On one of the corners of St Stephen’s square
is a café, the California
Coffee Company, with cheery slogans,
in English, extolling the benefits
of the bean. A window seat gives a view,
across the square, of the west entrance
to the basilica of Szent Istvan,
its portico embossed in gold with
‘Ego Sum Veritas et Vita’.
Our backs to the basilica we walk
down Zyrini Street towards the Danube,
Buda rising high on its western slopes.
As we pass the Cognitive Department
of the Soros-funded University
of Central Europe – which the government
has shut down – three students emerge carrying
a mattress in plastic wrapping, one wearing
a sweatshirt marked ‘#istandwithceu’.
On the embankment near the Chain Bridge –
designed and built by British engineers
after the ’48 revolution –
are empty sparkler packets, New Year’s discards.
The gun metal water is fast, turbulent.
Upstream is a row of cast iron boots and shoes.
There, while the Red Army shelled the city,
the Christmas and New Year of ’44/
’45, the Arrow Cross (whose informal
motto was ‘Perseverance’) shot thousands – Jews,
communists, Roma – forcing them to remove
their footwear first, and stand on the embankment’s edge
their backs to the river.