruins perched high on hills (Hungary’s Austrians pals blew all the castle up to quell constant rebellion!) and underground caverns dripping with stalactites instead of oil. The people are hospitable, the wines are more than palatable and the food delectable though perhaps not instantly digestible. The football might be a touch off colour at the moment but any Hungarian worth his salt can still reel off the names of every player in the glorious “Golden Team” that kicked off in the World Cup final. All footie fans know the name Puskas wherever they were been born in the world and Hungarian swimmers, canoeists, water polo players and fencers are all at the cutting edge of their chosen sport.

The history of the Magyar nation is somewhat stormy but its founding king, Saint Stephen, on passing with no heir, left the kingdom in the hands of the Blessed Virgin and his heavenly diplomacy appeared to pay off! Medieval sovereign masters managed to take their archer ancestors off horseback and got them planting fields. They said this made a nice change from the slash and burn of battle. (As it happens, Magyar man still picks up a title or two at horseback archery championships held in distant destinations from Asia to Africa…) The country successfully survived for centuries in strong Christian statehood and slap bang in the middle of Europe surrounded by the super powers of the period. One particularly accomplished Magyar man in military command managed to rebuff an invasion by the Ottomans that impressed the practicing pontiff so much that he ordered bells to be rung at noon across the continent as a sign of thanks for his daring deed. King Matthias the Just, of whom legends speak, trained a punishing army and, like any true Renaissance ruler, also cobbled together a pretty impressive library, Magyar man of the time managed terribly well to fight off invaders like David with Goliath and held the massive Turkish armies at bay, so stopping them from trampling roughshod over the rest of Europe. Things got so upsetting under the Habsburgs and then the Soviets that the blister burst twice in relatively quick succession but failed to relieve the pain of penury. Then it all ended in an autumnal spring of 1956 when the world watched with a crocodile tear as feisty Hungarian fighters fell at the least post. And as far as the world was concerned, it had seen enough and no one as much as got up out of their seat.

Magyar folk music holds riches beyond compare collected for posterity by Kodály and Bartók with a long-playing record of inspiration and influence from its closest neighbours. This folksy flavor is still preserved in schools and continues to fill stadia with enthusiastic thousands. The country has given the world a staggering number of Nobel winners who may have been pushed by greater forces to leave their native land but still insisted on speaking that unfathomable language even in exile. Hungarian physicists at the core on the atomic programme in the United States clung on to their unusually accented alphabet back in Los Alamos and chatted amongst themselves in their Magyar mother tongue much to the outrage of their foreign hosts who christened them “Martians”. The golden age of Hollywood motion pictures is also studded with Magyar stars both in front and behind the camera.

Name any famous person you care to and it will soon turn out that he was in fact Hungarian or will be soon but just doesn’t know yet. Magyar man has also heard mention that this language is not actually related to Finnish as we were told in the beginning, but is in fact traceable right back to Sanskrit that makes it oldest on this planet. In fact, some say it comes from another planet and that, of course is Mars. Magyar man blinks in his shaving mirror and tells his reflection that there’s a rumour Buddha and Jesus Christs had Hungarian blood but, shhh, that one’s still a secret!

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