Sursum corda

Detail of the floor mosaic of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome
dedicado a Wang Wei quien sabe
que también entre los pucheros anda

In one morning in the spring of 1977, in the high school „Margit Kaffka” – some decades earlier and later „Holy Margaret” – the teacher responsible for the mobilization of the Communist Youth Association went round the classes. He was inviting people for the folk dance instruction of the Torch Folk Ensemble in the afternoon.

The group was going to start a dance house on the model of the already popular Hungarian folk dance houses, where they were going to teach the dances of the Serbian, Croatian, Bulgarian, Greek and Macedonian ethnic minorities. They were going round the high schools of Budapest for recruiting participants.

Our school was visited by the wife of the ensemble’s leader Antal Kricskovics. She was an extraordinary beauty. Apart from her really exceptional appearance, she owed this also to her majestic bearing.

She arranged us in a circle and immediately started the instruction. We draw our stomach in, trust the chest out, press the shoulders down. Our back is tight, but the hip and the limbs move easily and flexibly.

If you do all this, you immediately begin to breathe with full lungs. This was not customary in those times. The majority of Hungarian society compromised with the political system. People sought after momentary survival, small advantages, permitted little joys. They went about humped, they took shallow, gasping breaths.

After we clarified the necessary bearing, she taught us the song “Makedonsko devoiche”, and then she started to teach the steps. Not only the bearing was majestic, but the song and the steps as well.

Now as I’m writing this, I look over what sorts of music were available at that time. And I see that almost exclusively those that matched a convulsively disciplined and limited, sentimental and sensual taste of the petty bourgeoisie. Those which, even if they touched something majestic, only did so in order to pull it down to this vulgarity. “Goodbye, my sweet Piroska, there are even more beautiful girls than you.” Two steps to the right, two steps to the left. The musical indoctrinations of compromise, momentary survival, small advantages and permitted little joys.

At that time I did not know anything about the subtle and intricate rhythmic structures of Balkan and Greek music, neither that I was encountering a tradition that had been preserved since the ancient Greeks. There was no live music, not even a tape recorder, only ten or fifteen teenager girls coming together by chance and singing “Makedonsko devoiche” – and my heart rose up.

And that dance… Ten years later, on a warm summertime Sunday afternoon the wandering tambura-player arrived in the small Southern Hungarian village, at that time already inhabited only by Gypsies. He played kolo for some pennies. Immediately a great flock gathered around him, and everyone was watching him with great yearning. The man who counted as a chief came out from his hovel, accompanied by his two wives. None of the two was older than thirty, but they were already old women, tormented, bowed and emaciated. The man gave over the money with a theatrical gesture. One woman stood to his left and the other to his right. The music started. They began to dance the kolo, with a tight back, but with a loose hip, easily and flexibly. Their dance was characterized by a peculiar dignity, not canceling, but embracing their misery. Like the hand of the resurrected Christ the traces of the wounds.

At that time, in that spring afternoon of 1977 I did not know anything about Christ either. But as I pulled myself out and held on to the others, my heart rose up. I was touched by that peculiar dignity that cannot be canceled by any misery.

At the end of the instruction the wife of Kricskovics announced that the first dance house will be held in the House of Culture on Sunday afternoon. Of course I went there.

In the thereafter following two years I lived from Sunday to Sunday. I went to the dance house of Kricskovics like a believer goes to Mass. These dances let me, the atheist, experience the sacred through my own body.

Postscript. As I began to write this post, Tamás found a number of recordings of “Makedonsko devoiche” on the web. All of them are that sentimental “my sweet Piroska” kind, they have nothing to do with the rising up of the heart.

I thought it was the creative genius of Kricskovics as a dancer that he was able to evolve the inherent transcendental potentiality of the music and dance of the Balkan. Certainly, it was necessary to that.

But there was also something else that I had not known, and I only discovered it as I made some research to this post. Kricskovics was a devout Catholic, characterizing this period of his life in an interview given in 2005 like this:

“In the 70s began a new period of creation for me: the period of religious and Biblical themes. … With time one gets nearer and nearer to faith, and is more and more attracted by the artistic possibilities offered by the Scripture.” (Antal Kricskovics is 75 years old)

In the lack of authentic folk music, let us listen to one of my favorite songs of those times: the “Highwayman Ilju”, a Macedonian-inspired poem by the great Hungarian poet László Nagy, performed by the old Kolinda group (1977!). I do not know what route took them to the point of perceiving and transmitting the transcendence inherent in this music – their singer Ágnes Zsigmondi, for example, was an offspring of the Communist political establishment just like me –, but I do not know any other musical group coming anywhere near to them. I think this was one of the reasons why they, while being highly successful in Western Europe, could not publish a single record in Hungary.

Kolinda, Ilju haramia (Highwayman Ilju), from the LP “Kolinda II”, 1977 (poem by László Nagy)
Hey how they’re gathering to go to war
Hey how they are gathering
The pagans of Kochan
Mother, my sweet, the pagans of Kochan

Hey how densely they are coming, my sweet
Hey how densely they are coming
To the wide water of Kriva
Mother, my sweet, to the wide water of Kriva.

Hey how they would like to put in irons
Hey how they would like
Highwayman Ilju
Mother, my sweet, Highwayman Ilju.

Hey but Ilju is not there, my sweet
Hey Ilju is not there
At the wide water of Kriva
Mother, my sweet, at the wide water of Kriva.

Hey Ilju is having a merry time, my sweet
Hey he’s having a merry time
In the city of Solun
Mother, my sweet, in a good cool tavern.

Hey he is served, my sweet
Hey he is served
By a beautiful Macedonian girl
Mother, my sweet, by a beautiful Macedonian girl.
Hej de, gyűlnek hadba, édes,
Hej de, gyűlnek hadba
Kocsáni pogányok,
Anyám édes, kocsáni pogányok.

Hej de, sűrün jönnek, édes,
Hej de, sűrün jönnek
Széles Kríva vízhez,
Anyám édes, széles Kríva vízhez.

Hej de, vasra vernék, édes,
Hej de, vasra vernék
Ilju haramiát,
Anyám édes, Ilju haramiát.

Hej de, nincs ott Ilju, édes,
Hej de, nincs ott Ilju,
Széles Kríva víznél,
Anyám édes, széles Kríva víznél.

Hej de, vígad Ilju, édes,
Hej de, vígad Ilju,
Szolun városában,
Anyám édes, jó hűvös ivóban.

Hej de, néki szolgál, édes,
Hej de, néki szolgál,
Széplány, makedonka,
Anyám édes, széplány, makedonka.

Now as I’m listening to it, this song even thirty years later asks me whether I’m living with a heart rose up enough. Perhaps I will write more about them.

1 comentario:

Julia dijo...

Un relato absolutamente conmovedor... que deja sin palabras. Gracias!