Anyway, onto the second tour post. This one took a long time because I was trying to find a way to condense it and it was even harder than France. See, we were met at the airport by Viktoria Bosnyak from my Hungarian publisher, and she proceeded to show me as much of Budapest as humanly possible during our waking hours. Which was brilliant . . . but also gave me so many photos that I can't possibly show you all of them, because people with dial-up connections will hunt me down and bludgeon me to death with a cable modem.
I think I better just say, to get it out of the way, that any rumors that you've heard about Budapest being gorgeous are absolutely true. See?
I see that you believe me. In between signings and interviews and live webcasts, Viki also had other things planned for me. None of these quite went down the way I expected.
For instance, she had planned to take us to several Hungarian restaurants to eat Real Hungarian Food.
WHAT I EXPECTED: To politely starve. I'm a picky eater (as a child, I only ate round foods) and though one of my favorite foods is goulash, I assumed that American goulash was completely different from actual Hungarian goulash. Also, goulash is sort of like a stew. Hey, I've read high fantasy. I know that you don't eat stew in strange places. You never know what kind of animal just died for your meal. Or how long ago it died, for that matter.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: I will now eat anything even remotely called goulash. I am moving to Hungary to eat only Hungarian food. Viki also took me to a cake shop and fed me something called apple pie which was not apple pie but was a perfectly acceptable food regardless.
Another thing Viki had planned was a trip to one of the museums in Budapest, to see 19th and 20th century Hungarian art.
WHAT I EXPECTED: Paintings of villagers frolicking in peasant garb while eating goulash.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: Paintings of Hungarian guys in battle dress drowning in rivers, paintings of Turks and Hungarians poking each other with swords, paintings of naked women smiling coyly, and, memorably, a painting of me after pulling an all nighter to get more of my novel done. Basically, it was awesome. Also, Lover was like a boy in a candy shop. Men beating each other up and women with barely any clothing, with overtones of depression and insanity!? Come on! This is like a Russell Crowe movie.
At a dinner with some readers and my publisher and editor, my publisher said they had a special gift for me.
WHAT I EXPECTED: Something I would not be able to fit into my luggage. Possibly something I would not immediately be able to identify. Possibly goulash.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: A special edition of SHIVER, bound in leather and wood, and utterly, terribly, drop dead gorgeous.
And yes, that is my tea being served in a flower pot in that last photo. My Hungarian publisher was quick to point out that this was not a Hungarian custom.
Also, before I left for Europe, my Hungarian publisher had asked me if I was interested in going to see . . . are you ready for this? Probably not. I wasn't. They wanted to know if I was interested in going an hour outside of Budapest to see a man who trains wolves for movies. They said they'd arranged for me to go in with the wolf pack, and that I would be provided "appropriate apparel." Of course there is only one answer for a question like that.
WHAT I EXPECTED: I was most concerned about what this phrase meant: "appropriate apparel." What is appropriate apparel for seeing wolves in Hungary? I couldn't decide if this meant padded arm protectors or a leather bikini. One just never knows the cultural norm for these things.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: Two waterproof coats over the top of my wool coat and a pair of bright purple galoshes provided by my publisher.
They'd had sudden snow which had melted and left the place incredibly muddy, and they just didn't want me to ruin my clothing.
Well, that makes sense. It was also way too cold for a leather bikini. Maybe a one piece, though?
So I meant Zoltan, the man who trains the wolves, and he was incredibly funny, charming, and normal. I guess I was expecting some guy with a beard long enough for endangered species to live in. But instead, here was this guy who really ought to play Beck in the movie of SHIVER.
ZOLTAN: Let's go in through the house first. We'll get you suited up.
ZOLTAN: Don't let the pig out.
I am sorry to say that I don't have a photograph of the pig that he had living in his kitchen. But I trust that you'll believe me. And then it was on down to the wolves. He had several packs, which he changed up often to keep from having any dominance issues, and I met one of the wolves who starred in the movie Blood and Chocolate.
And then in I went with the frolicking wolves. Zoltan suggested that we let them get to know us before we tried to touch them, and also told us to take care that they wouldn't scratch our faces. Oh, yeah, and he also said they liked to taste things. Basically what this translated into was a half dozen wolves placing my hands in their mouths, tugging on the toggles of my coat, and biting on the end of Lover's camera.
And it was amazing to watch them -- it wasn't at all like a pack of dogs playing. Every pack behavior that I'd read about and watched on TV was so much more exaggerated than in dogs. It was a giant, ever-moving play of dominance and submission, hierarchy, playing, noise-making -- brilliant. It was absolutely brilliant.
ZOLTAN: Would you like to hear them howl?
ME: WOULD I EVER!
Again, it was absolutely nothing like dogs howling. The notes were so incredibly pure. It was like this. I don't think I can describe to you what it was like to be standing in the middle of a pack singing like that.
Then I got to get up close and personal. A little . . . too up close and personal.
But once I got their tongues out of my mouth, it was slightly less messy.
Okay, not a lot. I'd like you to see if you can spot my jeans in these photos. The mud on them. Keep in mind my next destination after the wolves was the airport, so that's how I flew. It distressed the flight attendant so much that she brought me five packages of wet wipes. That's service, baby!
I'd like to point out in this one that I, for one, am not using my tongue in this kiss.
It was pretty fantastic that Lover could be there as well -- in large part because I always try to explain these surreal tour experiences to him and I know they don't translate properly. Aw, look, he likes me, even in Hungary!
I have give a huge shout of of thanks to my publisher, for an unforgettable time. They gave me Hungarian candies to string up on my Christmas tree and I just wanted to show that they made it on!
I can't wait to go back.