Thursday, 21 August 2008
It is sunny and warm in Budapest. Our flight was delayed for about half an hour in Luton and then the taxi at this end was late arriving, chiefly because it was St Stephen's Day, when almost all the bridges across the Danube are closed in order that the great firework display may take place.
The day has been a holiday for a long time, St Stephen being the first Christian king of Hungary to begin with, then because it is when the settlement and occupation of the country is celebrated (everyone, but everyone is a colonialist if you scratch deep enough), as well as the first state constitution. After the war it was deemed to be the day to clebrate the communist constitution.
Lesson: try not to arrive on 20 August. (Having booked flights late we had not much choice).
This is the familiar house of our closest and dearest friends, L and G. They occupy one of the three flats in it and own the vacant one opposite theirs, downstairs across the hall. That is where we stay. Arriving here is always moving, a joyful occasion because of our long friendship, almost twenty-five years now, and because we only see each other once a year, if that. I suspect that if I have a residual Hungarian 'self' it is closely tied up with them, their being, their sense of being Hungarian. As for the flat, it is familiar by now, though it changes a little every time.
I have written about the house before. It is a typical smaller villa on the Buda side of the river. Built in the early 20th century for a poet-journalist and his actress wife, it's near the city terminal of the cogwheel railway. A large painted portrait of the wife faces me as I write. She is an attractive dark haired woman, her hair in a twenties bob. A portrait sketch of her husband hangs in the hall.
Over the next few days I'll say more about the house and the people who lived in it. Their stories are the sum of the country in little.
I'm here to work as well as relax. C emerges from the shower wrapped in a towel. It is always astonishing to me how slender and young she looks. I am not sure how I earned this. Well, I haven't. And now there is the sun too.