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‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

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still in Budapest, distracted by gypsies

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Heroes’ Square, Budapest. Not my pic, but I was there, really

So after these introductories we had our first on-board meal in the restaurant – not gloriously-named à la the Nadir, just the restaurant, found on level 3. The lounge on level 2 was called the lounge. As far as pampering went, the restaurant was tops, though I’m no gourmand. Lots of colourful cuisine minceur dishes floated to our tables on the arms of a multicultural array of servitors whose grace and allure was surely felt as a threat to the plumper members of our party. Our first lunch, though, was a light affair as our first tour buses were approaching.

I’d already experienced Budapest twice, first through google earth and then on foot in the region around the Mercure-Korona, including the distinctly odorous riverside (distinctly less tangy from our vacuum-packed boat), so I felt a worldly iffiness about another maiden experience – my first tour bus. Again I was disarmed – our particular guide was a caustically humorous and attractive local who set us straight on Hungary’s post-war history (Hungary was on the wrong side in WW2, and suffered significant damage as a result, and I’d say it’s still in recovery mode). Yes, communism was revolting before the 1956 uprising, which was put down in typically revolting fashion, but afterwards it was clear that a softer approach was required. In fact this destalinising approach really began with Stalin’s death in ’53, and the forced resignation of Stalinist leader Rakosi, a poisonous lump of dogshit apparently. Anyway, after ’56, a seminal year in which a substantial proportion of the population fled the country, Hungary garnered some most-improved nation gongs with a high GDP and relatively relaxed censorship and travel laws and such. Nowadays the economy is supposedly doing relatively well, but relatively is a very flexible term and I’d seen plenty of dilapidation, though to be fair the ginormous and still glamorous old buildings I saw on the Pest side would’ve required busloads of money to renovate.

We got off the buses at Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square) for a dose of monumentalism and Hungarian history, watered-down with plenty of wryness from our guide, but the first thing that struck me, more or less physically, as I alighted (funny word, that) was a gypsy, one of a bunch, selling some kind of colourful tea towel or scarf or whatever by flapping it in my face and babbling in rapid-fire foreigner. I don’t know if gypsy is an acceptable term these days, and of course I don’t know for sure if this woman was Romany, except that there had been word going around about a gypsy problem and that day’s Daily Cruiser, our first and the minor-key counterpart to David Wallace’s Nadir Daily, had a paragraph on pickpockets, which it deemed not much of a problem but keep your hands on your wallets in your pockets just in case, and word aboard was that pickpocket was a non-racist euphemism. So I ignored them like everyone else but of course a lot of attention has to go into not paying attention to them, and it inevitably sent my mind back twenty-five years when I attended an informal graduation dinner with some diploma of education classmates and the topic of gypsies arose big-time. The half-dozen other attendees were all female, and all were at least ten years my junior, and all had travelled in Europe. This got my back up for starters, but when the gypsy subject came up there was a rising fury of agreement about their dirtiness, creepiness, slyness and over-all despicability. Each of these fair young ladies had a story to tell, more horrorshow than the last, like Monty Python sans humour. I naturally tried to side with the underdogs and was howled down with more hair-raisingly humourless tales, and with a couple of taunts, one of them unanswerable  – ‘you need to experience it yourself’ – and the other maybe more questionable – ‘they mostly target females’. The whole experience left me stunned and thoughtful for days. Was I really sympathetic to the Romany people or just being Romantic? I realised that  I felt probably more antipathy towards my fellow-diners than anything, but that was also because they were so much younger, richer and more established than me. I was something of a gypsy in comparison.

Romany in Budapest. Again not my pic. Love the clothes

Romany in Budapest. Again not my pic. Love the clothes

Written by stewart henderson

May 31, 2016 at 12:37 am