Ann Hillesland The Wide Missouri, the Blue Danube

Budapest was a disappointment. Susan had a queasy flutter in her stomach from riding in the back of the chorus’s tour bus. It hadn’t been a long ride since lunch in Bratislava, but the nearly useless air conditioner vented steamy condensation over the rear windows. It smelled swampy and sweaty and she couldn’t see out unless she leaned forward. Still, as they drove past buildings either sooted black with exhaust or shining like new plastic, the old Tommy Dorsey song “That Lovely Night in Budapest” played through her head. At 66 and with parents who loved big band music, she was probably the only person who remembered that song--a lighthearted number that made her think of open sidewalks, candles stuck in wine bottles and corner tables in dim restaurants with artificial grape vines twined overhead. Peering down from the bus, she didn’t see a single sidewalk cafe, or anyone who looked as if they had time to spend at one. The Berlin wall had fallen only 15 years ago, but people pushed past each other as if they had been capitalists forever. She thought of another song lyric, from My Fair Lady, where “hairy hound from Budapest” rhymed with “ruder pest.”

The bus turned, turned again, the tilt making her dizzy. They passed grimy statues, a train station whirlpooling with traffic, and a youth hostel with a pack of scruffy students loitering in front. The bus lumbered to a stop in front of a modern hotel looming over the six-lane street. So far on the tour the women’s chorus had only stayed in these giant hotels, probably because the women organizing the tour thought plentiful electrical outlets outweighed charm. For Budapest she’d hoped for an old hotel with a grand lobby of stained glass and potted palms and red velvet upholstery.

[Read more in issue 49.1]

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