WeWriWa—Treasure found

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m now sharing from Chapter 45, “Imre’s Revenge,” of my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees.

It’s November 1945, and Imre has chosen to stay behind in Budapest instead of being smuggled into Italy with his girlfriend Csilla and their friends. He claimed important business, among other reasons, to cover up his plans to go to Csilla’s hometown Abony to recover important possessions she hid last year.

Matters are complicated by Csilla’s old house now being owned by a gendarme who tortured her.

Copyright Gerard Dukker; source Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed

In the dim light, Imre prowled around the cellar, keeping his eyes peeled for big, dark lumps. The cellar had a funny smell to it, so he didn’t want to spend too long there. After endless investigation, he stumbled against a medium-sized pile of coal in a darkened corner full of cobwebs. He moved the coal aside with his feet, not wanting to get his hands dirty, and found only bricks. On closer inspection, there was no mortar holding these bricks together.

Imre removed about twenty bricks, his heart racing, and found exactly what Csilla had described. A mid-sized bundle wrapped in her orange, yellow, and brown scarf; a pair of orange skis and matching poles bound together at several junctions with yellow ribbons; a globe in a very nice dark wooden stand; a brown carrying case which revealed a portable victrola; and an orange carrying case which revealed the orange Remington Portable typewriter. He could go through the items in the bundle once he was in a secure location.

Imre put the bundle and victrola into the postal bag and tested its weight. It probably weighed about twenty pounds, maybe less.

WeWriWa—Imre’s dangerous mission

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week, I’m switching back to my hiatused WIP, The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees. I unfortunately lost the entire file on my computer in August 2017, but thankfully had a near-complete backup on my flash drive. It’s missing about two to five thousand words, but it could’ve been so much worse.

This comes from Chapter 45, “Imre’s Revenge,” set in November 1945. While 17-year-old Csilla and her friends have been smuggled out of Hungary and into Italy before the Soviets could completely take control, Csilla’s new boyfriend Imre begged off on going with them.

Imre claimed important business in Budapest, among other reasons, but he truly planned to go to Csilla’s hometown of Abony to recover important possessions she hid before being taken to the ghetto. Matters are complicated by Csilla’s old house now being owned by a gendarme who tortured her.


Downtown Abony, Hungary, Copyright Civertan Grafikai Stúdió

Csilla’s house was near the avenue’s genesis, not too far from the intersection with main thoroughfare Szolnoki Út, and just a bit before the intersection with Cserép Utca. It was a simple one-story brick edifice with a wooden door and yellow shutters. There was dim light behind the windows, but not much noise. The chain-link fence around the backyard wasn’t padlocked, so all Imre had to do was push down on the tension band and swing open the latch.

He didn’t dare try the back or side door when he knew full well the house was occupied, so he dropped to his knees and crept along the back of the house till he found a slightly ajar window. He pushed it the rest of the way open and slid inside, onto the top of something he quickly realized was a modern washing machine. It would’ve been much worse if he’d landed on a blazing coal heater or boiler. Landing on the washing machine also meant his entrance hadn’t made much noise. There was no time to wonder whether this time-saving wonder had belonged to Csilla’s family, or if the gendarme’s family had added it. Imre was only here to dig up the valuables hidden underneath the coal.

Marie’s New Coat

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I’ve had a bunch of posts for the long-discontinued Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop sitting around in my drafts folder since 2012 and 2013, put together and scheduled well in advance. That hop seems to be on permanent hiatus, but I wanted to move them out already.

This post was originally scheduled for 31 August 2013, and comes from an older, unedited version of this WIP.

***

This week’s excerpt comes from a hiatused WIP called The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees. The book follows a group of young Shoah survivors returning to the world of the living and trying to navigate their way through the early postliberation years. This particular scene takes place in Budapest in November 1945, shortly before nine of the characters are to be smuggled across the border, with another going on a train with their pet mouse and rabbit, before the Soviets completely take over.

