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.

Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: The church of the Raven King of Hungary stands as stunning landmark

In 1458, a raven flew from Transylvania to Prague bearing a ring sent by the mother of Matthias to let him know to return home. Or so some claim. The raven and the ring symbol can be seen throughout Budapest, and Matthias became known as Matthias Corvinus, corvinus meaning raven in Latin.

The Diet elected the 15-year-old king, even though he had no direct dynastic claim to the throne. He would rule until his death, somewhat suspicious in cause, in 1490. His reign was noted for increased military power, the rise of power of lower nobility at the expense of the upper crust and an artistic Renaissance.

Perched atop a hilltop on the Buda side of the river, the church known as Matthias Church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The earliest portions of it were built in the 13th century. Styles range from a medieval relief depicting Mary’s death dates from 1370 to major Gothic details added to the outside and murals inside added at the close of the 19th century. The tallest tower was added by King Matthias, whose royal wedding was held in the church.

Conquering Turks in the mid-1500s white-washed the walls and covered them with carpets to transform the church into a serviceable mosque. Before the Ottoman invasion, some of the faithful walled up the Loreto Chapel containing a statue of the Black Madonna dating from 1515. An explosion in 1686 at the castle nearby sent that wall crumbling, and the statue reappeared for the faithful prior to the end of Ottoman control in 1699.

The church then was remodeled in the Baroque style. Among the kings whose coronations have been held there is Emperor Franz Josef in 1867.

The extensive changes characterizing the appearance of the church today were undertaken in 1895, including the installation of the gleaming, colorful Zsolnay ceramic roof tiles. Despite the intermingling of so many conflicting styles through the centuries, Matthias Church stands as a stunning landmark above the Danube.

Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Home for Saint Stephen’s holy dexter

The right hand of the blessed man was deservedly exempt from putrefaction because, always reflourishing from the flower of kindness, it was never empty from giving gifts to nourish the poor.

Bishop Hartvic, Life of King Stephen of Hungary, about 1116

Construction of the Basilica of Saint Stephen in Budapest took more than 50 years because the original dome over the facility designed to accommodate up to 8,500 worshippers completely collapsed in 1868. During the intervening years, the desired style evolved from neo-classical to neo-renaissance by the time the church was inaugurated by Emperor Franz Josef in 1906. The dome is the same height as that of Parliament, and no buildings in the historic center are allowed to tower above them.

Saint Stephen (975-1038) is celebrated as the first king of Hungary. His royal coronation was held on the first day of the second millennium, and the crown itself was a gift from Pope Sylvester II. King Stephen’s later sainthood was merited for his commitment to crush paganism in Hungary and for miracles credited to his right hand, the holy dexter.

The incorrupt hand was stolen at one point, recovered, hidden by nuns and finally returned and honored with a public procession in 1938 and enshrinement in a chapel in the basilica. The annual procession of the mummified dexter was ended abruptly by the communists in 1950. Since 1988, the church has been free to parade it through the streets annually on his day, August 20.

The crown presented to King Stephen served as the coronation crown for all subsequent kings of Hungary, but, like the dexter, spent some time in hiding. It and some of the royal jewels were spirited away for safekeeping in the United States during World War II. They remained locked in Fort Knox until returned to the Hungarians by an order of President Jimmy Carter in 1978. The crown and jewels are displayed in the House of Parliament.