Feeling rather accomplished I pull
a long draw from that dark bottle, then reposition myself
for a pretentious gaze around the near-empty dining car all
the while hoping the train wouldnt reach Budapest too
than 50 hours of trusting my luck on the highways of west
Europe had left me exhausted and wondering like how
in the hell do I make it back to Gatwick in time for the flight
out? Dont worry, Larry, Sandor said reassuringly
as I walked away from our flat in Boston. Youre
gonna get rides dere for damn sure. Everyone hitches in Europe.
was right, it turns out, but trying to make time thumbing
it through here, the U.S. or anywhere else is not a very clever
idea. I should have remembered that from years back when Doc
and I hurdled and jerked our way across the American Midwest
and South. It wasnt for nothing that he coined what
became our iron mantra: Any ride is a good ride.
Presently I find myself on a decent train, in one piece and
surprisingly ready nearly a week before the funeral. Id
start worrying about the trip back to London afterwards. For
now, the open road is mercifully no longer a necessary option.
dining car in fact offers me the first opportunity for a good
buzz since the plane landed Friday morning. My headset tuned
in Purple Haze by Hendrix for the descent, a thoroughly
appropriate greeting for the first Maushard to re-cross the
Atlantic in four generations. Great-Grandpa Josephs
family had wisely spirited him out of Alsace-Lorraine in the
1870s a few steps ahead of whatever jackboot murderous
shitstorm then threatened the Continent. Now here I am returning
the family presence in order to experience a legacy from another
one of Europes more debilitating maelstroms.
destination is Socialist Hungary. In mid-1989 it seems on
the verge of finally breaking with the postwar Soviet-imposed
communist order. Many Magyar men and women had first attempted
to pry their nation out of that realm in 1956 when then Prime
Minister Nagy Imre briefly led Hungary out of the Warsaw Pact
and into a self-proclaimed and ultimately doomed neutrality.
The Soviets naturally would have nothing to do with this innovative
bit of political re-grouping and sent in Russian tank crews
to crush any ideas of bloc breaking. Hungarys stance
as a strong German ally in both WWI and The Great Patriots
War also invested Moscow with no great restraint in dealing
with the Magyar rebels. Thousands of Hungarian casualties
were inflicted in the capital Budapest alone, the epicenter
of the 56 revolution. Inevitably the actual fighting
was brief and completely one-sided.
after three decades, Hungary, Poland and maybe Czechoslovakia
are attempting a final and new type of uprising. Calmer people
appear to be involved and armed conflict seems to be on no
ones agenda. Other than the Anglo-Irish Troubles, Europe
has finally learned to get beyond intensive street fights.
Those kinds of Neanderthal scenarios in population centers
are driven further and further into the historical ash heap
as a result of Mikahil Gorbachevs perestroika and glasnost.
Or at least their promise. If the Soviets are lifting the
lid on their own people in Mother Russia, then the rest of
occupied East Europe would find a way out.
there was no guarantee yet of lasting change the most
important East bloc nation, East Germany, in fact remains
off limits to all but the most scrutinized western outsiders.
And the headlong rush of GDR girls and boys trying awfully
hard to leave their homeland shows they probably have good
reasons. The upcoming June 16 ceremony for Hungarys
unsuccessful rebels of 56 organized by the opposition
movement and tolerated by the government therefore
represents a large push for nationwide divestiture of Soviet
control. If that ultimately occurs, then the rest of the East
bloc would be ripe for huge changes.
my flatmate in Boston I had been able to set up a great connection
in mid-town Budapest. Working the mailroom at Project Software
in Cambridge sure wasnt earning me a wage commensurate
with 4-star hotel fare so I needed to pinch every penny in
sight. Sandor has an old friend, this student rocker from
their early years in Dunaujvaros, a neo-Stalinist industrial
theme park of sorts located about an hour south of the capital.
Kiss Endre, Ande for short, currently lives with his grandmother
in an apartment at 54 Rozsa Ferenc. Sandor said since Ande
knew no English and I knew no Hungarian that wed probably
get along fine. But watch out for Andes guitar,
came my only warning. Sometimes hell go on for
two or three hours.
if things work out, Ande might help me understand how he and
his society feel about the Nagy Imre funeral and what it really
means. Their feelings are the real story, not any government
reactions, east or west. And I wasnt worried about how
the Hungarians might treat me. The few I knew were always
generous and inviting, and my visa had not been a problem.
Any gringos apparently welcome. Even George Herbert
Walker Bush had scheduled a visit to Budapest in the next
few weeks. This place certainly was no East Berlin. Friendliness
aside, this train will nonetheless shortly plunk me down inside
the still living and breathing Cold War Communist East bloc.
