CROATIA August 2000
Whatever my expectations for Croatia, they were exceeded in every way. We were met by hospitable people who love showing off their country. They did a great job! We were lavished with perfect sunny weather, gorgeous scenery, great food, local song, and the camaraderie from symposium attendees from many nations. And we could drink the water! Mike’s office has funded military psychologists’ meetings for 36 years, and they deal with a range of issues from battle stress to recruitment and retention to sexual harassment. I take back all the bad things I said about Air Croatia, even though their airbus was late both coming and going, and our adventures began in the nondescript airport of Split. It’s the second largest city of Croatia after the northern national capital of Zagreb, and regional capital of Dalmatia. I’m assured it can’t compare to Dubrovnik’s beauty, at the extreme southern end of the mountainous country, which I hope to see one day, and we missed the national parks.
The small v-on-its-side shaped Catholic country is just recovering from the war in the early ‘90’s, and our hotel, the Marjan (pronounced Marian; j is like our y) still had topmost floors unused, with jagged broken window scars. The rest of the hotel was mostly refurbished. It had been overflowing with refugees; today there are still many left in the city whose homes or jobs are gone. There were a couple of drawer pulls missing in our plain but comfortable suite; some days the lobby smelled vaguely like disinfectant, but we had two wonderful balconies off the bedroom and sitting room, overlooking the sea. Mike was never able to hook up his computer despite replacement of our ancient room phone. Breakfasts were generous, except for coffee, which was great everyplace else in town.
Croatia, which the Romans called Illyria, was one of six territories forming Yugoslavia, and is a new nation since 1992 with an uncertain political future. The religion is mostly Catholic and alphabet is Roman, not Cryllic, as in nearby Russian Orthodox Serbia. On Sunday morning we noted how many young people filled the church. There is a McDonald’s, which kids love, especially for birthday parties, when they get red balloons and Happy Meal visors. There are music festivals, from Rachmaninoff to Ray Charles, who probably wailed “Georgia on my Mind” last month when he played an outdoor concert. There is an enormous football (soccer) stadium and Olympic swimming pool, and many athletes: we watched a row of schoolchildren practice heading soccer balls which hung from strings, and learned of Croatia’s basketball successes. We saw strikingly beautiful young women, tall and slender, with beautiful hair, long legs and narrow hips, but few stunning older ones!
Until 1918, Slovenia and Croatia were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then Croatia and Slovenia formed Yugoslavia with Serbs in 1929; Slovenia is a separate country since 1991, once part of Yugoslavia. Concern now is that current elections in Belgrade could impact the Balkans if Milosevic tries force against Montenegro, causing war.
Split began when Roman emperor Diocletian built a retirement palace in 305 on the gentle shore of the clear clean Adriatic Sea across from the midpoint of the boot of Italy. It was near Salona, now the Roman ruin suburb of Split, so he felt comfortable among countrymen, far from the chaos of Rome in the land of his birth. Inflation was rampant, the culture was disintegrating, and divergent beliefs emerging included Christianity. He needed to restore order to the empire, which he took over with a stabbing. His new price laws governed every last object; he taxed people, land and goods. The disobedient were killed. He divided the Roman empire into east and west, accepting the title Augustus of the east, with a caesar below him and two equal men in the west, all tetrarchs. Today we feel the results separating the papacy of the west, Rome, and the Byzantine empire of the east,
Little did he suspect that Constantine, his successor, would see writing in the sky and allow Christianity, which soon became the state religion. Then Constantine dumped drab Rome and moved his capitol to gorgeous Byzantium, renaming it after himself as the center of a theocracy, a Christian state. Citizens were now persecuted for not being Christian!
Diocletian’s palace covers about ten acres. Its gray stone formed tall thick crenellated walls and towers, since Rome worried about attack from northern barbarians. An open colonnade faced the upper sea view, with a dock below for easy passenger boarding. Below that platform, goods were loaded into enormous barrel-vaulted basement rooms. Today the dock has become a widened pedestrian walkway, filled with café tables, park benches, and palm trees, where lovers walk along the sea and children play. Sulphur springs nearby offered therapeutic bathing. Mosaics once covered many of the palace residence walls and floors, now stripped. Other areas were reserved for soldiers, armor, stables, and courtiers. In case of danger, townspeople could run inside the castle, and eventually, the city grew along the walls. Today, amid homes, shops, and theaters, over 3000 live inside the palace grounds.
Ironically, the emperor’s mausoleum is now a small Christian church of St. Domino, the city patron, recently visited by the pope. Formerly domed, now it’s topped by a tall pointed Romanesque tower, rebuilt years later, a landmark marking the center of town, with a church treasury museum attached. We saw rich illuminated manuscripts and vestments. The actual tomb, however, has gone missing.
