Monday, August 30, 2010

Well dressed women

What do you wear to pick your kids up at school? To go to the market? These pictures don't do it justice. This was the first day of school. This woman was SO decked out; she looked nicer to pick up her 2nd grader than I think I have ever looked. I was going to say than I look going out on the town, but really, let's be honest. I have never spend as much money on clothing as this. And the total effect-- amazing. She had the latest color on her toenails-- shiny black polish- and pink pastel on her hands. He had these hot pick patent leather shoes with 3 inch heals, a grey taffeta bubble dress with a cut out back. This dress was killer- studs all along the straps and onto the front of the dress, and (I was going down the stairs behind her and her peekaboo back was a bit too peekaboo) a baby blue thong. I had on leather flip flops and capri pants.

She's not the only one who dresses like this. The Hungarians who can afford to send their kids to the American School are paying more in tuition than most Hungarians make in a year. And it shows. They are the beautiful people. I was at the parent night for the elementary school, and there was a woman in a beautiful hand knit sweater. It was lacy and open, with some angled stripes of bright colors and some flowers appliqued on it. It was charming and whimsical and I thought someone had made it, maybe her. I shipped my knitting needles but not any yarn, and so have been hoping to find a good yarn shop in Budapest. I went up to her to compliment her on the sweater and asked if she made it. She gave me an icy stare. "No, it's Escada." I took my foot out of my mouth, smiled as brightly as I could and told her how lovely it was. Yikes! I know she was insulted- when you spend that much on some designer thing, you sure don't want people mistaking it for "homemade", no matter how whimsical and charming.

Here's another example of the variation in style that you see at pickup in the afternoon. I really wish I could have gotten a few more pictures, but my camera was acting up. I think in some ways that the fashions here are kind of freeing- people wear things that we would never wear at home. One thing I noticed this August at the water park was that almost everyone wears a bikini.  Seriously- not just the 20 somethings either-- the new moms, the older women, the heavyset. And you know what? It looked pretty good on them. I'm trying to open up to new possibilities here. I doubt I'll every put on a bikini again, or spring for an Escada sweater, but I'm gonna branch out a bit. Wish me luck- I'm not the adventuresome type when it comes to fashion!

Okay-- this is extreme. This was at 2 in the afternoon, pickup at school.  Snake skin shoes and fishnets, anyone??

To be fair-- this wasn't t school. it was at a Hungarian national holiday- the anniversary of the 1956 revolution, and the parliament building was open and free. But, yeah-- I always dress like this to go sightseeing....

Monday, August 23, 2010

Going to School

Getting to school is a challenge. We have to walk- very fast, to get to Tizan Istvan Ter, where we catch the number 63 bus to the school. We have to leave by 7:20 and walk down to town to catch the 7:42 bus.  It's never a given that we're going to make it. Usually we do, unless the game of "kill the guy" gets too intense. How it works is this.   

There are lots of plum trees all along the road. The plams are ripe now, and some of them are overripe. The boys choose a "drop" (because I won't let them ruin perfectly good fruit that we could pick and eat). Then, the kids hurl the plum down onto the dirt road, hoping to split "him" (it's always him) open. They retrieve the same plum and repeat the hurling until "his heart pops out." Then "the guy" is dead, and they start over. 

On the way there are other distractions. Dorca is our favorite dog.  She comes running over, dragging her blanket with her to get pats from the kids. Some days she has an orange pull toy that she brings instead.

Nagyszenas means "big hayfield".  
Here's the hayfield. The town has a lot of new building going on; I wonder how long the hayfield will be used, or if it will become like so many developments in the US, named for stuff they wrecked when they built it.

There are a lot of people who have chickens in their yard. Isn't he a handsome fellow!!
Here's the Templom, the church.  There's a path from the road to the church; we're almost there! The bus is here; hop on board!

It's only a 10 minute ride on the bus. Now the day starts for real!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Andrea- our Fairy Godmother!

