A bor

József Rippl-Rónai: My father and Uncle Piacsek drinking red wine, 1907

“Wouldn’t you like to summarize in a post – as i bravi do it – this thread of ideas and publish all this macedonia on río Wang where I’d translate it also into Hungarian as a mirror to my compatriots?”

I have the luck to be in that privileged moment of learning a foreign language in which, crawling like a baby, for the very first time you explore a totally unknown environment. The language is Hungarian, which explains – if it wasn’t for tokaji, paprika, goulash and hussar – the absolute degree of my ignorance. In view of the basis of departure, that is, the said four (4) words, in moments like this even the slightest step forward, such as a single new word learned, may represent, at least in relative terms, a giant leap, which results in a feeling of unlimited confidence in progress. The privileged status you enjoy in these moments is complemented by a certain recklessness and an audacious inclination to associate to each other, in a more or less justified manner, the elements you find as long as you proceed along the path you have taken, possibly relying on memories, which are not necessarily exact.

I’ve just started crawling thanks to Studiolum’s encouragement (“learn Hungarian in five minutes” – and it’s known that the conversion of the Hungarian time unit into the Italian one requires at least a yotta factor) starting from a basic grammar for foreigners: Hungarian: An Essential Grammar by Carol Rounds. The privileged status which I referred to let me perceive from the very beginning a general nature, a background atmosphere which I never happened to taste in other cases and which now I’ll be trying to offer in the most concrete way possible. In the Hungarian grammar there is no example whatsoever even slightly looking like the topos of examples of each and every traditional grammar, which in English sounds like: The pen is on the table. You can rather find examples in these terms:

Mit iszol a vacsorához? (What will you drink with dinner?)

Nem tudom kinyitni az üveget. (I can’t open the bottle.)

Ahelyett, hogy cukrot tenne a teába, egy kis rumot tett bele. (Instead of putting sugar in the tea, she put some rum in.)

– Nem akarod megkóstolni ezt a vörösbort? (Don’t you want to have a taste of this red wine?

– Dehogynem. (Of course, I do.)

Neked nem szabad tejet innod. (You are not allowed to drink milk.)

Nagyon berúgott, hiszen egymaga megivott egy egész üveg bort. (He got very drunk, for he drank a whole bottle of wine by himself.)

Elittuk az egész havi fizetését. (We drank up his whole month’s salary.)

And don’t think for a second that the selection of examples offered here was made on purpose to prove a preconceived idea. How could I ever develop a prejudice starting from four (4) words and no (exactly 0) verb? At any rate, in order to avert any thoughts of this kind, should the uncommonness of the last example be insufficient, I’d invite you to consider the textbook Halló, itt Magyarország!, a book in which – I’m not saying in a random chapter and I’m not saying either in the first one, but since the introductory legend – from the very beginning it is provided an explanation of the only thing that makes sense to put on a Hungarian table: a bor.

In short: I felt an immediate and irrepressible attraction to it and, right after that, an unavoidable question arose: how much do they drink in Hungary? Do they drink like a Serb, as I think Slovenes use to say, i.e., the neighbors and not a small part of the people living in the place where I was born and grew up, Trieste, where people also drink quite a lot; do they drink like a Russian, as I think Serbs use to say, do they drink up to approaching the sublime, like Yerofeyev or, to avoid any ethnic comparison, do they rather drink like a piria (funnel), as people use to say in Triestine dialect or, again in this dialect, but in a joking version having a kind of slavic suffix, like a piriavez (drunkard)?

Nothing like that:

iszik, mint a kefekötő.

They drink “like a brushmaker”, let Studiolum know, adding a poetry source dated 1844, that of Sándor Petőfi in The sun’s married life and, just after that, a request: “don’t ask me why”.

And that’s how, observing the prohibition to ask it to him, I happened to be sent by the Hungarian brushmaker directly to Germany, from which the comparison originated and in the language of which I was pleased to live. It’s there that an uncontrolled drinking (and smoking) ability was attributed to him: trinken wie ein Bürstenbinder or saufen wie ein Bürstenbinder (in addition to rauchen wie ein B.) are in fact expressions perfectly corresponding to the Hungarian one pointed out by the host who is generously offering me this place. But the brushmaker seems to be completely innocent and he seems to have been involved through a joking association with the verb bürsten.

If what is provided here is true, in fact, the German idiom would come from the student environment, an environment of heavy drinking, at the times in which students used to share the money of their whole community in a bag (bursa, in Latin). In particular, it turns out that the German terms Burse and Bursch, with which in the past students, their communitarian life and their hostel were designated, would come from bursa and that also bürsten alludes to the same, meaning polishing the glass off – here I’m supported by the Grimm brothers –, and thus drinking. On the basis of this path, the final shift from bürsten to Bürstenbinder should be the outcome of a classical Witz of associative nature used in assonance with the name of the guiltless – and maybe even abstemious – brushmaker.

Among the unavoidable uncertainties of the case scattered here and there, I should still determine if the German idiom was imported into Hungary by a Hungarian student or teacher hanging around German universities or if it was rather exported by a German of Heidelberg early escaping from the massive influxes of tourists who would have subsequently invaded his hometown or else – why not – if it was brought by Germans coming from the Ulm area who settled down in Hungary around 1700, such as those ended up north of Budapest, in the village of Solymár/Schaumar. In their gazette they report their version in the local dialect: Śaoft, wii ə Pieschtnpində, the discoverer of which is completely unnecessary to indicate to readers who are acquainted with the wonders of the blog having me now as a guest.

But I can’t determine this because the macedonia is a mixture normally prepared with the fruits you have and today these were those I had. On my side, it was a pleasure for me to prepare it. I hope it can be appreciated by the readers of río Wang: I know they have sophisticated tastes and they are, at least on these pages, extremely spoiled.

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