The Time I Had a Nervous Breakdown in Budapest

Fatigue strikes even the happiest of wanderers eventually. You cannot go, go, go forever without a recharge. Some people only need one day of travel to fall victim to exhaustion, others may go a whole week before tiring out. For myself, it was ninety days before I cracked.

There was a problem, though. I wasn’t finished traveling. I was smack dab in the middle of Europe with another two months before I would be back in the United States.

Three months prior, I had left Boise, Idaho to hitchhike to New York City in order to catch a flight to Europe. I had traveled nonstop. From Boise to Salt Lake to Denver to Omaha to Chicago to NYC to Germany to Belgium to France to Spain to Italy to Croatia to Slovenia to Hungary.

I was aware of the economic recession hitting the EU particularly hard that summer, with one of its worst bruises being Hungary. Two things I was not aware of before arriving in Budapest by train were that the country was using its own currency because it hadn’t gained admission into the Union yet, and there were not as many English speakers like there had been in Western Europe.

I had non-exchangeable coins on me, about twelve Euros worth, and knew nothing about the language. Even now I only remember that “igen/nem” is “yes/no” and the country, people, and language are all called “Magyar” (that’s something like MOW-DYARrrr and don’t forget to roll that R).

The language barrier meant less people who could understand my stories, in turn lessening the amount of forints I could make to get a bite to eat. Even begging for food would be difficult, as there was a lot of sidewalk competition. Nowhere else in Europe did I see more people living on the streets than in Budapest.

I started performing right outside the train station, but was told there was better busking in the commercial district. This held true and got me enough money to purchase some grub. I knew then, at least, that I could survive here.

I was tired. An all night train ride straight into a few hours of walking and performing had soaked up all my energy. I hoofed across the Elisabeth Bridge and over the Danube river that separated Pest from Buda. On the other side I found a small garden with a statue of the same Elisabeth (Empress during the reign of Franz Joseph I) as its centerpiece. I bedded down and sleep came quickly.

L to R: 2, 5, 20, and 100 forint coins.

L to R: 2, 5, 20, and 100 forint coins.

The next day I crossed back over into Pest and located the best part of any European city to street perform in, the city’s market square. The market square is where you’ll find the heaviest foot traffic with little to no vehicular traffic.

This particular “square” was actually more triangular or crescent shaped, but it was a large open area and was the only place in the city I saw other performers. I watched a violinist for a bit. The tourists were tipping well so I went in search of my own spot to perform.

It was a sunny, July day and there were a multitude of shoppers and gawkers around. Other buskers already had the best locations in the square locked down, so I set up shop on a wide pedestrian thoroughfare with storefront along one side.

Within minutes, I was approached by the building’s local security. They told me the I was on private property and couldn’t perform there. I sighed and nodded. This happened a lot.

I moved. They came back and told me to keep moving. My blood boiled, but I moved again. By the time I was outside their jurisdiction, I had been pushed over to a relatively dead corner. No one was walking by me.

It felt like a total shut down when it happened. I couldn’t handle any of it. I was thousands of miles from any friends or family, standing in the middle of my ancestral homeland, completely done.

I was reading a story no one was listening to. I wasn’t even listening to me. I was just repeating the words on the sheet of paper. I dropped the sheet and decided to let go with what I was feeling at that moment.

The tirade went something like, “Why the fuck can’t I stand fifty feet over there, huh? What possible negative repercussions could come from that? There are people performing all over this goddamned place and I can’t be right there in that spot, where I stand a better chance of making something so I can eat dinner tonight. Fuck you Hungary. Fuck this marketplace and fuck the police. Are you listening, Europe? Fuck the policia! Fuck the polizei! Fuck the politie! Fuck the polizia! Fuck them all!”

It was a much needed vent, and I figured no harm done as no one probably understood me. I picked the sheet up to finish the story and looked up to see a man and a woman standing in front of me.

“Did they really make you move,” the man asked in his native tongue of English.

I hadn’t expected that. I was a little embarrassed at first and apologized. We spoke for a bit and they stayed to listen to me finish the story, tipping me enough for a bed.

I picked up my pack and walked away from the marketplace in a post-anger daze. A feeling inside told me I still wasn’t okay. I wanted to be anywhere but there. I sat down against a potted plant at a bus transfer station. I must have sat there looking catatonic for half an hour, muttering my personal mantra under my breath the whole time. People handed me more money and some food. I didn’t look at or in any way acknowledge any of them.

Dusk approached and I walked to a cheap hostel. I checked in for two nights and slept on and off the next 48 hours.

When I left the hostel I felt rested, more so than I had in three months. I had purged myself mentally, and made room for more physical energy. I decided to leave Budapest and make my way to Vienna.

I have yet to experience that kind of weariness since, but I watch myself a little bit more carefully now. A combination of fatigue, hunger, loneliness, and getting pushed around put me over the edge. It’s an edge I dance upon daily in my travels, but at least now I know better how long I can dance before falling down.

J.W. Wargo is a Nomadic Bizarro Storyteller originally from Boise, Idaho. His travels have taken him from Budapest to Honolulu and all points in between. He has a Bizarro fiction novella out called Avoiding Mortimer.

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