miércoles, 17 de abril de 2013
High expectations in Budapest's guts
Subways are a fascinating thing. In a way, they are the guts of a city and, with thousands of people moving everyday through them, they are a reflection of the character of the city and its inhabitants.
The urban legend says that under the soviet regime, it was considered that public places and notably, public transport systems, had to be public palaces to reflect the greatness of the Party. Old soviet republics inherited majestic metro systems from this idea, including the legendary Moscow metro, which is decorated with chandeliers, carpet and marble columns. I prefer the other ones, the ones that contain this intriguing subterraneous world within the dark and dusty tunnels. I like the versatile ones, like Paris' metro, in which whenever you wander beyond the touristic and modern ligne 1 (created to ensure that tourists move safely between the Tour Eiffel, the Louvre and Notre-Dame), you might find yourself in a banlieue trying very hard not to look at anyone in the eye. I like chaotic ones, like Mexico City's metro, in which you can buy anything ranging from children's books to learn mathematics, to CDs with the best 500 salsa songs ever and granola bars, provided you're carrying 10 pesos with you. I like the filthy ones, like New York's gritty subway system in which a ride at 3 am is a memorable experience which may be accompanied by people in dinosaur outfits, wannabe-America's got talent stars, enthusiastic and drunk extroverts, random street musicians and a homeless man with his pants around his ankles. Those subways are the good ones: the ones with the greasy walls, with the bizarre urban characters and the intrigue of not knowing exactly who lives or what happens in the tunnels. Those are the ones that exhale life as it flows in the city.
Not long before my trip to Budapest, I watched Kontroll, a Hungarian movie about ticket controllers in Budapest's subway system. Granted, it may sound like ticket controllers in Budapest's subway system is a very specific topic, a niche if you will, catering only the most pretentious art-cinema aficionados. Except, it's not. Actually, Kontroll is a very good movie with a fairly simple but unusual plot, which follows every day life of a group of seemingly unpleasant ticket controllers who in fact turn out to be much more pleasant than they seem. There's something for everyone in this movie: a good plot, interesting characters, grim scenery, a dark atmosphere and people being pushed in front of the subway. But enough movie recommendations, I will shush my inner hipster now. All I want to say is that after watching Kontroll, I was looking forward to using the Budapest metro with all its grimness and character.
So there I was, absolutely disappointed to see that Budapest's subway is rather nice. The oldest and most touristic line, crossing the city from east to west is Line 1, is an incredibly cute train similar to a ride from Disneyland. It's only missing the funfair music in the background. As for the other two lines, they are somewhat old, in somewhat need for maintenance and repairs, but otherwise missing the drunk ticket controllers and people running through the tunnels. One thing I did notice and that was just as in the movie, were the extremely long staircases leading to the outside world, as if they were slowly taking you out of hell and back into the real world.