Life in Budapest

There is a saying I once
read that goes like this – “With age comes experience and with experience
comes knowledge. Knowledge brings with it wisdom which in itself brings
power.” Now you be wondering why I would begin this journal entry with such
a saying as that, but if you bare with me, I will perhaps be able to explain
the reason sufficiently. I had just stepped off either the #4 or #6 tram,
having traveled from a friend’s home not too far from mine, and as I walked
toward my home just off of Raday Ut. in Budapest, the saying began to
resurface from my memory. What was the exact order I kept asking myself? Was
it experience and then knowledge, or the other way around? It took me
several storefronts before I put it all in order,
age-experience-knowledge-wisdom-and finally power. And would all of that
enable me to communicate to anyone reading my journal the correlation
between it and my love for Budapest, and yes, Hungary? It didn’t matter I
thought, as long as it made sense to me. For you see, all day I had
continually found myself pondering the thought of a permanent move here, far
away from my adopted home of Northern California as well as my birthplace of
Cleveland, with most of my family in the latter. As for the family I
thought, that wouldn’t matter as being as removed from them as California
is, would the distance of Budapest make much of a difference in this day and
age of technology which enables instant communication? But to return to the
saying I mentioned, I felt it pertinent in that although I may not have
reached a level of power in my life (nor do I necessarily want to), I am
confident I have achieved a certain level of wisdom though. Anyone who knows
me, at least who knows me well, would say that I am a wise man. (Some might
have some other descriptive adjectives, but we won’t get into those…) Then
being a wise man I asked myself over and over, why in the world would I be
even considering a permanent move to this landlocked county, so different
from California with its stunning coast, rolling hills with vineyards often
adorning them, and of course the magnificent redwoods which I so often
enjoyed both driving past and walking amongst.

For the average individual to arrive in Budapest, often times their
impression may be that the city is a dirty one. Perhaps more than most large
cities I have visited in Europe, there is a little bit more graffiti on the
walls, more homeless people milling about the underground and various venues
around the city, and the buildings which are often in conditions of
disrepair are also in desperate need of paint. And there are the areas of
Budapest I have been told not to go to in the evening, as that is where a
lot of gypsies live and to do so would be unsafe. But, having a certain
amount of knowledge about the history of Budapest, and Hungary for that
matter, I am able to overlook many of these things because I realize that
much of what I see has been out of the control of the Hungarian people I
have so come to love in the time I have spent here. The other day I had the
opportunity to visit a museum which has only been open a year or two called
the “Terra Haza” which is a building not too far from my home. Its exact
address is Andrassy Ut. 60. The building has been completely remodeled and
upon the top of the building, almost like that of an awning, a black piece
of metal protrudes out nearly 8 feet with huge letters cut out of it
spelling the word Terror. As the sun passes in the sky, you can see the word
both on the side of the building and the sidewalk below as the sunlight
passes only through the letters. As I walked through the exhibits, the tears
upon my face flowed much as the water in the Danube does, quickly and
endlessly. The museum educates (and reminds) people of the absolute terror
that was imposed upon the Hungarians for most of the 20th century by the
ruthless Communists. “I was forced to stand naked upon a bed of nails for
hours during my interrogation, all the while electrical coils were
positioned on either side to keep me from leaning. I collapsed from the
pain….” That is only one of many things I read or heard that so challenged
me as I walked from display to display. And to tie this in with my
predilection of Budapest and Hungary, I find myself being more understanding
and accepting of what I see visually in the city and coming to have a great
appreciation of the people here. I still see the worn down buildings adorned
with graffiti, and the homeless begging for food or money, but I am able to
look far beyond all of that and understand that much of what I see was
simply beyond the control of the country for so, so long. And it is obvious
that now that the future is in the hands of the people themselves, the city
will rebuild and turn itself around.

So, I guess that it is “wise” not to place the value of this place on its
physical appearance only, but rather on what lies beneath all which I see.
Much like one should do when it comes to choosing a partner. Please let me
emphasize that by no means is the entire city or country run down and
unattractive though, because it is not. There are things here that will take
ones breath away, such as walking at night upon the chain bridge spanning
the Danube with the lights of it and the castle above on the hill reflecting
in the water. In fact, I could go on and on telling you about such places
here. The Parliament building, the cathedrals, the castles, the statues, all
are just spectacular and to miss seeing and experiencing this place should
be a crime. But rather than going on telling you about all of these things,
I will end this entry by sharing the events of this day with you.

