The colors of time

Panorama of Durrës in the direction of the bay. 16 October 1913

On 16 October 1913, two Frenchmen landed in the port of Durrës, or as it was then called, Durazzo, in the recently created Albania. They opened an elongated lacquered trunk, and took out a folding camera mounted on a tripod. They inserted a glass plate, and made photographs of the port, a curious kid in the gate of the former Venetian fortress, two Muslim boys at the base of the wall – one of them also separately –, a man with an attractive face with three or four chickens in his hand, a master who offered his services on the square with a huge-wheeled oxcart and a Ferris wheel pieced together from raw beams. Then they removed the glass plates, and repacked the camera into the trunk. These were the first color photos ever created on the Balkan Peninsula.

Albanian Muslim. Durrës, 16 October 1913

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The two men, one the chemist and photographer Auguste Léon, and the other, Jean Brunhes, professor of human geography at the Collège de France, came to the Balkans on behalf of Albert Kahn, a Parisian banker. Their task was to travel throughout the peninsula, and to “record, once and for all, the aspects, practices and customs of human activity, the fatal disappearance of which is only a question of time,” as formulated in the statutes of Kahn’s ambitious visual archive, the Archives de la Planète.

Albert Kahn was born in Alsace to a Jewish merchant family. At the age of sixteen he went to Paris, where, as an exemplary employee of the Goudchaux bankhouse, he made enormous wealth both for the bankhouse and himself with investments in South African gold and diamond mines. As he also wanted to learn, but had no time for the university, he engaged a private tutor who was none other than the philosopher Henri Bergson. The two men became close friends, and under Bergson’s influence, Kahn established a number of philanthropic foundations, such as the program Autour du Monde, which allowed future teachers travel all over the world, to acquaint them with other cultures. Or the Comité national d’études sociales et politiques, which supported international specialists to come together and discuss the important problems of mankind. And the Archives de la Planète, which set out to document the variety of human cultures in photos and film. This latter project used the autochrome technique patented by the Lumière brothers in 1904, the first true color photographic technique, about which we have written in detail here. Kahn financed the training and travels of photographers and filmmakers, who were sent all over the world to document “the surface of the globe occupied and fashioned by man, as it appears at the beginning of the twentieth century.” He trusted the professional direction of this ambitious project to Professor Jean Brunhes, whose first trip took him to the Balkans. Until 1931, when the project fell apart as a result of the global economic crisis, they collected 72,000 autochrome photographs and 170,000 meters of film from 48 countries of the world, thereby offering an unparalleled slice of time covering the conditions of humanity. The digitization and publication of these images began in the 1990s at the Albert Kahn Museum, founded in the banker’s former Boulogne villa.

The “fatal disappearance of the practices and customs of human activity” seemed particularly topical in the Balkan Peninsula, which had been in continuous wars since 1912, and perhaps that was why Professor Brunhes choose this region. In October 1912 they set out, together with Auguste Léon, on their first photo trip in Bosnia, from where in May 1913 they went to Kosovo, then through Skopje and the at that time still Ottoman Thessaloniki to Bursa. In October 1913 they arrived in Albania, where they were able to travel under the patronage of and in the territory controlled by Essad Pasha of Durrës, who was opposed to the government in Vlora, recently recognized by the Great Powers. Essad Pasha’s soldiers accompanied them from Durazzo to Tirana along the Erzen river. They stopped in Rreth, at the Pasha’s palace. In Tirana, which was just a small Ottoman town at the beginning of its development, they took a dozen photos around the market square with its three 16th-century mosques, two of which have since been demolished for the creation of the monumental Skanderbeg Square.

Row of columns lining the marketplace in Tirana. 18 October 1913

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Returning to Durrës, they set out to the north. On 21 October they arrived in Shqodra, or as it was then called, Scutari. The last Ottoman fortress of the Balkan Wars had been occupied on 22 April by the Montenegrin army, leaving massive destruction behind them. In the color photos the ruins stand in peculiar contrast to the rich and colorful costumes of the Catholic Albanian mountaineers.

