Day 293

Zsofi and Rosemarie, near the national gallery.

Hungary is a country of strong passions and long history, much like my friend Zsofia.

Zsofia lives in the USA with her daughters now, but she grew up and went to school in Budapest and was there visiting when Rosemarie and I arrived. For an entire day, Zsofi walked us through her home city.  It was the first time in fifteen years that she’d shown anyone around, and she was tireless and open.

We started with a boat ride along the Danube. The ride had a narrated tour in about fifteen languages, but it was much more interesting to let Zsofi point out the “ugly block apartment houses the Russians built,” and listen to her mom, Eva, tell my mother-in-law about her family’s (terrible) experiences during WWII.

With Zsofi’s spunky daughters, Maya and Nina, we walked around Margaret Island and had ice cream. Then we had some more ice cream.

Nina, listening to the boat tour in Hungarian.

We went to the huge local market and ate a lunch of stuffed cabbage standing up at the counter, crossed the Chain Bridge, breezed through the  Hungarian National Gallery and saw a handful of gorgeous modern paintings. We broiled under the 100+ heat.

We were with Zsofi when we saw the riot police out in full force, preparing for the “warm” — aka Gay Pride — parade.

“Why are the police here?” we heard an Aussie ask her city guide.

“Because in our country we hate gays, and the people will beat them.”

“They hate gays here,” Zsofi affirmed. “They also hate black people and Jews, too.”

At our apartment that night, Rosemarie received an email from someone back home. It was one of those tasteless chain mail pieces casting aspersions on Obama and his heritage — that is, one of those “jokes” about Obama being an alleged Muslim.

“Tell her this _________,” I said. “Or how about _________.”

Maya, listening in English (or maybe Japanese?)

But Rosemarie had a better idea. She posted her own dateline: Budapest July 2010. She wrote about the riot police, the bullet holes (think Russian tanks) that we saw in buildings all over the city, and about Eva’s run from the Nazis in ’44. She repeated what Zsofi told us: although she’s now the widow of an American journalist, and has the option of returning home to Hungary, she’ll be raising her daughters in America.

“They have a better life in the States,” Zsofi said.

It’s one thing to hear that for yourself. It’s another to walk the city and know exactly what she means. If only Rosemarie’s ‘friend’ could have seen and heard what we saw, she might have pushed the DELETE button rather than the SEND button on that e-mail.

Moszkva ter (Moscow Square), Budapest