Back

September came and duty called, so I flew back to Budapest to become a better philosopher.

Contrary to last year, the foresight of spending the next three months of my life away from home without seeing most of my friends and family didn’t make me unhappy or anxious this time. I felt strangely indifferent about it, like the way you feel about stories you hear on the news that you don’t particularly care for. It doesn’t “get to you”.

It was simply that time of the year again.

These three months in Budapest were going to happen and there was nothing I could do about it anyway. Besides, I chose for this way of living, so I’m going to make it rock. Any other self-talk didn’t seem to make sense.

Arriving at my new room, it turned out that one of the unknown flatmates had actually not forgotten everything from our quick meeting before summer. I, by contrast, wasn’t particularly able to recall much about her at all.

Whoops.

Before I fell asleep, I had an internal debate on whether I ought to feel guilty about my lapse of memory. I decided that I needn’t, because, I reasoned, one ephemeral meeting three months ago isn’t big enough for that. Regardless, I really should stop being so lazy about remembering names.

I’ve always found it inconvenient that rules about when you’re supposed to experience which emotion have never been announced in the paper, so I spend a lot of time thinking about them. Doesn’t everyone?

I was rather pleased with how I managed to get myself off the hook here, not to mention with the fact that I will be sharing an apartment with what appear to be friendly people, so I concluded this inner dialogue with a mental pad on the back before I curled up under these unfamiliar covers for the first time.

It’s perhaps one of the most important rules in my life to always try to avoid going to bed sad or angry. If I feel bad when bedtime comes I want, I need, to solve whatever’s causing this unpleasant state — or sometimes I just drink.

As it happened, many locals had heard that I was back in town: the streets were busier than I remembered them the next morning.

This was flattering.

I’m not that famous, but the traffic was jamming into the streets of the basilica and the university, filling the air with a typical gasoline smell — an olfactory experience that doesn’t match at all with the visual experience you get when you lift your head to look above the unorganized traffic conquering the city and see the majestic, beautifully restored buildings, reminding you that Budapest was once the capital of a country that actually did well.

That afternoon, I met with my supervisor. Because of the special occasion and also — mainly, I suspect — because he wanted to tea with milk but the department kitchen ran out of milk we went to a cozy tea house down the road. It had a wooden interior and was quiet. We were the only customers. I told him that I always take Ceylon tea because that’s the tea that we always drink at home. It makes me feel good. He said he likes English breakfast tea.

That conversation didn’t go anywhere.

Luckily, our discussion of the work I did in the summer did: it was outstanding and when we parted two hours later I felt purposeful. This was the intellectual stimulation that I came for.

I was still excited when I walked home and received an e-mail about upcoming fire drills at the university.

It was that time of the year again.

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