I first met Finnish expat Ari Santeri Kupsus at one his monthly salon concerts just before I moved to Finland in 2009. I was fascinated by his cultural projects, including his scholarship fund for Hungarian students, but was also wondering why a Finnish expatriate in Hungary, would want to contribute so much to the cultural scene of Budapest. I visited Ari at his summer residence in Iszkaszentgyörgy to ask him about his projects and about his life in the Hungarian capital.
Could you tell me a little bit about your cultural projects?
My charity organization was founded nineteen years ago in Helsinki and the idea was to collect funds for the students of Sibelius Academy. While living in Helsinki, I also organized the monthly salon concerts. But In 2000, I decided to move my charity organization to Hungary after I had learned that outside of the Liszt Academy’s framework, there was no organization that supported young musicians. In Finland, this number was 2400. In the last fourteen years, about 350 students have received this scholarship. Each month, I organize a salon concert and with the furniture both here in the Amadé Bajzáth Pappenheim Chateau and in my apartment in Budapest, I want to recreate the atmosphere of the old salon concerts. My other big project is my gallery, the Ari Kupsus Gallery that opened five years ago on Bródy Sándor Street. Works of both Hungarian and international artists are presented there. The Ari S. Kupsus Salon Concert Society also gives out scholarships to 4th year students of the Hungarian University of Fine Arts and their group exhibition as well as one of the winner’s solo show are also held in the gallery.
How come you spend your summers in Iszkaszentgyörgy?
There is actually a connection between Iszkaszentgyörgy and Finland as the Amadé Bajzáth Pappenheim Chateau in the village served as the Finnish Embassy in 1944. I’m renting it from the state and this is my summer residence now. I organize exhibitions and the salon concerts are also held here during the summer months. The first floor, which is my private residence, is also open to the public. I’m happy that now Iszkaszentgyörgy is on the international cultural map, as world famous musicians come to perform here.
Let’s go back in time when you first arrived to Hungary. Why did you decide to come to Budapest?
During the late 90’s, I was living in Warsaw and as my project was about to end, I was going to move back to Finland. But first I wanted to travel around the Balkan countries for two weeks, so I took the night train from Warsaw to Budapest and I arrived to Keleti Railway Station on August 1, 1999. When I got off the train, I fell in love with the building of Keleti Railway Station, which reminded me of the beauty of St. Petersburg, my all-time favorite city. I was planning to stay in Budapest for three days, but on my second day, I cancelled my ticket to Zagrab. Also on the second day I already had a job. I was working as an Eastern-European expert on a project organized by the EU and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Finland. The idea was to help Finnish companies establish their businesses in Poland, the Czech Republic, and in Hungary by the time these countries would join the EU in 2004. Initially I was going to stay for six months, but then I just simply couldn’t leave Budapest.
What made you fall in love with Budapest?
The buildings in Budapest are full of history, the squares, the streets, the balconies, the window frames, and bridges all tell you the history of the city, which is absolutely fascinating. Also the people have been very nice to me although in the beginning it was very difficult for me as nobody spoke English and it was impossible to find services in English. But as soon as I learned some Hungarian, it became a lot easier.
In which areas have you lived in Budapest during the past fifteen years?
First I lived on the Buda side near the Gellért Hotel, but then I realized I just had to move to Pest. Everything was happening in Pest and I didn’t want to make that travel all the time. And back then the trams didn’t run during the night; the last tram was at midnight. So then I rented an apartment on Király Street, which used to be a very quiet street. The rents were high in those days because there were not many renovated apartments. So instead of renting, I decided to buy a place on Akácfa Street, which I rented out. In 2000, when I knew that I was going to stay for good, I bought my current place. This is the apartment where the salon concerts are held.
Photo: Budapest Local
How is your life in Budapest?
My life has been quite easy and I believe the key is to understand that when living in a different country we have to live in a different way and have to accept the local rules, the habits, and customs. I also always suggest to foreigners living abroad to learn the language, at least the basics.
How do you see us Hungarians?
I love how polite Hungarians are. In Finland and also in other Scandinavian countries, politeness has diminished. I love how people in Hungary speak to strangers because it’s so polite. My grandmother used to speak this way, which was quite unusual in Finland. I also like how ladies are treated in Hungary. In Scandinavia, everybody is equal and men are not expected to open the door to the ladies.
While adjusting to the Hungarian way of living, was there anything that you found hard to accept?
I’ve been living in Hungary for fifteen years now, but there are still certain habits and customs that are difficult for me to accept, such as people using the public areas in the building as their storage space. Also, my neighbors, after they’d done their laundry, used to hang their clothes front of my window. So while I was having breakfast I could see my neighbors’ underwear. Then I asked them to hang their clothes front of their windows. Another example is when people leave their garbage outside of their front door saying that they would take it out once they leave the apartment.
Photo: Budapest Local
Do you think Budapest and the people have changed over the last fifteen years?
Yes, absolutely. For instance, nowadays, formal language is used less and less. Also, fifteen years ago, or even ten years ago, young people didn’t go out this much. Now, just like in other Western European cities or in Helsinki, youngsters go out every Friday and Saturday. As for the city, Budapest is like a sleeping beauty waking up from a long sleep. There is a lot of renovation going on and not just the buildings but also the parks are being renovated. My neighborhood, Palota District, has also changed a lot, and today it is one of the most fashionable areas of Budapest. Corvin-Sétány has become one of the most expensive areas with prices between €1500 and €2500 per square meter, which is a very high price in Budapest. Also there are so many new places that it’s impossible to follow.
What are your favorite restaurants, cafés, and places in Budapest?
The café culture is wonderful in Budapest. When I first came here, I was practically living on cakes. I always checked the prices at Művész Café in January as it was always more expensive after New Year’s Eve. Fifteen years ago, a slice of cake cost HUF 70 (€0,25). It was so cheap that I always had three cakes. Nowadays it’s about HUF 600 (€2), so I only have two. My favorite places are Alexandra Book Café, Szamos at Corinthia Hotel where I always have Eszterházy cake, and Central Café, where I love the Rákóczi Túrós. MukiCuki on Somogyi Béla Street has fantastic cakes and this is where I order the snacks from for the salon concerts. My favorite restaurants are Bock Bisztró and Stex where the kitchen is open until very late. But my absolute favorite place in Budapest is the Ecseri Flea Market. I go there on Saturdays at 6 am when the sun is coming up. I check out everything and hunt for treasures and then I have the most delicious lángos with a lot of garlic, sour cream, and cheese. In the winter when my feet are freezing, I have a cup of hot tea inside and think about on what I should still make an offer. For me, this is the best way to relax; Ecseri is my mansikkapaikka, my favorite place.
Is there anything that you’re missing from Finland?
Of course, I miss the white nights. In Hungary, at 10 pm it’s already so dark especially here, in the middle of the park. This is something that my body cannot get used to. I sometimes miss the fresh air, too; in Hungary, the air is so different, even in the countryside. And then of course I miss the lakes as well; Finnish lakes are different than Balaton, the water is softer and cleaner. Sometimes I miss the flavors, too, although I think this is something that you miss less and less when you live abroad. But what I actually always have in my fridge is Ruisleipä (Finnish black bread), and I always ask my friends coming to Hungary to stop by at Stockmann at the Helsinki airport and buy me some Ruisleipä. Fortunately now we have a Finnish bakery in Budapest with excellent bread.