The fourteen-carat Volvo

Gábor Városi, a student of the Academy of Fine Arts, wasn't even 22 years of age when he won the Lajota Scholarship. It’s no coincidence if that sentence makes you think of P. Howard's The Fourteen-carat roadster and its protagonist, Ivan Gorchev. Our hero will endure similar – and partially Sweden-related – adventures involving a young, beautiful heiress, a run-down car, and the hard-shell aristocrats of a bygone era. In the role of Gorchev, a poetically young, fledgling artist (a bon vivant) overheated by testosterone: Gábor Városi.

The year is 1987, and apart from a few clairvoyants, no one has the slightest clue that communism will go down the drain in less than two years. The Internationale still echoes at the school year's opening ceremony as our blissfully ignorant hero sends introductory letters to a dozen Western galleries. We will never know who was more surprised: him or Hungarian State Security, when a letter arrived that the Swedish Lajota Art Gallery offered a one-year scholarship in Grödinge, complete with a flat, a studio, a car, and judging from afar – and from under the shadow of the Iron Curtain –, a hefty allowance (which, as experience has shown, was worth about two bottles of whisky and eight beers/month at the rate of the Systembolaget – a Swedish state-run liquor store). The State Security agents were excited to deliver the letter 5 instead of the postal services. The invitation landed on the neobaroque desk of István Kiss (rector of the Academy, sculptor, creator of numerous statues depicting Lenin, Béla Kun and his comrades, and works of art celebrating Soviet-Hungarian friendship. Oh, and he is also a member of the Central Committee of KISZ, the Hungarian Young Communist League).

Comrade Kiss – who was earlier awarded the Kossuth Prize for his Münnich statue – was clearly unhappy about the invitation coming from the Scandinavian slough of decadent capitalism toiling away in their final hours 

before the unavoidable collapse. Though you could venture to guess his unhappiness from his expression, the dead giveaway was the style and volume with which he addressed our hero. Gábor couldn't sit down while the rector was screaming his lungs out. He'd won a scholarship, that much he could puzzle out, sorting through spittle and word fragments. However, according to the rector, the college's secretary of the Hungarian Young Communist League (KISZ) would travel in his place to Sweden.

This decision was final and irrevocable!


The statue of Ferenc Münnich was created by István Kiss sculptor, the Rector of the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts at the time.


What is an unrighteously thwarted young artist to do? He buys a bottle of Bikavér (a red wine blend from Eger) and finds solace in his lover's arms. Kati was bright and beautiful – after numerous drawing lessons, there could be no doubt about the latter – who first helped calm his rampant state, then, proving her innate intelligence propped herself up on the old couch, lit a cigarette, and came up with the following simple, but genius suggestion:

"Let’s tell Granny!"

"Good idea," said our man, looking for his socks. The entire floor of the villa in Rózsadomb (Rose Hill, an affluent area in Budapest) was filled with relics of Kati's late grandfather. Among the furniture of the former Israelite owners, the Soviet NKVD (State Security) uniforms and the Lenin Award given by Brezhnev in Moscow matched well with the French cognac and the love of our youngsters.

It was a great idea because "Granny" was actually the widow of Ferenc Münnich (the same Münnich whose statue earned the Kossuth Prize to Comrade Kiss), the second man of the early Kádárist era, the man who called in the Russians in 1956. In the communist era, she was omnipotent – refuting the prevailing a the- ist thesis of the time. So, after a supposedly brief phone conversation, probably spent standing to attention, the rector revoked the irrevocable and recommended Gábor for the scholarship.

Revising his earlier misapprehension, he personally congratulated his student, calling him "Gáborka" endearingly.

After the unavoidable briefings from Internal Affairs, our protagonist's belief solidify in the competitive advantage of socialism, and he is prepared for the ongoing class struggle beneath the surface in Sweden. To his bafflement, there is little sign of this in Grödinge, 20 kilometers from Stockholm. What the village does have is snow up to his waist, silly cows, long nights, Swedish blondes indifferent about foreigners, and a limited supply of alcohol at the public liquor store. The studded tires on the surprised Volvo station wagon are worn smooth by the third day. The flabbergasted car is not the only one to accept that life becomes truly challenging over 50.

We will get to this – but not in relation to the acceleration of cars – in a later chapter.

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