Janos Gereben
Janos Gereben

Fellowship Title:

In Lieu of Summing Up

Janos Gereben
February 26, 1970

Fellowship Year

VIENNA—Looking back at the end of a year in Europe, the following item from the London Times stands out among truly significant memories:

The Course of Nature


The riddle of the worm’s wriggle

From a Correspondent

Worms are hardly a subject for popular observation, and the literature about them is thin underfoot.  So when a Royal Navy commander wrote asking me why worms “tied themselves into complicated knots not to be found in the Admiralty seamanship manual” if suddenly brought to the surface, the possible answer needed some reflection.

Long ago Darwin showed how hypersensitive worms are to any contact.  He found that even a slight puff from the mouth caused instant retreat into the burrow.  Here, it would seem, lies the answer to my correspondent.

An authority I consulted said that sudden exposure of worms to duce a reflex “escape” reaction – the air while digging would pro-they turn blindly in upon themselves in trying to reach safety.  Sometimes they coil tightly into little balls, as I have observed myself when turning over a compost heap where worms abounded.

The sensitivity of worms is obviously reflected in the lapwing’s “pattering” action, in which the bird extends a leg forward and taps the earth rapidly to bring up worms (gulls well know the significance of this movement, and pounce at the right moment to snatch the morsel from the poor lapwing).  Possibly the worms mistake the pattering for falling rain.  That lapwing trick was noticed long ago by a poet when he described the bird that taps

…the ground

In hope the oft-repeated sound
May penetrate the shaking mould,
And fright the earthworm from
Its hold.

But naturalists are still only theorizing about it.  Someone has even suggested that the worms think the vibrations are caused by their deadly enemy, the mole, coming after them, and start a mass wriggle to security.

My own confirmation that worms rise in response to surface vibration first came in the most unlikely spot, at a house in Cookham, by the Thames, where the thudding of Morris dancers on the lawn brought up worms in abundance, as Stanley Spencer quietly painted away under his umbrella in the shrubbery near by.

For ice cream, in Pisa; for a soup (not bulls), in Spain.

Why is the riddle of the worm’s wriggle significant?

First of all for the cheek of running anything like that, three full decades after Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop exposed William Boot, Countryman (between Pip and Pop, Bedtime Pets, and the recipe for waffle scramble) and his…

…”Feather-footed through the splashy fen passes the questing vole…”

(Down Shelley, down Keats.)

Second, for exposing Claud Cockburn. Until finding something like this business with worms’ wriggle, one wonders about the possible validity of the following from I. Claud

The hired journalist ought to realize that he is partly in the entertainment business and partly in the advertising business—advertising either goods, or a cause, or a government. He just has to make up his mind whom he wants to entertain, and what he wants to advertise. The humbug and hypocrisy of the press begin only when newspapers pretend to be ‘impartial’ or ‘servants of the public’. And this only becomes dangerous as well as laughable when the public is fool enough to believe it.

Hear, hear, one is tempted to say were it not for the fact that the Times (of all papers) can still follow up on the questing vole with unlikely spots, in Cookham, by the Thames…No selling or advertising there, one may securely state.

(The Times—whose financial crisis is perhaps Europe’s most depressing news for a journalist—has also provided the worst newspaper-reading memory of the year. In a story about Timesman Michael Hornsby receiving the Reporter of the Year award, this newspaper of once impeccable taste deemed it advisable to include the following paragraph in the story—on page one! — by way of being cute: “In November, Hornsby was appointed as the paper’s correspondent in Japan, and now lives in Tokyo with his wife, Camilla, and their dachsund, Reinhardt, who was recently flown out to join them.” Really.)

To go back to the beginning once more: why are wormy wriggles significant?

Nearing the end of a year in Europe, one finds two sets, two packages, of memories: the public (and important) and the private (and inconsequential). It’s been an awfully long time since reading that most European of books, the Little Prince, but the specter of being unduly impressed by Things of Consequence remains frighteningly real. From a practical point of view, however, one knows that items in the first package (e.g., “Comparison of Hungarian and Czech Lucerne Production Methods in Light of Soviet Party Resolutions”) will soon lose whatever “importance” they may have, as new sets of information replace them. In the second package, however, replacement of unimportant and personal impressions is just about impossible—they never become “outdated”, never having been “dated” in the first place.

This view or belief is perhaps the best of the gifts “Europe”, as an abstract entity, can give: a new, or renewed, order of priorities, away from 72-point headlines in favor of meaningful lions and such.

Guided by another European idea, the obsession with anniversaries and with the ordering of things within certain units of time, one may safely proceed to present a kaleidoscope of utterly unimportant personal impressions and experiences in lieu of summing up, albeit carefully highlighting their mostness (or leastness) during the year that has almost passed. Please consider the following—to revert to Americanese—as the top of the Top Ten in a wide range of categories.

