ZG in the jungle
My wife and I were having dinner in Budapest (and I have to tell you I love starting a column with that phrase).For most of the past week, we had been hiking village-to-village in Moravia and Bohemia in the southern Czech Republic. There hadn’t been many tourists around and, besides my wife and myself, no Americans at all. We’d gone days without hearing anyone speak English, which certainly gave us the feeling of being on an adventure – although it also resulted in a few really strange meals in restaurants where both the menus and the waiters were totally incomprehensible. (Would you have guessed that the Czech word for “ice cream” is zmrzlina? Would you know how to pronounce it? If you saw it in a menu would you know not to order it for your entrée? Would you know it didn’t go well with that bowl of vprovy mozecek … which, it turns out, is pork brains.)But, as soon as we sat down in this Budapest restaurant, we realized that the room was full of people speaking English – or French or Spanish or Italian … anything but Hungarian. We were in a genuine tourist restaurant – and the Gypsy violinists were just about to play.Well, we shrugged, hoped for a good meal and realized that can be the kind of place you wind up when you take a recommendation from a hotel concierge.Still, it was a bit of a shock. We felt we’d been snatched away from our Eastern Europe adventure.The tables were tiny and set close together. At the table right next to us, a couple was chatting in English. They seemed perfectly nice, but we did our best to pretend they weren’t there.Then they struck up a conversation with the two women at the next table down the line.We heard one of the women ask, “Where in the States are you from?” and I wanted to duck under the table. Everyone seemed very nice, but – damnit! – sure, I’m a tourist, but I hate being an obvious tourist in the middle of tourists.And then the couple next to us told the ladies next to them, “We’re from Colorado, a little place outside Aspen. It’s called Old Snowmass.”Before that could even really register in my mind, one of the women at the other table cried out, “Aspen! We go there every summer! Do you know Cache Cache? My daughter works there.”OK. We’re anti-tourist snobs, but not that bad. My wife leaned over. “Excuse me,” she said. “We’re from Aspen too.”And so we spent the next 20 minutes squealing and chirping and trading personal tidbits.Really, there wasn’t much to talk about – but how could we ignore the bizarre fact that here, in Budapest, three tables, elbow to elbow, were filled with people who had an Aspen connection?And yet, in a way, it wasn’t that bizarre. The web of Aspen connections stretches around the globe. People from all over travel to Aspen – and people from Aspen travel all over.I remember hearing a story from back in the day when all cars in Aspen had license plates that began with “ZG.”It seems some people from Aspen were traveling in remotest Mexico, trekking somewhere deep in the jungle. They stumbled into a tiny, isolated village, virtually unreachable except on foot. Somehow, one lone car had made it to this village. It was parked on the muddy town square.It had “ZG” license plates.So … dinner in Budapest? No problem.See you there.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com
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