Remembering to Michel Gyarmathy
14th October, 2008.
The commemoration organized by the Localpatriot Circle of Balassagyarmat.
Notable citizens of Nógrád. Wreathing in the cememtery.
There were several commemorations in the local cemeteries. At the gravestone of Endre Horváth (graphic artist, one of the most famous designers of Hungarian banknotes and stamps) István Adamovszky, numismatic; at the grave of Rezső Visnovszky (literary historian), Zoltán Selmeczi head of department; at the grave of András Kovalcsik (teacher, founder of the localpatriot circle in Balassagyarmat), Mrs. Imre Borenszki; at the grave of Michel Gyarmathy, Béla Majdán town-historian commemorated.
Further presentments at the Museum of Local History (a.k.a.: Csillag-house)
Andrea Szabó: They were born 100 years ago. The connection between Michel Gyarmathy and Zoltán Schuchmann.
László Nagy: How I met Michel Gyarmathy
Péter Visnovszky: Rezső Visnovszky the royal superintendent of Comitat Nógrád was born 125 years ago,
Below you can read the article of László Nagy, which we took from the website of the Circle of Friends of Balassagyarmat. Hereby we thank for the permission.
László Nagy: My memories of Michel Gyarmathy
It was the year of 1984.
The dull breeze of change were already in the air in Hungary, but how much of an artificially created storm it will turn out to be, maybe not even the employees of agit.-prop. divisions presumed.
At my workplace we were building the international relations dynamicly, and were we hopeful? Sure we were, nothing proves it better, than the fact, that we dared to turn our foces across the Leitha at least twice, after Comecon meetings. Thanks to the support I received from my superiors and to their dexterity - and not so much to the fact that my early steps, which pierced through the "piece-border" and took me to the other side, were honored in a capitalist way -, I was able to receive a six month UN scholarship to France in the autum of 1984.
Whatever happened to me till late spring of 1985, is not a part of this little article, because this is intended to be a reminder of how I met with Michel Gyarmathy.
Well, the first time was in April, 1984. Our embassy organized a party at one of the most elegant hotels of Paris, to celebrate the anniversary of our liberation. I just happened to know our embassador, Rezső Palotás, and his wife, the recently deceased Magda Palotás, so I - a leisurely Hungarian scholar- was given the task to welcome and direct the guests.
Among the nearly 400 guests we could find the 'creme de la creme 'of the French political and artistic sphere, so naturally Michel Gyarmathy arrived to in his trademark pullover and checked coat.
After the last visitor arrived, I felt, its time for me to meet him personally, because I felt, that I couldn't find anything to talk about with the president of the Senate.
Monsieur Michel, as the French called him, and I had something in common. The magical word after I introduced myself was: Balassagyarmat, I could tell him, we have the same birthplace.
This was the time when he started to really notice me, and he raised his eyebrow:
- Have you ever been at us? At the Folies Bergère?
It was not in my nature to make false allegations. To be able to buy a ticket to the Folies Bergère, where almost impossible if you were a Hungarian, let alone from Balassagyarmat, you would consider yourself a dud. And I was never the kind of man, who will beg for a free ticket. My money I received from my scholarship was almost double, what a factory worker earned. I could easily have been waiting at the entrance for a ticket, with all the American tourists, but then again, I was a young father, and I looked at the world very differently back then.
- Well, you should come to me then, on Tuesday, around 3. Don't let my secretary deny you!
Well, this is how it happened, this is why I appeared at the side-entrance of the rue Richer, exactly at 3. I found his concern unnecessary, because I could met him right away.
-You don't have any program for tonight right? Come and see the show for yourself.
He already provided the tickets.
In the end of our meeting he asked about my family, and how things are at home. But he knew, that I am much younger, than he is, so I don't really remember those long gone days, when he was a citizen of Balassagyarmat, so he only livened up, when I told him, that my father will come to Paris soon too.
-Both of you should come and see our show.
The Folies Bergère was a sacred place in the world of show-business in Paris. A real variety theater. It was near the Pigalle and not on Avenue Foch or near the Arc of Triomphe, it was surrounded by humble streets, and its building was quite ordinary too. The foreground was a bit too corny, it was overdecorated, and the auditorium was placed like in a cinema, with boxes on its sides.
Its main competition was the Lido, with discrete tables, and with a chance for a nice dinner if you paid for it. I was lucky enough to try that out too, because our course's farewell party was organized by the French Post Office Department, and it was held at the Lido. After experiencing both, I can say: the Folies won, hands down, and it is all because of one name: Michel Gyarmathy.
The Folies Bergère only overcome his competition in things, which really mattered: choreography, sets, ideas and dancers.
