Planes, trains and traveling irons have all featured in the happy flurry of casting and Christmas as we steam towards the new year. There is much ado. The film may be fiction, but Hungarian history is alive in the locations we are discovering along the way. Doors are opening to a world made all the more fascinating by being able to touch it, we are talking to actors we previously thought out of reach, meeting stylists and cinematographers, and finding new friends along the way. A flash flight to New York in the midst of all this movie magic give me time with older ones, along with a moment to pause between the old world and the new, and the storage unit that lays between them.
It was a strange feeling to be back in NYC. When I emerged from the subway in Manhattan it seemed somehow surprising to find the city still there. This was at once reassuring and motivating. I journeyed only with cabin bags and at the last moment decided to take our very substantial German-made iron from the limbo of storage back to Budapest. I was of course X-rayed as I passed through security, and searched at both JFK and Paris airports. Officers commented quizzically on the iron but let me take it on board nevertheless. Not so lucky was my almost empty Jurlique moisturiser, confiscated because it was a 125 ml tube, and even though there was obviously only about 20 mls left, tubes of more than 100 mls cannot be taken on board. At a time where making my appearance wrinkle free is increasingly difficult, the iron will at least work where the moisurizer no longer can.
Meanwhile in the Buda hills, the cog wheel railway transported us back further in time, gearing up for the architectural treasures that waited at the end of the line. The first location has been empty for 25 years, having survived almost a hundred years of unhealthy screams – including those of a towering WW2 siren with a spectacular view over the city that fortunately no longer needs to be alarmed. Emboldened only with graffiti, the sanatorium is a shell, filled with ghostly stories but eager for new ones. By complete contrast and restored to perfection next door is the Writer’s Villa, a magnificent art deco retreat, where Rowan Atkinson and Jennifer Lawrence enjoyed end-of-movie celebrations in recent times, and where we were most graciously invited for lunch. Our absent Dutch host, Jaap Scholten, as part of his love story with Hungarian history, wrote in Comrade Baron about the vanishing world of the Transylvanian aristocracy. His first hand interviews with spirited octogenarians record an oral history that is largely unknown, but which made relevant the story of Aurora Borealis, a magnificent film we sought out at an equally spectacular art deco cinema in central Budapest. Are there enough superlatives to describe the richness that surrounds us here?!
Mud on our boots brought us back to earth. And to the brush shop on Dob Utca where handmade brushes of various strengths make quick work of a day stomping around the heights of Buda. Although the hills seem to have come to town with the profusion of Christmas trees clustering on the street corners. This week a special forest of netted and neat little trees like pixie caps were given out to pensioners at the local market. Mostly little old ladies, they grasped the tree by the angel end and dragged it down the street behind them, equally staunchly as those offering wreaths hand-crafted with pine cones, candles and everlasting flowers – and selling for almost nothing. ( Not to mention the smoked mozzarella tree decorations… ) I wanted to follow and make sure they kerflumped their prize all the way home. We don’t have a tree – not for any other reason than we have a house full of wreaths. Who can resist those little old ladies?
With only a couple of days before Christmas, the phone is charged in anticipation of calling everyone at home in Australia. We know that friends are well and happy at home in New York. And we will be pressed and brushed and surrounded by pine and presents here at home in Budapest. Merry Christmas, many thanks for a great year of sharing stories, and here’s to much joy in 2018!