Anita Altman, R.I.P.
Although I never knew her as well as many others of you, I'm saddened to hear of the death of one of the towering figures in the Budapest expat scene, Anita Altman. For details, see an obituary in the Budapest Sun, her long-time place of employment.
I encourage others of you to share memories of her here.
I was really saddened to hear of Anita's death. Saddened and shocked. I had a real soft spot for her, having worked at the Sun when she first arrived in Budapest. I, myself, had only recently arrived a couple of weeks earlier and was staying with an old woman on Falk Miksa, an arrangement I'd made through one of those accomodation services near the Parliament building. Instead of the Sun putting Anita up in a hotel until she found a place to live -- or finding her some kind of accomodation -- Jim Michaels suggested she stay with me, at the old woman's place. She arrived with a lot of luggage and a big trunk or two. She was only allowed to take a small bag to the old lady's apartment. It was very small. My space there consisted of a room with a single bed, a small table, and a chair (it was actually one of the nicest, coziest places I ever lived). The old woman had a small room of her own. And I can't remember if Anita slept in my room with me that first night in Budapest, or if she slept in my bed and I moved into the living room for a little while. All I know is she cried that first night, crocodile tears. It was the last vulnerable moment I witnessed for the rest of the time I knew her.
I'm really sad to hear she's gone. She was quite a remarkable woman.
Caren Chesler | Nov 10, 2005
I am still stunned after hearing about Anita's passing. It's hard to imagine the Budapest expat scene without Anita. And I can't completely accept that she's gone. It's like bad service at Corvin or the lack of an English-language menu at Talk-Talk Cafe: Anita simply wouldn't stand for it.
Everyone who knew - or met, or heard - Anita knew she was a character, and I know many of us cringed when she screamed at some poor Hungarian waiter or tried to crash a reception at Gundel for then-Foreign secretary Robin Cook. But all Anita was really doing was displaying, quite starkly and vocally, the love-hate relationship most of us had with Hungary. The bureaucracy, corruption and slow service outraged her, and yet her articles reflected a genuine affection for the country and its people. She often had a brunch to welcome new arrivals to the city, and her ``Neighbors'' postings in the Style section were always sweet and kind.
The stories about Anita are legendary to the point of being, in some cases, apocryphal. And yet they told the story of Budapest. I remember hearing that Anita had brouhgt seven pieces of luggage and a trunk with her when she came to Hungary - a number that grew to 11 or 12 in later years, when newer arrivals repeated the story. I don't know for sure how many it was, but I remember Anita telling me that an airport luggage inspector pulled her out of line and demanded to see what was inside them. He opened the first bag, saw women's underwear and other such items, turned beet red, and said ``personal?'' Anita looked violated (as if!) and said, ``Yes. Personal.'' He zipped it shut and sent her on her way.
I have actually adopted that tactic when taking reporting trips in the Balkans and the Middle East - I put female stuff on top, and male inspectors are so scandalized that they abbreviate the search.
After Anita moved back to the States, we stayed in touch awhile, but kind of drifted apart. When I heard she had lupus, I visited her in the hospital. At first, I was shocked to see her looking so ill - puffy from the illness, pale, and ready to get some kind of blood transfusion. But she never showed any fear - just a kind of irritation that her home improvement work and various business ventures were being interrupted by some pesky hospital stay. While the nurse was getting her ready to be hooked up to some machine, she was going on and on about some damage a tenant had allegedly done to the front door of her Capitol Hill house, and whether it would be better to get the insurance money or to go to small claims court. She simply wasn't going to let her illness slow her down.
She got better - at least, that's what she told us. And she was supposedly working on a book about how she became well through natural remedies. So I just could not believe it when I heard she had died.
The real estate agency where she worked noted that Anita had recently won a citation for the best Team Spirit Leader. That she was - always. We'll miss you, Anita.
