Musings on an unseasonably warm winter’s day from Budapest.
Hungarian Parliament, Budapest
Yes, I’m currently posted up in Hungary. Here is home, until further notice.
Why Hungary, you ask? I’ll tell you.
Back in 2016 I relocated to Austria from New York for an ill-fated relationship. He and I had already been together for three years at the time, and I had fallen hard in love…with his home country. I like to joke that I was more into living in Austria than I was into him. When I moved we’d just been through a breakup involving several months of his calling me every other day from Iquitos, Peru, to tell me concernedly about how I was possessed by various demons he had become acquainted with in ceremony. He was, as they say, problematic. The reconciliation was hanging by a thread.
Not the healthiest relationship, no. Definitely educational, though! And in three years I’ve grown a lot, that’s the good news.
Anyway, he did do two things right: One, he taught me how to drive stick when I bought my camper van after a year, which I then loaded all my stuff into and burned rubber out of there. It’s been my home base and partner-in-adventures ever since. Two, he led me to Central Europe. I guess I just needed a reason. He provided it.
There was magic for me in Austria. My first visit there was at 20 years old on a class trip in architecture school. It was a highlight of my education and influential in shaping my understanding of good design, besides cementing some lifelong friendships with my classmates. One of my best childhood friends from age two went to study architecture at a university in Vienna herself and settled there with her Austrian partner. We’ve reconnected and now they are both treasured friends. My first medicine retreat also happened, utterly unplanned, in Austria, well before I met that partner. That’s another story, but suffice to say it blew my life apart and opened the door to my destiny.
A year or so after that retreat, on my first visit to the ex after our meeting in Peru, he saw a man following me around wearing a black outfit - something like the dress of observant Jews. In the astral realm, that is. He could see things like that, it was one of his more endearing characteristics when he wasn’t overly focused on demon possession.
It seemed a homecoming, this return to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I had vague knowledge that I had family from the region, though no details. It wasn’t something we talked about growing up. Our legacy was of the quintessential US immigrant experience, especially for those who arrived generations ago – disavowing roots and culture, wiping the slate clean, assimilating like hell. The pressure was high. Success meant survival and a better life for your children, the American Dream. But some sense of history, ancestry, was beginning to glimmer in the back of my brain, for really the first time ever.
Now I know why: when it comes to shamanism, you can only moonlight in others’ traditions for so long before you have to confront your own. The ancestors will eventually come a knockin’.
Once I moved house I began casting about for options to be able to stay in the EU. I found that Hungary offers a citizenship-by-ancestry program. I did some digging and it turned out that my great-grandfather, Jack, had been born in Hungary. His wife Bertha (my great-grandmother) was also Hungarian, but she was born in the States and we have no other information at all about her. Jack, on the other hand, had potential.
What started as a means to loophole my way into EU citizenship became a legitimate self-healing, a ceremony unfolding piece by piece. It crept up on me. Collecting the paperwork I’ve needed, connecting to the people who are my clan, I have felt a fortification of my cells, blood, bones. My roots reach deeper into the soil with every new discovery. My trunk is strong and feels taller than ever. My vision is sharp, voice clear. I feel hands on my back when I move. In my field is not just me, I’m aware.
It took three years to find all the documents. There were so many moments where I arrived at what seemed a final impasse and thought: “well, that’s it. I’ll never find that.” And then somehow, I would. The best one was great-grandpa Jack’s birth certificate. I thought: how can I possibly hope to locate this 100-plus-year-old document from God knows what crumbling shtetl in the Hungarian hinterlands? I had reached the end of the line, I gave up. Then, one day I was at my cousin’s house during a visit to the US. A family member had just died. My cousin was showing me some Iphone snaps of old photographs that had been stored in the deceased’s home. I was looking at these old black and white photos, some of Jack, and a yellowed official document in a foreign language popped up on the screen. Then a few more – Jack’s naturalization documents, some other things from the US government and from Hungary. I got a copy of the unidentified one, and some months later showed it to a Hungarian friend at a dance workshop. It was the birth certificate.
How auspicious that Death – shaman’s teacher and friend supreme - showed up to lend a hand, no?
I’ve met family members I’ve never spoken to in my life, and ones I never knew existed at all. New York, New Jersey, Toronto, Hungary. More in Frankfurt, Antwerp, UK, Israel. Here in Budapest I’m hanging out with living cousins, it’s the greatest. I was a child with an impoverished sense of my own history. I thought we had a small family, that all our Jewish kin either came to the States or died in the Shoah. It’s not so. Our tree branches across several continents, our leaves number in the thousands.
On this citizenship journey, the last thing now to do is learn enough Hungarian to be able to have a 10 minute conversation with an immigration official. It’s said that this language is one of the toughest in the world to master. The estimated time to learn enough to pass this interview is anywhere from 6 months to two years. Then it takes another year for Hungarian bureaucracy to crank out your papers. So, it’s going to be a while. I feel fine with that. There’s nowhere else that feels righter to be right now, than here. I’m getting comfortable and I’m happy.
I don’t know if I will settle here ultimately - completing this process is the Sadhana, that’s what’s important. Once that’s done, we’ll see what opens up. I trust it will be clear when it’s time.
It’s a weird moment to have arrived, to be sure. Everything is shut down. Curfew is at 8 pm. With no classes or events on, the ways I would normally have reached out to community in a new place and made new friends are all but impossible. The van is parked for the season. I got an apartment in the old Jewish district, it’s big and bright with a super bathtub, spacious enough for dance, yoga, and small ceremony.
There are a few key people here – family, mostly. A friend or two, maybe more will come. Internet dating, for what it’s worth. Still, overall, it looks like it’ll be a fairly solitary winter.
Winter is typically a time for spiritual pursuits, for me. Since 2013 I’ve spent almost every winter in either South America or Asia, training and doing personal healing, pilgrimages and practices for months. I feel that here, as the cold and quiet descend. An Inner Winter is upon us, too. I have been fasting, now dancing, yoga, some running, feeling my health and vitality tick up. I have several projects to sustain me through this season, that’s good. I’m wandering a lot, absorbing the city. Sometimes, a piece of me travels obliquely and I walk beside my dead relations. The ones who moved here after surviving the War stick out to me, who once walked the same streets I’m walking now.
Death is close; the veil is thin. Confusion, fear, frustration reign. We wait to see what will be born of them in Spring. It will come, before too long.
Margitsziget (Margaret Island), Budapest