Nearby are 3 temples: one to Jupiter, Diocletian’s patron, and a smaller two to Venus and Cybele, with black Egyptian sphinxes as decoration. The palace photo in my art history books shows a pediment of the palace cut by a central arch, and sometimes the peristyle, whose columns framed the main entrance of the residence, but they never show adjacent outdoor tables where tourists drink wine and snap pictures, with bar music in the air. I think art history students would be happy to know many old monuments continue to be living places full of people. The palace is a UNESCO protectorate.
Monday we “visiting spouses” visited the Archeological Museum. Because of past history of the area, Greek and Roman steles and statues were everywhere we walked, and that was only the exterior, in a huge horseshoe-shaped shed of sorts around the high stone walls. The stone museum closed during the war and the interior exhibitions were removed, so finishing touches were now being put on replacing and revamping them. We saw a conservator on a ladder using a dental drill to mend a large mosaic. We next visited the museum of sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, formerly his home, on a hill overlooking the sea, with large sculpture gardens. Statues, usually of the body, were left to the city, and in church and the palace we also saw examples of Mestrovich’s work. Some were Maillol-like nudes, and some more Baroque in emotional and religious movement, reminding me of Charles Umlauf’s sculpture gardens in Austin.
That evening we were bussed to a reception, held at a grand mansion whose windows gleamed in the dark, and whose back lawn steps dropped down into the calm dark Mediterranean. It was one of Tito’s homes, and there were many, always in gorgeous locations: if he liked a home he visited, he soon procured it for himself. Under a full moon in a bougainvillea-filled open courtyard, we drank delicious Croatian wine and learned about Marco Marulic, a local poet regarded as the father of Croatian literature from days when Latin was normally used. (Today, English is the new Latin! Everybody uses it!) Supposedly Marco was the first to use the term “psychology.” A long table in the center of the courtyard was covered with plates and bowls of delicious and artfully arranged foods, and after the talk from a local professor, elegance quickly gave way to hunger. Later, I sat on the steps to dabble my feet in Mediterranean Sea lapping at the quiet moonlit cove.
The following day, we visited Roman ruins in a dusty Split suburb of Salona with the curator. We saw 2 thermae, (baths) an aqueduct, and an amphitheater once used by 60,000. There are still grass-covered mosaic floors, saved for future exploration when funds are available, and we clambered through ruts from ancient chariot wheels in streets not yet excavated. There are family tombs, sometimes with many members interred, but many have been robbed. Visiting groups from worldwide universities help document the area.
That evening, our group toured Diocletian’s palace with guides, ending deep in the ancient stone basement. A welcome greeting from the mayor, translated by an interpreter, preceded a cappella serenades of local music from delightful college singers. They wore white shirts, black trousers, and red cummerbunds, and some had sung together since 9th grade. Male choral music is an important tradition. A charming older professor, the head of Zagreb University’s psychology department, explained some songs to me: “All love! I love you, I miss you, I want you, your name is in my heart—all love!” I spoke with several of the young men (in English!). They studied engineering, medicine, law, and science, and were funny, energetic and optimistic, both in their singing and their attitudes. They hope to do a concert in Paris in November, and I gave them our address in London, but one held out his hand, rolling his thumb across his fingertips: not enough money. Salaries are low in Croatia, and although prices for us are low, for them they are high. Unemployment is still high too, though the tourist season this year has been very good: enough to bring about $10,000 to every citizen.
Wednesday was a day our Croatian hosts set aside for sightseeing, so we walked from the hotel to the harbor early in the morning to board a catamaran. Last month I told you about Sweden’s 24,000 islands; Croatia has only 1000, but what beauties!! The beige sand beaches offer swimming in crystal clear water, and because of the Adriatic currents, the sea is seldom riled, and there is almost no sea debris swept ashore. I spoke to several boaters that day, from the US, England, and Germany. One old boy, mit frau, sailed there 4 or 5 months a year.
Our group’s first stop was on the coast just north of Split to beautiful Trogir, where at a small stone hotel staff met us in native costume. Rooms with breakfast are under 50 dollars a day. The tidy dockside hotel stood in the tall shadow of a Venetian tower, built during war with the Turks, and we had a drink, either juice or native brandies, under the palm trees. Oranges grew nearby. (Remember that the Parthenon blew up when a Venetian ship’s shell landed in its center; it was used as a Turkish gunpowder magazine. Venice and Turkey fought over control of the Adriatic for years, and there is still ill will toward Moslem Turks in Catholic Croatia.)