For some unknown reason, I frequently wake up very early; regardless of the
time I went to bed the night before. Today it was a quarter past 5. I sat in
the early morning light listening to the birds outside my window as I began
to work on a couple of projects with CNN on the tele in the background. One
project was the design of a web site for a health club in Buda which my
friend Angela introduced me to. I had refrained from joining when I
discovered it was quite pricey in hopes that I would be able to barter for a
membership. (a wise man you say… 😉 ) Having emailed the club twice, I had
been invited to come and do some panoramas in exchange for a summer
membership and today was the day we had agreed upon. But, knowing how bad
their web site was, I thought why not two birds with one stone. I began
developing a homepage I would show the director which I hoped would entice
him to hire me. The early morning passed quickly and below on the street I
soon heard the usual people going to work and the trash being picked up. I
walked downstairs and across the street to a small restaurant that had been
introduced to me by a nice guy named Anras who I met on my first day here.
“This is where many people eat” he told me as the prices are very low and
the food is very good.
The name of the restaurant is Raday Etkezde and it owned and operated
by a woman who is of course Hungarian but speaks English perfectly. She was
an au pair in NJ some time ago. As she stands at the register deciding for
me what I will have for breakfast or lunch, three women work very hard in
the kitchen serving up one meal after the other. I say deciding for me as
when I first went in there, I realized to try to ask each day what was what
on the menu, I asked her to kindly each day surprise me with a different
item. My walking in the door is usually greeted with an exchange between her
and the ladies in the back as to what should be the day’s dish. Don’t forget
the soup I usually tell her and with a smile, she will say I didn’t. Today
for breakfast, it would be my usual though, an OJ, a four-egg omelet with
only one yolk and the rest of the whites, and a piece of bread and
cappuccino. Today though, the owner had yet to arrive so I began to talk to
a guy waiting to order. I asked him if he could help me out. Four eggs I
told him to tell the older women behind the counter. And then holding up 3
fingers, I pointed to a white plate followed by one finger and pointing to a
yellow decanter on the counter. He understood as did the older women. It
turned out that the guy is a webmaster like me. We shared our breakfast
together and discussed cooperating on some projects. I have some great ideas
I told him and perhaps we could work together. He called his partner who
spoke fluent English and we set up a meeting for the next week, as I told
him I was just booked this week. When I left, I went over to the market to
buy some things. Upon doing so, I realized that all of the beautiful women I
had written about the previous day, are the same ones who grow up and old
and clog the check out lines in the supermarket, all the while giving big
guys like me and occasional dirty look or smile for that matter. \
When I finished there, I left and went over to the museum of fine arts I had
shot the other day. I had a meeting with the director, a lovely lady I would
come to learn, to show here my panoramas. She was so pleasant but told me
they didn’t have the money. Not wanting to walk away empty handed, or to
give away the farm for that matter, I said I will tell you what. I will give
you one panorama and in exchange, you give me a letter of recommendation on
your letterhead which I can use elsewhere. (there you go again, saying “wise
man that Tom Hall…”) She was happy to oblige and told me to come back

When I left the museum, it was off to my office for a short stop (aka the
library) and then off to the club on the other side of the Danube for a 2
o’clock appointment. On my way to the latter, I made the wise decision to
stop at the tourist office. Planning a trip to Lake Balaton this weekend, I
thought I’d see if they had a resource with hotels and their email addresses
in that region. Pay dirt I thought as the man behind the counter handed me a
free book which lists every hotel in Hungary! My God, how my mind raced as I
walked out the door. I’ll make a killing here I kept telling myself. I also
got a list of restaurants! I walked past an upscale round and tall building
called which is home to a chain store here called the Cigar Tower. Why not I
thought as I walked in opening my laptop in the process? I had shot a cigar
store in Haarlem and figuring I’d show them and they might also like one.
They loved it and told me they would call their corporate office and get
back to me. On I went to my appt. with the club. Catch the number 105 bus
Andras my friend at the library, I mean my office, told me earlier in the
day. I had no problems finding the stop for the same and soon found myself
at the stop waiting. It was here that I would meet my second computer person
today. We began to talk and quickly the bus arrived. “I will show you the
gym as it is my stop also” he told me. On the bus, I pointed to a couple
passionately embraced and kissing as if there were no tomorrow. I laughed
and told him I can not believe how often I see such a thing in Hungary.
Everywhere people are kissing I told him. “Is that bad” and “Don’t you see
that in the states” he asked. “No, no, it is not bad. As a matter of fact I
was doing that very thing on tram just last night with a beautiful Hungarian
woman” I told him (there you go again…) and no, they don’t kiss in the
states in public like that. It is great I proclaimed, as love is in the air
– seemingly everywhere. He laughed, as did I.

I arrived at the gym and instead of taking panoramas, I spent two hours
talking with the director about what I came to learn would be his “new” web
site. Damn I thought, I had spent the early morning for nothing. But perhaps
I could pull a rabbit out of a hat. He was all ears as I critiqued his new
site’s layout. The graphics are fantastic I told him, but both structurally
and functionally, it is not very good at all. Without boring you with
details, he said when they are finished; he will hire me to incorporate the
necessary changes such as programming the aerobic schedule into the site.
When finished, he said “you live such an interesting life” having just
watched a slideshow of my travels to the sound of Van Morrison playing in
the background. Yes, I know I told him, but more than all the beautiful
places I see and the great food I eat, it is meeting the people that I love
the most, people like yourself I told him. We wrapped things up and I
decided to sit upstairs in the café while I waited for my squash opponent to
arrive. She came right on time and we changed and began to play squash.
Similar to racquet ball, I thought it would not be a problem to beat her. A
continuous smile was on her face as she racked up point after point, and
beating me one game after the other, during the hour we played. Angela was
in the gym taking aerobics, so I thought maybe I could salvage some
self-esteem by beating her. I excused myself and headed for the aerobic
area, all the while warranting the stares of the members as I was the only
one with a hanker-chief wrapped upon my head. Holding my racquet up to the
glass, Angela smiled and nodded that she would leave her class to come and
play me. She did, and she won also dammit. At one point while playing her, I
had to stop and pinch myself. Was all of this for real I kept asking? I mean
here I was on the other side of the world having so quickly developed and
adapted to a whole new life. How could I find myself to leave as scheduled
in August I wondered? I am not going to I told myself, this is home. Perhaps
my thoughts will change, but I don’t think so as I integrate myself more and
more into this wonderful place with its wonderful people. We’ll see.

The night ended with a lovely candlelight dinner followed by dancing in the
dark to some wonderful Van Morrison music…

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