Mapping water looks very different from mapping land. One has only to look at the convention of nautical maps to see this. The maps I relied on were road atlases and maps found in books. What mattered to me was the mapping of the place where the land met the water, though ultimately I became interested in what lay beneath the surface.
I visited the Tisza river for the first time in the summer of 2006, determined to trace its course from its northern entry into Hungary in the village of Tiszabecs, where one can cross the river in a few short strokes and land on the opposite shore in the Ukraine, to its exit from Hungary in the south, where it meanders into Serbia. We begin to hear the claim that in the future wars will be fought, not over oil, but over water and while I think about this often, my decision to trace the course of the Tisza river did not stem from a conceptual model, nor was it based on my interest in this likely future outcome. Rather, it came from a lingering response to an image in a film whose name I've long ago forgotten. It was a Hungarian film about first cousins who decide to marry despite the taboo against first cousin marriage in their community. They are shunned from society and take up residence in a small, remote cabin along the Tisza. It was an image of the river in this film that created the longing to go there.
I imagined in my mind, that the river and landscape would change considerably traveling from the northern most parts of Hungary to the south but in fact the terrain along the river was remarkably consistent. The fact is that Hungary is not a very large country and the distance from north to south isn't great enough to have caused great changes in the nature of the landscape.
There is a keen awareness of the water level on the Tisza. Daily, a report is generated and posted on the internet measuring the height of the river at short intervals, noting whether it is rising or falling. Bridges spanning the river and stairways leading down to its banks bear yardsticks so that even the casual passerby can have a accurate measure of its status. There is an intimate relationship between the river and those who live along its banks.
(see Daily River report)
I returned in 2009 in winter. The winter landscape offered something quite different visually; a grimmer and more quiet environment. It was during that second trip that I found out about the Tiszavirag or "flowering of the Tisza" that takes place each summer at the end of June. The Tisza is home to the world's largest mayfly. I returned three summers in a row to watch them hatch out of the river.
Sunflowers, summer 2006