February 3, 2002
Things Left Unsaid and Other Tasty Bits
With Daphnee’s e-mail doing strange and unusual things it has been a challenge to communicate with her. Her e-mail will send out some of the times, but not reliably. She has been able to receive most of my messages, but to guarantee it, I send a cc copy to her secretary Jackie. Sometimes I get a response from both of them at the same time. Biting my nails to the first knuckle, needing our diplomas and other important papers, I waiting patiently for Daphnee or Ellie, her partner to venture into our storage unit and plunder the huge plastic file hanging file box we had left with all our important papers. Time was ticking and I felt impotent being here not being able to do anything other than fly home to find them myself.
When Daphnee e-mailed, she put it to me plain and simple. Our diplomas were not in that box. They took the box home to comb through it thoroughly and they were not to be found. Being the problem solver that she is, she called University of San Francisco and University of California Hayward claiming to be the sister of each of us and ordered another copy of my doctoral diploma and Ron’s TESOL Certification. When she received all of that, she would Federal Express it with all of the other papers we needed.
In the meanwhile, I had ordered a copy of my diploma to be Federal Expressed to me here in Hungary. I had to fax the school, as they would not take the order over the Internet. The fax gave them permission not only to charge my credit card for the $20.00 fee for a duplicate diploma, but also for the $25.00 charge for Federal Express. I had asked them to e-mail me a confirmation of receiving the fax and explained that I was under strict time guidelines for receiving it. They e-mailed back that they were having problems with the computer program that printed the diplomas and had no idea how long it would take. Now that Daphnee had ordered one also, I e-mailed USF again, stated that my sister had ordered one on my behalf and they could cancel my order. They responded to my sister, stating that they had already processed my request and sent it out First Class mail. Uh, pardon me? I authorized Federal Express and explained in my letter that I would be moving and that it may not get here in time if it comes first class mail. This is an institution of higher learning and they cannot comprehend simple instructions? This is a wonderful example of when we point fingers at the complexities of other countries, what seems inane to us, we should look in our own backyard first. Chances are there are more similarities than we would care to admit.
Daphnee besides working full-time had Ellie sick with bronchitis and her secretary was ill too. She was planning to leave for a vacation on February 1st, but postponed it to the 7th. This weekend she went to Florida for a wedding. With all of the hustle and bustle of her own life, she took the time to take care of us. Since she claimed to be our sister when calling the schools, we have elevated her to ‘Sisterhood’. The word friend is used so loosely that it has lost much of its meaning, just like the word love. Unlike the Greeks who used more than one word for love, such as agape, philia, and eros to mean love in different types of relational situations, we use love and friend for a broad range of meanings. It is like having a generic brand item that can cover a multitude of needs. Therefore, calling Daphnee our friend did not do her justice since I also talk about the new ‘friends’ we have met along the way and the friends we have left behind. Because of the limitations of our language, there is no useful way to rank friends to distinguish them from other types of friendships. We use friend or acquaintance. Both words can be loosely translated in the receiver’s mind to mean any number of things. I do not want to detract from what other ‘friends’ along our life journey have meant to us, shared with us, or gave from their heart to us, but Daphnee is in a category uniquely set apart from the rest. The only way of expressing it was to call here sister in my idealized sense of what a sister would do for her brothers. I have always said that sometimes members of your family are not related to you by blood. Then I question which of my family members I would choose to have as friends if I were not related to them. The answer to that question could make many people feel like an orphan. As well, the way Daphnee is, is how I wish my brother would treat me, because that is the way I have treated he and his family. Perhaps, he should be demoted to a friendship level.
Speaking of my brother, the bag of mail that was at my father’s has made it to Daphnee’s. She did not mention how it got there and my brother never acknowledged his delivering it. I hesitate to bestow my gratitude too prematurely in case he had nothing to do with the transfer. However, if he did, I will certainly reward the behavior like Pavlov did his dogs to continue the conditioning behavior. Heaven knows in the past, I have had better results with behaviorist conditioning stuffed teddy bears than I have had with my brother.
I have been negligent is not sharing what I have been reading since there are some great titles that I would recommend. Although one may not be of interest for most of you, I have read How to Write and Sell Children’s Picture Books, by Jean Karl. The author is a former editor of children’s books. At some point, her explanations are beyond simplistic, like one of the …for Dummy’s series of books, but I suppose that may be needed by some people who lack experience.