Next we visited a little island where I swam in the cool salty water. The water is so calm and clear you can swim over fish and plants below; there are no reefs for diving, however. I found a small changing room, but several people of both sexes openly changed into swimsuits (“bathing costumes” in Britain) on the sunny beach. I only saw one topless bather. A Latvian doctor with our group gathered sea urchins, since he hadn’t brought his suit. Other bathers swam back to sailboats moored in the aqua cove. When it was time to leave, we motored to Hvar, my favorite stop, the longest island. There was a Greek town there in 385 BC, and the climate is mild summer and winter, with the record for sunniest days per year. (Don’t ask how that’s figured!)
A four-course lunch with wine was served under a white canopy shading our hotel deck overlooking the blue harbor, and then we toured the city with two young women guides with masterful knowledge of the area! More Roman ruins, forts, picturesque stone streets and green shutters, gelato stands, and old monasteries, this one with a painting of the Last Supper in the wood paneled refectory. We visited the oldest community theater in Europe, 1612, still in great shape, with comfortable seats and boxes.
On board the return boat, one of the Croatians had a guitar, but soon a young Czech took it over. Have you ever heard “We Shall Overcome” in Czech with a very strong accent and rolled r’s? Or “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” in Czech? The musician, a clear-faced young psychologist with wide sideburns, also offered vigorous renditions of the Beatles. Under communism, no one could sing songs in English, so everybody heard local arrangements of worldwide favorites on radio and TV--in Czech!
That evening, we had a shepherd’s dinner, accompanied by 3 local musicians in folk costume. A grilled lamb and potato stew was cooked using individual metal domed pots set in large beds of glowing charcoal. All along the narrow river, very steep cliffs pierced the darkening sky, reflected in the water. We finally trudged back to the hotel at about 11:30. It was a long delightful day. (Everything not included in Mike’s meetings I pay for separately.)
Thursday began as we wives sipped cappuccino on the square before the Ethnological Museum. Our guide, a tall Croatian Army officer with a gorgeous figure was Sandra. Born in Montreal, she speaks French, German, Italian, and English. After her McGill degree, she came to Croatia for a master’s in marketing, since she had relatives there, then joined the Army for idealistic reasons. She married another officer and now has two children. Like so many we spoke to, she was cautiously optimistic about the future of her beloved country.
Several visitors noted that Croatian female officers wear much more makeup than American officers, on and off duty. It was intimated by a female that there is a family double standard, sexually, but I have no smarmy details to relate. However, Mike and I did notice the bare-breasted, pelvic-thrusting late-night Italian TV ads: our Moral Majority would have cardiac arrest.
I finished my Thomas Hardy novel in time to revisit a small jewelry store. The young man at the counter had studied mechanical engineering in college when he was called up for service, and still recalls machine gun bullets whirring rat-a-tat over his head as he cringed behind sandbags. He said it was very different from impersonal bombs falling from the sky to look across and see the faces of people aiming at him; it bothers him still. He, like many others, loves Americans, but the price of a ticket to visit the US is beyond his reach. Some of his friends have gone to Germany to work, often in unpleasant circumstances, and he hopes to marry someday, but has no money. We chatted for an hour.
It was time for a dinner overlooking the harbor: the restaurant recently was sold by the government to a private owner. Europeans love to take time between all the courses, but 5 hours is a bit long! Mike gave a short address of thanks to our hosts, and did splendidly on all the complex names, and I enjoyed interesting conversation all evening with affable and burly Ivan, formerly a psychologist, then a Navy, and now Army officer whose country house was burned by a Serbian bomb. Fortunately, his wife and 4 children had left, but the war separated them for 3 years. This sort of story was repeated again and again.
A Latvian doctor recently took an EMS course in Detroit and Washington, his first US visit, and loved seeing America. Latvian ambulances don’t take patients to the hospital. Instead, the attending physician resuscitates or sews you up (whichever) with extensive tools on the ambulance, then takes you home. The next day you see your own doctor. Our friend really wants us to come to Latvia! His female boss spoke no English and was rather distant, but she was fluent in Russian. Many scientists from varied nations communicate in Russian, since they were obliged to learn it when they were occupied.
Sandra’s grandfather was killed after WWII by partisans, and during that war, when Croatia sided with the Axis powers, there were many atrocities committed, some by native terrorists. The country’s history is confusing at best, with many versions. Rulers included France, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Tito, and today there is still uncertainty over the future. I heard more than once that the country has to decide what it wants. The north is still heavily influenced by Austria, the south by Italy. Many rulers would love to control such a beautiful area and those seaports. Although this tiny nation has fewer than 5 million inhabitants, 16,000 young men died in the war from 1991 to 1995, and over 35,000 were wounded. If my husband, brothers and sons were in that number, I too would struggle with seething grudges. After speaking with people in the war, including a general whose mission was defending Zagreb, I feel that they want to do the right thing and move forward. The young general lived in America and loved it. These Croatians are not very old, and were largely new university graduates before the war, starting careers. They made up many of their military jobs as they went along, and jeopardized their earning and families. Today there still is no retirement system set up for the military. Their elderly military head, from Yugoslavia, is still serving rather than retiring with no pension.
