The Bard’s Story VI: The Bindle

October 2020, Budapest, II. district.

The invisible threat we called “the undercooked bat,” “the pangolin soup,” or “the Chinese cat” was wreaking havoc. The entire country was under lockdown. Muzzle-wearing was mandatory. And my landlord, Dr. Csaló (a pseudonym), kept increasing the charges every month. Because of the gas price, because of the crisis, because the cat, because the goat and the cow. He was ripping off the Swiss pigeon, for sure. But it was impossible to stand up to him: he was a lawyer, and a former high-ranking official in the government! So, he knew all the ins and outs of the Hungarian legal system.

During this 2020 Annus Horribilis, gathering in public places had been prohibited throughout the spring. The brief respite of July-August hadn’t had time to awaken our social animal instincts. And with the arrival of winter, we were facing the second wave of the pangolin. There was no more life. No more meetups, no more tánchaz.

Almost deserted tourist attractions.
(here: the Halászbástya in June 2020.)

But on the other hand, there was a creative boom on the internet. Podcasts, series of live shows, online classes, and conferences were where we spent most of our time. The folk singing classes were continuing online, on the Zoom app. And on a rising YouTube channel called Bards in Exile, or Bardes en Exil for French speakers, some French royalist songs, graciously shared by some conservative media, were reaching thousands of views. A Swiss guy making waves in France by singing royalist songs, go figure! But it must be said that the Bards in Exile project was going strong, and the French tunes were just a small part of the songs I performed. It just so happened that I found resonance with an audience in France.

To escape the financial grip of Dr. Csaló, I left Budapest II and went to live with Marshall(a whimsical name chosen for the narrative), a guy from our group of friends who had bought a house in Titkosfalu (another whimsical name) and who offered to host me in a spare room to reduce expenses. But I didn’t stay long, as this lockdown was driving Marshall mad: “With this pangolin, we’re in for a thousand years! Humanity would change forever. Never again in our lifetime would we see the Shire! The Goblins of Mordor would impose the ritual injection on all the peasants. And since we’re the last ones left healthy, we must come together, limit expenses that fund the Goblins, have ten children each, and run our household with an iron fist. And only then will we see salvation. The future will be ultra-violent, and it will belong to whoever turns the other into minced meat first!”

The pangolin mothership, directly driven from a control tower in Davos.
(Picture generated by Midjourney for a musical project, 2023)

Once again, it’s appropriate to use whimsical terms, but the most aware of y’all will understand the actual words that this Marshall actually held. In form, it was extreme, authoritarian, and frankly off-putting. But in essence, his project made sense, perhaps even the most sensible project I’ve ever heard from a contemporary: a healthy family life, far from the enemy, but ready to resist that enemy. At that time, he and I were on the same wavelength. It was nothing more and nothing less than the project Nikolai and Ludwig had in Ukraine, but with prior reflection and feasibility study. That’s why I don’t want to reveal more about Marshall, because last I heard, he succeeded in his project of having a large family, and I wish him nothing but success for the rest of his life.

Martial’s partner was about to give birth when I left Titkosfalu, overnight, on New Year’s 2021, with just a gym bag, leaving all my belongings behind at his place. The atmosphere had soured because I no longer believed in his project, which was too sectarian for my taste. So, I dragged me bindle (the gym bag) to Miskolc, where I spent a week, in the midst of the pangolin pandemic, let’s not forget. After that, I returned to Budapest, where I found a cheap little apartment on Tirpak utca, VII. district (a whimsical name), for a short-term rental during the winter.

Miskolc, in northeastern Hungary.

Budapest, an avenue on the Pest side.

At this point in the narrative, it’s important to recall one thing: the existence of a large-scale network of expatriate Francophones, exiles, escapees (call it what you will), or those aspiring to leave France, French-speaking Switzerland, or Belgium. With several hundred active members. Once again, the name of this network at any given time is unimportant in this narrative: if it still exists when you’re reading this, I’m glad, and may it continue to grow.

During periods of lockdown with curfews, our discussion group on Telegram (a competitor to Skype, WhatsApp, etc.) was vital for our mental health, those of us living in Budapest. But the real projects often happened on the “international” network, meaning with people doing the same as us in neighboring countries, or simply those living in France or Switzerland with the same spirit of community. That was a network of about 500 people at that time. When one of us traveled, they could contact the group in the corresponding country: “I’m looking for work, I’m looking for accommodation, I’m just coming as a tourist, etc.”, with the goal of meeting in real life and forming a network of trusted comrades.

Revenons à moi, en janvier-février 2021, couché sur mon lit, en train de pianoter sur mon natel et de lire les messages sur ces groupes.

Un appartement à Budapest.

Back to me, in January-February 2021, lying on my bed, tapping on my phone and reading messages in these groups. That day, it was a French artisan, living near Switzerland – let’s call him Miroslav – whom I had already met at Lake Balaton in 2019, who contacted me. He explained that a Hungarian friend of his, let’s call her Julcsi, a staunch anti-vaxxer and anti-pass woman in her fifties, was looking for a tenant for her apartment near Keszthely, on the shores of Lake Balaton. As I was convinced at that time that “we’ll be having this pangolin regime for 1000 years”, as Marshall had said, and that we would end up masked forever, as others had ended up veiled under Christian or Muslim inquisition, and that the only solution to no longer see mask fanatics was to leave the big city, I accepted.

And that’s how I ended up on the shores of Lake Balaton.

To be continued in Part VII.