Saturday, August 26, 2017

DRAGONS AND PIRATES … in the Hungarian countryside

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Last night, I was doddling through ebay, as one does, in search of photos of antique burlesque queens for the next book which I swore I would never write. It was a dry night for tights, spangles and peroxide … so I closed down the blondes and tried a search for ‘Yamba’ (nothing but 1950s postcards), then for ‘Sefton’ (not even that), and even Mór, Fejér …

Yamba in the 1950s

Well, there were no old pictures. But ebay has a trick or two up its sleeve and it showed me instead some ‘other items’. And amongst the nothingness, one jumped out at me. A letter, in a wax-sealed envelope, unstamped … but seemingly dated 1852. And postmarked and labelled Moór. Two ‘o’s. The Austrian way. Great-grandfather Abraham was born (as everyone must now be sick of hearing) in Mór in 1844. So I looked. Written in very tidy … Hungarian. But there were four names in the text … and two of them were labelled ‘izraelita’ … and dammit it was priced at $7.99. Less that a Stewart Trotter glass of wine. For an evening’s fun translating, the price was right.

It is now mine.

I have a little Hungarian. Left over from my days writing the Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre. Of course. A huge proportion of the great theatre music of the last 150 years came from Hungary. Unfortunately, my vocabulary is rather limited to the words for ‘princess’, ‘girl’, ‘king’, ‘swineherd’, ‘married’, ‘soldier’ and the like, rather than words in less Operettic usage, but hey! I have a distant cousin who is Hungarian, and a few facebook friends …

But I couldn’t wait. This morning I rose groggily at 5.15 and pulled my wee treasure up on the screen. And, with some help from a good on-line Hungarian dictionary (which kept trying to sell me holidays in Dubai), I started.


 As I had suspected from the red wax seal, it wasn’t a personal letter. It was a legal document. A request to the parquet of Moor (2nd division) from an auxiliary magistrate named Pál Harsányi, couched in suitably ‘respectful’ not to say grovelling terms to investigate a case or a complaint… of what? Well, my Hungarian is the hundred-year old sort, but this is 1850s stuff AND legalese .. so even after I’d deciphered the ancient Magyar script .. what does ‘visgálod’ mean, for example? And in my limited knowledge ‘sarkány’ is a dragon and ‘eloroz’ is a pirate, neither of which seems of actuality in the 1850s Hungarian countryside.

The ‘victim’ in the case appears to have been the son of one Mihál Juhasz of Belevár. But that’s on the other side of the country. He seems to have got injured while working (does that say ‘in the snow, at night’?) for one Jewish Henrich (sic) Veisz. And then it sounds as if another Jew, Samuel Fleischmann, got into his chest (as in box) containing his clothes and his ‘other chattels’. Well, all those WORDS are there, but I may have joined them up wrongly. The last part of the document seems to be just flunkey stuff (‘your respected honour…’). And the letter is dated Augustus 5, 852.
I thought that was the Jewish date 5852, till I realised we hadn’t got there yet. So, in spite of the fine state of the item, it seems it genuinely was written at the time, and in the place, where Abraham Gansl was a child.

There was a Jewish census in Hungary in 1847, so I thought I might see if Mr Veisz and Mr Fleischmann were about then … but looking for Mr White and Mr Butcher is a heck of a job …

Perhaps I’ll just go back to finding out what a dragon and a pirate are doing in C19th Fejér….

And what THIS word is … **ágy ..?


Could it be kisagy. A brain injury? But there's that accent ...    sigh. 





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