They tore down the statue of Stalin first thing when the Soviet troops left. Sawed it down at the ankles, leaving only the boots, which remain, collosal boots that greet you as you enter Memento Park, Budapest’s collection of Communist-era statues. Altogether fitting to see this place now, in the summer of 2009, the 20th anniversary of Hungarian independence from Soviet rule. And of course, I’ve forgotten my camera. The statues are all of a type: square-jawed Soviet supermen grasping hands with noble, but inferior, Hungarian laborers. Steely-eyed men with hands raised pointing the way toward a bright utopian future of torture, land confiscation and forced industrialization. I’m sure the official story was that the Hungarian people spontaneously erected the statues in thanks to their Russian brethren for helping them cast off the yoke of German occupation and put on the yoke of Russian occupation. Given the seething hatred for the Russians you can hear coming from the tour guide’s voice, a hatred apparent in almost every guidebook, every document about the Communist past, it really is an impressive feat of restraint that the Hungarians didn’t immediately destroy these statues. But they view this place as a memorial to a dark age of slavery and repression, a time that they forget only at their own peril, a past that must be preserved and remembered because to forget is to become slaves again, to be conquered again. And that is something the Hungarians will never allow. They are the most fiercely democratic people I’ve met, the most rabidly free. They fight tyrrany with every weapon in their arsenal, with irony, wit, remembrance, creativity.
The gift shop sells a T-shirt with the words “East Park,” depicting the heroes of the Soviet Union, Stalin, Lenin et al, as South Park characters. Devastating. Tyrants never have a sense of humor about themselves, which makes humor the best weapon against them.
They also seem to love vampire novels here. Specifically, erotic vampire novels. I’ve seen ads for three separate books by three separate authors in the subway stations. They’re all over the bookstores as well, simply mad about them. To be expected, perhaps, since it is Hungarian that gives the word ‘Vampire’ in the first place, and living in this city, surrounded with its thousand year history, awe inspiring architecture, and infused with an obscure, inscrutable language, one must believe in all kinds of monsters here. The organist plays Bach’s Tocatta Air at a concert at St. Stephen’s. Of course he does.
Do not ‘visit’ Budapest, as I have. It is imposible. One cannot visit this place and expect to see even a tenth of it. One must live here to really see it, I think. When you come, you will buy an apartment in the posh area around Parliament, for 100,000 euros. You’ll buy a bike, too, since this is the best way to see the city, and allows you to avoid the Budapest cabbies, may God forcibly sodomize them all with his most mighty and divine wang. You will buy th best camera you can afford, and the largest hard drive available, and you’ll need both, and you’ll spend a lifetime trying to record the beauty of this place. It will take you six months to be able to order food and understand basic instructions in Hungarian. Within a year you’ll be able to pound out basic sentences. In another year you’ll be able to enjoy Hungarian TV. But you’ll never speak it well. You’ll dance with locals on the shores of the Danube, dance until 5am, until they put on “Summer of ’69,” because really, there’s only so much a brother can take, and you’ll walk home and watch the sun come up over the Danube, AGAIN, as joggers pass you on their way to work.
And this will change you.
Ok, it takes me frakking forever to upload these things, which is why I haven’t been doing it lately. But there was a request in the comments section so…
Hungarian ticket takers have what can best be described as a relaxed attitude toward efficiency and expediency. Even with 20 or 30 people standing behind you, they’re more than happy to take al the time in the world to debate the pros and cons of various ticket options, whether to get teh audio guide, and if the Turner exhibit is really worth the extra 1600 florints. Nor will they rush you while you decide. It takes me 15 minutes to get my ticket in the Museum of Fine Arts. Which is an absolutely gorgeous museum full of interior Corinthian columns and courtyards, some very nice paintings by El Greco and your Flemish masters, but absolutely NO GODDAMN A/C. So after my usual four hours in an art museum (never go to an art or archaeology museum with the Vagabond, friends, I get sucked in) I’m drenched in sweat. The mercury is pushing 40 degrees Centigrade, and will do for another two days. Go ahead, work out the conversion…
I discover the museum also has a small marble piece by Rodin called “Eternal Spring.” And for Rodin, boys and girls, I can forgive any lack of A/C.