I could get into some real trouble.
top it off, this working-class, son-of-a-John-Reed-inspired-wish-I-was-back-in-Managua
kind of misfit finds himself being delivered to the godless
Euro Commies aboard the freaking Orient Express. It certainly
is not the fabled passenger train of Continental myth and
intrigue: the only point of distinction among this cattle-trap
group of cars is the dining coach. And its nothing very
special, just curtain windows over tables of matching white
pseudo-linen and plastic globe-topped reading lights. Apparently
any train on the Vienna to Istanbul line gets the storied
nameplates I noticed at the car doorways. But I am more than
willing to go along for the ride, literally and otherwise.
After the waiter delivers my beer, I look over my passport
to once more check out the two European visas circumstances
dictated I secure, one from the West and one from the East.
required a visa
for Americans! But the requirement ends
in a month or so. In other words, my $20 to the Republique
Francaise is a waste of cash. Like I have it to burn. And
you know there was no good reason for the visa in the first
place. No one even checked my passport in Calais, let alone
the visa. Why are the French pissed off at us this time? They
sure didnt need the money. Anyway, the pastel green
and blue spirals dancing across my very formal gateway to
Gaul gave me some evidence of their self-professed claim to
a higher aesthetic. But not much.
visa for Hungary I can understand. In addition to the obvious,
they probably havent forgotten those empty promises
of support on the Voice of America radiowaves from back when
it counted in the dark days of 56. Still, for only $15
this visa is a standout piece of bureaucratic art. This bright
violet rectangle had been plastered over nearly the entire
passport page back at the New York Fokonzula. Private Vizum
No. 115548 from the Magyar Nepkoztarsasag entitled me to a
egyszeri beutazasra, single entry, good for 30 napi until
November 24. Moreover, the violet vizum came with a separate
document as final resting place for the pair of photos they
required in the original application. According to this thing
it is necessary that I register at a police station within
48 hours of entering the country, among other valuable tidbits.
Jesus, that smacks of high melodrama and worse. I hope Im
not going to have to deal with the Hungarian police. Who knows
what I may be carrying by then. Anyway, the national seal
(Im guessing) on the visa is surrounded by intricately
woven patterns of the kind usually reserved for currency designs.
Hungarians apparently placed a serious intent on these government
documents. Or was I just thinking too much?
up from the table, I spot an attractive brunette across the
car seated quite alone. Reading through papers, she handles
a glass of what looks like white wine. Fortunately I had changed
to my best travel attire in Linz prior to boarding. Opening
lines fly through my head. I can deal with this: clean, alert
and my insecurities gone south for the moment. The beer swirls
audibly through my head. Food had not been a high priority
of late. Choosing the direct route, I go straight over and
inquire about the time to Vienna. She glances up from her
papers, whereupon I receive a pleasant smile and a reply in
Olde World English.
should think about 30 minutes.
you. Say, would you mind if I joined you for a moment? I think
its much better to, ah, share a ride like this. I love
the look of this car, and Ive never been on the Orient
know what you mean. I do enjoy the train more so than flying.
So much more romantic in the Victorian sense. Its just
brilliant. Of course its a bit more economic, too.
dark, thickly textured hair has a vitality I can feel from
a distance. Her black dress has a touch of refinement, and
her expressive face radiates a feminine strength youth alone
is unable to account for.
name is Lawrence. Im a writer going to Budapest. Theres
a big public ceremony in a few days for the people killed
in the 1956 revolt.
Esther. Esther Linley. Primarily Im a dancer, and I
live in Wein. So you are a writer? And you are working for
. . .?
Im on my own a freelancer. But I have friends
in Boston, where I live, with a magazine called Quimby.
So I think for now my story will be an article-size piece.
also freelance, she notes with evident pride. After
a week or two of preparation Im off for a flight to
Brazil for a motion picture. A producer friend of mine has
been shooting for almost a month. And recently I received
a call that he has an acting part, a small one, which may
fantastic, Esther. I imagine your flight and expenses will
be paid for? I couldnt help asking.
of course. I could not afford a flight to South America, Lawrence.
As I said, I dont have a steady position just now.
you been to Brazil?
The nearest was Costa Rica years ago?
I was in Nicaragua in 87. I did a story on conditions
under the Sandinistas. The U.S. has a large and pretty horrible
involvement there, like other places, and I wanted to see
things for myself.
did you find?
of poverty, mostly. Those folks havent had it easy under
only wanted to drop a name, not talk details. For a while,
though, the conversation stayed on politics, and I could tell
we were probably of similar minds on many issues. And I discovered
that Esther originally hailed from England and had lived in
Vienna for the last five years.
aware that the kilometers to the Austrian capital drew short,
I chose to simply sit and listen, enjoying the moment with
all possible relish. Other than my Budapest story, this kind
of encounter is exactly what I had hoped to find in Europe.
