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Three Cities, Two and a Half Weeks

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“New York is too depressing during the holidays,” said the boyfriend. “Let’s go away!

I readily agreed, but how we ended up at Auschwitz on a cold, wet day after Christmas is another story.

Budapest was my fantasy destination, wanting to soak up that legendary ethos which made it the Paris of Eastern Europe before World War II, with all the suggested charm of playwright Ferenc Molnar and Ernst Lubitsch’s comic gem, “The Shop Around the Corner”—not to mention those famous baths.

Although rife with gorgeous examples of my favorite Secessionist architecture, as well as every other era, this city must go down for me as a decided disappointment. I could see how the urban layout, with its wide boulevards evoked Hausman’s Second Empire Paris reconfiguration, but the unappetizing grittiness of the streets too closely matched the spirit of the people we encountered.

“There was not one smile in Budapest,” remarked a French tourist, and he was, sadly, about right. Hungarians explained to me that all those years of communist repression have bred an innate suspicion and lack of openness in the people. They stare boldly at you, but when you return their look with a smile, they look away. In a café, faced with a bewildering assortment of mysterious pastries, I asked the young Zsa Zsa Gabor of a waitress what her personal favorite was. She merely shrugged, and waited for me to make my clueless decision.

All too typical, I must report.

As for the boys, they are, indeed, almost uniformly, stupendously attractive, generously endowed and great kissers. However, they are all extremely aware of this. A certain attitude, which one can always detect when any gay scene anywhere has passed its nascent point and is commencing to burgeon, was very much in evidence on the scene. This attitude, it should be noted, extended to each other, as well as to tourists: “I live in Buda,” one of them told me. “Those who live in Pest are losers!”

One really saw them in their element at the baths. And, wouldn’t you know, two days before we arrived, there was a scandalous news story about the 16th century Király Baths. Having heard from outraged visitors that “gay orgies” were going on in this sexually unspecified tourist site, a local reporter surreptitiously shot film there, successfully blowing what had been a benignly open secret for centuries.

Király was featured in Kristen Bjorn’s cinematic masterpiece, “The Vampire of Budapest,” and has probably become, for gay men, the most identifiable movie set since “Gone With the Wind’”s Tara. As a result of the news story, alte kockers in shorts were policing the naked alte kockers in the water—although that really stopped nothing, because, as everyone knows, whenever you throw a lot of nude men together, something’s gotta give.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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