When a Bad Cold Can Be a Good Thing


For more than a week, I have had a bad cold. A few days ago, I would have said nothing good about it (since it was bad), but now I’m ready to give it a tip of the hat as it packs up and prepares to head out the door. It reminded me of two colds I had long ago, one at age 10, the other at age 14. In both cases, I was living in a country away from home (first the Netherlands, then the Soviet Union); both times, the cold marked a transition.

When you start living in a new country (or when I do), the first few months have their own momentum. Each day, you learn new words and new ways of doing things. There are puzzles to be solved, errands to be run, things to be found; all of this seems as simple as twirling a wheel on its axle.

Then comes the cough and dizziness. The wheel gets stuck in mud; the day drags through the hours. But you still get basic things done, and people feed you. (My colleagues gave me tangerines and tea.) At the end of it all, when you emerge from the cold, it’s as though you entered the country all over again, but on a newly refurbished bike.

Sometimes a cold can even bring things out of you. When not feeling well, I get fed up with my procrastination, so I do a few things that I would normally put off.

One day last week I came home and guiltily locked the bike by the windows on the stairway, as I had been doing all along and as many others do. A month or so earlier, a man had told me (in Hungarian) that I wasn’t supposed to leave the bike there. He said the házmester had the key to the bike room and that I should ask her for a copy. I had been meaning to do this but hadn’t found the words or gumption yet. Now the same man passed by and asked me why I was still leaving it there. I didn’t know how to explain, so I said nothing and just walked on by. But then I decided to resolve this. Through Google Translate and my own adjustments, I arrived at the following: Egy ember azt mondta, hogy ne hagyja el a kerékpárt az emeletek közötti ablakok mellett. Hol van egy jobb hely? (“A man told me not to leave my bike by the windows between the floors. Where is a better place for it?”) I called her and asked the question; a few minutes later, she came over to show me where to put it.


Along those lines, it’s time to go back to the shop where I got my bike, this time to get a pump, a bell, and a lamp. I had my speech all prepared and tried it on a colleague, who told me that harang  referred to a church bell and that the word I needed was csengő. So here is what I will say: Itt vásároltam meg ezt a kerékpárt, és nagyon szeretem. Szükségem van egy légpumpa, csengő és lámpa. (“I bought this bike here and like it very much. I need a pump, bell, and lamp.”) If this isn’t exactly right, I think my meaning will still be clear. So these are some of the things that can come out of a cold.


I took these pictures last night in Szolnok when walking home from the train station (after returning from a wonderful 24 hours in Budapest).

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