Two young highland women from Hoti in front of an old house. Shqodra, 21 October 1913

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The siege of Shqodra was still going on, when the two Frenchmen visited the other Albanian majority area, Kosovo. After bloody fighting and mutual ethnic cleansing, the former Ottoman vilayet had gone under Serb military control in October 1912, but it was not yet annexed to Serbia: this only happened on 7 September 1913. The photos taken in Prištin, Gračanica, Lipljan/Lipjan and Prizren clearly attest to the Serb military presence and the close coexistence of the two ethnic groups. This latter was the reason for the tragic fate of the region. Similarly to Galicia, which was at the same time the cradle of the national rebirth of the Poles and the Ukrainians, Kosovo was also considered to be the birthplace of both the Serbs and the Albanian national movement. Between 1878 and 1881, the Albanians established here the League of Prizren with the purpose of establishing the national self-determination for all the Albanian-inhabited lands. As for the Serbs, to them Kosovo was the cradle of Serbian statehood. The town of Peć was the seat of the Serbian Patriarchate, and Lazar, the greatest Serbian king, fell here in the 1389 Battle of Kosovo while defending his homeland against the Ottoman army of Murad I.

(It is worth noting that Hungarians also contributed to the tragic fate of this region. After 1687, with the liberation of Hungary from the Ottomans, the army of the Holy League reconquered the entire Northern Balkans from the Turks, and the Serbian Christians were happy to support them. The Sultan then agreed with the Hungarian Protestant baron Imre Thököly, that if the latter attacks the almost defenseless Transylvania with an army of Crimean Tatars, he would be recognized as Prince of Transylvania. This was done in 1690, and the Habsburg army had to be withdrawn from the Balkans for the protection of Transylvania. They were followed by 40,000 Serbian families from Kosovo under the leadership of Patriarch Arsenije III Čarnojević, who had every reason to fear revenge from the returning Ottoman army. The Serbs of Kosovo now live in the town of Szentendre, north of Budapest, where the statue of King Lazar stands in the garden of the Serbian cathedral. And the now-deserted Kosovo was repopulated by the Porta by Albanians, who over the previous two centuries had converted to Islam.)

Blacksmiths. Prizren, 7 May 1913

Hekuran Xhamballi, Phirava dajle. From the album Kabà & Vàlle d’Albania (2001)

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View of the Serbian quarter. Prizren, 8 May 1913

Henri Bergson, the spiritual father of the Archives de la Planète, in his main work, Time and Freedom, makes a famous distinction between science’s measurable and homogenous time, and the individuum’s subjective time. The latter, called by him durée réelle, “real duration”, is preserved for us by the images of our memory.

In measurable time, more than a hundred years have passed since the Frenchmen’s photo tour. A hundred very bad years in the Balkans, with many cruelties, genocide and death. The “fatal disappearance of the practices and customs of human activity” has become a reality. Nevertheless, these photos, the images of collective memory, with their vivid colors, and the impressionist tones of the technique, the sensitive faces of their figures and the richness of their world in spite of every poverty, are still alive today. They are saturated with real duration, which they pass on to us, elevate us above the past hundred years, and expand the limits of our subjective time.

Miss Ljubica dressed in a rich Serb costume with a pink silk scarf on her head. Prizren, 8 May 1913

Come with us to Albania


Albania is one of the last “wild regions” of Europe, where, until recently, the mountaineers have lived in tribal communities and blood feud was a widespread custom, and where the medieval bazaars and Ottoman merchant houses are still alive in the rural towns. The second half of the twentieth century almost hermetically isolated the country from any change. It just starts to recover and to modernize itself in an ever-increasing pace. Roads are being built towards the secluded valleys, and Western European tourism begins to explore this stunning landscape. This is the last moment when we can see the country more or less as the great early 20th-century travelers, Baron Franz Nopcsa or Edith Durham saw and described it. That is why, in this September, we go to a one-week round trip to Albania, where we try to visit the most beautiful regions of the country.

Due to the great interest, we announce two consecutive trips. The first one, between 5 and 12 September, is already full, but for the second one, between 12 and 19 September, still there are places, and everyone is welcome.

