We sat in Stiedl's bierstube in Vienna eating seasoned pork and drinking huge tankards of Goesser beer. Maps were spread out all over the table, and we traced the highway route from Vienna through Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria to Istanbul. We walked about Vienna. There was Cooke, the photographer, from New York, Anita from West Germany, Maggie and myself from London. In Sacher's, a tall, elderly man with all the burdens of Vienna sitting lightly on his back caressed the keys of a stately piano and mocked the present with the ghosts and glitter of the past.
The next day we set off for the frontier. As we approached it, we could see a mile of barbed wire, scorched earth and tall, sinister observation posts. "Let's go back home," said Maggie. But getting through was surprisingly easy. The frontier building was equipped with a magnificent-looking bar, tables covered with handwoven linen, and cupboards shining with bottles. I tried to get a drink, but was waved away.
"No drink," said an official. The bar was a sort of museum, eternally dry. We drove off into Hungary, stopped at the nearest village and entered an espresso bar, where we drank wine. At the next table sat a truck driver and his superintendent; they too offered us wine and the truck driver, exalted by three rich bottles, gave Maggie a present of a cigarette lighter.
"Hungarian," he said. "For you." Cooke, who is an expert on Curtain affairs and speaks fluent Russian, picked it up and inspected it carefully.
"Czech," he said.
We arrived in Budapest and went to the Gellert Hotel. Outside this massive rococo building stood a phalanx of expensive automobiles, and there was a flurry of uniformed commissionaires and bellboys. We presented our passports and our coupons, which cover rooms and meals and must be rigidly adhered to. We climbed by lift to an enormous white restaurant that was shuddering to the gusts of Magyar violins. Besides the restaurant there were three bars and a gift shop stuffed with Hungarian dolls and souvenir knick-knacks. One bar was downstairs, small and claustrophobic, with velvet curtains, thick with the international scandal and the intellectual cliches that everlastingly bob like corks above the waters of tragedy. The bar on the second floor was open till 4 o'clock in the morning, all shaded lights and nostalgic piano flirting with the '30s, crammed with young Hungarians and their smartly dressed women.
The next day I discovered a strange restaurant near by called the Apostolok. At first I thought I had entered a private chapel. I could see a tomb, pews, a pulpit and wall mosaics of the 12 Apostles. I even imagined I could smell incense, but it turned out to be paprika, and a crowd of people were eating and drinking. We drank tankards of quite good beer and then had a lunch of goulash and sour cream. We drove around to the press attach�'s office in the foreign ministry (o see about visas. He recommended a restaurant called the Matyas Cellar and wrote us out a list of dishes, including fish soup, pork goulash and pancakes with chocolate sauce and added a choice of white and red wines.
In the afternoon we took a ferry up the Danube to Margaret Island, passing the sad, ghostly buildings of Budapest, weary and elegant like a faded beauty. We landed in a kind of decorous pleasure garden equipped with open-air theaters, sports stadiums and flowered walks. Young people, sedate and Western-looking, strolled about, drank beer and jived smoothly to an open-air dance band playing Stardust and
. Later, after dinner at the Cellar, soothed by more passionate violins and foreign ministry wines, Cooke and I went to a nightclub.
This was Budapest, the Budapest hidden by the conspiracy of opulent, chattering hotels, tourist violins and colored brochures. It was not one of those hygienic folk exhibitions intended to throw dust in the eyes of the visitor; there was not one single sob of a Magyar fiddle; the people were there to enjoy themselves; they were solid, vigorous, resistant and Hungarian. You first entered a long bar and beyond that was a graceful kind of theater with tables and chairs for the audience, balconies and the stage.
Behind the bar stood Marta. Everything stopped for Marta. It was not merely that she was beautiful and young. She was gallant. Tempests, rebellions, wars, spies, treachery and the violence of man's stupidity passed over her like a spring shower.