While they were at a furrier’s on the famous Andrássy Út recently, the hopelessly smitten Artur secretly bought a fur coat for his crush Marie after he saw her admiring it. Marie’s main character trait is how sweet, innocent, and naïve she still is, even after everything she’s gone through. Just as she truly believes her entire family might still be alive, she really has no idea her secret admirer is so close to her. And Artur is afraid to tell her how he feels.

***

The next day, while Csilla was cutting up a blanket and starting to fashion it into a coat for herself, a knock sounded on the door.  Half-fearing it was someone from the authorities who’d discovered their plan, or someone who’d found out there were fourteen people living in an apartment meant for only four at most, she tiptoed to the door and looked through the keyhole.  A strange man was standing there with a box.

“I work for Szűcs Furs on Andrássy Út and was asked to deliver this package to a young woman living in this apartment.  I didn’t want to send it through the mail for fear the Soviets might confiscate it for their own.  Is there a woman named Maria in this house?”

“We have a Marie, if that’s who you’re looking for.  Her surname is Sternglass.”

Marie came up to the deliveryman. “Yes, that’s my name on the package.  Who is it from, and who would know that my middle name is Zénobie?”

“There’s a note inside the box that might explain it.  Enjoy the gift.” He tipped his hat and went back down the stairs.

Marie carefully opened the box and saw a note on top, written in Hungarian.  Her command of written Hungarian was even weaker than her command of the spoken language, so she called Eszter over to translate it.

“It says, ‘To the beautiful Marie from her secret admirer.’” Eszter gave Artur a meaningful look out of the corner of her eye. “I wonder who could have sent it, particularly since you don’t know anybody outside of our own little group.”

“This is so exciting!  Maybe it’s a handsome young fellow who saw me in the street the other day, or any time since we’ve been here!  I hope he’s tall, dark, and handsome.  It would be so romantic if he were a sophisticated man of the world as well.  Someone who’s my age would never be so romantic and thoughtful.  I bet it’s an older man.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Eszter said, giving Artur another furtive look.

Marie pulled away the tissue paper. “What a beautiful coat!  I think I was admiring this coat yesterday more than any of the others!  It stood out in the store because it was so exotic.  None of the other furs had prints or exotic colors.  Is it leopard?”

“The furrier told me it was ocelot when I admired it myself,” Mirjam said. “Looks like whoever is secretly admiring you wants you to keep warm as the winter begins.”

“Oh, if I only knew just who this suave mystery man is, I’d kiss and embrace him right now!  I hope it really is someone tall, dark, handsome, and older, not some middle-aged ugly fat social reject.”

“That is a beautiful coat,” Aranka said. “You’ll surely stand out when we get to Italy.”

“Pierre will be so happy and surprised when he sees me again and sees I’ve become a young lady, someone old enough for furs and such a beautiful elegant coat.  If my mother and sister are still alive, they’ll be so happy too, and impressed I caught the eye of this mystery man.”

Twentieth Arrondissement and Tempio Maggiore Israelitico di Firenze

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St. Gabriel Church and Hélène-Boucher Lycée, Copyright Sigoise

The 20th Arrondissement of Paris (a.k.a. Arrondissement de Ménilmontant) is on the Right Bank. It’s bordered on the north by the 19th Arrondissement, on the west by the 11th Arrondissement, and on the south by the 12th Arrondissement. Probably its most famous attraction and landmark is Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Historically, the higher the number of the arrondissement, the more working-class and poor folks (many of them immigrants). This isn’t the wealthy, stereotypically “cultured” population which flocked to the arrondissements with very low numbers. As a proud proletarian, it’s right up my alley!

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Town Hall, 1908

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Town Hall, 2009, Copyright besopha, Source FlickrMairie

Its population peak and most concentrated density was 1936, with 208,115 residents, 34,779 per square kilometer. It was annexed to Paris in 1859, and formed from the towns of Belleville and Ménilmontant, the municipality of Saint-Mande, and the commune of Charonne. As of 2012, the population was 198,678.

