“And wet snow, and music, and nothing ever”

Poetry has been filling the week. This morning I recorded and submitted an entry–“Six Poems About Endings”–for The Missouri Review’s Miller Audio Prize. Today is the commemoration of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, so we have no school. (Boldog forradalom napot!) It also seems to be Home Repair Day; I heard sawing and hammering for a good two hours in the morning. After that, I was able to record and re-record for an hour or so. Then a neighbor’s stereo started to thump.

Speaking of interludes, my ninth-grade students finished A Midsummer Night’s Dream this week. Here is the Wall performing her monologue (“In this same interlude it doth befall / That I, one Snout by name, present a wall; / And such a wall, as I would have you think,  / That had in it a crannied hole or chink ….”).

midsummer final scene

The previous evening, at our school’s biennial gala performance of music, poetry, theater, and dance, a student from this same class recited János Arany’s poem “Él-e még az Isten?” which I hope to learn over time. There were many beautiful  performances that evening: Hungarian folk dancing and folk songs, classical guitar, rock bands, an brass band, improv comedy, and more.

Late this afternoon I watched a delightful twenty-minute film of Tomas Venclova reciting six of his poems and speaking in English about his work. As he recites his poems in Lithuanian, the screen shows English translations–two by me and four by Ellen Hinsey.

One of the poems ends, in English translation, “And wet snow, and music, and nothing ever.” (Hence the title of this post.)

What holds this all together is the blackbird at the top, not quite at the center, but not far from it either. I took the photo this afternoon when searching for a celebration that had ended two hours earlier. After some walking around–not in wet snow, but in wetter rain–with an enthusiastic neighbor, I came home to the quiet, which now was complete except for stray voices and footsteps.

Quiet doesn’t require completion; it thrives on slight imperfection. It isn’t total absence of sound that makes quiet; rather, it’s a wrapping into rest.


(Photograph by Endre Szabó.)

This morning, before five, I heard a bird song I had never heard before, or at least never noticed. I opened up the balcony door to hear more; the cats stepped outside and looked intently through the opening. The melody was slightly arpeggio-like; the sequence almost always ended in a high-pitched whistle, but no two phrases were identical. I recorded about thirty seconds of it (unfortunately there’s a machine noise too). When I played it back, I could hear the recording against the actual singing, which went on and on. For a long time I still heard it, until other sounds drowned it out.

I didn’t recognize the song, so I listened to various recordings. I believe that it may have come from a feketerigó (sometimes spelled as two words)–that is, a “black thrush,” known in English as a “common blackbird” or “Eurasian blackbird,” a species of true thrush. If so, then I might not have heard it before.

I thought about what it meant to hear this bird for the first time. Now there’s another reason to open the balcony door early in the morning.

I also thought back on an opinion piece I wrote eight years ago about teaching Thomas Hardy’s poem “The Darkling Thrush.” I objected (and still object) to the overemphasis on objectives and strategies in schools. I argued for going right into the poem, posing questions along the way. I hold to almost all of this; I would adjust the questions and observations but would teach the poem more or less the way I described. I revise one thing I said, though. At the time, I believed that students did not need to see any pictures or hear any sounds before reading the poem;  the poem would speak for itself. Now I think differently.

There is a difference between knowing the sound of a thrush and not knowing it. It isn’t just any bird song. It stops you in your tracks. If you know the sound, or one of the sounds, then the word “thrush” will bring those sounds to mind. If you don’t, then it won’t. Hardy knew the sound and expected his readers to know it too. Today I would play not just one, but several recordings of thrushes; I would encourage students to listen for them, if they lived near any.

