My friend Ray who taught for several years in Karkow and Budapest suggested that Nancy and I meet his friend Orsolya who lives in Buda. While I am sure he hoped we would like each other, I also suspect he knew she would introduce us to a Budapest we might have missed. Orsolya recommended a walk through the Jewish quarter. She belongs to an organization fighting to keep developers from tearing down buildings in the old ghetto to construct more modern and more tasteless structures. She provided an astute perpspective on Hungarian antisemitism, especially the attempt to deny the culture’s complicity in destroying its Jewish population.
After several hours walking and then over lunch, she impressed with with her absolute fluency in English. In spite of my attempts to avoid discussions of American politics, lunch conversation drifted into the presidential election. She made clear how stunned many Europeans were at Trump’s campaign. They are familiar with the rise of demagogues who can authorize the most basic assaults on human dignity and had hoped that the U.S. was beyond such behavior. She also made clear how invested many Europeans are in this election. Hungary’s own attempt to forge a policy of no immigrants seems too close to Trump’s wall.
After lunch, Nancy and I walked from the Jewish quarter through a very stylish main street, Andrassy, which Orsolya assured us was Hungary’s attempt to mimic the Champs Elysee with a a broad tree shaded avenue lined with upscale shops.
And the opera house.
Along the river, we had already glimpsed several of the Viking Cruieses ships that anyone who watches Masterpiece Theatre will have seen. This is simple another mode of transportion that Nancy and I have not taken. The ships seem to dock for a few days, offload their passengers onto busses, and send them into the city. After a few days, they disappear.
The Hungarian Parliament buildings, which Orsolya made clear, reflected the attempt by Hungarians to imitate established practices in other countries (this time in Britain), also made the evening light magical.