Sunday, 24 July 2011

Michael Medved interviews Congressman McDermott

The Michael Medved Radio Show, July 21,2011.Hour 3.

If you want to have an insight into the mind of a liberal democrat regarding the debt limit debate,this is just the ticket.All happened during the Michael Medved Radio Show on July 21, 2011.
This is the congressman who visited and courted Sadam Hussein,as the US was pressuring the dictator to come clean aboout his intentions and plans to acquire/build WMD's.
During this interview, McDermott obfuscates, spins and lies about every single issue, question put to him. Medved tried, very diplomatically,to get a direct answer from him several times, never succeeded. McDermott, trying to play smart, though, made a fool of himself, again and again.
Question: would he approve budget reductions without tax increases?
Answer: (after a long,embarrassing silence)he threw another question back at Medved, never answering the original question put to him.
According to McDermott, we have an impasse about the debt limit increase, becasue we have lost our ability to 'compromise'. For 40 years , says he, there was compromise in the US Congress. Right, and the US has ended up with 14 trillions of debt. That is "compromise" for a liberal democrat.
When a listener had phoned in and asked this incredibly slippery "congressman", which part of the cut,cap and balance he didn't agree with (as he voted NO with 97 Dems on the motion), again, after long silence he tried to give a lecture about how he would never accept the possibility of not 'ever' raising taxes, for example, in case of war. When Medved immediately reminded him that the bill from congress (which Medved did read, but apparently McDermott didn't)specifically ALLOWED tax increase by a simple MAJORITY in congress in case of war, and any OTHER tax increase where 2/3 of congress deemed necessary, he had no answer, ignored the remark. Then immediately attacked Mitch McConnell for 'filibustering' every move by the majority dems in the senate.
What a dishonest, transparently fibbing windbag!
Michael Medved remained politely, maybe too politely affable during this sad spectacle of a liberal democrat, who was dodging all questions,exhibiting a callous disregard for any discourse on the issues.
And McDermott dared to utter the word 'compromise'...

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Ch.11 Arriving in Ottawa-assimilating into society.

Ottawa City.