 When we found a house, we hit the "fairy godmother" lottery. Andrea and her father were taking care of the house, because the owner lives in California. As we've talked to other people about their situation, we realized how fortunate we are!  Her father Attila speaks German, but no English. We speak only enough German to understand that the trash pickup is Wednesday.

She has been so kind to us, and has helped us in so many ways. She and her father came back to the house the first night we were there, because somehow we had turned the heat on in the house, and then turned the hot water off, trying to turn the heat off.... It was a hot August night, and the floor was hot from the radiant heating system under the floor, and the hot water was off.  The kids were in their bathing suits, trying to use the jacuzzi and the water was icy cold. She and her father came over at 9 PM to read the manuals for the very complex systems installed in the house.  She and Attila were quite cheerful about the whole thing and managed to reset everything at about 10:30 that night. The floor stayed hot until much later.

She has taken me shopping for supplies and food, made cake for us, brought us homemade jam, helped us get the internet running in the house, made sure we have the correct sticker so the trash gets picked up, given us rides, watched the kids on parent's night at school, the list goes on.  We are feeling very fortunate indeed to have found Andrea. I will try and include a picture of her and her beautiful kids Fanni, Orsi, Dori, and Gary.  She's coming over tonight to bail us out yet again, because last night the door broke. No kidding.

The house looks really nice at first glance, but we've realized how many things are cheaply made as we've been there a couple weeks. Last night we came home, and the door gave up the ghost. The way you have to close the door is strange. There is a handle that you have to first push down, and then push up in order to fully close and latch the door. Nate has been having trouble with it, and I thought he was just being thick. Last night, he couldn't get it to close, so I came over to do it- a bit disgusted that after 3 weeks he stil can't shut the door.  And the thing just let go-- spun all the way around without latching or unlatching. Now, this was interesting, as we were kind of locked in. I sent Andrea a text. I know she thinks I'm insane, but the door really is broken. One more for the fairy godmother~!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Murdered in our beds....

We had a really strange thing happen last night. 3:30 in the morning, ALL OF A SUDDEN, there was this horrible scream-- it sounded like some woman was being attacked. We're all sleeping in the living room, because we have no furniture yet, and so we were camped together on mattresses on the floor.

Then Nate started screaming too- I thought we were all being murdered in our beds. I jumped up and realized that it was the cats fighting upstairs in the empty house, and the screams were echoing all over the place. I ran up the stairs and separated the cats, but then Cookie was just this psycho thing out of a movie. He chased Weasley, screaming the whole time, like HE was the one being chased. 

We were trying to figure out what had happened. Nate said he was having a bad dream when the cat screaming started, and that's what started HIM screaming. Everyone was so shook up, and Cookie was still stalking Weasley like some nutcase. Then we realized we couldn't find Squeak. There's no place to hide in the house, because we have no furniture, and both Kent and I looked in the basement and under the stairs and in the closets. And then we remembered that we had had pizza delivered that night, and thought maybe she got out. So, at 4 AM I was outside looking for her. And at 4:30 Kent was out too. Then she finally skulked out from behind Nate's mattress and underneath the radiator- it was this tiny space that she had hidden in because she was so scared with all the shrieking.  So, at 4:30 AM we decided I should read a chapter or 2 of the book I'm reading to Jack, so we could all go back to sleep. 

All forgiven now

We couldn't figure out how the whole thing started, and Cookie was being SUCH a psycho we actually had to lock him up in his cat crate that night and the next day because he kept going after Weasley. Nate was beside himself, thinking we'd have to give him away. (I'd LIKE to give him away...)  The next night we let him out and he and Weasley seemed to have forgiven each other for whatever happened.

