We didn’t have to cross the sea to find synchronicity

The view of Budapest from Gellert Hill.
The view of Budapest from Gellert Hill.

“I think, I think when it’s all over it just comes back in flashes, you know.  It’s like a kaleidoscope of memories, it just all comes back…It’s not really anything he said or anything he did.  It was…the feeling that came along with it.  And…the crazy thing is I don’t know if I’m ever gonna feel that way again.  But I don’t know if I should…”

Taylor Swift understands me, on a level that is beyond my love life.  In the opening of her 2012 hit song, I Knew You Were Trouble, she describes the suffering wrought by a deceptively charming ex.  Hair chopped, surrounded by dessert, trash bags, and flyaway toilet paper, she looks back on the days when life was too good. I see her experience as a dramatic version of my dreamy spring break trip to Budapest.  With warm weather, vast 38°C outdoor pools, island parks, Costa Coffee Coolers, and sweet cinnamon-scented air, it was as if life could not get any better. It was like real-world affordable Disneyland.  Fueled by magic, by “synchronicity”. 

Me eating a Körtöskalács, the aroma of which fills the streets to continuously tempt passer-bys. Photo taken by Isabelle Mudge.
Me eating a Körtöskalács, the aroma of which fills the streets to continuously tempt passer-bys. Photo taken by Isabelle Mudge.

Coined by our newfound friend Cheyenne, “synchronicity” came to describe the many instances on our trip when everything seemed supernaturally connected.

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Shrine in Liberty Square, in protest of statue, which downplays the role of the Hungarian government in the Holocaust.

On actual day one, following a night of overpriced food beside an unrecognizable hall of fame, (a.k.a. the last restaurant open) and a flashy middle school dance-like international student bar, we had our first encounter.  We asked a couple we saw to take our picture in front of Matthias Church.  We hadn’t been inside, as we explored the old-fashioned National Art Gallery inside of Buda Palace, and stuffed our faces with the one puff pastry our surprised stomachs could handle; the landmark sealed its gates. I chose the couple because they were close. When he agreed, with his American accent, to take our picture beneath the neo-gothic tower, I became curious. I did not expect this pair, of Asian, or at least part-Asian descent, to be American (though if I was in the States I would have).  “I’m from San Francisco,” he said.  “I’m from New York,” she said.  Just like Isabelle and I.  Not only was he from San Francisco, he went to International High School, against which my equally small private high school played sports.

As Isabelle and I skipped down Andrassy utca, a main boulevard, with a center-sidewalk, lined with old buildings, boutiques, and billowing trees, we noticed a group of girls in line for the House of Terror Museum, with short shorts and string backpacks. We assumed they were members of a sports team (one of them was abnormally tall) here for a competition.  As we unenthusiastically led our bags through security at the airportat the end of the week, our predictions were confirmed.  There they were,right behind us,volleyball’s etched on their suitcases and sweatpants.

With our backs up against the wooden bar, and shoulder-to-shoulder with the other spectators in a tiny local restaurant, Isabelle and I were entranced by the music.  And the musicians.  Well, really just one of the musicians.  With chiseled cheekbones, a little brown hat, and a knack for the accordion, we could not keep our eyes off of him. That was until a more productive subject of our attention was brought to the table.  “What are you two studying?” Christopher—brother of my former neighbor, a tall, bohemian, band-member, restaurant-owner—asked. “History with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies” I said.  “Maybe Human Rights with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies” Isabelle added.  “That’s similar to what I studied,” he said. “Oh, where?” I asked.  “Bard College” he said, barely audible over the blaring live music.” “What?” I exclaimed. “Bard College” he yelled, preparing to describe the small school on the Hudson River he attended, back in the day.  Soon, both Isabelle and I had our student I.D.’s out, proof of what felt like the most impossible coincidence, considering we had spent a chunk of the afternoon together without this connection coming up. Christopher has had one-on-one conversations with school president Leon Botstein, he knows my First-Year-Seminar teacher John Pruitt, he met his ex-wife there, and the members of his band.

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Isabelle in front of the equally itty-bitty bus up to Buda Castle Hill.

As Isabelle and I sat on the miniature metro (which is, according to Wikipedia, “the oldest electrified underground railway system on the European continent”) consistently filled with seniors dressed as if they never quite made it to the 21st century , en route to Gellert Hill, she discreetly pointed out a man with unusually prominent, rectangular nostrils. At dinner that night at the mod-themed restaurant “Menza”, over mouthwatering salmon, potatoes, aioli, and a pear cocktail, she pointed him out again—also enjoying his meal, at a table behind me.

The miniature metro at KodályKörönd.
The miniature metro at KodályKörönd.

Though our realization that Christopher, too, knew Tivoli and Red Hook, Blithewood and band-culture, distracted us from the music, it was not three days before we once again ran into our initial infatuation.  The street was dim as we made our way to Szimpla,a touristy ruin-pubcluttered with busted bicycles and American pop music, but not too dark for Isabelle not to notice him as he passed.  As she whispered to me that it was, in fact, the man we had admired, he crossed one foot in front of the other, and smoothly turned back to face us. “We saw you play the other night”Isabelle said. “You were really good”. The conversation was short, we introduced ourselves, and after we told him where we were going, he tried to convince us against it, in a cool way though, as if it made no difference to him what we did.  Listing our few other options, he said what came to be the best line of our trip: “Or you could get a bottle of wine and come to my place”. Frozen, Isabelle and I attempted to gage our comfortability with this possibility, through eye contact, which resulted in a denial of his offer.  It was enough that he asked.  We were not ready to bust the barriers that contained the snow globe-like quality that was Budapest over a boy.  Not with one day left.

As Isabelle and I plan our last few days together in Europe, we waver between temptation and fear when we consider Budapest. Temptation because it was so ideal, and fear because how could it possibly meet, or beat our surreal expectations.

Unlike Taylor Swift, though, I know that I want to, eventually, feel that way again.

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