At the railway station he confidently asked for a ticket to „Ottawa”, but it was a struggle for the proper pronunciation of the word. „AA- TOVA” repeated the unfriendly French Canadian cashier, which was not even close to the Hungarian, that is, phonetically pronounced, word.
The new language, particularly its pronunciation had caused great difficulty for most immigrants. The more sensitive souls were maybe embarrassed, or slightly peeved , but many had reacted aggressively in delicate situations, and for them melding into society had become quite difficult. Their language frustrations have exaggerated the many cultural differences between Europeans and North Americans. Some have rebelled against making advances in their language skills over the most dire necessities. Refused to change their lifestyles, were reluctant to even try new dishes. In the extreme cases some looked down on anything that was not somehow „European” in style, taste or presentation.
From salted butter to the huge , but very weak coffee everything seemed second rate and unacceptable. The accumulated frustrations and the refusal to accept local customs and forms like slowly administered poison was effecting some immigrants. The worst conflicts were between the so called „old Canadians”, immigrants who had already spent some years in the new country and the „new Canadians”, folks who had just arrived.
Like most immigrants in Canada or the USA, in a relatively short time, every diligent and ambitious newcomer had achieved a fairly high standard of living. Thus the „old Canadians”, who had most of the initial difficulties behind them, were justly criticizing the grumbling and impatience of the newcomers about accepting life in society. The misplaced refugees of the second world war who made up the largest part of „old Canadians”, unlike the refugees of the 1956 Revolution, often spent long years in camps until they could get visas and fares paid for by some charitable organization.
However, during the splendid train ride from Quebec to Ottawa, problems of assimilation into Canadian society did not cause any mental anguish to the 19 year old. In a few short weeks, this was his second ambitious undertaking in his new homeland, moving to Ottawa, to be with English speaking natives! He had gotten off the train with high expectations. Since the station was in the heart of the city, he had a great chance to do his first sightseeing having but a small bag all his luggage.
Other than the majestic Parliament buildings , the center was quite a disappointment, it resembled more of a small, but up and coming provincial town than the capitol of an immense country. While passing through Rideau Street there were a few dozen or so people in , what seemed, a large empty store, listening to an intense looking gentleman, with an impressive baritone, obviously making some sort of political pitch. Peter could not have understood a single word but the speech seemed convincing and emphatic that was delivered by the gaunt and straight backed orator.
This was his first, if passive, participation in a free, public and democratic opinion expression. Peter happened to be witnessing a campaign speech preceding the 1957 fall elections, where he had experienced, with awe, the participants’ various and amazing reactions to the statements of John Diefenbaker. There were catcalls, too, amid the enthusiastic applauders, cynical remarks and laughter, people in pairs arguing with each other while the speech was being delivered. All kinds of behavior! Only one thing was missing, not a policeman or secret service man to be seen anywhere.
Not the center of the capitol, not the splendid stores on Rideau Street, not the elegant hotels that grabbed Peter’s attention in these first hours of his arrival in Ottawa.
The unfolding, live democracy , people’s open expression of their likes or dislikes as they have reacted to the politician’s words was what seemed so utterly wonderful!
This is, then, a free country!
He could not have known at that time, that the sympathetic orator was to become Canada’s prime minister that fall, and that several years later he would have two personal meetings with Mr. Diefenbaker. One of those meetings happened in a hotel in Saskatoon, as he was having an early morning breakfast. John Diefenbaker called over from his table, asking to join him if he was alone. The eventual winner of several elections and having been prime minister more than once, was just sitting there without any bodyguards, inviting a total stranger to his table! Then and there he had to tell John Diefenbaker the event from Ottawa in the first hours of his arrival, which deeply touched the former prime minister and warmly shook the „new Canadian’s” hand.
A rooming house, full of Hungarians , was run by the „old Canadian”, Mrs. Mitro, was his new home. The Mitro family had immigrated to Canada even before the war, the children were all born in the new country, but to the family’s merit, they all spoke Hungarian. This was even more appreciated by Peter and his friends when subsequently met other Hungarian families whose Canadian born children often did not speak a word, or very little, of their elder’s native language.
So the parents who managed to teach their Canadian born children their ancestors’ tongue were held in great esteem as it was a very difficult and frustrating task.
The Mitro house gave home to mostly single, young men and it was easier here to wrestle with problems of loneliness and the strange, new ways of society. On the other hand, it was to everyone’s disadvantage to be with Hungarians when the English language demanded daily practice. While in their simple work places like cleaning, dishwashing, construction there was some limited chance to practice English, their free times should have been passed with English speakers. Fortunately, the Hungarian rooming house was only a short stop as he had found new employment immediately, in the Royal Ottawa Sanatorium, quite far from the Mitro house. As an „experienced” dishwasher and general kitchen helper he had started to work in the wing of the ambulatory patients, those recovering from tuberculosis.