Unfortunately, its becoming a struggle to focus my concentration
just now. The sway of the train, the effects of the brew,
and my mental well-being created the perception I usually
associate with a late-night party. I could not detect any
discomfort or obvious recognition on Esthers part as
to my altered state.
coming into Wein, Lawrence. I hope you find your story in
too. Esther, Ill be coming into Wein on the way back.
Maybe we can get together for a coffee or drink?
maybe we can.
exchange the necessary information and Esther leaves the car.
From the window we shared briefly I see her walk off down
the platform with all deliberate speed.
My bags and camera and other stuff have been unattended way
too long back in the compartment. I do not need the crisis
of being picked off in the middle of Vienna. I had only a
couple hundred dollars and the return plane ticket. If anything
happens to them or my passport, I am in worse than bad trouble.
And if anything happens to Stevens camera Ill
likewise catch some serious shit.
is in order when I return, though three new passengers hold
court on the wide bench seats. Two young women on one side
turn out to be university students on summer vacation. The
other passenger is a middle-age dandy seemingly dressed for
business and sporting a flamboyant red, green and white checkered
vest. All Americans.
studying architecture at Johns Hopkins. Were both traveling
to famous sites for on-hand surveys in 13 countries,
this twentysomething clad in L.L. Bean announced all too confidently.
immediately follows, and I start to read her as one of those
very above average sociopaths from a very above average school
system forever wallowing in myriad nondescript suburbs outside
of Tulsa or Cincinnati or Boulder City. Always letting the
rest of us know how intelligent and worldly they are despite
the drawback of absolutely no connections to any place or
institution the majority of the nation might find interesting
or important. Insecure types, actually, who end up permanently
trying to prove themselves in places like the C.I.A., State
Department or a Fortune 500.
architect and Mr. Vest eventually get into a game of psuedo-intellectual
one-upsmanship. The other girl doesnt utter a word and
neither do I.
attributed that discovery to a break from earlier paleontological
theories due to Lucys exaggerated browline and a smaller
but the divergence also has been explained by the direct lineage
from Ramapithecus to Homo Erectus. And that begs the question
cant stop cringing.
KNOCK!! Passports, please!!
men in green uniforms let us know we had just reached the
border the fucking Iron Curtain. Well, it had been
once. I remembered the photo in The New York Times
of Hungarian soldiers rolling up wire fencing earlier in the
year at the Austrian border near Hegyeshalom. They werent
keeping anyone inside now.
the moment, the customs police walk off down the car. I then
search a little too earnestly for my passport, right in my
pocket, and maintain a double-hard stare on it and the photo-document,
which are again in my now rigid, motionless hand. I had not
lost or damaged them, to my everlasting relief.
have been extremely wary of national frontiers ever since
Guatemalan border police a few years back demanded an extra
$25 for no good reason while this fellow traveler by my side
inquired, Did you see that body at the side of the guard
booth? This was my first potentially serious experience
with European customs. Im collecting entry-exit
stamps, my favorite architect suddenly blurts out as
she casually flings around her open passport. I cringe all
came the accented request from a 30ish Magyar officer who
just as suddenly reappears. Staring at my grip of papers,
I hand over the documents, he gazes at the photos and me,
keeps the picture page, stamps the passport and hands it back.
Thank you, he offers in a manner of recent practice.
The guy was quick, professional and disarming. I am put completely
decide to once again visit the dining car, this time with
the two students who are likewise thirsty and restless. But
before we go, Ms. Architect has customs man stamp her passport
three or four times in a bizarre display of he-doesnt-mind-and-I-think-these-multiple-stamps-are-cool.
Some kinda freak.
talk at the dining car table, but all I can focus on is each
of my drinking partners in various stages of undress. When
I run out of pocket change, Ms. Architect buys me a beer.
thank you very much.
have to go back to the car, Lawrence. I do hope you find a
for my soft spot. She was evil incarnate. Or was my indifference
to her pattering that transparent? Before excusing herself,
the other woman had only sat there drinking fruit juice and
the time I return to the car, Mr. Vest is there alone. Feeling
woozy I sit back and try to make conversation with as little
eye contact as possible. In my next conscious moment I lay
in a fetal position aware only that the train is slowing hard.
man. Are we in Budapest? I ask bleary and crumpled.
Rising off the bench, I realize two new people are seated
alongside my carmate in bunched, uncomfortable positions.
I had taken up the whole seat while they had to all huddle
on the opposite side.
look at no one while straightening up, trying to collect my
thoughts and purpose. Outside the window lies a vast, grimy