a river runs between them

I learned something today. Did you know that Budapest is a city divided? The Danube River, which coincidentally runs through Vienna as well, cuts Budapest in half. On one side you have Buda, and the other you have Pest (actually pronounced peschet). This brings the sum total of Facts known about Budapest to a whopping three. The first two being that Budapest is the current capital of Hungary, and it was originally a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire prior to World War I.

Okay, I may know a little more than that. For instance, Budapest is home to about two million people, and Hungary itself has a population shy of ten million. Not bad . What’s better is Budapest is as far from Austria as Carmel-by-the-Sea is from Marin; a little over a two and a half hour drive. And I will say, for the record, that I’d trade Carmel for Budapest as a weekend retreat getaway in a heartbeat.  I’m putting this on the record: Budapest is the next Thailand for twenty-somethings; if it isn’t already.

This place is something else entirely. It has the look and feel of Austria, but with the architectural touches of Russia – which isn’t at all surprising considering the Communists controlled it for quite some time until Hungarians took things into their own hands. There used to be two colossal statues in the City Park area, one of Stalin and the other of Lenin – both are now gone, but good news! Another prominent historical figure is still remembered with daily reverence. You know who I’m talking about, right? Yes, if you said Michael Jackson, you were correct. The rest of you, shame on you. You should have known that despite being dead six years, the King of Pop still reigns supreme from far beyond the grave. It’s called moonwalking for a reason.

It's blurry because I didn't believe what I saw from the tour bus and had to scramble to get this shot as proof. Deal with it. Bet you a plane ticket it exists -  I need to get back here. Pronto.

It’s blurry because I didn’t believe what I saw from the tour bus and had to scramble to get this shot as proof. Deal with it. Bet you a plane ticket it exists – I need to get back here. Pronto.

The thing about Budapest that gets me the most is how perfect everything is – at least to me. The grandiosity of it all is something else entirely; except without that whole pretentious part. It’s big. Really big. I mean it was originally two cities and then they just said, “the hell with it – Budapest sounds a hell of a lot better than just ‘pescht’ or ‘buda’.” I’m sure that’s how the historians remember it as well – eat your heart out, Zinn.

There’s so much detail I cannot even begin to explain. Not because I lack the words, but it is like my brain is having a memory buffer overflow error. That thing that happens when your computer hasn’t been shut off in forever and is just slow and programs crash all the time, yeah, that. Budapest is not for the faint of heart. It is sensory perception overload. From the cobblestones, to the pre and post war architecture (80% of Budapest was levelled during World War II), to the churches that rival anything I’ve seen in Austria so far (Melk, I’m coming for you tomorrow).

In layman’s terms it’s Disneyland the first time you saw Disneyland – and hopefully when you were little so the effect is as hyperbolic as my somewhat accurate portrayal of Budapest (sans those summer time lines as well). It’s the city you want to spend at least a week in, as I’m sure you can see a lot of it in 3 days – you will want to relax and repeat some of the experiences the other 4. And as it was summer, most schools and universities were out on holiday – so it felt like the epicenter of European twenty-somethings. Maybe they know something we don’t. Maybe Tijuana is overrated, or maybe Europeans actually do have class – maybe we just do our best to imitate class.

Emerson wrote, “Envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide.” I don’t argue that point at all, but I also don’t think I have to envy them either.  For America, everything was inherited. We are a collective pot of culture and ethnicity, religion and spirituality. We are, after all, only two-hundred years old – and some change. Though age is no excuse for immaturity and erratic behavior. I’ve been to Europe more times than I can count, and the one thing I’ve seen – at least in Austria – is that everyone seems to be so down to earth. So chill. Budapest is no different. I’m sure people get into things. I’m sure there’s crime – there sure as hell is some poverty.  It just has a different pace, a different beat, but to a similar melody. It’s like remembering what a 4/4 beat was after being submersed in electronic dance music for a decade.

Everything in America is so fast. Fast food, fast cars, fast women – and men. Fast paced, no break, no vacation, no rest, no relenting – capitalistic America. And when you get away from that, even for a brief period of time (three days so far for me) you start to see what Americans are missing. I am not going to say, we are that far lacking. We have offer a hell of a lot to the world, and the United States isn’t without its own majesty (Cascades to Yosemite). It just feels… I don’t know.

Necessary. Necessary to experience this. To know that you stand in a place that has more history than all your family members could hope to remember about their genealogy. It has survived and endured not one, but two World Wars – and tons of other conquests and skirmishes. We only participated, and for the most part, from the comfort of our isolated continent. Don’t let my quick wit and offhand remarks lead you to believe that I devalue the loss of American lives lost in these wars. It’s just one thing to give up your sons, and another entirely when theirs bombs falling overhead of the place you’re on your knees praying for each night that they come home safely. There is no comparison here. Europe had it worse. The end.

