Her shoes are placed symmetrically outside the door. The straw mat below them holds a straw broom bound with ribbon and rope. To the right edge of the mat, three potted plants reach upward to the nonexistent light in the apartment block that still screams of its communistic beginnings. Rusting stair railings, paired with chipped tiles, suit the long unkept varieties of grass wielding their wills outside the main entrance.
We arrive in the early evening, the pungent aroma of summer thick in the air. We knock on three doors with no answer. She told us the 5th floor, but the layout of the stairs and the landings makes it confusing to understand which one is the 1st floor. We call, hearing a ring behind a distant door above us. Her voice: husky, smoky and foreign, ushers us upward. Her dark eyes hidden behind lashes that fall across delicately-high cheek bones belie a shyness.
I cross the threshold to the smell of chocolate incense and piano notes. Every light in the tiny apartment is different, handcrafted with hours of laboured love. Beads, fairy lights, glass, ceramics, pinned up images, mosaic, spice, coffee, lace… my head is whirling—every item, object, shape and curve screaming for my attention. My eyes cannot settle. She senses my admiration and basks in it. I, in turn, sense her need to relish this moment.
After harried conversations about locations, sights, eateries, directions, timetables, buses, trams and meeting points, with time whirling past midnight, we close the door on her disappearing back. I close my eyes, inhale the summer air blowing through the window, laden heavy with herbs which will be my dinner, along with the freshly baked bread and preserves she carefully laid out.
We eat slowly, the sound of the gurgling tea pot keeping us company. It is the cottage cheese wrapped in dark cocoa chocolate that my taste buds savour most. I will walk up to the corner shop every day hereafter to buy two of those delicacies: one for him, one for me.
Her story unfolds with the days: a dress designer with her own clothing line. We visit her showroom and the clothes feel rich, luxurious against my skin. Can beauty be hidden in yarn, I wonder as I touch the textiles one after the other. Her design work takes her to New York, commercial sets and locations within Hungary that many a heart would yearn to see.
Our time in her city comes to an end, her countryside calling to be explored. If it holds as much promise and harvest as her home and city, then a return flight will be a surety next year.
We say our Hungarian goodbyes outside the rusty gate, amidst the grass that hasn’t been mown in months. Her waif-like body, wrapped in cobalt blue leggings and an artsy top will linger in my memory for many years.
I want her in front of my lens, I realise as we drive away. She is poetry in a body.
She is Dalma Devenyi.
Photos and post By Claire Burge, owner Claire Burge Photography
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