Yesterday morning Éva Fahidi left us. It hurts very much.
Of course, we had seen this coming. We knew that the world would have to go to sleep and wake up without her one day, and forever after. We knew that no one could laugh in the face of death indefinitely, with a sophisticated, impertinent smirk on her face, peremptorily demanding settlement of the debt owed to her in exchange for who knows how many lives prematurely wasted around her. This was a settlement of extra time she bought in the name of those whom she had to vicariously continue to live.
She went against the grain of everything you would assume about a ninety-year-old. She teamed up with us for the dance theater performance Sea Lavander, immersing herself in three months of grueling rehearsals. At first, it was training, games, brainstorming, and some dance, followed by practice and the learning of actual lines. In the process, her own life and words were transformed into a screenplay. Over the years to follow, the 100-minute performance was billed 95 times at Vígszínház Theater in Budapest, and at various venues in Hungary outside the capital and abroad. On every occasion, she danced her own leading part, in a duet with Emese Cuhorka. In the meantime, she fell in love, and her affection did not go unrequited. Andor Andrási became her inseparable life partner.
As I go through her photographs at 70 to 80 years of age, she strikes me as harder, more aloof. By the time she turned 90, she had become a woman of radiant beauty, with a warm smile and iridescent blue eyes, always filled with pain but also a mischievous penchant for life. She had fought the battles with herself that she had to fight, and she never gave up. To her last breath, she maintained her dialog with her traumas. At last, she arrived in a state where she had this aura of healing we all felt. In her company, we all bathed in soothing light and hope. I don’t know how else to explain it.
I am so grateful for having been by her side, known her so well, spent so much time with her feeling each other out, in curiosity, creativity, daily skirmishes, dance and, of course, in sharing food, drinks, a good chat, and travels. The rehearsals for Sea Lavander were the perfect excuse for all of this. It was really a gift for me to watch her rapport with her double Emese during those rehearsals. She wallowed in independent theater, loved the Jurányi as an alternative venue, and would brag about her association with The Symptoms. I had never known anyone quite like her. I wanted so much for her to be seen by everyone, to be not just heard and read, but felt, through her body, movements, and interaction with Emese. This was why I jumped into the Sea Lavander production and, later, into the most difficult project of my life, the documentary film The Euphoria of Being. I thank everyone who collaborated on and supported me with this undertaking.
Éva was an unfailingly outspoken woman, always forthright about her person and her views about the world. She knew and accepted herself as she was, and this was utterly liberating. No beating around the bush, no politeness. She would start a conversation with a new aquaintance by warning them, “I am practically deaf, speak louder.” She would often admit, with a sneer, “I am prone to more exhibitionism than is necessay..” She was not ashamed of enjoying the limelight. She was not ashamed of relishing food, and she could be as hungry as an adolescent boy. She dared get close to others and let others get close to her. She had this power of creating an air of intimacy, even eroticism. Her body was invariably and powerfully present in everything. I saw her beautiful. She simply radiated beauty, if only because she lived in such harmony and unity with her body as she did. She did not wear her body as a costume foisted on her but as something in which she existed. She was the quintessential woman, to the bone. She would raise her legs to her ears. Each movement she made was an act of soaring, that of her 16-year-old self that she harbored deep inside. Of a girl whose mother was still alive. She had a marvelous command of speech. All her utterances were succinct, weighty, tactile, and to the point. She was witty, wise, erudite, and brilliant, but also a practical housewife, a charming matriarch, and an aggressive businesswoman. She had an uncanny ability to get things done, for herself and those around her. She knew exactly when something was good for her and others in her company, be it a cup of coffee, a nice dress, a pair of comfortable shoes, or good earth, sunlight and just the right amount of water for her flowers. Just seeing her getting ready for a meal or an event made your day.
She knew everything about the Holocaust. She read all the books, visited all the museums, and went to see all the films—even the one featuring Nazis experimenting on geese using Zyklon B. She watched the geese agonize, just to form and idea of how her mother and her little sister Gilike had met their end. And she knew a great deal about the human soul, her own emotions and sentiments, and the nature of trauma. She was dispassionate when it came to facing facts, yet accepting and empathetic of emotional impulse. She could be recalcitrant in drawing her conclusions, and determined to live by them. “I just want to be happy,” she would say. Did she learn how to do it, or was it her sheer resolve? I don’t know how she did it but, in the end, she found satisfaction in the small pleasures of life, and she was grateful for everything granted to her by existence and people. She also gave, and received, amorous love till the very end.
“Hatred can breed nothing but hatred,” she said, and she started with herself. She put her own soul through the wringer to make sure that the last germ of hatred is squeezed out. She became the ambassador of peace, acceptance, and reconciliation with the facts.
Backstage, as she was getting ready for curtain call at the premiere of Sea Lavander, she suddenly turned to me. “My family was gone. They left nothing behind, as if we had never existed at all,” she said. “All those many people… But my book remains. At least, one thing remains.”
No, not really one thing. There is something else that is here to stay, something different. It is here, weighing on my shoulders and chest. It is something all of you ought to feel. It’s the weight of the heritage Éva left us. None of us can pass it by, whether or not you knew her in person. It is a heritage, a legacy, which we must act upon not tomorrow, but today. How can I say this loud enough to be heard amidst all this din?
We must let Éva’s legacy infiltrate every move we make as we dance (and dance we will)—in every decision we make in separating good from evil, and in getting rid every year of things we haven’t touched for a year. We can no longer procrastinate the annual house-cleaning, to take down the curtains for the laundry, even if we are 90 years old and go to rehearsal every day. Éva has also bequeathed on us the sheer pleasure of being alive, the mandate to keep together and uphold one another, and the wisdom that crying will get us nowhere. She has taught us never to hate anyone else, especially not members of ethnic groups circumscribed in vague terms based on generalizations. That’s about it. And, come to think of it, we should never lose our sense of humor.
When I asked her how it was possible to survive Auschwitz, she simply replied, “We did not curse.” At first I thought she misunderstood my question. But then she explained: “We refused to lick their plates clean.” I understood only slowly that this meant they managed to stay human. There is this whole other issue of humanity for you.
It was in May eight years ago that we began rehearsing for Sea Lavander. We were constantly on the alert, caring for her and watching her every move in an attempt to avert a disaster. After a while, we made believe that nothing would be amiss, that she would survive us all. She was The Survivor, after all. She had so much stamina, things to do, and sheer passion for life that her dying was simply out of the question.
The last time I saw her was the day before yesterday. I wanted to peer into her head, to feel what she felt. Instead, I just held her hand, those long, bony fingers. Her skin was silken, as always. But her eyes were glazed over, fixed at a distance. Andor and I were glad she had eaten well. Good night, Éva, sleep tight. I only kissed her on the forehead, though it crossed my mind to give her a real good-night kiss Fahidi style: one each on her closed eyelids, and a last one on her forehead. But I was ashamed to do it.
“There is no one else like me anymore,” she told me once. “Not an ancestor, nor an offspring.” Well, there we have our task cut out for us: Let us try and be like her as best we can.
and the now dormant The Symptoms, Campfilm, and everyone who have worked with us
On September 13, 2023, the Morning Exercise Class of Tünet Stúdió at the Jurányi is dedicated to the memory of Éva Fahidi. Please join us if you can.
Here is a link where you can browse text and view stills of Sea Lavander:
We have plans to upload the full video of the performance to The Symptoms’ site.
Link to texts about the film The Euphoria of Being:
Link to Éva’s books information about her: https://fahidieva.hu