Though being here, even in my sleep deprived state (and I’m very sleep deprived), I just have this feeling. Feeling like this won’t be the last thing to stop me in my tracks. Feeling like I won’t be the same again. Feeling the need to visit this place – and visit it often. Most of all, visit it with someone special. Yes, I’m here with my family. That is special. My grandfather is pushing 93. He walked miles today. He’s a trooper. He wasn’t even 18 when Hitler invaded Germany. He was my dad’s age, when my dad left for America, when World War II finally ended. He lived through the Iranian Revolution. He lost a son. That’s another story for another time. He’s old, get it? My cousin is roughly eight. I say roughly because I held her after she was born, but frankly I don’t remember when that was – sometime in the past decade. I’m a horrible person, I know. So for her to keep up an entire day, and do it calmly with no outbursts is something literally unseen in America these days.

My mom, my aunt, and my father were all with us as well. It’s hard being a Ghannadan. For the most part my dad is the most sociable, outgoing, charismatic person I know. He will have a conversation with literally anyone, get them to tell him their story, get them to open up to him. Make friends anywhere. He’s a polyglot – meaning he speaks a lot of languages. Rightfully so, as he speaks internationally at leadership development conferences and business building seminars. He’s a leader and a strategist. I figure if my life was like Game of Thrones, we would be pretty well off as my dad would always have the upper hand advantage. He would always be three moves ahead of you.

Next to my sister, my mom is the strongest woman I know. My parents, together, are the strongest couple I know. They are the sole reason why I believe I can still have forever with another person. That it is obtainable. That relationships can be made to last, and last through the absolute worst situations. The situations that you just wouldn’t want to fathom or wish upon others. The thing is, when you put all of us together, more often than naught, a car can become a pressure cooker. So many strong personalities – and if we don’t have a written down plan, and exact accord detailing our every move, and we have to leave things up to interpretation (I don’t know, like driving in an unknown place – oh, say Budapest!), my parents can’t even agree if a GPS is correct in its navigational ability.

So I won’t say I’m alone. I’m not alone in that sense.

I shouldn't have shot it with such a high ISO. My fault. I'm sorry. It's been a long time since I've been behind the lens.

I shouldn’t have shot it with such a high ISO. My fault. I’m sorry. It’s been a long time since I’ve been behind the lens.

Yet wherever I go in Budapest, whom ever I see, two people will always be joined hand in hand, friend with friend, public-mouth-sucking-face-kissers. Two peas in a pod. And I yearn for that. I yearn for that more than I want to admit, because admitting that you’re vulnerable is dangerous. It can be exploited. It’s literally how hackers keep making the US look like a bunch of children with technology. Vulnerabilities exploited. I don’t want to say I need someone. I believe I was made for someone, just as I believe this life is a gift that I don’t deserve. I just feel very, very, alone in this very big place that  ebbs intimacy in the most romantic of ways. The sunsets here just beg you to cry out, “that’s not fair!”

I want to scream out to the void, to the blackness that eventually follows the last embers of the day, “where’s my light on the horizon? where’s my daylight?” I know daylight is coming. Literally. I’ve been editing photos since midnight, finished at three, got everything online at four, and have been writing since. It’s almost five. I don’t know how I’m going to make it to Prague, or past that, with the lack of sleep I’m getting. But writing this is important. Writing is important. Feeling is important. Thinking is important. Ruminating on this is important. Taking the time to collect my thoughts, to reflect. That’s the part of the experience that I am trying to make an earnest effort to keep up with. It’s hard, I digress.

hope daylight is coming for me. I hope that ray of sunshine is going to break through my dark clouds – because there are dark clouds. And I like that. Blue skies are overrated, cloudy days make for the best contrast. Look at my photos if you need any evidence of that. As the sun set over Buda, I headed back to the car – trailing my parents by quite some distance. I ached – I ached and longed.

And eventually I stopped walking. All my mistakes, and my shortcomings. Everything that I’ve done wrong has slowly berated me down in my exhaustion and mental fatigue. It does this from time to time, and more often than I’d like to admit anymore. But it does, and I can’t be sorry any more than I can prevent the rain from coming down out of darkened skies. I stopped and was indignant about it all.  I am tired of living in the past – I’m tired of robbing my future, whatever that may be.

Milan Kundera once wrote:

“People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It’s not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.”

I won’t argue against that. I’d bleed myself dry to change my past. My one regret. And I’m scared. I’m scared of the future. I’m scared because everything I know is behind me, but it’s rightfully behind me – wrong or right outcome, right? That’s the thing about the unknown. That’s the terror and awe it inspires in men. That’s the precipice we come to with the unknown, do we jump? Do we take a leap of faith? Hoping we sprout wings before the water catches us? And what then – do we fly? Do we soar? I don’t know. I’m willing to try.

I pulled out my headphones, and I put on this track.

I found this track only within the last three months, and I will admit that I’ve cried more to this track during that period of time than I think I’ve collectively cried in the last ten years.

Maybe I’m learning how to love. Maybe I’m learning to understand myself. Maybe there is a reason for the pain, and a purpose for everything. Seeds do die before they grow. Maybe I just need to die unto myself a little bit more before I get there.


Good night/good morning ( written 3:48 AM – 5:18 AM).


Song On My Mind:

Colony House – Learning How to Love

and on Spotify: