Old Budapest

I got home late last night full and weary and feeling generally worse for wear. Too much of everything pretty much had got to me, but fair to say it doesn’t take as much as it used to.

I sat on the couch and flicked on the TV. I made a call, switching between channels with mute on. I stopped when I found an old movie, Hello Dolly, being shown on one of the old time TV channels. I froze it while I chatted.

I was off the phone in half an hour and, tired as I was, proceeded to watch the last 30 minutes of Hello Dolly.

It’s one of those movies that holds a lot of memories for me. I must have seen it a half a dozen times by now, maybe more. It’s such a joyful movie that anyone who doesn’t like it can only be a bum. It has great music, a fantastic cast, tremendous set pieces. And Barbra Streisand.

She’s the other connective piece of memory. This movie, and others like it, were movies that I would watch with my mum. In later years we might call up to tell each other turn on the TV now, Funny Girl is on, or something like that. And mum loved Barbra Streisand. It’s impossible for me to see or hear Streisand without thinking of mum.

I love her too. What a fucking voice! And what a star she was! You watch Hello Dolly and the music and her singing is out of this world, but then even when she’s not singing she’s compelling in her characterisation. But it all comes back to her singing. I don’t know of anyone I’ve listened to who has a better voice, on top of which some of her vocal stylings are just fantastic. And the songs, the old standard, great stuff.

Weary as I was I watched and I couldn’t help but be happy and glad to be alive. I remembered mum but it was good stuff, and a joyous show reminds you what a marvellous world it is.

Earlier in the night I’d caught up with my very generous friend who had a free ticket for a preview screening at the Classic Cinema in Elsternwick. I had a cocktail first – yeah, I know – then watched the movie, which was okay. It was dark and cool when we came out of the cinema, and a wind blew in from the bay that was fresh and lively and promised rain.

For years I’ve passed by a Hungarian restaurant in Glen Huntly road – Budapest – and thought, I must try that someday. Last night I finally got around to it.

Fortunately they had a happy hour menu, and so I ordered a Winer Schnitzel they promised would overhang my plate – and they were right, it did.

I wasn’t hungry when I ordered, and when finally I managed to consume the whole bloody thing I was absolutely stuffed – but in a good way.

We parted ways at about 9.30 and I waited on the platform at Elsternwick for my train to arrive. The wind was fresh still, the night vibrant and I felt full of a dark energy. I’m alive, I thought, I’m fucking alive and here I am.

The meal at Budapest had reminded me of long ago days when I wasn’t much more than a kid and I would go to a friend’s house and share meals with his family. He’s Jewish, and his mother was a Hungarian Jew who had survived the concentration camps, the only member of her family other than her sister who did.

For me it was exotic to visit on their Sabbath, to break bread with them and give thanks. I was as white bread as you can get, open minded, but a 5th generation Aussie kid who’d gone to a private school, who followed the footy and cricket, born to a middle-class family and inheritor of their values. In my early childhood I’d lived in an area full of migrants, but later had re-located as the good times came to an area full of white professionals.

I was open minded though, and curious, and often fascinated. I remember visiting with my friend his Aunt, his mum’s sister, who lived in Bondi. She was a vivacious woman with strong opinions, with some of the sensuality I associate with Hungarian women. Stepping into her flat jammed packed with heavy furniture and mementoes of her childhood was to step into a Central European alternative reality.

I remember the coffee, thick and strong and with a syrupy residue left in the cup when you finished, and the pastries and poppy seed cake and so on. My mate was spoilt, and as his friend I was indulged too.

These were strong, good memories, long unconsidered. For me it epitomises what life is about, the variety of expression and culture, the different views, the rich experience of contrast and curiosity. There are those who frown upon such difference, who believe our experience should be constrained only to what we already know – what nonsense is that? Easy to pity such people, but easier still to despise them.

Heading home all of that was in me, and I guess it lended itself to my experience of Hello Dolly. In between though I called up that friend, told what I’d remembered and together we reminisced about days long gone, another age – his mother is dead now, as his aunt – and another time in our life. Both of us enjoyed that.

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