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Becoming light

August 29, 2013

By Amy K. Genova

This time I decide not to count laps but swim until tired.
It’s hard letting go: 2-4-6 …. The gnomon’s shadow slips
over the outdoor pool. Rings un-number themselves off
my hands, five fingers squeezed like paddles clapping

water. But, then, that’s counting: tic, tic, tic. Anxiety
and sun clock my shoulder rosy. Will I swim enough?
Refocus on drain. Its clog of leaves. Cracks. Rust curving
like algae down the pool belly. Red and blue lane dividers.

Perhaps, I’ll just count 400 IMs, neat lengths of 4x4s.
Would that be so bad? My sleek heart beat beat beats
without breath of comma in-betweens, despite symmetry—
left breath, no breath, right breath. Three beats. Under

my 90 degree elbow, freestyles the tree-glisten and sky.
One perfect hole in the clouds, God’s A-OK. No more counting,
flip-turning. Just a good shove off the side into this glass slipper
of warm shallow into cool deep.  A red-hatted lifeguard, perches

above my lane. Does he mark my stroke? Think I need saving?
Two swimmers come & go. Am I tired? Invisible?
Turning, honeysuckle tickles my nose. A cloud-bit of radio
races after me. A thousand white leaves wade in sun.

For a minute my father rises from water. Glasses speckled
with splash. My heart dolphins. Pop-static warbles, Yeah you
make me feel like ….

When the numbers end, this is light:

cirrus strands, a boy in red trunks, the perfume of weeds,
a Doppler of dad in the pool when I’m five … this uncountable tune.


Day 9-Tables in Paradise

July 29, 2013

We drive the bumping winding roads of Transylvania and arrive at Chilla’s nagymama’s (grandmother’s) house, the house where Chilla’s father was born. Chilla is the young new minister’ wife. We open the gate to a small portico covered with vine-loaded clusters of green grapes a week or two from ripening. The garden sparkles with daisies, roses, baby’s breath, bulb-topped garlic plants, and several other blue, purple and pink flowers. The short path opens to a cloth-covered table adorned with palinka glasses and flowers.  A very pregnant Chilla greets us with a Madonna-like smile. Her eighteen-month-old trails behind her clapping his chubby hands. Laurent, who has traveled with us this morning, embraces her and scoops up the baby.

Our perennially cheerful companion, Mike Nolan, remarks, “This should be heaven. You walk in, a beautiful table waits under the grape arbor, with wonderful things to eat.” We agree.

From a small kitchen Nagymama emerges, grinning broadly, wearing  a flower print dress and apron. We sit; drink palinka and apple juice and eat from platters of handmade, spiral bread dredged in sugar. Break off crisp strips and laugh. What else can one do? Chilla’s grandmother does not join, which is characteristic in Transylvanian women when they cook, but serves us coffee after we have stuffed ourselves. I ask Chilla, “Who tends the garden?’ Her eighty-four year old grandmother does it all. Perhaps that is why nagymama has lived so long and so joyfully. We say our goodbyes, kiss on both cheeks.

After, we visit a UNESCO World Heritage site, a church that has uncovered medieval frescos (See following post).

Next, the greenhouses of the brother we met at the Sunday picnic. He offers us beer and provides a tour. Loads and loads of firewood are stacked, which heat the greenhouses in winter and melt the snow from the roofs. He built up the business little by little, which started off as a vegetable garden and now employs twenty villagers. And what do you know? He invites us to a table where his wife has sliced a watermelon and placed a bowl of steamed ears of corn. A neat stack of plates and forks, napkins and a salt decanter are ready. We sit and admire the garden, hills and the sky and continue on.

This time we visit Levente’s own mother, a stylish woman, with blonde hair, make up and  trim figure. Quite the modern woman businesswoman who owns a beauty parlor and has traveled to Budapest. Inside, a table. Of course loaded with homemade fritters. “Are we still alive?” I wonder. We all try to eat two or three. The rest are packed up for us.