The Royal Ottawa Sanatorium, August 1957
He had asked for and received temporary quarters, a room near the power plant of the hospital, which he shared with an older Ukrainian immigrant working in the plant. The man spoke almost zero English, but insisted telling Peter his life story every night, in Ukrainian, when he had found out that Peter knew some Russian from his school back in Hungary.
Fortunately, they only met at night, when under the excuse of fatigue he could escape most of the Ukrainian’s endless monologues.
His work had become much more interesting. The ambulatory patients came to have their meals in the large dining hall, all dressed up, which was portioned out by two immigrant women and served by Peter. The meals had arrived from the main kitchen on steam containers on wheels.
Within days a rather pleasant and enjoyable relationship developed between him and most patients, who appreciated the young man’s effort and enthusiasm. This work had the human touch, encouraged the development of relationships with people, particularly with people on the mend from illness.
He learned, and was encouraged, much to his surprise, to call most of the patients by their first names, regardless of age or sex. It was already difficult to do away with the polite form, an essential element of most languages, and now on top of that he was to call these ladies and gentlemen by their first names like “Jim” or “Mary”. He had kept on trying for a while with the Mr. Jim’s and the Miss Mary’s, but the patients have insisted, with a few exceptions, that he is to call them by their first names, that soon enough he was used to this straight forward, natural form of communication, not well practiced anywhere in Europe.
Back in the camp in Melence he met and befriended a young man from the nearby village to Baja, eventually becoming chess partners. Mike had been sent straight to Ottawa, after landing in Quebec. He had worked at construction awhile, but the extremely cold Ottawa winter had chased him to the much less profitable, but warm work environment, the Sanatorium. That made it possible for the pair to seek and find their own flat, close to their workplace.
They have rented the half basement of a simple Canadian house, right next to the washing machine and not far from the furnace. The “flat” consisted of a large bed, a wooden dresser, and they paid 3 dollars weekly, each. But the rented place was close enough for getting to work on foot and it was spartan but warm. There was entertainment, too, besides work and that was provided by Mrs. Sutherland’s weekly language class, in a classroom of the local secondary school. The workplace and self-study brought some progress in this field, but the difficult English pronunciation made real conversation still difficult. Daily language frustrations were plentiful. When they were convinced that they have made some progress, some incident would happen to take their self-confidence away in the field of the mysteries of English pronunciation.
Like it happened one Sunday afternoon, when Peter caught some little kids of the neighbors peeking through their basement window. Forever ready for any practice opportunity for the use of English and always very grateful when native Canadians were to be engaged in conversation, especially kids who are always sincere and well meaning! With great courage he had walked up to the little window, mustering all his language skills and with a broad, encouraging smile he said something like:
“Halo, kiidsz, verr iiiz juur fadderr?” to which the kids answered in unison,
Peter‘s lips and tongue now in their most coordinated position possible, very slowly, carefully formatting the treacherous and foreigners gravest sound enemy, the “r”s, softening their rough edges, he had repeated the question.
The little kids looked at each other, then the oldest and wisest said:
“We don’t speak French!”
Unavoidably, situations much more humiliating happened due to lack of language skills. On one occasion, when Mike and Peter were traveling on a local bus, they observed that those passengers wanting to be let off at their stops have signaled to the driver by pushing a little button near the door. They also saw that getting off was from the rear. Confident in these important bits of familiarity, the new Canadian passengers coming from the rural areas of Hungary not really having been on any public transportation in the fifties, now felt confident and signaled to the driver that they would like get off the bus at the next stop. The bus stopped and they have patiently waited for the door to open. Since it did not, Peter had pressed, once more, now longer and firmer the little button for the driver. The driver looked up in the rear view mirror and with just a bit raised voice he had said something to them. The door still would not open.
By then the driver was gesticulating with both hands, what’s more now a passenger or two also got into shouting, but the boys still could not figure out the puzzle of opening the door.
The driver then, after pulling roughly on his hand brake, had rushed towards the rear with aggressive steps, and then stepped onto the last step of the door and as if by magic, the door opened. The driver’s less than complimentary remarks were still audible as they were rushing away into darkness.
