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New Europe

Day Seventy-four: Budapest

Katti Zoob's fashion show 
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Big night at Katti Zoob's fashion show. Practising my catwalk skills in the changing room.
Michael Palin - New EuropeA wall of photos identifies members of the AVO political police. Someone points out that some are still around, one a writer, another a TV presenter.

Another display shows communist posters of the period, full of happy smiling faces rejoicing over industrial targets exceeded, and workers grasping hands in the fields, whilst one warns of the perils of the imperialist, bourgeois Colorado Potato Beetle, America's latest weapon against the people. Elsewhere there is archive footage of the Hungarian football team in 1953 inflicting England's worst-ever defeat at Wembley, six goals to three.

Most effective of all the presentations is a glass lift set in a black shaft which descends imperceptibly slowly to the death cells below whilst on a screen a man describes what it was like to have to clean up after the executions. His testimony is all the more chilling because of his completely matter-of-fact, unemotional delivery.

The House of Terror, on which no expense seems to have been spared, makes clever use of a series of ingenious and often abstract set pieces which leave you in no doubt that communism was a very bad thing indeed.

But the other atrocities perpetuated at 60 Andrassy Avenue, such as the torture of Jews by the Arrow Cross, have so little space, that I'm left feeling hugely impressed, but a little manipulated, by this extraordinary place.

For the moment my mind is taken off any other thoughts of doom and gloom by the imminent prospect of having to appear, for the first time in my life, on a cat-walk.

Katti is remarkably calm, finding time, even as the carefully chosen guests are taking their seats in the long, mirrored room, to sew a devil's tail on the bottom of my slinky leather jacket.

People rush around backstage making last-minute adjustments, the sound system plays up, and as eight stunning models and myself slip in and out of outfits in the communal area, I have to remind myself that for once this is not fantasy. I am the only man in the girls' changing room.

Adrenalin levels creep up as the time comes for Katti to step out and confront the movers and shakers of Budapest society. At a given signal, funky music with a heavy bass beat silences the audience. Katti takes a bow, introduces the show, then introduces me. I've seen enough models at work to be able to put together a parody of swinging hips, and the twirling black tail is a great success. I give a short speech, which is listened to with far more respect than a man with a long black tail deserves, and that done I sit back and watch eight of my fellow models strut their stuff, each one changing outfits, and often make-up as well, eight times. Tall, small-breasted, with very high heels on the end of very long legs, they walk like thoroughbred horses, flicking out their legs as if cracking a whip. Sixty-four passes in thirty-five minutes. Respect.

Have no luck afterwards with my attempts to join the Hungarian Models' Union. Not even associate membership. Oh well, perhaps it's for the best. I shall be leaving for the Ukraine tomorrow.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Seventy-four: Budapest
  • Country/sea: Hungary
  • Place: Budapest
  • Book page no: 178

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