Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Signs of the times

Let the photo below of the former “Bazar” serve as an example from a time when signage was approached as artistic embellishment.

From a distance, the banners on the Opera House above appear a major detriment to its majestic architectural integrity. But at least they are removable. And, when you examine the second tier banner in the close-up shot, the comic strip-like advertising might just be a brilliant way to market opera to a new generation. The other series of seven posters with stars in more traditional poses appears downright stuffy by comparison.

The double-d-cupped model for Intimissimi mars another architectural gem, from a woman’s point of view, but it does have the excuse of promoting lingerie. On the other hand, Coca-Cola’s “Taste the Feeling” is offensive to women on so many levels.

The advertisement depicting Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros as a puppeteer reflects current political contests in Hungary. This spring, thousands of students marched to Parliament to protest laws targeting Soros’ Central European University, and, this week, Andras Gergely reported for Bloomberg News:

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told lawmakers from his Fidesz party that fighting against what he sees as the agenda of billionaire financier George Soros will be the key campaign theme ahead of next year’s general elections, a news website reported.

Orban has already been facing charges from Jewish groups that he stoked anti-Semitism with a billboard campaign that targeted the investor and philanthropist this year. While the government has repeatedly denied that charge, it has kept up its rhetoric, saying Soros was undermining Hungary’s security by inducing migration toward Europe.

The government plans to hold a “national consultation” with voters to survey their views on what it calls the “Soros plan” on migration, Orban told lawmakers in a closed-door meeting, Origo news website said late on Wednesday. The premier said his chances for reelection to a third consecutive term in the spring hinge on whether the “Soros plan” fails, the publication close to the ruling party reported.

Orban’s government has also clashed with the U.S. and the European Commission over legislation targeting non-governmental organizations and a university funded by Soros. The laws were steps in Orban’s push to prevent what he calls foreign meddling in political matters by civil groups and institutions, in line with his model of the “illiberal state.”

The random signs brandishing exclamation points to indicate the importance of their warnings went unheeded by us. We were clueless. After a month, we still remained completely ignorant of the meaning of virtually any Hungarian word. Fortunately, the Kakastoke Porkolt sign was much friendlier about translating its warning that the stand’s star product was rooster testicles stew. No exclamation point needed to send us on our way.

Emperor Franz Josef is thrown in here purely because every time we saw the posters of him we felt as though we were staring at Jim LaVilla-Havelin. As I could find no email address for the San Antonio poet online, maybe someone who stumbles across this blog can forward it to him.

Reviving Dia de los Muertos

When I first moved to San Antonio, the places to see flowers and foods placed on graves to encourage visits from their inhabitants were the old San Fernando Cemeteries. Most of the wrinkled pilgrims picnicking with their deceased loved ones on All Saints and All Souls Days, November 1 and 2, appeared poised to repose alongside them. The remnants of the Dia de los Muertos traditions enduring from when San Antonio had been part of Mexico were dying with them.

Bedoy’s Bakery, founded in 1961, credits Father Virgil Elizondo with encouraging the bakers to dust off traditional old recipes for dead bread, pan de muerto. I used to buy the breads around Halloween, but felt guilty when we selfishly ate them without offering to share them with the dead.

In the past decade or two, artists in San Antonio began adding contemporary twists to ancient Day of the Dead traditions, and now the city sponsors a full-blown fiesta for Dia de los Muertos in La Villita. Altars, processions and even a concert by Girl in a Coma were part of this year’s event, held a bit early because the city’s Day of the Dead calendar is getting more crowded.

While a far cry from the celebrations we witnessed outside of and in San Cristobal de las Casas last November, San Antonio’s spirited version represents traditions worth reviving and refreshing for new generations.

Although I cannot comprehend why the marketing department at Coca-Cola is not all over sponsorship opportunities for this event. In Mexico, Coca-Cola dominates the graveyard market in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas:

One would think a people who have rejected so many standards held by outsiders would not consider taking even one sip of a Coca-Cola. But expelling evil spirits from the body is key. Spitting helps, but burping is best. And what is better at inducing burping than a few shots of rapidly consumed Coke….

But, what marketing genius convinced the Chamulans a half-century ago to incorporate Coke into not only their Sunday church-going regimen, but everyday life? I mean, Chamulans need to continually maintain their guard against those invasive evil spirits, burping them out on a regular basis.

And whoever the lucky holder of the local bottling franchise is really struck a home run with this. The market is larger than just the living. On Dia de los Muertos, even the dead are served Cokes to quench their parched throats from so much time spent underground and to burp away any evil spirits hanging around the cemetery.

