Usually, I am not proud of things I have no personal claim over. This blog and my other writings make me fiercely joyful, I am completely self-made in this field and have not had help from anyone but good editors really. So, I was not expecting to care about being Hungarian when I came to Budapest because I thought that side of me was nothing more than my eye colour, my height – just some part of my being that I happen to have, just another characteristic.
Perhaps this feeling is compounded by the fact that my entirely Hungarian father was adopted by a typical Canadian family a long time ago. My last name’s not really Tomlinson, it’s just the people who took over the reins when my real Grandparents proved incapable of doing of raising him themselves.
My father and I never really talked about my heritage, I never even thought about such things until I got to ten or eleven years old and realized that the stories people were told before bed didn’t always come from a book, not that I’m complaining – I wouldn’t be the bibliophile I am today without those early story times with him. He showed me the beauty in literature like others are shown the beauty in their cultures, so I would say I am thankful for that heritage from him.
But, wow am I ever proud of being from a place like this, proud of being a continuation of these beautiful, formidably hardy people. And yes, I will be the first to say that Hungary has had a spotty history – especially their insistence on choosing awful allies in whatever wars they fight.
But that’s the rulers, not necessarily the peoples. The people are the ones who bring light to the darkness of history. That’s what struck me so deeply when I saw a local folk ensemble perform in Budapest’s Duna Palota last night – the joy.
The purity of arts, it’s a catharsis like no other. They hopped and skipped and shouted as they twisted and turned in colourful outfits from the country’s past. Each dancer had their own personality and rhythm, some snapped and clapped some yipped and yelled but they all seemed in place in a way that made me see the effects of self-expression in a way that no one in North America can really know. At home, you are nothing if you don’t lord your personal choices and the things you find proper over others. We bleed self-fulfillment in Canada, not that that’s a bad thing – it’s just a wee bit tiresome.
Not so in Hungary, though this is obviously a tourist’s impression. I find that here the need for food, the nitty gritty survival side of life has not been solved.
A few nights before the folk dancing, I took a guided tour around Budapest and saw all of its most photo worthy sites. The group was small and personal so the guide eventually became more relaxed, he did less of a performance and instead revealed his feelings. It was clear he loved his city, especially the Pest side of the Danube.
But, as I saw the life of a local, it struck me how brutally apart my lifestyle is from those I passed in the street who spoke Magyar. He told us the average salary, a not bad one in Budapest, was about ten thousand Canadian dollars per annum. This in a city with a booming real estate industry thanks to people like me with too much money.
He told us that he loved life in Budapest because of the resilience of the people in the face of exploitative governments who have a rather odd view of the country’s honestly disgusting past – a third of those who died at Auschwitz were Hungarian. That from a country under Nazi occupation for barely a year.
Whatever the case may be on the government it’s clear that it does not reflect the people living here, my people. Coming to Budapest was amazing because it opened my eyes to how close my life was to ending up differently, how the actions of those before me have not stopped their reverberations.