For two weeks each August I curse the weather Gods, as Budapest wilts under summer’s oppressive heat. I yearn for the frigid days of winter and swear I will never grouse during the inevitable deep freeze (a promise I will break around January). Temperatures are hovering at 100 degrees (~40C). The 45 minute train commute from Budapest to Vac is commemorated – I have no doubt – in the lesser known circles of Dante’s hell. Tourists frolic to Balaton in modern air-conditioned luxury. The commuters enjoy no such creature comforts – neither cleanliness nor timeliness nor a refreshingly cool breeze blowing on our upturned faces.
Air conditioning is one of the luxuries we live without. Restaurants, office buildings, buses and trams all share a fresh air philosophy. Fresh air is free air. Last summer I visited my daughter in the bosom of energy awareness, Boulder, Colorado. Boulder provides a priority “Prius” parking spot to encourage conservation from their driving populace. Ironically, they also cool their restaurants to a temperature suitable to a polar bear family picnic. I shivered through our meal as the dog days of late August raged. Energy conservation, it would appear, stops right at the boundary of impaired comfort.
Lest we jump to the conclusion that Hungarians are innately better ecologists, let’s consider our apartment – heated so warm during the winter that I awaken convinced the building has caught on fire. We sleep with our balcony doors open welcoming the winter winds which blow off the Danube. People sagely recommend we turn down our thermostat. But our apartment has neither a thermostat nor shut off values on the radiators. We pay for our heat at a building level based on individual apartment square footage. During communism, in the paternalistic spirit I have mentioned previously, the Soviets doled out their massive energy reserves in the form of free and excessive winter heating. Consequently, Hungarians love heat. Each sweltering day I am greeted with a cheerful “don’t you love our summer weather?”
In front of the Nyugati train station sits an old Roma woman – a vendor of random goods. I assume she lives in the countryside and commutes each day to hawk the bounties from the land near her home. Her wares vary to the season. In the spring she sold lilacs. With the arrival of summer, she switched to twine wrapped bundles of lavender and paper bags of cherries. I want to buy something from her. But as I am running to catch the train, juggling my purse, computer bag and train ticket, I have no patience for lavender and cherries.
This morning she sat with a basket of colorful papers and peered up at me mournfully (as she is wont to do). Looking closer, I recognized the fold up fans I associate with Chinese restaurants and Japanese Geisha girls. Evenings of late, I ride home in a stupor, fanning myself with my book. In the blazing heat, anything is at risk of being recommissioned as a make shift fan. Finally, she is selling something perfectly matched to a train commuters’ needs. I grab one and toss her some coins as I laugh, running to catch the train.
Categories: Insiders Budapest