Sunday, October 04, 2009
From that Friday, the next five days were crammed so full that, looking back on it two weeks later, I can hardly fathom how to adequately capture it all.
Saturday we slept in a bit and planned on meandering to the rehearsal studio, stopping at another big market and the gay pride march along the way. The first sign of trouble was that our train didn’t stop at our stop. Meanwhile, announcements were being made in Hungarian cluing Hungarians in as to what was going on. A fellow passenger partially translated the announcement explaining that the train wasn’t stopping because of the gay demonstration. In my unknowing brain, I rationalized that this meant the gathering was so crowded aboveground that public transportation was being re-routed.
As we came out of the station in Hero Square, police clad in clothing to face an exploding bomb created a human barrier in front of the chain link fence barrier that went as far as the eye could see.
A crowd was forming in this strange reservoir; it’s source the spring of human traffic coming out of the subway and bumping up against the cage surrounding us. Zoe was really unnerved and wanting to get out. For a lot of reasons, I didn't want to be be anywhere but where we were. ( At this point, I think I had embraced soaking in everything, saying yes to whatever was happening). There was no techno music and oily, naked bodies writhing on corporate sponsored floats, I mean of course there was one big truck that was pumping out bad dance music, but other than the scene was very mellow--just people flagging their flags, tying on arm bands, and unfolding a huge rainbow flag. It was clear, that this was a march and not a parade.
The march had not officially started. What we gathered in the next hour of trying to figure out was going on was that, because in years past there had been hate attacks on people in and around the march by right-wingers (a movement that is gaining momentum in Hungary), they had created a blockade two blocks deep around Andrassy and closed down on all train stops. No one could be a spectator of this pride march. You were either in it or you were blocks away from it. From 1 to 6pm the police would be escorting the march and at its end, ostensibly escort people safely to whatever public transportation they needed to take. Technically we could leave, but we were advised not to because the counter demonstration was happening just a few blocks away and we might not be safe. We could actually hear voices in the air coming from some far off PA.
“We have a show in 3 days,” Zoe reiterated, debating our next move. We had to make it to the studio. Both of us were perplexed by how real the threat was of violence was. There was a sense that anything could happen, but still that couldn’t override the psyche of untouchableness that two rather privileged white American women carry with them as they move through the world. This, coupled with the sense that the threat was perhaps a bit overblown (e.g. walking through budapest at night alone is nothing like walking through a major american city) made us decide to exit the March before we were locked in for the next 4 hours.
It was just a brief moment, seemingly inconsequential, but things slowed down for me as we stepped through the tiny opening in the fence and the riot cops strode bow-leggedly passed us in two unending lines. On the other side of the fence we both looked at each other through tears, feeling like ultimate traitors or failures or something, I'm not sure but I was completely deflated.
We didn’t even make it to Florian that day. We couldn’t find a train station anywhere where that was open and we were on the other side of town/river from where we needed to be. Even walking home would have been a serious hike. We wandered around aimlessly, in the life-as-usual vibe of the city park.
A few other people looked stranded, but aside from that it was as if the demonstration was part of an alternate universe.
After another hour had passed and the trains still weren’t open, we paid 3000 Forint to go to the Szechenyi Baths. I paid another 1000 Forint to rent an oversized bathing suit that was coming apart at the seams. Zoe and I lost each other in the labrynth of indoor/outdoor pools and I retreated to a cavernous sauna—the hottest one I have ever been in, where I was surrounded by middle aged men. Trying to continually strategically hold my towel in place to cover up the disintegrating swimsuit proved difficult and at some point I gave up.
It's really hard to explain what the scene was like. In every room, there were more pools, steam rooms, cold plunges, and saunas to choose from, not to mention two enormous outdoor thermal baths with fountains spewing hot water in an giant semi-circular fan. Thinking about it now as I sit in a café watching northwesterners coming and going in their muted synthetic fiber fashions and one Subaru after another drives by the early 20th century homes on capitol hill, I can’t really reconcile the two places. Can you imagine it? Tan, half-naked Hungarians smoking and drinking in the golden light of sunset and partially submerged in hot water.
On our way home, we stopped by the Godor Klub, an indoor/outdoor club with a stage built into the ground like a mini-ampitheater, and watched the beginning of a dance performance. (So much more dance happening everywhere in Budapest!). The dancers were gorgeous, as is to be expected with the highly trained Europeans, but the content fell flat. Zoe and I left with our heavy bags of groceries and finally made it home to eat bread, cheese, salad, stir fry, tuna, the usual whatever-we-could-get-our-hands-on and we-waited-too-long-to-eat kind of meal.