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Besides Père Lachaise, other landmarks include Belleville Cemetery, St. Germain Church of Charonne, Charonne Cemetery, Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix de Ménilmontant, Pavillon Carré de Baudouin, Tenon Hospital, Hospital de la Croix Saint-Simon, and many schools and parks. The 20th Arrondissement also has the next-largest Chinatown in Paris.

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Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix, Copyright Zantastik

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Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix, sometime between 1863–70

My characters are resettled in a cheap apartment in the 20th Arrondissement upon their return from Nantes in December 1945. Wolfram, who’s since left Le Meurice, has the apartment across the hall, and made the arrangements for them to live there for possibly less than the time of a normal lease.

He’s also bought them mattresses and secondhand furniture, put all their tableware and cookware in the cupboards, and moved in all their extra luggage and Caterina’s recovered small furniture. Wolfram insists he doesn’t need to be repaid, and tells them to consider it a belated Chanukah present.

Their apartments are on Rue des Pyrénées, which forms the eastern border of Père Lachaise.

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Église Saint-Germain-de-Charonne, 1900

Everyone but Wolfram goes for a walk through Père Lachaise on Csilla’s 18th birthday, 21 December, before starting their planned walk to Al Syete, a Sephardic synagogue in the 11th Arrondissement. The walk ends in terror and horrific flashbacks for everyone but Imre and Júlia, as they have an up-close and personal encounter with the crematorium.

The moment they realise what the building and smell are, they start going into hysterics, which attracts a lot of negative attention. Marie is so badly affected, she passes out, and Imre has to run back to the apartment to get Csilla’s recovered sled. The boys are shaking too badly to carry her, and Imre only has one good arm, since he broke his left hand last month.

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The monument Marie passes out by, in memory of the victims of a fire at an 1897 showing of Lumière Brothers’ films, Copyright Pierre-Yves Beaudouin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

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Crematorium (chimneys not visible), Copyright Christopher Lancaster, Source Flickr

Tempio Maggiore Israelitico di Firenze, the Great Synagogue of Florence, was built thanks to David Levi, late president of the Florentine Jewish community, bequeathing his entire estate for the building of a new synagogue. Architects Marco Treves, Mariano Falcini, and Prof. Vicente Micheli combined Italian traditions with Moorish style.

Giacomo del Medici designed the great arch, and artist Giovanni Panti provided the beautiful frescoes and mosaics for the interior. Every square inch is covered in coloured designs with Moorish patterns. The copper roof was oxidised green to stand out in the Florentine skyline.

The cornerstone, sent from Jerusalem, was laid 30 June 1874. Inauguration was 24 October 1882.

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Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

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During WWII, the occupying Germans used the synagogue as a storehouse. There are still bayonet blows visible on the doors of the ark.

In August 1944, the Italian people once again showed their righteousness by rescuing the synagogue from planned German destruction. The retreating Nazis and their foul fascist collaborators filled the building with explosives, but brave resistance fighters were able to defuse almost all of the explosives. Very little damage was done, and it was restored after the war.

During the terrible 1966 flood of the Arno, the synagogue was damaged, but once again restored.

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Copyright sailko

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Copyright sailko

My characters stay by a vacation apartment overlooking the synagogue when they’re in Florence in November–December 1945. The green dome dominates the Florentine skyline, and it’s just a short walk away.

On the eighth day of Chanukah, before Saturday morning services have started, Imre gives Csilla a three-pearl ring in the synagogue. He reassures her it’s not an engagement ring, but just a promise ring. He wants them to have a serious, committed relationship before they’re in a position to discuss marriage, and also wants to mark his territory so other men know she’s off-limits.

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Copyright sailko

Pasarét and Ponte Vecchio

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Typical Pasarét villa, Copyright Petru suciu

Pasarét is a Bauhaus neighbourhood in District II of Budapest, on the Buda side. Its borders are Pasaréti Út, Hűvösvölgyi Út (which turns into Szilágyi Erzsébet Fasor), Herman Ottó Út, Lorántffy Zsuzsanna Utca, Battal Út, Csalán Út, Páfrányliget Utca, and part of Szerb Antal Út.

