essays by shé

Hungary 1989

I got the part in Howling V. Hunh. I was sure they’d give it to the blonder cheerleader frequenting the Mary Lou callbacks, but no — I’m going to Budapest. For years I’d been saying my last name was Hungarian (it isn’t), now I’d be there — filming! — for five weeks.

Got my passport, gathered an entourage to see me off at the airport, and away I went, toting my Prozac, The Courage to Heal, and Johnny’s Puppy.

Cast and crew stayed at an old hotel. I was next door to Victoria Catlin, who went on to Twin Peaks fame; she graciously shared her dried pears.

Milk came in a bag, most folks smoked, and a pair of shoes cost Hungarians a month’s wages. I grew up on food stamps, but was suddenly rich in the Eastern Bloc. The producers found me a dance studio that played old Michael Jackson hits in the ballet class. Stephanie Faulkner (her character was killed early in the movie) defended me to a big German woman in the baths (my hair wasn’t covered). I bought, for the first and only time, a couture dress, as well as a silk-lined wool cape to help with the winter weather.

Down the avenue, on one of my rambles, I found a sidewalk flower vendor. We took to each other straight away: she, short, brunette, and friendly; me, tall, blonde, and sad. Instant smiles commenced. She did not speak a word of English, I spoke a few words of Hungarian (köszönöm, igen, nem, kesztyűt, zokni — thank you, yes, no, gloves, socks). But we both spoke the language of flowers. Each week I visited her, and came away revived. My tribe!

I hung out with the FX team (I was the werewolf), and my translator took me to dinner in the country where I tried venison. But there came a day late in the Mafilm shoot when the dour people of Budapest actually smiled (the flower lady had been the exception). It was some sort of holiday: kids rode on men’s shoulders holding balloons, adults laughed and sang, musicians played in Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square). Rumored to be a poet’s birthday, but also — wow! — the end of Communism. It was as if the White Witch of Narnia had finally been vanquished. And I was privileged to see it.

Hungary 1989, photo by Shé
Hungary 1989, photo by Shé




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