Why I love living in Budapest No. 4


Lomtalanítás…spring cleaning, Budapest style. Boring garage sales, yard sales, or car boots are not for Hungarians. Instead, twice a year, on a day pre-arranged by those in power, households all over the city get to dump their junk on the pavement. Anything goes. Cardboard, shoes, toilet bowls, plants, books, bottles, furniture… nothing is too big or too small.  There is something quite liberating about simply dumping your junk on the street, knowing that it  has a better than average chance of finding a place in someone else’s flat, or perhaps in a bar, but it’s not the lomtalanítás (junk clearing) that fascinates me, it’s the dedication people show in their relentless search for a bargain.

I had visitors last weekend – the lovely RB was in from Chichester – so I wasn’t reading my noticeboard for new posts. I didn’t realise that my lomi was approaching (Monday, 22nd March) until I saw the telltale empty stools and chairs dotting the street on which I live. These random seats were positioned outside each building’s doorway on Saturday, 48 hours before the event itself. The ‘transport’ , an old white trabbi,  was parked on the path on Saturday morning. Over the next couple of days it was where the sentries ate and slept, between their shifts guarding the growing piles of junk that collected along the street.

I’ve worked for many big corporates – international companies who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, pounds and euro to instil in their employees such tenacity and single-mindedness, such dedication and self-sacrifice. They needed to be on Ulloi út last weekend to see what I saw. For 48 hours, this clan of Roma took turns to guard their patch. They ate and slept on the job. They vetted each new addition to the piles, putting it kerbside if not worth investing time in, or building-side if worth taking home. Anything that was of use was stripped. Scrap metals were stripped of all nuts, bolts and screws. Battered drawers were stripped of their handles. Pictures were stripped of their frames. Stuff I would have considered beyond redemption had a value.

I didn’t purge this time… I could have but I wasn’t in the mood. Spring cleaning is not for the fainthearted. You need to be in the whole of your health and the whole of your mind to make the life-altering decision about what goes and what stays. And last weekend just wasn’t the time for me. Act in haste, repent at leisure and all that. I was a little too enthusiastic last year.

They say that if you go towards the hills of Buda, to District III or even Pest side in District XIII, the pickings are rich. You get a better class of junk that you do down in the VIII. But in the VIII, everyone gets to see your stuff.

Üllői út is the main road in from the airport. I’ve often wondered what visiting dignitaries must think, driving into town on Lomi days in their sleek black cars and seeing pile after pile of junk heaped at regular intervals along the street… and on just one side of the road. The other side of Üllői út is District IX…another world.

What must it look like? And yet, to the city’s credit, when I walked out my door very early on Tuesday morning, it had all gone. Every last scrap had disappeared. Such efficiency makes you wonder.

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