Susan Milligan (Bp 94-99)
Susan Milligan | Nov 14, 2005
I knew Anita back in the days of college at Syracuse University. To know her was indeed an experience. She was different. She marched to the beat of her own drum. Yet, you were were always left with a positive feeling and a sense of wonder for this person named Anita who was enriched with beauty on the inside as well as on the outside. Truth is.........she enriched all of us that knew her, and she touched us all by knowing her. Anita...its been 32 years since I last saw you, but you will be remembered.
bob Meizlik | Apr 13, 2006
I really appreciate all of you guys comments on my aunt. She was a really special person. I am doing a project to honor her death and when i went to search for her this is the first thing that came up. It is very reasuring to know so many people who care and have great stories of her. She was an amazing unike women. It means a lot to me that you guys care so much. It is very hard for me personally, comsidering since she came back from the second time in budespest, I got much closer to her and then she had to leave us. But she will always be in our hearts. Your comments mean a lot and it is important to always think of her and keep her spirit, her very lively one, with you at all times.
Jill Altman | Apr 27, 2006
Oops. I accidentally deleted a post here from someone which began, "I dated Anita..." That's all I saw of it before I deleted it along with a batch of comment spam. Apologies. Please repost, if you see this.
As I had been an intern at COHA, and Anita was renting one of her guest rooms out in Capitol Hill, I had lived with Anita for a year or so. In having long open conversations about her life, we sat up talking about her list of beaus, many which were famous, one by the last name of Kennedy. Even as she received chemotherapy several times a week, she would not let any negativity or a loss of hope show, and she always looked toward healing. That year, she was still out in her prime meeting men at the embassy, wondering if she could go visit another in the Caribbean, living life to the fullest, and making life what it could be. Rarely, comes there someone as bold as her, however, fortunately, there was also a kind generosity she had. Each week, she would give a neighbor man work, whenever he came around, no matter what she had and continued to give me clothes she thought would look good on me, persisting that everyone needed a black long wool coat in their wardrobe. Our styles didn’t mesh because Anita’s clothes were custom fit for Anita, a means for her to be expressive in her own bold way, but I accepted them anyway. Although not everything about Anita was wonderful, and I can imagine her bristly nature ensuring her to be the topic of a few conversations, she was certainly her own strong person, and one with heart.
Julie | Aug 24, 2006
It took me some time to reflect on the death of Anita. Carl Kovac and I were one of the few who last saw her in a hospital in Budapest, before she returned to the States. Carl and Anita have both moved on and it does grieve me to see that VERY SPECIAL PEOPLE like Anita and Carl spent such a but short time in the fast lane of life.
For the record, I was the dispatch who picked Anita up at Budapest airport on her arrival and indeed she did have seven HUGE coffers that stood outside the hallway like skyscrapers.
My fondest memory of Anita was when the BpSun office was on Alkotas ut and she had some kind of date with "this cool guy" - she had just met at I believe Deli station - and tried to convince me to substitute her and write up the Style section's movie matrix(something I had never done before) on deadline day. Well like a good first-timer, I messed it up and she had to cancel the big date and redo the whole thing from scratch. All she said to me about about her missed date was "... and anyway maybe he wasn't so cool", just to raise my spirit for not being able to the job correctly.
We will miss her big eyes and mouth like the deserts miss the rain...
RIP, Love in Jesus
Tamas and Gizella Kiss
Tamas Kiss | Sep 9, 2006
I just heard today about Anita and wanted to let everyone know I had the good fortune to work with her in Cranston, Rhode Island USA. We both worked in the Real Estate Field selling homes. This was in the 80's, just before she took the job in Budapest (I thought she was crazy, but that was who Anita was) I have thought of her often because she was such a character in so many ways, as noted in previous tributes. Please know she is sadly missed by those who knew and worked with her here.
Rob Scaralia | Feb 16, 2007
I met Anita while working with Habitat for Humanity's Carter project in Vac.
In December of 1996 I called up Anita to ask her if she could tell me where I could find the most romantic table for two in Budapest, so I could propose to the love of my life, Ildiko. She told me to go to the Aranyhordo across from Halaszbastya and reserve the small table to the side of their wine cellar that was like a tiny cavern.
Anita said the information would cost me an interview in a story she was going to write. I agreed, contingent upon my girlfriend accepting the marriage proposal.
A few weeks later my fiancee and I ended up on the cover of the Budapest Sun's 1997 Valentine's Day edition. "Best Friends First".
We framed Anita's article and it hangs in our home in New Jersey today. It's one of my fondest memories of Budapest.
Lived in Bp. 92-98
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