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What would you expect to find in a market run by gypsies? If you rely on the old stereotypes - palm readers and pickpockets, sultry nights, crystal balls, and questionable wares - then think again. Savvy Traveler correspondent Anna Lengyel window-shopped her way around Budapest's Ecseri (eh cheh REE) market and found none of these, but the slice of history she saw was, in some ways, just as magical.

Feature: The Gypsy Marketplace

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The gypsy market in Budapest, Hungary, opens in the early morning hours - and today it is biting cold, accompanied by a strong wind.

Oh, it almost blows my mike off my hand. Nevertheless, severe weather never prevents either the traders or the treasure hunters from appearing here. It is a flea market, yes, but actually a lot more than that: quite an institution with its characters and atmosphere operating on the spot since 1948.

The dealers are mostly gypsies, from a special layer of Eastern-European gypsy society, actually family clans of many generations engaged in dealing with 2nd hand objects for centuries.

The unmistakable sound of their language, Romany fills the air, switching from Hungarian to their mother tongue - especially if they do not want Hungarians to understand them.

The gypsies have lived in Hungary for centuries within the rules of their own society always trying to keep their own traditional ways. Now they are selling whatever was made and used - and often thought to be completely lost - in Eastern and Central Europe during the last two centuries. It is challenging to go hunting in the shabby alleys, where the objects are scattered about.

A woman is pulling a trolley packed with communist medals, small red stars, communist party membership cards, a pile of once much feared communist uniforms - objects people here lived with naturally only 10 years ago. All packed in that trolley...

Those who have a feel for the tiny little evidences of history can easily get hold of a German medal Nazi mothers were awarded by Hitler, or find a ragged postcard written by a long-dead first world war soldier to his long-dead sweetheart, saying what he had eaten on the Italian front the night before. You may discover the leaking washbowl of a last century proletarian household, or an antique cupboard worth many thousands of dollars, which once stood in the dining room of some aristocratic family. But if you are a buyer, you must be a master of bargaining because the gypsies have a reputation of being frighteningly good at it.

Well, here a record plays on an old-time gramophone, the kind with the horn...yes, just as the singer is saying: The years of passion are passing... youth is passing...

Oh, the poetry of this place...And the vulgarity of this place! All together...

A gypsy whispers: "MEET ME IN THE EVENING!"
What? Seems I am getting an intimate kind of proposition from one of the gypsy dealers, he is actually asking for a date.
Again: "MEET ME IN THE EVENING!"
Well...I go to get my langos, the speciality of the market. It is a Hungarian delicacy, a flat bread fried in hot oil topped with garlic. Extremely tasty, extremely unhealthy. Opposite the Langos pavilion I catch sight of a gold-plated bust of Lenin, waiting perhaps a bit sadly to be bought...

It is noontime. The market will be closing in an hour or so. Soon the big trucks appear. They fight their way through the narrow alleys, and the gypsies start wrapping up the objects they could not sell.

Seems this old clock refuses to acknowledge closing time. It goes on ticking as it has done for the last 100 years, warning us that perhaps our time is not exactly timeless.

And it will go on next Saturday...and the next...

For the Savvy Traveler, Iím Anna Lengyel in Budapest.




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