In Italy, why does a box containing twelve 200mg ibuprofen cost €4, or approximately $5.50, but a week and a half worth of antibiotics are free?
28 December 2012
I was walking towards the Anonymous statue near Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park when I noticed the guy playing the violin.
The sun was shining on him in his shortsleeved shirt, his blue eyes glinting above his thick blond mustache framed by dimples as he busked.
He’d left the case filled with change a few meters away and was approaching tourists as they touched the statue’s pen, rubbed golden by those before them. Trying to guess where they were from, urging them to take a photo with him while I kept my distance and willed them all out of the way of my shot.
“Where are you from? Spain?” he asked.
“No, no,” I replied, edging away.
“You speak English? Here. You take this,” he said, offering the violin and bow. “Take picture.”
“No, no thank you.”
I tried to walk off, V. stopping as the man chatted him up.
“Here. I take picture of you. Nice photo to remember Budapest.”
I can’t help it. I inevitably imagine the worst. The man taking my camera and holding it hostage for some euros or forints regardless of the fact that I have his violin because it’s not even his, he doesn’t play, he picked it up out of the trash. And I don’t really like having my picture taken. It makes me uncomfortable, trying to pretend the camera’s not there or worse, trying to smile and look like I mean it. I’d like to be different. I’d like to be spontaneous and less cynical.
I do the same thing to the woman who walks around Ascoli asking for cigarettes and the people trying to sell me socks or pirated CDs outside the mall. I’m not so worried about the Cigarette Lady but I do always think the socksellers might take out their frustration on our parked car.
“No thank you,” I called out, hoping V. would start walking away.
He turned to V. and shook his head. “I feel very big sorry for you!”
We laughed about it afterwards but I kept thinking about it. It would’ve been a nice picture to have, me pretending to play while standing in front of the slightly creepy old statue. Maybe I’d have busted into “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, the only song I remember how to play, delighting the man. Only, I didn’t do that. I just walked uncomfortably away.
Last month, we were back in Budapest. High up on Castle Hill, on the Buda side of the river, on the other side of the city from the park, We exited the funicular that whisks you up the hill. There was the violinist, this time in a trenchcoat, his bushy mustache looking paler in the grayness of the early winter day. He was playing Brahm’s Lullabye, a song my grandmother used to sing to us at bedtime. He stopped and approached a couple looking over the wall, down across the river. I flipped a few forints into his open case and walked on.