Saturday, February 16, 2013

Like this

You know the Hotel Gellert in Budapest of course. Its Imperial splendour was reflected in the junoesque lady who ran the little side bar in the foyer. When my colleague Arthur and I went to her for a drink after a heavy night, she said “I know what you boys need: a palinka vodka. It will restore you. I give my husband a glass of it every night and he is like this...” The meaning of the gesture that accompanied the words was unmistakeable. She formed a fist and brought her forearm up sharply several times to bang the underside of the bar. Wow.

We left Hungary and eventually got to Germany, where we had to report to a man called Schubert, whose training programme we were supervising. Over lunch, desperate as always to keep the conversation going – poor Schubert was a man with no social skills worth talking about - I related the incident of the junoesque lady with the vigorous forearm, concluding the anecdote with “her husband is .... like this”, banging the underside of the table in the prescribed manner. The movement and the noise seemed to jerk our host into life. He looked round, silent for a moment, and then said in a voice devoid of all expression: “Oh, he must break a lot of tables.”

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