You learn, hopefully early on, that even in the midst of some great experience, there is abnegation, meaninglessness. There is sadness where you are supposed to find only happiness. Darkness that actually helps to define light, what have you. Yadda, fucking, yadda yadda yadda.
And so there are lost days, even autumn days aching with crisp perfection. Even days when you have all the riches of a new city at your feet. You don't sleep well and awaken late. Are held hostage by banalities and taunted by the hieroglyphs of foreign washer-dryers. By simple banking transactions which are rendered Byzantine in their necessary steps and several financial establishments.
But you are able to drift down to that nice stationers in tourist-thronged Belvaros. Jump on the 2 tram which runs along the Pest side of the Danube. Alight before the city's fairly stupendous Parliament which would seem to humble the Gothic pretensions of the English houses of parliament. And you do see Lechner's former Postal Savings Bank. This before you purchase a sampling of Hugarian alcohol - a small bottle of Unicum, some red wine of the region, a bottle of the country's legendary dessert wine, Tokaji, before trudging sleep-deprived back to your flat.
Easy enough to joke about in the light of day. But in an alien place, even a safe and well-appointed place, without the recourse to the oblivion of sleep at 1:00, 2:00...3:00 a.m. Even with all of that Unicum and Tokaji to your credit, glass after glass....Well, at such times, you find yourself confined to a kind of existential interrogation room. The stark light of the swinging light bulb is replaced by an almost absolute darkness. The buzzing of the light or the brutal questions or blows of the interrogator replaced by the beating of your heart, the only sound in the world. And you are profoundly alone. These are long, long hours my friends.
Sleep comes at some point on the heels of the dawn and you are mercifully cut loose from consciousness for a few hours. Awaken in somewhat better straits than was the case in the middle of the night, but still unsettled. What is called for is a visit to church.
As seems to be the case with all life's necessities in Budapest, the high cathedral is but a reasonable walk from your flat. This the Urania National Film Theater. A true cathedral of the motion picture. Every bit a movie palace.
Church. Heaven. Home. The Urania National Film Theater in Budapest.
And thank you sweet Jesus, Allah be praised and all other appropriate doxologies, but as you take a seat in this glorious place, you can't help but think about poor Annie Dillard. The brilliant Ms. Dilliard searching for a conventional god in her sharp and unconventional way as chronicled in her essay "An Expedition to the Pole," from Teaching A Stone to Talk. Poor Annie sitting in a Catholic Church, eager to consume all that ornate ritual and tradition, only to find presiding hippiness in the form of a singing group called "Wildflowers." So much for all the Latin and incense.
Thus you take your seat in the Urania for a matinee screening of, um...Victoria and Abdul, which might more honestly be entitled How Vicky Got Her Groove Back. Now, lest anyone get the wrong idea....you do, according to the strictures of international law, LOVE Judy Dench. You really do. And the film does take some pains to portray this queen as not only a keen woman but a real one, who by her own acknowledgement is gluttonous, cantankerous and several other unflattering things. And this is to some degree based on a real story.
This is, of course, Dame Judy's second time in the royal saddle playing the long-serving Victoria. Victoria and Abdul is something of a sequel, twenty years later, to Mrs. Brown, in which the lonely widowed queen enjoys the company of someone only slightly less suspect than an Indian, a Scot (Billy Connolly).
Well, Vicky Gets Her Groove back is perfectly high minded (Indians are people too), skewers the English aristocracy (have there ever been larger fish to blast within the limited confines of a barrel?) and is a film of some feeling....
And yet, we do have the specter of Simon Callow playing (and singing) Puccini. One feared, for a moment that it was Geoffrey Rush behind the unconvincing facial hair and ridiculous Italian accent.
One wonders, is Geoffrey Rush the Simon Callow of Australia, or is Callow the Rush of England? Discuss amongst yourselves.....
Where were we? Oh yes, Victoria, Victoria...'toria, Victoria (as the Kinks song goes). The talented Adeel Aktar is on hand to play Abdul's companion and mainly to serve as the film's comic relief and flypaper conscience. But for all its attempt at a kind of post-colonial sensibility, there is Abdul kissing the foot of a Victoria statue at film's end. Piffle like Victoria and Abdul reaffirms the absurd status quo even while it would seem to turn it on its fat ass.
And yet....the forgettable if insidiously easily-consumed film aside, there you sit in this grand place, mainly among elderly Hungarians enjoying their matinee. This kind of gilded, gothic (a kind of groin vaulting across the ceiling, massive mirrors that rise from floor level with ornate frames to converge in a pointed arch) movie palace. Seemingly a miracle to be here at all, all the more so when you consider events of the the past year. Lying on a gurney for upwards of six hours with your heart stopped, heart repaired like a malfunctioning carburetor. Well, you lived...you got out of the house, you wandered through Budapest, flew at 37,000 feet. Here you are. How strange it all is. Since it is your life, how much completely unearned privilege amongst the small doses of strife.
Let us go then and see what we can do with the rest of the day.