Alexandru Călinescu acquired his Swiss-made Hermes Baby typewriter around the middle of the 1970s. In general, in shops in communist Romania, the only typewriters to be found were produced in other communist countries, especially East Germany and Czechoslovakia, later also China. The Swiss machine was purchased “on occasion,” as the term was at the time for things bought second-hand, either from shops operating the so-called “consignation” system by which citizens could legally sell to or buy from other citizens, or directly from an “acquaintance,” as was Alexandru Călinescu’s case. “To be precise, I got it from the father of this acquaintance; he wasn’t very interested in it, didn’t use it, and I had liked it from the time I first saw it,” he recalls.
It was on this typewriter that the great majority of the text written by Alexandru Călinescu in the last fifteen years of Romanian communism were typed. In contrast to other types of material connected with his journalistic activity, the typewriter was not confiscated during the search in 1983. “It was registered with the Militia, as the law required at the time, there was nothing illegal about it, so they didn’t touch it,” Alexandru Călinescu recalls. According to the then extremely recent Decree no. 98 of 28 March 1983 regarding the regime of duplicating apparatus, materials necessary for the reproduction of writing, and typewriters, physical persons could only have typewriters, not copiers, and “only on the basis of an authorisation issued by the Militia.” In order to obtain an authorisation from this authority of the communist state, it was necessary, according to this legislative act, to hand in, on acquisition, after any repair, and at the beginning of each calendar year, “a page with the characters of the letters, figures, and orthographic signs.” The decree introduced a strict control over typewriters and other means of multiplying texts in order to limit the possibility of producing manifestos or samizdats. Alexandru Călinescu’s typewriter was, however, a very old model, on which – as he explains – he had to change several ribbons every year, as their quality was poor and they became worn through relatively fast. At present, the Hermes Baby typewriter, which weighs approximately 7 kg, is in Alexandru Călinescu’s private collection and is in good working order.
- Iași, Romania
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In the autumn 2011, veteran legionnaire and military historian Dr. Tibor Szecskó was the first to return his questionnaire of 50 questions, covering his whole life career. As the main organizer of the Hungarian veterans’ circle in Provence, he was the also one who managed to get many of his comrades involved in their shared memory research work (questionnaires, oral history interviews, memoirs, film shootings, archival research at the Headquarters of the French Foreign Legion in Aubagne, etc.)
He was born in 1939 in the rural town of Gyöngyös, Hungary, as the third and youngest child of a working-class family. His father was a mason working for a state farm. As a second-year student of a vocational school in the autumn of 1956, he took part enthusiastically in local events of the revolution. Together with a friend, they then hitched a ride with a lorry and travelled to Budapest, where they joined the largest group of insurgents at Corvin-köz, and took part in the battles in several parts of the city. In late November, without saying goodbye to his family, he escaped to Austria with other teenage boys. For a few weeks he stayed in the Eisenstadt refugee camp, then he was transported to France and given the status of “réfugier politique.”
As soon as he arrived in the city of Rouen, he signed up at the Legion’s recruitment office, but being only 16 years old, he was rejected. For two years he shared all the misery of the tramps in Lille and Paris, sleeping in the “Draft Hotel” (Hôtel de Curant Air) under bridges, living off of aid for refugees and poorly paid, sporadic work. Hunger and misery pushed him to try his fortune again with the Legion in the autumn of 1958, this time with much success. He was shipped as an 18-year-old recruit from Marseille to Oran, and soon found himself on the military training base of Saida. Another two years passed, and he was promoted to sergeant at the age of 20, and became the training warrant of hundreds of young Hungarian recruits arriving at that time in North Africa. Afterward, as a warrant of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, he also took part in the offensives in the Sahara and Madagascar, was injured twice, and then was commanded to the 1st Cavalry (Warship) Regiment.
After the Algerian war ended in 1962, the main base of the Legion was moved from Sidi-bel-Abbes to the town of Aubagne, South of France, and Szecskó held his new post here at the Headquarters of the Legion. In the 1970s and 1980s, he became the Director of the Museum and the Archives of the French Foreign Legion, and edited its monthly magazine Képi blanc. In the meantime, he received his MA and then PhD degree in history from the University of Montpelier. He finished his military career in 1986 after close to 29 years of service in the Legion; however, he kept active in his field of science and in organizing circles of veteran legionnaires (AALE). He published a number of articles and a dozen books on the history of French Foreign Legion in French, English, and German.