After the conference, Americans drove back to Vienna, since flights to Split are not plentiful, reporting that the interior of the country still shows much more war damage than the coast.
SWEDEN JULY 2000
Sweden was wonderful, if a tad chilly. How many islands in that country? Six? Seventeen? Six hundred? There are over 24,000 islands off the Swedish mainland, rocky and often tree covered, and boat traffic from tiny dinghies to huge freighters and cruise lines plows everywhere over the waters. Since Sweden has avoided recent wars, no bombs ruined historic buildings; much of Stockholm’s Italian baroque architecture is intact, from days when Sweden controlled the Baltic. (The Swedes destroyed some of their own old buildings however, erecting dull prefab boxes, mistaking that for urban renewal.) Swedish children learn English from the second grade, and no TV programs are dubbed, so English is understood and spoken well. TV subtitles to American movies and TV are in Swedish.
The city is spread over a large area, with many parks and bridges, and is filled with well-dressed polite people. Swedes pay high taxes, but no one lacks fine medical care or saves for college: both are free. There is no great gap between highest and lowest earning workers. Volvos and Saabs were evident, but also Ford Escorts and a few Toyota minivans. Roads are excellent. The huge NK department store is posh, like Harrod’s or Nordstrom’s, located near a city park and clean subway station. Swedish stores, museums, hotels, and theaters are first rate, and the foods are really wonderful. We stopped twice at the elegant 5-star Grand Hotel for a drink at its waterside bar, and once at the Opera Café, with painted classical ceiling. I began the days at our hotel smorgasbord with breakfasts of cheeses, cold cuts, pickles, sliced fruits and vegetables, and wonderful rich bread, butter, and jam. An English breakfast was also available.
Mike’s meetings focused on defense and environmental issues. Participants included eastern European nations like Latvia and the Czech Republic with others. Swedes are extremely conscious of building in environmentally desirable ways, and the US and others are reducing use of certain harmful metals and chemicals in military equipment. Nearly everyone spoke English, but some conversed in Russian, since that was once a required language for those under the Soviet boot. Many spoke of the Russian Kursk, a disastrous recently lost submarine. Russian practices have left vast environmental cleanup for many of the new nations formerly in the Soviet republic.
The vast Tre Kronor (three crowns, a Swedish symbol) palace that sits overlooking the harbor has four museums: I saw them all. Exquisitely crafted golden carriages worthy of Cinderella were hitched to eight velvety plastic horses in matching plumes and stunning harnesses. I saw grandiose royal apartments, a chapel, and a dining room, still used for the Nobel banquets. The Navy band marched from seaside and played at noon in the cobblestone courtyard. The nearby Modern Art Museum is beautiful and ultramodern, with stunning water views from its dining room and galleries. (A rather shallow docent talk left something to be desired; I was a docent in Austin for years.)
The well-known Vasa Museet commemorates a beautiful and elaborate ancient wood warship doomed on its maiden voyage. To test seaworthiness, a ship was loaded with provisions and two decks of heavy cannons. Then 30 sailors ran back and forth across the deck ten times as a test. Alas, on the Vasa (a family name, meaning wheat sheaf) they ran only three times, and nearly sank the ship, which sank like a beautiful carved stone shortly thereafter. As thousands excitedly lined the riverbanks, it left the harbor under sail, picked up a slight breeze, and listed to one side, where water poured through the open gun decks of the Navy’s newest prize. Most sailors couldn’t swim, and many lives were lost, including women and children accompanying them to pick up the army contingent waiting on a nearby island.
There were hearings, but the shipbuilder had conveniently died. It seemed the king had decided, once the ship was half built, to add a second deck of guns, since “all the other kids” were now building double-deckers. Then he decided that, unlike the original plan, ALL guns would be big, not mixed big and small. More weight. He wanted the ship finished immediately, lest he have to wait ‘til the spring thaw. The builders added some extra ballast, not enough, and no blame was ever fixed. Today curators know that one extra yard of width would have created a seaworthy vessel, as she sits, now raised and resurrected ashore, enormous, adorned with hundreds of golden carvings and miles of lines, awing all the gaping inspectors who visit. The museum offers a wonderful number of exhibits and tours by multilingual docents, many of whom are students.
I spent a pleasant sunny day on an archipelago cruise east to the town of Sandham. The boat left the center of town at 9:30 and returned at 5:30, and we passed hundreds of small islands’ docks and moored boats, usually near small barn-red wooden cabins with gleaming white trim. Some islands were no bigger than a Chevrolet, while others were covered with forests and small villages. The few paths on Sandham leading from the dock were gravel, since there are only a few hundred inhabitants, but there were a couple of tennis courts on the island and paths to several sandy beaches. I saw swimmers, but the water felt frigid!
