“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.

 

CONTRARIWISE Congratulations

contrariwise
The CONTRARIWISE editors-in-chief have announced the results of the 2017–2018 international and national contests! The winning pieces will be published in the fifth issue of CONTRARIWISE, to be released this spring. Congratulations to all.

International Contest

First Place: Barnabás Paksi (Varga Katalin Gimnázium, Szolnok, Hungary), Bug in the System

Second Place (tied): Hakan Urgancıoğlu (Sainte Pulchérie Lisesi, Istanbul, Turkey), White on the Outside; and Gábor Medvegy (Varga Katalin Gimnázium, Szolnok, Hungary), My Journey in the Justice Institute

National Contest

First Place: Amogh Dimri (Columbia Secondary School, New York, United States), The Trial of Sibling Envy

“Hold on there, Evangeline”

IMG_4887

This photo I took yesterday of tracks in the Szolnok snow (on the Zagyva promenade) reminded me of Mark Twain’s Whittier Birthday Dinner Speech, delivered on John Greenleaf Whittier’s seventieth birthday, at the Hotel Brunswick, Boston, on December 17, 1877—that is, 140 years and a week ago. I hadn’t read it since high school, but I remembered how Twain mocked Longfellow. The speech is a story within a story. It begins with Twain tramping through the southern mines of California and then resolving “to try the virtues” of his “nom de guerre,” that is, his pen name. He knocks on the door of a miner, who, after letting him in and feeding him, reports dejectedly that he is “the fourth”—that he just hosted three “littery men” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) the previous evening. The miner proceeds to tell Twain what a difficult lot they were; toward the end of his deluge, he comes to this:

“They were pretty how-come-you-so by now, and they begun to blow. Emerson says, ‘The nobbiest thing I ever wrote was ” Barbara Frietchie.”‘ Says Longfellow, ‘It don’t begin with my “Biglow Papers.”‘ Says Holmes, ‘My “Thanatopsis” lays over ’em both.’ They mighty near ended in a fight. Then they wished they had some more company — and Mr. Emerson pointed to me and says:

“‘Is yonder squalid peasant all
That this proud nursery could breed?’

He was a-whetting his bowie on his boot — so I let it pass. Well, sir, next they took it into their heads that they would like some music; so they made me stand up and sing “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” till I dropped — at thirteen minutes past four this morning. That’s what I’ve been through, my friend. When I woke at seven, they were leaving, thank goodness, and Mr. Longfellow had my only boots on, and his’n under his arm. Says I, ‘Hold on, there, Evangeline, what are you going to do with them?’ He says, ‘Going to make tracks with ’em; because:

“‘Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime;
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.’

As I said, Mr. Twain, you are the fourth in twenty-four hours — and I’m going to move; I ain’t suited to a littery atmosphere.”

The whole speech is pugnacious and funny, but the newspapers reported it as an “attack.” Longfellow then replied in Twain’s defense, stating that everyone present understood the speech as humorous and that the newspapers themselves had caused the “mischief.” That’s sublime, in my view: to take such mockery in good spirit and even speak up for the lampooner.

I think about that kind of goodwill and how it can’t be taken for granted. It comes not  only from individuals but from ways of thinking and living.

At school, the calendar year of 2017 ended with an abundance of goodwill. Friday was filled with treats and caroling. Here are the videos of the eleventh-graders’ first caroling visit of the day. (They went from classroom to classroom all day long and performed for the teachers as well.)

I end with three photos from Thursday and Friday: one of a funny student skit (the scene took place in a restaurant and involved the flashing of credit cards), one of the students rehearsing the carols, one of me in the classroom, and one of the eleventh-graders in the hallway before their first caroling visit. Reverence and irreverence combined to make this a day that will leave tracks in the snows and staves of time. Boldog Karácsonyt, Kellemes Új Évet, és Kellemes téli szünetet!

Singing in Szolnok

I begin with these pictures of mist because this is how the day began. I walked along the frosted bank of the Zagyva and kept stopping to look at the inscrutable river. I think that set the stage, so to speak, for some good listening.

The day proceeded with rehearsals, lessons, a movie (I showed my students Citizen Kane), and cheer. Then we had a Christmas concert in the evening–mostly by students, but also involving faculty. It was a profoundly lovely performance, with joyous musicians (mainly students, but also teachers in two of the pieces); music ranging from classical and sacred pieces to Hungarian folk songs to modern compositions; and a hushed and eager audience, some leaning over the balcony for better sight and sound.

