Su Lum: Slumming | AspenTimes.com
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Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

My granddaughter Riley Skinner is in Budapest, Hungary, serving a seven-week internship with an international theater company, there as part of the work program at Bennington College, where she is in her second year. Everyone in the whole school takes off in January and February to do various works in various places. I’m not exactly sure how Riley, who is a music major, ended up in Budapest, but it had something to do with her fluency in Spanish.

Riley has done a lot of traveling for someone who just turned 20 – went to Japan as an exchange student at the Community School, spent a semester at an all-girl Catholic high school (with uniforms!) in Ireland, went on work trips to Costa Rica, New York City, San Francisco and India, did an internship at KDNK and NPR, and has rafted many of the western waterways with her parents, Steve and Skye.

The more I totter into dotage, the more Riley’s horizons expand, and I live vicariously in her adventures.



Riley hasn’t been in Budapest for a month, but I got a postcard from her today written in Hungarian, complete with accent marks and umlauts, completely unintelligible to me, written a couple of weeks after her arrival when she didn’t know one word of the language but apparently quickly adapted.

When she was in Ireland, which she described as learning a completely different language, she lived with a family from Argentina and spoke only Spanish in their home, so she’s had some practice in learning fast.




Riley sends dispatches from Hungary to a mailing list of family and friends, starting with Number One, written the evening she landed, after a hellacious plane trip, without her luggage and freezing cold without a coat.

She met up with her landlady, who took her to her tiny apartment five stories high overlooking the Danube River (“the best view ever”), bought a toothbrush and went to a cafe/wine bar next door.

“I’m in the cafe right now where they don’t serve food (I came in ravenous) but the woman who owns it said, ‘I take care of you! Like own mother!’ and sat me down with a password to the Internet, a glass of what I can only compare to piping hot sangria, a bunch of crackers and two HUGE slabs of bread coated in butter with random thick pieces of salami piled on top. Welcome to Hungary, where you never go hungry!”

It was days before Riley’s luggage arrived – forwarded to the cafe – where her new Hungarian family was so excited that Riley opened her bags for all to see and celebrate. “I spent the New Year in awe of my sweaters, unpacking, playing some music and watching the fireworks over the Danube from my private balcony,” she wrote.

Anyway, Riley is digging the music scenes of Budapest, which are reportedly fantastic though I can’t quite picture it – a venue in an underground cave with bass, viola, violin and “a dulcimer-like like instrument that had very wide, flat strings and sounded shockingly like a honky-tonk piano … the four of them were soon joined by two more violins, another viola and an accordion player … I have never seen such accurate or joyful playing.”

Budapest rests on a network of caves and underground hot springs, and Riley’s favorites are the thermal baths. I Googled “Thermal baths of Budapest” and there were more than 6,000 entries.

Meanwhile, back at her real job at the theater, she is being asked to translate the English subtitles of movies she hasn’t seen, out of context. One was, “But I’ve already been done everything but if I don’t know what I’ve to do then I work for a lot,” and “Those lousy celestial rats? They shit on my tilt.”

I don’t know what happened to the Spanish component, but Riley’s having a great time. Bought a bicycle for $40 and is flying around between Buda and Pest, and how I envy her.


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