02. 23. 2011. 21:49

Budapest scenes

Chickens rotate slowly in a shop window. Six plucked chickens. The place is no longer called a butcher shop; it is Meat Palace now. We’re having a heat wave. The grilled chickens complete another turn on the spit.

“Bartók Béla Street Closed for Construction”

Chickens rotate slowly in a shop window. Six plucked chickens. The place is no longer called a butcher shop; it is Meat Palace now. We’re having a heat wave. The grilled chickens complete another turn on the spit.
    The plane trees have been beheaded. Their crowns lie in the dust. A boy and a girl each pick up a branch to take away.
    Saint Imre is swaying in midair. The statue, along with companion figures, is being temporarily removed from its site.
    Not only pigeons, but crows too, fly over the construction site, and land portentously on large sand hills.
    Cobblestones, piled in heaps. Wartime conditions? These basalt stones were torn up in October 1956, too. People tried to build barricades from them. At Móricz Zsigmond Circle men and women were piling them up near the Merry Boatman restaurant. Wearing long overcoats with a double row of buttons, scarves, some with berets, others only in jackets or trench coats, their thick hair hanging down into their eyes, they were proudly building barricades. Thirty years later, holding her by the hand because she was still so small, I was leading my daughter across the street over the basalt cobblestones that may have been parts of the former barricade.
    The sidewalk is being torn up by pneumatic hammers. We exit our building on a little bridge over not an abyss, merely a depression, easy to look down into.
    The large billboard in front of the McDonald’s at the Circle announces that the use of the toilets costs 100 forints, but the amount can be applied toward a purchase. Nearby another sign says that the price of ice cream has been frozen at 70 forints.
    At Gellért Square I recall stills from an old newsreel: Admiral Horthy in uniform, mounted on horseback in front of the hotel. He salutes. Hooves of horses on the cobblestones. At the post office the stamps are overprinted: entrance of the national army, central command, and date. My father was born in November 1919. The year after that the name of the street was changed from Fehérvári to Horthy.
    A man stripped to the waist pushes a wheelbarrow. It is difficult going. As if he had no boots on his feet. He stops and tosses stones from the wheelbarrow into a container. I can hear clearly each stone hitting the bottom of the container. I know nothing about this man. My only contact with him is through the loud banging of the stones in the container.
    Five turtles sun themselves side by side on a branch sticking out of the water of Bottomless Pond.

Bus, Rose, Typewriter

At the bus stop three women share a cigarette. The beggar woman who is smartly and youthfully dressed, with a babushka and a shoulder bag, has already made her rounds among the waiting crowd. I see her almost every morning.
    On the bus the summer light puts into sharp focus each and every hair on the forearms of women and the down on their upper lips. Equally visible are the stains on old men’s trousers as well as their deformed toenails. Suddenly a prominent ear protrudes into my field of vision: I marvel at it.
    As I glimpse into the newspapers of fellow passengers I see more or less the same faces each morning in them, as if the world contained only that handful of people we mostly know from TV. As if only these folks were able to command curiosity and maintain interest. They marry and divorce, go on summer vacations, earn lots of money, go on weight loss diets or have accidents.
    I glance out the window of the bus: a road construction worker skewers bread and meat on his pocket knife. He’s having a snack on the cobblestones.
    Fifty-seven years after the end of the war bombs and artillery shells still emerge from the depths of the pit.
    A boy and a girl are kissing in the grass at the Buda end of Margit Bridge. They hunker more or less atop each other. The girl wears army boots and a black leather jacket.
    A man is selling roses on Kristóf Square in the Inner City. Nothing but roses. Formerly he used to offer his flowers across from Café Anna. I have known this man by sight since the 1970’s. He is reliable, still here. In winter he stands behind his roses clad in leather pants and a sweater. Right now he is in the act of spraying them from a plastic bottle. This man does not seem to age. He stands by his flowers. He is faithful to them. Not like the typewriter repairman who closed down his shop on Edömér Street. Now he has a real estate office on Lágymányos Street. He drives an Audi. He’s made the switch and perhaps he himself has changed as well. Holding an ice cream cone I stand in front of the window of the closed shop, staring at an old Continental left behind. According to some of the experts, it was the world’s best typewriter.


At János Hospital the Surgeon ambles down from upstairs at ten minutes before seven a.m. to check the bandages on his patients before proceeding to the operating room.
    Every day of the week the Historian exits the Rudas Baths at eight a.m. to cross the street and get on a No. 86 bus which he takes to the Chain Bridge where he changes to another bus.
    At ten after eight the Chemist enters the building of the Budapest Polytechnic Institute on Gellért Square.
    The Gilder bends over a frame he is working on in his shop on Frankel Leó Street.
    They will turn eighty in the coming days. They are approaching the goal. They have their tasks, their agendas, their timetables. There are others, however, who remain in the streets. The ones without any goals. Who will not become Academicians. They sleep leaning against each other’s shoulders on benches. In front of them mud, drenched newspapers, shopping bags. Many among them could say, “The stump of aimlessness has cracked my skull.”
    At the café a young man reaches with his right hand over his head to press the cell phone against his left ear. He is giving orders. How nice to be an important person! The thought flashes across my brain before I chase it away. Another man’s right hand squeezes a young blonde woman’s hand. When I sit down two tables away I overhear the girl as she asks, “What do you mean, your muse?” I cannot make out the reply, which is soft and discreet. The man does not let go of her hand for a second, nor does he put his cell phone down on the round table. He passionately clutches both. A plump lady presses her phone between ear and chin, her hands free, as she rises from her chair, walks to the coat rack, removes her fur coat, puts it on, talking all the while, chatting, self-assured, and, holding her newspapers and bag, teeters out the door, leaving behind her acrobatic performance and her scent.
    The Old Lady begins her promenade on Margit Island around half past nine. She marches awkwardly in her peculiar, thick-soled white ankle boots. Yet she insists on her stiff soles, strange outfit, blue overcoat, her conspicuousness, her eccentric habits. As if she arrived here each morning from the film Zorba the Greek. Slowly she advances toward the middle of the island. Her coat is soft and her boots are hard. I notice that several aluminum lamp posts have been stolen from Margit Island: they have been sawn off at knee-level.
    At Bottomless Pond the branches of a weeping willow tree have been tied into knots. From a distance it appears as if three wreaths were hovering above the water.
    “I live here. Please do not ticket!” says a large sheet of paper tucked under the windshield wiper of a car on Lágymányosi Street.
    I saw a rainbow in the sky above Buda.

Translated by: John Batki

Tags: Budapest, Balázs Györe, John Batki