The Adventure Begins

I haven’t been very good about posting on this blog because I’ve been preparing for the trip to Hungary. And now here I am, sitting at a desk in Debrecen, writing this update. It’s Thursday. On Monday, Ophelia and I took a SwissAir flight to Zurich, arriving Tuesday morning, and then another SwissAir flight to Budapest, arriving Tuesday afternoon. Budapest has a small airport: you still walk off the plane and over the tarmac, as I did years ago, the first time I came to Hungary as a teenager. But that was back in the communist era. There were almost no planes flying in, the airport was patrolled by soldiers with Kalashnikovs, and I had to pass through passport control. This time, passport control happened in Zurich, and it consisted of a quick glance at our passports and a quick stamp. Then we drove to Budapest so that I could pick up the key to my grandmother’s apartment. I checked to see if I could still get wifi at the California Café down the street, and I could. I bought a drink there that turned out to be watermelon lemonade, then sat at one of the small tables with my computer. On both sides of me, people were speaking English. I think California Café is one of the places where the Americans and Australians, in particular, gather. And then we drove to Debrecen.

It was a very long day, and I’ve been adjusting to the six-hour time difference. So here I am in Debrecen, where it’s almost ten o’clock although my computer is still on Boston time and tells me that it’s almost four in the afternoon. I’ve been asked to post pictures, so I’ll post them here and tell you what they are. The first picture is of my father’s house on the outskirts of Debrecen. This is where I am staying.

It’s located on a charming little street. This is a street of new houses, but it looks very much like Hungarian streets everywhere in that the houses, whether old or new, are surrounded by gardens. Everyone seems to garden, to grow both flowers and vegetables. One of the strangest things to me, living in the United States, is seeing the broad green lawns in the suburbs, with no gardens in them. Why not? I suppose it’s a cultural difference and has to do in part with the value placed here on fresh fruit and vegetables. Hungarians really care about their food.

Behind the house, there is a traditional Hungarian outdoor oven. We cooked in it the last time I was here, three years ago. I think we cooked a very traditional Hungarian dish: pizza. But this time, so far, I really have had very Hungarian foods. The first night, we went out to a restaurant and I had stuffed cabbage. Since then it’s been dishes like Lecsó, which has meat and tomatoes and peppers, and plenty of paprika, and I’ve had bread with cheese, and a cake made with sweet and sour cherries. Those sorts of things.

This morning, I was woken by a flock of sheep in the field behind the back garden. They were black sheep, with long, twisting horns. I tried to take a closer picture of them, but as I came too close, they moved away.

In the garden itself, the lavender is in bloom, which gives you a sense of the climate here: I see flowers growing that in the United States grow in California. But this landscape is more lush and fertile. There is more rainfall, so the flowers run riot (the roses are particularly beautiful), and the streets are lined with willows and linden trees. I can smell the linden flowers everywhere I go.

These, in case you’re not familiar with them, are linden flowers. They have a strong scent that, once smelled, is never forgotten I think. If you’ve read much nineteenth-century British literature, you’ve no doubt come across references to avenues of limes. Well, those aren’t trees growing the green fruit we think of as limes, which would never survive in England. They’re linden trees, also called limes.

Each of these photos has taken a long time to upload, because although I do have a good internet connection here, it’s not as fast as I’m used to. So in the meantime, I’ve been revising the poetry collection manuscript. There is still plenty of work for me to do here, and I’m trying to do it, although I’m also going around looking at black sheep and linden trees.

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