We visit a famous wood carver,who near Levente’s mother. He meets us at the gate wearing boxers with a pattern of Christmas presents, an undershirt and slippers, he has wild silver hair and a substantial mustache.  The Székely (pronounced sak a/long a) people use wood memorials instead of headstones, somewhat similar to totem poles, but slim carved structures. He shows us two such markers, one completed and one in process. He sketches the scenes, then hand tools the work. He created the wood doors, altars and emblems we visited in two new Unitarian churches. My favorites plaques, of the many he exhibits, are intricately modeled on ancient coins and heraldic shields. One illustrates a bear eating a man; his small face, amazingly plaintive, pricks my heart. Many stunning scenes and deft woodworking.

We arrive home to the home table: palinka and beer, vegetable soup, lamb and eggs, for the vegetarians: polenta with rich cream. Before we go to bed the Szloboszai family presents us with a gift: a painted wood plate, a macramé (?) doily, a mug and bookmark from the Csokfalva church. Calman opens another beer for Thomas; I slip off to bed before one is opened for me.

In the morning I wake up just in time to wave to Ibi headed off to work. For breakfast the formidable Calman, former truck driver under the Soviets, serves us paradise. He tells us through Levente that everything on the table comes directly from the farm: two types of sheep cheese, yellow peppers and tomatoes, eggplant mash, fire-roasted bread, red pepper paprika spread, honey from the hives, and palinka. Calman and old Calman (the tradition to name the son for the father) wave to us from the gate until they can no longer see us, Booby and Ferfe wagging tails at their feet become a blur.  Tears spring to my eyes as I write; for a moment, we were part of a village.




UNESCO World Heritage Site-Szekelyderzs (Dirjiu)

Again, the history is unclear. Laurent, the new minister, and Danish, the old, passionately insert more explanations and history, which stymies the tour guide.  Did the Catholics or the succeeding Unitarians cover the frescos?  Levente, jokes that the Unitarians covered the walls to preserve the frescos for the Catholics.  The story unfolding in four scenes, depicts a young woman being stolen and raped by a Tartar, his cloak the color of rust.

The saint pursues them in silver garb.  Both the saint and the sinner loom larger than life, depicting the forces of good and evil, the young woman much smaller.  Three golden arrows merge with the Saint’s forehead representing the three sources of his power, the mind, the vision and the spirit (not sure if I recall these correctly).  The woman and the saint work together to pull the offender off his horse. The woman slices the villain’s Achilles heel. Then slits his throat with a battle axe, the Saint not being allowed to murder.  The last scene portrays the woman above the seated Saint peering into the part of his hair, representing that they are of one mind or that she sees into the holy. Beautiful and fearsome frescos.  Interesting woman power.     (Click blue heading at the top for our last day in the village and to access previous entries.)


Day 8: The village. Church.

July 23, 2013

Women and men enter the village church, built in 1798, separately and sit on opposite sides. Some of the women are in modern dress, Ibi in a colorful blouse, gold necklace, short haircut and slacks, but the old women wear long skirts and headscarves. The men wear short-sleeved shirts and dress slacks, some—fedoras or bright white embroidered shirts with embroidered black vests, no ties. Thomas and the new Transylvania mister, twenty-nine year old Laurent, walk in last wearing black robes. They take turns in the pulpit under the opulent pulpit crown. Levente translates: One language—love. After the sermon, Laurent and Thomas sit together in a pew. Laurent strums a guitar, while Thomas improvises on a Native American flute, the only time smiles and cameras appear during the service.

After church, we retire to the village center. Men shake the hands of other men, I forget and shake the hands of one or two, they generously accept my ways. Normally the men kiss my hand, a charming tradition.

Two kettles of gulyás have been cooking for hours over a fire. The men assemble tables and benches under the oak trees; the women set them with tablecloths and china, small palinka glasses, homemade red and white wine in water bottles, baskets of the fire-baked bread, and bowls of cabbage salad. Also, a platter of vegetarian foods rests on the table: eggplant mash, boiled eggs, battered yellow squash, mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumbers and yellow peppers. Surprisingly, there is a Hungarian vegetarian, a Hare Krishna that had left the town.

Finally, I settle into the pace of these gatherings. Hours drinking and eating, someone bursting out in song. Friends talking and laughing. The men will not let the cups run dry. One fellow with a magyar (Hungarian) mustache, black trouts on either side of his mouth, sneaks behind Thomas and pours more wine into his cup. Soon, Thomas is singing.

