It is one of those days when you suddenly realise that rosy-fingered spring has slipped into swarthy summer. That, at least, is how the English poet John Clare might have put it. Károly captures the mood rather more bluntly: “It’s hot. Too hot for me to walk to the graveyard.”
So Károly stays at home, leaving us to walk alone to the border and on to the graveyard in Ukraine. We amble slowly around water meadows and past walnut trees to reach the road that leads past gardens to the border. The song of honey bees hums sweetly in the scented air. There is buddleia, honeysuckle and the last of the wild hyacinths. On the telegraph poles are little sashes in red, white and green. This is a part of Slovakia where most residents, when it comes to census time, tick the box on the government’s form to confirm that they are Hungarian. Károly is one of them.
The Tisza (as the big river not far away to the south is called in Hungarian) meanders across the flat landscape in great languid loops. So do its many tributaries that run down from the forested Carpathian ridges to reach the sedgy lowlands where they madly twist and turn as they search for the Tisza. The village of Slemence lies snug, tucked away, amid these moody backwaters. “You’ll need a guide to find the village,” Károly had warned us in advance. But we muddled our way through back lanes and byways and eventually reached the village that lies right on the border with Ukraine.
For a little community that seems initially to be at the very end of a tortuous cul-de-sac, Slemence packs a big surprise.