Budapest, October 23
October 23 is a national holiday in Hungary, commemorating the revolution of 1956 that preceded the Soviet invasion. My day begins with a leisurely buffet breakfast in the company of Jeff and Dominique, dear friends from Hawaii who are also part of these storytelling festivals in Romania. We catch up, we laugh, we eat some more, we drink juice, Dominique dips her croissant into her coffee. She wears the little red down jacket I brought along for her. However, when we set out to walk and visit museums, she puts it aside in favour of a gorgeous warm woolen coat she picked up somewhere in her travels. She might need the red one later, though, and thanks me for bringing it.
We make an effort at a museum visit, but I’m already cold and wet by the time we arrive at the long long line-up of patient people standing quietly in a line that seems not to be moving at all in the bitter wind and driving rain. In the interest of preserving our health for upcoming shows, we opt for heat, and catch a tram to the Gallért mineral baths.
Gallért is a beautiful historic bathhouse, but getting to the water is not simple. The building is a veritable maze of change rooms and corridors, passageways and staircases; all connected by cryptic and conflicting signage. The change-rooms themselves are narrow corridors with lockers along both sides and benches in the middle. There’s barely enough space to change, especially with all the rainy-day holiday traffic moving through. On top of that, it’s a popular tourist destination, so most of us are in the same boat: looking for a pool, or a locker, or a shower, or a toilet. (And what is the difference between a “cabin” and a “locker,” and which one did we pay for?) There is no evident logic to any of it, but we eventually get changed and find the door to the outside pool, which is the hot one.
Stepping out into the cold (did I mention?) wind and rain in bathing suit and bare feet is a bit of a jolt, but there’s the promise of a hot tub of mineral water somewhere out here. We climb the stairs, pass what appears to be a construction site, turn a corner, climb another flight of frigid stairs, walk across a large cement pad, and arrive at the pool. The hot one. Crowded, but there is some space not yet occupied with bodies. With relief, we sink out of the wind and into the water, which is… warm. Not hot, but pleasant enough, until the cold rain and wind drive us into the sauna, which is hot. From there we explore some more of the labyrinth indoors, visit another pool, come back to this one and the sauna again… and wrap up the afternoon with tea in the lobby. Lots of hot, hot tea.
We dine in town. Between my jet lag and the head cold that is blooming, I’m so tired that Dominique and Jeff practically have to carry me back to the hotel. I’m chilly and damp. Despite my fatigue, I laugh along with them: it is I, not Dominique, who will be needing that little red coat.
In the morning we will catch a cab to the airport, where we will look for a van driver who will take us to Romania.
It’s still pouring.
October 24: To Romania!
Before we leave Budapest, there is blue sky and time for a walk through the neighbourhood with its mixed architecture and unbeatable charm. We collect our bags and catch a cab to the airport, where a man in a blue jacket holds a sign with my name. He leads us wordlessly to his van. He is our ride to Romania.
The highway from Budapest cuts through flat farmland with fields of stubble. Occasionally a village church crops up in the distance. We pass stands of yellowing poplars, all the same size, evenly spaced, in even rows. For two or three hours we ride quietly, snacking on dried fruit that Dominique produces out of thin air.
As we approach the Romanian border, there are miles and miles of trucks lined up. When asked, our driver explains that yesterday, October 23 (the big national holiday), the highways were closed to truck traffic, so today there is a backup at the borders.
Not long after crossing the border and another time zone, we are dropped off at our hotel in the city of Arad in northern Romania. Festival producer Giorgiana greets us with strong hugs, excited laughter and wide bright eyes that take in every possible source of joy around her. Still laughing, she helps us up the wide winding staircase to our spacious rooms with 14-ft ceilings, tall windows, and modest furnishings that suggest the 1980’s.
Before long we convene in the dining room: organizers, performers (including John from Kenya), and about a dozen teenagers – the volunteers.
Between my sneezes and coughs, I meet my main interpreter, Maria, From our emails, I had assumed she was in her 20’s; in fact, like most of the volunteers, she is 17. (There are also three 14-year-olds, including festival photographer Mario.) The teens are polite, respectful, and highly responsive to Giorgiana’s cues.
Giorgiana, fighting laryngitis, explains the week’s program in a whispered croak while Dominique distributes Vitamin C to any takers. We performers will leave tomorrow morning for a castle visit, a performance, and an overnight somewhere in the mountains. (There is a passing mention of cold.) The teens will be at school; we will catch up with them again when we return. A buzz fills the room: the energy of a pack of teens whose excitement is tamed by their good manners and Giorgiana’s watchful eye.
Later, in my room, I write to the sound of rain on the windows. Good thing Dominique doesn’t need that jacket.
All content © 2017 Anne Glover