Saturday, March 13, 2004

A year ago on this day I arrived in Budapest. My first task was to collect some Hungarian dirt for Cosmin, my best friend in Romania.

For months I told Cosmin how wonderful Hungary was. I explained that Budapest - alongside a Paris doused in sticky strawberry-flavoured bubbles, phallic Bologna, the Madrid that served me my first gazpacho, the Barcelona of small rodent petshops, buzzing-wasp Taipei, Manila of the overcrowded jeepneys and two-hour pig roasts, and overly-hushed Vienna - was one of the great cities of the world.

My parents even offered to take me and Cosmin on an all-expenses paid trip to Budapest. Just as much as me, my parents feel that anything worthwhile should be shared. Taking Cosmin to see the centre of the world would make him an insider in the Been To Budapest Club. If nothing else, surely Cosmin, a chef, could appreciate one of the finest cuisines in the world. All Cosmin had to do was to apply for his passport.

Cosmin diddled and dawdled and spent his money on cigarettes instead.

A few hours after arriving in Budapest, I flew off to Helsinki.

Cosmin wanted Finnish dirt as well. To fulfill his wishes, I spent the layover examining the terrain for a worthy specimen. Then, so as to distinguish the Hungarian and Finnish soil samples, I labelled each bag with the city, date and time.

Still hours later (this was the second of my global circumnavigations - ha! Magellan!) I was in Tokyo. Tokyo dirt is pretty easy to come by. But Gyoda's Sakitama dirt is special. Gyoda, 60 km north of Tokyo on the sometimes sweltering, sometimes blustery Kumagaya plain, boasts of thirteen ancient burial mounds. Two-thousand-year-old kings lie under the mounds. Most of the mounds are round, while a couple are keyhole-shaped. JJ called them Japanese pyramids.

Through soil movement of the last two thousand years, decayed bits of ancient kings have diluted into the entire city's dirt. For especially concentrated dirt, I went to the epicentre of decayed Japanese royalty: Sakitama Old Mound Park. I filled another bag for Cosmin.

The bags of Hungarian, Finnish and Japanese dirt returned to Romania. Cosmin, who claims he will never be wealthy enough to travel outside of the country, vowed that these three bags would be foundation of his global soil collection. His grandiose plans require wandering friends to cooperate. Eventually he hopes to fill a shelf with bottled dirt from all over the world. One day, when his coffin lies at the bottom of a deep hole, we, the friends of Cosmin, will empty each bottle on him. That way Cosmin can console his supernatural self for not having travelled in life.

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