Eight teachers (including our director and our accompanist) performed “Hymne à la nuit.” A kind colleague made a video. My solo begins just after the two-minute mark. I’ll eventually figure out how to fix the rotation of that later part; to see the whole video rotated, go here.

It was beautiful to be in this concert with colleagues and students–to have so much to listen to while being part of two songs. (The other one we sang was Pachelbel’s Canon; there we joined the students.) I have many more thoughts but am in need of sleep, so I’ll let silence have a turn. Here’s a photo I took during dress rehearsal.

IMG_4862

Update: Here’s a closer view and recording of the same performance.

A Meaning of Performance

IMG_4674

On Saturday night I attended the Senior Ball, along with colleagues, parents, students, and, of course, the seniors themselves. Expecting something like a prom, I was in for a big surprise. First, there was a pinning ceremony, where the seniors, dressed in suits and color-coordinated blouses, walked out hand in hand, with their homeroom teacher at one end, stood before the audience, had ribbons pinned to their chests, and filed out again, hand in hand. From there, they reappeared in their dancing costumes and performed in sequence; each of the four senior classes performed one ballroom dance and one modern dance. (They had separate costumes for each one.) With the help of a dance instructor (whom they had specially hired), they had been preparing these dances since September. Here’s a fifteen-second clip.

In preparing, they learned at least two dances together; that was the most beautiful part of it all. They had not only a ball, not only an evening in their honor, but an accomplishment together. Maybe that’s one meaning of performance: learning a particular form, which then becomes yours. (I wouldn’t call it the meaning of performance, since performance is full of meanings and mystery. Sometimes it’s sheer play, sometimes it has its own language, sometimes it can’t be pinned down, and sometimes its meanings come much later, mixed in with time.)

In contrast, I had a slightly formless (but lovely) day today–taking this direction and that, like the Tisza. I prepared for the week, practiced for next Shabbat (more about that later), and went on a long bike ride, first on the promenade along the Tisza, and then on the continuation of the bike path. Here’s a little terrier running on the promenade, and here’s the Szent István Bridge.

I enjoy the grey November weather, with its rain, wind, and mist; some may find it dreary, but it suits me well. Much lies ahead in the coming weeks, including a move to an apartment near the Zagyva–where I will have not only more space, but a wifi connection. That will come welcome; I need the internet not only for email but for research, lesson preparation, and more. In the meantime, having finished my second latte at Cafe Frei, I sign off, since I have much to do before tomorrow.

The Mist and the Mistake

IMG_4654

This photo, maybe my favorite that I have taken of Szolnok so far, marked the end of a vivacious day and week. On Friday the whole school assembled at the Szolnok stadium, across the Tisza, to see the ninth-grade classes compete against each other (through performance, mostly dance) and undergo their grand and humorous initiation. I had heard that we would all be walking over the bridge together; I looked forward to joining this procession of six hundred or so.

Earlier that morning, we dispersed for various activities: music, drama, art, and more. I went with a colleague to see the drama workshop, led by the drama teacher, who also directs the school’s Thespis Teatrum Drama Club. Held in an elegant hall across the street, the lesson focused on improvisational exercises, which brought out wit and laughter.

When the class ended, I went back to the school to get some things done before the historic bridge crossing. After a while, the building went silent; I realized everyone had left. I rushed to catch up with them–down Kossuth Lajos Street, around the corner at Szapáry, and then south toward the bridge. As my feet began clattering on the planks, I saw just two people ahead. I soon realized they were students from the school; after catching up with them, I asked them where the event was. They pointed me to the stadium, and I rushed ahead, only to find a locked door. They then motioned me to the side of the building and held the doors for me. Only then did It occur to me that most of the students and teachers must have taken the other bridge, the one right near the school. Of course! Why would they walk all the way to the Mayfly Bridge, when there’s one right across the street? I could have realized this earlier–but I had the one bridge so firm in my mind that good sense could not replace it.

Then came the performances. I took many pictures, but from too far away. This picture of my ninth-grade students conveys the idea, though. They didn’t win the competition, but they danced with spirit and skill.

IMG_4609

After the event, I walked back—over the correct bridge—to the school.

