Last full Budapest day

Trip Start Oct 02, 2011
Trip End Oct 27, 2011

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

The most notable sight of this sightseeing day was the desiccated, blackened right hand said to belong to our friend St Istvan of the quartered uncle (see blog entry of 10 October) . It sits primly on a pillow in a fancy wooden glassed-in structure reminiscent of a Victorian doll's house (see photo).   The helpful sign on the wall states that "The Holy Right Hand has been highly esteemed by the Hungarian Nation ever since its discovery."  There is also a poster showing close up photos which reveal the dirt under the Holy fingernails, as well as an x-ray to prove that the esteemed hand had esteemed bones.

The day began with another trip down the rabbit's hole of a subway system to the Parliament building, which has figured in a number of photos since our arrival, as it figures in many views of Budapest due to its ponderous prominence.  We took yet more photos (see below) while our guide related the interesting history of the place.  Please particularly note the photo of the brass cigar holder in the anteroom of the House of Lords.  Since the Lords weren't allowed to smoke in the actual chamber, they were assigned a cigar space number and parked their partially-smoked stogie when they were called back in.  If a member got stuck in the chamber for a particularly long-winded speech so that his cigar was reduced to a pile of ashes, the member would say that the speaker "had a Havana."  As I mused on all the trappings of privilege and power, it was hard not to think of what Papa Freud would have said about the significance of the cigar holders.

We then walked randomly around the nearby Leopold Town section of Pest, enjoying the antique shops and galleries and Art Nouveau buildings.  We stumbled on a large indoor market and were startled to find a booth selling elegant vegan food.  The photo shows the lunch that Annie and I shared.  The next one is of only vegan chocolate cake I ever had that didn't taste like a recycled paper product.  Note the decoration at the top, which I took to be a gooseberry.  Actually it turned out to be a "banana ball."  Annie and Carole badgered the nice chef for the cake's recipe, which he finally revealed: The icing consisted of cocoa power, dates, and bananas, while the cake itself was heavily influenced by dates as well.

Early on in our travels this day I noticed a young man with a right-angled metal device in one hand, black plastic bag in the other.  A green digital camera hung around his neck.  He would approach a light pole or a sign post and begin vigorously scraping off small signs and residual bits of paper with the razor at the end of the shorter arm of the metal device.  Then he grabbed the camera and took a quick photo of his handiwork.  We lost him after several blocks and continued our wanderings.  Then, while we were in the midst of cappuccino and pastries at a little cafe, who should cruise by but the razor man, still scraping and photographing.  It was mesmerizing.  Was he some sort of Hungarian performance artist, we wondered? 

Much later in the day we ran into him once more in a very different part of town!  Annie, being both curious and bold, went up to him and said, basically, "excuse me, but what in the world are you doing?"  He said he was scraping paper off the poles.  OK, got it so far.  And the camera?  He was documenting his work.  Was he in fact doing conceptual art?  Well, no.  He was hired by the city to keep the poles looking tidy, and had to document his work to get paid. 

One of the seriously non-joyous aspects of travel is finding a place to eat.  Somehow all four of our digestive tracts were tuned to Italian, so we set off in search of the perfect Hungarian trattoria.  Fortunately for the reader I won't document our two-hour quest, which included not one, but two great-looking places that were fully booked.  Finally I bullied everyone into lowering our collective standards and we actually entered a not particularly crowded restaurant called a not too promising "La Italian Restorante," whose windows were graced with vertical strings of blindingly blinking white lights

Well the menu looked OK, and we ordered.  Shortly thereafter a roundish woman with a blonde pony tail and a  white blouse that looked like a chef's shirt appeared.  She mounted a low platform, sat down, and picked up her little electric guitar.  After switching on a strong karaoke track, she twanged her guitar and began singing.  Let's just say she wasn't the Hungarian Maria Callas.  She seemed very sweet, and very enthusiastic, but I have to say we weren't disappointed when she took a long break.  When she returned to her platform, in high spirits, she began singing Hava Nagila and other Hebrew favorites.  Amazingly, people at several tables sang enthusiastically along.  Had we stumbled on the Italian-Israeli district of Budapest?

When she finished Annie gallantly gave her a big round of applause and stuffed some Hungarian forints into the jar on the platform.  The singer came to our table to thank Annie, and we asked her where she was from.  "Well, I'm pretty mixed up," she said, "Gypsy-Hungarian-Deutsch." Was she a native of Hungary?  "Well, sort of, not exactly, I'm not sure."  OK, we left it at that, again complimented her on her singing, and finished our reasonably decent pizzas.

Note that because this was our last full day in Hungary, Hungary has become our world.  So today's superlative offering is actually Hungary's superlative, not the world's.  Please see the last photo. 
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