It is fully understood, of course, that these “are hardly a subject for popular observation, and the literature about them is thin underfoot.”

But, just like the worm’s wriggle, a miscellany of private experiences may have a proper place under the sun (out, out of the burrow) when received in the right frame of mind.

And, in that right frame of mind, everything, even worms, can be very pleasant with or without Stanley Spencer quietly painting away under his umbrella in the shrubbery near by.

Above, the year’s most pathetic lions (Budapest); right, the year’s most pregnant traffic sign (Nice).

LIONS, MOST MEANINGFUL—Above, Bremen and Salzburg; left, Genova and below, Budapest.

LESSON IN CREATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY—It is not sufficient to realize a concept if the concept itself is of questionable value. The illustration here: if you wait two hours in Copenhagen to have a sea gull sit on the head of a statue, the end result will be only the picture of a statue with a sea gull on top of it—if all goes well, that is.

MOST SHOCKING, OPERATICALLY: Antonio Ghiringhelli, artistic director of Milan’s La Scala since 1949 has been accused of illegally selling or giving away some $30.4 million worth of sets to bars, night clubs and restaurants. The charges made by baritone Giuseppe Zecchillo, went on to allege that of 240 productions executed since 1949, only 50 can be found in La Scala’s warehouse. With Zecchillo’s accusation in hand, the police seized the theater records and found a set for L’Italiana in Algeri in a milman’s shed near Milan.

Opera News adds: “Charging more corruption, tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano came forward to say that he had been paid $9,600 not to sing in a 1963 production of La Boheme. End story.

MORE ON LA SCALA: Art Buchwald’s problem about disposing of Nehru jackets may be easily solved by donating them to La Scala where the ushers can dye them black for their standard uniforms which, with a thick gold chain, look only about five years out of date instead of being the product of 100 years of tradition.

THE YEAR’S MOST SUBTLE PROMISE, from a Hungarian travel brochure:
Budapest by Night. There is a choice of shorter and longer tours, which offer different experiences.

PHOTOGRAPH, MOST BLAH—The mighty Iron Curtain itself between Hungary and Austria at Hegyeshalom.  Naturally, it is not to be photographed but if one does, this is the result. Perhaps Budapest just wants tourists to save their film.

SECRET SERVICE, MOST SUSPICIOUS—Second from left, scrutinizing a Bucharest pioneer during the Nixon visit to Romania.


DUNAUJVAROS—This city, south of Budapest, was born in 1950. They called it Stalinvaros then and it was to be the crowning achievement of the country’s first Five Year Plan: a completely planned industrial center, built from the ground up, adjoining a residential area (also brand-new). Pictures on these two pages from Dunaujvaros show three different architectural styles, separated by only five years each.

What the pictures cannot show is this: Special care was taken to avoid pollution from the factories, so that these units were built “down wind” from the residential area and separated by a belt of Canadian and Swedish pines and poplars. It did not work, pollution is everywhere and the preventive measures resulted only in a need to transport people from their homes to the factories, instead of letting them walk or ride a bicycle as in other factory towns. The “anti-pollution belt” does not stop pollution, only spreads the area out. Dunaujvaros seems to indicate that the only good measure against pollution is to stop it at its source.

As to the architectural looks of the place, it must be noted that anything would have meant improvement compared to the “houses” people had in this area before the new city was built.


A VICE PRESIDENT fan—I’ll bet you didn’t know there WERE any-just dropped in to see me. He was upset.

“Hey,” he said, to open the conversation, although I have no idea how he learned my real name. “I don’t like the things you wrote about the vice president.”

“Oh,” I replied, for I am not at my sharpest in the morning. “All I said was that he was beneath contempt. I mean, it isn’t like I called him an effete snob, or something like that.”

“You said he was the national hoof-in-mouth disease,” my visitor pointed out. “That’s pretty mean.”

“Well, he started it,” I said. “If he’s going to go around the country insulting the citizens, he’s got to take his chances on getting insulted right back.”

“That was his speech writer who said those things,” the visitor said.

“It was Spiral reading them,” I said. “He read them incorrectly, but he read them.”

“I don’t care,” he said. “You shouldn’t say such things about the President or the vice president.”

“Who said anything about the President?” I said. “I never mentioned his name. I’m trying to ignore him. With any luck at all his term will be over before I even find out for sure that he’s there.”

“I take it you don’t like him, either,” the visitor said.

“Do you?” I asked him.

“Actually, I’m for Goldwater,” the man said.

“To tell you the truth,” I said, “I’m really rather fond of the President. I didn’t vote for him-hardly anybody did; you might say he’s part of the vocal minority – but I’m fond of him. In fact, I like to think of him and Pat as Mr. and Mrs. Mediocre.”