Some women were changing into bathing suits on the beach, quite openly, and a little naked tot played nearby. En route, I chatted with a young blond bicyclist who stopped to pick ripe blueberries growing profusely beneath the trees. Wildflowers and flower boxes filled the tiny yards, and many pale blue-and-yellow Swedish flags and pennants waved in the breeze. One house had a grass roof. The scenes reminded me of camps in Maine or the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence. However, I bought a sweater on sale in a tiny wooden shop because I was freezing, and later had a heavenly bowl of hot fish chowder at a tiny dockside restaurant. Some of the small shops were already closed for the season, or perhaps they opened on weekends. The cool bright sun of morning gave way to afternoon clouds for the trip back, and I left Sweden’s clean blue waters with a small Swedish glass candleholder and a severe chest cold.
Sweden, Jan 2002
I initially told Mike I wasn’t interested in Sweden for his January meeting, envisioning a blue-white blanket of snow covering freezing fields. Far from it; I saw no flake of snow, only a few worn-down sooty banks! We flew into Copenhagen through thick white fog that occasionally lifted barely to reveal the steeples and towers punctuating the town. From the beautiful modern airport, we walked a few steps to an immaculate train station and rode a quiet electric train to Malmö Sweden, across the ten mile new Oresundbron suspension bridge. (“Crossing the Kettegat.”) It was too foggy and dark when I crossed to see anything, but the clean DSB trains run every 20 minutes down from the upper coast of Denmark, across the Oresund and up the coast of Sweden, forming a huge U. From that medieval town, we continued to Lund, with its 35,000 student University one of the world’s oldest and finest, and lots of nanotechnology in progress. Lund and Malmö were once Danish, we were reminded several times, in perfect English. Virtually everyone is bilingual, studying English from about age 8. College textbooks are usually in English. Ubiquitous graffiti was in both languages too.
Lund is full of pedestrian streets with bicyclists zipping everywhere, even in frosty weather. Bike lanes are prominent in Scandinavia, and well used by every age group. Many people wore hats for warmth, but only tykes wore bike helmets. About half the parked bikes left leaning against brick walls or iron fences had no locks. (In London, this would be like posting a “steal me” sign.) My friend Ann and I spent a day wandering the old streets, with churches, parks, and shops while our husbands worked, and I bought some small Swedish Kosta Boda glass bowls. We later met other scientists for a buffet dinner at the University, with pickled herring cited as the proper appetizer. (I like it, and had it for breakfasts, too!) There are only 5.3 million Danes, fewer Norwegians, and 8 million Swedes in the entire vast Scandanavian peninsula. (New York City and its suburbs have 12.5 million people.) The next day, while the boys worked, we girls set off to Malmö to explore. Ann and her husband will soon return from London’s Office of Naval Research back to academia at UVA.
Malmö’s St. Petri Kyrka, a cathedral, dates from about 1300, dedicated to St. Peter. In 1555, all the ceiling frescoes inside were whitewashed, and later completely removed in a renovation. The few that remain were in an area used for the boiler. The Reformation swept other icons and altars away. The beautiful carved stone pulpit and high wooden altarpiece remain, the latter adorned in carving, gold leaf, and four large paintings of Christ’s life, one over the other, in gilded narrowing layers, with a golden sculptured Christ at the pinnacle. The floor is covered with gravestones, many resurrected from the crypt after being pulled from their original positions. A sailing ship hangs from the ceiling in memory of men lost at sea during WWII. Huge brass chandeliers gleam in the white interior. No stained glass disrupts the gray light. Scandanavia isn’t very religious, but some tax money is used for upkeep of revered ancient churches.
Across the bridge was Copenhagen, a city that I’d read and heard about, with royal castles and museums, Tivoli Gardens (closed until April), and The Little Mermaid, silently kneeling by the cold gray sea, who sold her voice for human love. (Vandals through the years have removed her head a couple of times, and even her arm.) Visiting these places brought forth the incessant thought: “How nice it must be in summer!”
The city is like a northern wooded Venice, with canals encircling ancient fortifications and roads. Five lakes were once part of a defense system. Many small neon signs fill the sides and tops of buildings since in winter, latitude creates late afternoon darks. Shops were full and well stocked. We passed sweaters and Legos; George Jenson and Royal Copenhagen wares were prominently displayed. Their high prices reflect the fact that Danes happily are the most heavily taxed people in the world. Their VAT is 25%, but above that they also pay graduated income taxes over 50%. To buy a car, they pay for nearly three cars, counting the tax, according to my guide. "We pay for 3 cars, and our government gives us one back!" Alcohol, sweets, and tobacco are highly taxed. There are only small income differentials between sales clerks and professors, so very few people are poor and there are no slums. Medical and educational needs are met by the state. There must be some immigration, but over 99% of people I saw were Caucasian. Scandanavia always wins the "happiest" in various international surveys.