Another book, The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink was one that our friend Sheila, from Wyoming passed on to us. It is a translated version from the original German. It is about a young boy that innocently starts having an affair with an older woman and each time they meet, he reads to her before leaving. The affair ends abruptly after a few years and his is haunted by the memory of their relationship, not being able to be satiated with any other afterward. Years later, he becomes a law student and while observing a court case finds that this former lover is in court on charges of being a Nazi guard during the Holocaust. Her other well kept secret becomes apparent in the courtroom putting her former lover in a dichotomous dilemma of whether to allow her her dignity or to make the truth know in order to reduce her sentence. It was a riveting read, but when I went to find it on Amazon.com, all I could find was the German version. It would be a pity for some of you to miss this book.
The last book that I read was The Sixteen Pleasures, by Robert Hellenga. This is an American (U.S.) author writing about Italy in a book published in England. For anyone that is enamored with Italy or Italians, this is necessary read. A young book restorationist is drawn to Florence in 1966 when the floods threatened many of the national treasures. Her mother who had died of cancer, was a former Art History Professor and had taken her daughter to Italy a number of times with student trips, so the main character is able to speak Italian fluently. She works hard to save some of the most famous books, but at the same time discovers love and loss with Italian men. She spends some of her time in a cloistered convent working on their library and living there to save money since her time is volunteered and her funds are drying faster than the moisture that has saturated the city. Her entanglements with the nuns from the convent add a different twist to the story that is sure to retain ones interest. Hellenga, does at times go into too much detail regarding the process of book restoration, but it shows that he has thoroughly researched his work or this is part of his profession. What pieces of trivia that are cumbersome are easily glided over, however, forcing myself to read them gave me a higher level of appreciation of the books that I dearly love.
Now it is time to take a dip into Ryan’s e-mail box and pull out responses to Chapter Twenty. I always know that when some detail escapes me, but I pass it off due to lack of time, that someone will come to my rescue. This is also a good barometer to see who is reading when and if at all. Oh, by the way, you can put your hands down now. I have you counted.
Anyway, our new friend Nick, from England wrote, “Oh – before I forget, the moldings around the tops of walls are called ‘cornices’ and the bit that the lights hang from are called ‘medallions’ or ‘ceiling roses’. Thought you might appreciate that useless information ;-)” Now for those of you scrambling trying to remember what they were called, myself included, this is not useless information. For me, it was one of those “Yes, I knew that, but could not think of it if there were money riding on the bet” types of things. Don’t’cha just hate that?
When you have cultural deficits or in my case where music is concerned and I have more than deficits, more like black holes, it is great to have friends that rescue me in that area as well. Brian our friend from San Francisco wrote with a web site to shed light on Carmina Burana. http://members.ozemail.com.au/~caveman/Carmina/ along with a tidbit of info for the rest of you who were in the dark as pitch black as I.
In 1803, a scroll of medieval poems was discovered in the German province of Bavaria among the debris of the secularized monastery of Benedikt-Beuren (“BURANA”). These lyrics, written primarily in Latin, were determined to be the work of renegade monks and wandering poets of the 13th Century. Their words captured a lost world of rebels and dropouts of the medieval clergy: hard lovers, drinkers, on the move, celebrating existence rather than living the meditative, celibate, cloistered life of the monastery.
In 1935, German composer Carl Orff re-discovered the poems. Impressed with their meaning and rhythm he composed a cantata utilizing the centuries old verses. He transformed the writings into invocations and profane chants accompanied by numerous instruments and magical representations.
These songs (“CARMINA”) were divided into three sections: Springtime-the life force renewed. In the Tavern- drinking and gambling: The Court of Love- passion, sensuality. The sections are pervaded and framed by The Wheel of Fortune (“O Fortuna”) perpetually turning, perpetually governing the course of man’s existence.
In 1983, Ray Manzarek, long attracted to the spiritual power of CARMINA BURANA, chose to interpret the piece in a contemporary framework. This presentation intends to create enchanted pictures; to conjure up the ecstasy expressed in the lyrics, an enhanced intense feeling for life akin to the passions and revelry of the wandering poets of so long ago.
The last chapter, I had written that my friend Howard, the professional musician would be laughing as he was reading this section on Carmina Burana and Howard proved that he does indeed read my mental wanderings with this response.