Later we saw the strange cat by the backdoor. Cookie must have seen him and then Weasley must have surprised him from behind or something, and that started the whole mess. Everyone seems a little more settled now, but I hope that the neighborhood cats just stay away from my psycho cat. My nerves can't take it. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Apartment Hunting

We have yet to meet the colleague, who is on vacation. It’s an apartment; kind of like our 2 family- there is an owner who lives downstairs and then they have the top 2 floors. It’s nice to have a home base with a kitchen, etc. It feels a bit out of the way tho- we walked to the supermarket yesterday and the trip there and back took us about an hour- probably 30 minutes of walking, and 30 minutes of shopping. We came home with some things that I’m not sure about. Nate thought it was Raman noodles, and threw it in the basket. When I picked it up, it felt too heavy to be Raman- maybe more like a big bag of some kind of MSG laden flavor packet for Raman noodles, since there was a picture of Raman type noodles on the front of the bag.  We haven’t opened it yet. Jack chose some Hungarian type ice cream instead of Hagen Daaz, much to Kent’s disapproval. Nate said, “You can get Hagen Daaz anywhere- c’mon Dad, be adventurous.”Could be another bust, we'll see...

I went house hunting yesterday. It was enlightening. And kind of horrifying. We need a place in 9 days. No place even looked CLOSE to being ready in 9 days. Most were inhabited by people who looked as if they were not renting their house at all, but would be spending Christmas and indeed, the rest of their lives in this very same house.  One place was particularly crazy. The landlady had broken up her apartment because her daughter wanted her own place. But the daughter had moved out, so if we wanted the whole place, they "could put it back the way it was. "

We walked in from the patio to her sleeping room- "Really it’s the dining room, but what do I need a dining room for? You can put it back the way it was if you want.” Then into the living room, where there were clothes hanging all the way up the stairs on the banister, including a three quarters length fur coat. I’m assuming since it’s August, it’s been there for a while.  At the top of the stairs was- nothing. A wall.  She looked unperturbed. “It will be a 2 day job, that’s all, if you want both units, or if you want just this unit, you can decide. (“This unit was her dining room/bedroom all in one, a small kitchen, and the living room with all the clothes displayed up with stairs, and a laundry room/ bathroom.  She also thought we should keep all her furniture and send ours back. She mentioned that we should keep her two cats too, and since we had three, now we would have 5 cats. "But, my cats are outdoor cats, so they will meet their fate."

There was some warren of hallways too, all stuffed beyond passibility with years of “saved” things. So, we went outside to the upstairs apartment, which had a family happily living in it. What the....?? They also looked like they were never leaving, and in fact were just returning from holiday. The apartment was full of drying racks with all their holiday laundry. It was very lived in- not in a bad way, just in a way that said they were also never leaving this place, particularly not in 9 days.

I talked to some other new faculty at an introductory dinner last night and several people had similar experiences- houses that weren’t finished, but “of course” could be ready in time, if someone wanted to rent it. One woman said she thought that they would only finish if it was rented, otherwise it would stay unfinished. And of course everyone claims it can all be done in a week. Having lived through home repairs, I know this is not true. 

We made the mistake of taking the kids to one house- the farthest away from the village, but also the most grand. We would have said no, just for the distance from the bus, but the kids fell in love with the bathroom with the jacuzzi, and the rooms and the view. It has a lovely view. It's complete (Mostly- there is some kind of repair going on out on the patio) The owner lives in the US but is here until next week to rent the place. I think we might have a winner. I worry about the cost of heating it- it seems huge and too wide open. Not my style, but the best thing we've seen so far. And the clock is ticking....

Friday, August 6, 2010

2 flights, 2 kids, 3 cats and 5 Hour Wait = One Raw Nerve

We’re here and the cats are here and everyone is settling into our temporary home at one of Kent’s colleague’s house.  No small feat, believe me.

The trip seemed to be going fine until we got to JFK, when someone from “Cargo” called Kent’s cell and said they couldn’t ship the cats b/c there was no AC in the cargo area and the animals would die. Well, Kent relayed this at the table where we were eating dinner, and the kids freaked out, as you can imagine. Kent went over to the gate to see what was going on, and I stayed with the kids.  After I paid the check, we went over to the gate and found out that the maintenance crew from JFK knew nothing about this problem, and in fact there WAS no problem, and we could bring the cats. But, when this started, the gate agent wanted to take the cats the next day instead. We wanted to travel together with the cats, and so we had asked about traveling the next day on the same flight as the cats. They would keep the animals at the “vet port” and we would stay at a hotel, so they had released our seats. Now the cats were set to fly, but we had no tickets, so Keith, the gate agent rebooked us and bumped us to business class. Looks like it’s all working out….

