Leaving Instagram

Or trying to leave, at least. It keeps asking for my password and rejecting whatever I type in, but when I request a new password, no email arrives. Anyway, I gave Instagram a try. I would be fine with it if it weren’t for the “stories.” They are like Facebook stories, but much more imposing, a key part of the Instagram experience. What’s more, they are fake, not because of the people who post them, not because of their content (which can be interesting, moving, beautiful, funny, etc.), but because of the way they work. They go by much too fast. And then you’re given just a handful of “reactions” to choose from. You can also type in a comment, but that seems like an imposition somehow. Probably no one cares what you do. But I would rather live in a world where things matter at least a little, and where I offer more than just a flame or handclap emoji.

I feel similarly about Facebook, but at least on Facebook I can get links, event information, etc. and leave a real comment now and then. Instagram is set up to look glamorous and ephemeral: hints flash by, and if you don’t get them, you’re the one at fault. I think I can miss out on that party. Enough good things will still come my way.

Translations Published in Asymptote, and More

This is one of those glistening days. First of all, a milestone and an honor: Asymptote is the first to publish my translations of Csenger Kertai’s poems. “Redemption” and “I,”, as well as the original poems and a recording, appear in the January 2022 issue, which came out today. I am thrilled, not only because these are the first published English translations of Kertai’s poems, not only because I started this translation project last July and have been enjoying every bit of it, but also because Asymptote is a journal I admire and avidly read. The January 2022 issue is full of enticing pieces, including an interview with George Szirtes!

(How can a milestone glisten? you may ask. Well, it can. Suppose it has been raining. Then the sun comes out. All sorts of stones glisten then, not only milestones. But milestones glisten symbolically too, in the mind.)

Csenger Kertai will be one of the featured guests at the March 20 Pilinszky event, which is not so far away now. I have enhanced and updated the website and spend much of my time thinking about the poems we will discuss. One of these is Pilinszky’s “Egy szenvedély margójára” (“Onto the Margin of a Passion”). I will write some thoughts about it here soon.

I am at a café in Budapest, catching up on things before heading to the Turbina to hear Pandóra Projekt. (I can’t stay for Damara; I have to head back to Szolnok before it gets too late.) Before heading over to Turbina, I am going to tune in to WFMU’s Continental Subway. (Update: David Dichelle, the DJ of Continental Subway, played Platon Karataev’s “Elmerül”!)

Tonight at midnight Platon Karataev’s third album, Partért kiáltó, is coming out! Along with the album, the band is releasing an illustrated lyrics book (pictured and linked here on the left). They will have their record release show on the 28th; I will be staying over in Budapest so that I don’t have to worry about catching a late-night train back to Szolnok afterwards.

This is just a fraction of the things happening in my life, which in turn is a tiny sliver of lives and deeds in the world. But as far as slivers go, this is pretty good.

I added a little to this piece after posting it. And an update: Partért kiáltó is out!

Writing About Music

Writing about music is both impossible and appealing. I have learned over time that I would not want to be a music reviewer. The pressure to churn out words when I have little or nothing to say would range from unpleasant to detestable. If I don’t like the music or am not truly taken by it, I don’t want to have to say something dutiful and bland about it; if I do love it, I need varying amounts of time to put words together, and sometimes can’t at all. But when I do want to say something about music, I enjoy and value the challenge. Others have brought music to me in this way; it’s possible that I am doing the same now and then.

The other problem with being a reviewer is that you’re supposed to be “objective,” a losing proposition when it comes to music. How on earth can you be objective with music? If you take it into your life, you already have a relationship with it.

