I too was shocked and bemused in my early days in Budapest. But after being briefed, I finally sensed the value of what was going on. Once a year, with the approval of the authorities, one is allowed to throw out beyond the doorstep almost anything relating to household items without limit or charge. It has to happen on a set day and time, and no bricks or industrial-strength chemicals. Then follows the serious matter of clearing up soon, again without any immediate charge but ultimately paid for by the ratepayers. Still, it's the goings-on that occur between these two given procedures which give the lomtalanítás its intrigue.

Anything goes, and we see yesteryear's old-style sofas, outdated computers, rusty kitchen attire, damaged toys, timeworn antiques, tatty clothes, threadbare carpets, communist-regime furniture, broken-down bicycles, worn-out tyres, warped and splintered floor-boards, stained sinks and toilets, broken glass, bygone window frames and so on brought forth by grateful home owners. At lomtalanítás time there's no need to hire rubbish containers, as all the "unwanted" is simply passed on without too much thought to the roadsides.

Come rain or shine, the rubble lays briefly in abandonment on the pavements until "the cavalry", who are soon alerted, arrive on the scene in droves and in haste and zoom in on the pickings. The lomtalanítás quickly turns into a frenzied snatch-and-grab open bonanza. The competition is on to pick out the cream of the crop, thus creating further traffic and congestion until this particular quest is over.

The old proverb, "Where there's muck, there's money" comes to mind, as furniture and scrap metal merchants take to the scene with large vehicles, having first sent out small armies of recruits to find anything of value before taking away whatever-this-may-be. Then there are the casual passers-by who may or may not observe something of value by chance. Many a reasonably respectable-looking and sturdy bookshelf has been obtained in this way.

Then, a day or two later, it's the final matter for hired helpers to give a big tidy-up. What's been left behind by the entrepreneurial "middle people" is given a last look-over, and hopefully recycled. Or blown away by the wind.

Despite the neighbourhood momentarily looking as if rampant bulls had charged through, tossing everything aside, the good old lomtalanítás arrangements are impressive, simple and amicable enough, as well as well-organised. Everyone benefits to a certain degree. Perhaps this people-friendly event should be introduced elsewhere, in my old home town in England, for instance?


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