“You didn’t see his Vietnam speech on television?” the man asked.

“I haven’t watched him on television since 1962. He said then he was giving up politics, and I took him at his word.”

“You should have heard the speech. It spoke to the silent majority.”

“That’s us,” I said. “We’re the ones who want to save the country we love by getting it out of the biggest mess in its history. Call us patriots or worse, we don’t care.”

“I can’t understand you talking about the war like that,” the man said. “You’re a veteran.”

“I’m a WAR veteran,” I said. “There’s a difference.”

“Yes,” the man agreed, “and you’ve been to Vietnam.”

“Four times,” I pointed out. “That’s why I speak out. I think it’s important that people realize that us protestors aren’t frizzly kooks. We’re veterans and patriots and we know what we’re talking about.”

“Do you think you know more than the President?” my friend asked.

“Frankly yes,” I said. “He has never, in a long and extremely public career, given me any indication that he has the vaguest notion of how the world works. Most politicians don’t. They’re too busy running for office, or something, to find out how things run.”

“They’ve got the best advisers,” the visitor said.

“All dedicated to covering up their own past mistakes,” I said.

“I suppose you’re one of those who wants to pull out of Vietnam right away,” the man said.

“By noon tomorrow,” I said, “if it takes that long. Sooner if we can swing it.”

“What about the government leaders in South Vietnam,” he said. “What will happen to them?”

“Let them go to Switzerland and join their money,” I said.

“That’s mean,” the man said.

“Call me a flag-waver if you like,” I said, “but all I’m interested in is my own country. It’s being bled to dead, our money is going down the drain, our youth is alienated, our men are being killed in a stupid war. If you think I’m going to let my own country go down the drain for the sake of a pack of brothel keepers in a second-rate Asian country without speaking out, you’re crazy.”

“You ARE a flag-waver,” the man said.

“I guess so,” I admitted.


**SIR: I am nearly sixty years old, and have always been a conservative. I have been a law enforcement officer for over thirty years. Yesterday, I was still a conservative, and would have backed the President in his war policy.

Today, after having read of the revolting crimes committed by our own troops against innocent children, and unarmed civilians, I have undergone a complete metamorphosis. I feel that we have proved ourselves no better than the enemy from whom we are supposed to be protecting the South Vietnamese. Surely, nothing worse can be done to them by the Communists. I am now wholeheartedly in favor of an immediate and complete withdrawal since we no longer have any justification in moral values for being there. I want those who were responsible for these vicious crimes called to account. These were acts very like those committed by the Nazis.

I hate to admit it, but it looks as if the kids were right after all.




A year in Europe also meant a year away from Hawaii. No substitute for summing up would be complete without these three “most” items of the year from back home, two via the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and one from an unidentified wall.


please don’t visit Hawaii

until we are able to save what’s left!

Resort-travel-land interests are ruining us-and our islands-to get your money.

Prices, taxes soar; wages diminish.  You can’t buy ALOHA!


MOST UNBRITISH, PARADEWISE—This seemingly patriotic scene in London should be evaluated only after the use of a magnifying glass which can reveal that the second guard from the left has both eyes closed and the fourth is sticking his tongue out. Whither the Empire??

PALACE, MOST DEMOCRATIC—In the foreground of this picture of Stockholm’s royal palace is a slottsgrillen stand. It is not known if the king comes down himself or if he sends out for it, but what they sell here is pretty un-royal anyway: hot dogs.

A Brief History Of Hungaro-Pecheneg Relations


(Being an account of the only topic completely researched and exhausted during the year and also the one the most without any present-day significance or even implications)

In 830 A.D., the Hungarians lived between the rivers Volga and Kama, tended their cattle and were constantly harassed by the Bulgarians and Pechenegs. We all know about the Bulgarians but what about the Pechenegs?

The Magyars (as Hungarians were fond of calling themselves) knew all there was to know about the Pechenegs, a wisdom all summed up in the old Hungarian saying that “no Pecheneg is a good Pecheneg.” Their relations were far from cordial.

The Magyars actually were quite conditioned to harassment, having spent the previous three centuries under rather untoward circumstances in Asia, further to the East.

There, Chinese and Mongol tribes (the Russians were not yet invented) did nothing but pick on the hapless Magyars notwithstanding their protests that they couldn’t move to the West because the Pechenegs were already there and everybody knew what kind of people they were.

No use. The mad nomads kept on taking the Magyars’ women and cattle until the men really got fed up, especially because of the loss of the latter.

Now, in the early 9th Century, the Magyars got up and moved to get precisely what they knew was coming to them: the Pechenegs, and even some Bulgarians thrown in for good measure.

So the Magyars spent that entire century being irritated and annoyed by the Pechenegs and talked a lot about moving again, but the old chiefs always reminded them how one gets from a bad situation into worse by moving and changing.

