I am very fortunate to have some wise and wonderful Hungarian friends who are extremely knowledgeable and clued in. Between them, they have managed to answer practically all of my never-ending questions about life in Hungary as it is now and as it was then. Their areas of expertise include history, geography, politics, linguistics, sports and the arts, with a little bit of religion thrown in for good measure. Together, their knowledge of who’s who and what’s what in Budapest alone is encyclopedic. They have their fingers on the city’s pulse. They speak its language and, more importantly, they also speak mine! But try as they might, there is one question that still remains unanswered.
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that Hungarian women are beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that grown men literally stop and stare as they walk by. And it’s not that surreptitious glance from a gawky teenager that you might see in Dublin; a glance made all the more daring by the chances of being caught in the act. No, Budapest has left puberty behind. Here, men stop. And stand. And stare. It used to catch me unawares. There I’d be, walking along, lost in my own little world, trying to conjugate a particularly difficult Hungarian verb, when the man in front of me would suddenly stop. And stand. And stare. And I’d run right into him and ruin the moment. Now I pay more attention. I’m more considerate. I save my conjugation for cafés. But it rankles. Hungarian girls are gorgeous: they have perfect figures, great skin, healthy hair… and all of this on a diet of red meat, goose fat and lángos! How can it be so? Where’s the justice? Answer me that!
I love my food. I can’t imagine life without red meat and chocolate. I shudder at the thought of never again enjoying Filete Enchocolatado. While at an open-air market recently, I noticed my visitors going pale at the sight of pork steaks swimming in vats of hot oil. I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. At dinner later that evening, while they searched in vain for a fruit-filled palacsinta, I went straight for the hórtobagyi. Hungary, for me, is hog heaven, with a large duck pond and a garden full of geese. But unfortunately, I am missing that all-important gene that allows Hungarian women to eat what they like, when they like, and still look fantastic. I’ve thought about this a lot and for want of help from my encyclopedic friends I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s simply no other explanation. It has to be genetic…doesn’t it?
The last time I fitted into a size 8, I was 18. I have neither the interest nor the inclination to do what’s needed to go back there. Don’t get me wrong: if it could be done with a wave of a túró rudi, I’d be first in line. But diet and exercise are two words that don’t feature in my vocabulary, in any language! I have made a couple of concessions though. I only allow myself langós when I have virgin guests in town – far be it from me to deprive first-time visitors to Budapest of an experience that is truly Hungarian! When I cook at home, I always have at least two real vegetables: tomatoes, onions and peppers don’t count! Come to think of it: that’s another question I must ask. Where do all the real vegetables go once they leave the market stalls? The carrots, the parsnips, the turnips, the cauliflowers – I’ve yet to see one come out of a restaurant kitchen in solid form!
My weight fluctuates according to where I’m living. In California, it was too hot to eat. In Alaska, it was too cold not to. Ok, so perhaps I didn’t have to take hibernation as seriously as I did or have so much sympathy for the whales that I began to morph into one myself. No matter. That’s history. Today, I have chosen to live in a city full of beautiful women; a city which is populated by men who are very obvious in their appreciation of this beauty. Perhaps, subconsciously, the skinny person living inside me is making a last-ditch effort to escape. Maybe hers is the voice I heard telling me to move to Budapest in the first place. Maybe she was hoping that being in the presence of such beauty would inspire me to lend her a hand. But, as Woody Allen wondered: what if the 20lbs I lose is the best 20lbs I have? The pounds that contain my genius, my humanity, my love and my honesty? What then?