IMG_4648

I saw birds circling over the river, flying around and around, over and over again. I shot a video with bells ringing in the background (since it was noon). I don’t try to make videos when the bells are ringing; it has just worked out that way.

People went home from there; we had no afternoon classes, since it was a special day. Earlier in the week, the ninth-graders dressed up in various costumes, held marches and rallies, performed stunts, and covered the walls with flyers. These are my two ninth-grade sections, one of them in 90s costumes, and the other (the next day) in recycling gear or something like that. They are great kids; I thoroughly enjoy teachibg them.

I leave off with a photo from Thursday evening, after a long day at school. (I left around 6 p.m. because I was grading tests.) When I exited the building, I saw misty streets and lights. That is my bike in the foreground. I unlocked the lock, climbed on, and rode away.

IMG_4553

With all the dancing, singing, and campaigning, all the memorable markers of the week and year, I think I will also remember the mist and the mistake: taking the wrong bridge, having it all work out anyway, and taking the right bridge back. Was one bridge really wrong, though, and the other right? Only in terms of what I had set out to do; otherwise, each bridge has its share of rightness.

Note: The school photos are posted with permission of the students and in keeping with school policy.

Pictures from the First Day

varga katalin 1A happy first day at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium–I am delighted to be here.

Here are a few pictures: of one of the stairways, of a nearby bakery (where I picked up coffee and a pastry during one of my breaks), and of the school from the side.

bakery

varga katalin 2.jpg

I don’t generally blog about the classroom, but once in a while I might reflect on something that took place there. It takes time to know just when and how to do this, so I’m taking the time. In the meantime, these pictures hold something of the day.

The Zagyva passes right behind the school; it isn’t visible in the photo above, but if you continue down this street, pass by the school, and turn left, you see it.

I look forward to tomorrow.

P.S. Here’s a view from the top floor of the school.

image

Classrooms, Bach, and Trains

IMG_3716

IMG_3718Now rested from my trip to Hungary (see yesterday’s post on the synagogue concerts), I marvel that this was all possible and that it is just the beginning. In the space of one week, I visited the school in Szolnok where I will be teaching, attended Shabbat services (and read Torah) at Sim Shalom, met with the Hungarian director of the Central European Teaching Program, and attended three Budapest Festival Orchestra concerts in three different towns (or cities). Yet this itinerary was not frantic or rushed; rather, it introduced me to something long-lasting, something that extended far before and after me but was soon to involve me for at least a few years, possibly more. Traveling to the different towns, in this sense, was like tilting a place in the light, or rather, being tilted by it, being turned into someone slightly different from before. I will soon be walking down the corridors of this photo every weekday.

On Friday morning I took the 5:10 train from Budapest to Szolnok. (I chose this early train so that I would have ample time to walk to the school; the route was simple, but I didn’t want to risk being late.) Many students boarded the train; when we got off, we all walked in one big crowd, which dwindled as students entered this or that school. A few continued walking all the way to the Varga Katalin Gimnázium. There I spent the day visiting classes and learning the ropes from the teacher who will be going on leave.

In general, I do not blog in detail about what goes on at school; although I might mention something interesting that came up in discussion, or describe a school event, I treat the classroom as confidential. But I was impressed with what I saw: the thoughtful atmosphere, the teacher’s combination of structure and spontaneity, and the students’ interest in learning. I met many teachers and had a chance to speak with the headmaster, whose dedication and vision were immediately apparent. I am excited about teaching there.

IMG_3715I got to see a little of Szolnok too, and there is much more to explore–the Tisza, the bike paths, the side streets, and the city’s lively cultural offerings, including concerts, a theater, and an array of festivals. The street from the train station to the school has many cafes and pastry shops; it passes by the city’s main buildings and sculptures, which bring together many eras.

I returned to Budapest in time to recollect myself and go to the Friday evening Shabbat service at Sim Shalom. Here too, I do not blog about the details! I loved the warmth of the service and felt profoundly at home. At the morning service I was invited to read (i.e., chant) Torah–the first aliya (Deuteronomy 26:1-3) of Ki Tavo–and so I did. It was wonderfully fitting, as these were my first fruits.

