Thanks to the location of my quirky Budapest rental, I had a front row seat to one of the more fascinating shows in town: lomtalanítás, which I’ll translate as “get rid of junk” day. The city offers one day of free haulage annually for its 23 districts, staggering them across the calendar. I had not known about this event until I left my apartment on “Black Friday”, when District VII became the stage. Apocalyptic piles confronted me on each block. Haphazard stacks of defunct refrigerators, floppy mattresses, stained carpets, torn and rotting chairs, smashed televisions, antiquated desktops and calculators, books and photographs, twisted bundles of fabric, busted umbrellas, collapsed couches, and worn shoes, among other things, squeezed pedestrian access, buried fire hydrants and spilled into precious parking spots. It’s as if every building had evicted a portion of it contents in a collective “KonMari” purge, raising trash day to an nth power.
Resellers, scavengers and opportunists claimed territory and objects. While wandering amid the detritus before figuring out what was going on, I spotted a cabinet covered with mannequin heads. As I approached, a woman guarding them told me I could take a picture. She explained she’d sell them later. As darkness cloaked the city, people wore headlamps or used their phones’ flashlight app to scrounge for treasures. While returning from my Aikido class at around 8:45pm, I came across a woman standing with her bicycle by a large white wood cabinet. Next to it, on another piece of abandoned furniture, lay an old photograph of parents with their son. Their direct gaze caught my attention. I stopped to take a closer look.
“It’s interesting,” said the woman. “It looks as if someone drew over the photograph.”
I held it up under the pale street light. Their clothing had been embellished by hand. I turned over the photo but nothing was written on the back. The once meaningful image would be destined for eternity unless someone came along and turned it into art or into profit at a flea market.
“I’m taking this cabinet,” she said, making her claim. She opened some of the drawers and knocked on the wood. “It’s good quality.”
“I’m not taking anything,” I said. “I’m just visiting. This is quite interesting as we don’t have such an event where I live. But how do you plan to get that cabinet home?”
Unlike the Ikea furniture popular in Budapest, it couldn’t be easily taken apart and was at least six feet tall.
“My husband is coming with the car,” she said. “We’ll see if it fits.”
She told me that she once rescued an old album because it had photos from the 1960s and 70s, and she wanted to remember what people looked like at that time. I imagine each of the mounds of trash around Budapest held fascinating finds for those willing to dig.
I returned to my apartment. My host mother from my college semester planned to bring something over that evening. I told her I’d come downstairs because parking might be difficult. I expected she’d arrive at any moment so I didn’t bother to take off my coat as I began making dinner. She called at 9:15pm to say she was at the far end of the block. As I walked towards her car, an energetic and smartly dressed man ferried some heavy objects from the curb into a taxi. If I hadn’t been tired, I might have stayed outside to see more of the action. A guy with a camera and tripod did just that.
The next morning I left my building mere seconds after garbage trucks rumbled down the street and gobbled the piles. They left behind mirror fragments and a stray blue ballet flat. The curtain had closed on lomtalanítás.
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