“You bet I was (laughing)! CARMINA BURANA is a favorite piece of mine. I’ve seen a version choreographed by, I think, John Butler, a bit repertory hit at Pennsylvania Ballet, and it’s nothing like the one you described. The text is not all Latin, incidentally – I believe some of these very profane poems discovered in manuscripts hidden in a Bavarian monastery (so the Father Superior wouldn’t see what the horny monks were doing?) are in Olde German and Olde French.”
Howard also commented on my sharing what Damon had said about this being one of the most literate countries in Europe, of course with a musical slant to it. Howard – “Interesting – they are probably the most musically literate as well. I understand that, with the Kodaly system of teaching music to kids starting with hand signals for each note, almost everybody learns to read music fluently in school! My God! – and all of these rockers in the States who are fiercely proud of being musically ignorant and illiterate!” This is a profound example of some of the outstanding qualities of Eastern European countries that many people, mostly North Americans miss when you mention Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and the others. We still have the Cold War mentality and think of all of these countries as dark and dreary. There are millions of cultural treasures, both material and non-material, to be discovered in all of these countries that existed before the Cold War and that have and are crawling out of the cocoon of hibernation to be a butterfly once more.
Howard was also the first to express this thought, but it did turn out to be a common theme in the e-mails that followed. “I am amazed at how quickly you not only found a new home, but became a business, started having all kinds of interviews and met (and match made
for) an American Embassy employee! I have no idea how I’d be able to set up a new life in a foreign country the way you have. Moving to NYC was tough enough!” We landed here December 10th, but none of this evolved until after January. I am proud about the way we have navigated the strange waters and set our sails for discovering new territories. There are still high tides, low tides and typhoons to encounter, but with each accomplishment, it gives us the confidence to meet head on the next leg of the journey.
One last piece to share at this time, our friends Sheila and Fred are roaming the States from Wyoming to Florida, now that Fred has retired from many years of service on the railroad. They are settling in Florida for a while until they decide what they want to do with this new freedom. Sheila is the darling angel that sent all of the ingredients for the pumpkin pie as well as many other goodies. She wrote asking if we had pumpkin pie yet. I responded with the following, “Were we supposed to open those ingredients and bake a pie? We have them in a glass case with a little axe next to it and a sign that says, ‘You damn well better have an emergency if you break this glass.’ That is the first wall decoration that is going in the new apartment.” Sometimes my appreciation of gifts gets out of control, what can I say. I am a sentimentalist.
Although it is Sunday, the workers arrived to install our shower door. This was something that was due to be done in December. They took out the pole and shower curtain and brought in enough power tools to rebuild Afghanistan. In four hours time, they made multiple holes in the tiles and decided they needed more supplies. The door went from floor to ceiling and since the wall is uneven, the door would not close tightly. This was fortunate since if it had, it would have been like showering in a vertical cave. They did clean up their mess, for which we were grateful.
Last night, we went to TGIFridays for dinner and then the movies with Dawn. We allowed Ron chose the movie, not that there were a great deal of choices. There are about twenty movies theaters that show movies in English, but when they only change with the same frequency that a snake sheds it skin, there is not a plethora of possibilities. We went to see Human Nature or ‘Libido’, the Hungarian title for it. If the tickets had cost more than the $3.50, we paid (this was the high priced theater), Dawn and I would have had to do bodily harm to Ron’s body. The movie was as ridiculous as Zoolander. Afterwards, we had to go for a beer to try to drown the memory of the film. The bright spot was that it was an evening out and we enjoy Dawn’s company, so there were bright spots.
Dawn mentioned that she had nothing to do this evening so if we wanted to do something, she was game. She had never seen Moulin Rouge and we liked it enough to see it again. I tried to get Fernando and Damon to join us, but they were both busy. We found the movie as fabulous as the first time. As I was sitting there, I was thinking it is like going to a buffet dinner. Each time you return to peruse the selection; you notice delectables that you did not notice the time before. Moulin Rouge is one of those Love/Hate movies. People either love or hate it and there few that are in the middle. I could see it repeatedly and still enjoy it and it is rare that I say that about a movie. I would not see in on video, though, it has to be a large screen.