I join a table with people I have never met and yet cannot call them strangers. Levente translates. One of the men expresses their good wishes to the people of St. Louis. Maybe the wine, maybe because it means so much to the small village, tears stream down his cheeks and also of old Calman beside him. Many have never been out of the village, or boarded a horse cart. Horse carts are still a regular feature on the roads.

One young man speaks perfect English; he lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and is the brother of the Hare Krishna. He too left the village as so many people did when the communists took over. Transylvania was so isolated, he did not even know that there were languages outside of Romanian or Hungarian until he was fourteen.   Furthermore, the Romanians tried to oppress Hungarian. Levente explains a deluge of Western literature and new ideas came to the people. In Hungry the young man, who had previously had a promising career as a chemist, was approached by the Hare Krisna and gave up his career. A third brother, who remains in the village, has prospered building green houses and now employs twenty villagers. He could not understand the brother who gave up his career. The thin, young pony-tailed man replied, “You take care of the body, our brother the mind and I, the soul.”
The village accepts him. Levente, who is also worldly, said that he would try to make connections for him in the service when he was minister here. Also, that when he first came to the United States how he was shocked that a UU minister said that she was a Unitarian Universalist Buddhist, “but slow by slow” he came to see that Universalism, which the Hungarians do not subscribe to, is a bridge.

The brother, from Phoenix, said the village bustled with people when he was young, but now is so small. However, the Nolans, who visited four years ago, see a great deal of growth: indoor plumbing, the remodeling of the minister’s house and houses newly covered in bright plaster: orange, lime, and rose. Purple and white flowered trees lining the road to Colman and Ibi’s house; who both work, although Colman on the farm. A cell phone rings in church.

After dinner people drift away, and the women wash dishes. Finally, we sit in a circle of the core community. I look at each tanned and rosy face. Realize I have fallen in love. We sit and talk, and hours later, unbelievably, two quiet tables are reset under the trees for the remaining guests and hosts. We sit as the telehold (full moon) rises. Six storks return to sleep in their great nest perched on a high tower. We talked all day, but there are no words to express this journey.

Wings of Hungary–Something like Day 7

July 22, 2013

Wings of Hungary  

Sun-bounces off the silver-curved

clouds in the eye-ink of crow.

His claws unclench and fold,

and he glides. Swoop flutters

under the history of hoof-beats.


A ribbon of kings, armored in antlers

and animal skins, ride white horses.

With them, the hearts of their people

fly to the Carpathian caw, rising

over pine and oak.


Black roses unfurl banners. Knee-deep

in river, a bear, looks up from fish.

Sniffs men’s salt in the air. The Székely,

descents of Hun, welcome in peace

a nation of kings.


Sun-bounces off the silver-curved

clouds in the eye-ink of crow.

Swoop flutters under a succession

of new Kings, tanks and dictators.


But always the Székely men.

Knives carving their own way,

sleeping under the telehold

and stars, hearts beating

on black shoulders of dreams.


Always the Székely women.

Baking black bread, tending gulyás,

feeding men, children and chicks,

singing the Milky Way’s glide

over the  tree-feathered forest.


Always the pinion of nagymama

and baba, bride and young man—

the Székely.  Hearts true

as the language of furrows.

Patient as crows with silver beaks.

Egészégére (Cheers) From the Village of Csókfalva

July 21, 2013

Perched on a bench drinking homemade cherry Palinka and a beer in a country village beside an old man that cannot speak a word of English. I watch the doings of thirty golden, black, white, and multi-colored chickens and a couple of roosters. Behind them, hibiscus flowers and loaded grapevines climb fences and five, prodigious swine feast on clover. The family maintains an extensive garden with beans, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc. and owns a hay pasture. They stock massive amounts of wood for their home’s wood burning stoves. There are two dogs, Furfe and Boobie, the old man shoos away for pestering me. Before, I had slipped them a crust of bread left from the dinner, so they expect something. Everyone else is out doing business. Thomas is helping the men moving materials into the church, Ebby, our hostess, is closing up her shop.

When they come home, Ebby prepares a lovely meal for us, although, Levente tells us the villagers do not understand vegetarianism. Levente says they require bacon and slabs of pork fat, extra calories for the hard day of farming. Of course we know, we get plenty of calories, but we do not argue. Their food is organic; they smoke all their own meats, make their own sausages, bread, palinka, and wine. Earlier, walked into a pantry full of shelves lined with jarred olives and pickles.

