Peter Nadas: from A Lovely Tale of Photography

TIME MACHINE    Ungainly bird, a helicopter is flying over the roofs of the city now sinking into dusk. Flocks of sparrows and pigeons start up and scatter. Rising and sinking; the chopper is peering into narrow canyons of darkening streets. It glances into a belfry just as the swaying bell clangs against the rigid clapper, but the ringing is swallowed up by the noise of the rotating blades. Seeing itself reflected in closed skylights, the chopper peeks into rooms through open windows; it keeps passing and returning to the same places as if searching for something, but after each attempt it moves on, dissatisfied, unable to find what it’s looking for.

Antennae, chimneys, scaly surface of roof tiles. In one room a woman is setting the table; a teen-aged boy enters cautiously, hugs the woman from behind, kisses her neck, and immediately gets a resounding slap in the face. The boy’s lips part in amazement but are swiftly pounced upon by the woman’s parted lips. Then: an abandoned atelier in which thirty-two cats are sitting and lying about, motionless; a roof terrace where some people have gathered for an evening reception. The chopper is looking for a face, a shoulder, a talking mouth; excitedly searching for something, a smile, a clandestine handshake, the rising bubbles in a slim champagne glass; looking for something, anything, animate or inanimate, but it must move on. It keeps circling. Descending now, it sends wet dripping sheets aflutter; it sees an untidy garret in which a young man is sprawled on his bed, then it looks into a bathroom where a very old man, all skin and bones, is standing in the bathtub, his stiff body motionless under the water gushing from the showerhead, while a young girl, washcloth in hand, is bending over, soaping, rubbing, bathing the ancient body. The chopper is becoming more and more agitated.

Back to the party on the roof; gyrating, whipping up the air; the whirling gusts muss up the women’s coiffures, knock a tray full of champagne glasses out of the hands of a desperately balancing waiter; total panic ensues; among the fleeing, thronging bodies the chopper finds no one it could seize. It flies on, leaving in its wake the peaceful rooftops, the silence of twilight over the city. A cat creeps up to a skylight, peers in.

—translated from Hungarian by Imre Goldstein