Fishing on Orfű, Day 3: “You Can Call It What You Want”

This is a day I will tell backwards, or at least stepwise backwards. I returned to Pécs on the festival bus during big winds; there were branches all over the streets. The Platon Karataev show was not the best I had heard, given the drunken crowd and sometimes imbalanced sound mix, but the music and performance transcended all of this. It must be ridiculously difficult to play at 1 a.m. when you are not a party band, but they threw themselves into it, and the exuberant and (largely) attentive audience swayed, leaped, and sang along.

I wish I had stood a little farther back. A woman in front of me kept waving at someone, not just briefly or subtly, but wildly and tirelessly. At first I thought she was waving at the film crew, trying to get on film. Then I thought she was waving at Laci Sallai. Maybe she was just trying to let a friend know where she was. Anyway, it was distracting. (I thought of moving away from her, but the place was packed.) There were also people who held up their phones right in front of my eyes for a long time, taking videos. These days I take pictures here and there during shows, but I try to make it as quick as possible, so as not to bother others or myself. This is the one picture I took of Platon Karataev last night.

For me, some of the peaks of the concert were “Csak befelé,” “Elmerül,” “Ex nihilo” (with Hungarian lyrics in the middle part), “Tágul” (even though the vocal mix was off), “Lassú madár,” “Atoms,” “Wide Eyes,” “Ocean/Wolf Throats,” and yes, “Elevator,” even though I gather they are a little tired of playing this early hit of theirs, and even though it turned into something of a collective roar. Some time ago I read an interview where Gergő and Sebő talked about the songs on For Her (their first album) in terms of stages of grief; if I remember correctly, they said “Elevator” represented the bargaining stage. Besides the music and brilliantly simple lyrics, this bargaining is what I love about the song.

We are always bargaining in some way, not just in romantic relationships, but in anything we care about that comes to an end. And all things do in some way. “You can call it anything, but that was love.” It’s a basic struggle, or an act of defiance: to hold on to the meaning of something that is no longer yours, that has been taken away from you, even something of yourself. The love in particular. This happens even at a concert. Then comes the letting go, but the defiance has to be there, I think: the declaration that this was in the first place, and second, that it was love. The bargain takes this form: I allow you to “call it what you want,” but the truth of it (or what I know as such) stays intact, with me.

Yes, the concert, the festival is slipping away now (just a few more concerts for me to hear this evening), and yes, describing it is a way of resisting the loss for a little while. But then, as with other concerts, it fades and becomes part of my life. Everything slips away and becomes something else. “Nézd, ahogy hull a levél / aztán földet talál / ez is csak sejthalál” (“Watch how the leaf falls / then finds the ground / this is just cell death,” from “Lassú madár“).

Earlier in the evening, I heard a joyous, momentous Kaláka concert. In between Kaláka and Platon, I could hear nothing else. I didn’t want anything else for a while. So I went down to the lake and sat down among others who were likewise taking a break.

The Kaláka concert was humbling in a happy way. They have a vast repertoire of songs and albums, and young people in the audience knew the songs by heart. Many of the songs are Hungarian poems set to music: for all ages, for everyone who can take in the sorrows, humor, awe of everyday life. They (the musicians and the songs) play for all of us, whether we know the songs or not. So many instruments and sounds in a short interval of time, and a boundless love of playing. I have much to learn in, of, and from their music, but beginners are welcome too. The point is to be with the music. And we were.

Before that, I had a beautiful afternoon: three concerts on the “Fireside” stage (“A tűzhöz közel”). First a trombone concert (with varying numbers of trombone players, at times eight in all), then the rapturous, inspiring Flanger Kids (who reminded me slightly of Laurie Anderson, Luscious Jackson, and PJ Harvey), and then Barkóczi Noémi playing in duo with her bandmate Várnai Szilvia—wow, what musicianship, voices, chords, rhythms, harmonies. That was the one concert I left slightly early, at the start of the last song (I think), not wanting to be late for Kaláka. But I was sorry to leave.

Before the concerts of the day, I attended a discussion with music managers and sound engineers, who spoke about the background work that they do. It was interesting and well attended (the audience included young people who wanted to go into these directions and careers themselves). One of the most interesting parts for me was Ábel Zwickl’s description of the differences between recording an album and doing sound for a show. Some of the differences are obvious: when recording an album, you have no immediate rush and can do take after take until you hit upon the one that everyone likes. When engineering sound for a show, you have only one chance and have to respond to the moment. But also, in that case, it doesn’t matter so much whether you like the music or not; in fact, the music isn’t exactly your focus. What matters is getting the sound right and responding immediately to problems.

