Loneliness Hotel | Pushing the Wave

Loneliness Hotel

Travel, 6 July 2023
by L.A. Davenport
Awaiting the Airport Train at Nyugati palyaudvar Station Budapest
Awaiting the airport train at Nyugati pályaudvar station, Budapest
It can seem a little churlish, if not downright ungrateful and arrogant, to complain about travelling too much. First-world problems, and all that. Especially when you're talking about a city like Budapest.

But we all know the craving we can get for the comforts of home, even on the best of holidays, in the best hotels, where everything seems laid on simply for your pleasure.

That, and the desire to eat a simple, familiar meal, simply prepared, at your own table, rather than flicking through yet another menu, after an agonising deliberation over a profusion of restaurants with seemingly identical dishes and reviews.

Then, trying to muster up the enthusiasm for another plate of over-rich food, which, after a week of such meals, is starting to play hell with your constitution, and another glass of a local wine that is very similar to the one you drank the night before, all the while exchanging pleasantries with a waiter whose very presence is a constant reminder of the artificiality of situation.

No wonder we all say how great it is to return home, as we drop the suitcases, and our outside selves, in the hall.

The effect is even worse with work travel. You are away in a place that, while not a typical holiday destination, you would probably consider visiting for leisure on a weekend getaway, to take in fascinating sights plump with opportunities to expand your horizons and experience a new culture.

And yet you whizz by them all in a taxi or on public transport, seeing everything through a film of tinted glass, exchanging one air-conditioned room for another during days that stretch on and on. All the while, you hope for just a little bit of downtime to see something of your surroundings, but the chance rarely comes.

Sometimes I travel for work alone, and sometimes in groups, and I am still not sure which is better for my mental health.

Alone, you have more time to do as you wish, and see what you wish. Usually, that means exploring by night, however, or at least in the evening, with the result that I know more major European cities only in the dark than I care to name. But the flip side of all this freedom is that you have no one with whom to share your experiences.

Too many people, and it can become a bore trying to juggle everyone’s competing needs (and dietary requirements), and their daily schedules. And the overlap between well-presented, high quality food and the availability of tables for large bookings at relative short notice is, perhaps unsurprisingly, very small.

I have found that the best combination is to travel with one other colleague, ideally someone who shares your preferences in food and who provides good conversation, while respecting your need for privacy and some time alone. Unfortunately, such people are, as the saying goes, rarer than hen’s teeth.

The changes Budapest over the past decade, at least in the areas I visited, were remarkable, and the food and drink was nothing short of excellent. (If I could recommend just one restaurant out of the several I tried, it would be Textúra, although the rest ran it a close second).

And I even got a chance to see Madam Butterfly in the frankly gorgeous State Opera house, where I was treated to a performance of the highest standard.

So, work aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. I stayed in a nice hotel, and was made to feel very welcome by the open and cheerful people there.

But it was only when I stood on the platform at Nyugati pályaudvar station, waiting to get on the train to the airport, that I realised just much I needed, not wanted, to go home. This feeling had been building up in me imperceptibly for weeks, showing itself as a growing sense of impatience, and an increasing inability to connect with my surroundings.

The long and the short of it is I have packed too many suitcases over the past couple of months. I am looking forward to a few weeks of being able to leave all that aside and focus on my family, as well as enjoy a bit of the summer, if the weather holds.
Recently, I started reading The Pillow Book, by Sei Shōnagon. This is from the same era in Japanese history, the Heian period, as one of my favourite books, and one that changed me, and my writing, for ever: The Tale of Genji, which was written by another remarkable woman, Murasaki Shikibu.

However, the contrast between the two women, and the two books, could not be greater.

While the Tale of Genji is a long, meandering novel that offers a compelling and highly detailed, yet fictionalised, depiction of the lifestyles of high courtiers during the 11th century, The Pillow Book is, on the surface, a more whimsical and slighter affair, which acts as a memoir on one level, while on another serves as a guided tour around the real lives of women at the same court, albeit at a slightly earlier time.

I have not finished the book yet — I am not yet even halfway through — but I am enjoying it, and its unhurried pace and message of appreciating all that is good in everyday life, immensely.
A while ago, I read Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, which was my first dip into his canon, and I have been thinking about it on and off ever since.

I found it a strange and complex experience to read it, especially when viewing it through the filter of the modern age. I can see why he was so popular at the time, however.

Some of the book is highly entertaining, and many of the jokes and amusing situations come off very well. It has a suitably convoluted and tortuous plot to keep the reader engaged, and the age in which it is set is mysterious and full of courtly adventure, and he amplifies all of that to its maximum. The result is an exciting and pacy, if faintly ludicrous, historical novel.

But the question that stands out is that of antisemitism, and that is my main difficulty with the book.

On the one hand, he is clearly all against it, and he expresses a kind of confusion over why people would be prejudiced against Judaism and jews at all. But on the other hand, he makes his point about the antisemitism of the age by indulging in lurid and detailed episodes of awful language and hateful behaviour towards the two principle Jewish characters.

It reminds me a little of Ricky Gervais claiming that he goes to extremes in flirting with taboo subjects to highlight the hypocrisy of others, but it can seem, when he is talking, as if he is merely using that as a cover to indulge in hate and prejudice that he personally feels.

It’s not me, Gervais declares, it’s the ‘character’ of me as a standup/writer/awards host, etc. I’m really laughing at you, and your inability to see that extreme comments coming from me, a ‘normal’ liberal guy, are always in inverted commas, always a joke, and shine a light on a real and serious issue. I would never think that way, he protests.

To quote another notable British writer: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

Or at least it can seem that way, and there were whiffs of that in Scott’s prose.

Would I read another of his novels? Maybe. I picked that one up in an antique shop, in a charming old edition for a few pounds, and if the circumstance arose such that I found another of his tomes in a similar situation, I would doubtless buy it and, eventually, read it.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Loneliness Hotel | Pushing the Wave