Years ago, I almost had a music essay published in a San Francisco weekly magazine. The editor liked it and started working with me to bring it into final form. Then I made two mistakes. First, I was so eager to make it perfect that I kept sending him new edits, instead of taking my time and waiting for his response. Second, just as the piece was reaching its final version, I informed him that I had accompanied this musician in concert that very week. This had come out of a very new acquaintanceship with the musician—just a couple of weeks old—that later grew into a beautiful friendship; we are friends to this day. But the editor assumed that I was writing out of some personal bias, and killed the piece. That stung and felt unfair for a long time. It is common in the music world for music writers to know musicians personally (or to be musicians themselves). Moreover, all of this had happened very recently; a week earlier, there would have been no conflict of interest at all. To make things still worse, another musician—a rather famous indie dude, not particularly known for his kindness—got involved and apologized to the editor on the first musician’s behalf, to clear her name, as if I had done something terrible. In retrospect, all of this was of so little importance….

It’s possible that the editor killed the piece for other reasons, not the apparent ones. But I learned two (nearly opposite) lessons from the experience.

The first is that when it comes to music writing, objectivity is neither possible nor necessary. It is good to know what you’re talking about and to be able to say it well. It is good to avoid hyperbole and meaningless praise (or snideness). But the best music writing comes from those who love the music they describe, who want to bring this music to others.

The second is that a person who loves music (and writes about it) can and should be professional about it. By that I mean staying collected in some way, not turning into a puddle. This person has something to offer and should treat that with as much care and respect as the music itself. There is no self-aggrandizement in that, just dignity. Back then, my two mistakes were probably (1) bothering the editor with two many successive edits, when it was possible to just hold on for a little while; and (2) bringing up the concert, which probably wasn’t necessary, given how recent a development it was, and given that no one would have cared or complained. I could have just focused on the piece.

That was over twenty years ago. Once in a while the episode vaguely stings, but I have long moved beyond it. I have continued writing about music over the years, mostly on my blog and on my own terms. But a new music essay of mine—one I am particularly fond of—has been accepted for publication. If all goes well, it will appear in the next couple of months, and I will announce it when it happens. If all goes well, it will be a great event in my life, not only because of the essay itself, but because I see that it’s possible to learn from and build something out of an old mistake.

Painting: Little Red Radio by Johnnie Stanfield.

Song Series #17: Songs That Pare You Down

Robert Frost wrote in one of his notebooks, “There is such a thing as sincerity. It is hard to define but is probably nothing but your highest liveliness escaping from a succession of dead selves. Miraculously. It is the same with illusion. Any belief you sink into when you should be leaving it behind is an illusion. Reality is the cold feeling on the end of the trouts nose from the stream that runs away.”

There are songs that do this: that take you through the stream, over the stones. You drop things as you whisk along: tasks, worries, ambitions, longings, even things you thought you couldn’t do without. Minutes later, months, years later, when you come back to them, you drop things all over again. There isn’t much to say about them—or rather, there is, but the words get dropped along the way. The songs do their own work.

So this time I won’t say anything about them; I’ll just name them here and include a link to the music.

Platon Karataev, “Elmerül” (from their album, Partért kiáltó, which will be released this Friday, January 21):

Cz.K. Sebő, “Debris” (the final song of the 2021 album How could I show you the beauty of a life in vain?):

Granfaloon Bus, “Beggar Fatigue,” the first song on their Lucky Curtains album (released in 2003).

Hannah Marcus, “Pain Isn’t Real” (from Meg Reichardt’s 2021 Holiday Recording Party):

And finally for today, though this list is far from finished, “timeawakenness” by Art of Flying, from their 2002 album Garden of Earthly Delights.

Art credit: James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold (1875).

For the other posts in the Song Series, go here.

Four of the five artists in this piece are also finished in my “Listen Up” series—in fact, they are the four I have featured so far. I have wanted to feature Granfaloon Bus as well, but most of their songs aren’t available online at this point. Two albums are available on Spotify, but when you embed something from there, you only get an excerpt. So I will have to pick someone else for the next installment of Listen Up.

What is Pilinszky’s “korlát”?