Ebby made vegetarian cabbage rolls for us, also a special blend of vegetables and yellow forest mushrooms, fried eggs with cheese, eggplant mash and of course tomatoes. Most of the others ate meat stuffed cabbages and mushrooms. We are offered palinka, with its high alcohol content, at breakfast. Previously, the partnership church warned us about alcohol poisoning, but we find it difficult to reject their hospitality. Clear palinka, and a type of cinnamon bread greeted us on arrival. Cherry palinka and beer at dinner, homemade wine before meeting another family for wine. Thomas said it was more than he usually drank in two months. On the walk home looking up at the stars and moon, he found himself wandering off the road. Fell asleep quickly.

In the morning we started again—Palinka. We toured the Csólkfalva church. On the front, Levente the former minister and our guide, had inscribed some words: You who travelfd up and down this road remember to stop, notice this church which is the beauty of the village. Look up and celebrate one God. Levente is very proud of the work he has done here. He showed us how the church had originally two doors, a low door for women, so they had to bow as they entered, and one standard sized doorway for men, so they could walk in proudly. To this day the men and women sit on opposite sides of the church. Inside, hand carved banisters, an organ restored by Levente, before having only wood pipes that were not functional, prayer books with embroidered covers.

Back at our hosts, Ebby pulled out artisan bread that had been baking in an outside oven. All of the large rounds are charred and the black part is beaten off with a short wooden baton, the crumbs are scattered on the ground for the chickens. The result, golden crusty bread with soft inside. We ate this as a mid-morning snack, with more Palinka, of course, while various villagers stopped by, the new minister and a large round man, with a face like the crusty bread, and a laugh like jam. The men have retired to his house for pre-lunch drinking. Levente explains that this drinking is not the usual, but in our honor. Thomas is toasted, and we haven’t even had lunch.

Day 5–Corvina Castle and Dracula

July 21, 2013

Today’s first stop, fairy tale–Corvina’s Castle (See link below). Gothic and Renaissance style, lofty high arches, turrets, bear pen, dungeon, canon apertures, fortified walls, massive wood door, kitchen and dance hall, cool dark interiors, broken only by the sparse, stained-glass windows dotting prisms over a patch of stone bench or floor. Once there was a massive drawbridge; a later owner extended the castle and built a new entrance. Incidentally, Vlad Dracul, father to Vlad the Impaler aka Dracula, was imprisoned for a time here for not providing help against the Ottomans.

Also, in 1441 a powerful warlord, Hunyadi, captured twelve Turks and made them dig for water. Hunyadi promised if they found water, the Turks would be liberated. After fifteen years the prisoners did indeed hit water, however, Hunyadi had since died. His successor worried if he freed them, the Turks would exact revenge, so he cut off the prisoners’ heads. Before they died, they were granted their final request—to inscribe their names in stone: Abraham, Muhammad, and Allie. The names were arranged in such a way to also read, “You may have water, but you have no soul.”

Other miscellaneous poetry: ornate, silver-topped gypsy palaces, dark-skinned gypsies, just like the movies: the women in colorful headscarves, with long skirts and hoop earrings, the men, in big hats, driving horse carts. Transylvanian houses with brightly covered orange, pink, and green stucco and silver downspouts fashioned with flowered flourishes on the corners. Always, cucumbers, yellow peppers, tomatoes, and cabbage salads. The clock tower in Segesvar. Church bells at noon. Storks. Soups. Roses. Hibiscus jam, concocted by the Unitarian/Plumber minister at the guesthouse. The big dipper in my window in the student dormitory; stars Thomas had never seen. The constant crow of the rooster outside the kitchen window.


Day 4 Deva & Segesvar, Transylvania World Heritage Sites

July 19, 2013

Yesterday, we climbed the steep incline to the cell where Francis David was matyred in 1579. Francis David, the first Unitarian bishop, argued for the Edict of Toleration which allowed for individuals to practice the faith of their choice.

