Sunday, January 25, 2009

Budapest Redux Redux

I'm perplexed by the reaction to my Budapest Redux entry. Everyone seems to have reached the conclusion that I hated the place. In fact, I described the people there in glowing terms, especially in contrast to Americans. And I noted that "the culture's rich as paprikash; deep, pervasive beauty is everywhere; and subtlety is keenly appreciated."

Is that chopped liver?

Yes, there's a dreariness, but that's surely a catalyst for the flowering of human spirit found in places like Budapest. A drearily beautiful place with soulful, subtle, spontaneous, non-superficial people is nothing to sneeze at.

I'm trying to decide whether it was poor writing that caused the misimpression, or whether the very qualities I find lacking in American culture cause Americans to instinctively over-recoil at such a description.

I also forgot to mention that one shouldn't imagine going to Budapest and not staying in one of the lovely and lovingly maintained apartments rented by my friend (and Chowhound stalwart) John Farago. John also hosts an amazing series of fascinating and beautifully written web pages on many aspects of culture there. Also see his interesting tips and comments in this thread.

1 comment:

john farago said...

Just clawing my way through the accumulated piles on my desk after returning from seven months away and am finally able to start trying to bring myself current on the various blogs and boards i keep an eye on -- so it took me a while to say thanks for the kind words here...more importantly, i don't think the issue was in the writing of the Budapest Redux entry, but rather that the entry accurately captured your ambivalence to the city. Several years back (and again more recently) you've chided me for my reservations and diffidence about the food in Budapest, and i think something similar is going on here. There's an ambivalence in your reaction to the city that's similar tio mine about the food. I keep wondering how it is possible to enjoy eating in Budapest so much when the food is by and large nowhere near as good as it is in many places where i enjoy eating less. Your more global response to the city is kind of similar -- my sense from the entry and from our conversation is that you were tugged in opposite directions, perhaps a bit surprised and let down by the dreariness and heaviness of a Budapest winter, by the grayness of the setting that contrasts som much with the vibrancy of the people and the cafe life. Hungarians think of themselves as dour and glum, and they're right in some senses, but they don't see that they're also funny, outgoing, welcoming and warm. My theory is that they are constitutionally both hopeful about the future and disappointed about the present and that this creates a constantly unfolding mix of exuberance and disenchantment. In a sense, that makes your post quintessentially Hungarian, self-referential in its embodiment of the very qualities it describes...

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