I have been thinking about Pilinszky’s poem “Trapéz és korlát” and how the word “korlát” should be translated. Ted Hughes and János Csokits translated the title as “Trapeze and Parallel Bars” and the word “korlátain” in the penultimate line as “parallel bars” too. I am not convinced that this is right; “korlát” can also mean “railing,” “limit,” and more. In bringing this up, I do not mean to disparage the translators, neither of whom is alive today. Inaccuracies and imprecisions are part of any translation, and this particular one has raw, vibrant beauty.

The poem describes a playful but tormented love relationship, up in the skies, that neither person can resolve or escape. There’s laughter, hitting, weaving, plunging, chasing. Flying on the trapeze, plunging. Falling into the net of stars. The “korlát” (apparently) does not come up at first. But in the second stanza, there is a ridge or ledge: the “sugárzó párkány” (“radiant ledge”) that the two run along. I associate this with the “korlát”—but more about that in a moment.

The last stanza contemplates the state of things:

Most kényszerítlek, válaszolj,
mióta tart e hajsza?
Megalvadt szememben az éj.
Ki kezdte és akarta?
Mi lesz velem, s mi lesz veled?
Vigasztalan szeretlek!
Ülünk az ég korlátain,
mint elitélt fegyencek.

Hughes and Csokits translate this as follows:

Now I force you to answer:
when did this hunt begin?
Night has clotted in my eyes.
Who started it? Who wanted it? What
will happen to me? What will happen to you?
I love you unconsoled.
We crouch on the sky’s parallel bars –
like convicts condemned.

The problem with “parallel bars” is quintuple. First, it changes the picture of the acrobatics in the poem. If there are parallel bars, then supposedly the two lovers are swinging around them at some point, in addition to running on the ridge and flying on the trapeze. But there’s no suggestion of this earlier in the poem, and it’s a bit difficult to picture.

Second, convicts don’t typically sit on parallel bars. The image is jarring to me. That in itself doesn’t mean it’s wrong—Pilinszky’s poems have surprising images—but I think a different translation would bring out the weight of the ending.

Third, the phrase has too many syllables. It crowds both the poem’s title and its penultimate line.

Fourth, “ridges,” “railings,” or “limits” would be much more fitting, as it would suggest that the lovers are outcasts, unable to reconcile with themselves or find a place in the world. It’s curious that “korlát” is singular in the title but plural at the end. But there are possible reasons for this too.

Fifth, “korlát” has many definitions and associations; “parallel bars” is so specific that it shuts some of the other possible meanings out. Parallel bars are associated strictly with gymnastics.

I brought this question to my students; I was curious to find out what they would think, since they are all native speakers of Hungarian. Some of them took this up eagerly. One class agreed with me that “parallel bars” was wrong. The other class more or less agreed as well, but made a few additional observations. One student said he found “parallel bars” awkward but understood why Hughes and Csokits had chosen it. Parallel bars look like prison bars, he explained, if you rotate them ninety degrees. The convicts, being condemned, would be found behind bars. All the same, he found the phrase unnecessarily cumbersome; “bars” would have been adequate.

Regarding the relation between the “párkány” (ledge) and the “korlátok,” another student suggested that these convicts were sitting not only on the edges of the sky, but on the edges of reality. That comes close to my understanding of the poem and brings even more out of it. It is not only about tormented love that has no resolution. It has to do with taking part in something that bewilders you: not knowing what is going on, just knowing that it is. That in itself is the “korlát.”

In other words, the “korlát,” as I understand it, has at least a double meaning: a railing or physical boundary on the one hand, and an existential limit on the other. What I do not see is parallel bars.

That in turn reminds me of the ending of “Egyenes labirintus” (“Straight Labyrinth”):

nem tudom,
és mégis, hogyha valamit tudok,
hát ezt tudom, e forró folyosót,
e nyílegyenes labirintust, melyben
mind tömöttebb és mind tömöttebb
és egyre szabadabb a tény, hogy röpülünk.

In Géza Simon’s translation (which also opens up many questions):

I don’t know,
and yet, if there is something I know,
I know this blazing corridor,
this labyrinth straight as an arrow,
the heavier and heavier,
exhilarating fact of our fall.

