The son shines bright as a star

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - James Jef­frey

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).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.