It was unusually warm for this time of year, even for Budapest. 15 degrees in the middle of February is something that invites you out of your cozy room to walk the streets of the Hungarian capital, with or without a pre-planned route.
Relying on my so-called ‘female intuition’, I took on Budapest, turning left after leaving the building. I passed by those women who were whispering “cigaretta, cigaretta” in my ear, trying my hardest to avoid eye contact. The whispering voices were combined with a strong smell of urine and human sweat not washed off their bodies for days.
As the street name changed the smell was replaced by an odor reminiscent of droppings. The scene of one of the central squares opened up in front of my eyes, where people were sitting on an undefined monument and teasing a dog which was walking by in search of food. The smell of urine hit my nose again and all I wanted was to get out of here and run to a familiar area, where I knew the smell of grounded paprika would fill up every pore.
I took a turn right and walked the now-familiar street of the area with a lot of self-confidence. After passing the same street for the second time that day (and who knows how many times altogether since living here), I wanted to change my path and see something else, something different.
I knew there was a market somewhere nearby, but it did not even cross my mind that one part of it was hiding right behind that tall and dense flowerpot, which is there just to prevent the undesirable eye to get a glance of what is inside. The first young man, who stood in front of the plastic curtain sheltering his small stand, checked me out with curiosity. I was not sure if this was because I did not enter the market from the right direction or just because I looked quite confused. His face faded away as the scene of skinned animals caught my eyes. Rabbits, pig parts, chicken, sausages, salami and chopped meat of an unidentifiable animal laid before me in almost identical sizes. After a few steps and a slight turn to the left the view was even more fascinating – a whole street of butcher men.
This strange scene was accompanied by the sticky tiles beneath my white shoes and numerous light bulbs that lighted the long hall of butchers. Some of them tall, some of them short, some with curly hair, with shaved heads, old and young. All men were different, but had these things in common – the once white working clothes were now covered in bloody stains; big, massive calloused hands, and a pallet of different types of meat displayed on their small trays.
Salamis were hanging with a price tag of 3200 Ft. At the next stand carefully cleaned pigs legs were set in a straight line with the once useful skin, now serving the gastronomical satisfaction of humans. An unidentified number of butchers were engaged with customers, and those who were not, took the chance and passed a warm smile with a loud greeting to the tourists passing by, who instead of buying anything just tried to capture the moment with all the images their eyes could take and all the scents their noses could handle.
The shouting, chopping and sticky walking meant that the scene did not spare the ears either. As I was entering deeper into the kingdom of butchers, the smell became stronger and stronger. I took my camera from the bag, but was too entertained with the sight. I was not bothered by the smell of the meat or blood, and I forgot about the sticky floor, which had diluted blood stains and some small pieces of an animal once alive.
I could see the daylight as I was getting closer to the end of this meat tunnel, when for some reason I just stood there. My eyes could only stare at a particular blood stained wooden board, three seemingly sharp knives, a butcher’s axe and a now bloody piece of white cloth. I heard some voices behind me and turned around while holding the camera in my hands, trying to take a snapshot of this magnificent, almost barbarian scene.
“His name is Gergő and he is a nice guy looking for a girlfriend,” said the voice in Hungarian, pointing at a tall guy with thick, dark brown hair. I just stared at him without blinking because I could never imagine why a young guy like him would like to live his life as a meat chopper. His long fingers were resting on a massive, typical butcher palm, but there was something strange about his nails – they were chewed down and his cuticle was covered in blood. He was holding a knife in his right hand and made simple meat cutting look like an art form. You could easily tell his strict and precise movements were done with a dash of passion. For a moment I wished he could stab me with that sharp knife of his and chop me up to small pieces: I would probably enjoy every cut of it. I could not stop staring at his dark eyes. Doing something with such perfection, better yet passion, ended with him putting down the knife and wiping his hands in his white work wear. I took a photo of him, smiled and escaped to the sunny part of the street, took a second glance and strode away.