Painting: Trapeze by H. James Hoff.

I made an addition to this piece after posting it.

“Vayhi yadav emuna ad bo hashames”

Today I chanted Chapter 17 of Exodus. This is where the children of Israel rail against Moses because there is no water, Moses asks God what to do, and God commands him to smite the rock in Horeb. (This contrasts markedly with a different episode in which Moses is commanded to speak to a rock but hits it instead.) Moses obeys the command, and we are led to assume that water comes out of the rock.

Then the focus shifts to Amalek, who fights against the Israelites in Rephidim. Here Moses commands Joshua to go and fight Amalek while he, Moses, stands with Aaron and Hur at the top of the hill. The chapter ends with the famous verses in which God commands Moses to “write this for a memorial in the book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” Much has been said and asked about this apparent paradox of remembrance and obliteration.

And I imagine that much has been said about what I am going to bring up. I see many parallels between the two stories. In both, there is a conflict: first, between the people of Israel and Moses (and God), and second, between Amalek and the people of Israel.

In both, there is a command: in the first, God commands Moses, and in the second, Moses commands Joshua.

In both, the rod plays a key role: in the first, Moses smites the rock with the rod, and in the second, Moses holds the rod up (to the best of his ability).

In both, the place is given a name in commemoration of the struggle. In the first case, “the name of the place was called Massah, and Meribah, because of the striving of the children of Israel, and because they tried the LORD, saying: ‘Is the LORD among us, or not?'” In the second, “Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Adonai-nissi. And he said: ‘The hand upon the throne of the LORD: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.'”

But then come the differences. First, the difference of enemy. Amalek is an absolute enemy; there is nothing to be done with him but to defeat and obliterate him, and to inscribe the memorial in the book. The people of Israel, in contrast, are not the enemy; only their stubbornness and impatience is. Their question ‘Is the LORD among us, or not?’ is still asked to this day. Anyone can sympathize with it.

The other difference lies in the one giving the commands. In the first case, it is God; in the second, Moses. As it turns out, Moses needs not only the help of God, but the help of other humans. My favorite verse in the entire chapter is verse 12:

יב  וִידֵי מֹשֶׁה כְּבֵדִים, וַיִּקְחוּ-אֶבֶן וַיָּשִׂימוּ תַחְתָּיו וַיֵּשֶׁב עָלֶיהָ; וְאַהֲרֹן וְחוּר תָּמְכוּ בְיָדָיו, מִזֶּה אֶחָד וּמִזֶּה אֶחָד, וַיְהִי יָדָיו אֱמוּנָה, עַד-בֹּא הַשָּׁמֶשׁ.12 But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.

The word for “steady” here is “emuna,” which also means “faith,” “trust.” (It is a noun, but here it takes on an adjectival sense.) Moses needs help to keep the rod up in the air, but with that help, he has all the steadiness, all the faith and trust, that he needs.

I imagine that someone, somewhere, has interpreted Moses’s faltering hands as faltering faith. In that case, there’s an even deeper parallel in the chapter: between the Israelites in the first story and Moses in the second. The meaning might be that everyone falters, everyone needs help. But that feels a little too pat. Moses is giving everything he can; the Israelites, presumably, are not. What I understand from this chapter is that even the greatest get tired, even the greatest falter, but they allow themselves to be lifted. Maybe that’s part of greatness: letting yourself be lifted.

Hebrew text and translation courtesy of Mechon Mamre.

Painting: John Everett Millais, Victory O Lord! (1871)

Keeping Time

The winter break was close to ideal. I had two warm invitations to homes, spent lots of time reading, writing, preparing for the Pilinszky event, listening to music, playing cello, resting, and thinking, and went to three concerts (Jazzékiel, Kolibri, and Idegen/Esti Kornél). There were stretches of quiet time with nowhere to rush to, no deadlines to meet except for my own. Many Hungarians assume that a life like this must be lonely. But no, I thrive in these conditions: for instance, right now. I got up at 4:30, and the sun has not come up yet. Two hours, so far, of quiet and dark. I love company too, in good measure.

