Opposite our modest apartment in Budapest is a rather remarkable building.
Originally built in the 1800s as a military hospital and then turned into a concert hall, it was ‘transformed’ in the late 1990s into a stone, wood and shingles building stretching down the street and round the corner.
This is a city with some very big buildings – modesty in architecture seems not to be a Hungarian trait.
The parliament building is huge – makes our Palace of Westminster look positively unassuming. I am not sure what ratio of laws to square metres each produces but if there is a direct link, then the Hungarians must have more laws than they know what do with.
So, here we are for a week and this is our view which is not bad, but the Swan Building also had a nice little secret.
I spotted a board on the street not a minute’s walk down the road.
You go through a chain link gate and follow the path – halfway along, there is another notice telling you to ‘be brave and keep going.’
And then there is a bar semi-sourrounded by the building and under trees with outside tables and chairs – and the promise of a rabbit.
Needless the say, this is where we can be found every early evening.
Last night we sat next to a table at which were a group of students and a (almost inevitably) pony-tailed ‘professor’ talking about creative writing.
One of the students volunteered to read out what he had been writing.
Suffice it to say, his explanation afterwards of his hero was, ‘Jimmy was a randomnist and before that, he was a contrarian.’
( No, I haven’t translated this from the Hungarian – they were English-speaking. My grasp of Hungarian stretches to hello and thank you….)
As Nick said, sotto voce, ‘ The crucial thing is how to break the silence at the end of that reading.’
When I went in to pay the bill inside, the nice young man at the bar told me that the building was controversial when it was built because ‘ many people still had communist ideas of architecture and this was a fairy house.’
He also told me the building was problematic, ‘ an architect’s idea, but not really practical.’
The roof leaks, the offices – for it is mostly businesses in there – are too small and the windows shadowed by the stonework make them dark and pokey.
(Not like the big windows and un-leaking roofs of proper communist style buildings….)
But, he told me, you get an interesting cross-section of people in the garden bar, like the writers, he said.
‘Is the one talking all the time any good? It sounds not so good to me but then I don’t speak English that well.’
‘Oh, you do,’ I said.
I asked if the promised rabbit was in a stew.
‘No, no not at all, he is on holiday until the sun is warmer and it stops raining.’
‘Are you here on holiday or for dentistry? ‘ The question everyone in Budapest asks a British visitor.