End (and beginning) of year lists are a great way to measure just how much you failed at whatever you set out to do, so let’s commence by saying a silent prayer over the demise of my plan to check out more exhibitions this year. Their grand total being a fat, rotund zero. In all honesty, I did check out an exhibition space, actually, the Romanesque Hall of the newly renovated Musem of Fine Arts, and it was very beautiful, but empty. I then failed to go to the National Gallery’s Frida Kahlo exhibition, which probably makes us, with the industrious co-photographer, the only two people in the whole city who haven’t seen it. While at first I was merely procrastinating the project, I ended up not going out of principle, which principle is rather aptly described in this piece, so I will spare you my own ramblings on the matter.
I did however plunge deeper into my love affair with Budapest courtyards and staircases, so much so that when, after almost a decade of living in the same flat, I was forced by the merciless tides of life to move into a new one, I had an instant crush on a rugged old house with a walnut tree in its yard and an intensively dilapidated staircase. The kind of staircase that wears its peeling paint and rusting metal with a kind of almost Gothic pride. Either that, or I’m simply still under the influence of The Haunting of Hill House, of which I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed it bar the last episode.
If nothing else, I will miss my old building’s Pug in Residence, whose vaderesque breathing would punctuate the morning’s silence each time the lift went bust (it did that a lot). Joining him in a small bestiary of Budapest’s non-human inhabitants that crossed my path this year: every pigeon who insisted to stand very still right where I was stepping, and then slowly and carefully scuttle away instead of flying, because the more annoyance they cause the happier they are. In particular, the one who stared at me one morning while I was brushing my teeth, its piercing gaze shall never be forgotten. The king sized rat whom I disturbed as it was surreptitiously making its way towards a bag of festering apples. The sea gull which very politely hovered close to my camera until I got perfect focus only to realize I’d forgotten my memory card at home. All the Margit island squirrels that forgot where they hid their nuts because I scared them as I ran by. And above all, the two sublimely chubby raccoon girls of the Budakeszi wildlife park. (I have still not been to the Budapest Zoo. Nor do I promise anything anymore.)
We’ve had a World Cup year and that meant pubs and bars competing with each other to have screens on their terraces, culminating with intricate arrangements such as the two giant screen/dozens of stalls extravaganza of Szabadság square, where, apologies to all my Spanish inclined readers, I did zestily celebrate the penalty antics of Igor The Eagle Akinfeev under the soothing shade of the Russian liberation monument. Not that it was a particularly pleasant World Cup- Romania didn’t quality, a cup without Italy is inconceivable, Uruguay left too early and I won’t even mention the Argentinian debacle, but there is something magic about warm summer nights spent sipping lager and forming fleeting emotional bonds with overexcited strangers and countries you may find hard to locate on a map. And this magic won’t return for a while, because FIFA, that Sauron of international organisations, has moved the next world cup to late autumn, lest Neymar vaporize in the heat from spinning too fast in Qatar. And no, football and mulled wine are not a good idea. Full stop.
My own greatest sporting achievement for this year was finally breaking out of my comfort zone and going for a run somewhere else than Margaret Island- namely Óbudai island, or well, Sziget. The festival is of course not on when I run, well, except in my mind it is, and I whiz by trees and bushes with inner yelps of A38 stage! Europe Stage! Circus! Provided of course they’ll stay in the same place next year, since a rather major overhaul is promised, which has already resulted in the axing of the World Music Stage. Its crowd was definitely decreasing over the past years, so the decision might be considered logical, but many feel that this year has brought about a change that moves Sziget ever father away from its local roots onto a trajectory of becoming a profitable but rather stereotypical major festival. Only time will tell, but I confess to having been much more excited about the Danube’s historical low this autumn (which is fundamentally a bad thing) than Ed Sheeran (which is fundamentally a bad thing too).
The blog’s industrious co-photographer is a fan of the suburbs, namely the sub-type of leafy suburb which in Hungarian is aptly called kertváros. These places, especially in their sleepy, balmy, summer-afternoony rendition lure you into thinking that all that you are missing from your life is a modest, perhaps vaguely Secessionist villa, with a lovely garden where, bathed in eternal sunshine, you will plant magnificent exotic shrubs and cook amazing, juicy meats while overseeing the ripening of your tantalizingly tasty strawberries and the delighted frolicking of your highly intelligent and obedient dog. Of course, if I’d ever end up in a kertváros, I’d probably do it in the company of an immensely moody and hateful cat, in a house located on a colony of ants or an unexploded WWII bomb and I’d stab my foot with a spade on the second day of being there, so let’s say it’s better for everyone if I give up before even starting.
The most insultingly millennial complaint about these leafy suburbs is that they don’t have specialty coffee places, and of course maybe they don’t even really need them- but I do. As such, I try to take note of new arrivals on the scene and also become nigh offended when a place that used to have good coffee slides down the slope of complacency (a lot of that has actually happened this year). It’s not my intention to name and shame though, so I’ll just mention here my holy trinity of Budapest cafés: the staple- Espresso Embassy, the summer favourite (garden and such)-Massolit and the newcomer-Dorado. Incidentally, the last two are very close to each other and also on my way to work. Having mentioned Espresso Embassy, which lies rather close to the CEU building, the worst of Budapest this year was the Hungarian government’s ever increasing campaign to deprive their citizens of fundamental human rights, which resulted, among others in the university being relocated to Vienna.
I sometimes feel that the only way out would be to just pack up everything and go (to Vienna perhaps, a city I’ve always loved and-not very- secretly envied), but then you wake up one morning and go up Gellért hill to see the crimson shape of the sun climb slowly over the horizon, its shy pink light running into the streets that line the city like wrinkles on an ancient face, and you feel that this shabby old beast is worth fighting for after all, and you can only do that if you stay and ask others to join you.