I came upon the above painting by chance (by Sally Sharp, a painter I had never heard of before) when looking for something else. It reminds me of Cz.K. Sebő’s song “Got Lost” (the first of three interludes on his album How could I show you the beauty of a life in vain?). I have listened to the album many times now and keep looking forward to the next time. There’s so much more I want to listen to, too, but this is how I tend to read and listen: over and over, and then slowly making my way to other things.

On December 31 I re-recorded the first of my five Pilinszky cello covers. This is the third attempt and the best of the three. I intend to record them all—whether by myself, at home, or with someone else’s assistance. But I like how this came out in terms of tone and mood.

Tomorrow school resumes. I will try to keep some of this restfulness, but the next few months will be fairly intense. I am planning a Shakespeare festival, scheduled for April 22, with the Verseghy Ferenc Könyvtár (the public library). We don’t know for sure whether it will be possible to hold it, but given that it will be fairly small, we should be able to work it out, unless we enter a new Covid lockdown. The most important thing is to help my students prepare Shakespeare scenes, sonnets, and songs. If we have the content (which won’t be wasted in any case), the rest will come together.

And a month before that, the Pilinszky event will take place! Lots of people have shown interest on Facebook, but there’s no telling until the event itself how many people will attend. In any case, now is the time for me to step up the invitations, in addition to continuing with the preparations. You, too, can invite people. We welcome anyone interested in poetry, songs and songwriting, translation, languages, Hungarian, and Pilinszky himself.

That’s in addition to regular teaching, Folyosó, translations, writing, and much more. On April 12, my translation of Gyula Jenei’s Mindig más will appear! (Publication was originally scheduled for February, but there were some delays.) Also, very soon, six poems by Csenger Kertai, in my English translation, will appear (two apiece) in Asymptote, Literary Imagination, and Literary Matters.

Now the sun is up, though dimly. Time for me to go on to other things. First of all, because it’s on my mind, and because I might not have time or presence of mind for this over the coming weeks, I want to watch the first of Laurie Anderson’s Norton Lectures. A friend has been recommending them for months, but I kept missing them while they were going on. Now they can all be watched online. Happy New Year to all!

Art credit: Sally Sharp, “Walkin Out” (oil/cold wax).

“My eyes, / two eyes, bounce: my salvation”

I have been spending a lot of time with Pilinszky over the break: reading several poems carefully each day, reading his prose, reading about him, reading the poet Tara Bergin’s wonderful doctoral thesis, Ted Hughes and the Literal: A study of the relationship between Ted Hughes’s translations of Pilinszky and his intentions for Crow (Newcastle University, 2013). One question that puzzles me is: why did Hughes believe he knew what the “literal” actually was? Bergin explains that he means something different by “literal” than many do; for him, a literal translation is one that is naked, foreign-sounding, unadorned, as well as accurate. But when it comes to Pilinszky, your interpretation of a single word (which may have multiple possible meanings) will affect your entire understanding of what is happening in the poem.

I was pondering and pondering the last stanza of his magnificent poem “Kráter”:

Úgy érint elutasításod,
ez a parázna, kőbeírott suhintás,
hogy tekintetem – két kavics –
azóta is csak gurul és gurul
egy hófehér kráterben. Két szemem,
két szem pattog: az üdvösségem.

Katalin N. Ullrich translates the stanza as follows:

I feel your rejection,
this wanton swishing set in stone so
that my eyes – like two pebbles –
have been rolling ever since
in a white crater.  My eyes,
two eyes snap: my salvation.

Here’s Ted Hughes’s rendition:

Your rejection has affected me,
this adultery slash inscribed in stone,
so that ever since
my look—two pebbles—
rolls and rolls
in a snow-white crater. My eyes,
two eyes, bounce: my salvation.

