To know a city

“The Trafalmadorians perceive the different moments just as we can see, for example, a whole section of the Rocky Mountains. They observe how permanent each moment is, and can see any moment that interests them. In their eyes it is just an illusion what we perceive here in the earth, that one moment follows the other like beads strung on a string, and that once a moment was gone, it never comes back, is just an illusion to them. If a Trafalmadorian sees a corpse, he only thinks that the person is in a bad shape at that moment, but the same person feels greatly in several other moments.”
Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse Five

My neighbor Sue is very happy, she will soon travel to Budapest with her friend. She has always wanted to get to known this city, and now the time has come. She asked me for ideas on what to see.

I left my native city Budapest two years ago, and according to the state of things, forever.

If I close my eyes, the images I preserve about her are just as fresh and vivid as if I were still living there; in some sense more vivid than the present reality, which still appears as a mere scenery on some worse days. I had to realize that, despite my intentions, each new city can be some kind only in comparison to Budapest – warm, cold, mundane, trivial, banal or exciting.
This is not for homesickness or any similar feeling. In the course of thirty-five years, while I lived there, the city with all her beloved and hated details has become a part of me, just like my skeleton – and of course I do not have gentle emotions towards my bones either.
Still, being so far from a part of ourselves, is a pretty strange, and not always painless state.
The situation, however, has its advantages. Due to the distance, I can browse, just like the Trafalmadorians, between the good moments, leaving out the disturbing details – e.g. the dog’s shit on the streets or the fat-headed drivers screaming and jumping out of their large black cars in the traffic jam.
But it also works the opposite side – on bad days, the painful memories provide effective assistance.

For Sue, of course, I am looking for pretty pictures.

I take a short cut across the Városmajor park to pick up the child at the cogway, where they are brought down every afternoon from the day-camp on the Sváb Hill. The heat has subsided, but the dust still has a warm smell. The roaring of the cars from the Avenue, the wobbling of the tramway, the noise of the dogs, bikes, birds and children from the park is melted in one single buzzing. Every light is golden green under the trees.
The child is very happy and mere dirt. We’re going out for an ice cream in the August, then buy peaches on the market, where every conceivable earthly good stands in good, colorful, fragrant piles.

I’m standing on the Citadel with the greater one, showing her the city from above. I try to spend some afternoons only with her, since the little one was born. The parapet is very high, she cannot see out from behind it, but she is already too heavy to take her in my neck. I lift her and keep her leaned against the parapet as long as I can, but then I have to put her down. She is laughing at me. The wind is blowing, but it’s a good hot weather.

I’m standing in the crowd on the bus number seven, which is standing on the Elizabeth Bridge in a traffic jam. I am watching the bridges of the Danube, one behind the other, no matter how long, and now the overcrowding does not bother me at all. Just a little bit later, from Felszabadulás tér on.

I am walking with my husband on the Boulevard, we were in a movie, we are watching the shop windows and the other people, on the Andrássy Avenue we sit down in a café. Not as if we could afford it ourselves or we had time, but it is good to remain a little bit more. I have always lived in Buda, for me Pest is theater, party, staircases with wrought iron railings, bustle and trolleybuses.

Party in our garden, under the large birch tree. Barbecue. Chatting, smoke smell, children, beer mugs, teacups scattered everywhere. The perpetual shatter and buzz of the birch leaves.
The garden table is three meter long, my husband scaffolded it once, when he got sick that we never normally have room around it. But we do not either like this.

We turn with the car from Kelemen László street under the horse-chestnut row of Hűvösvölgyi street. From here only five minutes, we are in fact at home, the children usually fall asleep at this corner.

It is November, I am walking with a childhood friend in the streets around our house. She no longer lives here, we have not seen us for long, now she came to see my new baby. We are pushing the stroller together, talking. The smell of damp leaves is mixed with a little smoke from somewhere, it is biting cold and fog. Everything is white and brownish-gray, only the hips and the apples forgotten there come out from the monochrome. There is silence, even the barking of the dogs dies away dully in the fog.

Sue is a genuinely kind person, which is a rare treasure, especially in this part of the world. In return, I genuinely like her, and I would like to help her, but with these she cannot do much.
So I write her a list on the Fortress, the Citadel, the trams number two and four-six, the Andrássy Avenue, the Art Nouveau buildings in Pest, the candy store in Dob street where the best flódni is sold, the Great Market Hall and the baths.
I also print a map, I draw these on it, to alleviate my remorses.

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