Today an interview with Kálmán Faragó, Spotter for our Budapest cityblog. We met him twice in Budapest.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Kalman Farago. Soon 33. Poet (one chapbook so far, appeared in some anthologies), journalist (mainly Reader’s Digest these days), translator (nothing you’ve read), all on a more-or-less occasional basis. Incorrigible urbanite. According to Facebook, visited 8% of the countries of the world. (According to Facebook, Antarctica is a country.) A bit of a blackguard language-wise, but trying to lose it. I used to have a really cool hat until a friend’s cats laid their claws on it. Now I have a new, identical really cool hat.
I’m also an organiser and presenter of The Bardroom, Budapest’s longest-running (and for a long time only) English-language poetry venue.
Tip for fans: my name contains a total of three little lines distributed over some of the five wovels. If your keyboard is QWERTY it doesn’t have them. If you visit me with a printed document and buy me a beer, I’ll manually put them in, just for You.
How do yo like being a Spotter?
It’s fun, and it can lead to the most unexpected things (like anything else, really). For instance, earlier this year fellow Budapest spotter András Nagy and I met newly-arrived Hélène Bienvenu for a drink, then later talked about the video projects of one of András’ friends. A couple of weeks later I got a call from András, asking if I’d like to participate in one such project. I said yes, and the result was a hilarious if somewhat political and slightly obscene video that’s in Hungarian so nobody will understand what it’s about.
Why Budapest? What is a must do when in Budapest and what not?
„What not” is easier. Don’t go to the tourist trap restaurants, that goes without saying. On that note, if you’re a youngish horny male (statistically British or American) tourist and you meet some girls who’d like to have a drink with you and they just happen to know a nice place, back off real quick. You’ll be taken to some restaurant, presented with a bill of 1000+ USD for a single bottle of champagne and escorted by huge thugs to the nearest autoteller so that you can settle it. And you won’t even score, the girls are working with the restaurant and the thugs. Also, don’t hail a cab on the street. Look up the number for a company or two and call them on your cell when you need a ride, even if you’re just standing on a street corner. Much lower chance of getting ripped off, even though I have heard of rumours involving reputable companies. It’s best if you have a local friend with you who knows how much the ride should cost.
Must do? Get up late so you can stay up late (unless it’s a day dedicated to museums and other daytime places). There are plenty of great watering holes to visit after dusk, many of them mentioned on fine websites of exquisite taste and judgement such as Spotted by Locals.
Which prejudices about Budapest are true? Which ones are not?
If you visit and look at the traffic, you might get the notion that public transport is bad. Well, in some ways it is bad, but those are the less important ways. Sure, quite a few of the buses and trams are run-down, they won’t start in the cold, a bit of rainwater might be sloshing inside the ceiling lights, and dirt and gunk are rather easy to find on many lines.
However, they get the job done, and do it pretty well. Wherever you are in town there’s always a stop near you, waiting times are very reasonable, and you can get around without changing lines too often. If you’re seeking Zen enlightenment but haven’t gotten very far yet, Budapest public transport is just the thing for you. You’ll be sufficiently beyond earthly concerns not to be bothered by the problems, while the things you couldn’t rise above (missed the last bus, it’s freezing, middle of nowhere, etc.) are still solved for you.
What do you know about Budapest what no tourist will know?
In these days of Facebook and other social websites, you often hear about the „six degrees of separation” theory, which says that any two people on Earth can be connected in six steps of intermediary friends – like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, only without actors and movies. What no tourist will know is that the theory was originally penned in Budapest – very likely in a café – in 1929, by an author-poet-humorist called Frigyes Karinthy, who’s still one of the most popular Hungarian writers.
I also know why all the trolleybus lines have numbers of 70 and higher. It’s a very interesting piece of trivia that I’m not going to tell. Look it up (it can be found on the Internet), and amaze your less educated friends with your amazing local lore the next time you’re here.
What is the most popular neighborhood to live in Budapest at this moment?
Well, the inner city part of Pest is always good, since you can rent (and I guess buy) a place within a great price range. Also, that’s where everything is, and locations are within walking range. On the downside, places overlooking major streets might have a traffic and noise problem. For the wealthy, the Buda Hills are a nice and expensive option, but the nice scenery, quiet and good air comes at the price of harder-to-use public transport, lots of uphill walking, and a generally unpleasant distance from everything that’s not a tree. If someone was looking for a cheap place to rent for a few months, I’d suggest they look in the suburbs, in the immediate vicinity of metro line 3’s terminals. Cheaper because of the distance, but the metro means you can still get to the inner city in half an hour tops, and there are night buses after midnight.
Is there something else you want to share?
Those of you familiar with the ways of the world know that midnight crossroads are special. There are uncountable stories driving the point home: you’re at a crossroads, it’s midnight, and surprise, surprise, you meet the Devil. Everybody knows that.
What you probably don’t know is that now and again there comes a midnight (maybe every year, maybe every century; no one knows) when one crossroads (somewhere out there; maybe outside Chicago, maybe in Addis Abeba) becomes even more special than the rest. If a man whose heart is filled with sorrow, despair and honest regret stands at its middle and calls out for help, the Devil will appear to him like you’d expect. What’s special, however, is that under these highly specific and very mysterious circumstances it will not trick the poor man like it normally would. Uncharacteristically, it will help him; honestly, to best of its abilities, with no underhandedness or second thoughts whatsoever. You see, in that one spot and on that one night the Devil remembers the time when it was God’s most beloved angel; and just for a single moment it believes, with utter conviction, that no matter what, every soul has a chance at redemption, no matter their sins.
There’s also another story about the death of cats and its relevance to tomorrow’s sunrise; but that can only be told to the right people at the right time.
Check out all Kálmán Faragó’s articles and the other interviews with our Spotters.