There was no other solution; they had to start a formal language training course, designed specifically for new immigrants. The evening course led by the very kind Mrs. Sutherland was populated by a rather motley group of new immigrants. From the 50 years old German engineer to the almost illiterate, young shepherd boy from Sicily, there were immigrants from every conceivable nation and age. This multicultural group was to be thought by the ever smiling, patient and brilliant literature teacher, Mrs. Sutherland. This mixed background and nationality was the best asset of the class, as the pupils had no other choice but to communicate with each other in one language only, English. Here, nobody was afraid of making a mistake in pronunciation, or committing a grave grammatical error, everybody was in his or her natural awkwardness for the ordeal of communicating in English. And Mrs. Sutherland achieved results, because most of her charges had enriched themselves to the tune of their own language aptitudes and openness.
The fall season came and that also meant for all Hungarians at home and in foreign lands, that one year passed since the most proud and also the most tragic autumn, the one in 1956.
The Hungarian newspapers, written and printed in Canada, were also available in Ottawa and after Sunday mass they would buy them at the Hungarian church. These became their sources of information from home and the world. Soon the papers were calling all Hungarians in the West to get ready for big protest demonstrations on October 23, the anniversary of the Revolution, in front the various Soviet Embassies. Every able Hungarian was there, with candles in hand at the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa. Peter and his friends came with several bottles of red ink, which were tossed at the building’s walls. There was some mild police interference, but not before the building was full of the ugly red marks, reminding the world of the brutal and murderous assault by the Red Army on Budapest a year before.
These demonstrations took place in every major Western city, with exactly the same results, bringing the world’s attention back to the events a year before.
The work in the sanatorium’s serving kitchen was pleasant, particularly due the patients’ kind and appreciative disposition; however it has been a nagging concern for Peter that after all he worked in the ward of patients suffering from tuberculosis. He would not even dare write to his parents about it, since his right kidney was removed in Budapest just 2 years prior, due to an infection with TBC. One can live with one kidney for many years, counseled the famous surgeon, Professor Babics, who during the revolution became the Minister of Health of the short lived revolutionary government. But without any kidney, in the fifties, meant death. The salary in the sanatorium was also lower than out there in the open “market”, so he had decided to seek a new job.
By the time their first, really cold winter had arrived around the beginning of December Peter was already working in the newly built Westgate Shopping center on the edge of town.
The Simpson Sears department store had a large cafeteria which shoppers and staff frequented, and the “experienced” young man was hired in the kitchen of this cafeteria, ran by the huge local bakery, Morrison Lamothe. In addition to dishwashing he had been given extra duties, the daily collection of all the garbage bins throughout the store, daily, before the night cleaning brigade had arrived.
The kitchen chef was German, his assistant Portuguese, the waitresses mostly French Canadian women. The unofficial, but well known “second class” citizens and immigrants made up then, and even today, the serving-cleaning needs of Canadian society. And among these the poorly spoken newcomer Hungarian became the “last” man of the department store. However, it seemed like a promotion, that unlike in the previous job, here he was given every morning a freshly washed and starched white shirt, with not so stylish, but useful striped pants. These little perks counted a lot in the life of immigrants. However, those dirty nails on his hands were hopeless, full of tiny bits of food particles that seemed so difficult to clean, causing great vexation.
The staff of the cafeteria was friendly. They would have their morning coffees together, just before opening and it was impressive for Europeans to experience a uniform acceptance of everybody at the tables. No privileges or exceptions in terms of rank or position, everybody sat with anybody, everybody calling the others by their first names! At least at work, society was without pretenses and formalities.
Around Christmas of 1957, the season’s songs were being played non-stop during opening hours, among them many rock inspired Christmas songs. All that seemed so new and interesting, every experience, every new English word, every new custom, behavior, rock number had continually and incessantly evened the road toward assimilation into society. The initial difficulties and uncertainties, the real and imagined hurts had slowly, very slowly been softened, exchanged for the satisfaction of salaries earned from daily labor, the momentary joys of a successful English dialogue with someone. Just before Christmas the company running the cafeteria had organized a party for the employees. This was his first experience being a guest in a better Ottawa restaurant, served a splendid dinner by - other immigrants.
Even Christmas gifts were given to each employee, a British Columbia commemorative silver dollar, the province where he was originally to be sent from the boat!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Ch.10 Arriving in the New World

