Innasense or lack thereof

Friday, October 13, 2006

Fulbrighters in Pecs

Last weekend a group of Fulbrighters descended on sleepy Pecs, so I finally got the full tourist tour that I had been too lazy to undertake on my own.
Me in front of the Zsolnay fountain. The Zsolnays are a famous Pecs family known for their ceramics. They developed the secret bluish-green glaze you see on the fountain's lion heads, with the recipe known only to trustworthy family members.
Locks of love. Those in love scrawl (or engrave) their initials and a date on a lock and attach it to the gate. Their love, I think, is meant to last as long as the lock does. Much to my chagrin, (since I have a lock there myself from 2004), I learned that older locks are regularly removed to make space for newer ones. In my opinion this is a very skeptical statement about the constancy of love.
My first wine tasting, at the Bock cellar in Villany. We started with the white, but Villany is really known for it's reds. Ended up buying three absurdly expensive (for Hungary) bottles of wine when happily drunk afterwards.
View of the rolling Mecsek from the Pecs Tv tower.

Jump into the action

For those who want a better understanding of the 1956 uprising, check out this absolutely ridiculous "commemorative" action game that lets you participate in the revolution and kick some Soviet ass. "Points by delivering medical supplies, rescuing the wounded, and battling soviet soldiers and the dreaded secret police."

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Remembering 1956

If you don't know that October 23 is the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution, you're clearly not in Hungary. And you can't count.

I spent September 28-29 in Budapest at a conference dedicated to remembering the uprising, where I had the chance to exchange phone numbers with Hungarian spies for the American government who grew up hating Russians. Unfortunately the purpose of the conference seems to have been more commemorative and symbolic rather than investigative, but that's not terribly surprising given that the event was organized by embassies and NGOs dedicated to promoting democracy. The lack of active international support for the Hungarians in 1956 was tactfully side-stepped for most of the conference and some Western panelists even delineated the reasons why America didn't help Hungary fight off the Soviets. The organizers, moreover, made sure to invite 1956 emigres who expressed an undying gratitude to their new homeland. One obnoxious historian or politician turned the podium into a pulpit and preached that the current political and media situation shows that Hungary is no democracy, and if they don't clean up their act there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I've just surprised myself by sounding sceptical in the above description. I guess it takes a certain latency period to form an opinion rather than an impression. I actually found the conference enjoyable; for me the most valuable aspect was meeting experts and fellow researchers (including a poet, who had applied for a Fulbright but didn't get it; that was awkward). And of course spies. Plus the coffee and pastries were very good. And there were some intense emotional moments. Like the time at the beginning of the conference, just before Hungary's president, Laszlo Solyom, gave his welcoming remarks, when some old man stood up from the audience and called on everybody to sing the national anthem. So everyone in the room stood up and sang the national anthem in unison.

On a note related to the conference only because I heard this information there, I just learned that the director Istvan Szabo was an informer for the Soviets. Doesn't that put his films into perspective?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Coffee connection

There's a rather nasty elevator in the building that houses the International Studies Center; its doors start closing the moment you push the button, and the only way to stop them is to push the button of the floor you're on. On Thursday--during my daily trip to the ISC to find out whether the courses I want to take are offered after all--I once again made the mistake of pushing the ground floor button on my way into the elevator, effectively shutting the doors on the two people behind me. I spun around to correct my error, crashing into the woman directly behind me who, unfortunately, was carrying a cup of coffee. The coffee went everywhere from the woman's dress, to the floor of the elevator and all of my clothes (that cup must have been bottomless). In a state of shock I realized that my limited Hungarian vocabulary included no words for "I'm extremely sorry!" "Boscanat!"--what I usually say to people when I accidentally bump into them on the bus-- didn't seem quite appropriate, so for a while I stared at the woman silently trying to decide which language to use, before finally settling on English. The woman rewarded me with a prolonged Eastern-European-woman-in-her-fifties look of death and marched back out of the elevator. The young guy behind her rode down to the ground floor with me, eyeing the puddle of coffee with disdain and disgust. And I had to make my way across town covered in coffee from head to toe.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