After the movie, we went to the For Sale bar. We had been to this bar when we visited here the first time and loved it. The whole bar is like walking into an old midwestern barn. The floor is sprinkled with loose hay; there are bales of the stuff in various spots also. The wood interior looks like the beams and strut supports that you would see in a barn. The supporting columns are decorated with old cowbells, saddles, and other farmer miscellaneous items. Each table is supplied with a large bowl of roasted peanuts in the shell. Please do not throw the shells on the floor, thank you very much. The live music varies from week to week and plays western music to jazz. Dinners are served, but you can go for just a beer also, but the look on the waiter’s face when you state that you just want to drink is rather pathetic. He looks like he is working on a commission and just lost his chance to win the trip to Slovakia for top sales.
Ron, being the uncle that he is had received an e-mail from his nephew Glenn asking if Ron would be watching the Super Bowl. It was not a priority for CNN or BBC World News, so it (Thank God) was not going to be showing in this apartment. But since his nephew asked and made a point that U2 was playing at half time and was his favorite band, Uncle Ron had to find a venue to see this game through half time at least. After much research, Ron found the bar Champs where the game was being shown…at 1:00 am Monday morning. Time differences can be a hell of thing. With a mini-nap under his belt, he set out to see the game, so he could write to Glenn in the affirmative. I would do almost anything for my nephews, but I am not that good an uncle. There is no way I could sleep with him out on the streets at unholy hours alone, so I waited up. If I had fallen asleep and was awakened when he came in there is no way I would have been able to get back to sleep. He rolled in at 3:30 am. We had to be up at 7:30 am. Glenn, please come visit, I owe you one!
Changing subjects for a minute and before I forget, if and when any of you come to visit please note that you may want to bring your own toilet paper. Now this may not be the most desirable topic to be sharing, however, I would hate for any of you to come spend time with us and then question why we have not provided a warning prior to your landing in Hungary. The toilet paper or as Ron makes it politically correct, the T.P. here, is abrasive. I have purchased six different brands, both in solid white, bleached and unbleached paper, decorated with flowers of various colors, but they are all of the same abrasive quality. For the first weeks, we stuffed ourselves with cheese hoping we would bind our colon into sailor knots to avoid the torturous T.P. Finally, we had to give in to torture and use it. In the beginning, the neighbors were concerned about all of the screaming and yelling, but when we assured them that we were not killing each other, they were dubious still, but said they would not call the police.
To give you a smattering of an inclination of the texture of T.P., let me say that for a treat on special occasions and holidays, we use aluminum foil instead. We do not want to be spoiled by this, so we limit it to exceptional times. The alternative would be brown paper bags, but they do not exist here. You never have to make a choice when asked, “Would you like paper or plastic?” Sears catalogs have not filtered into the Hungarian market either and since this is an urban community, cornhusks are difficult to come by. Please, do not take pity on us and send us T.P. It would not take a full roll for us to develop an addiction. I can envision us drinking cod liver oil solely for the pleasure of being comforted by the T.B. of home. However, when all that is left over are the strands of T.P. that are clinging stubbornly to the tube, mocking us in our despair, we will be like heroin addicts in need of a fix. Visions of slinking around the back alleys and dark streets of Budapest looking for a T.P. dealer selling contraband T.P. to desperate foreigners is an ugly reverie to imagine. I think it may be nearly impossible to find an T.P. addicts anonymous meeting in English, don’t ya think?
Let us have a drum roll please; I will inform you on the topic you have been waiting to read about, the thermal baths. Hungary boasts 1,300 thermal springs that have been discovered to date. Of these, 80 of them are in Budapest. Like the Roman baths in Bath, England and elsewhere around the world, there is thought to be a medicinal curative power to the water.
Arslan, a Turkish ruler of Buda, built the first baths in 1565. He was less interested in the healing power, but feared that a siege on the city would prevent the people from bathing. He must have had a sensitive sense of smell. Both Buda and Pest have a number of baths. Some are much more modern than the originals which are still operational and modern designs raise the costs of services. Budapest hosts about ten thermals, some with hospitals attached and others with medical services for the treatment of skin disorders, rheumatic and locomotor disorders, inflammatory issues, digestive problems, skin, gynecological bone and nervous disorders also. There are resident physicians who work in the medical facilities of the establishments. Some other facilities offer massage, luxury services such as mud baths, massage, manicures, and other beauty treatments, but these tend to be used by tourists more than the locals since many of the services are out of reach for the typical Hungarian salary.