Quebec City,Canada,June 30,1957

The long train was full of Hungarian refugees, coming from several camps in Italy, transporting them to Le Havre, France, where a bit aged, but newly painted ocean liner was waiting for them.
While everyone was excited that finally they are on their way to the new homeland, leaving the continent proved to be very emotional to most, as they had tears in their eyes, realizing that, now, their lives are definitely and drastically changing.
The Italian registered ASCANIA made just one more stop as they have left Le Havre, before charging the open Atlantic, briefly mooring in Southampton and taking on British emigrants, bound for Canada. Peter was standing near the main bridge in the early morning darkness , when had heard the first really British English, which was so very different from the English that was attempted to be taught by a couple of Italian language teachers, just before they were leaving for Canada ( with very poor results). Shortly they were on their way.
Most passengers were present for breakfast that morning in the main dining hall, but as they were heading out to the open sea and the waves were becoming increasingly huge, for most, the voyage had become a new experience that they just as soon not have had! By lunch-time less than half of the passengers were present for the meal and by dinnertime, only a handful of the nearly 400 on board were brave enough to even think about eating. Peter had taken a few oranges to his seriously ill friend, with whom he had become friends since Melence, but the poor soul was just lying on his bunk bed with the greenest of faces, and wanted to die.
The next few days were pure hell for most of the passengers.
They could not eat, became weak, and the waves of the ocean were not getting calmer. It was taking the better part of 6 or 7 days by the time when most passengers have somehow acclimatized themselves to the ever present swaying and dared to show up on deck. Then on the ninth day they caught glimpses of the rather big chunks of ice formations as they were floating by in the mouth of the St.Lawrence where their ship was now steaming to its destination. While it was towards the end of June, the passengers, seeing the ice floats, were expecting the worst as they were getting ready for the June 30th arrival. Every conceivable warm clothing they could find in their meager luggage they put on, including heavy winter socks to brave the docking in Quebec City, it seemed they would be landing on the North Pole!
By the time they have arrived in the early morning hours, the thermometers of the Port signaled near 85 F! Added to this was a humidity index that made the 85 much worse in terms of comfort.
The arrival formalities were conducted still on the ship, they were given temporary id cards, documents. The Hungarian refugees were sorted out according to profession and need for labor in the various parts of the country, and then train tickets were handed out and finally everybody received 5 dollars.

Peter’s Entry Visa and destination in Canada.

Peter was directed to Vancouver, given train and meal tickets that were valid for several days and in his i.d. card they wrote „General labor”. He thanked them and asked the immigration officer where this Vancouver actually was in Canada. The obliging Canadian led him to a huge wall map and showed him the city on the foremost Western part of Canada. In answer to his question they have explained that, by and large, Vancouver is as far away from Quebec City, as Quebec City is from... Budapest!
The very moment within which he had decided that he will not go „that far”, that is „ farther” even from Budapest than Quebec , came back to haunt him for many, many years. Every time he realized that he made a hasty and unwise decision in such a fateful situation. If he knew what were to become the result of this quick decision , surely then he would have accepted it. However, he had declared, almost heroically, that he would rather not go to Vancouver. They accepted , without a word his decision, received his 5 dollars, and informed him that he was to stay in Quebec, there is no other alternative. They offered him temporary shelter in the sailors’ dormitory at the Port until he found a job and living quarters.
He had a quick farewell with his new friends from the various camps in Europe, who were sent to various cities of Canada and looked for his new living quarters in the Port.
He was quickly assigned a top bunk in the dormitory and within minutes he was climbing the steep road to the old center of the city which was just above the port, high up a hill.
This was the summer’s busiest long weekend, both from the Canadian and American side, and the French Canadian city was one of the most popular on the continent. Huge luxury cars were sparkling in the summer heat, throngs of people everywhere, shops, parks, streets. There was noticeable joy and happiness on the people’s faces, music blared from the cars, rock and roll was just coming into vogue that summer of 1957.
Peter had no destination point, but had already made some specific short range plans back on the ship before disembarking. It was not difficult to assess the possible skills and talents that he had to offer, but even if he had any marketable skill the lack of language would have rendered these unmarketable. Lack of both English and French meant the pursuit of an occupation which required no speaking or writing.
His only consolation was remembering the famous stories of (mostly American)millionaires who had started with nothing and through perseverance and a little bit of luck made it to the top, often becoming fabulously wealthy. If on this first day of his new country, a hot and humid day, he was not dreaming of millions , an inner force was pushing him towards the most elegant part of town, until he found himself in front of the famous Chateau Frontenac. One quick look at the hotel and the doorman, who looked like a colonel in full army gear, was enough to discourage him of trying his luck there. But opposite the hotel, on the other side of the corner of the square stood a very elegant restaurant, called the Old Homestead.
The Old Homestead restaurant, side street staff entrance, in 2005, after 48 years.

