Sprint and Jump with Babes and Bolyai

Sprint and Jump with Babes and Bolyai

How I became a sprinter in the school’s team around grade 6 and long jumper

In those first 5-6 years of the elementary school, I didn’t consider myself a physically outstanding boy and, probably, the others saw me in a similar way. I was of average height, of average weight, nothing special, just as a boy of my age should be. Healthy enough to run around with the rest of the class (I mean the boys) and to climb trees or jump fences… and doing all those normal activities that used to be part of a normal childhood – before the over-protective obsession began to rule our world.

Class photo in 1963, finishing grade 5.

Class photo in 1963, finishing grade 5. Author at the far left standing in the back row.

In that school system we had one teacher from grade one to four – actually, we have words that cleverly make the distinction between the ‘teacher’ that is teaching you all the subjects in grades 1-4 and the ‘teachers’ of grades 5-12, where every teacher is specialized in one (maximum two) subjects. The former is tanító and the latter is called tanár.

So being in grade 5 or 6 meant we had a different teacher for math, for Hungarian language, for Romanian language, for Russian language, for history, for geography, for botany, for drawing, for music, for physical education (gymnastics, as we would say unofficially) and so on. Of my physed teacher all I remember today is his enormous nose. It really was big and toward the tip, it suddenly got even bigger, as if two “cheeks” were growing there to give it a strange shape. If I think back now, I suspect the Russian writer Gogol, who wrote that wonderful piece titled The Nose, featuring a huge olfactory organ getting independent and going crazy, must have had a similar teacher in his younger years. He, I mean my physed teacher, not Gogol, was very much into volleyball, gymnastics, and athletic activities. I don’t know, maybe because we could play volleyball even in our small gym where we had our classes in the winter time. As I mentioned a while ago, when we say athletics, we really think only about the sports that include running, jumping and throwing. Nothing else. As I started to grow out my children years, I was getting better and better in running. I had no idea of this until the above-mentioned physed teacher (tanár, reminding you of the proper differentiation) made us run while he was measuring our performance with a stopwatch. After seeing the results he told me I should be in the school’s athletic team for the upcoming inter-school competition in our city! Being kids we had to run only 60 meters instead of the normal sprint distance of 100m. And, allegedly, I was doing well even without any training or special equipment. Imagine, how I got wings when on the track they let me run the very first time with a pair of special runner shoes – sprint spikes. Wow! I was like flying, literally!

That was the beginning of my brief career in athletics. Started to run for the school team as a sprinter and while we were at it, they figured I should try long jumping as well. Turned out I was a natural: even without proper technique or any training, I was the best in my age group. Of course, there is nothing to be proud of it or to boast about it, because I didn’t do anything special to be like that or to achieve those outstanding results, it happened mainly due to how my body was built, has been developed according to the code in my genes: light torso and very very strong legs. Before I knew it this running business came to a sudden end, just as sudden was its beginning, it is difficult to recall what happened, why I had to give up temporarily the practices in the smaller stadium of the city, which, actually, belonged to the local University and bore half of its name. And here is the answer to your question, why.

Naming names and other crimes

In that part of the world naming the institutions had developed, had rather spectacularly evolved into an intricate political mind-game (just like the never ending changes of the street names), where the ruling state or empire in the name (pun intended) of the ethnic/language group they claim to represent, aggressively starts renaming everything as soon as they establish their rule in a space inhabited by linguistically mixed population; strange thing, they convince even themselves that this ideologically motivated language magic would serve the best interests of the newly acquired subjects (citizens?) with whom they share a common linguistic, historical, cultural heritage, something often referred to as ancient right of our race etc.  As opposed to the rest of the population with a different language heritage to whom the brief and eloquent message is “fuck off”.

Along these traditions of the land, the university in my city, established during the belle epoque of having the aging emperor Franz Joseph at the helm of the dual monarchy, got the name of his majesty, the emperor and king. Kaiser und könig – k. und k. It wasn’t the first time my city got such an institution since becoming the de facto capital of the silvanic land, because the Jesuits started a higher “academy” centuries earlier but when they got kicked out from the country, the school became of lesser importance and ended up morphing into a high school – gymnasium in German-Hungarian parlance – to which seems to be appropriate to dedicate a whole separate chapter, since the author of this text graduated from that very fine high school, renamed in that time by the Romanian communist system as Lyceum #11 (mainly, because they followed the French naming system for schools – lycée). In a similar way, we need to do an exciting linguistic excursion into the surprisingly neglected issue of which side of the forest (Latin: silva) we stand. Those confused tribes on the Pannonian plains – roughly a thousand years ago – looked toward the East and said, there, there… beyond the forest, which was translated into Latin, the official language of medieval royal bureaucracies as Trans-Silva(nia). However, for those born there, on this side of the forest, shouldn’t it be Cis-Silvania? Just wondering. The university named after the Austrian Kaiser und Hungarian king – Franz Joseph Hungarian Royal University (#1), to be precise — was in place only for about 47 years (1872-1919). The emperor died two years prior; the Great War just ended and his beloved emporium finished on the wrong side, being the biggest loser and getting dismantled by the Anglo-French competition, while the divided parts ending up in several different, newly-created countries, like Greater Romania. So, the withdrawing Hungarian administration packed the university and moved it to Budapest for about two years and then gave it a new home in the city of Szeged for the next 19 years (1921-1940), when half of my homeland (this phrase always means the historical region of Transylvania in this book) was returned to Hungary by the two strong men of Europe, Mussolini, and Hitler. In the history books, it is mentioned as the Second Vienna Award and the new “border” was drawn on the top of the hill that looks down on my city from South… Kolozsvár returned, as the editorials and happy songs used to say in a celebratory manner, which means they quickly moved back the university to my hometown – there was a feverish speed to set back the wheel of the time, so to speak, to make the past twenty years of Romanian rule as if it never happened, to erase it, to continue everything where it has been left “unfinished” in 1919, when the Romanians ‘came in’. The National Theatre (and in a quite ironic way both the Hungarians, who built it in 1906, and the Romanians who own it till the present day, claim it as their own “national” institution) where the performance of Hamlet has been interrupted in 1919 by the new Romanian authorities, and which theatre was taken over by the new rulers as their own, now, in 1940 that is, took up Hamlet where they left off and all is well if end is well – the National Theatre was again Hungarian. Just like the University… and many other institutions.