We meet in Tirana. To fly there, we recommend the low-fare flight of Wizzair (now only 70 euros there and back, including a free small and big cabin bag) from Budapest, but you can choose any other flight as well. From there we travel around the country with a 18-seat bus, covering about 800 kms during the week. We focus on the northern mountains, the most beautiful region of the country, where, due to the difficulties, travel agencies still do not really organize tours. But we also visit the old towns of the historic cities of Shqodra, Tirana and the wonderful Berat, the beautifully preserved ancient Greek cities of Byllis and Apollonia, and travel along one of the most beautiful coastal routes of the world from Vlorë to the Llogara Pass.

Our planned route is as follows:

• Sept. 5 / 12 Tuesday: Departure from Budapest at 13:25. Arrival to the airport of Tirana, from where the bus takes us directly to Shqodra. Sightseeing and dinner.



Sept. 6 / 13 Wednesday: We set out to the north, the most secluded and most romantic region of the Albanian mountains, the National Park of Theth, “Albania’s Tibet”. We cross beautiful mountain ranges and majestic passes, and cover the last 10 kms of the route on unpaved road, with four-wheel cars. If we are lucky, we can even caress little bear cubs at our family guesthouse.



Sept. 7 / 14 Thursday: Excursion in the valley of Theth. We go with an off-road vehicle up to the hillside, and then we do an about two-hour walking tour (on not difficult terrain) to the Grunasi Falls. For lunch we return to our guesthouse, and then in the afternoon we go back to Shqodra.


Sept. 8 / 15 Friday: We sail along the Drin River. We start early in the morning (around 6:30 a.m.) from Shqodra to the Komani ferry station. The ferry leaves at 9 a.m., and goes about four hours long to the other station in Fierza between beautiful mountains, which recall the Norwegian fjords. Then we get on bus again, and go up to perhaps the most beautiful mountainous region of Albania, Valbona, where we dine and stay in a quite high-standard family guest house.




Sept. 9 / 16 Saturday: In the morning we do a short (about 2-kilometer) walking tour in an extremely beautiful valley of Valbona, and then go back to Tirana on a mountain road winding along the Drin river. We stop to take photos at the magnificent panoramas, and later at the former Catholic center of Northern Albania, the Franciscan monastery of Rubik. Afternoon and evening sightseeing in Tirana.



Sept. 10 / 17 Sunday: In the morning we go over to Berat, a well-preserved Ottoman-era trading town, the most beautiful historic city of Albania (World Heritage site). We spend the whole day rambling in the old town. We visit the Turkish quarter, the ethnographic museum installed in an old merchant house, the fortress, and the splendid Icon Museum in the former Church of the Dormition of the Virgin.



Sept. 11 / 18 Monday: From Berat we head towards the sea. We stop at the ancient Greek town of Byllis, situated in a wonderful place, on the top of a high rock. From Vlorë to the Llogara pass and look-out we go along one of the most beautiful seaside routes of the world. We spend our last night in Vlorë, on the beach, preferably arriving there in time to have an afternoon bath.



Sept. 12 / 19 Tuesday: In the morning we leave for Tirana. On the way we stop at Apollonia’s ancient Greek city and 10th-century monastery. Our plane sets out at 3:30 p.m., so we plan to arrive at Tirana Airport at about 1 p.m.



The participation fee is 550 euros per person, which includes hotels with breakfast, the bus, off-road vehicles and ferry fees, as well as guiding. Flight tickets should be arranged individually. Registration deadline: July 25, Tuesday evening, at wang@studiolum.com. It is recommended to register well in time, because travels are usually quickly overbooked.

Until departure we will publish a number of posts about the locations of our Albanian tour, as well as photos on our Facebook. Stay with us.


Un testigo


«Estamos en 1920. Salamon Tannenbaum toma asiento en la Posada del Emperador de Austria, cuyo nombre cambió hace dos años pero a la que ningún cliente, tampoco Salamon Tannenbaum, llama Posada de los Tres Ciervos, según mandan las ordenanzas municipales. Es más, cuando Salamon lanza su gorra desde un extremo a otro de la habitación y siempre acierta a colgarla en el perchero, exclama: ¡Moni ha llegado a El Emperador de Austria! Y el coro de borrachines allí presentes responde así: ¡Que el buen Dios le otorgue larga vida!»

Miljenko Jergović: Ruta Tannenbaum

En Sarajevo, que —salvo unos años terribles— ha sido respetado por la historia y donde los estratos del tiempo se han acumulado como la hojarasca quieta de un bosque, desde los pequeños cementerios turcos y las cornisas Art Nouveau hasta los edificios cubistas, se encuentra junto al bazar Baščaršija, en la calle Brodac, donde el fundador de la ciudad, Beg Isa Ishaković en 1460 fundó su primer monasterio de derviches, una pequeña planta baja con tres puertas. No se sabe cuánto lleva cerrada. Tal vez sea una de las que Ozren Kebo describe en su Sarajevo za početnike (Sarajevo para principiantes), que trata del asedio de 1992-1996:

«El primer abril en guerra estuvo marcado por un gran éxodo. Los más avisados escaparon atemorizados. Los menos prudentes no supieron reconocer el miedo. La ciudad estaba paralizándose. En Baščaršija dos tiendas aún vendían el burek, comida tradicional, una čevapčiči, y tan solo quedaban dos pastelerías. Cada mañana aparecía una más con un candado en la puerta. Solo habían pasado dos semanas desde que se oyeron los primeros disparos y nadie imaginaba qué clase de hambruna se nos venía encima.»


Esta tienda, sin embargo, no tiene candado. Su persiana solo está medio bajada, quizá no hubo tiempo para más al salir corriendo. Por ello la inscripción oxidada de la cerradura es visible aún con claridad.


«Patent Polivka & Paschka, Budapest»

Ya escribimos sobre la la imperial y real fábrica de persianas Paschka, de la isla de Csepel, al sur de Budapest, cuyos productos todavía se encuentran delimitando la frontera de la antigua Monarquía. Después de cien años de destrucción, se ven en Lemberg y Košice, Bačka y Böhmerwald. Y, como podemos comprobar, también en Bosnia, puesta bajo protección austro-húngara en el Congreso de Berlín de 1878. Pasaron guerras y asedios, ustashas y chetniks vinieron y marcharon pero la marca del cerrajero del emperador de Austria, junto a los habitantes de la ciudad, permanece.


The witness


“It is the year 1920. Salamon Tannenbaum is sitting in the inn of the Austrian Emperor, which was given a different name two years ago, but, just like Salamon Tannenbaum, no guest calls it the Three Deers Inn, as prescribed by the city. Furthermore, when Salamon throws his hat from one end of the room to the other, and always hits the hat-rack, he shouts: Moni has come to the Austrian emperor! And the sots present reply like this: may Good God give Him long life!”

Miljenko Jergović: Ruta Tannenbaum

In Sarajevo, which, with the exception of a few terrible years, has been avoided by history, and where the layers of time pile up on each other, from the small Turkish cemeteries through the Art Nouveau ledges to the Cubist buildings, like unstirred litter in the forest, there stands next to the Baščaršija bazaar, in Brodac Street, where the founder of the city, Beg Isa Ishaković in 1460 established his first dervish monastery, a small three-door stop. It is not known how long it has been closed. Perhaps it is one of those of which Ozren Kebo writes in his Sarajevo za početnike (Sarajevo for beginners), dealing with the 1992-1996 siege:

“The first month of April in war was marked by a great exodus. The wise fled in panic. The less wise did not know how to recognise the panic. The city was shutting down. At Baščaršija, two shops were still selling burek, one traditional food, one čevapčiči, with just two cake shops. Every morning a padlock appeared on a different one. It had been just two weeks since the first shots were fired and no one knew what kind of hunger was coming our way.”


This shop, however, has no padlock. Its shutter has been pulled down only halfway, maybe there was no time to do more before the escape. So the rusty inscription of the shutter label is still clearly visible.


