Sunday, February 06, 2005

I'm American, You're American, Let's be Friends

Last night I went to the launch party of a new English literary journal, Pilvax, at a little bar called Bejaro next to the big market on Pipa utca. Having creative writing tendencies myself, I was curious and hopeful that maybe I could be a future contributor.

I met one of the two founding editors, both of whom are American. But I spent the bulk of the evening speaking with one of the contributors, A, an American poet who studied poetry at Boston University. A has lived in Budapest for fourteen years. It was interesting to speak to him about how Budapest has changed since then. Having been here since 1991, he has witnessed the full transformation of Budapest from a socialist economy to a market-economy. He and another American expat told me that Hungarians seemed to have had a lot more leisure time in the early days. As the basics of life were provided for by the socialist government, people were not struggling for their survival. T, the other American, said everyone seemed to be "hanging out."

I noticed that A wasn't drinking. He told me that a couple years ago, he became interested in the Bahá’í faith, and that it forbids drinking alcohol. The only thing I knew about Bahá’í was that somehow it was founded on the belief that all religions are basically the same at their roots. He confirmed this. He said that he had arrived at his beliefs through his own experiences, but that when he read Bahá’í texts, he saw these same beliefs spelled out. There is a Bahá’í Center here in Budapest, but only one Bahá’í place of worship per continent, Europe's being in Frankfurt, Germany.

We spoke for a couple hours, mostly about poetry and art. He did a reading of one of his pieces in Pilvax. It's a long poem not yet completed, centering around the life of a Hungarian named Laci. Each line has nine syllables, and each stanza ends with three words. Here is a small excerpt:

and, in one dust-encrusted corner,
a Tesla Preludium shortwave's
desk-sized bulk, clunking buttons, long, strafed
dial like a dog-run, or a punchcard,
wires cut, is altered to a planter:
with rubbery, serrated-heart leaves
of Lunaria rediviva--
a once-solid eastern-block voice box
eclipsed by a flowering diva,
on which a saucer of hazelnuts
is flanked by twin, arching crystal rocks,
the vegetable and mineral earth
of wild europa's violent rebirth
whittled down to tabletop display.
Outside, the facing building recounts
another, parallel history,...

Last night was really my first contact with the American expat community. My friends here are Hungarian and one Swiss. I think I have, in a way, willed it that way. I don't like this you're American, I'm American, we're instant friends dynamic. But neither would it be fair to rule out a possible friendship because someone is American.

I just worry about the insulation that other American friends might create. Up until now, my thoughts and impressions of this city and culture have been formed without the influence of other expats. And what would be the point of living in Budapest if I was surrounded by Americans?

My solitude has been my strength. How many of my past experiences would have been diluted to the point of meaninglessness had I not embarked on them alone? Many. It is not that I am fearless. It is the opposite. It is a fear of fear. I must do the thing that I fear. And I have been immeasurably rewarded in nearly every instance. The insulation of familiarity blankets my senses. I cannot smell, taste, or see as vividly as I do when I am alone. What would that December day in Illiers-Combray have meant had I been with someone else? Could I have connected so profoundly with the French woman at the Proust museum? Would we have wept together standing over little Marcel's single bed? No. Of course it would not have been possible.

But I do not fail to see that this rigorous embracing of solitude could actually have the effect of cutting myself off from something worthwhile. But, for now at least, Solitude is my closest companion. And-- oh yeah, Budapest is still my boyfriend.


At 11:22 AM, Blogger Indeterminacy said...

I like the title of your post. It's what I went through in Germany. The first months I wanted to avoid all contact with fellow Americans, so that I could concentrate fully on the new language. Later I moved to a small town off the beaten track with very few Americans, but the company I worked for later had a couple of expats working there for two years and we spent some time socializing after work. Still I tried to balance that with non-American contact.

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