When the rain starts falling in Budapest it doesn’t come with a warning. The drops fall heavy and splatter on the cracked sidewalks and the citizens run for cover. Men in suits dash single file alongside the granite buildings. The windows of the tenements on higher floors that were open for the heat start shuttering one by one. Occasionally you spot an old woman looking out of her window mournfully at the rain. In the summer, the booksellers in the stalls on Vörösmarty tér must close up shop, which for them means hinging shut their wood book huts. You can smell wet lumber from the new ones, and sometimes, the smell of books caught unfortunately in the rain.
Today I found myself walking a lot through the rain, as it happened to be one of those days I had several errands to take care of in the city. The humidity was bad throughout and the heat never subsided, so jackets were optional. I found myself soaked by warm summer rain between my first stop at Deák Ferenc Tèr and the repair shop I needed to drop off my iPhone. I skirted between cars splashing their wheels on the road and the restauranteurs desperate to clear their sidewalk tables, taking care not to step on too many puddles or cracks or bumps in the road.
The iPhone repair shop is a business built into a residential building, which makes it hard to find at first. The nondescript building is old–perhaps 20’s–and has a gaping hole in the front door and the inside “lobby,” if you can call it that, smells like the basement of a castle. When I got inside, the rain came in with me, not only on my clothes but in the air where it contaminates the room with that mildew smell. My feet squeaked on the wood floors. There were 3 employees working behind the counter with a pile of every kind of Apple device: iMacs, Macbook Pros, even an old iBook. There was a bit of a line, but I got my iPhone dropped off to have the back replaced. An hour and a half later, it was fixed, for the grand price of $15. There’s the market at work.
Now, I found myself with a recently upgraded camera lens and, thanks to my intermediary trip to the “Media Mart,” Budapest’s Best Buy, I had a new cell phone as well (later, I would find out that the cell phone didn’t come with a battery). I also had a renewed opportunity to walk back to the metro in the rain, back through the book stalls and the empty cafes, back under the dripping awnings and yawning shutters, back up into the belly of the city and back home.
On the way, I saw something that struck me for its peculiarity. I saw an old man, no younger than eighty, standing and wearing a grey vest, white button down shirt, and plain dark pants. He had a folded and worn beige hat that concealed his almost bald head. And he was holding a violin. Poised, standing there, underneath an overhang to protect himself from the rain, what made this scene peculiar was not that he was holding a violin, but that he wasn’t playing it. His violin case was open before him with no coins. He was staring straight ahead into the misty air. And he wasn’t playing the violin–he was just holding it like a violinist does, by the neck, with the bow hanging from his index finger.
It struck me what else was out of place in this scene: there were no people. Other than myself, no one was venturing anywhere near this square on this particular day. It was devoid of listeners, willing or unwilling, which makes for a poor choice for a street performer. But the fact that he wasn’t even performing for an audience that wasn’t there made me very confused but a little sad. I wondered what he was thinking about, standing alone and abandoned on a rainy day when only he had the fortitude to make it to his spot and no one else. I wondered if he felt his time slipping away. The image that popped into my head was a freshly shorn lamb in the rain. I hesitate to use the word pathetic, but in the strictest sense of the Greek root pathos there is no doubt that his presence caused me–his only witness–to pause and emote powerfully. I could not imagine what it would be like to be him, only that I would find myself in a position of great sadness. And perhaps, this is why the violin was there. If he was playing at all that day, it would not have been for money, or for entertainment. Playing the violin would have given him the comfort of a steadfast and lifelong friend.
Other vignettes from the rain: a couple kissing under an umbrella on the sidewalk. A man fixing his awning on a ladder, straddling the ladder with both feet and walking it laterally like makeshift stilts. A bicycle fallen into a puddle. A wet dog.