Yesterday was a big day for the Murchies: we drove down to Budapest and I became an illegal alien.
Budapest has long been on my bucket list, and I have to say it really is a beautiful city. It has the distinct architectural mix of old Europe, Soviet-era blockhouse apartments, and modern Western buildings. In that way, it’s a lot like Bratislava, but 4-5 times bigger.
We didn’t have a lot we wanted to see in town, since we only had a few hours and immediately felt like we’d want to come back for a longer stay someday. So we focused on seeing the large indoor Central Market, and Stalin’s Boots. The market has a fabulous assortment of regional foods, and if one were staying locally, it would be a treasure trove for grocery shopping. It also has an abundant selection of Hungarian craftwork, though without offense to the skills of local artisans or cultural preferences, I will say that if I should die and go to hell, it will be exclusively decorated with needlepoint and hand-painted porcelain.
The big adventure was finding Stalin’s Boots – the partial remains of a 25 meter high Soviet-era statue of Stalin that was torn down by 100,000 demonstrators less than five years after being built as a gift to the old boy. All that remained were his boots, and according to our 2009 Frommer’s guide to Budapest, they still stood in a city square. Regrettably, no one bothered to tell Frommer’s that the statue was moved to a formal park in 2006.
As a way of seeing a great deal of a foreign city in a fairly random way, I highly recommend using GPS to get to a non-existent landmark. Navigating through the streets was a thrill: our trusty Garmin would tell us to “make a right on Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út or somesuch”, and as Claire was trying to sound out the street name, we would pass it. Then it was a contest of trying to figure out if we could get back to that street before the Garmin would helpfully recalculate the route and send us in a completely differently direction, usually to a street closed for construction purposes. We never did see the boots, and as the day was wearing on, we got back on the road.
Which brings me to the illegal alien part. Yesterday marked 90 days since we entered Slovakia as residents, and under the strictest reading, I am supposed to have my spousal visa in hand to remain in the country. That deadline is extended by the number of days spent out of the country, which of course can’t be measured, because the EU borders are completely permeable. So maybe I’m not 100% illegal, but I did slink down a little when we drove through the abandoned guard station crossing back into Slovakia. Side note: I continue to be struck by the skeletons of border checkpoints, standing empty along roadways like filling stations on old Route 66.
Nonetheless, the absence of a visa isn’t for lack of trying. While Claire – and even the dogs – had a relatively straightforward process of registration, the paperwork relating to me was repeatedly found to be insufficient. Our original marriage certificate had to be supplemented with a copy endorsed by a notary. Then, we were asked to produce a notarized copy of our marriage license application, apparently because it has parental consent and more identification numbers associated with it. This last request – and the associated several hundred dollars in necessary fees – came a few weeks ago, just as we were learning we may be going home early. So, we rode it out, and sure enough we got word to head back to the States next week, on October 20. Now instead, Claire and the dogs are now going through a de-registration process, while I remain in some kind of limbo.
I don’t take the bureaucratic rebuff personally, though unlike so many others I don’t blame it on anti-immigrant policies aimed at Third World citizens trying to get a foothold in the EU, and me being caught in a broad brush of paper-pushing. No, I’m convinced it is American pop music that has got their sights on me.
We noticed early on while taking road trips that everywhere we went the radio stations played a homogeneous mash of Europop tunes, differentiated only by the language spoken by the DJ. I’m fairly open to listening to a wide variety of music, and we even found a few songs that were memorable for our sojourn. One that we truly related to was “We no speak Americano” by Yolanda Be Cool and DCUP. Another was this great collaboration in David Guetta’s production of “Gettin’ Over You” with Fergie, Chris Willis and LMFAO.
Especially loved the note Fergie holds near the end, and the video’s homage to the finale of the Beatle’s movie “Let it Be”.
So most of the tunes, if repetitive, weren’t representative of the worst in American pop music. However, one song – one godforsaken song – got endless airplay all through the summer and even now lurks behind seemingly innocent radio station selections. If our ears were bleeding from hearing it too much on the radio, imagine the pain when our eyes exploded watching the video. Happily EMI has blocked access from here in Europe so we can no longer experience it, but this link to “California Gurls” by Katy Perry should work. Proceed at your our risk.
So, it’s no surprise that anyone here would have an issue with Americans at the moment, especially if there is a radio on in the background. And, if in the name of international relations, I have to go home sooner than expected, I can make the sacrifice. The alternative is unthinkable: they might take the nuclear option and send this guy over to the States.