Friday 26 October 2007

Budapest lomtalanítás

October sees the last chance lomtalanítás

No wonder they invented the term and the ritual: ‘spring cleaning’.
Once the sun finally peeps through, it is the best time of year to sweep away the dust accumulated during the winter, throw open the windows, take a deep breath and access the situation.
An essential part of the vernal rejuvenation is the desire to clear out all the unwanted excess baggage surrounding our lives and start again.
Purging the cupboards and chucking out all the junk we’d long forgotten gives an intense feeling of pleasure and rebirth, before it all accumulates again over the coming year.
In North America, the Saturday garage sale is an old tradition and in Britain car-boot sales are an important part of community life.
In Budapest, the 'spring' clear-out lasts from March to October and brings as much joy to the treasure-seeker as to those who throw out.
In Hungary, the ritual is known as lomtalanítás, which is literally the act of liberating oneself from lom - lumber, or unwanted household articles.
'I think all nations like to throw out stuff and start afresh', said sociologist Zsuzsa Éles.
'In Naples at New Year they throw out unwanted furniture from upstairs windows which can be quite dangerous. In Hungary we are more organized with different districts at different times'. Lomtalanítás occurs on prearranged days, notice of which is usually posted by letter boxes in the apartment block.
Residents are advised to put their trash out on the pavement during the evening before collection.
Sometimes these are hasty affairs, finished within a 24-hour period.
If you live in Downtown District V, there is a load of fascinating junk, but this year you have already missed the kukások (rubbish collectors) who arrived on the morning of Saturday 28 February and had everything swept up by 9am.
On Friday evening, 16 April, Bródy Sándor utca in District VIII was completely blocked from the Nagykörút to the Kis (Múzeum) körút with ironmonger’s items bargains blocking access and a wealth of heavy oak furniture for whoever fancied such a thing.
Lomtalanítás cuts across borders and class-divides, uniting everyone with the joy of finding a little nugget of treasure for free.
Even French screen legend Catherine Deneuve entered into the spirit of the event.
Last year, she was reportedly spotted in District V indulging in the traditional Hungarian treasure-hunting sport while in town for the Opera Ball.
She obviously has a keen eye for a bargain and, I heard, she crammed four chairs into the back of her chauffeur-driven Audi in the district V chuck-out, taking a little piece of Hungary back to her Provence farmhouse.
Larger districts can take three to four days to get everything cleared away.
Residents happily put beds, cupboards and mattresses, never mind those rotting fridges and quasi-sputnik washing machines outside without fear of local busybodies accusing them of anti-social behavior.
At first glance most of it appears to be junk.
But within minutes, the mounds become a magnet for antique collectors, scrap metal or cardboard merchants, gangs of traders and curious passers-by.
Teams go around the district in gangs, commandeering the best piles and sitting guarding them, while others seek out more tempting mountains of garbage.
They can be quite intimidating these days.
It seems that trash (scrap metal, possibly an antique chair or picture frame ) is big business, particularly in upmarket neighbourhoods like Rózsadomb (District II) with tasty pickings to be found.
During the lomtalanítás in District V one year, I was kept awake all night by enthusiastic groups of hunters.
People rummaged though the piles and argued over territory.
Peering over the balcony in the early hours, I witnessed an elderly gentleman carefully taking apart an ancient television.
He removed certain pieces meticulously, only he knew which bits were worth keeping.
For many, lomtalanítás represents an essential source of income. Just after the change of political system, I once witnessed evolution, if not revolution, in progress through lomtalanítás in District XIII.
Among a mountainous pile of cupboards, fridges and mattresses were strewn copies of a leather-bound book series entitled Sztálin I - XX, and the owner had decided it was time to relieve himself of all of them.
When I first walked past, the collection was complete.
Later in the afternoon, some issues were missing - obviously the more exciting episodes in the dictator’s life.
Eventually, by evening all the books had been snapped up.
Nearby, two students unfurled what must have been a very luxurious Persian carpet, but now only a few worn threads testified to its once-glorious past.
They seemed quite delighted with the find, however, rolled it up and headed off home. Lomtalanítás used to be quite a gentle pursuit, akin to sorting through dusty old books at a Sunday morning village fete.
Now with the growing gap between rich and poor, an element of desperation has crept in.
'A vaguely-regulated war has broken out in many districts, as groups of organized gangs tour the streets with their Ladas snapping up all the scrap metal and threatening those who converge on their patch', said Éles.
Tortured by incessant banging on those old-style drum washing machines, I wondered if I could make a sociological survey, during the metallic hammering which went on all day in my district’s appointed cathartic weekend.
It seemed that everyone in District XI was chucking out their top-loading East German models en masse, then possibly buying a swanky new brand, to keep up with the Kovácses.
The lomtalanítás ritual is like a giant recycling effort catering to the various needs of the population.
Unlike enforced recycling in Western Europe, based on guilty consciences, lomtalanítás represents a more local, evolutionary method which works just as efficiently as bottle banks. Those who take items home today will probably place them back on the pavement at some future date, nothing is really being thrown away and so the process perpetuates itself.
To the eternal horror of my Hungarian partner, I can never resist a quick look through the piles, which loom high in front of my door.
I shall be on the lookout in September when District XI has its regular purge and now I have the perfect excuse - if a superstar like Madame Deneuve doesn’t mind having a rummage for a bargain, then who are we to be so fastidious!
Go on, chuck out then get stuck in, who knows what you’ll discover.

The website of the Fővárosi Közterület-fenntartó Zártkörűen Működő Részvénytársaság (Zrt)
has a list of what districts chuck out on what dates, with maps and everything!!

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