Budapest-Day 2 Rolling

We entered British Air through first class, where passengers settled into box-like compartments facing each other. We plebeians funneled through, and yet, anyone who can afford a plane ticket, or the good will of others, is not a plebeian. Still the class distinction denoted itself in their blankets, quilted instead of flannel, pillows and TV screens, larger versus smaller, and in our pre-boarding walk of shame through their aisles, and finally, the blue curtain that segregated us from the doings “up there” the free drinks, snacks, up graded meals and room for one’s knees. A silly distinction, yet one that says it all, seating by money versus age, handicap, or pregnancy. Who can complain? Most of the world will never be on the plane at all. Perhaps, the most important reason to complain. But will I give up my seat?

While we waited for take off, I stood in the aisle and faced the ten abreast, seat belted beside each other, a fine-looking crew of international travelers. Asians going to Finland. Brits flying to Madrid. Americans sojourning to Asia. I spoke to them and raised my hands as though to conduct an orchestra. Americans would have laughed; these did not. Even so, I caught three young people’s attention and exchanged pleasantries. Irish travelers on their way to Madrid but much enthralled by my going to Budapest and Transylvania. We named places of we had gone and wishes of where we would like to go, for me Ireland, London, Scotland. I’ve given up on Korea, but not  Machu Picchu. A stewardess brushed passed me. I sat down to buckle in, quite close to the seat back in front of me.

During the flight, I stood and walked as often as possible. Once gazed at the faces in the flowing skirts of the airplane. While most slept, an African, the only black man in view, his brown skull-cap interwoven with gold threads; the eleven year, opened-mouth like an old man, camped beside her sister in the very back row; the steward with his generous humor, subtle British accent and purposely mussed hair, seated and reading a tabloid, for a moment we were linked, an un-nationed band of brothers and sisters with our shoes off, travel pillows and insulated hearts, hurtling through the air over the broad expanse of the Atlantic.

In Budapest, everywhere people. We walk up the littered streets with them; walk with them beside their clean cafés and upscale, flowered shops near the diplomatic center, up the steps with them outside the Basilica and outside their Sphinx-adorned opera house. We sit in a circle with everyone at the Margrit fountain, shoes off, dangling our swollen feet in the cold water of its clean trench. Watch its syncopated water change color. This practice softens the crowd into one. Egy ez ishten (God is one). We scramble with people up the platform of the Margrit Bridge beside her stone crowns for a gander at the panoramic lights coming on the Parliament Building, National Courthouse across the river, onion-domed Calvinist church, Hilton Hotel and Matthias Church and the speckled cruise ships.

We move among lovers. Lovers watch the fountain from a bench. He strokes her leg; she fingers the inner loop of his arm. Moving, with lovers on the tram, a punk with peaked hair, inexplicitly happy, kissing his girlfriend, on her cheek, on her lips, on her cheek again; smiling agreement to my gesture across the car to take a picture of him and his Juliet.

New lovers, oblivious to passer-byers on the sidewalk, the boy tentatively tracing her, pressing his body in; her face, bespectacled, nothing special, except in her parted lips and abashed, tilted expectation. Were we ever so? Yes, come to think of it, yes we were.

Moving in the city with people, up the dizzying, five storied-escalator, or down the narrow tube of the tram station. At the bottom, people flow out like spilled flakes of a cereal box. At the City Market, forging for lunch, we squeeze back out of a narrow hallway of cafés so flush with bodies, we feel their cotton shirts, bare arms, and chests, smell the odor of paprika, onions and sausages on their lips, know we will melt into one flesh if there is a fire. Retreat to a bench; strike up a conversation with two more young people from Glosgow and Edinboro, who live in Prague. He talks animatedly about being a small town boy from Glasgow and the good-natured rivalry between the two towns; he is for Glasgow, all the way. What high school did you go to?

Outside the moving trams and trains, and always those walking or sitting alone. A young girl, perhaps twenty-six, pony tailed like a girl on my daughter’s soccer team; sits on the sidewalk holding a sign, begging.  She gazes only at the ground. A girl, should-be-intern. A crazed old man, snakes along the sidewalk ahead of us, stops to scold graffitied telephone booths (still in Budapest) and shakes his finger at them. Straightening his tattered jacket, he walks on until meeting another booth; darts in to argue, then, re-emerges to peer in to AL Capone’s Bar.  Also, the woman who saw me stare into her wrong eye first, on the bear-mauled side of her face. The ragged mother with her children, one with crossed eyes. Our tour guide with the wart on her nostril like a large jewel, not beside it like I had remembered. Move it all over her face, and her smile would still gladden my heart. My face, wearied and worn, the child of five, pixie cut and snowball sweater, still inside like a black and white photo and Thomas. Thomas with his beautiful face, as lovely as the field of sunflowers from the train. We move, forward, clicking along, until we look back.

See images of Budapest:


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