Before heading up to Orfű, I walked around Pécs, heard an accordion player, saw the synagogue, and got a hearty iced coffee and baguette. I also managed to get some scissors and trim my bangs, which had grown a little wild. Then took the bus up to Orfű, walked around the lake to the festival, and saw a family of swans. They were carefully guarding their privacy, staying by the tall reeds. You could only see them from a distance; once you came closer, the reeds shielded them.

And that was the third day of Fishing on Orfű.

I added a paragraph and made a few edits to the piece after posting it (most recently on July 4).

Fishing on Orfű: Day 2 (June 30, 2022)

It was good to take time in the morning with coffee, etc., and then ride the bus back to the festival. A few hours stood, thinning, between my arrival and Felső Tízezer’s ascension to the water stage, so I went back to “A tűzhöz közel” (the stage where Cz.K.Sebő/capsule boy had played the previous evening) and listened to the sounds of the forest. Here is a recording I made.

I headed to the water stage when they were starting to set up (see the picture above), assembled my belongings in an inconspicuous heap, and entered the water. The show was terrific. I didn’t know the songs very well, but others in the water were singing along to every word, and I started picking up a few of them, such as “Utólag.” I loved the semi-acoustic sound because I could hear their individual musicians so clearly. They and the audience seemed to be having a great time. Besides the submerged assemblage, there was a large crowd sitting by the water’s edge. After the show, when I had clibed back onto land, I heard someone telling someone else, “You missed it! They played your favorite song, and we were calling, Gergő, Gergő!”

I had originally planned to stay for the next water stage show, to be performed by the musician Balaton, but I knew I had had enough sun and didn’t want to push it. So I went back to “A tűzhöz közel” to see what I would hear. First there was a beautiful classical performance: two mandalins and keyboards, then guitar and keyboards. The music took many interesting turns.

After that, there was someone whose music I didn’t like, but I’ll just leave it at that. I stayed through her show, because I was eager to hear Szalai Anna and Dorozsmai Gergő for the first time.

Well, within a few minutes of their taking the stage, I was grinning and in tears, completely taken by them. I had never heard them live before and had heard just one of their songs online. Anna Szalai reminds me a little of my female friends and favorite female musicians in the U.S.: badass, sweet, deeply smart. She was smoking, drinking beer, and singing smoky, wistful, funny songs to Gergő Dorozsmai’s gorgeous keyboard accompaniment. Here’s one of my favorites from the show, “Rigó”:

And here’s another favorite, “Senki nem beszél,” the title song of their duo album.

What a happy discovery! I had heard of them before (many times) and had heard “Senki nek beszél” before, but this was my real introduction to them. Now I can’t wait to hear them again.

After that, I took the local bus back to Pécs and listened to most of Continental Subway. The last hour (the “Random Road” segment) was devoted to music from Haiti, and there too I made some exciting discoveries.

Today I hope to be open to new music without getting overloaded, since there will be so much to hear: Middlemist Red, Barkóczi Noémi, Kaláka, and of course Platon Karataev. In between, I will wander around and see what there is to hear. But before then, in the early afternoon, I hope to go hear a discussion (featuring Zwickl Ábel and others) about music technicians. In that case (which is looking likelier by the minute), I will then go up to A tűzhöz közel for a trombone octet followed by Flanger Kids. So be it. Let today be the packed day. Then tomorrow: Kubalibre, Elefánt, and Galaxisok! Nothing for me after Galaxisok, because I want to leave with those songs in my ears.

Fishing on Orfű: Day 1 (June 29, 2022)

I bounded out the door around 9:30, took a delayed train to Budapest, missed my Pécs connection, did a post office errand and had a Vietnamese lunch, took the next train, got to Pécs, went running around (sweating from the heat and the day) in search of an ATM machine, having realized that I had to pay the hostel in cash, found one, ran to the hostel, checked in and dropped off my bags (I have a tiny private room for four days, perfect under these circumstances), caught the jam-packed festival bus, and rode up into the hills and down to Orfű with some fifty jovial, excited people. Then went through the ticket check, got my festival pass, and headed up to the “A tűzhöz közel” (“Near the Fire”) stage to hear my first concert of the festival, which will stand out among them all.

Sebestyén Czakó-Kuraly gave a solo Cz.K. Sebő/capsule boy concert: the words “dreamy, melancholic, joyous” are only tangents, since the music has so many interesting elements and is so moving at the same time. It brings up new thoughts, new emotions. Sebő seemed fully in his element. And there, in the forest shade and early evening, the large audience was wrapped (rapt) in these songs and sounds. They had classical influences (one of them was slightly Arvo Pärt-like, and in others I heard hints of baroque music); they alternated between Hungarian and English and a language of their own. They have a feeling of exploration; I don’t know whether any improvising was going on in the moment, but they keep searching and diving and returning.