Ann and I took a bus tour, and in the drizzle, we noted the famous weathervane: a golden girl high up in a brick tower at the town center swings out with her umbrella, but later that day, with her bicycle, signaling clearing skies. We drove past the canals, palaces, and the oldest stock exchange in the world. We learned that Christian IV (1588-1648) built most of the town, that the dome nearby crowned the third biggest church in Europe after Rome’s St. Peter’s and London’s St. Paul’s, and noted that probably the ugliest building we saw was the US embassy! We saw the triple crown, of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, once united, and passed the site of the crown jewels, Rosenborg Castle, surrounded by beautiful gardens. We passed the bronze statue of Hans Christian Anderson, seated at the side of the main square in his tall hat, and saw swans, the national bird, in the ponds. A few market-square stalls hawked fruits and veg, and the Polish sausage trailer exuded a hearty aroma of meat and onions.
At the palace, we watched the changing of the guard. Danish boys undergo compulsory military service, and 1500 serve in Bosnia. Those guarding stone palaces must get very cold as wind sweeps the courtyard, even with their gray wool greatcoats, bearskin hats, and their red and blue cloaks, but they seemed quite calm as tourists snapped their photos. A fife and drum band marched in the brick courtyard nearby, bearing the red flag with white cross, near a mounted statue of Christian. Tradition requires the relieving guard to peek inside each pointed-top little red wooden guardhouse, to be sure no women are hiding under the hanging cloak. What happened in the past to cause that requirement?
Queen Margrethe II reigns, although there has been no coronation since 1840, and she traces her ancestry back to Viking kings in 900. She’s the first woman to rule since the 1400s, requiring a special law permitting female succession.
Parliamentary elections are every 4 years. Ann and I walked down the pedestrian streets, setting off between Burger King and Seven Eleven, and found a wonderful tearoom. We were so taken with it that she had a yummy layered dessert and I had decadently rich hot chocolate topped steaming under a whipped cream mountain.
On Saturday, Mike was through working, so we took a train to Humlebaek for a big David Hockney exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. What a treat! The outdoor sculpture garden, plantings, and sea at its door enhance the exciting views inside, both in the permanent collections and in the large Hockney display. The restaurant and huge gift shop were packed with Danes of every age, plus tourists. Many paintings were over ten feet long, and we ended up spending the entire day, even walking on the drizzly seaside hills and throughout the long halls, both above and below ground. Hockney, born in 1937 in Yorkshire, England and living in Los Angeles, is especially interesting as he explores his reactions to both countries, and his curiosity and color make for interesting viewing. I liked the brilliant color of the California and Arizona hill scenes, and some of the still lifes and portraits. We watched a BBC film clip, and other films are shown on various days. Hockney is a great self-promoter and talker, and “outed” himself while still a student, a courageous act through art when it was still socially dangerous. The museum had a permanent collection as well, and looks modest from the front, but exhibition rooms go on forever.
That evening’s walk through dark Copenhagen was ghostly quiet. Most stores close early on Saturday and with shutters pulled on storefronts and windows, the nights seem more harsh and grim. Days admit little light, much of it dim. Foods and services were excellent.
We attended a Copenhagen Philharmonic concert one evening in a large modern hall, and walked home. We walked to the Art Museum on Sunday morning, our last day, which had outstanding Etruscan and Roman antiquities. How can there be so many statues left in Italy, with every museum filled with them? A string quartet was warming up for a Sunday afternoon performance in a sculpture-filled large classical hall but we couldn’t stay: we left for the airport. I hope we return: In summer!
BUDAPEST JULY 01
In Budapest, Mike had a meeting concerning ways to make computers model human response. Seville and Berkeley are prime centers in this field, and their representatives were there. I’m constantly impressed at how ordinary looking guys in khaki pants, some in the sandals-with-black-socks dress mode, can be from every nation and background, speak many languages, be leaders in the most cutting-edge science, and be truly gracious people. Our host arranged two pleasant evenings: we all met for private dinner at the Academy of Science, a huge classical stone building on the Danube, and a hotel dinner on Margit (Margaret) Island prior to seeing an outdoor performance. Gypsy violinists played during dinner and were still playing after our Carmina Burana performance under the stars when we came back for the bus. We actually saw a ballet being danced as the orchestra played, and then the soundtrack from “1492” with no dance. Its composer, a Hungarian, was present for huzzahs. It sounded soundtrack-y to me. The forested island is named for Bela IV’s daughter, who grew up in a Dominican 13th century convent and was canonized. It’s a major recreation area with game courts and pools fed by the river. Brrr.