How much a word can hold. Thrush, blackbird, feketerigó–these are just words for birds, until they become words for sounds, and beyond that, for the the encounter with the sounds, since any word, heard in its fullness, holds an encounter, except for those words that dismiss and disparage encounter, that reduce language itself. I have thought recently about how we live in a war of words–but it’s not just a battle of simplistic language against subtle language, or of crass words against noble ones. Anyone, no matter how rich in vocabulary, must stay alert to language in order to use it well. The “war” is against the forces, internal and external, that dull the alertness, that make language rushed or sluggish; imitative or solipsistic; crammed or empty; abusive or noncommittal. To use language well, you must seek not just words, but their histories, structures, and rhythms; both within and without you must seek them.

There is something to be learned from a bird. I mean this not in a naive or silly way. I don’t mean that we should go around imitating them, or that they hold any life solutions. I mean only that a birdsong can change a life slightly; you hear it, and from then on you listen for it (and reject those things that would not have let you listen before). Through the casting off, waiting, searching, and listening, you find your way into form.

The photograph of the blackbird looking in the mirror is by Endre Szabó. The video is by Liza Bakos.

“This majestical roof fretted with golden fire”

Teaching Hamlet to my tenth-grade students this morning, I spent some time on this passage (in Act 2, Scene 2), which appears differently in the various versions and editions:

My lord, we were sent for.

I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the King and queene: moult no feather. I have of late — but wherefore I know not — lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire — why, it appeareth no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me; no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

Hamlet puts on something of a show here, pretending to disclose his state of mind; even his irony has ironies. Using familiar expressions, ideas, clichés, he turns them over (and his visitors along with them), revealing their underside. Yet one of these phrases, “this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire,” sounds true. He sees the world in more than one way; far from dismissing it all, far from regarding the world as fakery and deceit, he holds both fire and dust. His thick mockery mixes with admiration, not of everyone, but of a few. He can distinguish true friends from false, and he keeps some things to himself, even when speaking them out loud.

Spring is coming, I had my first dream in Hungarian last night (incorrect Hungarian, but Hungarian all the same), and made my first joke in Hungarian today when wishing my students a “boldog szombat munkanapot,” a “joyous working Saturday.” Tomorrow is one of six “working Saturdays” in Hungary this year; in exchange for certain days off that combine with holidays and form long weekends, we are required to work (and attend school) on these specific dates. I was excused from coming in tomorrow, since I am leading services at my shul in Budapest (and am on the train now). I am not thrilled about the “szombat munkanapok” in general, but people have been generous and helpful, and I am grateful for being exempted this time. I won’t be able to take many of these days off–that wouldn’t be fair to my colleagues or students–but with advance notice, I can work out a plan. There’s just one more this spring; the rest come in the fall.

I took the photo from my window early this morning.


Memories of Miss Wing

miss wing

Virginia Wing (whom we knew as “Miss Wing”), one of the great directors of the Winsor School in Boston, died on Monday, February 5, 2018, at the age of 94. She had joined Winsor as a teacher in 1952; she led the school from 1963 to 1988. Here are a few of my memories.

In the winter of 1975–1976, my family visited the Winsor School in Boston to see Charlotte Elliott, a member of the Dutch Pipers’ Guild, conduct a music lesson with bamboo recorders that the students themselves had made. When living in the Netherlands the previous year, we had made our own recorders, which we had decorated with carvings and colors and played at many a gathering.

A few minutes into the visit, I knew I wanted to attend the school; it seemed like everything I had longed for. I was miserable at the junior high school in South Hadley, Mass., where nothing substantial was taught and where I dealt with daily bullying, vandalism, chaotic hallways, whistles, and screaming. Here not only were the halls tranquil, but in each room something interesting seemed to be happening. I saw students focusing on a Latin lesson (the school also offered Greek); some terrific piano playing spilled out of a practice room. (On a later visit, I met Debbie Boling, who would become my classmate and friend. She was holding piano music. I asked her whether she played piano, and she said, “Yes, and I want to play it forever and ever.”)

