Thursday, September 29, 2011

I thought that looked familiar...

Here in Budapest I'm fortunate to be living right next to the main city park, known as Varosliget (city park).  I go running and walking in the park often, and there is a statue that I pass each time that I never paid much attention to before, though I was vaguely aware that there was something familiar about it.  I think it was the eagle at the bottom, which looked so much like the image of an American eagle.

I figured the guy on top must be someone I'd never heard of from Hungarian history.  Yesterday, on a nice warm fall afternoon, I actually stopped to take a look.  Here is what the inscription said:

Who would have thought?  A statue to George Washington!  Ironically, it is not too far from the spot where a giant statue of Stalin was erected in the 1950's.  That one was torn down long ago.  So, I guess we really did win the cold war after all!  Woo hoo!  I can't help but wonder if my ancestors had anything to do with this statue, being that they emigrated to the U.S. ten years before it was erected.  Either way, it is nice to see a little tribute to America here so far from home.

Monday, September 26, 2011

One man's trash...

is another man's treasure.  This week was large item pickup day for the local trash collection here in my neighborhood in Budapest.  All of a sudden, piles of refuse began to appear in front of every apartment building up and down the street.

The piles grew and grew over the course of a few days.  Furniture, clothing, CD's, busted electronic devices, a box of slides, shoes, carpets... pretty much you name it.  It was like the buildings themselves were disgorging all of their garbage.

Apparently word got out and before long, gypsies started to appear, sorting through the piles and staking out their own little turf, leaving the women behind to guard their stash.  I saw two kids digging through a pile along with their families, finding all sorts of good stuff, and I have to say it looked like they were having a lot of fun.  It is enough to remind you, though, to be thankful for what you've got...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Land of my Forefathers...

I came to spend some time living in Budapest because I thought it would be a good place to write.  There are great cafes to work in, an interesting atmosphere to the place, and relatively cheap rent.  It also happens to be the case that a great-grandfather of mine actually emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary at the end of the 19th century.  He came from a tiny, isolated village on the border with Slovakia.  When I was here in 2009 I meant to go there for a visit but never managed.  Now, finally, this past weekend I went with a few friends to check out the village of Felsovadasz.


It ends up, the place hasn't changed much since my great grandfather left.  People still use water from wells out by the street.  There are chickens and pigs in the yards.  In the next village over I even saw some guys riding down the street in a horse-drawn cart. (Sadly, my photo of that one didn't turn out...)  It was fun to walk around the village and picture my great-grandfather running around these same streets as a child.  I couldn't help but wonder which house might have been theirs...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Comrade Lenin

This past weekend I took a trip back in time to the communist era with a visit to Budapest's Memento Park.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, nobody in these satellite countries knew exactly what to do with all of the massive sculptures they'd been forced to erect, commemorating communist leaders and the ideal of the "workers of the world."  Most were melted down for scrap.  One American with a good sense of irony actually bought a Lenin statue somewhere and had it shipped back to the U.S. where he erected it in Seattle, where it still greets visitors in a public square.

In Hungary, they opted to create a statue park on the outskirts of town.  It is here that these sculptures now sit, relegated to the scrapheap of history.  As an added bonus, in a little museum space they showed actual secret agent training films from the time.  Where to hide your bugs, how to use a hidden camera, how to tail a suspect, etc.  What the CIA would have done to have seen those films back in the day!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Like No Place Else

I just thought I'd share some thoughts and observations today on why Budapest is like no other place I've ever been, and probably like no place else on earth.  The city really is beat to hell in a lot of ways.  It is dirty, and run down, and falling apart at the seams.  The population has dropped significantly in the past 20 years, as well as shifted to the outskirts, which means that a huge number of giant apartment blocks in the city center are simply vacant.  Here's just one of countless:

Often the buildings are just falling down and crumbling away.  It is not uncommon to see demolition teams finally getting around to clearing the debris away.  Here is a somewhat typical scene:

It is hard to make out with this picture from my camera phone, but in the center is a giant green excavator digging away at the building from the inside.  All of this disused space means two things to the local population.  First, it means relatively cheap rents (compared to Western Europe).  Second, it means a canvas to create upon.  Especially in the seventh district where I live, there are tons of what are called ruin bars.  These are created when some enterprising entrepreneurs turn an abandoned apartment building into a massive bar or nightclub, including the courtyard and individual apartments, sometimes going up several floors.

These ruin bars are all over, with more opening all the time.  They also promote the local art scene, as each place tries to outdo the next with interesting art and design elements hanging on the walls, from the ceilings, or set up in the courtyards.  It almost feels like a wild west, anything goes mentality.  In many ways, it is liberating.  Nobody could get away with this type of thing in the U.S.  There are far too many laws and safety codes to prevent it.

Perhaps the most interesting place I've seen is right on a major street, yet completely under the radar.  It is sort of an art gallery, created I was told by a group of artist-squatters.  Apparently, according to a friend of mine who knows some of them, they simply put their own locks on a vacant building, filled it with their art, and viola.  They added a ping-pong table and hang out there whenever they feel like it.  To me this epitomizes the spirit of the city.  The place is beat up.  It is falling apart, but it has character, and a great vibe, and the locals take advantage of all of the opportunities that provides.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Red Heart or Blue Heart?

Well, so far sales of my new book Sweet Ophelia and the Tinseltown Blues have been underwhelming at best, with about one sale per day at .99 cents.  I've decided to try changing the cover to see if that helps.  If it doesn't I'll try changing the title, too.

In the meantime, I've come up with a few possible covers, so if anyone wants to help me out with a vote, let me know which you prefer, the red heart or the blue heart.  Once I decide and purchase the image, the little watermark swirls in the middle will come off.  Thanks in advance for your votes!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

And of course a Lada, too!

I can't show a bunch of funky little Eastern European cars without including the Russian-built Lada!

Who could ever have guessed these relics of the Soviet Union would outlast the system that created them?

Friday, September 2, 2011

More Funky Little Cars

I still love all of the funky little cars I see on the streets of Budapest.  These little work horses somehow just keep going and going, even as they slowly rust away.  Here are a few more.  Below is an old Trabant, built in East Germany (GDR) and a remnant of the communist era:

And this one is a Fiat.  They say that "Fiat" stands for "Fix it again, Tony," but obviously Tony has done a pretty good job of keeping this little beauty on the road. :-)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Home Sweet Home?

Yesterday a friend of mine here in Budapest showed me a park I'd never known about before.  It is called Kopaszi Gat, and it is on the south end of the city, on the Buda side.  This place was terrific, and just developed in the last year or so I was told.  It is formed around a peninsula in the Danube and includes manicured gardens, lawns overlooking the water, a small bay, beaches, and a long string of nice little cafes.

One thing that struck me was the cafe pictured above.  The town I come from in California is Laguna Beach.  Usually when I'm abroad I tell people I'm from Los Angeles, because I figure they've never heard of this small town of 28,000 people.  Well, perhaps I'm wrong.  This cafe was actually named Laguna Beach!

Maybe I should go back and see if they'll give me a discount if I show my ID. :-)