IMG_3732In the afternoon, after a delightful kiddush lunch (which reminded me in some ways of philosophy roundtables at Columbia Secondary School), I headed by train to Szeged, to hear the Budapest Festival Orchestra play two Bach cantatas at the Szeged Alsóvárosi Ferences Plébánia, also known as the Havas Boldogasszony Church. After arrriving in Szeged, I wanted to stop off at the hotel but had a little trouble finding it, so I asked a woman for directions. She walked me all the way there. When I told her that I was attending the concert, she said that she was too. (I did not see her later, but it was very crowded.) I found my way to the church, but asked a few people, just in case, whether I had come to the right place. “Igen, igen” (“Yes, yes”) was the reply.

People were coming from all over the city–on foot, by bike, and by car. There were people in wheelchairs, small children, elderly people; one family brought a Border Collie (who barked once or twice during the introduction but was quiet throughout the performance, either because the music calmed him down or because someone took him outside). The church filled up fast. People were courteous; when it turned out that I had taken a seat that someone had been saving, others in the audience pointed me to an open seat.

I still have the sounds of the concert in my mind: the alto-soprano duet of “Jesu, der du meine Seele” (I am thrilled to be introduced to Emőke Barath’s voice), the tenor aria with the Baroque flute solo, the bass aria (“Nun du wirst mein Gewissen stillen“) of the with the repeated violin motif, pictured below in a score excerpt, and, in the next cantata, “Christus, der ist mein Leben,” that tenor aria and the brief and solemn choral “Weil du vom Tod erstanden bist” at the end, which reminds me a little of the “Passion Chorale” in his St. Matthew Passion. These are just the pieces in my mind right now; there is much more to remember and study. But look at the picture below: you see, in the second line, the first violins’ motif with the trill, and then, in the third, the shorter version of the motif. They come back again and again. I love this repetition and am intrigued that it works so well and memorably. (One would expect a repetition to be “memorable”–that’s part of what repetition is for–but I remember not just the motif itself, but the joy of it.)

BWV0078_Page_27

IMG_3752After the concert, and the following morning, I walked around Szeged, enjoying the architecture, sounds, parks, imaginative statues, wide bike paths, river life (I crossed the Tisza on foot and saw boats on the river and parks on either side) and overall feel. I hope to return many times to this city. It will be an easy day trip on a weekend. I then took the train from Szeged to Albertirsa for the first of two synagogue concerts.

It was easy and relaxing to get to different places in the country; the trains were generally reliable, comfortable, and not too crowded. The best part, though, was when I almost missed a connection when traveling to the synagogue concert in Baja. The train from Budapest to Dombóvár was running behind schedule; I thought I might miss the train from Dombóvár to Baja. I stood near the train exit, anxiously looking out the window. A man (who had been checking the timetable on his phone) spoke to me in Hungarian; I guessed that he was talking about the delay, but I didnt know how to respond. It turned out that he was transferring to the same train.

When we got to Dombóvár, I thought it was too late. I asked a conductor where the train to Baja was. “A piros vonat,” she said, pointing to a little red train just ahead. I began to sprint for it. Then I saw the conductor standing beside it, smiling, and gesturing with his hands for me to slow down. So I walked the rest of the way and boarded. The rest is history and still to come.

IMG_3801

Teaching in Hungary!

szolnok gallery

It is now official: I will be teaching English–and American and British civilization–at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary, starting in November! I applied through the Central European Teaching Program and was offered this wonderful position; I will be stepping in for a teacher who is going on leave.

In addition, I hope to volunteer for the  Budapest Festival Orchestra; it would be an honor to help with the synagogue project, other community projects, and the orchestra’s work in general.

Szolnok is on Eurovelo 11, the same bike route I took for part of my expedition in May. I look forward to many long bike rides.

In the English classes, my focus will be on English conversation; in the civilization classes, on history and culture. (There may be opportunities to teach electives as well; we’ll see.) I have many ideas for topics, materials, and approaches; I will have still more once I get to know the school and students.

There is much more to say about the school, the teaching, and other projects and plans. (I may have an update on my book as well.) For the next two months I will be busy with preparations. In September I intend to make a short trip to Budapest (and four other cities) to submit paperwork, meet people, and attend concerts. At the end of October, I will be leading a seminar and presenting a paper at the ALSCW Conference in Dallas. Then off to Hungary (with my two cats) and into the classroom!

 

The photo above is of Szolnok’s former synagogue; the building now houses the Szolnok Gallery. Courtesy of the website of the Damjanich János Múzeum.

I updated this piece after posting it.