A brown and black city

February 22, 2010

And from my diary (back when I was travelling in November):

Arrived in Budapest yesterday afternoon. Perhaps the kindest thing to say about our apartment, stumbled upon in grey fog, is that it is “authentic”. Most definitely that. The third storey of a grey, imposingly ugly building of that most determinedly brutalist bent, we get at our little party of rooms via an electric gate and early twentieth century brick-weighted elevator, operated by skeleton key. We have seven and a half rooms (?!), all high-ceilinged (perhaps five metres) with open piping and dinky cupboards, a front door handle that falls off when it so takes to the idea, a broken shower door, and a curtain railing suspended at a rather unpromising slant by chain from the top of a window. Two of the three (?!) TVs do not work; the one that does has access to one gyratingly-focused Hungarian channel. There is an extra half bathroom and half kitchen, annexed to the second “bedroom”, most of the lights are out, and the balcony door is unlockable. It is a cavernous space, and after much debate and discussion of horror movies featuring slanting curtain rails,  [my brother] and I ended up moving our mattresses into mum and dad’s room in solidarity.

First impression of Budapest centred about the wide and long Andrássy útca, built closely on either side with monumental stone buildings and fringed with spidery black trees. It smells like a city. These buildings are often either as stone-faced and utilitarian as they are imposingly and elaborately decorated and carved, with their crusting window frames and thick, weighted doors. I like it here, but it is odd, and unlike any other city I’ve experienced. There is a sense still—a whiff still—of the Velvet Revolution. The people are friendly, but hard. What was communist is relegated to the dirty and decaying, but the begrimed buildings contemplate their own ugly, tormented history with an extraordinary, almost elegant defiance—a sort of grace, or stateliness, perhaps, that lends the city an almost startling impressiveness. It is a brown and black city. Thus far my linguistic skillz extend as far as “köszönöm” (thank you), “igen” (yes), “nem” (no), and “jó napot” (hello).

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