The Budapest version of the Champs-Elysées. This is Andrássy út on a snowy December evening -- photo by James.
Last weekend we took the train up to Budapest for our last weekend in the big city. On Thursday evening Margaret spoke to Ryan James’ Creativity Group while James and I went to a special exhibit at the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. We went on a after-hours tour of the museum that included a “hands-on” experience with two pieces from the museum’s Egyiptom collection. At a small rubber-coated table, we put on latex gloves and we were handed, very carefully, an eye-shaped amulet and small figurine from 250 B.C. Easily the oldest man-made things I’ve ever held in my hands. The moment was very nerve-wracking, though, as just the week before, James broke two plates and bowl while doing the dishes in our little kitchen. I wish I had taken photographs in the museum, but I would have had to go back down to the entrance and buy a photography ticket, and I was too lazy to do it. I have this funny feeling here that if I don’t photograph it, it didn’t happen. We also saw the hilarious Fernando Botero exhibit – he paints these giant, comic canvasses of extremely thick people. In one of the artist’s notes, he says something about his “passionate interest in volume.” Very funny.
Fernando Botero - "The Thief"
On Friday we spent the day with our fellow Fulbrighters and their families on a tour of the Hungarian Parliament building and the Hungarian Ethnographic Museum. It was a sloppy, cold day, but we managed to see a few of the sites outside before going into Parliament. Here are some pix:
James at the 1956 Revolution Memorial outside of the Hungarian Parliament building. James is writing a research paper on the 1956 Revolution for his English class back in the U.S. You can't see it, but there's an "eternal flame" on the top/back side of the monument.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a “failed” revolution that began with a student uprising on Oct. 23rd. The Soviets sent a large force into Budapest and other parts of the country and crushed the uprising fairly quickly. The husband of a friend of ours says that he remembers a Soviet tank firing mortars into his neighbor’s house – he was about a year old at the time. It’s one of his first memories. In all, something like 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. A teacher at the school where I’ve been teaching explained to me that the Hungarians asked for and expected help from the Americans, but it never arrived.
Protesters who gathered in this square in front of Parliament during the 1956 Revolution where shot at from inside the building behind James.
For some context, the Hungarian Freedom Fighter was Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1957.
The tour of Parliament was interesting – our group had its own little security detail to make sure we didn’t have any stragglers who might get lost and end up sitting in on a meeting of the Finance Ministers or something. Here are a few shots from inside:
They sure know how to do a ceiling around here.
The changing of the guards who guard the Holy Crown of Hungary.
The Holy Crown of Hungary (aka “The Crown of St. Stephen”) has a fascinating story – for something like 30 years it was kept at Fort Knox. Yes, OUR Fort Knox – the one in Kentucky. It was given back to the Hungarian people (not the government) during the Carter administration. You can read more about it here.
The Holy Crown of Hungary.
For a visual refresher, this is a shot of the Parliament building I took back in September, under much nicer conditions.
Later in the afternoon we had a tour of the Ethnographic Museum, which, honestly, didn’t spin my wheels so much — lots of costumes and dioramas and furniture and such. And NO photos allowed.
On Saturday morning, Margaret met with the son of former chief Rabbi of Pecs. James and I went to the chilling Terror Haza at 60 Andrássy út. This is the building that housed the ruthless secret police of both the Nazi’s during the German occupation in WWII and the Communists immediately thereafter. The exterior is stunning.
The word "TERROR" is reverse-stenciled on the roof. I think the idea is that in the right sunlight, the shadows spell out the word across the top windows.
In the sun, the word Terror is projected onto the building.
The exterior of the Terror House - images of people who where murdered by the fascist/Nazi Arrow Cross or the Soviet AVH.
Inside the central area of the Terror House museum. You can't see it from here, but there's oil dripping out from the bottom of the tank and running down into the basement. Surely it's to symbolize the filth and corruption of those organizations that operated inside this building.
The Terror House would be on my “must see” list for anyone spending more than a few days in Budapest. It’s a deeply disturbing and enlightening look at the depravity of the political forces that kept Hungarians in the dark and living in fear for over 40 years.
And now here’s a photo to cleanse the palate a bit. I didn’t get the name of the shop, but the display featured some VERY nice-looking open-faced sandwiches.
A sandwiches lover's dream...
Yesterday was my last day of teaching at the A.N.K. They gave me a terrific send-off. I’ll post about that tomorrow. We’ve got 5 days left in Hungary.
Oh, yes. And Happy Birthday to our son, James. He turned 14 today! Going out for a duck dinner.