As a child I once bathed in the Danube. It was on a mild spring evening in 1967. I’d come to Budapest from a town where there was no water far and wide – neither still nor flowing. Not even a puddle. On top of that, in the middle of the Hungarian plain I’d never even seen a hill, let alone a mountain. No water, not a mountain. So when I jumped into the water in northern Budapest with a view of the not so distant mountains, I was almost beside myself with joy. Like someone who has opened the door onto a new and unimagined world. What seemed to me then as a huge novelty turned out to be anything but that. My experience might have been new, but as I swam around in the Danube I was overcome by almost atavistic sensations. Moreover, that northern part of Budapest where I experienced the Danube for the first time is called “Romans’ beach” – after the Romans who used to live here and who, through the ruins, are present to this day. They also built the first bridges over the Danube, for example at Aquincum in the north of Budapest, near to Romans’ beach, whose foundations, built with wooden stakes, were surveyed in the second half of the nineteenth century. It was as if I was submerged in a kind of common past. Unconsciously, I was experiencing the same thing as millions and millions of others before me. On that evening in May 1967 I still knew nothing about the Danube, had no idea about its history, about the blossoming cultures along its banks, didn’t know the fantasies, ideas, hopes entwined around it. But my senses refused to be tricked. They knew very well that I wasn’t bathing only in the Danube, but also in the myth of the Danube. That was also perhaps why I took such pleasure in the powerfully surging river. I was submerged in a myth. “Now and forever”: that could be the motto of all water. Especially of rivers, which are eternally changing, assuming new forms, whose drops find themselves in permanent exchange – although from its source to its estuary the river is a single, constant whole.
more from László Földenyi at Eurozine here.