Golly. I let a week sag by with no post (mostly because this one wasnʼt complete and I simply dogged it for seven days, tracking the Komen for the Cure/Planned Parenthood fiasco, spending a day with The Lovely One at her annual eye exam — all good news — and otherwise diddling my days away). However, as fog shifts to rain, appropriately, in present time, hereʼs the rest of our third day, Sunday, 23 October 2011, a national holiday, in Budapest. For those with memories as short-term as mine, we had, as this post begins, just returned from being lost and ill at ease in the wilds of southwestern suburban Budapest.
Rain — heavy mist or lightly moderate drizzle had begun while we still stood exposed on the overpass embankment, and the precipitation had actually begun to fall as our tram trundled north and east toward the river. Once across the Liberty Bridge and off the tram, out on the street, it just seemed noticeably cold and tangibly wet. Váci utca was more open, less crowded than usual — not clear, and busloads of packaged tourists herded about (Italians, Germans, French) actually shopping for cheap cornball t-shirts, overpriced minuscule packets of paprika, fake collectible porcelain, and all the rest of the international norm of prefab predictable standardized mementos. We stalked efficiently north, bobbing and weaving around dawdling clots of less determined pedestrians (a common complex set of maneuvers for us, whether at a mall, a city sidewalk or once upon a time through the throttled halls of secondary schools on winter Saturdays for speech contests) while the cold mist condensed on our clothes. As we came toward the big intersection with Sabad Sajtó út where Elizabeth Bridge lifted out above to our left over the Duna, we could see ahead that the crowd there thickened toward impassibility, spilling in our direction on Váci utca and filling the intersection. As we neared the crowd, encountering various couples, trickles and streams of people milling around the general area, we could hear amplified speeches which soon switched to a folksy-sounding music set. Getting close, I realized the crowd filled the bridge, shoulder-to-shoulder, more than halfway out, around and beyond a kind of stage backed with a huge screen. People massed all the way across our intersection and blocks back from the river, relying in those hindmost parts on the big screen, I suppose.
Janet was feeling the chill and suggested we stop for a coffee at the (conveniently located and therefore obviously very busy) coffee shop on the corner. I needed a rest in a room by this time somewhat, so I acquiesced and prepared (unnecessarily, as always) to order in Hungarian at the counter two decaf nonfat skim lattes. We evidently hit a lull in newcomers (the small interior was almost totally filled, except for a table The Lovely One promptly claimed by seating herself while I wove a route to the counter), and I only had to wait behind about three others. The staff took my money, made change and delivered the two drinks in very good time, and I rejoined Janet at her little table right beside the toilets, where I headed next. Returning, I realized other people were at our table, and Janet actually had to raise her voice and wave to get me to see the windowside seats to which she had moved.
While we hunched in our little chairs over our cardboard cups on the tiny table, two guys heard us speaking English and came over to inquire about eating out and food prices. I havenʼt made a big deal about it yet, but eating out in Budapest was remarkably and pleasantly inexpensive (and tipping is only just seriously catching on, too — a rather snide observation for someone who, in my old age, feels very comfortable doing the 18% thing nowadays, usually). Evidently, as we learned, not so on Váci utca, where these two (justifiably) felt they had been pretty much ripped off. From our experiences they had been gouged (although we had yet to encounter our worst and most costly eating experience that day; it would come on Tuesday night). We agreed that the price they had paid was high and talked with them a while, finishing our lattes. They moved on, and we followed later, pausing to study the activities we couldnʼt actually see on the bridge and the (still enlarging) crowd.
We took off on a side street to try to flank the crowd and get across Sabad Sajtó út some blocks away from the river — about four, I think. Turning to head toward the hotel again, we passed Erzsébet tér and the other demonstration/rally. The speakers here were markedly more fevered in tone (because naturally we couldnʼt understand word one at either gathering) and the crowd demonstratively fascistic in its reactions (they didnʼt, but I expected any moment, as we scurried past, to witness a few hundred Hungarians make the fierce right-hand-in-the-air salute). If I felt correctly about the first demonstration as being of a mildly leftist leaning, this one was coldly, harshly of the Right. And their music, when it started up as we arrived at the Starlight Suiten, and which we continued to hear as we opened and savored a bottle of Szent István white (our red hadnʼt been replenished for this holiday Sunday) in the room, relaxing, was the militaristic neo-fascist dextreme rock familiar to American audiences through certain notorious neo-Nazi-sympathising German bands. We were actually somewhat worried, considering the copsʼ armed presence and the taped off streets and access, about heading out for dinner that night.
By the time we did go out again, walking along Oktober 6 út away from both demonstrations toward the basilica, the music we had vaguely heard having ended a while earlier, people were moving along with us… toward their cars or public transit. We hadnʼt made any definite plans but knew that we had seen several restaurants on the square outside the church and figured one of those would suffice. We chose an Italian place, which was very nice — somewhat baroque — inside. Costly and not well patronized, but we got a bottle of wine, salad and pizza. After, we wandered back toward the scene of the rally and found, accidentally, the fabled Gerbaud coffeehouse, where we entered and (this place also being nearly deserted) had some dessert with a cappuccino (her) and a latte (me). Janet went to the case (which I later read in one of our books was the correct thing to do) and ordered a chocolate-and-hazelnut torte that she loved while I chastely ordered a palacsinta (“pancake” or crepe) with walnut filling sided with apricot ice cream and some kind of tasty apricot gel stuff. Really expensive (as the tour books warn), but as our third dessert of the trip, good in our estimation (we would meet better, again as the books advised, later).
Then home to bed so we wouldnʼt sleep half the next day away.
There. Now I just have Monday through Thursday to cover… Someday. Possibly soon.