My new landlord is a tall, kind of awkward, excessively considerate Hungarian man in his thirties named David with a toddler named Balthazar. (When I asked why Balthazar, he laughed and said “online generator.”) The apartment came furnished, but David spent our first two weeks of living there making sure we had everything we needed. He bought new glasses, replaced curtains, dismantled a bunk bed, and assembled a twin bed—all after his child was asleep.

Our apartment building has an inner courtyard where people keep potted plants and bikes and folding chairs. Walking into the courtyard from the bustling, heat-stressed street almost feels reverent, like walking into a small stone chapel. A modest-sized tree is growing in the middle and a mossy film covers the concrete. In a city with more tan and gray than I’m used to, the courtyard was an instant draw—it would’ve been one of the catchy identifying handles in House Hunters. “Green Courtyard Oasis: Comes with Baby Balthazar.”  We noted how great the courtyard was when David was first showing us around, and he told us that he was the one who planted the tree when he was five years old. He’s lived in this building on and off since his childhood, and now he’s raising his own kid here.

When David was helping us assemble my twin bed, he told us about how this district has exploded in popularity over the last fifteen years. He used to know more of his neighbors, but now the apartments change hands every six or twelve months. He and his wife lived in our apartment for a while. Exchange students come and go every semester. A refugee family lived here not long before us. The collar and canine shampoo we found in the bathroom cupboard indicate that the most recent tenants included a dog or two.

In my orientation for work a few weeks ago, we read a Wendell Berry essay that describes two kinds of people: stickers and boomers. Boomers are the industrialists who plow ahead to every new opportunity and move on when resources are scarce. Stickers are the long-term caretakers of the land whose affection for their place holds them there even when it makes more sense to leave. I’m sure Wendell Berry would place me, along with many Americans in Budapest who benefit from the comparative strength of USD to Hungarian forints, in the boomer category. (We could argue there’s a way for anyone in any country to invest their time and friendship in a ‘sticker’ sort of way, but that’s not the point.) David is a sticker. On top of parenting and working a full time job, he offers to assemble bed frames with opportunistic tenants who will come and go. In a home with literally no visible soil, he cracked open the concrete and planted a tree.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of stickers in my life: established, faithful stanchions of a community who set down their—trowels? pick your farming metaphor—to chat with a free floating twentysomething. When I encounter these people, I lose my boomer tunnel vision just for a moment. I forget about the rapid fire questions of optimization and growth that are programmed in my head: where to work and whom to invest in and where to live and how to improve myself. I begin to think about the time it takes for a tree to grow in a courtyard. I picture all the people who have passed through for a year or two, stopping to catch their breath.

One of the first Gilmore Girls episodes I watched in this apartment was about Lorelai and Sookie renovating the Dragonfly Inn (and dodging Taylor’s attempts to sabotage them). There’s a precious moment when the two of them, along with Michel, are standing on the Dragonfly’s porch and pondering its lifetime. “This place had a long history before us, has a long future after us,” Lorelai says. “I keep thinking it’s a part of our lives, but, really, it’s the reverse. For a little while…I don’t know…it’s like we’re a part of its life.” I could not have asked for a better house-christening episode.


  1. Dawn Hendriksen

    Thanks, Michal! Having enjoyed time with the Boumans in their Budapest courtyard in 2019, I’m thankful for a fresh reminder … and for the thought-provoking way you’ve described pieces of this new season of your experience.

    • Michal Rubingh

      Thank you! The courtyards are pretty special.


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