I like the first translation better for the first two lines, and Hughes better for the rest, but to figure this out, I first had to figure out what was going on with the rolling pebbles, especially the “snap” or “bounce.” The verb “pattog” can mean “snap, bounce, crackle, sputter, sparkle.” But when does this “pattog” happen? During the rolling, afterwards, or sometime in the future? Both translators leave out the word “csak,” “just,” which to me seems very important: the image of the pebbles just rolling and rolling (“csak gurul és gurul”). So the bounce, snap, or sputter must happen at a different point. When is this?

Another important word here is “két” (two), which occurs three times in the stanza and is thus emphatic. The gaze or glance, “tekintetem,” is singular, but then we have “két kavics” (two pebbles), “két szemem” (my two eyes), and “két szem” (two eyes). “Szem” can also mean a speck or grain of sand; this would help explain the near-repetition of “két szemem” and “két szem.” Basically these two eyes, pebbles, or specks are rolling down.

I somehow wended my way to the physics of marbles in a cone—black hole simulations, in fact—and there it was! The marbles roll and roll as they go down, but then, at the narrowest part, they start to collide with each other, and snap, and bounce, and crackle. This video brought tears to my eyes; I thought, this must be it!

So the last stanza describes a kind of feverish descent of the soul down a funnel-like crater (maybe a volcanic crater), where the gaze is so lost after the other person’s rejection that it just rolls and rolls, until it hits such a low and narrow point that a collision happens; this collision, this instantaneous break, becomes salvation. Antal Kuklay, a retired canon of the Archidiocese of Eger and a scholar of Pilinszky’s work, sees something similar—he likens the downward rolling to a state of spiritual darkness—but in his interpretation, the “snap” marks the beginning of a rolling back upward, toward salvation. I don’t think there’s any upward rolling; I don’t think the salvation is any longer than a sliver of a second. It’s the snap, the bounce, no more. But that is enough.

Image courtesy of Scientific American.

Having It Both Ways (or More Than Two)

This year, several people (out of respect) have avoided wishing me a merry Christmas, instead wishing me a happy Hanukkah (well after Hanukkah was over) or happy holidays. The intent is generous and thoughtful. But I grew up celebrating Christmas. I consider it a beautiful holiday when celebrated well. I also love Christmas music of various kinds (I have a fond memory of Louisa Burnham singing “Balulalow” in our high school chorus long ago). I would have a Christmas tree, except that the cats would tear it down.

This leads to a larger question that has been on my mind. For nine years I have been practicing Judaism (and for four years serving as cantor at Szim Salom). But does this mean that I’m supposed to be only Jewish, to deny being anything else? That would be false; I am not only Jewish, and my upbringing wasn’t Jewish except maybe slightly, through hints here and there. I don’t mean I want to practice both Christianity and Judaism; I see how fraught that would be. I just do not find personal meaning in Jewish separateness (on the whole, with exceptions and qualifications). It does not make sense to me for my own life. I understand it and see its historical roots (for one thing, it was tragically forced onto the Jews many times over the centuries; and for another, it allowed Jewish practices and traditions to take shape). I love some of its meanings and principles. But it is not fully true for me. I not only want to find common ground with others, but basically do. I know that some people will perceive me as separate anyway, and that if a vicious form of anti-Semitism should rise up, I would not be spared. But let that be part of a larger truth.

Religious practice is a commitment, and its details matter. At the same time, I see it as an approximation of something else. Besides providing some sort of structure and moral framework, a religion offers a form for approaching the unapproachable and ineffable. The form is essential and serious. But it isn’t the divine. It is a way toward the divine. At least that is how I see it. I do not treat the form as literal law. But I don’t dismiss it as nonsense either.

In that light, and on that level, different religions can meet. But because the form is so important, and because the details have so many historical layers and reasons, one can’t just “mix and match.”