Awkwardly, but with some gusto he had entered through the main entrance and a well dressed, bearded, smiling man rushed towards him, with what looked like a bunch of files in his hand, and said something which did not sound English or Italian. Peter tried to muster at least some of the English words he had learned.
„Hallo, job, I make...good work.”
The Greek owner, who spoke only Greek and French, took a good look at the entrepreneur and without any ceremony he had nodded to follow him. They went directly to the kitchen at the back through the happily chatting and eating crowd of people. The man put a large apron on Peter, led him to a huge sink full of dirty pots and pans.
„OK, you start now.” said the Greek. He never even asked his name. The three young chefs were also so busy that they could not devote any time to the newcomer. The task seemed simple enough. When he had finished washing the big pots, the waitresses were already showing him how to sort out the used dishes brought in from the dining hall, how to feed them into the monstrous washing machine at one end, how to rack them up when the freshly washed and steaming plates and glasses came out the other end. Within hours a certain routine established itself, much like in some wholesale factory. Peter had to smile when he thought of his dad , often admonishing him because he was reluctant to help his mother at home washing-up the few plates after their meal! Well, there was some washing-up to do now!
Was this 19 year old, on a new continent, without language or skill, able to create and sustain an existence?
Fresh off the boat, the young immigrant, in spite of his youth was not unfamiliar with physical work. The fifties in Hungary did not allow too many young people to escape hard work. His mother’s wages were enough only for the basic necessities. What his father could send home from his various jobs in the country was also too little to clothe and school the kids at home. It was evident that if he wanted to go to school in the fall in decent clothes and shoes he had to earn this during the summer. This is how he got a job far away from home, in the newly built „socialist” city of Sztalinvaros.
The communist leaders had planned to change the country from a predominantly agricultural land to an industrial power. The economic base for this scheme was to be able to „purchase” (at high prices)from the Soviet Union raw materials, then turning these into finished products „selling” them back(cheaply) to the Soviets. Buying dearly and selling cheaply was the most blatant exploitation of all the Eastern European countries in the fifties.
The reigning government was ready for any sacrifice to make this insane idea successful. People came from every part of the country to the town named after Stalin, because there was work and the pay was better than anywhere else. So Peter had signed up and became water boy for a team of transporters. The team worked hard, 12 hours a day, with very few days off. They emptied freight ships on the Danube, railway cars, transported cement and bricks and so on.
The boy, still in his puberty, had started learning from the school of life, perhaps somewhat too early in his life, how men had lived off manual labor. He had learned to smoke as the others did in the brigade, heard the first curse words and vulgarisms and saw up close how men, far from their families had behaved, often unfaithful to their wives. He was growing up quickly, indeed.
The weekly good-times had started often even before the week was over, at times his water container would be filled with beer or wine from taverns on the way.
This was how he spent the summer of 1951, from the first day of the school recess to the last days of the summer vacation.

