Flow Patterns

The leaves creep along under the bridge where I have been watching their sedate progress for some minutes. Behind my back the traffic flows by much more quickly.


A Sunday walk to the heights of the Burda a few miles east of Sturovo was rewarded with a panoramic view of the Danube valley shrouded in late morning mist but with the still distinctive outlines  of Esztergom’s basilica church and the Bridge. The Burda is 388m above sea level and part of the nature reserve indicated on  the map below.

The Panorama Hotel, all late 1960s and early 1970s chic, sits on the lower slopes of the hill near the village of Kovacov where we began our walk this morning. Thirty six years ago in 1975, according to an inscribed plaque on the plinth, Anna Kisacova made a sculpture of a group of children pursuing a dove. This celebration of the future of youth sits hopefully on the hotel forecourt. I have been unable to find any reference to her own previous or future work.

The Archbishop’s Horse Chestnut Trees


On this sunny saturday afternoon, I set out again for the Basilica to confirm the whereabouts the ‘archbishop’s horse chestnut trees’ as Patrick Leigh Fermor put it.

An Early Bridge Guard

I have again picked up the two books by Patrick Leigh Fermor which bring to life the experiences of his nineteen year old self walking from Amsterdam to Istanbul in 1938, through a continent soon to be consumed by a cataclysmic war. ‘A time of Gifts’ concludes on the bridge between Sturovo and Esztergom, and the following volume, ‘Between the Woods and the Water’, begins there.

Passport stamped at the Czechoslovakian end of the Bridge, Fermor set out for a red, white and green barrier at the further end, but he lingered for some time in the middle (like many a Bridge Guard after him) ‘poised in no man’s air’. There follows a beautiful description of thousands of storks arriving on their spring migration, descending like a snow storm to occupy the roof tiles on both sides of the river – then rivalled by his portrayal of the candle lit gathering of hundreds of people en route to the Basilica on the eve of Easter’s Resurrection Sunday. He even has a word for the Archbishop’s horse chestnut trees in cathedral Square, which ‘have opened a thousand fans under the tall windows, each to be pronged with a pink or white steeple before the month is out’. The trees still form quite a large congregation around the Basilica today.

Leigh–Fermor’s bridge would be destroyed six years later, and the colourful cultural scenes he captured in prose, overwhelmed by death, destruction and a long term demise of freedom. He died in June this year aged 96 with the new bridge celebrating its tenth anniversary in a new Europe. I wonder if he was ever able to come and visit?




A wind is blowing the very few remaining leaves from the horse chestnut around the courtyard adjoining the studio. Its about to get dark, as a dog barks and an aeroplane with a vaporous tail, cruises well above the local turbulence.

Death of a Moth

The continuing warmth of the Autumn weather encouraged a pupa living amongst the horse chestnut tree leaf collection in my studio to metamorphose into a moth. I found him on the white painted wall somewhat disorientated by the absence of spring growth. Not withstanding the nature of the beast, it was with some sadness that I watched this beautiful iridescent creature die unfulfilled.

This camareria ohridella was about 3mm long and looked a nondescript grey speck to the unaided eye.

A Day for the Dead

Today is All Saints Day and local people are remembering past generations of their own kin in the nearby Catholic cemetery. An hour after the sun set, this churchyard was refilled with warm coloured light from candles in transparent orange, yellow, pink and green vases surrounded by  a sea of flowers arranged about each inscribed headstone. I heard the crunch of dry fallen leaves as someone passed (otherwise) silently  behind me and then stooped down to light another candle at his very personal destination. The sound of good natured laughter (for this is in many ways a joyful occasion) came from the entrance.

A path and a thin concrete wall separates this fairy land from the burial place of over 5,000 Russian soldiers who died in savage fighting here in 1944. This altogether more austere and regimental space, guarded by a monumental sculpture of mourning motherhood, had its own few memorial lights. More soldiers who perished crossing the Danube are buried on the Esztergom side of the river, beneath the canopy of a hundred or more beautiful horse chestnut trees. A lot of lives were cut short here during the Second World War and afterward through the continuing politics of oppression and occupation that followed  ‘liberation’.

Last night I listened live to Polly Harvey performing her ‘Let England Shake’ collection of post war songs live from the Albert Hall in London where I am more accustomed to the jingoism of the last night of the proms. It felt like she was reclaiming an imperial venue with more thoughtful and significant messages, which I carried with me through the whole of today.


Just finished reading ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ by John Le Carre and before that the ‘The Undefeated’ by George Paloczi-Horvath. A piece of fiction by a western writer who made his name out of the Cold War and an autobiography by a Hungarian writer imprisoned and tortured for ‘political crimes’ from 1947-55, by the government of the then soviet satellite state of Hungary. Le Carre’s story hinges around spy rings in ‘Czecho’, whilst Paloczi-Horvath was a Hungarian writer accused of spying for the British.

This meeting of novel and autobiography, has raised all kinds of questions around the  inter-connection of the imagined and the real. Here in Sturovo guarding a Bridge where the border guards are (not very) long gone, I am at a geographic epicentre of two different and strangely interwoven literary (and actual) worlds.

Cover of ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ John Le Carre, Sceptre Books 2011 (first published Hodder & Staughton 1974) with a photo of Gary Oldman from a poster from the new film.

Photo from ‘The Undefeated’ of George Paloczi-Horvath after his’ flight from Hungary’.

Early Planting

It is possible that the Turks brought the Horse Chestnut tree to Sturovo and Esztergom, as they reputedly fed the fruit (conkers) to horses, in order to improve their condition.  It was surely also widely planted for its beauty and the shade it offers on hot dry summer days. While the Turks could never impose an Empire across the whole of Europe (Sturovo was at its outer reaches) one of their favourite trees made the journey. In England, for example, it was first planted around 1600 and there are now over 420,000 horse chestnut trees there. I am making a count of their numbers in Sturovo and in Esztergom across the bridge.

Below is a notebook drawing of the position of 127 horse chestnut trees on one section of the Kis Duna (Little Danube) in Esztergom, followed by two photographs showing the same place.





The Pipe is Still a Pipe

I am trying to learn a sufficient Hungarian to get by, as it’s spoken in both Esztergom (Hungary) across the Bridge as well as here in Štúrovo (Slovakia) because of the historically large ethnic Hungarian population.  Shop signs in Štúrovo for example are in both Slovak and Magyar. I read ‘Just Enough Hungarian’ in the bath, and  stick post-its around the place, naming different household things in an effort to build a vocabulary. Hűtőszekrény for example is the refrigerator and sör the cold beer it contains.  The apartment is beginning to resemble an art and language installation. So far for me though, a pipe is still a pipa.

Monique Basten, an earlier Bridge Guard,  as the culmination of her research, covered all the walls and ceiling of the studio with yellow ‘post-its’; each with the same phrase ‘jó világ van’ (it’s a good world).