When I arrived in Budapest all those years ago, with two suitcases, two framed pictures, and an assortment of mental and emotional baggage, Keleti Station left me speechless.
It was as if I’d stepped off the train and into a whole other world, a world that still belonged on a movie set. The glass frontage, the statues set on high, and the wrought iron and steel that encases the places all lent themselves to a John le Carré novel. I was enchanted. Today, the view that greets the new arrivals is less than stellar. They descend the steps to a construction site, their view marred by cranes and scaffolding, but like all things in life, these too will pass. [A note from 2017 – it’s all looking rather lovely, now.]
Trains arrive from Prague, from Munich, from Vienna, each one disgorging a sea of passengers of all creeds, breeds, and generations. Those waiting for their trains are no less colourful than the myriad people who seem to live in the place. Hawkers, cabbies, currency touts all ply their trade and occasionally, you might even be lucky enough to catch a chess cowboy on the make.
There’s the juxtaposition of old and new – the old-fashioned frontage at street level and the more modern metro station underneath – both of which talk to the Budapest I’ve come to know and love. That curious mix of progress and posterity that I find so fascinating.
It’s been a long week. An interesting week. A week full of people. Four days in a row with full-on public interaction is never good for me. I need time to recharge, to regroup, to hole up. Those who don’t really know me might well mistake me for an extrovert – and I certainly have my Leoine moments – but it takes its toll. I’m more the shy retiring type… deep down.
The highlight of my week wasn’t the successful two-day workshop or the jammed-packed GOTG session in the Cotton Club on Wednesday or the Dorothy Parker evening at the Budapest Secret Salon on Thursday. They were great – but I’d have swapped them all, in spades, just to be at Keleti this afternoon to meet some old friends who have just arrived to spend two months in my city.
I met Monica back in 1990 in Los Angeles. I met her husband Dave in Dublin Airport some twelve years later, after she’d married him. Both have been to Budapest to visit me, but never together. Both felt what I felt when I first arrived at Keleti and now they’ve come back to stay for a while and explore.
This week, I’m grateful for friendships that stand the test of time. For those with whom I’ve connected at what I like to call a maintenance-free level. It might not matter that we haven’t spoken in months or years – the connection is there. It’s just a matter of picking up where we left off. And to those of you living in Budapest, keep an eye out for them and if you meet them, say hello. Breathe some life into the Budapest-style welcome that I’ve been bragging about.
Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52