Hungarians who have been living abroad for a number of years and who visit the country of their birth only occasionally report a fantastic change for the better both in the capital and in the countryside. People comment on the number of new buildings, the elegant shopping malls, the modern office buildings, and, yes, on the fantastic public transportation system. People who live in large cities either in Europe or in North America think that Budapest's public transportation is perhaps one of the best in the world. Yet if one speaks with people who live in the city they are full of complaints: not enough buses, not enough streetcars, not enough metro lines. Too many cars, not enough parking places. The roads are in terrible shape, cars' axles are in jeopardy. On the other hand, if some streets are closed because they are being resurfaced there is a huge outcry. Right now the newspapers are full of dire warnings that life will come to an end because too many road projects will be undertaken simultaneously. So if the roads are neglected that's terrible, if they are being fixed that's also unbearable.
Yet foreigners are full of praise. What a gorgeous city. Some even decide to settle there. In today's Népszabadság there is an article about a French woman and an Italian man who came to visit and decided to stay. As the French woman said, she went up the Fishermen's Bastion and said to herself that this is where she wanted to live. She teaches French in one of the colleges in Budapest. Her Italian colleague teaches Italian in Szeged. Meanwhile they learned Hungarian quite well. Just the other day I saw an interview with an Englishman who has been living in Budapest for the last twenty years and who writes books about Hungary. There is a German fellow who has been living in Hungary for almost twenty years; he learned Hungarian so well that when he phoned in to György Bolgár's program it took Bolgár a few minutes to notice a very slight accent in this man's Hungarian. It was indeed fantastic. And there are quite a few Russians, especially women, who got married to Hungarian students studying in the former Soviet Union. There are some Arabs who stayed after finishing their college education. And, of course, there are many, many Chinese. So many, in fact, that there is even a Chinese school serving their children's needs. I read somewhere that there are about 25,000 foreigners who live and work in Hungary.
Thus Budapest is becoming an international city full of Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, Greek, French, and Chinese restaurants. As a result even home cooking is changing, especially in Budapest. Great was my surprise when a relative of mine, known for her conservatism, gave me her favorite recipe: curried chicken on rice. Curry? And what is this?–one would have asked twenty-thirty-forty years ago. Olive oil? Pasta? Today on Hungarian internet cooking sites there's mighty little that is typically Hungarian. The recipes more closely resemble those in Gourmet magazine. In fact, I know a Hungarian woman who has been living in Canada and who bitterly complained that in Budapest one has to search for typical Hungarian food. Perhaps she didn't look in the right place because, after all, it is enough to read Dumneazu's fascinating blog on food and music where there are descriptions of all sorts of old-fashioned Hungarian delicacies. However, even in his last blog where he talks about lángos Dumneazu had to add that it is difficult to find this fried dough nowadays because, after all, it is not good for you, and Hungarians are becoming increasingly health conscious. Read about lángos here: http://horinca.blogspot.com/ The last time I ate lángos was more than thirty years ago somewhere near Kálvin tér.
Speaking of Kálvin tér, the new metro line will go under it. This square was the site of one of the scary moments in the construction of the metro line. It turned out that the Hungarian Reformed church built there in the 1820s had no decent foundation because the city's Protestants were few in number and had (or at least parted with) little money. The metro construction endangered the structure, and apparently some very clever engineering solution had to be devised. This metro line, fourteen kilometers long, I believe, will be one of the most modern in the world. About two thousand people work on the site at any given day. There are open days when visitors are shown the progress that's been made. It sounds very exciting.
Now the only thing we have to do is to make the inhabitants of Budapest see how their city is developing and getting more and more beautiful. The progress is incredible. One just has to have the eyes to see it.