Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Red-tinted nostalgia

I'm watching Good Bye, Lenin! for the second time - I didn't much like it the first time I saw it, but it's one of those movies that actually gets better on a second watching.

And of course, like everything else, this made me think of me (if you hadn't noticed - I'm an egomaniac).

I've been nostalgic for Communism since 1991. I grew up in Europe, so I remember the changes better than Americans my age, and because I didn't live in a Communist country and only visited on vacation, I remember the changes better than those my age who live in the former Communist countries. My nostalgia happened so quickly. It happened when the shelves in Hungary stopped stocking my favorite products, which was a few months after the fall. First, it was the insidious branding of everyday goods like sour cream and yogurt with German and Dutch company names, then the disappearance of the few notable brands - Traubisoda, Turo Rudi.

Of course within a couple of years, most of those products were back, side-by-side on the shelves with the new products. La Vache Qui Rit just wasn't the same as Maci (Teddy Bear) cheese. Danon Rudi may be creamier and tastier than the somewhat chunky Turo Rudi, but it wasn't the same. And Traubisoda - well, there's nothing at all like Traubisoda - the delicately fizzy, not too sweet white grape soda. Some things changed. The packaging, even on these old-skool products, took on a western capitalist sheen. Traubisoda suddenly came in plastic rather than glass bottles. Turo Rudis had modern lettering and advertising campaigns. Maci cheese...well, still looked a hell of a lot like the old Maci cheese.

I used to think that only someone who hadn't lived through it could be nostalgic for it. The emotion in my mother's voice when we were driving up north on the 4th of July listening to the Best of Communism, a collection of Hungarian Communist songs showed that this isn't true any more - even the anti-Communists can feel nostalgia. The only difference is that I could be nostalgic a month after it ended. It took her years to feel any kind of nostalgia - and the nostalgia she feels is certainly not for the regime, but rather for the idealism that some people held - the true believers who weren't corrupted by power - the little people who actually benefited from it. Because some did. At least in Hungary.

You go to Hungary today and looking at the young people you could be in a B-grade version of the A-grade Hollywood movie that is America. Petofi, Adi and Jokai have been replaced with Danielle Steele, Stephen King, and John Grisham. Bartok, Kodaly and Liszt have been overshadowed by Britney Spears, Creed and Linkin Park. Instead of bread and lard parties with poetry readings, anti-government jokes and lots of palinka, you find generic bars and over-sexed dance clubs with bad music, a lack of humor and over-priced cocktails. No wonder my mother can be nostalgic.


Blogger satmandu said...

If you're trying to inspire a bread and lard party with poetry readings, anti-government jokes and lots of palinka in Harlem, you just may have succeeded.

The Palinka may sadly be in limited supply...

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course you fail to mention the fun and frivolity of the gulags and the death of a million or so kulaks, but what is that in comparison with your mother's sweet nostalgia?

2:32 AM  

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