I wish Norwegian men were more like Hungarian waiters. And not just for the way they glide effortlessly through the rooms of nineteenth century coffee houses with cake. But for their kind eyes and eye contact, their soft smiles, and their politeness. This is something I write in my journal as I take a pause from wandering the streets of Budapest; a slice of Eszterházy torta and a hosszú kavé no doubt not far away.
I leave my phone and laptop in my rented apartment on Hunyadi tér. I disconnect, leaving behind that clinging technology and the persistent cloying of work emails and social media, something I find myself increasingly alienated from. I have long quit Facebook, you will never find me on Tinder, and the only platform that I am truly attached to is Instagram because of my love of photography. And so, technologically, it is only my cameras that join me on my daily travels. I am in Budapest for my birthday, to find some inspiration, regain some passion in the city that I lived in nearly ten years ago; a city indelibly marked on my soul, a place I wander endlessly without maps and without feeling lost. My heart may belong to Montréal but my soul belongs to Budapest. Don’t worry Oslo, all my newly acquired social anxieties belong fully to you.
I walk through the city and think about Hungarian waiters. I feel visible in Budapest, something which I rarely feel in Norway. I remember the waiter Attila with green eyes and light brown hair who worked at Fresco Café on Liszt Ferenc tér. He spoke little English. He wore yellow and smiled at me, always greeting me as I unlocked the door to my apartment building at number 10; a heavy brown door which opened up into a beautiful courtyard of ivy and disrepair. Jó napot kivánok. Jó estét. Köszönöm szepen. Szia. Viszlat. Viszontlátásra. A sort of latent Hungarian now rolls off my tongue, severely limited but almost effortlessly. It surprises me one evening at some small kiosk while exchanging pleasantries. Hungarian has this beautiful sound and lilt to it, lots of pleasing “ok” endings, impossibly long words excessively consonant-ed, uttered in soft rolling tones.
On my birthday, I receive a message from my good friend in South Korea. He writes how much he thought of me the day before as he visited Central European University where we studied together and as he walked through the streets of Budapest, along the UNESCO protected Andrássy út, through the utcas of District VI where he used to live, and outside Liszt Ferenc tér 10 where I used to live. Neither of us knew that we were serendipitously in Budapest at the same time, joined also by another former classmate from Japan and another still from the Philippines visiting via Italy. Unexpected reunions, just a few of us from our class of forty from thirty-something countries, meeting and reliving our shared moments once again in this spectacular city. A couple of rib-crushing embraces and kisses on the cheek from a wonderful South Korean Greenpeace campaigner and activist and my heart feels full again. We walk on Nádor utca and then toward the Bazilika, still beautiful against a deep blue silhouette of sky. We used to sit and drink on the steps here, like minds and Hungarian wine.
In my favourite Hungarian bookshop, I buy a stack of Hungarian culture. Seven novels, three books of poetry that I want to fill my postcards with, a book on the revolutions of 1989, and three classic Hungarian films. I soak in geothermal baths; now overrun with selfie-sticks and waterproofed GoPros and tourists who seemingly fail to fully immerse in the marvels of architecture and geology here. I write in cafés, by hand in notebooks, so much so that my fingers ache. I write some academic work, sketches for my next paper. I write about anything that comes to me, surprised at what flows onto paper; bits of poetry and the subconscious. I think about how good my friend is at impersonating the announcements on the Hungarian metro. I take him to the airport and over coffee he records it on his phone: ‘Tessék vigyázni az ajtók záródnak’. Be careful of the closing doors. I think my heart might metaphorically beat with those Hungarian words. Emotionally I’m forever opening but I also close abruptly.
I miss the kindness of Budapest, the oblique and overt kindness I sometimes struggle to find in the everyday in Oslo. Sometimes I wonder if life is elsewhere. I write about this a lot in Budapest. I write about how it was in Budapest where I developed this strange methodology of walking and being lost in the city with the camera. It was a practice I found cathartic after the sudden death of my father in October 2006, an unexpected event which inadvertently brought me to Hungary. I suddenly remember the Slovakian boy named Tomáš. We took our cameras and descended at a metro stop at random. I think it was on the blue line somewhere to the north of the city. We disembarked and wandered through a strange derelict landscape like a scene from Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker': stillness and tall grass, corrugated aluminum sheets caked with rust and ruin, concrete and rebars, graffiti and the Danube. Without knowing, I had found psychogeography at sunset and could not yet know that this type of exploratory urban photographic walk would become habitual, a way to get back in touch with the magic and wonder of everyday life. I write a postcard to my best friend. I write it is not just Budapest that is full of magic. I feel full of magic here too. I feel the magic of myself and the magic of the everyday, where poetry lives in moments. Moments lived, breathed, shared, cherished.