It would be difficult to attend, since it was expensive and far from home, but my parents and Miss Wing believed that it could happen. After I was admitted, they spoke several times about the arrangements. (I ended up living with friends of the family–first friends of friends, then my former elementary school principal–for the four years I was there, except for weekends and vacations.) Thus, even before matriculating, I began to know Miss Wing’s spark and kindness. Over the four years that I attended Winsor–I was there for grades 8–9 (1976–1978) and 11–12 (1979–1981), with Moscow in between–she, the teachers, and my classmates taught me about education itself.

I think back on the curriculum. We actually learned things; each lesson was devoted to the subject matter, which the teachers taught with insight and simplicity. There were no frills, gimmicks, or fads; we went to the heart of each matter. In English class, we discussed works of literature, bringing out details, passages, subtleties, meanings, and persistent questions. In math class, the teachers not only explained the concept of the lesson but challenged us to see where it could go. In Latin class, we developed an ear for grammar and later for Ovid and Virgil.

Miss Wing brought the school together twice a week for assemblies. I have seen assemblies at other schools, but nothing quite like these. The Small Chorus (which I joined in my senior year, after previous unsuccessful auditions) sang madrigals and other pieces as people entered and exited. Almost every week, Miss Wing gave a short talk on an ethical or intellectual principle; she spoke to us about the importance of putting our name to our writing, of crediting any sources we use, of avoiding plagiarism. She spoke of respecting each other, of appreciating people different from ourselves. She spoke of helping others, volunteering, stepping out of self-absorption and self-satisfaction. But these talks did not take up the entire assembly time; she also brought in performances and skits, from humorous faculty skits to poetry recitations to short plays and recitals.

Why were the assemblies so important? They brought us together not only for updates, but for art and learning. Not everyone enjoyed them or took them seriously, but they still brought us together, not just perfunctorily, but profoundly. I still remember some of the poems, skits, madrigals, and quips; during a reunion, I walked with a few fellow alumnae into the auditorium and marveled at how small it looked now. It had seemed so grand then, maybe because of what it held.

Miss Wing also gave memorable personal advice. Once I went to her with a complaint about a teacher who (in my mind) had been excessive in asking me how I was. I didn’t want that much personal attention. In just a few words–it was probably a five-minute meeting–Miss Wing helped me see things from another angle. I remember that conversation for the shift it brought about in my thinking.

Her opinions sometimes ruffled people, including me. But without someone so sharp and courageous, this Winsor could not have existed as it was. The school was not right for all students, or even for all times in one’s life. I thrived there, but in college I struggled with a less classical world. Suddenly confronted with radical feminism, discussions of race and sexuality, and more, I found myself unmoored. In my sophomore year, I wrote Miss Wing a long letter arguing that the school should help students contend with issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality. This was soon to happen anyway, without my influence; the school underwent many changes. I changed too; over time, I found strength and thrill in what I had learned there. Throughout social and personal upheavals, through the wild changes of the world, the books and ideas lived brightly; I returned again and again to Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Faulkner, O’Connor, Woolf. I reread The Glass Menagerie so many times that I know much of it by heart. I returned to sonnets, math theorems, historical documents, and passing insights from class discussions. I heard Purcell and Britten in my mind. This was not just reminiscence; these works came back with new urgency. Some twenty-five years after that sophomore-year letter, after several years as a public school teacher, I wrote Miss Wing another letter expressing my gratitude.

I remember how she would address me in the hallway: “Good morning,  Miss Senechal.” Impeccably dressed, with excellent posture, she showed us how to carry ourselves, not only physically, but in our entirety. I thank her for giving me something to live up to. While I have never attained her example, a sliver of it is now mine.


I learned about Miss Wing’s passing only this morning; since my classes don’t start today until 9:55, I took this time to write about her. I will not be able to attend the memorial this Sunday in Boston–my obligations here in Hungary, as well as financial constraints, prevent my going–but I will be thinking of her.

Photo Credit: The Winsor School, “Remembering Virginia Wing.”

