Saturday, April 7, 2007

Travels with Cadfael: ". . . the problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans"

The weather in Prague continued grey and raining. I was hating the city all around--it was crowded and cold and chaotic. I was very happy when it was time to leave. Cadfael and I headed into Hungary, and everything started brightening.

You're out of the woods
You're out of the dark
You're out of the night
Step into the sun
Step into the light
Keep straight ahead for
The most glorious place -


What a beautiful city. In a shrinking world, Budapest, with the dazzling Danube and nine beautiful bridges, is still exotic.

We explored that exotic side, but the city’s serious side had more meaning. We visited the Terror Haus, at 60 Andrassy Uta, Budapest’s Champs Elysee. It had only opened the year before, as part of a movement to not erase all the traces of the city’s Nazi and Communist past. 60 Andrassy was the headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis, and then the Soviets. The website explains: “Having survived two terror regimes, it was felt that the time had come for Hungary to erect a fitting memorial to the victims, and at the same time to present a picture of what life was like for Hungarians in those times.”

It’s a powerful experience, beginning with an enormous tank as you enter, representing the shear power of the regimes over its people. There are three different floors restored with artifacts. But it’s the elevator to the basement that sets it apart from any other museum. The basement was used as a prison and torture chamber. You can walk through the labyrinth of cells, some as small as 5ft x 2 ft, and see the iron pliers and vises and nails.

Near the exit of the exhibit is a small hall that was the most controversial part. It has photographs and names of the Hungarians who had “worked” there. These were part of the records that were preserved. This is not ancient history. The children and grandchildren of these people are very much alive, and can recognize family members when they visit. It's a uniquely Hungarian approach to a dark past.

From the visit to the past, we decided to connect with modern Budapest—at a mall, to see a movie. Spike Lee’s 25th hour was playing in the English language theater. I didn’t know the story, and was stunned when the images of 9/11 and the tribute in lights came on the screen. It felt very strange seeing images of that day in an audience of Eastern Europeans.

I had been absorbing so much of their history, and now my own was staring me in the face. Again, that obscene day came flooding back in strange snatches. The subways being shut down—-no one knew if there were more waves of attacks coming. I walked home in a daze. From the rooftop of my building, Mr. Ripley and I could see thick, thick black smoke rising to the south. I started weeping again for it all in a mall in Pest.

I was glad when the lights came up. Cad and I crossed back over to Buda, and walked along the Danube back to the hotel, those regal bridges sparkling gaily through the fog that was rolling in.

It was a lovely moment in a beautiful friendship. If you’re going to nurse a broken heart, doing it in Budapest with a friend such as Cad is one good way.

I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of two little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

The weight of history—decades past and more recent—had sobered me up. Let’s just say, I snapped out of it, because tomorrow, is another day.

A blessed Easter to all who partake--