Thursday, July 10, 2008

Random Picts

Enjoy random picts of the view from the Palace looking down at Pest across the Danube, "walk" sign, homeless man sleeping on public artwork, dog, real estate posts (are you looking for a vacation home in Budapest?), Odette/Jenna/Howard on the open museum evening at the Palace, Howard in the pub, Bunny on post, and "parent walking bunny children" street sign.

More images and stories coming soon...

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Wed 7/2 - We took a day trip w/ Beata, her daughter Beata Veszely and Pedi (B’s grandson), Jenna, Howard, Andreas and I. We began seeing ruins and ended up in Szentendre a lovely little town just outside of Budapest where we saw a government subsidized artist’s colony. The gov’t gives a select number of Hungarian artists studio and living space in the colony as well as a gallery to show their work in. This is lifelong support if you are accepted. The town itself is geared toward tourist traffic, but has a number of old buildings and museums including a Serbian church. Images attached.

Gellert Baths

Thermal baths in Budapest are plentiful. There is a fee to enter the facilities, which cover a locker rental, use of the thermal baths and the swimming pools. Additional services, like a massage, mud bath, mouth massage or medical treatment can be added on for an additional fee. The Gellert Baths are perhaps the most famous of these. Located on the Buda side, just after crossing the Szabadsag bridge (the green bridge – this bridge is also the one suicides are committed from), the baths are inside the hotel. Matthew Barney shot part of his Cremaster series here as well and it has been a backdrop for many a project. The only odd thing about my experience there was the massage. First I asked a number of times why I had not come directly into the massage (I had spent 2 hrs photographing prior to getting into the spa facility), I was forgiven my lateness when I explained that I had 4 cameras w/ me and that I was a photographer. I was then asked to de-bathingsuit (in the Szechenyi baths the massage was done in a swim suit) infront of the attendant, then to lay on the massage table – no cover sheet (the bottom sheets had probably not been changed in a week – luckily I brought a towel to lay on), about 5-10 different people came in to visit and whisper w/ my masseuse and then at the end when I thought I was all done and needed to sit up, there was an additional shoulder/neck/arm massage while I was in the sitting position. I can recommend the massage if you’re willing to give up some western-massage preconceptions (and any self-consciousness). The structure is beautiful and worth seeing and enjoying for a day off.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th of July

Happy 4th! Wishing you a safe and fun holiday to enjoy the fireworks! Happy Birthday to Yas and Jonathan!

Crossing the Street and Recycled People

Like most places outside of the US, traffic signals are more of a suggestion than a mandate. Odette reminded me of this in my first week here. This system of “suggested rules,” allows the citizen to truly make their own decision – rules, after all, are a choice (sometimes they can come with harsher punishments, but they are still a choice to follow or not). It is that way with illegal substances as well, possession and distribution is, of course, illegal, however if you have a small amount that you are personally using it can be “ignored” depending on what policeperson you happen to run into and how their day is going. There is a randomness to this that can both be a deterrent and a thrill. The comparison can be likened to “petting” a wild animal. Years ago, when we were dropped in the water with hundreds of sting rays (before the Crocodile Hunter was killed), there was an instant fear of what might happen, then the fear turned to awe that the sting rays would allow us to be in their territory, to stroke their smooth bodies and to take pictures with them. We acted as we would with a tame animal, all the while respecting their power and territory. The threat of being stung was still present, making the experience awesome (full of awe).

Upon crossing (standing in) the street, taking pictures of the opera house, I was met at the other side by a woman with platinum blonde hair and wide eyes filled with terror. I could only smile and say, “I’m paying attention, don’t worry.” This was the start of my beautiful encounter with a 60/70-something small exuberant woman who is the artist director of her own chamber orchestra. Perhaps it was the cheeks or the beautifully coiffed and styled hairdo or the smart matching powder blue suit she wore, or her abounding energy (that even quieted me down -- yes, I know that is a true miracle), but she reminded me so much of my deceased aunt. As we spoke more it became apparent that she and my aunt were somehow “soul sisters” separated by time and proximity, both teachers and directors of institutions, both having seen quite a colorful life (one in Hungary, one in Europe and Iran), not only that, but there was something in her eyes that was so familiar to me, like I had known her for my whole lifetime. We spoke of the Russian occupation of Hungary, the Bosnian war, her family, Hungarian jokes, the gifts of art, music and teaching…and even for only a bit about g(G)od. Although this sounds quite corny, before we parted, we had exchanged laughter, tears and love. For me, this finite encounter was also a way to remember the energy of my aunt and something already past that was gone again as soon as she went down into the underground to catch her train.

