b u d a p e s t

[ 18:44 tuesday 9 october – budapest, hungary ]

a funky cafe behind the opera house. high ceilings, warm colours and a smattering of young people, many poring over laptops. budapest is a curious place. its profusion of vast monumental buildings reminds me of vienna but the preponderant style here is art nouveau rather than neo-baroque. walking around almost every building looks as if it originates from some time between 1880 and 1915. but all is not as it seems. the city was almost completely flattened by the russians towards the end of the second world war then rebuilt in the fifties. notwithstanding this pervasive fakery it is an impressive and beautiful city.

the conference has been fun. i gave my presentation yesterday afternoon and it got a great reaction. an intimidating slice of the world’s most influential venture capitalists are here, with a few technology bigwigs thrown in for good measure. the floor sessions i’ve attended haven’t been particularly stimulating but as usual it’s the conversations and encounters around the edges where interesting things happen.

i seem to be getting a reputation for my dress sense. on the plus side this gives me licence to wear interesting clothes. on the minus side reputations have to be lived up to. yesterday i wore a magnificent jacket i picked up second hand at spitalfields market. it’s got sections in salmon pink and cream with embroidered decoration in silver. i wore it to my great aunt jean’s ninetieth birthday last month (she’s a great dresser herself and she loved it) but yesterday was the first time i’ve worn it for business. everyone else here is wearing dark suits so it’s fair to say i was noticed. actually it provoked some unexpectedly confessional responses, with a succession of people coming up to me through the day to admit they hated wearing the business uniform. i bonded with one of the stewards called bob who’s been sporting natty suits he had made in vietnam.

one observation about the locals is that they expect rules to be observed. my first experience was arriving at the airport, buying a ticket for the bus and metro to the town centre, putting it in the validation machine on the bus, then being stopped by an inspector when i arrived at my destination. it turned out the validation machine hadn’t stamped the ticket. i explained that it was my first time in budapest, that i’d bought a ticket and attempted to validate it, but the inspector was completely unsympathetic. he flatly repeated that the fine was five thousand forints (about thirteen pounds) until finally i paid up. then on my first morning i got down to breakfast in the hotel five minutes after breakfast officially ended. there were still half a dozen people eating and the food was all laid out but the waiter bluntly told me i was too late. when i insisted he eventually allowed me to pick up a plate and get some bits to eat but then he made me go to a different room to eat it. there were still a couple of people finishing their breakfasts in the restaurant when i handed in my plate and left so the whole exercise seemed ridilulous. i don’t think i function very well in cultures where rules are followed too rigorously. i suspect that’s part of what i find so agreeable about southern italy.

: c :

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