“Patent Polivka & Paschka, Budapest”

We have already written about the imperial and royal shutter manufacturer Paschka from Csepel Island in southern Budapest, that its products still designate the boundaries of the former Monarchy. After a hundred years of destruction, they still can be seen in Lemberg and Košice, Bačka and the Böhmerwald. And, as we see, also in Bosnia, placed under Austro-Hungarian protection by the Berlin Congress of 1878. Wars and sieges subside, ustashas and chetniks come and go, but the shutter label to the Austrian emperor, just like the inhabitants of the city, perseveres.


Dissolving: The fall of Icarus

Pieter Brueghel the Elder: The fall of Icarus, 1560 (probably a copy after Brueghel’s lost original of 1558). Brussels, Royal Museum of Fine Arts

W. H. Auden: Musée des Beaux-Arts, Brussels 1938

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.



Kerry Skarbakka: Photo from the series Struggle

Bears are very good Turks


Mr. Zoltán Medve – in literal translation, Sultan Bear –, the Governor of Krassó-Szörény County was not the first bear to visit the island of Ada Kale. Even if we discount the medieval Hungarian and Vlach bear-leaders, whose animals appeared in the island’s market place not of their own will, we must not be silent about the renowned Maczkó Úr – Mr. Bear – who preceded his colleague only by a nose. That he preceded him is beyond doubt, for Mr. Medve paid his official visit to the island on 12 May 1913, but at that time the book about Mr. Bear’s visit to Ada Kale, from the pen of Zsigmond Sebők, was already for sale with great success throughout the whole of Hungary.

The book Dörmögő Dömötör utazása hegyen, völgyön és a nagy ládával (“Travels of Grunty Demeter – Mr. Bruin – through mountains and valleys with the great chest”), published in 1913, was the last volume in the series about the travels of Mr. Bruin from Maramureș – “Huszt Forest, Third Valley, Second Stream, Fourth Rock, Sixth Cave, not far from the rest place of the wolves, any of whom will willingly show you the way” – which had been published since 1883. It guided its large audience, the children of Hungary, to Budapest, the Tatras, and the Iron Gates on the Lower Danube. To many of them, this was the only source of knowledge about the most beautiful parts of pre-war Hungary.


Mr. Bruin and his two small cubs, Zebike and Pimpi visited Ada Kale on the way to the Iron Gates. To their credit, they did not get the annexation of the island ahead of their senior relative, but were satisfied with annexing some caviar, coffee and tobacco to their native Maramureș. A great stroke of luck, since seven years later an island under Czechoslovakian, and later Soviet, sovereignty would have caused much international complication on the Lower Danube between Serbia and Romania.

The only complication during his visit remained inner-Maramureșan, inasmuch as Uncle János Hörpentő (“John the Sipper”), the cousin and evil spirit of Mr. Bruin also took part in the journey uninvited, now traveling in the chest of Mr. Bruin, and now acting as an inhabitant of Ada Kale, dressed as a local Turk, Mustafa Herpendji, who keeps drinking and eating whatever and whenever possible ahead of the honourable bear and his cubs.

In the course of this short visit, the little readers only get to know the most important topoi about Ada Kale. That you can get there from Orsova on a boat. That Lajos Kossuth, MP of the lost war of independence of 1848-49, set off from here to exile in Turkey. That here you can already encounter the Orient, the bazaar, women wearing hijab, coffee and real Turkish delight. Mr. Bruin was not exactly an Ignác Kúnos. But this much was enough for a little schoolboy to whet his curiosity, and once he grows up, he will also set out to see this wonderful East, as did Sándor Kőrösi Csoma, Ármin Vámbéry, Aurél Stein, and many others.


“Orsova is a pretty town with some five thousand people. If you stop at the bank of the Danube, flanked by one- and two-story houses, you can see three countries. On the other bank is Serbia, to the left Romania, and on the Danube a small island shines in green, it is Ada Kale. This belongs to Turkey. […]

When the company was fed, Mr. Bruin asked:

– And now, what shall we do until evening?