After 60 years, however, when the old chiefs were all dead, the Magyars packed up and crossed the Carpathian mountains into their present-day country.

They never heard of the Pechenegs again.

Nor did anybody else until a foundation…

Detail of the Rakamaz Disk, showing influence of late Pecheneg style.



Political Arithmetic Statistics and Archaeology

An exhibition to celebrate the 37th Session of the International Statistical Institute, London, 1969.

The British Museum (North Entrance Hall)

1 September 1969 to 18 January 1970.

10-5 Weekdays.  2:30-6 Sundays. Admission free.

Although its intention was quite the opposite, this exhibit in London helped to expose the evils of scientism in social studies.

Pulses there electricity in a computer that will continue to help political science after reading the following?

“The people of England, Scotland, and Ireland, with the lands adjoining by computation from the numbers of parishes (which commonly have more people in Protestant churches than in Popish countries) as also from the hearthmoney, pole money, and excise do amount to about Nine Millions and 1/2.

“There are in New England, about 16,000 men mustered in arms, about 24,000 able to bear arms, and consequently about 150,000 in all. And I see no reason why in all this and other Plantations in Asia, Africa, and America, there should not be half a million in all. But this I leave to every man’s conjecture, and consequently I suppose that the king of England has about ten millions of subjects ubivis Terrarum Orbis…”

That’s from Sir William Petty’s 1690 Political Arithmetic, exhibited in the British Museum as the beginning of the uses of statistics, the foundation of scientific political geography. It’s very funny and makes good reading, but it also indicates the value of having high faith (and investment) in the numbers game approach to the study of man.

CATS, MOST TOSCAN—Three of the thousands around Milan’s Sforza castle. Opposite page, the Sforzas’ greatest treasure: Michelangelo’s last, unfinished work.

Problems Of A Marxist In A Very Confusing World


Miklos Haraszti, a young Hungarian poet, belongs to a tiny minority in his country, those who feel that their government is not Leftist enough, that the Kadar regime would be better off closer to Mao. The following poem by Haraszti, The Faults of Che, shows the intriguing problems of a true-blue Marxist who is forced to defend the leading revolutionary of his age in his own, Communist, country.

For lack of knowledge of the science of leadership
he never had a share
of well-founded popularity

so, because of the confused murmur of the people
he gossiped away the secrets of the advisers
at their meetings

He was in considerable agreement with the Americans
we have proof of this

thus, for example, he wanted as many Vietnams
as they did

And he was a hypocrite as well
since he did not believe in the power
of his own ideas

he said that there will not be
and there isn’t a revolution
where nobody starts one

He proclaimed the virtue of the moral incentive of labor
but in reality he stubbornly rejected it

in order that the unanimous appreciation which big money brings could stimulate one to heroic deeds

Like an irresponsible soldier of fortune he left his large family at the peak of his career

It is not quite spectacular but it is respectable, the lot of those who remain—physicians, bankers, minister veterans greyed in battle

He called himself a Marxist but still he did not know what humanism has established in these last 2,000 years

whereas we are afraid that those furnished with weapons will die by force of arms.

VIEWS OF SPAIN—An up-to-date cafe at Navalcarnero; a herd (pride? flock?) of fighting bulls near El Escorial; a christening ceremony and the cathedral (plus the wash and TV antennas) in Toledo; a street sign to warm the hearts of opera fans and section of Seville.

POSITIONS, MOST DIFFERENT (above) yet similar, representing the two extreme reactions by Europe’s youth, in Amsterdam (for results, see P. 20) and at Stonehenge. CATHEDRAL, MOST GOTHIC, at Antwerp. And SUNDAY, MOST PEACEFUL with Soviet soldiers (rarely seen anywhere in the country) visiting the Budapest Zoo on a slow day.



**Indulging in a bit of scientific use of statistics—a week’s movie program in Budapest: Of the 82 films,

  • 30 came from the West(+)
  • 25 were Hungarian (0)
  • 16 Soviet (#) and
  • 11 from East Eurone.

With the four-part War and Peace, seven of the 16 Soviet pictures were Russian clarsics; less than a fifth of the Hungarian films had any propaganda or even political content.

**MOSTS FROM THE WORLD OF ART—Acta Maxima from Brussels, and three examples of most senseless vandalism: the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum (besides painting walls, demonstrating students threatened Rembrandts inside); the courtyard of the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan; and the front of Prague’s National Museum machine-gunned for fun by the Soviet troops on their cultural mission here Aug. 21, 1968 (to honor the top Soviet general, these columns are now called “El Grechko”).

Received in New York on February 26, 1970.

Janos Gereben is an Alicia Patterson Fund award winner, on leave from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. In the highly unlikely case of such a desire, this article may be published with credit to Mr. Gereben, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and the Alicia Patterson Fund.