Home from Home

In common with many people at this time of year, we travelled away for a short holiday. Summer it may be, but summery it was not in Donegal, Ireland, our chosen destination. However, the unspoilt beauty of its green hills and mountains, the heartfelt warmth of its people, and a total dearth of tourists (there must be more sheep than people in this area) were magical. Just three other people combed the empty miles of sandy beaches which look out over the Atlantic, while country lanes were choked – not with traffic – but with wild flowers, where the only ‘noise’ was provided by the breeze, the sheep and the larks; a stark contrast indeed to the urban living of Budapest.

Our late-evening return flight from London was delayed, meaning we were sitting in the homeward-bound taxi at 2a.m. No gradual transition back to Hungarian reality for us: the outside thermometer showed an unequivocal 27c, even at this hour: as the pilot had said, “We are now descending into the furnace…,” while our driver careered from one lane to the other, simultaneously answering his hand-held mobile phone, and shooting through two red lights. To complete the Hungarian experience in style, he asked for 5,500 forints in place of the fixed price of 5,200 – a small increase, but nevertheless, a sharp reminder that one can never relax one’s guard. And then finally, the flat, which must have been ten degrees hotter than it was outside…

The following morning I found an email from a friend who, after many years, decided to return to his native America. In the decade I had known him in Budapest, the overriding tenor of his conversations was one of complaint and disbelief at many aspects of life which he found unacceptable and intolerable (too many to enumerate here). On countless occasions over the years he had emailed me, having decided to abandon Hungary, and suggested a farewell meeting – only to return again! Now, it seemed, he had finally carried out his long-stated intention; his message was brief: How are you? I am miserable in New Jersey…

This phenomenon is far from unique. An English musician friend who spent five years in Budapest, but then left entirely from choice, admitted he could not come and visit us, as he was not sure he would be able to leave the city once he again set foot in it… Meanwhile, ten years ago, I had an Irish colleague who, similarly, could find little to compensate for the many irritations she had with the practicalities of her everyday existence here. These, together with an untenable work situation, prompted her to leave after just four months, gleefully and without a second thought. Imagine then my surprise when some months later, I bumped into her in a Budapest café!
“What are you doing here?” I asked in astonishment.
“Well, you know, after I left I realised just how much I really liked this city…”

Our visit to Ireland was, in fact, to another musician friend who shared some of our Communist years here in the 80s. It was a topic of conversation among us even then, how one could miss a place with all the frustrations and shortcomings it undoubtedly had – especially at that time. His conclusion was that like drinking or coffee, life in Budapest was quite simply ‘habit-forming’ – something one cannot expunge from one’s soul.

Just two days ago, another American friend also returned home after the best part of twenty years in Hungary. These years caused a similar amount of agonising about her decision – which involved five years spent back in the USA, only for her to return to Hungary for a further ten years.

With her flat denuded of all her possessions, some shipped, others given away, she left for an early morning flight to New York, ready for her new life back home. From the taxi I received the shortest of text messages from her as she headed for the airport - :-((
Maybe there really is no escape…..