Norman Jope


I walk from district to district, inscribing sigils on the city. The city returns its sounds and images, imprinting itself more firmly on the four-dimensional map beneath my forehead.

In Saint Elizabeth's district — the site of the former ghetto — the streets are canyons of beige and ochre. A hundred years of graft and angst have turned them into secular cloisters, places where it's hard not to meditate. . . on corner shops, graffitied doorways, wizened plants in turquoise tubs, litter bins and entry phones. Afternoon wears to a stub. Someone's drawn a heart on a building in chalk, where a Star of David might have been, to peel in its own good time. Signs rust on buildings — 'Rolux Fény', 'Olcsó Ruk'. . . traces accumulate like shells of a humble, enigmatic creature.

How many possible routes does this city provide, amounting to the same, anonymous ecstasy? In a place so many-faceted, a hour's walk will exhaust the feet more emphatically than the mind. I enunciate balconies, stucco laurels, rusted shutters and ripped-up fragments of poster, surrounded by people I pretend to recognise.

A shopping bag, in the national colours of red, white and green, acts as a talisman in busier locales. . . warding off 'consume girls', Hari Krishna charity collectors and other tourists seeking directions. Here, its status is neutral — I bear it like a flag of convenience on which, unusually, the image of a flag is printed. A Union Jack would be no more or less conspicuous. . . I am not a foreigner here, but an intruder. There's a subtle difference and I've crossed that line.

Moving from street to street, by way of semi-random decisions that are nonetheless aimed at the busy boulevard of Andrássy út, I insinuate myself into the urban fabric — again, my trajectory crosses that of at least two million others, including you. As on the poster advertising a language school I saw, that time, unexpectedly at the top of the Metro staircase, you seem to appear in the corner of my eye, or ahead of me on the opposite side of the road. . . manifesting where I look, but only to vanish. So, the city comes to hold, not only my solo narrative, but the words of our story.

from Inscriptions — Pannonian voyages