Travis Smith: my resume, bio and photos back to the main blog page

I awoke this morning to a sunny day. I hauled myself out of bed, took my sheets and dirty clothes from the night before and taped them into the last remaining box of the 24 I was shipping to Budapest. I then called the shipping company to confirm that they would be coming that day. On the telephone, the sales woman came up with about five new facts about documents, labeling, time of shipment and of course cost. She wanted to charge an additional $300 for packing to take my existing boxes and put them in a big wooden crate. $300 for actual packing I could go for, as in, come to my house and take this huge job of putting things in boxes off my hands, sure. On the other hand, when I got my boxes wrapped to send to France, it cost about $20. So she was clearly crazy.

I ran off to talk to a Pressflex client and came back with a signed contract, but I was about 15 minutes late for the pickup person. A few more calls to the shipping company, then I packed the last box (the telephone / fax machine). The delivery guy came back, took my stuff and left a big empty apartment behind. I took a big bag of books to the Shakespeare Book co, a famous English language book store near Notre Dame and sold a few volumes to George, the equally famous owner. He’s 80, but nice as ever, in a “I know you’re leaving town and will take pennies for these books” sort of way. I called my Pressflex client and told him I’d left my driver’s license with the security guard, and got him to mail it to Budapest for me. I then went to pay my gas bill and buy groceries for the train.

I stopped off to ask my upstairs neighbors to mail some last minute parcels for me (and gave them keys to my apartment and told them they should raid the fridge). I ran to the bakery, got some bread and dashed off to the train with about 45 kilos of stuff. Running with 45 kilos of stuff isn’t fun, but as my train was leaving in about 12 minutes, I didn’t have much choice.

I jumped on the train and the conductor put me into a cabin that was different from the one on my ticket. I started to protest, but he acted as if he didn’t speak anything but Hungarian. How cheeky! I think that this guy likes to play matchmaker because he stuck me in a compartment with a guy my age, who’s a software developer, who spoke English. If I had been put in the original compartment, I would have been with a young Japanese cello player and an old Hungarian grandmother. It wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.

Ivan Farkas was my cabin mate. He has lived in the U.S. for ten years, and he has American citizenship. He has made a lot of money being a consultant, he says, and his gadgets prove it. He has come back to Hungary for a month to find a wife to have kids with. His mother would like him to marry a nice Hungarian woman. He was in Paris, though, having a romantic excursion with an older woman from the Dominican Republic, a fact that further blanched his already Caucasian mother.

Ivan taught me even more about Hungary than he thought. The conductor of our train wagon would come into our car and chat with Ivan, and Ivan would translate. The Hungarians are very direct, not very beat around the bush. They have colorful and humorous expressions, but that’s simply to spice up conversation. They have no hesitation in calling someone lazy, ugly, smart, fat, old, young, beautiful or stupid. If a person eats some food that was spoiled, they have to shit a lot, or they might throw up all night. Ivan told me there’s an interesting festival in many small towns in Hungary in the fall / winter. It’s the festival of killing the pig. Gosh, what kind of a festival is that? Well, they kill a pig, Ivan explained. They cut the throat and let all the blood out. In many countries, he said, they waste the blood, but in Hungary, they make it into many kinds of food, which some people cannot eat, but many people like. Ivan spoke excellent English, nearly native, and his description was completely tell-it-like-it-is not because he was limited in his vocabulary, but because that’s simply the truth about the festival.

I learned that Hungarians eat a dish. In Hungarian, it’s called “Intestines” and when cooked just right, it’s delicious. However, it takes many hours and lots of exact measurements and temperatures, and it can go pretty horribly wrong, in which case it smells like rotting wet fish dog.

Ivan told me about every aspect of his life, from childhood to work life to sex life to his plans for the future. We talked about some peculiarities of the Hungarian language, the proliferation of accented vowels and the lack of gender differentiation in the third person. In English, we note he or she, his or her, etc. In Hungarian, it doesn’t matter, so often a Hungarian will refer to a father as her or a lover as he, when it should probably be the other way around.

I did some e-mail until the batteries ran out, then went to bed.



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Transcontinental Arrangements

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Arriving in Budapest


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