Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Graves reveal layers of Hungarian history

The policy of the house of Austria, which aimed at destroying the independence of Hungary as a state, has been pursued unaltered for 300 years.

Lajos Kossuth (1802-1894)

A bronze winged genius, a protecting spirit defiantly bearing a torch of freedom, stands guard with a powerful lion atop the recently restored massive wedding-cake-like mausoleum memorializing Lajos Kossuth. A lawyer and extremely effective orator, Kossuth’s journalistic endeavors to promote an independent Hungary led the Austrian monarchy to imprison him for treason.

The Austrians later regretted releasing him, as he became the inspirational leader of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. By 1850, the interlude of independence faltered and Kossuth was in exile in Turkey. In London, he was welcomed as a hero, and New York staged a parade on Fifth Avenue to herald the defeated Hungarian leaders. A bust of him is displayed near one of Winston Churchill in the United States Capitol. While Kossuth spent most of the rest of his life in exile, he was well honored at home after his death.

Kossuth is one of many residents of Kerepesi Cemetery, opened for occupancy in 1847. The national pantheon sprawls over more than 130 acres of peaceful grounds shaded by so many different types of trees it doubles as a botanical garden. Declaration of it as a decorative cemetery in 1885 led to its role as a sculptural paradise reflecting Hungarian artistic trends as well.

Alright, a cemetery is an unusual entry point for the upcoming series of travel posts about Budapest, but it is no secret I love wandering among ancient graves. Also, Hungarian history is so complicated by the turbulent history of all of Europe, the cemetery serves a restful resource for slowly absorbing some of the waves that swept through it.

For example, the genius atop the mausoleum of Ferenc Deak (1803-1876) seems much more peaceful than that of Kossuth. The angelic figure bears a palm frond and a laurel wreath, symbols of immortality. Deak is remembered as a statesmen who successfully negotiated with Emperor Franz Josef to establish a dual Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, the Compromise of 1867.

Here you find graves of artists and writers inspiring patriotism and those motivated by their words who fell in wars. Arcades adorned with mosaics offering shelter to some of Budapest’s wealthy stand in contrast to the workers’ pantheon added in 1958. There are graves of Russians who died liberating Budapest from the German fascists, and memorials for Hungarians who were killed during the 1956 unsuccessful revolt against Soviet control.

Art deco details in some sections stand in stark contrast to the severe style dictated by later Communist rulers. Four horses struggle to break free from the corners of a tent-like shroud ominously sheltering the tomb of the Hungary’s first elected president after the fall of Communism, Jozsef Antall (1932-1993).

Introducing you to Budapest through this cemetery is meant to illustrate how we failed to strictly adhere to guidebook lists of the top 10 must-see attractions and things to do when visiting, despite staying there for a month. I’ll just get our shortcomings as guides helping shape your future travels, probably verging on sinful to many, out of the way now.

(1) We did not take the dinner cruise on the River Danube. Spending time standing in a buffet line to get food while missing the scenery seemed as though it would defeat the point, so we walked both sides of the river instead. Multiple times.

(2) We did not dip into the famed Turkish baths. As architecturally seductive as they are, the images of people crowded in the pools and men standing in waist-deep water playing chess failed to entice me to want to join them. They seem to have an abundant supply of wrinkled, overweight patrons without me.

(3) We only tasted goulash once. Can’t believe I confessed to that last one.

Postcard from Valencia, Spain: A metropolis in which to happily get lost

Cities are the spearhead of the most outstanding experiences and the most daring behavior, the places where the greatest development of the arts takes place. Consequently many artists choose life in the city as one of the central features of their work, with the city (often) being understood as a collage of a host of discontinuous, fragmented memories and experiences, a confused labyrinth in which the inhabitants cross paths with one another but remain immersed in their own thoughts.

Jose Miguel G. Cortes, director of IVAM

From the balcony of the apartment we are renting in Valencia, we have a personal portal into Valencia’s Institute of Modern Art, better known as IVAM. Unfortunately, all this portal permits us to see is one of the museum’s stairwells; we have to walk around to the main entrance and pay to enter.

But “Lost in the City,” an exhibition drawn from IVAM’s extensive permanent collections, was a worthwhile place to begin our stay in Spain’s third largest city. Organized around themes, the show portrays more than a century of artists’ positive and negative reactions to the growth of metropolitan areas. The snapshots below capture a few of the included works, but I was derelict in recording many of the artists’ names.

IVAM also introduced us to the works, “Corpus,” of Helena Almeida, a Portuguese artist renowned for her performance and conceptual art.

The original core of the institute’s huge collection of sculptures are by a Spaniard, Julio Gonzalez (1876-1972). Born into a family of craftsmen working in metal in Barcelona, Gonzalez yearned for more artistic expressions than construction projects allowed. Traveling to Paris to immerse himself in the thriving art community, he collaborated with Pablo Picasso in the 1920s on a series of metal sculptures that involved a mutual exchange of their creative expertise.

The harsher depictions of metropolitan scenes captured in many works in “Lost in the City” and our stark view of the museum’s portal stand in contrast to our current experiences in Valencia. The heart of this city is pedestrian and bicycle oriented. Our neighborhood is crisscrossed by a rabbit-like warren of winding narrow streets constantly interrupted by intimate plazas filled with lively cafes.

Despite its population of 800,000 residents, even strangers feel welcome in the warmth of such a walkable environment. Becoming lost under the stimulating spell of Valencia is an urban journey beckoning us daily.

Fortunately, the 1927 version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is not what life has become…. at least not here.

 

Between the mind that plans and the hands that build there must be a Mediator, and this must be the heart.

Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang, 1927

Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: Statuesque silhouettes against the sky

It’s hard to resist focusing on Guanajuato’s landmark people perched up high. Muses grace the roofline of Teatro Juarez. Father Hidalgo, famed for his grito igniting the revolt against Spain, stands near the city’s presa, or dam.

The giant statue of El Pipila lords over the city. As pipila means a female turkey, the nickname given to Juan Jose de los Reyes Martínez Amaro (1782–1863) probably was not meant as flattery. But El Pipila earned respect as a hero of the Mexican Revolution when he strapped a large stone on his back for protection against weapons above to storm the Spaniards holed up in Alhondiga de Granaditas. He slathered the granary’s large wooden door with tar and set it ablaze, allowing the citizens of Guanajuato to overtake the forces inside.

The woman representing peace who presides over Plaza de la Paz, the city’s main plaza, was commissioned by President Porfirio Diaz in 1903. Her peaceful reign soon was interrupted. President Diaz did not care for his opponent in the 1910 election so he locked him up in jail. When Diaz declared himself victorious, the citizenry sensed the election results were rigged. Diaz was forced from power, and years of civil war marked by frequent violent changes in presidents followed.

Wish the threat of locking opponents up and talking about rigged elections did not sound familiar.