Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Varakozok

"First, we go to see the prostitutes." This is what Mysterious A. H. said to me early Saturday afternoon as we sat eating Fisherman's Soup in Obuda.

"Are they going to come with us to the sculpture museum?"

"I don't know. You should ask them."

The prostitutes turned out to be four bronze larger-than-life figures in the middle of an Obuda square. Officially, they are Varakozok, or people who wait. But A.H. tells me that they were inspired by the sight of Parisian prostitutes standing in the rain waiting for their next John, and this can be no secret. Though they are grouped together, they are perfect representations of solitude. Each stares melancholy; each huddles under her umbrella. Could the umbrellas also be halos? The divinity that resides even within a prostitute? Or could they be symbols of the shreds of security and shelter that we all grasp for in the rain of difficulty and uncertainty? Though they stand huddled and still, their clutching arms and bent elbows together with their wind-tossed coats and dresses amply express the tension and anxiety of waiting for the unknown.

Down the street is a small museum dedicated to the sculptor of these people who wait, Imre Varga. I am sorry to say that I had not heard of him before Mysterious brought him to my attention. Varga is a first-rate sculptor, in a global sense, not only compared to other Hungarian artists. He was awarded the museum by the Communists, and apparently he suffered caustic criticism after 1989, facing accusations that he was a puppet of the Communist government. Indeed, he did execute some busts and likenesses of various Communist leaders. Yet also among his works are deft portrayals of writers and artists, a figure of Saint Stephen that he created for the Hungarian chapel in the bottom of St. Peter's, and the most affecting depiction of war that I have ever seen. The latter is a theme that Varga carried out in several media: a figure in military garb, headless, one-armed, one-legged, with war medals nailed into his chest. Let them place this sculpture in every capital in the world. This is the true body of war. Put this dismembered figure in place of the lit torches and the neoclassical graves representing unknown soldiers.

I still don't know what A.H. does. He says, "My God, I just try to survive!" He says that I must survey his 10,000 books and guess what his profession is. I invited him to my birthday dinner Saturday night at Cafe Kor, but he refused, saying that he doesn't like "socializing," and that he lives like an "atheist monk." However, he invited me to go on Wednesday to the Garden of Philosophy on Gellert Hill and then to see a monument to his father (!!!). Will I be closer to unraveling A.H.?

I wonder though: what have I done to deserve this exquisite education? Why has he taken such an interest in me? I have little faith that it could be my sparkling intellect. The Economist is suspicious as well. She says: "Public places." And we know how smart she is.


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