(Sunday was a long day of rehearsing and then teaching a master class as part of a weekend long dance marathon (see, so much dance).
I almost cried watching the sunset that night outside of Trafo before the class started. It is such a quiet corner, with just the sound of the little fountain and soft speaking Hungarians walking their dogs. A bloated red moon made its way up into the sky behind the buildings. I didn’t get to see it, but I heard it was incredible.
Monday morning we met Judit at Trafo and took a bus to the outskirts of town where the day’s rehearsal space was. We walked through a strange complex of old auto shops and abandoned sewing factories until we arrived at the space. We spent four low energy hours rehearsing in a tiny white box with red concentric circles taped on the ground. Then we rode the overcrowded bus back into town stuffed between hoards of teenagers clutching their trapper keepers (yes, trapper keepers!) and purposefully bumping into us. I felt sick and like I wanted to sleep for days. It was the first time I had the possibility of getting souvenirs or stopping by the post office during its open hours to mail postcards, but I bee-lined for home and got in the bath.
Tech was supposed to start that night at 9pm but I ended up having the night off, getting dinner and going out to an incredible old bar called Szimpla. From the entrance, it seemed like everything you could possibly dream up and romanticize about a eastern European punk bar in an old squatted apartment building courtyard, with its nondescript entrance and bike parking room. In reality, you could see how the local charm had gone the way of communist hard rock café. It was full of Australians, Canadians, and Americans getting really drunk on overpriced shots. I did my part. I learned how to order a vicehazmester (2 parts wine, 3 parts soda), the spritzer of the vice master or something.
The next day was tech, dress, and our opening night. I should have gone home at least an hour earlier than I did, but I was getting used to this overly-active sleep-deprived schedule and wanting to savor every possible moment left.
For the next two days, sleep continued to decrease and the moments were even more pregnant, to use a phrase I kind of hate. All of it was too precious, the sort of stuff that I knew I would cling to as the miles between me and Budapest increased. It's not fair really to think about it all as some sort of plausible life--to have a beautiful, spacious apartment on Krudy Utca, a full-time job dancing and access to multiple rehearsal studios, built-in friends and tour guides to take care of you. (Quite perfectly, Leonard Cohen comes on in the café I write this in, the mascot of this trip. He had a concert while we were there that I'm still kicking myself for not going to. Then, of course, there is the shared title of “A Crack in Everything”).
I can't remember now exactly what was happening before we ran the show. It is always the same--I'm sort of roving around in circles backstage-- bobby pins, strectching, hairspray, trying to find white thong, remembering steps, trying to think about what the piece means to me, tyring to act like it's no big deal and a big deal at the same time, and then trying to imagine sitting in the audience, waiting for the lights and music and performers, wanting to be transported somewhere.
And so the show happened. Zoe, Juniper and I filed out and watched the next piece after intermission with the poker faced crowd. Then there was a q & a. And then we left Trafo and went a bar and drank vicehazmeesters.
We sat around a table at a bar and Judit wrote out a hungarian language cheat sheet (which of course will be wrong since my keyboard doesn't have all the appropriate umlauts and whatnot). I also can't really read the handwriting. . .
ninscenek nemi betegsegeim - i don't have any venereal diseases
buss (or kuss?) - shut up
fasz kivan - (she didn't write the translattion to this one because we had already properly learned it. . . "the dick is out" which is like "enough already!")
Koszonom - Thank you
szeretem (?) a limonadet - I like lemonade
Bocsanate (bocs) - Sorry/pardon
Keren - please
rizi bizi - rice with peas (sounds like really busy)
csirke - chicken
kis froccs - small spritzer (one wine, one soda)
nagy froccs - big spritzer (two wines, one soda)
hazmester - 3 wines, 2 soda
vicehazmester - 2 wines, 3 sodas
sportsfroccs - 1 wine, 4 sodas
beszelek magyarul - I speak hungarian
csokolade - chocolate
dugnam - I'd hit it
ovszer/gummi - condom
bugyi - panties
..you know, just the basics.
Wednesday after eating brunch at an old socialist cafe and accidentally ordering an omlet with hot dog chunks in it, I walked along the danube on the buda side of the city and felt my body was somebody else's. My feet retraced all the steps to and from train stations, on escalators that move too fast, past chairs spaced too far from each other for people to sit and talk to one another, past the gypsy store in Kalvin Ter and past Zoe and Juniper at Lumen Cafe, into our apartment and into the bath. As it turns out, bathing was my favorite thing to do in Budapest.