I studied in Budapest. It was a wonderful experience.
I learnt lots, I forgot lots and didn’t understand lots. I use lots of what I learnt in my work every day, and I use lots of my experiences before PAI in my work every day too.
The Budapest Days were probably the best four years of my life although the four at art school in the 1970s were a close runner up. Four years of just painting pictures, what luxury, I still dream of doing that once again!
In Budapest there was something missing
What I missed from home, apart from Branston Pickles and soft toilet paper, was the chance to go in a bookshop or a library and look for books, just browse until I found exactly the thing that I wanted to read.
It was not only a library that I missed, but also a librarian who I could have talked to about the books on the shelves. A librarian who could perhaps have found me exactly the thing to read which would have allowed me to understand just a little bit faster what Mária Hári was talking to us about in her lectures!
MH was renowned for telling us things that we would have understood if only we already knew what she was talking about. Often we didn’t!
It was access to reading
Yes, of course there was a library at the Petö Institute, but in those days it was nothing like the modern friendly place it is today. It was a dark and dingy, and somewhat scary place, manned by a mysterious force of nének (aunties) wearing white coats.
I was never quite sure if these often almost ferocious nének were the same ladies who manned the lift or who worked in the kitchen. Were they conductors without a group or were they in fact the genuine article, "librarians"!
My experiences of going into this dark cavern were very similar to when I went to buy swathes of material in the city. My favourite material shop was in a gorgeous art-deco building, somewhere between Váci Utca and Déak Tér. This building was gorgeous inside and out, with its wooden shelving and counter all piled high with fabric.
For me it was an Aladdin’s cave of treasures. I just loved to walked in there and see all the colours and the textures, but on most visits I had to struggle with myself to remain inside and do business, just as I did in the library at the Petö Institute.
At the fabric shop and in the library it was necessary for me to know exactly what I wanted before I went in. In both places "customers", who were not allowed browse or to touch the goods on display on the shelves that reached the ceiling, had to remain behind a wooden counter. The items that were pointed at or actually named, would be brought forward for inspection. There was no chance in either place of catching a glimpse in the dimly lit rooms for anything that might "do".
In the Library just as in the fabric shop it was more than my life was worth to ask to have a closer look at something.
I will never forget the look of dismay when I asked the elderly lady who was showing me a roll of material whether we could take it over to the door to the daylight so I could actually see what colour it was!
I sewed a lot and because of my love of colours and textures I was quite good even in a foreign language at describing what kind of fabric I was imagining for my clothes. So I managed, despite the difficulties in the fabric shop, but at the library I had no idea what to ask for. I had absolutely no idea what could be hidden on those high, ever-so-tempting shelves behind the closely-guarded counter.
You can't ask if you don't know
In my final year, when I was more fluent in the Hungarian language and the conductive language, I got a bit braver but not much, I entered the dark cavern of the Library a bit more often but it was still scary! I never really conquered my fear of that library until I went to the new one last year!
For someone who has rows and rows of books at home, on every subject that interests me, on spinning tops, green men, art therapy, kite-making, yoga, meditation, growing things in gardens, trains, bikes, boats and planes, even a few on education, it was so odd not to have easy access to new reading material in those learning days in Budapest.
At that time Gill Maguire and Andrew Sutton had already set up the Library at the Institute in Birmingham, and she sent us anything that she or others thought would be useful to us "over-seas" students.
As I had no idea really of what I could or should be reading, and no idea what was on the shelves in Birmingham, I didn’t really know what I could be asking her for in those days.
I lived in Budapest. I only visited England once a year, sometimes twice if there was a wedding, birthday or a funeral that I had to attend. I only visited the Birmingham Institute as a conductor, once I had finished my training. As a student my world was Hungary, Budapest and the Petö Institute with its dark, mysterious and scary Library!
Nowadays as I sit in my study, books and papers spreading over every available flat surface, I am thankful that I have now got to know some of the NICE conductors who have told me about their training, have told me about the lectures they had, and most importantly have recommended papers that I could request from the Foundation’s Library. Sometimes even pass on copies of their old lecture notes to me.
At long last I have the papers and references that I didn’t have all those years ago in my Budapest Days!
I have a pile of them on the kitchen table where I eat my breakfast, and a few protected from the rain out on the balcony. There is an even bigger pile in my bed, kept tidy on its reading side, unless I fall asleep reading! There are always one or two in my bag in case I find myself on a bus, a tram or a train with a few minutes to spare. There are none whatsoever in the painting corner of the flat, that’s where I paint and do nothing else, but a few have crept into the bathroom.
I am a student again!
I am reading all that I didn’t know about in the early 90s, all those things that the mysterious PAI Library didn’t or couldn’t reveal to me, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.
I suspect that I am actually enjoying it more now that I would than done then. With six hours a day working in a group, ten hours a week in lectures and observation sessions, three evenings a week at Hungarian lessons, I probably had little space in my head to absorb much else other than things Hungarian.
Now there is still only little spare space in my head, but the papers are I think easier now for me to read because I understand what I am reading about.
My experiences as a conductor, my own upbringing and my own way of life, the development of my own style of conducting make the reading of the likes of Makarenko, Sukhomlinsky, and even Mária Hári feel like a coming home. I often say to myself as I read "Oh yes, I already knew about this." This is sort of true but I hadn’t realised that I knew it until I read it.I hadn't known consciously.
As I read some of the my valuable papers and digest some of these pedagogic ideas, I begin to realise how I have in a way come full circle, or perhaps I have come to a point on an upwards spiral when much of what I have learnt and experienced meet together and open up new paths to my life. Paths along which I can travel and carry on meeting people on my way, people who open my eyes, give me things to read, present ideas to think about, make me smile and help me keep my soul healthy.
I am dreaming of that Indian Summer, just a few days off.
I visualise a stack of these papers beside me on the balcony plus a pot of coffee and a slice of cake and the last or the sun’s warmth reaching me through the drying leaves of the prunus and acacia trees.
The leaves of these trees give me much-welcomed shade in the hot summer days but, as the days cool the leaves are slowly falling to the ground, giving light and warmth in the autumn and winter months.
In my longed-for Indian summer I shall soak up the sunshine, the coffee and also the words on the pages.
Many thanks to all of my "suppliers" for my Indian Summer holiday-reading materials.
Kovács Kati, Indián nyár -