The wide Danube divides green hills of Buda from the flatlands of Pest (“Pesht”), the larger section. The two were combined in 1873 after a chain bridge was built in 1849, only the second ever across the Danube at that time. The city, like Paris and Barcelona, is built in a baroque style, mostly in the late 1800’s, since nearly everything was destroyed before then. History shows Scandinavians, Romans, Tartars, and Turks; seven Magyar tribes founded the nation over a thousand years ago yet Roman ruins line the river.
After a failed revolution in the mid-1800’s left everyone dispirited, idealized building came in vogue. After WWII, only 4 of 170 buildings on Castle Hill survived. Departing German sappers blew up all bridges as Russians advanced, since they learned the Hungarians tried to negotiate a separate peace with the allies. The city was rebuilt in its original style, and many buildings are painted in gold, pink, or cream. Some have curved dormer windows. A few others have the ground floor painted and looking good, but the upper floors on closer inspection are peeling. Castle Hill, first beautified by the Renaissance King Matthias, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Opera House, crowned with lifesize figures of composers, is in Pest in the ornate style of Paris, but we never got inside to see the three horseshoe tiers. Local church towers have green copper onion shaped steeples piercing the skylines. I noted even the church pews followed the body of a pregnant woman, curved and swelling to a bulbous center before sliding gracefully back in toward the floor. There is scarcely a straight line in any building, since a swell will find its way, or a lion, scampering putti, an eagle, swags, or some manifestation of gentle energy. Scarcely a doorway or window is without its pediment cum sphinx, nature god, or coat of arms. The tall iron lamp posts follow the same curving patterns, and even the gardens, laid out in grassy malls, sweep in bright multicolor esses.
It’s only ten years ago that capitalism took hold and the Commies left, but there are Ford and Mercedes dealerships, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Agip, and all the western capitalistic trappings evident amid department stores, shops, and sidewalk kiosks under umbrellas. There was graffiti in some areas, but the tourist areas seemed well cared for and people looked healthy and fit. Not many smoked; there are no No Smoking areas. There were no more street beggars than elsewhere. Many bike riders, some well past middle age, peddle in colorful spandex up hills. It’s nearly impossible to learn Hungarian, but children learn either English or German; formerly, Russian was required. Some vowels have diacritical marks that change pronunciation. Many street and tourist signs were in Hungarian and English, but museum signage was often minimal. Virtually everyone is Caucasian.
It had been extremely hot and dry as we arrived, and we had packed for that, warned in advance. We took a taxi to the top of Castle Hill, on the Buda side, which offers a splendid view of the river below from the monumental stone fisherman’s bastion. We peer at Pest, with Parliament buildings on the river, domes, and steeples. Once an actual market, the fish are now a memory and the new Hilton is nearby. Enormous stone enclosures were covered with tourists with cameras, climbing up the massive stone stairs or peering from the pointed stone turrets. The hill is also reachable by funicular from the riverside. There is almost no litter. Paths far below at riverside may sometimes flood, but the wind blew past pointed Gothic arches and elaborate sculptures of an equestrian saint and the Holy Trinity. Monumental sculpture is everywhere, overpowering and gigantic. Plaques mark the Mongol Invasion (1241), Turkish occupation (1541, for 150 years) and mark1996, a thousand years of nationhood.
St. Matthias Cathedral crowns the hilltop, with busy white marble Gothic spires and multicolored pointed slate roof, similar to Burgundian roofs. We went inside later that evening, noting its painted walls, sometimes with gold leaf, and beautiful stained glass. We had dinner at Rivalda, where we’d been intrigued by a jazz saxophone wailing. Since it was so warm and close, the waiters urged us to eschew the elegant dining room and eat outdoors in the square, close to the buried Carmelite monks that once prayed there. The saxophonist played all night, and we left with a CD. He came only to our table—could it be because I clapped so often? Dinner was great. Mike had sautéed goose liver.
All around the area, tourists flocked, despite the fact that tourism is down here, as everywhere. We wandered along the narrow streets, ice cream stores, and pretty shops. Many sell Herend porcelain, beautifully hand painted and expensive, and others sell embroidered tablecloths and napkin sets, often made in Romania. A nine-foot hand embroidered cotton cloth is about $120, but the currency is in florints. (A thousand is four US dollars.) There are Russian matryoshka dolls that fit inside one another, dolls dressed in embroidered folk costumes, wooden toys, and painted eggs. On nearly every corner are violinists or small bands with an open 'tips' case in front of them, playing mostly classical or folk music, but there is American rock in some places. Hungarians are mostly small farmers. A fifth of the population lives in Budapest, and the nation is changing quickly to join the EU in 2004. Awhile after, they might use the euro.
