Sunday, February 11, 2007

Love Story Chapter 9: Budapest, 1969

Artwork by Polly

It was for real now.

On a glorious Saturday in April Dee and I hiked up to the Cafe Winkler overlooking all of Salzburg, and Dee asked me to marry him. I said yes. We knew we would arrive home to $00.00 so the timing was yet to be decided, and I knew that until he gave me a ring, he wouldn't consider us engaged. I had considered us engaged since his first "I love you," but thought it wiser not to announce it, even to him.

View from Cafe Winkler, Salzburg

Then we went on a chaste group honeymoon to Budapest on April 30 to celebrate. Hungary was behind the Iron Curtain, and we had to have visas and official guides to go. We were told that the border was strictly guarded and we were not permitted under any circumstances to take photos as we crossed.

Guard towers on the road to Budapest, 1969

The guard towers were all around us, and soldiers with machine guns were watching every vehicle carefully. As we passed one of them, Dee took a picture out the window of the bus. I was shocked at his blatant indifference to the rules; I've since discovered that Dee never thinks rules apply to him. A few minutes later some soldiers on motorcycles pulled up next to us and waved us over. We stopped and the officers boarded our bus.

Guards stopped our bus.

The driver was Czech and the communication was awkward between our German and English, and these new foreign tongues. Of course it didn't take a linguist to figure out what they wanted. They had seen someone on our bus take a picture and they wanted to confiscate all our cameras.

Dee, realizing it was time to step up, volunteered that he was the criminal and they didn't need to take every one's camera; they could have his. After a little negotiation, the soldiers said he could just give up his film. This was 'back in the day' when it was impossible to tell what was on film until it was developed. Our friend Bryant slyly passed Dee his own film, allowing Dee to keep the fatal shot of the border towers. He handed over the phony film. To our relief, we were allowed to go on. Nobody saw the humor in the event, or even the adventure; everyone was just mad.

Communist May Day parade

May Day had special significance because there was a giant Communist Parade. I was clueless, and pictured floats and costumes. It turned out to be thousands of factory workers carrying Communist flags, marching past the government officials. Dee said he wanted to take a picture and left me in the stands. He didn't come back. After the events of the day before, I was worried that he'd been arrested and sent to a concentration camp. The atmosphere at the parade was not comfortable for us Americans, and I could feel the oppression of the people.

Dee's new Commie buddy 1969
(We still have this flag, which Dee liberated from Communism captivity himself.)

Our guides started rounding us up to load into the buses and Dee still hadn't returned. I looked down at the workers in the parade and there he was, marching between 2 men, carrying a huge Hungarian flag. Somehow he made it back to the bus with photos of President Kadar and others who could put him in prison . . . I could hardly wait to get out of this country!

Gypsy singers in Budapest cafe.

That night we went to a quaint restaurant, decorated with brightly colored embroidered linens and hand painted pottery. There were gypsy musicians wearing tall, black hats, puffy shirts and baggy pants tucked into boots. Playing their violins, they wandered from table to table while we ate Chicken Paprikas and Palatshinken. As we were eating, some girls at the next table began talking about candle passings.

Back in the dorms there would frequently be a sign on the door announcing a special ceremony that night. Everyone would gather in anticipation, wondering who. Standing in a circle, with crossed arms, holding hands, we sang love songs while a candle decorated with flowers and ribbons was passed from girl to girl. Sitting on the candle was a diamond engagement ring. There were sighs, and whispers and a few warbles.

♫ They say there's a tree in the meadow,
a tree that will give you a sign . . .
♫ Come along with me, to the Sweetheart Tree,
♫ Come and carve your name next to mine . . . ♫

After the candle had gone around the circle once, (or twice to add to the suspense,) the lucky girl blew out the candle and put her ring on. Squeals, hugs and tears would follow.

That night in Budapest someone started passing a candle. It went around one table and then another before it came to our table. I was sitting next to my true love, the gypsies were playing, everyone was watching, and when it came to me, I blew the candle out. Our engagement was official.

It must have been a trick candle,
because after forty-one years, the light is still bright.

(Click on Older Posts below for the next chapter.


Nimmy said...

The things men do to impress the girl. . .

Stie said...

Does Dee still have the illegal pictures? Those would be some interesting peeks into a time in history.

Jennifer said...

My mother has told me about her candle ceremony when she was at BYU. I always thought that was such a beautiful tradition. (It was very disappointing to find out when I grew up that no-one did it anymore!)