My fear of heights was kept at bay by a combination of the woods, for the most part covering the cliff’s edge; a focus on “up,” and my determination to not let my fear conquer this once-in-a-life-time chance to view some critical sites. We reached the pinnacle and could view the city of Deva, half the town lovely, red-tiled buildings, the other half ugly Soviet-era boxes, here and there dotted by and onion domed or colorfully tiled churches with a backdrop of pastures and sloping hills. The prison, was a pitiful place, an enclosed dome in itself with no windows, no light, perhaps 15’ x 15,’ inside, a large grave-like memorial. Spontaneously, the five of us held hands for a moment of silence: Mike and Carolyn Nolan, Thomas and I, and Lasar Levente. I closed my eyes felt the cold stone room and saw for a moment the black that David saw for the last months of his life.
(More to come)

Cluj (Romanian) or Kolosvar (Hungarian)? Day 3 Romania

July 17, 2013

I have been fighting for this religion since I was twenty-three: inviting, explaining, delegating, elevator-speeching, weeding the grounds, teaching children, holding panels, showing movies, conducting vesper services, conducting interviews, and much more. How riveting it is to inhabit our religious heritage! To discover, in the flesh this noble, persecuted faith initiated in Transylvanian, which somehow flowered, among other nations, such as the United States. Kolosvar lighted on me like a garland from Gabriel. On the train I re-read the history of Francis David, as his religious journey evolved from a Catholic priest, to Lutheran bishop, Calvinist bishop, to finally a Unitarian minister and bishop. According to the legend, he climbed up on a rock, and his sermon converted the entire town to Unitarianism.

He preached that:
• God is one.
• That the expression of our faith is in our works.
• That Jesus was a man, the communion a remembrance.

He converted the King of Transylvania, who proclaimed the Edict of Toleration (1568) that allowed for religious diversity, fifty years after Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the door of a Catholic Cathedral.

Today, Romania is a country with ethnic tensions. Our guide Levente said Hungarian Unitarians, and Hungarians in general still face discrimination. Although the government is democratic, there is a push toward redistricting the country. The effect, according to the female minister I met at the district headquarters, would be a disaster for the Unitarians. In districts where Hungarians make up 20% of the population, the district has bilingual services. If the redistricting takes place, Hungarians will lose their political voice. Already they face active discrimination in hiring practices. And although they are allowed to practice their religion, the state religion is Orthodox Catholic.

Not long ago, Ceausescu tried to eliminate the Hungarian minority by threating to raze thousands of villages and replace them with large Soviet style farms. Nearly thirty years after the revolution, the Hungarians in Romania, mostly Transylvania, are still at odds with the Romanians.

Division encompasses the history and memory of the nation. Romanians have their history, and the Hungarians have theirs concerning the same events, even the founding of the nation or who settled here first is up for debate, the stuff of nightmares. This was evident when we stopped in Torda to see a famous painting of the debate for the Edict of Torda, where Francis David argued for religious toleration. Our Hungarian guide and Unitarian minister, Levente Lasar, got into a edgy debate with the Romanian docent about the facts/events surrounding the moment of the painting. Each disputed the other’s details of the events.

It reminds me of the division between the Sunni and the Shite Muslims, a point of history, who was the true descendent of Muhammad, his cousin or his companion?
One can see revisionist history at work against the Hungarian minority. At a cemetery, for instance, in a chained off plot where two famous Unitarians were buried, was a new grave for a Romanian. Levente questioned, “Why was he there?” Also, at a Catholic church, a plaque proclaiming the spot of the Edict of Toleration, as he noted, was partially obscured by an out-of-place statue that was moved there. On the other hand, I am not sure if these are real slights or imagined ones.

Again, the feeling occurs that these are frustratingly, unresolvable conflicts. I suggested to the Romanian docent with my left hand that the Romanians had their history and with my right that the Hungarians had theirs. I put one hand on top of the other to suggest that the truth was between the two. “No,” he said. Levente had already left the room. My simplistic view is a limited Western one, and yet, if only it was manifest in the people, Egy ez isten (God is one), or for a humanist, like me, all people are one.

Budapest-Day 2 Rolling

July 16, 2013

We entered British Air through first class, where passengers settled into box-like compartments facing each other. We plebeians funneled through, and yet, anyone who can afford a plane ticket, or the good will of others, is not a plebeian. Still the class distinction denoted itself in their blankets, quilted instead of flannel, pillows and TV screens, larger versus smaller, and in our pre-boarding walk of shame through their aisles, and finally, the blue curtain that segregated us from the doings “up there” the free drinks, snacks, up graded meals and room for one’s knees. A silly distinction, yet one that says it all, seating by money versus age, handicap, or pregnancy. Who can complain? Most of the world will never be on the plane at all. Perhaps, the most important reason to complain. But will I give up my seat?