Thursday my plan was to go to the art gallery, but it was closed for the Emperor of Japan’s visit, which would explain all those white flags with red circles lining the bridge! Besides, it poured cats and dogs. I read and swam. I went to museums Friday on Castle Hill and regret that I never got to see more museums, art performances, the huge synagogue, or the famed mosaic baths in the Gellert Hotel. (On Gellert Hill, named after the bishop saint who was rolled down the hill in a barrel right into the Danube.)
The nation is about 70% Catholic and 1% Jewish, and Estergom is the local “Rome,” with a massive domed classical cathedral dominating the hill. Enormous columns line the pedimented front porch, and the interior is huge and spacious, in the shape of a domed Greek cross. Once the capitol for 250 years, Estergom was the birthplace of St. Stephen, the first king, crowned on Christmas, 1000. (There are endless statues and paintings of him.) Five mountain ranges can be seen from the rise, they say, but the fog that day could’ve hidden the Empire State Building.
A choir was singing beautifully as we arrived, and the acoustics were wonderful. Rather than sit and listen, we were herded down to the large crypt, where gravestones of bishops and archbishops were sealed in walls and floors. Joseph Cardinal Mindzenty’s is apparent because of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of colorful ribbons attached to the area where he is honored as a patriot and holy man. You may recall he was imprisoned after Christmas mass in 1948 by the Communists, held until a brief amnesty. He escaped to the American Embassy, where he lived a prisoner until 1971. He was smuggled to Vienna, where he died in 1975, and has now been brought home to fulfill his wish to lie in a free nation. Photos of the pope’s visit to the grave are nearby; many political leaders were saints in Hungary.
Visegrad was once a mighty stone fortress overlooking the river for miles, even before Christ when the Turks, the Romans, or their predecessors the Celts ruled the area. Across the water is today’s Slovakia. Marcus Aurelius visited in the past; today it’s tourists. The most memorable part of this rebuilt stone fortress was the torture chamber, filled with more long black iron pliers than you could count, for tooth pulling, fingernail pulling, gentle body bits squeezing, and the like. Plus a rack, with mannequin attached, thumbscrews, a woman being burned at the stake (particularly useful for witches and heretics), a metal cage for village miscreants (unhappy sample included), and other persuaders. There were axes for beheadings, lances, hot pokers, and many testaments making the Mafiosi look like Goldilocks. There was a huge banquet table set with wild game, ales, and mannequins, and there are live performances too. At the entrance, a hawk would sit on your arm on a leather glove, or you could buy wooden handmade swords or try on costumes.
The nearby hills are riddled with caves and thermal hot baths (Budapest has over 80, some used for millennia), and there’s a ski slope for winter. The Danube, once marking the Roman border, also passes two other capitols, Belgrade and Vienna (“Ween”). But it’s not blue, no matter what Strauss' waltz says, and it’s still polluted. There are sunken bridge parts in Serbia still interfering with navigation. The new government has lots of work to do.
The artists’ haven town of Szentendre (St. Andrew) was founded by Serbs and may be the La Jolla of Budapest, with picturesque galleries and cobblestone lanes, one after another, and pretty baroque buildings with blooming flowers everywhere. A riverbank area is filled with vendors, and we bought a plate that is similar to the hand painted pottery of Italy, and about the same price. In the wine cellar, after tastings, we bought Bull’s Blood wine and Tokay, the latter being sweet and thick, nearly like an Italian vin santo, a dessert wine. That evening, we still had time to stroll around Budapest’s wonderful pedestrian shopping street, Váci utca, filled with lots of people of every variety, some sitting in sidewalk cafes. Gypsy music filled the air. The umbrella kiosks offered animal skins, knives, embroidered blouses and dresses, and more tablecloths, bordered by elegant shops. The river flows nearby, past modern hotels. Everybody seemed happy.
Gundel’s is the city’s famous restaurant, but we were told by the academics to try its sister next door for much less, which we did, for a wonderful meal cooked and served exclusively by women. Some foods unique to the area are summer fruit soups, ghoulash soup (with lots of spicy paprika), goose and game, and hams. The dessert pancake covered with chocolate is renowned. But Italy’s still my fave.
The Budapest airport is well out of town, extremely good looking, elegant and modern, and immaculately clean. (I wasn’t allowed in the BA lounge going, but we slipped me in on the return trip by begging; I fly coach and am not welcome in the elite flight precincts. I blatantly drank a glass of their wine and nibbled their crisps.) Mike was later plied with champagne and lobster while we got tired sandwiches in economy coach, but I had some killer crosswords to contend with for the next two hours. (Is everyplace only two hours from London?)