The other day (the day of my skull-cracking headache) I came across a man with a smart moustache that curled at the sides of his lips, unkempt hair a green suit and a handsome cane. In the haze of my pain, he walked straight up to me (I usually do this with other people, so it was quite unusual) and began speaking Hungarian as though we had greeted eachother many times. I told him I could not speak Hungarian and he began to speak Russian, German, French, Spanish and some broken English. He seemed a bit drunk to me and I felt a bit like death so instead of being able to pull out my camera and ask, “could I take your picture?” I was only able to excuse myself and smile as I left him. This man had been on my mind for days. I kept thinking about how he was the one person I’d like to run into again, to have a photograph of to remember because there was something about him that reminded me of my deceased uncle – again it was that unexplainable and sometimes silly sounding thing called “energy.” The strange thing was that although I did not have a photograph of the man, I could picture him perfectly in my mind. That same morning, I saw him again walking down the street. I waved and smiled at him, as though we had been doing it all our lives. I thought he might ignore me or that he had been drunk before and would perhaps not be as friendly this time for lack of libation. He stopped, turned around and began speaking to me again, calling me “California” (the last meeting he had asked where I came from). This time, I managed to understand him a bit more perhaps because I too was lucid. He told me Germenglish (German/English) that his grandchildren were in California and a few more things before I, again, had to rush off for a meeting. And unfortunately, again, I did not have my camera.

The idea of recycled people (for lack of a better word) is an interesting one. I’ve found that in my life, people (or that abstract thing called “energy”) come back again and again, until you finish your business with them. I don’t literally mean the same person comes back. Consider this concept in the most general of ways, none of us is ultimately unique, we share traits with people we’ve never even met. If we can pass on genetic traits to a generation we may never meet (our great great great grand children), why can we not pass on traits or energy via a collective conscious/unconscious. Why can people from different times and places not be the “same?” Perhaps I had met the two strangers here in Budapest to help me resolve something in my life or in theirs? The truth is that there is something about this road to Budapest, the trouble this country has been through, the pain people have shared for so many years, that makes me feel at home through empathy. The journey is somewhat akin to “going home again.” Returning for a moment to encounter all that has been and leaving once more on different terms.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Vienna in 2 Days

If you’d like to go to Vienna and have only two days, I can suggest the following (to get the most of your visit).

Day 1
Arrive by train: Begin at the Hostel Ruthensteiner (super cheap, very clean, helpful and nice staff, and you can get a private room if you’d prefer), just a stone’s throw from the train station and the underground. Breakfast can be had at any of the number of Turkish restaurants near the hostel and you’ll get complimentary tea with your meal. You are also located just near the Mariahilfer Str. Within a twenty-five minute walk from the hostel (on the Mariahilfer Str.) is some of the city’s best shopping, and the Museum Quartier and the Museum of Natural History and the Opera is just down the street. If you walk another twenty to thirty minutes from the see a load of other historic buildings and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. We began our first day at the Belevedere Castle to see “the Kiss” and other stunning artworks. The castle itself and it’s gardens are a must see and simply grand in every way. Afterwards walk to St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the main part of town, be sure to go to the top of St. Stephen’s tower and if you have an issue with heights, just get past the narrow metal grated bridge and you’ll be on a nice slab of stone and feel much better (and happy that you saw the city from above). Then take a walk or a carriage ride to see the main part of the town, statuary and a number of points of interest. Be advised that in NY the life span of carriage horses is only a couple of years, I don’t know if the same harsh conditions apply in Vienna. You’ll know when you’ve arrived because when you look up you’ll see massive Grecian (Venetian)-looking sculptures of nude deities in mid myth or oxidized copper and gold domes atop large white buildings. Be sure to stop and have your favorite coffee drink and a sumptuous sweet treat. All the cakes are moist and subtle especially the fruit topped ones. Finally you can explore the Museum Quartier and it’s courtyard and go to a lovely dinner on the Mariahilfer Str.

