I had the fortune to stay a couple of nights in Budapest last autumn. Over the last couple of decades, the city has reinvented itself as a modern vibrant metropolis, merging the innovative and state-of-the-art seamlessly with its ubiquitous historical traces and memories. It was enchanting.
I stayed at a hotel called “Hotel Pentimento”, right next to the city’s elegant “Paris-style” boulevard Andrassy út, in a neighborhood dotted with shops, cafes, theaters, and spectacular nineteenth-century buildings. It’s also in close vicinity to Városliget, a beautiful park with numerous cultural and recreational offerings of local history, as well as a recently erected contemporary museums-quartier. One of the great things about this area is that - like its hosting city - it is a remarkable palimpsest of seemingly opposing features: of green and densely urban; of calm and dynamic; of modern and historic.
At the time, I had no idea what “pentimento” meant, so I did a little background check. Here’s what wikipedia has to say: A “pentimento” is an alteration in a painting, evidenced by traces of previous work, showing that the artist has changed their mind as to the composition during the process of painting. The word is Italian for repentance, from the verb pentirsi, meaning to repent. It’s basically a hidden painting under a painting! They also call it “pentiment” or “ghost image”. I instantly got the feeling, that the name resonates perfectly with both the experience of my daily adventures across the city, and of the intimate interior of my hotel room.
The hotel-building itself is breathtaking. As most mansions in the surroundings, it was constructed by a wealthy aristocratic family in the late 1800s. It served for decades as the family residence for the contractor Antal Frank and his wife. Upon entering it’s hard to tell when it became a hotel. It could have been last year or even 50 years ago. Nonetheless, you instantly feel like you have already been here before. There is a certain timelessness to the place.
It is serene and elegant, modern trends are mixed with antique elements. Old and new are also recognizable in the furniture and interior design.
The furnishing echoes of differing times and places. You can feel the presence of somebody who carefully selects and places distinct items at various locations, generating an interesting combination of modern and antique.
As it turns out there IS actually somebody behind it all, although the details are not too specific. They say the hotel has a regular tenant called Madam Anka. She is somewhere in her late 50s, but i heard rumors that she is much older. She travels a lot these days, but some say she used to live in the building before it became a hotel, who knows. Whenever she visits new items appear seemingly out of nowhere. Very few of the staff have met her so no one really knows how she looks like, but I’ve found a picture hanging in one of the rooms and I’d like to think this is her:
I’ve found some other pictures in my room and I think these were taken by her on some of her journeys. Who knows where they have been taken?
It also came to my attention, that Madam Anka is a real collector of all sorts. Here are some of her favorite items from the hotel: Some nicely selected artwork is hung occasionally. I think these are probably the work of a local artist. The materials and surfaces in the space are mostly white, dark wood and red marble. The walls keep the original decoration, but they have an interesting, textured surface. It came to my knowledge that Madam Anka always requests the same room whenever she visits. It’s located on the mezzanine, at the buildings SW corner. It’s a fairly spacious suite, the walls and ceiling still show the original decorations. The room was kept as one large space, there’s only one strange “object” standing in the middle.
The “object” contains the necessary functions such as toilet, bathroom, wardrobe, and mechanical spaces. This furniture like element divides the room into four different parts: hallway, living room, bedroom and entrance space. Each direction it forms a different face. The bathroom area has no ceiling and consists of two curved walls. One integrates the shower, the other contains the sink. The two curved lines connect to a third wall which is covered with a large mirror. This doubles the space and finishes the curves into a symmetrical shape. The toilet and wardrobe function face the entrance of the suite. The bedroom area is elevated so it’s gently separated as a more intimate space. Even after almost a year, I am still holding those captivating impressions of my journey to Budapest truly dear, which appear to persist way beyond the trip’s original duration. Just the other day in Havana, I saw a lady dressed in the most amazing clothes and matching flamboyant sunglasses. She was, without doubt, also a foreigner, and she was smoking one of those long cigarettes only certain type of women can hold elegantly. She hopped in a cab and was quickly out of my sight. In a flash, I could not help but think of the images hanging in Hotel Pentimento and of it’s mysterious tenant: Madam Anka.