Franz Josef I

Franz Josef I

King Ferdinand I

King Ferdinand I

During the interbellic (quasi-Romanian word, an adjective referring to interbellum) intermezzo, the Romanian intermezzo as they would have said it, even if the Hungarian state “moved” the university to the post-Trianon small Hungary, they didn’t take the buildings with them and most of the faculty also stayed in place. Despite the first hopes that the university would remain intact and would continue its work even in the new conditions, a too eager Romanian commissar organized a quick, surprise takeover in 1919 and the institution first became Superior Dacia University (#2), and later got the name of the Romanian king — King Ferdinand I University (#3) (1920). Of course, in 1940, after the Vienna Award, it was the Romanians’ turn to pack it up and move it to another (Saxon-German) city in Southern Transylvania, Sibiu/Hermannstadt/Szeben, that remained under Romanian rule even after 1940. And the Franz Joseph “royal” university (from a kingdom without a king) returned from the exile and flourished happily ever after. That is for five years, till 1945.

We should not forget that these five years are exactly the years of the World War II and the end of the war on the battlefields didn’t necessarily mean the peaceful and happy inter-ethnic hugging among the different ethnicities in Transylvania. The wounds were still open, the offenses (real and imaginary) were too close and real in people’s mind, in their own perception, and the nationalistic rhetorics were at their heights and the revenge was the modus vivendi, the generally accepted mindset. As the Soviet Red Army arrived to my hometown and with it the Romanian administration, once again everything started to become shitty. The King Ferdinand I University returned from Sibiu and claimed all the buildings and everything. The Franz Joseph Royal University considered itself to be intra muros and able to continue the existence. However, it didn’t happen like that: the returning Romanian university occupied all the buildings and everything, and the Hungarian institution ceased to exist in 1945. To show conformity with the albeit hypocritical positive minority politics of the new rulers of Eastern Europe (notably, comrade Stalin), in the same year it has been decided the creation of a new Hungarian university in the town, named after the world famous mathematician János Bolyai (the Transylvanian mathematical twin of Lobachevsky/Лобачевский) – Bolyai University (#4). Later, the Romanians figured out that naming their university, which inherited all the buildings and equipment from the defunct Hungarian school, after King Ferdinand was not desirable anymore, and the university was named after Victor Babeș, a renowned Romanian doctor and bacteriologist. Even later, in 1959, two high functionaries of the ruling communist Party, who decades later became notorious bad guys – Ceaușescu and Iliescu, executed an order to “unite” the two universities, in the name of fraternal love and harmony between the Romanians and Hungarians, creating thus the Babeș-Bolyai University (#5) (UBB) that exists even today.

The non-existing bikini lines

The author feels really awkward and frustrated that a simple story, intended to be short and to the point, like a sprinter’s run, just briefly illustrating the name of a sports park from the childhood led to such a convoluted, complicated incursion into the Eastern European history and nationalistic rivalry. The famous park with the stadium and a pool, where the young author went for running practices was known as Babeș park – and as it was mentioned superficially earlier: belonged to the local University and bore half of its name. Babeș. Half of Babeș-Bolyai. (Today it has another name…)


Sunbathing in the 50s

It had a pool, and it was considered more “chic” to go swimming and sunbathing to this place in the summertime than to the city’s own pool, known in both local languages as ‘Strand’. Which word’s meaning in English takes me down to a different path that I am not able to resist! I can’t remember any other place in my whole adult life where it was possible to see and watch a greater number of beautiful young female bodies than at the pool in the Babeș park. At Babeș as we all called it. As a Garden of Eden East of the Iron Curtain, full of fresh, budding girlish forms as well as more sumptuous women curves, exposed to the sun – and our eyes – in those minimalistic bikinis of every colours, and I vividly remember a grass-green one covering (and this is a mere figure of speech) a girl with a creole tan and beautiful black hair… at a time when nobody ever heard yet about “bikini lines” and there were no specialized trimming machines for such sacrilegious operations, thus exciting little curly black strands of hair on both sides of the swimming panties at the pubic area were like twinkling at us flirtatiously. Legs were not shaved either and the fine hair lints on the tanned legs were a mind-boggling view in backlight.

Those were the tracks in this park where I used to go to practice my sprinter skills. All these might explain my subconscious liking of this North American grocery brand: no-name.

Photo credits: Featured image (left) – from the brochure: Regiunea Cluj. Editura Meridiane. 1965. Fotografiile au fost executate de S. Mendrea (A.F.I.A.P.), M. Volbura, I. Miclea, T. Szabo, s.a. (accessed here on 19 Sept, 2016.). The rest is from Wikimedia Commons, in public domain and from the personal collection of the author.

The text above is a sample from my next book containing stories told by many. No title yet…