With twelve years of Catholic convent school buried deep in my distant past, September still represents the start of another year. But now, instead of covering my copybooks in brown paper and kitting out my pencil case with a lead-like despondency at the thoughts of upcoming battles with science and maths, I start making plans for the autumn – my favourite time of year. The influx of new blood into the city brings with it a vibrancy that lifts me out of my sun-induced coma and injects new life into a weary soul.
I was over at Immigration this week getting a new registration card. I whiled away the hours trying to identify the number of nationalities waiting for their number to be called and marvelled at the diversity of people choosing to make Budapest their home. I lit upon a trio of young Irish women, new veterinary students, who’d just arrived. Amused by their valiant attempts to pronounce their addresses, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that they’d already found the Irish bars in town. Some priorities never seem to change. Yet while having the craic was definitely on the agenda, their exhaustion, tinged as it was with a heady sense of excitement, leant an air of anxious anticipation to their chatter as they discussed how early they had to show up at class the next morning and the daunting workload that lay ahead of them. I don’t envy them the hard slog that lies ahead, but I do envy them their newness.
I still have not tired of this city. I might not care for its politics, or the recent spate of what smells a lot like nationalism. I might not like the fact that while I can see through a sex shop window, the windows of the Nemzeti dohánybolt are darkened, leaving me to wonder which is, indeed, the greater vice. I might not like the fact that free market forces appear to be waning and that, as one amusing Facebook comment stated, we might soon see the occasional Nemzeti Sárga Festék Bolt as taxi synchronise their colours.
But for all its frailties, Budapest is still a spectacular city, home to much of what’s good about this part of the world. And for the new souls just landed, its hidden depths are waiting to be explored. Go n’éiri an bothair libh.
First published in the Budapest Times 6 September 2013