Monday, 20 July 2009

Legend insists that Attila the Hun was buried beneath a diversion of the famous Tizsa river. Reports of his death are clouded in time but one of the more alluring accounts suggests that he suffered a nosebleed whilst drunk and choked to death in a stupor. He was encased in a thick coffin made of gold, silver, and iron, along with some of the spoils of his conquests. His men diverted a section of the river Tisza, buried the coffin beneath the riverbed, and then were murdered in order to enshrine the whereabouts of his body in mystery.

One can imagine circles of men sitting late into autumn nights, imagining the flow of water above the leader's coffin, above his legacy and sunken wealth, a river eroding a new path and submerging a valuable history. Imagine the men working for months and years, feeling their way along the river, its tributaries and sources, trying to identify something unnatural, something of human diversion. Within those geographies, somewhere, an impossible narrative arises and suspicion is stirred by the landscape, the river itself an artefact of hidden human processes. Elsewhere, a street is renamed in his honour.

Sources as old as this myth surrounding the death of Attila the Hun posit the end of the Beskids, a mountain range within the Carpathian region, as concurrent with the beginning of the Tisza River. Later sources, indeed those that influence modern day thought, deny this however and suggest that the Beskids begin further west, beyond Ukraine and into Poland.

At various junctures in the written history of that area, people have been forced into exile on both sides of the border at the whim of an opposing or changed government, sometimes their own, often driven into the famous, small wooden churches that are scattered across the region for sanctuary.

Thus, the redrawing of boundaries can exile people in the night as they sleep. The individual does not wake or move but silently their fate and patriation are changed as maps are recoloured.

Mountains too, without shifting an inch, can witness the next morning's sun part as a defining geography of a new country. Sedimentary flysch deposits, conifer forests, lynx and chamois populations - all are bestowed a new significance.

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