Saturday, December 6, 2008


By luck, my folks were on their last day in Budapest when I arrived on the overnight train from Krakow, which provided a convenient place to stash bags and a free breakfast (and dinner, for that matter). We managed to fit in some culture at the gallery, where a pianist was banging out emotional Hungarian music while we perused the art. Dad was typically charismatic at dinner, so much so that the over-zealous waiter gave us a bottle of red to take home, which was later put to good use.
For the most part, Budapest was spa-central: 3 of the 8 days there were spent at thermal baths. Why has it taken me 30 years to discover this hedonistic paradise? With a combination of indoor and outdoor pools, saunas and healing mineral waters at varying temperatures and steaminess, it's relaxation heaven. Szechenyi, in the city park, was the favoured location and was rewarded with two visits. My momentary concern that a bikini might not be acceptable attire was immediately dismissed when I was faced with walls of ancient flesh lolling about in small strips of spandex. Confident people, the Hungarians. The first day we went it was cold and drizzling, so the steam rising from the pool made it impossible to see more than about a meter in front of you, which was occasionally a good thing; a bizarre circus of characters frequent the spas - a film populated by these people would seem wildly fictitious. Old local guys set up their chess boards on the steps of the outdoor baths for a day of heckling in healing waters, ignoring the signs suggesting 20 minutes is enough in the steamy 38 degree pool. What a way to retire. Above, the exterior of the House of Terror, a fantastic museum dedicated to the atrocities committed by the fascists and communists up until the 1990s both in Hungary and specifically in this building. At the right time of day, the sun casts the shadow of 'terror' across the building. Typographic metaphor ... clever Hungarians. The exhibition design was equally powerful inside, with an actual tank in the foyer, dwarfed by a wall of photos (some sort of metal relief casting) of victims of the 'terror'.:
The contrast between the lists of victim's names running around the walls in solemn metal type, the seemingly endless number giving a sense of the magnitude of the genocide here, and the photographs of individual faces, bringing you back to the fact that these victims were all individuals, was an emotionally powerful technique. Verbally, our guide did this in Auschwitz, constantly quoting unimaginable numbers of victims, then reminding us that they were all, like us, unique personalities. The room of shoes at the first Auschwitz camp hammering this home.
More to come ...

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