The son shines bright as a star
SOMEWHERE between the fists clenched around flaming torches and the repeated chant of ‘‘ Resign, you lying bastard!’’, I sense tension in the air.
It’s a balmy night during southern Hungary’s Indian summer and the citizens of Pecs, like their compatriots across the country, have reacted grumpily to revelations their prime minister told some big porkies during the recent election campaign.
I follow the almost volcanic rumbling of the protesters and find the main square packed. As the crowd bays for blood, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. But as I approach the incandescent throng, people start turning towards me, the rage draining from their faces, replaced by the sort of expression they could happily wear to the Second Coming.
It is, of course, because I have a baby on my shoulders.
My son, Leo, is just nine months old and his chief interests include the workings of power sockets and the swallowing of fridge magnets, but the suddenly unfrenzied mob looks on him as if he were a demi-god. ‘‘ Oh, what a beautiful child . . . everybody look at this beautiful child.’’ Leo is well pleased with the attention and starts flapping his chubby arms. This sends the worshippers wild. If I’d brought my small daughter, Daisy, as well, the mob probably would have started with the incense and burnt offerings.
‘‘ Agoo,’’ Leo comments, and some of the women look as though they may faint in ecstasy. If Leo passes one of his fridge magnets now, we just may be able to start our own religion.
Hungary isn’t the only country where the locals have an unusually welldeveloped soft spot for children — Italy sounds as if it’s populated by generously proportioned mamas who prowl the streets, plucking babies from their prams and thrusting them to their bosoms— but nowhere have I seen it as widespread or as hapless as here.
In Hungary, children are the passport to a better life, the keys to the kingdom. (In my case it is also the silencer for all my Magyar relatives who felt my previously childless state was a source of near fatal shame to my mother.)
Walk the streets with anklebiters and the Magyar reserve magically cracks open: teenage goths, glammed-up beauticians, riot police, orchestra conductors and chain-smoking taxi drivers all without exception turn helplessly to mush.
Even some of the local tramps, who look as though they’ve been dug up out of a bog and are so soused they can hardly blink, are magically granted the power of coherent speech as they weave towards your progeny to inform them how thoroughly delightful and quite possibly divine they are.
Travel with sprogs and Hungary becomes an unrecognisable land of contented sighs and indulgent, strangely happy clappy smiles.
Crowds adoringly part, bus seats are cheerfully surrendered and restaurants become a breeze as the staff go gaga and pass your children around. (If you don’t have children of your own, it may be worth hiring some for the day just to get a taste of this national hysteria.)
The downside to all this is you eventually come home and your children won’t take it so well when they realise the mass worship is over.
After Hungary, a visit to, say, a hip cafe in Sydney’s eastern suburbs could come dangerously close to giving your children a psychological version of the bends, so take care to re-immerse them slowly.
In the meantime, the Hungarian PM has managed to hang on to his job. Leo’s still waiting for a thank-you card. James Jeffrey is the author of Paprika Paradise (Hachette Australia, $35).