The more elite bath is the Szechenyl Furdo. It is an indoor thermal bath with large outdoor swimming pools that are heated for year round swimming. All of the thermals are segregated by sex, but the swimming pools are integrated. It is not uncommon to see people in the pool in the middle of winter playing checkers on floating checkerboards. Massage is available at the rate of $4.25 per 15 minute session. At $17.00 an hour, that is a bargain. We have yet to go to this one, but Ron is having cravings for the pool experience. The Gellert is one of the fanciest of the thermals and is situated in the Gellert Hotel. You do not need to be a guest to use the aqua facilities. The hotel is lush inside and so is the lobby approaching the pool and thermals. There is a huge dome ceiling with stained glass and the walls are rich marble. We went to this thermal on our first trip here, four years ago, but have not returned. The thermal area has two huge pools with natural spring water of two different temperatures, warm and hot. There is a steam room and showers. It is very bright and I find it less conducive to relaxation since it is so well lit. The Gellert is capitalizing on the popularity of the Thai massage and have brought in trained masseuses of the Bangkok wat po, who are world famous for their massages, which last an hour and a half. For this privilege, you will shell out $27.00. If you have not had a Thai massage before, it is an experience. It is nothing like a traditional massage as the masseuse uses hands, feet, and elbows as well as walking on you, to perform what we would closely associate with physical therapy or being beat up by a bully. When they are finished, you are as limp as an overcooked Thai noodle and need to pour yourself out the door, because your legs will not support you for an hour or more afterward. This is the only thermal that is open seven days a week.
The Kiraly is one of the oldest in the city on the Buda side. The major bath still has the Turkish cupolas and domes. The domes have circular holes in it to allow natural lighting and there is little artificial lighting. With the steam rising from the warm to hot baths, it is sometimes difficult to see in there, but it is the most relaxing once you settle into the hot waters. For 700 forints ($2.50), you are provided with a locker that is double locked, you get one key and the attendant has the other. Then you are free to choose your delights for an hour and a half from a hot thermal, warm thermal, freezing cold thermal, steam room, two temperatures of heated dry saunas, and showers. Massages are available for about $10.00 an hour. Men are admitted on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, while women have the alternating days. It is closed on Sundays. This is the one that I tend to go to, since the dimmed lighting is more relaxing than being like a deer with the spotlights in your eyes. Men have the choice of complete nudity or to wear a swimsuit, but nudity is the usual standard expect for tourists who believe the sign that swimsuits must be worn at all times is directed at them, but it is for women. Women have to wear swimsuits in all of the baths, from what I have heard.
Rac is another of the older thermals with the cultural remnants of the Turkish architects that built it. It is men only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays with women on the alternating days and closed on Sundays. The time allotment and the cost are the same as the Kiraly. Men are issued a muslin loincloth to wear that covers the front only. This too has varying degrees of hot water pools, but does not have a dry heat sauna and is smaller than the Kiraly. It is brightly lit and though it is a wonderful building to escape to, the heavy dose of light ruins the atmosphere for relaxation for me. Each of us has only been there once since we moved here. This and the Kiraly used to provide towels as part of the admission charge. They stopped that, but since it was in Hungarian, I had no idea. I went on a particularly frigid day, spent the time trying to warm the chill from my bones and relax. As my time was drawing near, I realized that there were many plastic bags hanging around with what looked like towels in them. That brought my attention to the fact that the men who had finished their shower were using towels they had with them. After a few futile attempts at finding someone that spoke English, I finally found a young man who could tell me that if you wanted a towel from the baths, you had to rent it on entry. They no longer provide them for free. I went from the warmth and comfort of a watery womb to the chill of being left stranded to air dry my body and wet hair. Using my hands like a plastic spatula, I scraped every drop I could from my skin and fluffed my hair to a stage of damp before leaving the building. Now my towel is like my American Express card. I do not leave home without it, at least when going to the baths.
The Rudas is the one featured in all of the advertising for Budapest and looks gorgeous. It was built by the Turkish conquerors four hundred years ago. It is the only thermal that is always men only. Women are not allowed in on any day. The other reputation that it holds is that it is the one where all of the septuagenarians and their older companions hang out, so we have not indulged in this one. Not that we are ageist, but we do not want to overwhelm them with our youth and good looks.