– Come, my effendi, to Ada Kale, – said Mustafa, the Herpendji. – There you will get fine Turkish tobacco, fine Turkish coffee.

– Turkish tobacco? Turkish coffee? – 
happily asked Mr. Bruin. – That’s fine, my friend Mustafa Herpenji, I love Turkish tobacco, Turkish coffee, Turkish pipes, Turkish divans, Turkish comfort… Hehehe, bears are very good Turks. So, let’s go to Ada Kale.

The boat harbor was close, and an old Turk soon carried them over to Ada Kale. The Turk was a silent man – to the good luck of Mustafa-János Herpenji-Herpentő, because I don’t know how he would have replied to the questions of the Turks. The Turkish ferryman broke the silence only once. When the boat arrived under Orsova, they saw a creek flowing into the Danube. This was the Cserna. Then, a mountain observing himself in the river. This was the Cserna. And a mountain, which staring at itself in the Danube. This is called Alion Mountain. The old Turk pointed to the bottom of the mountain, where the Cserna runs into the Danube, and he said, in good Hungarian, although with a Turkish accent:

– Lajos Kossuth kissed the soil of Hungary there, when he had to say goodbye to it forever.”




“Ada Kale, or in Hungarian New Orsova, is a two-kilometer-long island. Most of it is occupied by the fortress, and inside the fortress, its streets, houses, and shops. It is inhabited by Turks, only the army is Hungarian, because, although the island belongs to Turkey, since Serbia gained its independence, it has nevertheless fallen so far away from the motherland, as a button that had been cut off the coat. So, Hungary undertook its defense.

This is an interesting little place. As Mr. Bruin entered the fortress gate, his mouth gaped in amazement. Here he found a world which was completely different from anything he had ever seen during his journeys. Here, the men wore not a hat, but a turban or a fez, and the women a long mantle that covered all their face, except for two holes for the two eyes. It looked like a masquerade. The merchants sold their goods not in glass-door shops, but in an open bazaar. There they were squatting, under tent-like carpets, on soft Oriental carpets. There they were selling all kinds of sweets, trinkets, beautiful Oriental rugs. It was a real Turkish world.

Mr. Bruin immediately stopped in front of a candy store, like a big bumble-bee on the sugar, and the two cubs like two little flies on the peach jam. They just foamed, sucked, swallowed, chewed, sipped the sugar, dates, dessert, Turkish honey, that even the serious Turk smiled.

– Well, never did I hear such noisy chewing, even when the Budapest students came to Ada Kale, and visited the candy bazaar!

But when it came to the payment, Mr. Bruin and the Turk did not understand each other.

– Where is that Mustafa Herpendji? – said Mr. Bruin. – He would speak in Turkish with this Turk. Look, he’s nowhere just now, when he would be most needed!

But Herpendji–Hörpentő was clever enough not to be there, where he would have had to speak in Turkish. Finally Mr. Bruin agreed with the merchant, and then he sat down at the breezy porch of the Turkish café.

– Bring me Turkish tobacco, Turkish coffee, Turkish pipe! – he shouted.”



“Soon the Turkish coffee and Turkish tobacco was on his table. Sitting in the Turkish way on a carpet, he smoked the latter from a pipe called nargile. The fragrant tobacco floated around his head, made him sleepy, and soon he fell asleep, forgetting even the black coffee. The cubs also bumped with him. The Turks of the island gathered in the street, and asked each other:

– What is this? They are shooting with mortars in the fortress?

Oh, no, they were not. It was just the three bears who were snoring in the café. But who is this figure silently approaching the sleeping ones, and sipping their coffees one after the other? Yes, it is Herpendji–Hörpentő. Then, just as he came, he left, in silence, unnoticed.”



Soon Mr. Bruin woke up.

– Oh, I sneaked a little. Well, the coffee will come the more in hand… But where did the coffee disappear to, from my cup?

– And from mine? – was upset Zebike.

– And from mine? – whimpered Pimpi.