In other words, I don’t believe religious doctrine (Jewish or Christian) in any literal way. (What constitutes the “literal” is a complex question for another time.) I believe it as a gesture toward something else, a way of expressing something that can’t be said. My Judaism is not a rejection of Christianity; it’s where I find a home for the soul. But it isn’t my only home; I also find home in music, in poetry, in teaching, in surprising everyday things. And I am also in search of home, always.

I practiced Christianity in my early adulthood—in Episcopalean, Lutheran, and Catholic churches. (That too was absent from my upbringing, except for religious classical music.) At age twenty-five or so I drifted away; I stayed away from all organized religion until 2013 when, after a series of unexpected events, I started going to synagogue and learning Jewish liturgy and cantillation. I have been up front about the earlier part of my history; although I don’t talk about it often, it is not a secret.

This does not mean I am just “part Jewish.” I am fully Jewish by Jewish law, through matrilineal descent, as well as through practice and in my heart. (My father isn’t Jewish, whereas my mother’s parents, grandparents, and ancestors were all Jewish as far as I know.) But there’s more to any human than one particular identity, more than percentages of this and that. We are infinite, made up of many things, not entirely determined by our background, and never finally fixed. It isn’t just that I’m also Irish, Norwegian, French; I am also made up of the music I listen to, the poetry I read, the people I meet, the things I think about and write, life with all its ruptures and gifts, and things still to come. “I am a part of all that I have met; / Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’ / Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades / For ever and forever when I move.”

What’s the problem? someone might ask. Who’s putting pressure on you to be anything you aren’t? No one deliberately. But I want a new level of truth in my life. Some of this can’t be external, because external things always get mistaken and misclassified. Some truth can only be private. But I want to try to do better in getting to know others and letting them know me as I am.

People who are Jewish on both sides of the family, or who were brought up Jewish, or who want and need a particular cultural identity, may have trouble with what I am saying. But I know I am far from alone, and even if I were alone, I would have to find my way. And by that I don’t mean living by “me, me, me,” but rather taking part in the world, in a way that keeps unfolding.

Art credit: Marc Chagall, 1913, Paris par la fenêtre (Paris Through the Window), oil on canvas, 136 x 141.9 cm, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

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

2021 Concerts and Thoughts

I have been to wonderful shows this year and am grateful for them all. I will mention most of them. First, Galaxisok, whose show tomorrow was postponed until March because of Covid. I got to hear them twice this year: first, at the Kobuci (above), where they played their record release show for Történetek mások életéből (Stories from the Lives of Others), and then later at the Kolorádó Fesztivál. I come back to their songs again and again. Benedek Szabó is a brilliant songwriter—understated, wistful, slightly outrageous—and his bandmates bring riches to the sound and songs.

On a related note, one of the most beautiful concerts of the year for me was Benedek Szabó’s solo concert in October, opening for Péter Jakab’s record release (also great). Szabó played the keyboard and sang. As for Péter Jakab, I had the joy of attending that show and two Jazzékiel shows (one at the Monyo Land in August and one at Turbina last week).

There were a number of other musicians I got to hear twice this year: Kolibri (whom I will get to hear for the third time tomorrow evening, if all goes well), Marcell Bajnai (solo), Idea, Cataflamingo, Felső Tízezer (whom I will also get to hear a third time, this very Thursday, along with Esti Kornél). And a few I heard just once this year and look forward to hearing again: as mentioned, Benedek Szabó, Péter Jakab, and also Pandóra Projekt and Noémi Barkóczi.

I also attended two synagogue concerts played by members of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, one in Szentes and one in Szekszárd. They are part of a series of synagogue concerts that began in 2014; I have attended eight since 2017 and look forward to many more.

I had only heard Dávid Szesztay play once before this year, so it was great to be able to hear him three times: twice in Budapest and once at Fishing on Orfű. I have yet to attend a Santa Diver concert, though I want to very much. I meant to watch their streamed Barcelona concert, but somehow couldn’t access the streaming when the time came. (I probably missed the instructions or tuned in at the wrong time; I was extremely tired that evening.)