A Street with Gold in It


The Hungarian word aranyos means both “cute, dear, charming” and “golden” (or, more precisely, “having or containing gold”).* Here, on the street sign, it probably has the latter meaning, but with the cat perched on top of the post, it switches back to the first. I was thrilled to take the picture at that exact moment. The cat jumped down immediately afterward.

According to Miles Lambert-Gócs, author of Tokaji Wine: Fame, Fate, Tradition, several historical Tokaj vineyards had the word aranyos in their names, “whether as a euphemism for quality; or an allusion to sunny exposure; or even a suggestion of the old Hegyalja myths about vines containing gold.”

So here we have a street containing gold; at any moment, something beautiful can occur, a fleck in the air.

Speaking of authors, I sent my book manuscript to the editor just before 8 p.m. on Thursday evening. I should be hearing about a title soon; I have made several suggestions and will see what the editor and board choose.

My Purim was quiet–because I had no way of making it to Budapest on Wednesday evening, I celebrated at home by chanting Chapters 7 and 8 of the Megillat Esther. I now have much to prepare for next Shabbat–melodies, instruments (guitar and recorder), transitions, texts, and trope (which should really be spelled trop).

It is exciting to finish a stage of a long project (in this case, the book) and emerge from the den of the mind. I think the Mole in The Wind and the Willows:

It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said ‘Bother!’ and ‘O blow!’ and also ‘Hang spring-cleaning!’ and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gavelled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, ‘Up we go! Up we go!’ till at last, pop! his snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

Out in the air, I find people playing in the snow and ice, frolicking over the most recent Arctic burst. The other day I saw two kids breaking ice in the river so that they could watch it float downstream.


Snowmen and snowwomen stand staunch and proud:


It isn’t just that people look for ways to cheer themselves up in cold weather. Snow by its nature invites play; you can frolic in it, make things out of it, playfight with it, make angels in it, sled or ski through it, and enjoy the sound of it crunching under your feet. Snow is never far from water and ice; when out in the snow, you may hear ice breaking and water dripping. The seasons hint at each other.

Work and play speak to each other; one without the other grows wan. In the density of my deadline crunch, I found little jokes; walking around outside, I get ideas for the classroom and for writing. Certain kinds of play (including music, acting, and sports) require intensive work; they are recreation in a profound sense of the word. That is, through learning and performing something, you create it all over again. But even everyday errands (a walk to the store, for instance) can scintillate the air.

That is where the gold can be found: in the work and recreation, in the walking down a street, in the ear for things melting and creaking.


*Aranyos is not to be confused with arányos, “proportional, well-proportioned.” It appears that the “golden ratio” is sometimes called az arany arány.

I made a few minor edits to this piece after posting it.

Now I Really Live Here


Imagine these three things in a single week: finishing my manuscript before tomorrow (it’s all done except for a final endnote check and a few last touches); administering an English oral exam, from morning to late afternoon, to prospective students; and dealing with a paperwork emergency (a rather ordinary occurrence).

My colleagues, as well as the school’s financial officers, the principal, and the CETP, have been helping me with the paperwork logistics, which, over the past few months, have improved my labyrinthine skills and sensibilities. Despite confusion, runarounds, exclamations of “what?” and “miért?” the sense of absurdity, and what have you, we are making steady progress: I have a bank account, residence permit, tax number, health insurance number, and various other things that took a while and seemed mildly impossible. I am finally getting paid. There have been side benefits too; somehow, through all this, though I don’t know how or where, I learned the word következő.

