Not quite the end of summer, but quite possibly our final Summer Reading post, we step back in time to a Spring morning in Stadtpark in Vienna. Maria Foldeaki was among the group of Sunday Writers strolling through the park, quietly observing and taking note. We finished that session by sitting out on the lawn to share our writing, including Maria’s story inspired by those ducks on the lake. Perhaps in her story you might recognise the park, the city of Vienna, or–like many of us who find ourselves living in this city for some time–the sense of homesickness that may come in many shapes and colours.
The Ducks on the Lake in Vienna City Park
By Maria Foldeaki
I’m sitting at the lake watching the ducks. Simultaneously I imagine being in the Botanical Garden of Montreal. It has a similar lake. Of course, I’m not there. There I would be surrounded by ducks in no time. These Austrian ducks are well behaved, they don’t harass visitors for food.
There comes a family, with bread sticks and starts to feed the ducks, although it’s forbidden and the pigeons, considered flying rats in Montreal, appreciate it more anyways. The family speaks a language I can’t identify. That is, at least, similar to Montreal, it is also multilingual, multi-colored.
Instead of dealing with the food, the ducks harass a bird that looks differently, trying to drown him (her?) in the water. When the unfortunate creature escapes, the ducks follow. Racists birds. Montreal ducks weren’t racists.
Although I was born in Budapest, the only country that ever felt like fatherland was Canada, and the only city where I felt home was Montreal. “Don’t look back,” says the Bible. The one who tried was turned into a pillar of salt.
The scene changes. The duck-feeding mom sits next to me and starts to smoke an extremely stinky cigarette. She is upset when I move away. Vienna is the smoking capital of the European Union.
Now on another bench, out in the full sun.
Home sickness has many shapes and colors. I try to recall Montreal’s parks. There are many. One of the majors was a gardener. As hard as I try, I can’t remember the name of the park where the Grands Ballets Canadians held free performances each summer. Has 5 years been that long?
I moved to Budapest, because I fell in love with the grandchildren who lived there. From one of the most liberal and cosmopolitan cities of the world, I landed in one that’s anything but. Where everybody is white, Hungarian, speaks Hungarian and nothing else. And harbours a deep prejudice against those who do. Reading openly an English book on the subway might provoke a “Foreigner, go home” attack.
The grandchildren grew, I was needed less and less. Simultaneously, I felt more and more out of place in Budapest. Like the proverbial square peg in the round hole. I couldn’t cope with the posters of hatred and the atmosphere they created. Travel should’ve been an escape, if only answering the “where are you from” question hadn’t become more and more embarrassing. “You built the fence,” people told me. “You criminalized the homeless…” “Not me,” I protested, ashamed. While traveling in Canadian colors, I could always feel proud. It always provoked smiles, not critical comments.
I’m not responsible for the government’s actions, I consoled myself. Am I not, really? “A people who elect corrupt politicians … are not victims, but accomplices,” says Orwell. I didn’t elect them. I didn’t vote for them. Even tried to convince a few others, without success, to do the same. But I lived there. I paid taxes to them. From the outside, I was one of the people. Accomplice. I realized that voting against them in the usual way will never work. The only way that remains: voting with my feet.
Thus I packed the suitcase, got on the RegioJet bus and moved to Vienna.
Now I have an easy, albeit long, answer to the “where are you from” question: “Hungarian by birth, Canadian by heart, living in Vienna….”