1. It is deucedly difficult to tell a lie when you don’t know the truth.
2. To kick off a text with a ferocious-looking baroque grand seigneur is gratifying; a thrilling, tingling sensation thrills our bosom, our computers greet us in passing, and our cook, because why shouldn’t we have a cook (who we?) serves us— a surprise!— breaded lamb’s tail, which is like calf’s foot except it’s more savory because it’s more fragile and tender; my father, this ferocious-looking baroque grand seigneur who was in a position, nay under obligation, to raise his eyes to Emperor Leopold, raised his eyes to Emperor Leopold, on his countenance an expression of solemnity, though his eyes, twinkling and mischievous, belied him as always, and he said, It is deucedly difficult, Sire, to tell a lie when you don’t know the truth. Having said that, he leaped upon his chestnut steed, Challenger, and galloped off into the discriminating seventeenth-century landscape (or description thereof).
3. My father, it was presumably my father who, with his painter’s palette under his coat, sneaked back into the museum, stole back in, to retouch the paintings he’d hung on the wall or, at the very least, to effectuate certain emendations thereof.
16. My father respected Haydn, personally as well as artistically. He had him (Hadyn) sit at his (my father’s) table a number of times for the midday meal. But when he (my father) was entertaining guests, he (Haydn) was served in an adjoining room, just like us children. One day two illustrious English gentlemen came to visit, the delicate, exotic perfumes heralding their arrival from a distance. They were making arrangements for Admiral Nelson’s visit, and as soon as they took their places at the table, they inquired after Haydn’s whereabouts. Haydn is dining in his quarters today, my father lied without batting an eye. But the English enthusiasts were so up and up about sitting at the same table with Haydn, my father had no choice. Gritting his teeth, he dragged Joseph from the side room, and flashing one of his most endearing smiles, he had him (Haydn) sit at his (my father’s) table. The foolish English were in seventh heaven, while for him (Haydn), well, he couldn’t have cared less. On a sudden whim (out of revenge), my father ordered that the mustard kidneys reserved for the evening meal should be served up, which for someone with gout, like him (Haydn), is veritably fatal, figuratively speaking. Thus, everyone was satisfied with the midday meal. (According to the saying, servants have rheumatism, while their masters have gout. Which just goes to show you how well we did by him (Haydn).)
19. Béla Bartók made my father king of Hungary. Micu, my angel, your puny little country needs you. I will make you king. May your reign be peaceful and wise. I can’t promise much, you gonna get a piano, chorus girls and a lancer division. The lancer division will put your family’s mind at rest. It always has, hasn’t it? And the king will put the country’s mind at rest. It always has. And so it came to pass. Organically speaking, my father made especially good use of the piano and the chorus girls. (“Spread your black wings!” or: “Thrill to the savage strokes of my little hammer!” or: Piano! piano!, fortissimo! fortissimo!”) The lancer division, on the other hand, proved to be a nuisance. First he put them to work around the house (dirty dishes, shopping, gardening, and especially weeding, because nobody wanted to do the weeding). Later he assigned them to Haydn to copy scores. Later still, having gotten the better of the anti-Hapsburg Kuruc versus pro-Hapsburg Labanc dichotomy, they attacked Austria, because it seemed to logical thing to do. Romania was spared, thanks to Béla’s love of folk music. Even though he was very busy, plus he had to go to the office every day, my father stood at the head of his troop, his proud chestnut steed prancing squeamishly. My father was not a good rider, but he cut a dashing figure atop his horse between two falls, his head always bent slightly to the side, as if attending to something.
22. My father met a troop of anti-Hapsburg Kuruc soldiers on the road. The soldiers asked him, What might you be? Kuruc, or Labanc? My meek father didn’t know whom he was up against and said, Labanc. At which the anti-Habsburg Kuruc gave him a thorough thrashing. My father continued his journey and came upon a group of pro-Habsburg Labnac soldiers. They, too, asked, What might you be? Kuruc, or Labanc? My father still did not know whom he was up against, nor did he know who were up against those whom he was now up against. But he remembered the previous troop of solders and said, Kuruc. At which the pro-Habsburg Labanc also gave him a thorough thrashing. Then they let him go on his way. As he continued his journey, he met another troop of anti-Habsburg Kuruc soldiers. But this time, before they could say anything, my father said, Don’t ask, just strike. And so it went. My father, the “handsome count,” continues his solitary gallop atop his horse Challenger over the volatile seventeenth century, et cetera.
271. My father happened to be working on the manuscript he would never finish when a bunch of soldiers came looking for Germans. They were young, practically children. They burst in with a great to-do, shouting, rushing around, and we had no way of knowing whether they were raging mad or simply making a wild time of it. My father, who speaks Russian even though he denies it, barely looked up from the manuscript, bade the officers welcome, and told them to make themselves at home, though personally he would rather not insist on it as he was, in fact, quite busy, as they could see. Working on a sort of novel. In short, he’s writing a novel. That’s right, a roman. Indeed? The boy in charge turned bright red and began ranting and raving about how, while they had been up to their knees in blood, mowing down the enemy—and heaven knows, it was no picnic—my father was sitting there arrogantly, no, brazenly, scribbling. And with that the boy grabbed the pile of manuscript pages and hurled it into the fire. It burned. My father let out a roar and gave the downy-chinned soldier a slap in the face. Then there was silence, fragile, bare. The boy headed for the door as if it were all over, but then turned back in a flash and motioned with his head, as if to say, come with me. When my father went up to him, he said softly, almost pleasantly, like someone determined to be polite, “We are going to shoot you.” Just then a Hungarian officer burst in—must have turned coat or something and cheeky as they come—and asked what was going on. Well, naturally, my father was scared, but fear loosened his tongue, and gave him the courage to light into the officer. Who do you think you are, anyway? Who do you think you are, fooling with life and death, giving it, taking it? What makes you think you can do anything you like? Who is to stop us? God, for one. There is no God. Satan then. The officer laughed. If there’s no God, there’s no Satan. Fine. Have it your way. Maybe there is no God, and there is no Satan, there is nothing, there is nothing just you and your companions, you are only ones that exist on this earth, you and no one else. Fine. But in that case, kindly take note that you are nothing but a bunch of filthy pigs, and may you be cursed for all time! The solders were bored, not so much with my father as this whole thing. They were tired, they cursed, and they left. My father sobbed, whereas generally, he loved such scenes. My mother was inside the wardrobe, trembling, afraid of being raped. The smell of mothballs still turns her stomach.
344. Noun plus verb, this is not from God. There is nothing in nature to substantiate it. It is an arbitrary feature of language. For instance, if to run is a verb because it is an action and lasts a short time, then why isn’t fist (or working class) a verb? And if man and house are nouns, because they are long-lasting, stable events, or things, then why isn’t living or growing a noun? Somebody should have a talk with language. Couldn’t it deal the cards differently. By way of an aside, he (my father) mentions in passing that in Hopi everything that flies, with the exception—and this is beautiful—of birds, is indicated by one noun. Surprising, isn’t it? On the other hand, an Eskimo is surprised to learn that we have only one word for snow when, for instance, what has morning snow to do with afternoon snow? (As we know, precious little.) When I was at boarding school, we were always having to go to confession. After we’d confessed ourselves silly and we had no sins left, but we had to say something just the same, we said we stole some snow. Father, I have sinned, I stole some snow. We didn’t realize how terrible it was that we had nothing to confess, that there is no sin, only the state of sin. Sin is a noun.
54. What is the difference between my father and God? The difference is there for all to see: God is everywhere, while my father too is everywhere, except here.