Most countries have bureaucracy, I suspect, but it’s different in each place. In the U.S., services and offices are streamlined but overloaded; there’s always a number to call, but you might spend an hour on the phone, on repeated occasions, trying to get through to a person (who might be in Singapore). Here in Szolnok (and, from what I gather, in Hungary generally), you can’t resolve much by phone. You must go to the individual offices with all your paperwork, speak with someone, show proof of your existence and legitimacy, learn that you are missing a required form, come back with it the next day, proceed in this manner for a while, finally get everything signed, proclaim your relief over finishing it all–only to be told, out of the blue, weeks or months later, that something from a few months ago never got done, that it’s an emergency now, and that you must go to three different offices to resolve the matter. At first this just seems par for the course; the first three or four (or five or six) forms and office visits don’t rattle you. But after a few months, you finally grasp, with sinking mind, that it is part of the local human condition. Everyone goes through it in some way. Fortunately people help each other; not only at school, but at the offices themselves, I have been treated with goodwill.

Speaking of goodwill, I have been meaning to mention my gift hat. One day, when I was leaving school, one of the receptionists pulled me aside and handed me a hat; she said the other receptionist had brought it in for me. Apparently they had seen me coming in hatless in the cold. Here it is (and here’s the lovely faculty room).

As for the photo at the top, I took it in Buda; I include it here partly for the yellow tape (a distant relative of “red tape“), partly for the pensive couple and hooded crow. The crow was just taking off; you can see the fanned tail and rapid wings.

I can’t say anything about the entrance examination, except that it’s great to participate in them and think that some of these students will enter the ninth grade here next year. We won’t know the admissions decisions until April; the process is centralized and complicated, somewhat like high school admissions in New York City.

There will be more soon, once I am past the crunch. All in all, the days are long and full.

Taking a Walk Without Time

Sometimes when I’m busy, I forget to take walks for enjoyment. It seems that I don’t have time. But time doesn’t always have to be “had”; sometimes you can do without it. It’s even better that way; you’re not wasting it, since you aren’t in a position to dole it out at all, to yourself or anyone else. In this way I managed to take a walk through the wet snowfall of Szolnok. “Új nemzedék” (above) means “new generation”; “zeneiskola” (below), “music school.”


I also passed by the beautiful old synagogue (now a gallery) and crossed halfway over the Tiszavirág híd (Mayfly Bridge). It felt like the first day in Szolnok, only snowy and wet, with more Hungarian whirling around in my mind.

That leads to the point of this post. Teaching all day, and then working on the book in the evening, I have been so steeped in English that my progress in Hungarian has been slow. The language barrier has started to get to me; people are kind and generous with translation, but I know that I will not understand the country, or fully take part in life here, until I can speak the language. To learn the language, I have to immerse myself; to immerse myself, I have to finish the book!

But the book is not just some task to complete; it has been at the center of my life. It was my reason for leaving Columbia Secondary School in June 2016; I needed stretches of time for it. I drew on savings to write it, since my only income was from the Dallas Institute’s Summer Institute. Day after day, I put thought, research, work, and afterthought into it. The final revisions can be the most important ones, since the pressure gives the words a healthy scare.

Nor will I be “done” when the book is sent in; there will still be proofreading, indexing, and much more, not to mention the book release party and other readings. But I will have a little more time to take long bike rides, speak and study Hungarian, go to plays and concerts, and get to know people. I have committed to another full year here–except for a month in the summer–so there will be time for these things.

A few people have asked me whether I might tutor them or someone else in English (for pay). It’s supposedly lucrative work, but not appealing right now. The more time I spend speaking English, the less I will hear Hungarian. Even a tutoring exchange (English and Hungarian) would not be satisfying for me, since I am not asking for a tutor. I do not do well with excessively structured time; I need some time for exploring and thinking.

This brings me back to the subject of time: needing certain kinds of time, not “having” time, making do without time. Sometimes when we speak of time, we really refer to form; “not having time” for something really means excluding it from our form. Sometimes the form breaks open, and suddenly that thing for which there was no time ends up in time, a thing taken up and done, a person met.

