Budapest: Europe’s Magpie

My mom loves words. When I was a kid, she’d teach me the specific names of flowers and trees and stones and colors. Once when my third-grade teacher held up a red crayon and asked the class for a synonym, that was easy. Mom had played the same sort of game with me. I called out, “Cabernet!”

One day my mother and I were looking at a picture book of birds. She was teaching me their different names. My favorite was the magpie. Her messy nest was filled with all sorts of things: twigs, cotton, paper, thread, string, wire. “The magpie is a collector,” my mom explained. “Her nest has a little of everything.” Then she said, “You’re my little magpie.”

I knew exactly what she meant. My bedroom was filled with seashells and rocks and driftwood and arrowheads and Hot Wheels and colored rabbit’s feet. One day I set my collections around the room and hung a sign on my door that said “Museum.” I made my mom pay twenty-five cents to enter. My little brother was not allowed to come in. He wouldn’t give me a quarter.

Budapest, I’ve decided, is Europe’s magpie. Throughout the capital, Roman ruins stand beside Baroque churches. Art Nouveau facades neighbor communist blocks. Around each corner, you can discover a different century: a fin de siecle facade, an Ottoman roof, a Belle Epoch balcony, an 18th century spire. Like the magpie’s nest, there’s a little bit of everything here. Perhaps that’s the reason I feel so at home.

Phillip Done
An American in Budapest


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