Bike Ride in Autumn

Thanks to my neighbors, who kindly agreed to feed my cats while I am gone, I set out tomorrow for Sárospatak by bike! I expect to get to Tiszafüred by tomorrow evening, to Tokaj by Tuesday evening, and to Sárospatak, then Vajdácska, by midday or mid-afternoon on Wednesday. Then on Thursday I take the train back. I have the bed-and-breakfast reservations all set up, and the weather should be good. The total distance is about 250 kilometers (155 miles) or a little more.

I have been looking forward to this for months. It’s easier to bike long distances in the fall than in the spring or summer, because you can wear long sleeves and avoid sunburn. Zsolt André at Sprint Kerékpár gave my bike a tuneup last week, so everything’s good to go. There’s plenty of flexibility, too; I can change plans at any point if necessary. I chose weekdays because businesses are open–so if for any reason I need to find a bike store, or want to pop into a bookstore, I can do so. (There’s actually a bookstore in Sátoraljaúljhely that I hope to visit on Thursday morning.)

We’re on fall break this whole week, so I’ll still have a few days at home upon returning to Szolnok. That will give me time to translate two poems, finish preparing the autumn issue of Folyosó (it’s almost ready), and rest.

Two of the three legs of the trip are already familiar: from Szolnok to Tiszafüred, and from Tokaj to Sárospatak. It’s just the middle stretch that will be new to me, but most of it is bike path. (On the map above, which was created by a user through Google Maps, the blue parts are bike path, and the red are regular roads (but quiet, easily bikeable ones).

I will add pictures to this post as I go along (maybe at the end of each day).

Day 1: foggy, quiet, autumnal. Except for falling off the bike while still in Szolnok (I turned onto a bike path and hit a slippery spot), I had a terrific day. Lake Tisza has a bike path (recently completed) all the way around it; I took the long way around to Tiszafüred. Along the way: a giant chess set, swans, foliage, bridges. People fishing, camping. In the late afternoon, I arrived at the bed-and-breakfast, the Piros Bicikli Vendégház (Red Bicycle Guesthouse), which I chose on account of its name.

Day 2: made it to Tokaj, biked under the moon, spoke with a shepherd, saw many flocks of geese in the sky. There’s much more to say, but I need sleep

Day 3: a leisurely morning in Tokaj, to be followed by a relatively short (and familiar) ride to Sárospatak, then Vajdácska. A fuller story of this bike trip will come later, in a separate post, after I return home. For now: this has been great.

This and That

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A sweet and languorous vacation is coming to a close. I don’t remember when I last had such a stretch of time. It was a long time ago.

Yesterday I finished reading Sándor Márai’s novel Kassai őrjárat (Košice Patrol) in Hungarian. It’s the second novel I have read in Hungarian; the first was Krisztián Grecsó’s Vera, which took much longer. Kassai őrjárat, Márai’s meditation on his return to Košice a few weeks after the German invasion of Paris in 1940 (and a few months before Hungary joined the Axis powers), is beautiful and perplexing, prophetic and off the mark. At this time he did not know what Germany was doing; he believed, or his narrator believed, that if writers and other artists lived up to their responsibility, and if European nations could work together and retain their individual identity, Europe might enter a new and glorious phase. He saw the writers of his generation shrinking away from their importance; he saw pseudo-writers, concerned mostly with fame and career, filling the gap. He saw the decline of the book from a sacred object to a saleable item. But he did not see what was coming—or, probably, much of what was going on right then and there—in the war.

But even with the blind spots, it is an absorbing book. Maybe the blind spots made it even more so. None of us sees everything that is going on at a particular time. At best, one of us might offer new information, perspectives, or synthesis. But anything any of us observes or reports is incomplete. The imagination fills in the rest, for better, for worse, or for a mixture.

Besides reading, writing, and translating, I have gone on many bike rides and evening runs. When I moved to Hungary in October 2017 (almost three years ago), I looked forward to getting on the bike and going wherever I wanted–on a long or short trip, on bike paths, regular roads, or other routes. In this I have not been disappointed. Today I biked out to Millér and then followed a dirt road for a long time. It was my first time on that particular dirt road.

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Another beautiful part of this summer has had to do with Shabbat. My own synagogue, Szim Salom, has been online throughout the pandemic; members have been taking turns leading services, and only twice a month have the rabbi and I led. But these occasions have been sweet and strong, even with all the technical difficulties. And I have attended B’nai Jeshurun and Shearith Israel online services as well. The time difference makes that a bit strange but no less lovely; on Friday I tuned in to B’nai Jeshurun at midnight (6 p.m. in NYC).

My Hungarian is still far from fluent (in the true sense of the word), but it made some leaps this summer. I think back to a year ago; the progress has been substantial. At that time, I understood a lot but could express myself only slowly and haltingly, with limited vocabulary. Now, in more and more situations, I can express myself and respond to others without hesitation.