I end with Robert Frost’s sonnet “Meeting and Passing“:

As I went down the hill along the wall
There was a gate I had leaned at for the view
And had just turned from when I first saw you
As you came up the hill. We met. But all
We did that day was mingle great and small
Footprints in summer dust as if we drew
The figure of our being less than two
But more than one as yet. Your parasol
Pointed the decimal off with one deep thrust.
And all the time we talked you seemed to see
Something down there to smile at in the dust.
(Oh, it was without prejudice to me!)
Afterward I went past what you had passed
Before we met, and you what I had passed.



Life here in Szolnok gives me lots to ponder. For example, I pass by the word gépkölcsönző and ask myself, what could that mean? I look it up and find out that it means “tool rental shop”–a place to remember, as I might need a drill one day.

I learned today that a possible Hungarian word for “contrariwise” (congratulations again to the international contest winners!) is ellenkezőleg. This came from a visit to the bookstore, where I found and purchased a Hungarian translation of Through the Looking-Glass. This means a translation not only of “contrariwise,” but of “Jabberwocky“!

Nézsonra járt, nyalkás brigyók,
Turboltak, purrtak a zepén,
Nyamlongott mind a pirityók,
Bröftyent a mamsi plény….

I started reading and could not resist skipping ahead to Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Subidam és Subidu), the White Knight (a Fehér Huszár), and other favorite characters and parts. I look forward to reading it in and out of sequence.

I started writing an quasi-absurdist mini-play in faltering Hungarian (something to do when you don’t know much of the language), but haven’t gotten too far yet, since I have so much else to do. Here’s the opening dialogue. The characters’ names,  inspired by various travels, are Vasútállomás and Pályaudvar (Train Station and Railway Station).

Vasútállomás: Tovább?
Pályaudvar: Tovább.
Vasútállomás: Kártya van?
Pályaudvar: Van.
Vasútállomás: Egy ember azt mondta, hogy…
Pályaudvar: Mit?
Vasútállomás: Valami csengő. Nem tudok semmit.
Pályaudvar: Győződjön meg arról.

Vasútállomás: Természetesen. De nincs időm.
Pályaudvar: Vár a buszra?
Vasútállomás: A busz gyakran megáll itt. De ez nem bizonyít semmit.
Pályaudvar: Miért ne?
Vasútállomás: A bizonytalanság kissé boldoggá tesz.
Pályaudvar: A boldogság néha kissé boldoggá tesz.
Vasútállomás: Az igaz. Viszontlátásra!
Pályaudvar: Miért viszlát?
Vasútállomás: Nem tudok annyit magyarul folytatni ezen a ponton.
Pályaudvar: Ó, már értem. Viszontlátásra.
Vasútállomás: Úgy beszélsz, mint egy igazi pályaudvar.


“For nowadays the world is lit by lightning!”


All weekend I had been working on my book and meeting other deadlines; by afternoon today, I thought of staying home and continuing, instead of going to Budapest to see The Glass Menagerie (Üvegfigurák in Hungarian) at the Radnóti Színház. In the beginning of January, a colleague had told me about this production, and I had reserved a ticket, but now it seemed I couldn’t afford the time.

Then I thought: “What are you thinking? This is one of your favorite plays, you’ve been looking forward to it for a month, so go!”

I rushed out the door, got to the train just on time, and went to the play, the first play I have seen in Hungary. I have attended an opera and about six concerts, but no play until tonight. My expectations were high and low at once; I had never seen a production of The Glass Menagerie that I liked. I had read the play many times, from my early teenage years onward; I had imagined it on stage; yet actual performances (stage and film) had  disappointed me. They tried too hard; they forced the play into something it wasn’t. The dreamy, melancholic quality got lost. I liked John Malkovich as Tom, but that was it.

Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie is, in Tom’s words, a memory play, and the play itself is memory; the stage descriptions are as important (and at times as lyrical) as the lines. The plot seems simple: an impoverished and broken family contends with dreams. Amanda wishes for a gentleman caller for her daughter, Laura, who lives in her own world of glass animals and the Victrola. Tom, Laura’s brother, longs to escape from the trap of home. But the play has longer action, through Tom’s recollections.