While we waited for take off, I stood in the aisle and faced the ten abreast, seat belted beside each other, a fine-looking crew of international travelers. Asians going to Finland. Brits flying to Madrid. Americans sojourning to Asia. I spoke to them and raised my hands as though to conduct an orchestra. Americans would have laughed; these did not. Even so, I caught three young people’s attention and exchanged pleasantries. Irish travelers on their way to Madrid but much enthralled by my going to Budapest and Transylvania. We named places of we had gone and wishes of where we would like to go, for me Ireland, London, Scotland. I’ve given up on Korea, but not  Machu Picchu. A stewardess brushed passed me. I sat down to buckle in, quite close to the seat back in front of me.

During the flight, I stood and walked as often as possible. Once gazed at the faces in the flowing skirts of the airplane. While most slept, an African, the only black man in view, his brown skull-cap interwoven with gold threads; the eleven year, opened-mouth like an old man, camped beside her sister in the very back row; the steward with his generous humor, subtle British accent and purposely mussed hair, seated and reading a tabloid, for a moment we were linked, an un-nationed band of brothers and sisters with our shoes off, travel pillows and insulated hearts, hurtling through the air over the broad expanse of the Atlantic.

In Budapest, everywhere people. We walk up the littered streets with them; walk with them beside their clean cafés and upscale, flowered shops near the diplomatic center, up the steps with them outside the Basilica and outside their Sphinx-adorned opera house. We sit in a circle with everyone at the Margrit fountain, shoes off, dangling our swollen feet in the cold water of its clean trench. Watch its syncopated water change color. This practice softens the crowd into one. Egy ez ishten (God is one). We scramble with people up the platform of the Margrit Bridge beside her stone crowns for a gander at the panoramic lights coming on the Parliament Building, National Courthouse across the river, onion-domed Calvinist church, Hilton Hotel and Matthias Church and the speckled cruise ships.

We move among lovers. Lovers watch the fountain from a bench. He strokes her leg; she fingers the inner loop of his arm. Moving, with lovers on the tram, a punk with peaked hair, inexplicitly happy, kissing his girlfriend, on her cheek, on her lips, on her cheek again; smiling agreement to my gesture across the car to take a picture of him and his Juliet.

New lovers, oblivious to passer-byers on the sidewalk, the boy tentatively tracing her, pressing his body in; her face, bespectacled, nothing special, except in her parted lips and abashed, tilted expectation. Were we ever so? Yes, come to think of it, yes we were.

Moving in the city with people, up the dizzying, five storied-escalator, or down the narrow tube of the tram station. At the bottom, people flow out like spilled flakes of a cereal box. At the City Market, forging for lunch, we squeeze back out of a narrow hallway of cafés so flush with bodies, we feel their cotton shirts, bare arms, and chests, smell the odor of paprika, onions and sausages on their lips, know we will melt into one flesh if there is a fire. Retreat to a bench; strike up a conversation with two more young people from Glosgow and Edinboro, who live in Prague. He talks animatedly about being a small town boy from Glasgow and the good-natured rivalry between the two towns; he is for Glasgow, all the way. What high school did you go to?

Outside the moving trams and trains, and always those walking or sitting alone. A young girl, perhaps twenty-six, pony tailed like a girl on my daughter’s soccer team; sits on the sidewalk holding a sign, begging.  She gazes only at the ground. A girl, should-be-intern. A crazed old man, snakes along the sidewalk ahead of us, stops to scold graffitied telephone booths (still in Budapest) and shakes his finger at them. Straightening his tattered jacket, he walks on until meeting another booth; darts in to argue, then, re-emerges to peer in to AL Capone’s Bar.  Also, the woman who saw me stare into her wrong eye first, on the bear-mauled side of her face. The ragged mother with her children, one with crossed eyes. Our tour guide with the wart on her nostril like a large jewel, not beside it like I had remembered. Move it all over her face, and her smile would still gladden my heart. My face, wearied and worn, the child of five, pixie cut and snowball sweater, still inside like a black and white photo and Thomas. Thomas with his beautiful face, as lovely as the field of sunflowers from the train. We move, forward, clicking along, until we look back.