Hearing Cz.K. Sebő for the first time, at the TRIP Hajó, was a life-lifting experience for me; I loved every minute of it, wrapped myself in the sound and surroundings, and was joined at my table by Zsuzsanna, Mesi, and Atti, who have become my friends and whom I often see at concerts. I attended four Cz.K. Sebő’s concerts this year; one solo concert and three with his band. The record release show on December 16 was absolutely beautiful (and the album itself is one of my favorites ever, and definitely my favorite of the year).

As for Platon Karataev, I got to hear the full band six times, the Platon Karataev acoustic duo three times, Gergő solo once, and Gergő twice at literary events. Each event had its particular character and beauty. I am listing them for myself, so that I can remember them later, years down the road.

  1. Platon Karataev at MiniFishing on Orfű (June 18, 1:20 a.m.): the first time I ever heard the whole band in person. I had been listening to them a lot over the previous year and had heard the duo and Sebő in concert. There were sound problems, because Sebő’s amp broke at the beginning, but the concert was beautiful and thrilling. Here’s the video.
  2. The Platon Karataev acoustic duo (Gergő and Sebő) at the TRIP Hajó (July 5). I didn’t want to describe it then and don’t now, either. But here are some pictures.
  3. Platon Karataev at Kobuci (July 28): About as perfect as a concert and a day can get. I also heard Kolibri live for the second time. (The first time was in 2020.)
  4. The Platon Karataev acoustic duo at Papírkutya in Veszprém (August 11). I remember the warm sound and atmosphere, the gorgeous songs, the treasuring. I mentioned it only in passing on the blog, but here’s a picture. (After a while, I stopped taking pictures at concerts, though I make exceptions now and then.)
  5. Platon Karataev at Kolorádó (August 12): Great show. No pictures, nothing. But I happened to be standing next to Kolibri (Bandi Bognár), who was dancing his head off, and I danced mine off too.
  6. The Platon Karataev duo on the water at Fishing on Orfű (August 26): One of my favorite concerts of the year and beyond.
  7. Platon Karataev at the Grand Café in Szeged (September 24): A very special occasion because they hadn’t played in Szeged since 2018. A large and enthusiastic crowd, a terrific show.
  8. The Platon Karataev record release—a sold-out double concert—at the A38 Hajó (October 23-24): Glorious, delirious, intense, and so happy. This was the release for Atoms, since the original release had been canceled due to Covid. I was lucky to be able to go both nights. That was the last Platon Karataev concert I heard this year.
  9. Gergely Balla played a solo concert at Központ on November 22. It was originally going to be a duo concert, but Sebő had to cancel due to illness. This was the first time I had heard Gergő play solo, except at the Krúdy Irodalmi Szalon (and later at the Csoóri-Szalon). It was stunning.
  10. I also attended two events that Platon Karataev held for people who had contributed to their fundraiser. Those were down to earth and relaxed, with a focus on the music itself.

But I didn’t come here just to list concerts. That isn’t the point. Together, they built into something. With Platon Karataev and Cz.K. Sebő in particular (but others too), I came to learn how “whimsical and warmhearted” they are (a Cz.K. Sebő quote), how much they give to their art, and how highly they regard their audiences. They show profound humility and respect. Sure, they party sometimes. They have lots of friends, acquaintances, fans, and admirers. I imagine that they enjoy the popularity up to a point. I would, too, up to a point. But they are about a lot more than that. They take time for introspection. They need solitude. They read and love literature. They lead lives with conundrums, adventures, frustrations, losses, joy. They want much more than to belong to a youth music scene (or any music scene, for that matter), though that too can be fun and important.

These concerts, musicians, and audience members have created something together, something that will last and grow. I’m not sure how I attended all these concerts (traveling from Szolnok) on top of teaching, translating, medical stuff, and so on, but I think that’s the point. We don’t really know how these things come about. But I am glad and amazed that they did.

  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

  • Always Different

  • Pilinszky Event (3/20/2022)



    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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