Artistic Discoveries in European Schoolyards

The laws of the jungle

ISTVAN TASNADI Playwright, Hungary

My first memory is how the boys rolled me up in the net of the handball goal and kicked me hard. There is another thing I remember about this: that they were right. I can’t remember what the quarrel was about, but the taste of my guilty conscience was still in my mouth as I walked home, crying and telling on the boys, although I know that I deserved what I got. That is why the incident didn’t leave much of a mark on me, just a few purple patches, because all in all it was just OK. The next day we played soccer again, all together in the courtyard.
Boys can usually sort out these things fast in their remarkably simple manner. Sometimes I think what could’ve happened if a teacher had come to protect me, poor kid, from the horde of Vandals. Maybe the poor kid would’ve escaped the beating that day, but would have been excluded from soccer and everything else worth living for, for weeks. Luckily in those days there was no ‘problem solver’ and the teacher on duty was smoking in the backyard. Happy, miserable times.
My other memories are mostly connected to celebrations held at the school. We are standing there in our white shirts, red Pioneer neckties, the sun blaring in our eyes, the wind aggressively flapping the flag of the No. 733 Zrinyi Ilona Pioneer Troop and the Headmaster delivering a speech on the glorious liberating Soviet troops. Suddenly a Tarzan shout can be heard. Every time the Headmaster starts a sentence about Captain Steinmetz or Ostapenko, Tarzan shouts. The gym teacher and the caretaker are running about frantically, we are falling over with laughter. Later we found out that a boy who graduated from the school the year before and lived in the neighboring house, took the amplifiers out on the balcony and played the Tarzan show for us from there.
A humble revenge for the eight years spent in the school.
Those days, learning Russian was compulsory, so we – out of patriotic resistance – did not learn a word of it.
Of course today I am really sorry that I boycotted 12 (!) years of learning Russian. What a joy it would be to read Chekhov in the original. And today my views on Captain Steinmetz have also changed. I don’t think he was a showcase-martyr, but a young man who died for freedom. In those days the schoolyard was the only place where, in this fundamentally militant institution, we could be free for ten minutes.
Which sometimes meant, of course, that they freely punched you in the face.