Monday, December 10, 2001

Moving Day

Moving Day

I slept well last night, which lead me to believe that this is a positive decision and I am relaxed about it. We are looking forward to moving into the apartment. Part of my motivation is to experience a different culture from the base upward. That is not possible if you are only somewhere for a couple of weeks, you only lick the surface, but never bite into the full flavor.

The light in the window kept me from sleeping beyond 7:30, that and the excitement of moving. We were to take a taxi to the apartment and call Szylvia before we left. She would meet us at the apartment and let us in so we could leave our luggage. We said our good-byes to Tom, our host for three days at the pension. We had not told him we were getting an apartment in the city, so he had offered to have us leave our baggage there while we continued to see the city before our train. No, there is no train today.

Szylvia was waiting for us. Of course, today was the one day the elevator was not working. Szylvia had promised that it really was in working condition and she was obviously embarrassed that it was not working now that we were burdened down with stuff. Knowing that this was the last time for a long time that we would have to use every muscle in our body to drag these up stairs, it was almost a religious experience. We went to the rental office a block away to sign a lease.

Daphna, the manager surprised us by speaking excellent English. It turns out she is North American. She was on the phone with her mother, speaking in English and saying something about her sisters coming home from the army, then there was something about Israel, but I was busy reading the contract to be too involved with eavesdropping. Her brother has to leave the country every ninety days, so that cleared up one worry for us. We thought we would have to leave every thirty days. We signed a lease for six months. I would have taken the year long one, but it made Ron too nervous. Either way, we can cancel it without penalty with thirty days notice. It was the two months security deposit that made me unnerved. That was a big chunk of change to part with at once regardless of the currency, but in Hungarian Fornits, it made my wallet so thick, it would not fold any longer.

To get the money, Szylvia took us to a bank machine. We each purchased a Global Currency card from the California Auto Club. This is a pre-paid bank machine card where you put as much money as you want into an account and you can access it in fifty-six currencies at any bank machine that has the Visa logo. There was no cost for the card and for each $30.00 you put into it, you get a free withdrawal, thus no fees. At the time, I remember thinking that once we leave the AAA office, I am going to have to remember Ron’s pin number because he will not, so we had better have the same number. When I put my card in the machine, used the pin, it spit out money like it was happy to get rid of it. Then I put Ron’s card in to get out an equal amount to save me from keeping track of two balances. It rejected his pin number. The second try, the same result. I tried another pin number that we frequently use with the same results. Then I asked him his old pin number from home and that brought the message that the card was invalid. Since we had not used it before, I know there is $1,000.00 sitting in there with his name on it dying to be set free, but the pin guard from hell is holding it back. I am going to have to contact AAA online for help.

With the lease signed, keys in our hands, Szylvia returned to the apartment with us to take an inventory and see what else we would need. They supply almost everything, but food and paper products and towels. They are bringing us more pots and pans, silverware, sheets, pillows, plates, wastebaskets, another chair, and the list went on. They had already brought a new television by the time we returned and they were connecting it to cable. Szylvia offered to take us to the phone company to get the best deal on Internet services, but it was getting late, so she is coming for us tomorrow at 10:00 am.

Without even bothering to unpack, we went shopping. Of all things, the first thing we bought was an electric clipper set. We dumped ours in Amsterdam, since we could not get them to work properly with the adapter. The electric current difference made them sound like a chain saw attached to a 747 jet engine. It scared us to turn them on let alone bring them close to our face. Neither of us have mastered the art of trimming our beards with scissors, these were a necessity. We also priced coffee pots, since the management was providing an electric water heater for tea or instant coffee, but that would not do. Without a Starbucks in sight or our future, this seemed like a small luxury, but we haven’t bought one yet.

When we went back to the apartment, the cleaning lady was there, so we ventured out again to grocery shop. The store was smaller than our old living room and family room. It is more and more apparent to me how immigrants feel. If it were not for the pictures on the labels, I would not know half of what we were buying. When it came to salt, sugar, and coffee, I had to guess what was what. The coffee, I tried feeling to see if it was ground or beans. The bag was vacuumed packed and so I went on a lucky guess. I could not find jars of spices, including pepper. There was a choice of milk in a carton or in plastic bags. For margarine, it was a guess. The eggs are on a shelf and not in the refrigerator section. If I had not found names like Dove, I would not have known whether I was picking up hand soap, or dish detergent. I went for the TIX brand since it had the same packaging as Tide in the States. This is going to be risky, because I have a skin allergy to powdered soap, but I could not find liquid for the washing machine. The liquid shower soap was easier since the words on the bottle were in German as well as Hungarian. Toilet paper was easy to identify, but the paper towels are not much larger. Napkins, no problem, where is the damn pepper. There are dozens of packaged goods that look interesting and would be worth trying, but we cannot read the directions for preparing them.

At the register, the clerk checks you out, but you take your goods to a shelf and bag them there yourself. We had bought a six-pack of beer and a bottle of wine since our friend Dawn was coming over tonight. Ron bagged it at the register and the cardboard holding the beer together ripped and the bag went flying to the floor. The older clerk startled, starting rambling in Hungarian, grabbed her heart then covered her face with both hands. It took her at least three minutes to regain her composure and finish checking us out. I had this fear we were going to be banned on our first trip to the store. With six bulging bags in hand and having spent about $25.00, we went home to start making our cupboards and fridge have that lived in look.

We met Dawn at the Opera House, a block away from our apartment. After showing off the stark apartment, we sat down to beer, wine and a lot of catching up. She is working for OSI Open Society Institute as a contractor. The mission of the organization is to create inclusive education for the Roma (or not P.C. the Gypsy) children in the schools of the Eastern European countries. They have twenty-six sites that are being targeted. The talk continued for over two hours, before we decided to wander on out for food. Dawn has lived here on and off for over a year and is familiar with restaurants all over the city. We settled for pizza; she won’t eat Hungarian food.

The only excuse I can think of is the combined hyper-excitement of seeing Dawn, having an apartment, and I never thought I would say this, but going grocery shopping, I ordered a tuna pizza. The menu was in Hungarian, German, and in English. How did I miss this important, nauseating fact, I am trying to figure it out still. When it came, I did not recognize the fact that is was tuna, either. It wasn’t until I lifted the first forkful to my mouth that the aroma struck me like the whole fish had been slapped across my face. Very quietly, I started scrapping it off, but that was fruitless, since the essence remained. Even without taste, the smell was enough to turn my appetite and stomach around. Food was not as important at that moment as seeing Dawn and feeling settled.

Taking the subway one stop and walking less than two blocks, we were home again. Dawn had shared with us some tips for living in Budapest. She told us where to shop for clothes and where to avoid, where the English bookstore is, though it is very expensive, and other ideas for daily survival. She will be going back to Arizona for six weeks, but we will still be here when she returns and she is a local call away when she is here.

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