Mr. Bruin cried out angrily:

– Where? Where? Why do we ask it? It went down the throat of my alter ego! He has a devil, that he is able to get to wherever I am. Hey, you Turk! – he shouted –, coffee!

The waiter brought the steaming cups.

– You, Turk! – shouted Mr. Bruin. – Pour the coffee right in my mouth! Dont put it down, because my alter ego will immediately sip it – let him be suffocated on his name day!

The waiter poured the coffee into the respectable traveler. Mr. Bruin coughed, cleared his throat, because the hot coffee burned it.

– No matter if it burns me, at least I drink it on my money, and not my alter ego – he comforted himself. Then he exclaimed: But it’s already getting dark! Cubs, let’s say good-bye to Ada Kale, and go back to Orsova. Where’s that Herpendji? Let him carry the luggage to the boat. Waiter, my dear friend, didn’t you see Mustafa Herpendji somewhere?


The coffee owner knew Hungarian. He wondered:

– Who is that Mustafa Herpendji?

– Don’t you know him? He is a Turkish porter from here.

– From here? No Turk of this name has ever lived in Ada Kale.

– It’s impossible, my friend. For he had such a great turban, that it even covered his nose… it never let me see his face. And he spoke so well in Turkish! He said: djin, djin, choje to, djin, djin, potjesem.

The coffee owner smiled:

– But this is in Slovak, not in Turkish! – he said

Mr. Bruin shuddered.

– Oh my, how this wasp stung me!… Or rather this idea, more stingy than a wasp. I start to believe, that this Mustafa Herpendji was my alter ego. That Mustafa drank my beer, he ate my caviar, he sipped my coffee. That’s why he pulled the turban in his face, so we could not see his face.

– Hehe, what a fooldji he has made of you! – laughed Zebike.

– You cub, if you don’t shut up, you’ll get a slapdji! – grunted Mr. Bruin.”




After Mr. Bruin’s visit, the island began to fade from the Hungarian children’s horizon. Seven years later it lay behind new borders, fifty-nine years later it was submerged under the new water level. Today even the oldest bears of Maramureș can not easily say where Mr. Bruin had sipped his Turkish coffee. But since then, his adventures have not faded.

“When on Rákóczi street we passed before Manó Vidor’s bookshop, my father asked me whether I want a new book. He knew that a book was the most precious gift to me (and still it is). We entered the bookshop, and my father asked me which book to buy. I looked around excitedly on the shelves of the novels for the youth, and I discovered a rather thick Mr. Bruin book, perhaps the most exquisite fable book of Zsigmond Sebők: The travels of Mr. Bruin to the Iron Gates. That’s what I asked for. My father bought it, and right there, in the shop he wrote in it these unforgettable lines: “To my son Géza, on the day of the proclamation of the Hungarian Republic, and of the rebirth of Hungarian freedom, in Nagyvárad, on 31 October 1918, from your father.” I had this book until the end of the Second World War. I kept it as one of the great historical documents of my life. But it also belonged amaong my first important readings. In fact, here I read about the evil alter ego of the benevolent Mr. Bruin, Uncle Hörpentő. Only decades later did I realize that this masterpiece for children is actually a parody of Dostoyevsky’s novel Likeness. And, to tell the truth, since then I cannot take seriously this masterpiece of Dostoyevsky. It always reminds me of Uncle Hörpentő, the wicked bear, for whose jokes always Mr. Bruin must pay. And in the course of my life, if any inconvenience fell on me because of others’ inhumanity or meanness, I always calmly realized that now I am Mr. Bruin, and the malevolent, the wicked souls, the shady characters, the parasites all are in some way Uncle Hörpentő.”

Géza Hegedüs remembers like this Mr. Bruin’s Ada Kale adventures in his memoirs Preludes to an autobiography. From this inspiration sprung the historical novels which meant to my generation what the wanderings of Zsigmond Sebők’s bear had meant to him. The island of Ada Kale, like Hrabal’s house on the Dam of Eternity, submerged deep and flew up high, and now forever

floats above us, like the clouds of the ideal buildings on a Baroque painting.

“– Mr. Bruin for President! – shouted the bears.”