Fortunately, the largest bath complex in Europe is right next door. The bath, Szechenyi furdo (but spelled with some umlauts and pronounced “Gary”) is a gynormous Beaux Arts (I think) building, painted yellow, with two wings, an interior courtyard, and three pools: two hot springs and a cold-water swimming pool. I pay about $10 for two hours and my own cabin, which is really just a closet to keep your clothes in. I’ve remembered to bring my swim trunks and towel, but neglected my flip-flops, so I pad around cautiously on the hot cement. I swim a few laps, but my lungs soon collapse under the weight of several days of nicotine abuse, and I spend the rest of my time lying on my towel on the cement, or relaxing in the hot spring pool.
By sheer coincidence, the three Irish lads I met from the other night are there at roughly the same time. We don’t run into each other, but we figure this out later.
I top the day off with a quick stop at yet another cafe, where the waiter tries to rip me off. He tells me he’s going to rip me off though, and only has the balls to do so for about 75 cents, so I still tip him. I’m drinking filtered coffee for the first time in months, after all, and it tastes glorious, like pure Jesus dripped in chocolate with sprinkles on top.
What? You Catholics eat Him every Sunday, don’t complain to me about being sacrilcious if you’re too stodgy to put some delicious condiments on him…
Ok, straight to hell for that last one.
I try to stop by the ticket office for Hungary’s train service, only to find it has become a bookstore. Well done, Lonely Planet, you have once again sent me to the wrong address. I must have been the 300th person to make this mistake, though, and the guy behind the counter has a photocopy of a map with a little hand drawn arrow telling me where to go.
When I get to the ticket office, I immediately sense that something is wrong. This place is clean, efficient, and inviting. Like the post office I went to in the morning, the employees are young, intelligent, multi-lingual, friendly, and, well, wearing short skirts.
What the hell?
This is wrong on so many levels. Federal employeees this agreeable only make poeple want to use the service they provide MORE. This increases demand for government services, encouraging over-consumption.
In general, I’ve been shocked at how efficient and pleasant the services are in Hungary (except for the private-operator cab drivers, motherless whores all of them). Then again, I don’t think Hungary has a political party ideologically dedicated to demonstrating the inherent inferiority of government institutions by systematically destorying them by denying sufficient funds to run them properly (diagram that sentence, I dare you).
I meet the Irish lads, again, at their hostel that night, and meet everyone else. The staff their, UK and American expats by the sounds of it, take us on a pub crawl that has us playing foosball at odd hours, and meeting a trio of Dutchmen who offer me a place to stay with them in Rotterdam (I take their names and numbers) and are playing a game in which they must continue to trade items until they can no longer offload the one they have on hand. They started with a lemon (or something) and are trying to convince me to trade them for a Hoover vacuum cleaner. I swear I’m not making this up.
We crawl around until we land on a small island in the Danube river, a club where expats dance like assholes. Me, a fellow from Deutsche Bank, another from GE, and one of the hostel staff bail, grabbing a cab back to Buday, where Deutsche knows a club where the locals dance. We agree on a price with the cabbie before hand, which is good, because he still tries to rob us when we get out, may God use the entrails of Budapest cab drivers to string a harp.
We dance with local girls, try and fail to pick them up (go ahead. Pick someone up using basic Hungarian in a loud bar. We’ll wait.), and leave happy and tired at 5am as “Summer of ’69” comes on the radio. The others take a taxi home, I elect to walk back since my hostel is closer, and also because I sincerely wish every Budapest cab driver’s dentist to use a chainsaw on their face at their next appointment, the motherless whores.
I pass joggers on my way back to bed. My resolution to detox while in Budapest: FAIL.