Day 2
Store your bags in a locker at the Hostel and head out for your adventure. Begin at Schoenbrunn Palace and see the gardens and the labyrinth. If you like antique furniture and didn’t get enough of the opulence of interiors in Belevedere, then take a tour of the inside of the Palace, we spent three hours exploring the outside, and eating brunch on the terrace atop the hill – the food is pricey but lovely. You can go from here to see the famous Vienna opera house (take the public transport as it is too far of a walk). Then you can walk from the opera house back to the Museum Quartier and purchase a combo ticket for the three main art museums: the Leopold Museum, the Kunsthalle (a great show there called "PUNK. No One is Innocent,") and the MUMOK (modern art museum which had the show "Bad Painting - Good Art.") This should take anywhere from three to 6 hours depending on how quickly you view the collections. The café outside of the Kunsthalle has wonderful drinks and food, and I recommend having dinner there. Afterwards you can stroll along the streets and window shop, stop at a few cafés to taste their cakes or just lounge outside in the terrace of the Museum Quartier on the lounge-like structures, while listening to music.

Note: If you haven't seen their work, take a look at the work of Derek Jarman (at the Kunsthalle) and if you love the work of Nan Goldin, look at Mark Morrisroe as well.

Turfted-Ear Squirrels, the Pearly Gates and Other Musings

It has been a bit since I’ve updated. I could offer up the excuse that I stepped on my card reader (I did) or that Beata’s dog, Max, ate my homework or that the aliens temporarily abducted me; giant red squirrels with tufted ears (Jenna's favorite) invaded our flat and held us hostage while we fed them nuts and fanned them w/ leaves; the European cup finals could not be held without Odette, Jenna and I blessing the soccer ball (that is the secret reason we were in Vienna); I am really a fembot (from the old Bionic Woman tv show) and I didn’t recharge my batteries for a few days, etc (all true). Much has happened since the last post, Jenna and I missed our train back to Budapest (this means, that I misunderstood the guy who sold us the tickets and we were actually just chilling out completely unaware that our train had already left) and had to scramble to find quite possibly the last available room in Vienna. The Euro Cup was being held the weekend we were there and the town was overrun w/ wild drunken Spaniards and Germans. We stayed at a Pension (pen see eyon), these are supposed to be just a cut above the hostel dorm-like environment, but my theory is that people who don’t get much of a pension open up their scary houses and let you stay there while charging you. It’s just a theory. We did enjoy our hostel though, quite a bit. When we arrived back in Budapest on Sunday, everything was different. Perhaps leaving was the best way for me to appreciate the visual beauty of this city, because when I came back, aside from the overwhelming smell of cigarette smoke, I was awestruck yet again with how beautiful the city of Budapest actually is.

Going to Vienna is like walking into heaven and seeing what one imagines the pearly gates to look like. The city is white, touched with gold. Although both Budapest and Vienna were built around the same time, they are very different experiences and because of their proximity (a 3 hr train ride), I recommend seeing both. The streets of Budapest proudly ache with history, on every building you can see ornate details and sculptures contemplatively looking to the sky and the earth. The ornamental works are weighty in aesthetic and mood and the buildings are covered with their age. Many of these sculptures tell of the city’s history and remind you of the political past that the country has had to endure in the 20th century. Old structures are occasionally abutted against newer ones, aging and beautifying them even more. In Vienna, the visual candy is much more spread out and I cannot say that every street is an interesting one to go down and photograph (but in Budapest, I have found something I’d like to photograph down every street). There are times in Vienna when a feeling of artifice overwhelms and you wonder if behind the façade of the building there are sticks holding it up (something akin to the feeling one gets when walking down Disneyland’s “Mainstreet USA” – a bit too perfect). The streets, the buildings, the town looks as though it has been washed with bleach and toothbrushes and then delicately covered with gold accents to let it sparkle as you walk by. Vienna is also fresh and airy like freshly washed white linens hung to dry in the cool summer evening air. After a few hours, the questions of artifice pass and one feels at home and relaxed, like you’ve strolled these streets all your life and can continue for all the rest. Perhaps it was the phenomenal food or the plethora of exceptional cafés that we sat in, but Jenna and I were a bit tempted by the city’s pheromones as well. And if I didn’t mention this – the art is great. For me personally, Vienna was more interesting because I was walking the same streets and going to the same places that my grandparents and aunts and uncles had been 60+ years ago. It is interesting to think about making a slight bend in time and space via the portal of place and walking in their same footsteps if only for a moment.