Just think how large Coca-Cola’s market share would soar if this practice spread to the dead everywhere.

Here are some posts from last year in Chiapas, Mexico:

 

Postcard from San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, Mexico: Coke is for Everyone, Dead or Alive

Teaching “the world to sing in perfect harmony” might be great in many markets, even in Mexico.

But some niche markets are tougher to crack than others.

Take the residents of San Juan Chamula. Chamulans are so fiercely independent, they virtually are independent. Outsiders pay a toll to even enter the town.

Residents’ primary language is Tzotzil Mayan, and San Juan Chamula has its own laws (think legalized polygamy), syncretic religion (converts to Protestantism banished), police force and system of justice. Beribboned-hatted male judges solemnly gather on Sundays, perched prominently on a public plaza overlooking the market in front of the church. Disputes can be brought forward throughout the morning. At noon, court is adjourned with much pomp and ceremony, which, to an outsider, resembles one long game of musical chairs.

The Catholic Church seemingly has ceded the church to the shamans, or curanderos. Outsiders are, again, charged a fee to enter and are informed there is a strict ban on photography inside. Or, perhaps, you would like to go face those judges convened above the plaza?

San Juan, San Pedro and San Sebastian are among the most revered saints, but some of the statues of saints lining the walls have fared better than others under the stewardship of the leaders of the town’s unorthodox religious practices. Some, perhaps including even San Sebastian, were in the doghouse for a long time.

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San Sebastian’s church on the outskirts of town burned a century or so ago, and the faithful logically questioned how much faith should be put in saints who fail to prevent the church that houses them from burning. So in punishment, the hands of the surviving statues were chopped off. The handless saints were brought into the church, but sentenced to spend years shamefully facing the wall. Their time in limbo has ended. They don’t get many tributes, but the saints whose potency was questioned are allowed to face the center of the church again and have robes with flowing sleeves disguising the earlier maiming and necklaces with mirrors to deflect evil spirits.

This church has no pews. The floor is blanketed with fresh pine needles, slippery on the marble floor underfoot. Fresh is key because worshippers line and light up rows of slender candles on the floor (Perhaps dry pine needles sparked the earlier fire?). The scent from the crushed needles mingles with smoking copal incense filling the interior. A primitive-sounding band plays somewhere deep inside, where a priest traditionally would preside.

Chanting shamans are performing cleansing ceremonies for groups of families perched in front of the appropriate saints. When not chanting or passing a live chicken over the subject, the shamans might be spitting on the floor, spitting around the subject to physically expel potential evil lurking within. In cases of severe need, the chicken is sacrificed by snapped neck. The shamans must be powerful because the hen I witnessed did not utter one clucked objection to the ceremony. Perhaps in part due to this cooperation, she was allowed to live.

Drinking posh, a strong cane liquor, is encouraged to loosen up one’s inhibitions that might prohibit communication of your soul with the saints (I know some of my friends might suddenly be thinking this is their kind of church.). Some of the townspeople seemed to take this particular practice to heart, appearing to have gotten an early morning start on their personal supplies of moonshine.

And then, there’s Coca-Cola.

One would think a people who have rejected so many standards held by outsiders would not consider taking even one sip of a Coca-Cola. But expelling evil spirits from the body is key. Spitting helps, but burping is best. And what is better at inducing burping than a few shots of rapidly consumed Coke. Posh alone cannot produce such splendid resonating results as Coke.

But, what marketing genius convinced the Chamulans a half-century ago to incorporate Coke into not only their Sunday church going regimen, but everyday life? I mean, Chamulans need to continually maintain their guard against those invasive evil spirits, burping them out on a regular basis.

And, whoever the lucky holder of the local bottling franchise is, really struck a home run with this. The market is larger than just the living. On Dia de los Muertos, even the dead are served Cokes to quench their parched throats from so much time spent underground and to burp away any evil spirits hanging around the cemetery.

Just think how large Coca-Cola’s market share would soar if this practice spread to the dead everywhere.

Coke should just forget trying to teach the world to sing. Teach the world to burp.

Coke is for everyone. Dead or alive. Para todos.

Note about the traditional hats worn by Chamulan men: While I have no photographs of the men holding court in San Juan Chamula, I am including a photo of an antique Chamulan hat we purchased in San Cristobal de las Casas more than 30 years ago. The contemporary hats men sport now appear unnaturally bright white. How can they keep them so clean? While the distinctive sombreros are still woven in a similar style, they are, surprisingly, woven from spools of white plastic instead of natural materials.