But the flight attendants who had been talking to Kent, told him not to trust the gate agent, Keith. The flight attendants were all “mature”- had been flying for 35 plus years each, originally on Pan Am. One in particular didn’t like our buddy Keith, who had rebooked us in business class. We LIKED Keith- we thought he was a problem solver.  She didn’t trust him as far as she could hurl him.

Three times she said to me, in a Hungarian accent- “Don’t believe him- he doesn’t know shit from shinola.” She said he didn’t care of our cats died, and that I needed to go RIGHT NOW to talk to the captain. “Never mind (Keith)- he doesn’t know anything- GO! Go to the captain right now and find out where your cats are. They are not loaded yet- where are they? Does anyone know? This man- (Keith)- he does not care about your cats!!  Go to the captain, and talk to him. And do not say I sent you. I will deny it!! But you must ask him. He is the one who will help you.“ 

It was all very dramatic and stressful. She had me convinced that Keith, whom we liked because now we were sitting in the comfy seats, was a cat killer.  Or at least aiding and abetting someone who had it in for our cats. In reality, Keith just wanted us to pull away from the gate so he had an on time departure.  He kept asking if we would fly without the cats, so they could offload our luggage and get this plane going.

Then the maintenance guy showed up to talk to us and the captain and he said everything was FINE in the AC in cargo hold and why was someone from Atlanta making a decision about the safety of these animals? The captain asked the maintenance guy if he would fly HIS pets, and Maintenance Guy said yes.  On his way out, Maintenance Guy said, “Just so we’re clear—this is NOT a maintenance delay- right?” Keith says “Right- not a maintenance problem.” So, Maintenance Guy walks away happy because he won’t be blamed for late departure. 

The captain got on the phone to say that they wanted the cats to be loaded. He had to call Atlanta, the hub, where the first phone call had originated. Finally they got everything set and we were off, Mature Flight Attendant kept walking by me, hissing that I should never fly with the animals this way again. They should come in the plane, no matter what.  They will die in there and no one will care. I decided that she was a crazy cat lady and thanked her for all her help and mentally wrote her off.

Then we arrived in Budapest, cruised through passport control and customs, and met the driver from the school. He had a big van to transport all our many suitcases, including one containing only cat food, a litter box and cat litter.  We then went to “cargo” in Budapest, on the far edge of the airport, where no one really should ever go. It looked like a movie set from some 60’s era movie about Eastern Bloc countries.   Peter (the driver) and Kent went it to find out about the cats.

Where we spent almost 6 hours waiting for the cats.

“One hour”, they were told by a woman from Central Casting under the header of “Eastern Bloc Woman at Desk Behind Window”- stocky, bad haircut, strict, a woman of few words- few English words anyway.  Kent asked where the cats were and was told “One Hour”. Every hour or so, Kent and Nate would go back and were told the same thing: "One hour!" She said, holding up her thumb. (Hungarians count starting with the thumb)

Three hours later I went it to ask about a bathroom.  I asked Peter the driver to ask her where the toilet was, because there was clearly nothing in the waiting area.  Peter’s English is pretty poor, so he said something to her in Hungarian, and she looked at me and held up her thumb. “One hour.”

“I have to wait an hour to use the toilet?”  I asked, incredulously. I had lost any sense of humor I had by this point and I really had to go.  She smiled (a first) and said, ”Oh, toilet! No- you do not have to wait. ” And directed me outside the building to another door.

We FINALLY got the cats and now we're in the apartment of Kent's colleague from schol. We have to keep the windows closed because none of them have screens on them, and Squeak has already escaped once, and is determined to be an outdoor Hungarian cat.  Now-- on to apartment hunting!