Prior to Hungarian independence, Pasarét was identified as Ried (Meadow) on old Army maps. It was later called Sauwiesen (Pig Meadow) and Schmalzbergel (Fat Hill). Serbian Budapestis called it Paša (Meadow). In 1847, philologist Gábor Döbrentei joined the Serbian name with the Hungarian word rét (meadow) to form the modern name: Meadow Meadow.

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St. Anthony of Padua Church (built 1933), Copyright Globetrotter19

In the early 20th century, it became a desirable location, and attracted many artists, musicians, intellectuals, writers, Bohemians, and scientists. Among its famous residents were Béla Bartók, writer Antal Szerb, politician Imre Nagy, composer Ernő Dohnányi, and writer István Örkény.

One of the most famous landmarks is the St. Anthony of Padua Church, built in Bauhaus style like many of the other Pasarét structures built during the 1930s. Even the bus station was built in Bauhaus style. Pasarét also has several parks, and Ludovika Engineer Academy.

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Bus terminal next to church, Copyright Globetrotter19

My characters move to Pasarét after Eszter receives a letter from her much-older sister Mirjam in early October 1945. Mirjam and her three roommates make room for them, and find an abandoned apartment across the hall for the boys. Since the landlord was killed in a bombing raid during the war, no one’s keeping dibs on what goes on in this building.

During their brief time in Pasarét, Eszter, Jákob, Imre, Csilla, and Artur work at the fictional Hotel Juhász Gyula, in various positions. The hotel is also built in Bauhaus style. It’s a blue, four-story, cubic building, not some sprawling grand hotel or huge edifice rising high into the sky.

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Copyright Tamas Szabó

Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is the oldest surviving Florentine bridge. Its current incarnation was built in 1345. The first version was built by the Romans, and first mentioned in 996. In 1117, it was destroyed by a flood, and the second bridge was destroyed by another flood in 1333. Only two central piers were saved. Ponte Vecchio spans the Arno River at its narrowest point.

Like Budapest, Florence too saw all her bridges destroyed when the Germans surrendered and fled the city. However, unlike Budapest, Florence was left with this one bridge. Supposedly, this was because of an order from Hitler. Regardless, access to the bridge was blocked, since the Germans blew up the buildings on either end.

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Damaged but not destroyed

The bridge has always hosted merchants, kiosks, and shops. According to legend, the concept of bankruptcy originated here, as a money-charger who couldn’t pay his or her debts had the table where the goods were sold (banco) broken (rotto) by soldiers. Hence, the newly-coined term bancorotto (broken table), or banca rotta (broken bank). Without a table, the merchant could no longer sell anything.

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Taken by famous photographer Carlo Brogi

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View from above, Copyright sailko

Above the bridge is the Vasari Corridor, built by Giorgio Vasari on orders from Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1565. This corridor connected Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall) with Palazzo Pitti (chief residence of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany’s rulers). In 1593, the Medicis forbade butchers from selling on the bridge, so it wouldn’t be seen as a low-class place. Butchers had had a monopoly on the shops since 1442. In their place went gold merchants.

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View from below, Copyright sailko

My characters Imre and Csilla reunite on Ponte Vecchio after a brief separation, 22 November 1945, Imre’s 19th birthday. Imre stayed behind in Budapest on some mystery business, which he reveals is exactly what she suspected, going to her hometown Abony to dig up the valuables in her coal cellar and to confront the gendarme who’s now living there, the gendarme who tortured her last June.

Imre also reveals a broken hand, acquired when he accidentally punched a brick wall in his white-hot rage, not realising the gendarme had already fallen unconscious to the floor. He still wasn’t satisfied, and kicked the gendarme over and over again, finishing him off with a shovel to the head, and possibly killing him. Imre says he only did it because he loves her so much, the first time he’s told her he loves her.

Sunset fills the sky after this romantic declaration.

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Copyright Martin Falbisoner