More on civil war

Events in Budapest seem to have escalated during the past week of "civil war," with riots and occasional clashes between police and protesters. The student union has even cancelled their protest on Thursday against the introduction of tuition fees (little sympathy here). Events have similarly escalated in Thailand last week, culminating in a military coup. It appears at first glance that my presence in these countries has instigated political unrest. My parents, however, have a different theory. My mother points out that several months after I left Soviet Union there was a coup in Moscow, which suggests that it is my departure from a country or city that throws the government into turmoil. So it is rather fortunate that I plan on attending a conference in Budapest next week--my presence should calm things down.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Hungarian Politics

That's the name of a course I'm currently enrolled in. The one where the professor is running for mayor and thus can't hold class until after October 1st. Anyway, we were supposed to have a tour of Fidesz headquarters tomorrow morning (the Hungarian conservative party), but then I read the following line in an e-mail from a Hungarian student in charge of herding Americans to various events associated with the class:

"It sure that tomorrow we cannot go to any candidate, because of the civil war."

Civil war? I assume that Norbi is referring to the Prime Minister's admission in private and in very foul language (Hungarian is very good at that) that his party had screwed up and lied about it. A recording of his speech was somehow leaked to the Hungarian State Radio, naturally causing some unrest and storming of state TV towers, but fortunately the civil war is expected to end in the next couple days, since Norbi's e-mail also suggests that as early as Wednesday party headquarters will be ready to accept visitors.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


I have inadvertantly come into the possession of 5 hot peppers. Things I learned in the process:

1. erős does not mean sweet; édes means sweet
2. Hot peppers become significantly less spicy when cooked
3. But after cooking them your hands will burn for a looooong time

Things I have yet to figure out

1. How do you make your hands stop burning after cooking hot peppers?
2. Why do "sweet" and "spicy" sound so similar in Hungarian?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

This land is my land

Hungary is a land of procrastinators. The semester officially started yesterday, but many professors are still trying to come up with a syllabus or even a schedule for their courses, some professors are out of the office until tomorrow or next week, and some decided at the last moment to take their sabbatical this semester. Sigh. But I guess that means I fit right in:)

On the other hand, Hungary is not a land of tea drinkers. I have spent a good part of the past week (the times when I wasn't reading Wheel of Time or trying to contact my professors) looking for a tea pot...with no success. I may end up spending absurd amounts of money on a Zsolnay teapot (the Zsolnay family is famous for their glaze--it's recipe is a well-guarded family secret), which means I will end up with two fancy teapots in my possession.


It appears that since my last post I have traveled ¾ around the world, crossing both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans on my way to Hungary--we have a lot of catching up to do! I’m currently in Pecs, a typical Central European town of 150,000 in the south of the country with plenty of pedestrian zones, designer stores (why is it that there’s a Mango store in the smallest European town, while in the States even Boston doesn’t have one?) fruit and vegetable markets, crumbling Soviet bloc apartment buildings, and bureaucratic quirks that make you sigh in desperation. Every country has its own special way of making simple things incredibly complicated; it seems that someone in Hungary decided that buying a cell phone was unnecessarily easy. After all wouldn’t it be ridiculous if anyone could go into a T-Mobile store, buy a cell phone in 15 minutes, and not even give the store their mother’s maiden name? Apparently the telephone companies noticed that cell phone speculation turned in a tidy profit and decided to prevent these clever entrepreneurs from buying too many cell phones. Now foreigners cannot purchase a cell phone without registering their residence with the local authorities. If you show up with a Hungarian friend, however, they will sell you a cell phone in your friend’s name, unless he has already bought more than one cell phone in the past 6 months. Fortunately for me I had already purchased my cell phone in Thailand (where the process is a lot simpler), so all I needed was a SIM card. After much deliberation the T-Mobile store agreed to sell me one even though my address wasn’t registered, but they did copy down all the information in my passport (even clarifying where exactly in Russia I was born since my passport doesn’t give the city), and after asking for my mother’s full maiden name made me sign 6 different sheets of paper (only Szent Istvan knows what they said!). So just an hour after first going into the store I had a Hungarian cell phone number! And the people at the International Studies Center told me I shouldn’t even try it without a Hungarian!

But please don’t judge Hungary too harshly; America may have less bureaucracy, but it takes the people at Radio Shack in Watertown at least an hour to upgrade phone plans anyway. Also, any country with food this good should be allowed a few flaws.