After this, I heard two terrific concerts: Lázár Tesók and Felső Tízezer. The Lázár Tesók crowd was a little bit too rowdy for the music, singing drunkenly along and out of tune, but it was all in good fun, and people were having a great time. There was love in the air.

In between this and Felső Tízezer, I walked down to the lake. Lightning was flashing in the distance. Here you can see ducks passing by.

And the Felső Tízezer show was punchy and beautiful. They played old and new songs, including some of my favorites. The audience knew the songs and was involved in every moment of them. During ”Semmi pánik 2” we were all anticipating the ”pont pont pont”—it was a great moment, with fingers flying in the air.

After that, I caught just the final two minutes of the band Kaukázus, enough to make me curious to hear them again. I also heard a minute or two of Vad Fruttik, but not enough to tell me whether I want to hear more.

The evening’s rollickings were far from over! From here, I went down to the bus stop, hoping to catch a festival bus back to Pécs, but not realizing that the next one wouldn’t be until 1 a.m. A lot of others were waiting for a bus too, or for something or other. It felt a little like a Waiting for Godot situation. The trolley came along and people (including me) got on it, some of us for no reason whatsoever. Some people were riding it to another part of town, but the rest of us had gotten on just to board something or other. So I rode it around the lake.

Not having had dinner, I returned to the festival for fish and chips, walked around a little, and then headed back to the bus stop, where a large group of hopefuls had again assembled. This time, it was close to 1 a.m., and the bus did indeed arrive.

It’s good to have a room to return to after all this, even a bare-bones one. To be able to sleep, and then relax in the morning and type out memories of the previous day. Today I am keeping it short and sweet: going just for a few afternoon hours to hear Felső Tízezer and then Balaton on the water stage, followed by Szalai Anna and Dorozsmai Gergő (together) at the “fireside” stage, then coming back to the hotel to tune in to Continental Subway. That may seem odd: tuning in to a radio show from a music festival! But I regretted missing it last week—David Dichelle played Galaxisok’s “Ez a nyár,” among many other interesting things—and this way I can pace myself. Tomorrow will be quite a full evening, with Middlemist Red (whom I have never heard before), Barkóczi Noémi, Kaláka, maybe another band or two, and then Platon Karataev. And then Saturday will include a saxophone concert, Elefánt, some unexpected things, and finally Galaxisok, the last show I will hear before heading back into Pécs, getting some sleep, and then, the next morning, returning to Szolnok (where I will regather my wits and pack for the U.S.).

What makes Fishing on Orfű different from other festivals? The wonderful music (well, that’s to be found at other festivals too, but my Orfű memories stand out so far); the hills, lake, and greenery (lots of shade, lots of tall conifers); the good cheer; the people of many ages; the knowledge that we’re here for the music; and a spirit of adventure, among other things. As I have mentioned before, lodging (and even camping) here can be tricky; you have to know the options and plan well in advance. Yesterday I released my camping ticket through Ticketswap (at the original price); someone bought it within ten minutes. I was happy to know that one more person was now able to set up a tent. As for my hostel room, it’s quiet, comfortable, and secure (and just a few steps away from the buses and trains). Now it’s time to leave it behind and head off to the festival again.

Fishing on Orfű: Highlights and Other Lights

I had been dreaming of this for a while: to go to the Fishing on Orfű festival for a day (I had schedule constraints and couldn’t go for longer), hear Platon Karataev on the water stage, then go hear Dávid Szesztay and, in the remainder of the time, walk around and hear other musicians I happened to come upon. It worked out just like that, only better.

I had gone to one day of the Mini-Fishing on Orfű in June. As soon as I found out that there was going to be a full-length festival, I ordered a ticket. It’s a great place to be. The music is anywhere from good to outstanding, the friendly crowd spans several generations, and the scenery takes you up in its arms. It’s around you, all the time; if you like, you can take a quiet walk by the lake in the morning, when only the birds and fish are making sounds. Fish making sounds? Yes, I saw and heard a few leap out of the water, including a big one. They come back down with a splash, sending the rings rippling.