Before 1990, based on rumors fostered by the communist secret police, he, together with his fellow patriots, thought for decades that all active legionnaires had been deprived of their Hungarian citizenship. He became a French citizen in 1974, and lived together with his Spanish-French wife, children, and grandchildren in Aix-en-Provence for half a century. Among his many prizes and decorations, he was most proud of the “Knight of Arts and Literature,” a prestigious French prize established for civilians, that no active military man ever received, except him. Though he felt all through his life a strong homesickness, and managed to preserve his traditional Hungarian patriotism, he never had the chance to return to Hungary after 1956—for a long time due to his political anathema, and then his poor state of health. He passed in Aix-en-Provence in late 2017 following years of struggle with his fatal illness. His parting was not only a painful loss to his family but also to his friends and the Hungarian circle of veteran legionnaires in Provence, of which he had been a devoted organizer for decades.
His straightforward, and emotive answers to his questionnaire lay bare his life career and frame of mind. He also reflected on his feelings toward his native land, the Legion, and his host country. Though his loyalty to the former two seems to remain firm, similarly to his stubborn anticommunism rooted in his early life experience of 1956, he felt much more reserved and often critical of the French public affairs and way of life, as both are lacking “the real” patriotic loyalty and altruism. Thus, keeping alive the regular meetings and traditional community rituals, with their strong 1956 engagement, served to strengthen the Hungarian legionnaires’ moral and cultural resistance.
List of completed veteran questionnaires, 2011–2017
(Place and date of birth, residence in France, and year of completion)
1. A., Domokos (Budapest, 1939) Paris, 2012
2. Bubla, István Miklós (Keszthely, 1936) Paulhan, 2017
3. Huber, Béla (Sopron, 1942) Aubagne, 2012
4. Spátay, János (Budapest, 1943) Puyloubier, 2011
5. Soós, Sándor (Budapest, 1939) Septémes les Vallons, 2012
6. Sorbán, Gyula Elek (Budapest, 1940) Toulon, 2011
7. Szecskó, Tibor (Gyöngyös, 1939) Aix-en-Provence 2017, 2011
8. Morvay, Tamás (Budapest, 1938) Vins sur Caramy, 2012
9. Nemes, Sándor (Szekszárd-Zomba, 1941) Borgo (Corsica), 201110. Pápai, Lajos (Öcsöd, 1937) Montrichard, 2014
- Budapest Arany János utca 32, Hungary 1051
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Zsuzsa Szenes: What was a Utilitarian Article now is Decor, woolwork, 18x15x15 cm, 1975
At the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s, Hungarian cultural politics looked at almost every formal or substantial innovation distrustfully. This rigidity applied in particular to painting and sculpture. Graphic and particularly the applied arts were given less attention, as they were considered less significant. This is why progressive tendencies in the field of textile art enjoyed relatively undisturbed tranquillity within the confines of the Savaria Museum in Szombathely.
The Wall and Space Textile Biennials and the mini-textile shows provided exhibition opportunities, while the Velem Textile Workshops provided a production and community platform for the movement, which experimented with materiality and with space in ways more common in the visual arts, and also renewed the genre.
Zsuzsa Szenes created her multilayered object (now in the collection of the Gallery of Szombathely) in this context. Applying her well known technique, woolwork, she transubstantiates a utilitarian article, a gas mask. With this subtle procedure, she radically transforms the original connotations of the item.
With the help of a technique connected to femininity, she puts into quotation marks the function of the object originally linked to an accentually masculine activity, as if she were employing embroidery as a weapon against war. At the same time, she brings into play the notion of the caring mother, and she assigns a friendly, colourful, but at the same time homemade character to the object.On the one hand, the title refers to the alteration of its status, mastery of mind over function, while on the other, it refers to the dissimilar judgement of the visual and the applied arts (traditionally, the latter has had only decorative functions, while meaning is exclusively assigned to the former). Thus, she emancipates applied arts and at the same time feminine forms of activity.
The starting point of the work is the fluxus idea merging art and life: everybody is an artist.
A radicalized version of this idea appears on the tableau consisting of thirty-six panels: some of the photos present workers as representatives of different art forms (a working postman is identified as a mail artist, a turner is called a sculptor, a road-builder is called a land artist, a compositor is called a writer, a person sitting on the tram in dungarees an actor etc.).
The panels of this photo series are combined with press photos (identical in size) referring to new, often dramatic artistic roles (prisoner artist, fear artist, radical artist, hunger artist, despair artist etc.). The tableau is accompanied by a diagram, indicating that by 2150 everybody will be a police employee, and in 2240 everybody will be an artist.(One may ask how a photo concept got into a collection focusing on painting? The reason is that it became a model: Ákos Birkás painted a picture in 1974 entitled Tamás Szentjóby: Aspects on the question: “Who is an artist?)