Page from his diary in 1951:”…I got to love people. Now I know what it means to be a worker. I appreciate them more than any other…”

The following summer he had arrived as an experienced „worker” in Sztalinvaros and secured a job as surveyors’ helper, carrying measuring sticks and equipment for engineers. This was a real promotion, but alas less money although he was now a year older.
In the following year, 1953, a new „socialist dream city” was emerging in the North, Kazincbarcika. So the summer school vacation was now in a new venue, even much farther from his home. Here, too, engineers’ helper was the job, now with hands on experience. He lived in workers’ barracks, his window opened up to the courtyard of the adjacent forced labor camp, housing political prisoners, building the „socialist dream”. Every dawn began with the guards’ deafening shouting as they were organizing the ranks of the prisoners, getting them ready for the day’s work. Among these abused souls were priests, university professors, merchants, former army officers, judges, the so called undesirables, class enemies who supposedly threatened the dictatorship of the proletariat!
This is how he spent three summer vacations. But during school year there were some chances to earn some pocket money, too, thus helping the family to cope. The neighbors all relied on him to carry in the wood, coal in the fall that was just dumped in the front of their homes. He had an ongoing job at the house of one his well off friends, too, pumping full with water, once a week, the water tank of their bathroom. The weekly 4 hours of pumping by hand assured him that he could continue his favored sport: swimming and water polo. Since his hometown had no indoor pool for the winter, their practice took them on Sundays , by train, to Pecs, some 100 km's from Baja to the university’s swimming pool.

