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Holland Park Press

A Statue in Budapest

7 March 2011 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

I have never won a prize, not even a literary prize. This week I caught myself in the act of practising a Colin Firth in front of a mirror. ‘I am the bald Colin Firth,’ I said and moved my voice down a register. ‘This is my acceptance speech.’ Luckily I didn’t have an audience.

I thanked my parents. ‘Look, my 86-year-old mother is sittimg over there,’ I call out to an imaginary public. She is wearing her best hat. I do not forget to mention my father ‘who is looking down from heaven’. I continue by mentioning a list of departed friends. I am quite convinced they can still be of use.

I continued my speech, ‘For a long time it seemed they were playing cards in paradise but they must have finished, otherwise the jury wouldn’t have selected me.’

Sometimes I invent entire jury reports: ‘His work is dark, yet also very witty.’ I am strongly in favour of prize winners writing their own jury’s report.

Juries often make the strangest remarks. ‘This book offers more than its first impression of being a trendy superficial story.’ (The jury doesn’t rate this book but had to select it.) ‘A book with hidden depths.’ (The jury doesn't find it an easy read but was swayed by public opinion.) ‘This is not an easy read.’ (A few members of the jury gave up on this book and not without reason.). ‘This book tells a disturbing story.’ (The jury thinks the writer is totally crazy.)

I have also never received a royal honour. In the Netherlands it is considered fashionable to refuse a royal honour because ‘you are against the monarchy’.

I would immediately accept such an honour even though I have my doubts about the Dutch monarchy. For example commoners marrying into the royal family are called ‘prince’ or ‘princess’ whereas other citizens who have really achieved something cannot be knighted. The fact that everyone suddenly addresses the daughter of the local hairdresser as ‘princess’ gives me the giggles.

However, thinking of the possibility that Crown Princess Máxima may turn up to present me with the insignia cheers me up and I will give her three kisses.

The Dutch kiss each other three times and this frequently causes misunderstandings abroad. In the rest of the world they just kiss once or twice and Argentine-born Máxima will have had to get used to it. It looks a bit greedy. ‘Bear this in mind when receiving foreign honours,’ I have noted down, because you never know.

Elvis Presley is posthumously to become an honorary citizen of Budapest, it was reported this week. The reason is the song (Peace in the Valley) Elvis sang on the Ed Sullivan Show at the time of the Hungarian revolution. It is supposed to suggest his support for the Hungarian Uprising.

Apart from his time as an army conscript in West Germany, Elvis hardly ever went abroad. His manager ‘Colonel’ (Tom) Parker, who was of Dutch descent whose real name was Dries van Kuijk, had no citizenship. That is why Elvis never went on a world tour.

In 2009, Peer, a town in Belgium, made Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who lived from approximately 1525 to 1569, an honorary citizen. He was apparently born in Peer, although that isn’t completely certain and he is also claimed by the Dutch town of Breda. I think this honour comes a bit late in the day for a man with such nicknames: Peasant-Bruegel, Dirty Bruegel and Peer the Turd.

Well, recognition can be given too early; will President Obama often think back to being awarded his Nobel Peace Prize?

Yet a posthumous honour is the worst. I am saying no in advance, in case this happens, to anyone who might wonder if I would have accepted an honorary citizenship. Before you know it, you are collecting pigeon droppings on a plinth in Budapest.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

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