Short version: This is the painting I did yesterday,
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 ….