The junior water polo team, Bajai Honved,1954-front row:+Csere Robi,+Bánhidy Tilu,Galántai „Guszti”,back:Urbán Péter,Szepessy Kálmán,Krikovszki Józsi,Szepessy Laci.
These all day trips came free with train tickets, but food was the responsibility of each participant. The simple, one dish, home cooked meals could not be brought on trips like these, and cold provisions were too expensive for his mother to buy. But with the pumping job he earned enough each week that allowed the purchase of cold cuts and bread for these trips.
In spite of the many months of idleness in the various refugee camps and the hard choice that had to be made on disembarking the boat, it seemed incredible the ease, or perhaps the sheer luck with which , on his first day , at the first chance he could find work! There was no time to be afraid , to be lamenting the difficulties of a new world, strange language , the frustrations that should have surely followed within a short time. If there ever was the first step toward the BIG DREAM, toward life here on the new continent, then right there, in the old town-centre of Quebec, in that restaurant, it was taken.
Within a couple of hours , when the chefs found a little break, they checked out the tall, skinny guy from some strange land. With various sign language, and some words they could share they found out where the new dishwasher came from. Once they knew he has from Hungary, he immediately became a hero! The most famous Hungarian soccer team of all time, in 1954 , had carved into the hearts of ardent fans admiration everywhere in their world by coming second of all nations, barely losing to Germany in the World Cup final.
Peter was celebrated as if he were a member of that famous team. And the 1956 Freedom Fight and Revolution had substantially increased people’s admiration for the tiny country and her people.
The chefs had immediately begun work and within minutes they had Peter sit in front of a long table laden with every imaginable food, most of which was totally strange to the newcomer. After the so called fruits of the sea appetizer, boiled lobster claws, and what looked like raw, bloody slices of beef was served. Peter was able to eat some of these strange delicacies, but others he had to leave due to their bizarre consistencies, not well known to a Hungarian lad on his first day in North America.
But the friendship was instant and warm, which made these first hours on the job very pleasant. The hours were flying by, as more new customers came in for supper and everybody was busy with their tasks. When the last guest was gone, Peter still had the big pots to do, and towards one a.m. in the morning the owner showed him how to sweep and wash up the main dining room while he was busy with the cash register.
By 2 a.m. the newcomer had everything ready, but the owner insisted that he stay the night. They went behind the kitchen, to the storage room where from potato sacks and blankets a makeshift bed was made, being in July the cool room was a welcome change from the hot and steamy kitchen.
There was just one more “new” discovery left on this, for him, historical, day: in the storage room there were boxes and boxes of Coca Cola! The communist government and party in Hungary in the fifties had tried with every means of propaganda to depict the “imperialist West” as the devil. It meant to throw at it the worst possible criticism, whether in politics or culture. Thus the capitalists had used Coca Cola to drug and stupefy the poor working people. Well, Peter had found himself, alone, with boxes of Coca Cola, of which he had heard only bad things, that is, from a teenager’s point of view, exciting things, but never ever tried! He could not resist the temptation and opened a bottle, but after just one gulp from the strange tasting , lukewarm liquid he had enough. Poor imperialists of the West , he thought, you will never succeed with such a dismal tasting “drug”.
In less than 24 hours, the European, “landed immigrant”, said his document, had found, according to his qualifications, employment, friendly co-workers and even without knowing the amount, a salary, he apparently had room and board: what more could an East European guy have hope for in the New World in 1957?
He had tried in the next few weeks to get in to several Canadian Universities via the Immigration Office in Quebec via interpreters, but there were no answers, not at least until he was in Quebec City. Universities and colleges in Quebec had declined to take him on, with full room and board, without tuition fees. They had advised him to try other provinces.
In the meantime days were spent at the Old Homestead restaurant in the French Canadian capitol, from 3 pm until closing, for $25 weekly, plus all the delicious food he could eat and even a place to sleep if and when he wanted.
On his days off, Mondays, he was off to see the few English language films which were showing in the original, with subtitles for the French.
During his short stay in Quebec city only one embarrassing incident happened that remained in memory for a long time. On the second Sunday, before his afternoon shift at the restaurant, he went to mass in one of most beautiful churches. The huge church was full of worshippers, a magnificent organ led a truly amazing choir. He could only find standing room at the back. After the sermon, all of a sudden he had found in front of him a collecting box with a tiny bell attached to it, held by a straight backed and serious looking gentleman. The little bell that rang was sudden, but he had realized instantly that he should now produce some coins and place them in the box. However, only some banknotes were in his pocket that represented to the immigrant a rather big value, his stipend from the work in the restaurant, without any coins.
He could not do this, could not permit himself to take any of those dollar bills and donate them to the church! The man with the collecting box had now stepped closer to him and the little bell had signaled that he should give some money. Embarrassed, but he shook his head. The determined collector was not deterred and shook the little bell once more. With a red face, Peter did not react and the man passed on with a scornful face.
He felt ashamed and did not dare to go to church again in that city.
After some weeks he had said good bye to the Greek immigrants’ restaurant. There was an emotional farewell from his co-workers, who had retained rather bizarre memories of him. They smiled at his method of learning English during working hours by attaching a new list of words to his long dishwashing machine and reciting these words , loudly, each day. They have tried to understand his country’s political history and the recent events in 1956 during their coffee breaks, which he had presented with a mixture of English and Italian words. They understood his reason for moving on so that he could be exposed to a totally English speaking environment, it was his choice. Ottawa, however, did not seem right to them, but they did not mention this to him.
There was one important visit he had to make before getting on his train to Ottawa, in the city of his Canadian arrival. As in many other days, he sought out the most open space in the Port, where the huge ocean liners were docking, and sat on the most comfortable piles of ships’ rope. His eyes were searching, in vain, for the continent he had left behind, so long ago it seemed, in the far distance. Searching for the country which was once again surrounded by barbed wire and minefields, shot away from the world and the revolution’s victorious two weeks. These were painful and homesick hours, the acknowledgement of stark reality, that he was thousands of miles away from his family, friends, from all that gave him his identity so far. To bid good bye to Quebec City, which was his first home on the new continent, in Canada, seemed now almost as bitter as walking out of his hometown on that rainy November day. He recalled his walks here among the big ships during the mornings, before he went off to work, how often he was seriously considering sneaking up on a Europe bound ship and hiding as a stow away!. The loneliness, the strange environment, the daily frustration with the language, and that which was the most difficult to fight, the homesickness that all immigrants feel in the beginning, that had caused many to despair. Those without families and friends had a tougher time in the initial stages of a strange country.
Maybe Ottawa would help to get out of this dark mood!