Short version: This is the painting I did yesterday,

Long version:

I woke up to news that most Americans probably skipped right over. A train station in Budapest, Hungary was named ground zero for Europe’s immigration problem. My train station. Keleti palyudvar.

My station, the way any place you spend an excruciating amount of time, learning its shape and rhythms and culture becomes a place where a substantial part of your memory has a home. I did NOT spend as much time there as money changers, mafia and youth hostel hawkers. No, I did not and yay for me, but still – many, many hours over quite a few years.

It wasn’t as romantic and impressive as the West train station – Nyugati – built by the Eiffel Studio – but then, that train station was intended to be romantic and impressive. Keleti came by its character naturally.

It was hard reading Hungarian editorials about the migrants stranded, refused passage. I want to use the word discomfiting, but no one uses that any more (even if it’s exactly what I mean). You can think whatever you think about immigration but I tend to think it’s a failure when all that energy goes into repelling and restricting and conserving instead of getting creative and inventing a new game plan. Finding a way to incorporate the truth of the world.

So. It was hard, but it was good, too, to accept that Hungary gets to be its own country. I might not like it but their national sense of themselves is theirs.

Oh. Did that sound like I got there too easily? Well, I didn’t.

Not long after the Soviets unoccupied Hungary, leaving the country to get on with its adventure in democracy and free market-dom, I was in a cafe on the handsome boulevard, Andrassy ut, with friends, among them a prominent writer. This was a time when writers gave voice to the difficult ideas and helped coax their fellow citizens into the public conversation.  We were talking about tolerance.

They brushed away my suggestion (oh, look how gentle I make myself sound. Ha.) that they get some balls and address the powerful undercurrent of antiSemitism and simmering resentment of Western influences. In the infancy of this new system, the y argued that tolerance should be extended to … well, everything. No exceptions. Even the most reckless hatefulness. Their reasoning made sentimental sense: you can’t cut corners when you’ve chosen the path of democracy (and are stil persuading people that it will be better than communism that took care of things. Like bread and heat.)

Well, almost 20 years later (eeeek!), I still have the same opinion. The word tolerance implies forbearance, assumes one owns the ‘proper’ position and is willing to make allowances and extend some sympathy. In fact, I don’t think of myself as very tolerant at all. I accept, appreciate, savor and delight in differences and figure it works in the reverse because I’d like people to accept, appreciate, etc. me as different. But tolerance? Hell. No.

I’m glad they took that position, but it didn’t stick. Hungary was an homogenous kind of place and when the changes happened, all sorts of little prejudices that they’d never had to confront started poking their heads out.

Things change and stay the same. It was a popular thing to say then. Kind of prophetic.

And while I’m at it, kind of ironic, the words on my painting ….


12 thoughts on “Ingredients

      • Oh no!! I hear the inflections, but I don’t always get them into the words. I should have made ASK nice and bold ^ up there. What I meant (and I hope you understood it’s what I meant. I bet you did.) was I doing feel like asking them nicely. I’m more at the insisting on it stage. Phwew! Wish I’d written that the FIRST time. :):)

  1. My brain’s a bit fuzzy tonight, and not for the usual reasons, but I don’t think I ever truly examined the intentions behind the word “tolerance” before. It makes me uneasy now, and makes me want to question more words. It very very much reminds me of the times when I had to tell people I was gay, and they said something along the plane of “I was taught to hate the sin but love the sinner.” The first time I heard it I was okay with it, because I wasn’t being evicted from the premises. But later on when I heard it there was this new intention behind it… I was being forgiven, by someone whom I had done nothing to, for doing nothing wrong. And that made me quite angry.

    • Half of me wants to say: yes! Take a better listen to the shit we say in real life (and not online where everyone gets to sound like snappy dressers). The other half knows there’s MUCH disappointment down that road. For instance, I’m so glad that line (or the many variations of ‘ooh, look, you get my approval) made you mad instead of relieved or (worse) grateful, but who wants to spend their life policing the world’s reasoning? I’m on the side of just slapping a new rule on the table (which FINALLY explains my painting. :):)) Hey. I’m not explaining it. Just stop being stupid.

      I’m not sure how well that would work, I have to admit.

  2. Finding a way to incorporate the truth of the world. Oh how rational! Will fear-mongering ever allow for it? Will my own obvious cynicism? I don’t want to be tolerant. Tolerance just makes me whisper things. If my kid has taught me one thing it is this: if you have to whisper when you say it, you should be shouting it or you shouldn’t be saying it at all.

    • ‘Will fear-mongering ever allow for it?’ Well, when you put it THAT way, Hat, it’s not likely. Ha. (But not a funny ha. More like a ‘sigh’ ha.) You’d think ANYone with kids would be at least trying to teach them something true, but an awful lot of people just teach them the same old thing that THEY believe. Which wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so not good. (I want you to know, I reined in my language on that one, because I was talking about children. hahahahaha. Sooo funny.)

  3. Have I been away from the blogosphere so long that I’ve forgotten you had a connection to Hungary? Tell me more, my brain is obviously not to be trusted in holding onto important information. How long were you there? Are you Hungarian? If not, do you speak the language? I still miss it, I loved it there, but yes, the homogenous aspect, the intolerance … my kids were often treated one way when first taken to be “tsigany”, and then, upon realizing they were, in fact from the US, they were practically treated as young royalty. I remember being shocked at the things that would fall from people’s mouths — educated, progressive people. Anyway, still in a haze over my brain not retaining this bit of info.

    • Your brain is very smart to let stuff that doesn’t matter go. Ha! I was there for – oh, I don’t know – seven years-ish. I don’t have one little bit of Hungarian in me, but our temperaments had a peculiar sympathy. I spoke a lot, but it was a playful language of my own making. I used to say my favorite language was half Hungarian, half German and half English (which sounds and adds up much better in Hungarian, doesn’t it?) And me, too! I miss it, I loved it and I wish I’d stayed, partly because of that right wing thing that was brewing from the start. What a fascinating and kind of intense lesson your kids (and you) got. A lot of expats grew instantly smug in the glow that came with our blue passports (or pick the color of a Western country) and turned oblivious. That’s ANOTHER thing I loved saying when young, progressive Hungarians, wearing smiles and speaking in tones of great ‘tolerance,’ would gossip about foreigners: dangerous.(again, it’s a great word in Hungarian.:)) I know it sounds weird, that one word would do so much, but it did. Blah blah blah.

      It’s really early. Pull that haze back on your brain and get a little more sleep. Eeeek!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s