The summer has also been filled with music; I listen to a lot at home and went to two concerts: one by two members of Platon Karataev, and the other, last Friday, by Marcell Bajnai. This Saturday evening I intend to go hear Marcell’s band Idea (formerly 1LIFE) in Budapest.

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There is much more to say about the summer and other things, more than I can bring up right now, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Dominó and Sziszi, who have brought so much to these days. See them below. Now the season is turning, and I look forward to returning to school and picking up the tempo a bit.

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Biking to Abony

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I first biked to Abony in June, to attend Class 12D’s bankett (a special end-of-year feast to which teachers are invited). It was not the best bike ride, as I got a flat tire and was caught in a long and heavy downpour. But I made it, and the bankett was fantastic. I rode back to Szolnok with a colleague late in the evening, and the next day the hosts kindly brought me my bike.

Yesterday evening, a little after 6 p.m., I decided to take the ride again. It’s about 18 kilometers each way (because I first go southwest on 402, then northwest on Abony út). This time, there was no rain, and my tires held up fine. Abony út is not in the best condition, but otherwise, it’s a glorious ride.

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Along the way there, I saw a horse cart riding ahead of me. I took out my camera and started shooting a video while biking along. To the left, you can see someone pitching hay onto a cart and two people riding their bikes. At the end, I overtook the horse cart. I love the sounds in the video too: the dog barking and the clatter of the hooves.

I made it to Abony and then turned around, since it was going to be dark by the time I got back. Another time, I’ll explore the beautiful center of town, which I saw on the rainstorm day.

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Then I saw a magnificent old building with pillars (still within Abony). I thought it might be an old synagogue. Sure enough, it is. Built in 1825. I wonder whether anything is being planned for its 200th anniversary in five years.

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A little further, I stopped to see some horses feasting on hay.

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On the way home, the moon appeared huge over the fields and river. My camera doesn’t do it any sort of justice, but these pictures give a hint.

The airplane museum marked my return home. A glowing end to the day.

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“A legtöbb szünet után mindig jön egy új hang”

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Two days after a terrific Passover seder in Budapest, I was on the train to Kisvárda, my starting point for a three-day bike trip. I read the first two stories in Zsolt Bajnai’s Visszaköszönés. I was taken by the quote at the end of “Dobtoló,” “A legtöbb szünet után mindig jön egy új hang” (“After most breaks a new sound always comes”), because it’s both poignant and funny, with the mixture of “legtöbb” (“most”) and “mindig” (“always”).

As it happened, the previous day I had been trying to make practice recordings of two of the three songs that we (two language classes, two colleagues, and I) will be performing in a short concert at school on Monday. Each time I began recording, or sometimes a few minutes in, I made a mistake. The two songs were too freshly learned and figured out; they needed time to sink in. After about four hours of attempted recording, I realized a rest would be good. And sure enough, when I came back from the bike trip, I recorded them both in a few minutes–not perfectly, but much better than before. I will say more about the concert after it happens!pici koncert 2

The story “Dobtoló” is not about rest, though, at least not obviously; it’s about a boy by that nickname, who is the soul of the band even though he does not play an instrument. He had such a strong sense of rhythm that his two legs seemed like a metronome. You grow fond of him over the course of the pages, but you also realize that people didn’t know much about him, that they just accepted his presence. He was the one who remembered the others’ birthdays; they didn’t remember his. In that sense, the story is about rest, or rather, death: all the things that come together in the memory after a person is gone.

Something about the story (and the previous one too) brought back dim memories of Simon Carmiggelt, whose stories I heard at age ten, when we were living in Holland. I think my father read some of the stories aloud; others we listened to on tape. They leave you wanting to hear or read more stories and tell stories too.

To call the bike trip great would be an understatement, but I gather that understatement can build character, so I will go ahead and call it great. The things that stand out, though, are not the magnificent views, not the downhill slope into Slovakia, not even the pond at sunset–

 

 

–but the slow familiarity with the area (this being my third bike trip there in two years), the recognition of roads, buildings, and farms, the sounds of farm animals in the morning and evening, the kitten I befriended, the thoughts that came and went, the various yet few conversations. All of that, and a turning point on Monday, the day I biked to Kassa (Košice), as I did last year. I had had a somewhat late start, and was tempted not to bike there at all, but instead to spend the day in Sátoraljaújhely and the environs. But then I got on the bike path, and within minutes I was up in the hills. Not only did it seem silly to turn back, but I figured that if I could get to Kassa in three and a half hours (which I did), I would be able to catch the 4:06 train back to Sátoraljaújhely, bicycle back to Vajdácska, and arrive at the guesthouse in time for dinner. The timing all worked out, and dinner was worth every rotation of the pedals.

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There was much more to the trip, in terms of sights and thoughts, but part of the treat is keeping some of it to myself, or maybe holding it for later. One does not have to say everything about everything right away. In most trees there is always a story waiting for its time.

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  • “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

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    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.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    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.

  • ABOUT THIS BLOG

    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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