This performance not only hit the right notes but surprised me. Tom (Ádám Porogi) was superb from the start; he came out onto the fire escape, spoke directly to us, and took us into the first scene. The stage set was the way I had imagined it, more or less, with screens that Tom opened and closed, and a semicircular cord curtain surrounding the dining room. The glass menagerie was in a glass case, and when Laura took her animals out, you could see them glitter in the light.

Tom was often on the sidelines, saying Amanda’s (and sometimes Laura’s) words just before she said them. This is not in the written play, but it worked perfectly. Sometimes it seemed like mockery, sometimes like old knowledge (he had heard his mother say these things so many times), sometimes like memory.

Rozi Lovas’s interpretation of Laura was the subtlest, funniest, and quirkiest I had seen. This wasn’t the Laura I had imagined over the years, but I loved her. When playing with her glass animals, she made squeaky voices; when not caught in her mother’s gaze, she flounced awkwardly before the mirror. This made her romantic disappointment all the more heartbreaking; she had shown more than usual to him, even sang with him for a few seconds (in a delightful duet), only to be let down and left behind.

Amanda (Adél Kováts) was frail, expressive, and magnificent, not the towering belle I had seen in productions before. She lived in fantasy, small to others but large to herself. She kept trying to gather up her dignity, kept losing it, kept gathering it again. I loved how she would throw things now and then at the portrait of her husband, the one who had fallen “in love with long distance.” She spoke quickly but melodically; she commandeered but knew her own defeat.

Jim (Dániel Viktor Nagy) was just right–ordinary, a bit carried away with himself, not a terrible person, but not capable of seeing what he had brought about.

The light was beautiful–dim light, bright light, green light, candlelight, changing and turning like the records in the Victrola.

But there was nothing like the catharsis at the end. I had not understood the final scene in this way until tonight. Down comes the rain; Tom gets drenched, and then he speaks from a later time, looking back. His mask has come off; throughout the play, he had tried to distance himself from his sister and mother and from the action; now he admitted that he could not leave Laura behind, that no matter where he went, he saw her. Ádám Porogi brought such rawness into this that it became, for me, the play’s recognition and reversal.

Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger–anything that can blow your candles out.

[Laura bends over the candles.]

For nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura–and so goodbye. …

[She blows the candles out.]

All of this was in Hungarian, but I could follow it; Tom’s final admission broke everything open, like the broken unicorn. I left full of the play, not only as I had read it, but as it was performed tonight. I am glad that this was my first play here; I don’t think I will forget it easily. Thanks to the Radnóti Színház for this exceptional performance.


I added a paragraph and photo to this piece after posting it; later I corrected the quoted text.

“Bless thee, Bottom! bless thee! thou art translated.”

My ninth- and tenth-grade classes at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium have been reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet, respectively. This week, the ninth graders read Act 3, Scene 1; the tenth graders, Act 1, Scene 3. (It’s the only time we’ll have this symmetry, I think.) In preparation for Bottom’s “translation,” I visited Maszka in Budapest, where I found a simple donkey mask (not the rooster mask shown below).

For Midsummer, the students not only read the parts but act them out, moving around the room; the action brings meaning to the words. We discuss the text briefly as well. For Hamlet, students read the parts dramatically and also spend time with specific passages. Eventually the two approaches will converge; if everything works out, we will give some kind of Shakespeare presentation toward the end of the year.

Here below, to the left, Snout speaks to Bottom; to the right, Titania wakes up.

The next two pictures show a different cast. To the left, Bottom returns to his rehearsal, with Puck following behind. To the right, Titania wakes up.

Every time I teach these plays, I find them “translated”; no two readings or discussions are identical. Here in Szolnok, there has been insight after insight, surprise after surprise.


I took all of the photos; the classroom photos are posted with the students’ permission.