In the challenge to post every day this month on the theme “decade,” I am having to delve into and organize a long and forgotten digital shoebox and in sifting through memory of the spices but remembered from the kitchens of our youth and whatever record I can access in the several locations I find myself in any given week, it is hard to keep up this schedule as it is to confront so much of the clutter in my mind around life and those events that have formed a chain of ten links.
Did I think I would be this person were I to ask that younger self, what advice would that younger self give to me? Common questions of an existential nature that we come to ask no longer having to just consider that as part of a therapy session or some random question from a spin the bottle in college. For me those questions are not so interesting even to consider, of course the older me would have sage advice of course the younger me would have yelled, “Look out for that nail!”
However, I will continue for a few more days to steep in memory until I spend a week looking ahead. And we will see where that takes us.
In 2004 who would have known that I was to be married only a few more years. What would my spouse remember of those times? I always feel it is gossip to speak of known others, so I guess I will wait to pander to the dirty gossips in all of us to spill this or that relationship story which, truth to say, there isn’t more that can’t be summed up in the simple arc of there was a beginning, a middle, and an end and that this relationship took me from the last of the extended childhood of Americans to a solid middle of my adulthood to which I am fast waving goodbye to.
I remember that we went to Hungary perhaps the year after. I examined my passbook, but other than record of transit, there are no associated dates. I know I was working for a program and somehow I had more time off than my spouse. I also had more reason to go since I hail from family that originated in what is now Romania and then was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and I had some researching to do in order to find out more about my grandfather, a man who was always in my life but who I had never actually met. His stories were passed on as Family Lore by my grandmother, my mother, and whatever traces had been preserved in various shrines. He was a handsome little man, fought in the War, lived where he wanted to, fucked who he wanted to, and traveled where he pleased, knowing seven languages and always a hit with the ladies. He had come from the last of a rotting pile of money. The money in his day had to flee what was then just become Rumania and to Budapest to dwell in various stately houses. One of the houses had been bombed flat in The War. The other, situated what was then considered “our of town” but now was almost central in the city had not been bombed flat and was quite extant. However, the SOVIETS had divided the house into apartments… which was understandable… and placed a huge block of cement with little apartments carved in to it in what had once been the lawn and garden of the house. Having arrived to this situation when I did, the house had since been privatized and whomever was living there each had chosen a different colour as well as maintenance schedule for the house. In other words…. it was a strange sight to see the house my grandfather could never go back to and to which, I would never be other than as a voyeur, a stranger on the sidewalk peeping over the hedges and inviting what was now, with the fall of communism, private lives. I took several pictures. These may have been digital photos, but I cannot think as to the hard drive they may have been on. Perhaps they were still printed out, but I know that I saw one of the pictures I took digitized… perhaps scanned, as we used to do way back then.
I walked down the hill from my encounter… yes I had taken pictures for my family to see, I remember that I shared them with my sister. Perhaps even my mother. My grandmother had been dead for some time so no need to take a picture for her. I guess she didn’t live to see this.
I cut across on a lane and landed at a cafe, which then meant bar that also served coffee and there were some trendy brash crass Modern neuvo-capitalists enjoying what was rather expensive fare considering the economy had not yet moved to Western Standards and I believe most of the old women were munching on fish heads for sustenance.
This was not my first time in Hungary, I had been there years prior on a mission to see the entirety of Europe one college summer. Shoe string, journal, blah blah blah, hostels, going to local bars, blah blah blah, avoiding touristic places, eating new food, making new friend… we know the post card. I remember the city was darker. More dirt. More signs of the Uprising as well as The War. Many of these old bullet holes, especially the sections where you could tell someone was smoking out a sniper was gone and replaced by a cleaner version of the old city, yet not the Shinny Happy People Prague I saw in 2001, still a little grime and noir.
The youth with the lap tops and track suits made noise. I finished my beir and left, off to search for the other house, an even stranger exercise since not only would I not visit this house, it no longer existed. Needless to say, based on that information relayed to me by my sister who had finally connected with the old man I had yet to meet, I found what I think was the sight of the home, now a large building, gray like the rest, cement like the rest, but with some very large SOVIET art hanging on one side, the meaning of which and relevance lost entirely on me as I neither studied art nor knew any Hungarian in written or spoken form.
I guess that this was a pilgrimage of sort for this persistence ghost in my life, this grandfather of fame that I had years before tried to track down but was not successful in making contact, and that this was one thing I had to do in order to assure our meeting, perhaps a test to see how interested I was by journeying to a former homeland. My attempt at contact had been almost a decade prior, when an even younger self was still interested in distant family and learning about my “heritage” (I have since evolved my thinking on history and “heritage”) but this letter was never returned and my sister, who had already gained audience with this specter, had seen the letter I had written while still in university, paper had yellowed, the paperclip had rusted slightly in the moist south pacific island air and to this day I get a little melancholy when I think of this small piece of me sitting and desiccating in a desk drawer and this man growing ever older wondering who this kid was or would this be the year of contact.
Still, I had started this quest she was able to better finish. And now I was to get ever closer to constructing these clues and finding these lost spaces on our supposed family’s map on this journey before the next summer where I would meet the man himself. After visiting ruins and reporting back, my last event was to meet an old friend of his. She was a woman of a certain age and had been married to Q- a very high up Party Official. Having lost her husband, she had also been able to shed any communistic traits she may have once had, or had to have had, and blossomed into quite the silver Capitalist. She also knew how to pour fingers of Zwak for a Hungarian version of tea and then jump behind the wheel of a sedan and drive about the city giving me the tour, so surprised that her old friend had a grandchild he had never spoken of. Not that they had spoken much since the Wall came down. It was obvious that they had been lovers. But… what are you going to say to an older woman who doesn’t speak much English in order to learn more about a family member you don’t… when you start to see it with more adult eyes… know… at all…. So one is prying into the life of a stranger. But, with the fourth sifter of liqueur of a strange and herbal nature, I may have not only asked her… Perhaps the thought to make a pass may have also occurred.
It was not long after that brief meeting that my spouse joined me and I set aside the research and moved into vacation mode, visiting wine bars, castles, art collections, and something else that I just can’t remember… like a movie or show of some sort, but perhaps that was another time and place pushing into my narrative. We had a good time. We drank wine on the hill by the castle. We took a train down to Romania. However, that is a longer story and for another time.
It is an interesting exercise to jump into remembrance and to reconstruct events and in some way perhaps to that more difficult task which is to reconstruct who one may have been at a certain, and in this case arbitrary point in time… Did all those photos of a grandfather’s house change me? Can I even, these short years later, remember?
“He was well aware that of the two of three thousand times he had made love (how many times had he made love in his life?) only two or three were really essential and unforgettable. The rest were mere echoes, imitations, repetitions, or reminiscences.”
―Milan Kundera,The Book of Laughter and Forgetting