I left home on Thursday morning at 7:30 a.m. to catch the 7:56 train to Budapest. From there I transfered to a train that went to Pécs. On the train, I was sitting across from a talkative elderly woman, who had the ear of the young woman sitting beside her. She talked and talked about her family, about religion, about anything that came to mind; eventually I was included in the conversation too. She offered to sell me one of the necklaces she made—she carried them around in a box—but I didn’t think I could afford the cash. So she just gave me one as a gift, and gave another to the young woman, whose name was Izabell. (In the photo below, I am wearing the necklace, along with one that I already had.) Then the necklace-giving woman got off one stop before Pécs, or maybe two, and Izabell and I continued talking, this time about music. We exchanged recommendations, lots of them. She was also going to Fishing on Orfű to hear Platon Karataev and a few others.

We both intended to take the bus from Pécs to Orfű, but I sensed that she had her own plans, so when we got there, we said goodbye and went in opposite directions. Unsure where to catch the bus, I ended up taking a cab—a bit of a splurge, but worthwhile in terms of getting me to the festival in time. The cab driver was jovial and full of stories. He told me about a Roman bust of Marcus Aurelius that had been found in the area. The ride went over hill and dale, and soon I was there.

I set up the tent and headed down to the water.

The water stage is actually on the water, not beside it. The musicians arrive by boat, and the sound man stays nearby in a boat during the show. The audience either sits on the edge of the lake or goes into the water, near the stage. When I arrived, Carson Coma was in the middle of their set. I enjoyed what I heard; I had heard them briefly at Kolorádó, but this acoustic version caught my ear. Lots of people were in the water, thigh-deep or so, singing along; I made my way into the crowd.

Just a few days earlier, I had learned that the Platon Karataev concert was going to be the acoustic duo, not the full band (the band played at the festival the previous night, after midnight, to a huge audience). That made it all the more wonderful, because it was low-key and quiet and attentive. You could take in the songs and feel the water and air. I don’t know if I will ever get to hear “Partért kiáltó” in the water again, or “Orange Nights,” or any of their songs. But maybe yes. Maybe they’ll play the water stage again next summer. Either way, it was a gift. They played a series of songs from the upcoming album, and some older songs too.

After that, I headed up the hill to see and hear what was going on before Dávid Szesztay. I heard a solo musician I immediately liked, Hunor Ipolyi-Gáts. I stayed to hear the rest of his set. Then I stopped for a few minutes to hear a band playing on the largest stage—it might have been a rehearsal, since it wasn’t listed in the schedule—then walked way up the hill and found myself listening to Dante, an lively folk-rock band with horns, traditional recorder-like instruments, and more. I eventually realized that they were on the very stage where Dávid Szesztay would be playing, so I stayed put (after leaving anxiously for a few minutes to check a map and make sure I was in the right place).

This was my fourth time hearing Szesztay live, whether solo or with his band, but this time he had a new band, a trio, whom I hadn’t heard befor and who were fantastic. One of them plays bass ukulele (I think); the other, drums (and Szesztay alternates between keyboard and guitar). The sound was rich and deep, with all sorts of rhythms; I heard familiar songs in new ways. My favorites of the evening were “Késő,” “Hullámzás,” and “Szólj.” Granted, those are some of my favorites anyway, but they had a different texture this evening.

After that, I heard Ivan & the Parazol (fun, with lots of people singing along and dancing), and then most of the HS7 (Heaven Street Seven) show. I knew nothing about them but realized pretty quickly that they were legends. This was their only festival performance in 2021, and the crowd seemed to be relishing every bit of it. I enjoyed what I heard but was a bit overwhelmed after the whole day; I will return to their music on my own to see if it catches on with me.

And that was enough. I went back down to the tent and tried to sleep, but didn’t really succeed. It rained for a good part of the night, and the music went on and on, but I rather enjoyed that. Then, around five in the morning, everything settled into quiet, and I packed up the tent and got ready to go. Before leaving, I walked around the grounds a little. The Amondó stage was glowing and deserted. (This is where Platon Karataev played in June, at Mini-Fishing on Orfű; this is also where they played on Wednesday night.)

I took a walk down by the lake and saw the water stage at daybreak.

As I mentioned, there were fish jumping out of the water; in a video I shot, you can hear one (along with many birds).

The trip back required good timing, which I fortunately had; I took a 6:30 bus back to Pécs, took a 7:30 train (or thereabouts) to Budapest-Kelenföld, took another train to Kőbánya-Kispest, and then changed from there to the train that took me to Szolnok, where I arrived at 11:37. Just before arriving in Szolnok, I took a video from the back of the train.

That was the day at Fishing on Orfű. Now I am listening to the rain and the leaves here in Szolnok, and it feels like a continuation and rupture at the same time. Orfű isn’t transportable, but it is still with me in some way, even as I turn my mind to other things.

  • “Setting Poetry to Music,” 2022 ALSCW Conference, Yale University

  • Always Different



    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 April 2022, Deep Vellum published 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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