See images of Budapest:

Budapest-Jetlag & The Restorative Power of Water

July 14, 2013

First thing I learn, Buda was one city and Pest another. For a while it was Pest-Buda. Cannot say why this changed, but will find out. This, I learned from our tour guide who met us early today after breakfast.

By some fluke we happen to be staying in a four star hotel. Enjoy its art deco design, prismed sunroom and garden, where I write to you while sipping Hungarian beer. Breakfast was a fabulous buffet: lots of meats, sausages and salamis, (of which we left for others), cheese slices, fresh fruit: watermelon, pineapple etc., grilled vegetables, fried eggs and omelets, Muesli, pastry and very characteristic (I can tell already) loads of sliced garden cucumbers and tomatoes.

Our tour guide, Betty, a proud and quirky Transylvanian, in cotton-embroidered dresses, sun hats accented by a modest amount of jewelry, quickly shared some of her political and religious views. She explained to us some of the deep resentment her people have that, as one writer put it, “My Transylvania is not my Transylvania anymore.” In her opinion, Romanians have usurped Hungarian culture and language, partially by encouraging Romanians to populate Transylvanian and take over labor jobs. Betty said, “They say, ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do,”‘ meaning that the Transylvanians should speak Romanian, but she add wryly, “We are the Romans,” translation, “We were here first.” Think Native Americans being told, When in America, do as Americans do—speak our language, and you get the picture. How do people come together under such circumstances?

Interestingly, Betty said it was not necessary for Thomas to do a prayer at our meal, although, he did one anyway, wanting to give thanks to our host and to remind us to be open. This seemed to please her. She talked about the epiphany of seeing for the first time words on a page, side by side, which said God could not be both omnipotent and all good. Moreover, Betty does not think of God as a human being, and commented that although her church practices communion, it is not an act of taking in the body of Jesus, but an act of remembrance. All signs point to a modern Unitarian.

After taking in some spectacular views of the Danube and greater Budapest through the stone windows of Buda Castle and from the lion-guardian Chain Bridge, we preceded to The Walk of Heroes, a monument built at the millennium to celebrate the founding of Hungry in the Carpathian basin. It won first prize at the 1900’s World Fair in Paris and for good reason. Seven rugged medieval chieftains form a formidable semi-circle around a pillared statue topped with Gabriel who holds St. Steven’s crown having come to him in a dream of Hungry. The medieval men and their sturdy horses appealed to me: the Gary Coopers and John Waynes of their age, with their heavy stone gear, sheathed broad blades, animal skin capes and steads, one, bedecked with antler headgear, points splayed outward like tusks for defensive purposes. Quite a fierce spectacle, much different than the staid countenances of our American forefathers. Betty corrected Thomas when he suggested that the heroes wandered into the area, Hungary was very much an intentional settlement of a people.

Next, we said good-bye to our guide who dropped us off at the Central Market and gave us very good instructions on how to handle the tram and underground trains. Still, suffering from jet lag and heat, we were anxious to find water, lunch, and a place to sit down. Thomas and I shared a meal of pickled vegetables. Rapaciously gobbled down red cabbage, yellow cabbage, grilled yellow peppers, and a cold butter bean and leak salad dressed with vinaigrette. Just what I wanted, having been bereft of vegetables the day before. We shopped for souvenirs, particularly the paprika of which there are many varieties, sweet and hot.

The last stop of the day, by far my favorite, the St. Gellert Thermal Bath and Swimming Pools. The baths were originally all-male pools made by a famous factory known for its hand painted windows. I cannot describe the grandeur of the arched and blue-tiled pools punctuated by cherubs on either end and carved faces looking downward from the ceiling. Let’s just say I felt like pampered Roman, ironic given our previous discussion with our guide. Four thermal pools had varying temperatures 96-104 F degrees, each labeled. 104 degrees sooths away all stress. Stunning figurines and gargoyles pour or spit water; one can sit under for a nice water massage. There is also a regular, although ornamented, indoor pool that opened to the sky; the shallow end bubbled underneath me as I swam. Thomas took a turn in an outdoor wave pool outside bordered by gardens. We spent hours in the restorative waters, the perfect way to finish the day, except for the added bonus of the cooling air, walking the bridge over the Danube and riding the tram along her dark waters with its balustrades of castles, palaces and churches.

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