Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hungary Adventure, Part 2: Work Days

Tuesday and Wednesday were primarily work days. Erik participated in sessions during both days, but did not have a formal presentation until Wednesday afternoon. However, he was able to talk with many of the visiting scholars, including two Georgians interested in elections and political parties (Erik's favorite topic).

After Tuesday's work session, many participants wanted to watch the inauguration. Of course, it was not difficult to find coverage of the event, and the beginning of the Obama administration (and end of the Bush administration) was a part of many dinnertime conversations. A scholar from Azerbaijan is coming to the US to research the role of religion in politics (especially campaigns and elections); she and Erik talked about many issues at length (among the topics were board of education elections and the issue of intelligent design, the role of prayer in the inauguration ceremony, social conservatives and the Republican Party, and Mormon politicians on the national stage and in Utah).

The volume of food at dinner was reminiscent of many grand meals that Erik has consumed in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. He noted this observation to his mealtime companions when they complained that there was simply too much food. They acknowledged that hospitality can get a bit out of hand at home, too. In addition to soup, an appetizer, and a main course - all of which were the size of entrees - everyone had some of the struedel that was prepared for us by the pastry chef and owner who not only demonstrated the technique, but invited us to try our hand at preparing the dough. If Erik had not been sick, he would have volunteered. But, he decided that coughing on the dough was not a really good idea. However, one of the Uzbek participants took a turn with an apron and did a reasonable job creating a thin coating over the work table (the dough becomes so thin that you can read a piece of paper through it!).

Wednesday was a rainy day, and the session lasted until the late afternoon. Erik's presentation was well received, and he made many contacts for the future. Wednesday evening was dedicated to travel preparations. Apparently, airport workers are on strike, requiring even earlier hotel departures than usual. When Erik arrived on Sunday, he noticed some oddities such as the failure to use any of the jetways (instead, passengers were off-loaded from the rear door onto buses). In his travels he often encounters such quirks, so he just assumed that it was part of the regular routine in Budapest. It turns out that the second terminal was actually closed due to the strike, but the plane had to park next to it. With last year's three-day return from L'viv still fresh in his mind, Erik hopes for the best tomorrow!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hungary Adventure, Part 1: A Day Off

In 2001, Erik and Lea visited Hungary as part of a three-country tour in Eastern and Central Europe. Erik had a conference in Romania's Transylvania region, and they also traveled to Hungary and Slovakia. Lea's parents joined them for a special journey to Drahovce, Slovakia (the ancestral home of Lea's paternal grandfather and his side of the family).

At the time, Budapest easily ranked among the top cities that Erik ever visited. When Erik was invited to return to Budapest to participate in the orientation program for scholars from the South Caucasus and Central Asia who are visiting the US under the auspices of the Open Society Institute, he was more than happy to accept.

The trip to Hungary was relatively smooth, although Erik came down with an unpleasant bug just before departing. The cold, fatigue from the journey, and winter chill on Sunday afternoon wiped him out. After a long sleep, he awoke on Monday ready for some adventures prior to the orientation program's opening.

Erik is staying in Pest, on the eastern side of the Danube River. Pest is home to many notable landmarks, and Erik visited several on Monday. He strolled down the nicely renovated pedestrian areas, where streets have been narrowed or closed to encourage walkers, to St. Istvan's (Stephen's) Basilica. Stephen was the first Apostolic King of Hungary, supposedly given his crown by Pope Sylvestver II in 1001 A.D. [Side note: The veracity of this statement is not confirmed. It was reported by the tour guide at parliament who also laid out Hungary's claim to Transylvania and Slovakia by indicating that they were Hungarian lands. Indeed, the Hungarians had possession of these territories, but the current inhabitants - especially in Slovakia - might dispute the history.] The Basilica is lovely, as you can see from the exterior and interior shots below.

The next stop was Hungary's ornate, Gothic parliament building. It is a secular cathedral, with design elements that celebrate the Hungarian people, but also pay homage to the Catholic Church. The large dome is 96 meters tall, matching the height of St. Istvan's Basilica. According to the tour guide, the parity in height was intended to show the equal power and importance of the church and state.

Parliament was originally bicameral (it is now unicameral); the tour passed through one of the meeting halls that is now used for conferences and special meetings (the main parliamentary plenary sessions are held in the other wing of the building). Outside of the meeting hall was an interesting relic of the past. Members of parliament often smoked cigars during breaks, but did not take them into meetings. Numbered cigar holders were installed so that an MP could leave his cigar, note the number, and return to it when the next break came (see the photo below).

Outside parliament, Erik came upon a monument to the 1956 uprising which was violently repressed by the Soviets. The only other reminder of Soviet times that he encountered on his walk today was a Soviet memorial to the liberators of Budapest (carefully encircled by metal barriers to prevent vandals from defacing it).

Erik visited the Chain Bridge, the first bridge connecting Buda and Pest. He came upon a homeless encampment under the bridge, one of many he encountered on his walk. Back in 2001, Lea and Erik also noted that Budapest had a large homeless population, seemingly larger (or at least more visible) than other cities in Central or Eastern Europe.

After the tour of parliament, Erik stopped by the OSI offices to check in. He confirmed the schedule, and then headed back into the streets, bound for the Grand Market. While Budapest's Grand Market is not as large as the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, it is Erik's favorite. The first floor hosts vendors of food products: produce, meats, and paprika. The second floor has a wonderful "food court" and souvenir vendors. While it is a tourist attraction, the market also serves local residents. Erik and Lea always visit local markets to get a peek into daily life wherever they travel.

St. Istvan's Basilica.

Interior of St. Istvan's Basilica.




Parliament entryway.

Decorations in parliamentary room, representing various professions.

Parliamentary meeting hall.

Cigar holders outside parliamentary meeting hall. MPs would place their cigars in these numbered holders and claim them during breaks.

Grand Market.

Grand Market.

Homeless in Budapest.

Chain Bridge.

Bank with Art Deco design.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Grandma Ivy, 1904-2009

Erik's grandmother Ivy passed away late last week. She was an important figure in the Herron household, and was a constant presence and key influence on Erik and his siblings. In the photo above, she is celebrating her 102nd birthday with her great-grandchildren. The photos below are from her life and travels with her beloved Alf.