Monsieur Michel was a monarch at the Folies Bergère, when it came to the show, but the success proved him.
His costumes were wonderful, and the whole performance showed such a high level of teamwork, it was amazing. No hint of struggle, or the feeling of the forced attention, everything was so natural. When the black and bald vocalist appeared at the top of the stairway, with her unmatched elegance, the whole crowd rumbled with amazement.
But Monsieur Michel always knew how to enhance it even more. Especially for me, a fellow citizen of Balassagyarmat.
At the end of his show he fitted a Hungarian program, a tradicional Hungarian wedding, and its scenes were played among sets, resembling to the Matthias Church and the city of Balassagyarmat. On a decorated banner you could read the name of the city, and the words: Isten hozott (Welcome, in Hungarian). Then the singers performed the National Anthem of Hungary, in Hungarian.
It had a very special touch to it. A wedding of a black girl, the Hungarian Anthem, an unknown city with a name the crowd helplessly tried to figure out, but it was the biggest success. The plantation owner from Lousiana, the broker from New York, the Japanese CEO all felt, they received something more, than a simple show, more than they could possible have at anywhere else, something, which came from the heart.
It resulted in a standing ovation.
Our city never had such a reputation, not before and not ever since, and Monsieur Michel was able to link the Hungarian part to the whole, without making it feel awkward, or out of character.
Two weeks passed by, and my father arrived too.
Monsieur Michel's invitation wasn't something we should or could turn down. So we received the two tickets, and we sat down in the presidental box. We atched the show with a Hungarian couple, and all four of us were surprised, when near the end of the show, the beautiful, almost two meter tall, black vocalist came to our box, and said a few polite words. Maybe about how honored she feels, that she could sing for us, but I couldn't really pay attention to her, because I felt the envious looks from the other male spectators on my back.
It was no doubt, Monsieur Michel sent her over to our box.
After the show, we thanked for the magnificent performance, but he was rather apathetic, he wanted something else, something more.
-Please visit me tomorrow night, and then we can talk.
He closed our discussion with this, and he said farewell. He didn't even asked, if the appointment is suitable for us, or not. But he could easily figure, what else and more important can two Hungarians in Paris have to do, than accept such an invitation, or maybe, he didn't wanted to give us time for palliation.
But tomorrow night held an unpleasent surprise for us. I was walking confidently toward his office, when a strickt woman, a secretary as it turned out, stopped me.
- No, Monsieur Gyarmathy is not here.
- But how is that possible? We had an appointment.
The lady became furious.
- Je vous ai dit, il n'est pas ici. (I told you, he is not here!)
I felt like our diplomats was most likely facing the same kind of clear repulse at Trianon, so we had no choice, we felt, we should walk away.
Well, it turned out, we shouldn't have done that. Michel trounced us, and we figured, maybe the famous Hungarian tenacity could have been more successful (as we learned from Atatürk).
- I told you, don't let them turn you down! - Michel said - Those people (and he emphasized these two words) live to turn everyone down. What a travesty! - he was enraged.
In that moment I understood everything. That man was waiting for us. Not today. Yesterday. He was waiting to receive news about his beloved hometown, and his anger came from the fact, that our meeting was cancelled.
He only calmed down, when we were sitting on the comfortable terrace of the intimate restaurant across his office, in the pleasant pre-summer warm.
He forgot about everything else, he just wanted to hear about the city, the elderly, the former streets, he was searching for connections, memories. He remember everything, even after so many years, truthfully, he remembered to it even better, than we did.
He probably was a frequenter at the restaurant, he ordered expensive steak for us (he said, that a man, who travelled a lot should also eat a lot), but he only had some salad, with some mineral water. He ordered fine french wine for us.
It was interesting to observe, that when a waiter came, or when we talked about something regular, he changed almost instantly. He was a bit reserved, maybe even disdainful, but when our memories met somewhere on the ocean of time, his eyes were glowing with a softened glow.
It was late night, when we said farewell.
Even in our departing he was generous. He gave a bottle of fine scotch to my father, and no matter how much we protested, he ordered us a taxi, and, although I could not see it, but I am sure he gave a huge tip to the driver, considering how thankful he was.
The bottle of scotch is still untouched.
The memories fade away in time. But the fine beverages only become more valuable.
This is one of the eternal truths of life.
Michel Gyarmathy was buried in the local jewish cemetery in 1996, near his parents. He was world famous in the show business, beautiful dancers, singers tried to get into his good grace, he was respected and well-known among the artists of France, but his heart remained with his hometown.
Since 1996 we not only have his soul, but his body too.
Written by László Nagy
Translated by: Majdán Béla Jr.
photos by: Gábor Dékány