Saturday, July 30, 2011

Szeged and Serbia

A couple of days behind... Will try to add some pix when I get a chance.

Yesterday was our second day in Szeged - a lovely town I'm pretty sure we never went to. I think it was always on the list but at the end our stay it seemed like just one more Hungarian town - we elected for Zagreb instead. Most of Szeged was destroyed in the flood of 1879 (only 250 of 6000 homes survived). The old synagogue which was on somewhat high ground far from the banks of the Tisza had a memorial watermark just above its steps. A half korut encircled the main part of downtown, enclosing a mostly pedestrian friendly area between the river and the road. An exclusive promenade of several blocks donned both chains and boutiques. A sizeable park with many statues capped the walk at one end. Towards the southern end of the downtown was the gigantic church. At its clocktower end was the great square - often compared to San Marcos - covered on three sides by Szeged University buildings.

On the other side of the river, across the Belvarosi Bridge, was both a new and old waterpark as well as a park, campgrounds, and quite suburbs. Beneath the bridge was the legendary Halaszcsarda where we ate the required Fish Stew augmented by an interesting recipe for Stuffed Cabbage.

Other than walking about and a trip to the Pick Salami and Paprika museum, much of our time in Szeged was devoted to continuing research on the Karbiner, Hegel, Morel, Hauser history in Feketic.

Today, we made the long (100 km?) journey to Feketic. Going to Serbia proved untraumatic - we were waved through the checkpoints. One custom official on the Serbian side asked where we going. His response to our answer, "Beautiful town! One road."

We extended our drive a bit further by touring Subotica. Another lovely town with all its fountains under repair. We wandered into an art gallery and were warmly greeted by a woman who spoke excellent English and thought our historical quest was quite a good adventure. Arriving in Feketic, we found our hotel (indeed not difficult as it is truly only one road with a series of swatches) and got a brief history in a mix of German and Hungarian from its owner. He explained there were no more Danauschwabans here but no shortage of tourists who come looking for them. He showed us where the "big cemetery" was on the map and showed us which side to go to for the German graves. He mentioned that it was largely overgrown but his explanation was somewhat lost on us until we saw the state of disrepair of the German side of the cemetery. The beginnings of Tikal is what I told Janine - the ancient city covered by jungle for 500 years and stumbled upon by wandering explorers. Only a few graves of German descent could be found - most had been choked and broken under an almost impenetrable forest of underbrush and small trees. Since Tito had ousted or killed almost all Germans in 1945, no one had remained behind that seemed to care about this side of the graveyard. Explainable but something of a disappointment that the rows of Kellemans, Horvaths, and Deaks did not have their counterparts of Karbiners, Hausers, and Morrells. We did manage to find a first and second war memorial - some of Janine's distant cousins appeared on the role for the Great War but only Hungarian names donned the listed for WWII.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jaszbereny Part II

The location of the "big church" was the most obvious hole in my memory. I remember the beautiful, large, yellow, baroque church in Jaszbereny. I just didn't remember its location so close to the main square - somehow in my mind it was further afield - perhaps closer to the "old church" which I also remember. Every time I saw it on the main street during this brief visit, something seemed amiss. I feel fairly confident that they had not moved it so I'm not sure how it was so radically misplaced in my mental map. My beloved Stella restaurant still stood proudly where it always had but long since been shuttered. We could not find the Gosser bar although there was a new one around the corner from Stella. Our perennial Apostol Kavehaz was packed with young and old on Sunday afternoon drinking beers and expressos as not much else was open. The school and apartment building looked largely the same - both a little worse for wear after sixteen years but they had never been in great shape to begin with. The uszoda (public spa) and mozi (movie house) also appear unchanged.
But changes abounded. Lots more grocery stores - including a giant big-box store about 3 kilometers outside of the center. The quaint farmer's market across the Zagyfa "river" behind our apartment had been gentrified into a mini shopping center with a large yet attractive warehouse for the local farmers to sell their goods. A new footbridge had been put in to allow easier access from our block. The pizza place - which I had forgotten - was now an "Arizona Steak House". The library was new. The square had been renovated including a new statue. Many of these changes I verified with the local librarian as well a gentleman named Istvan and his mother who lived in my old building. We did not know them, despite their living on the first floor for 40 years. They could not recall our neighbors - Gyorgy and Marika. They did recall some American English teachers but I think it was Julie and Eric who I believe came a year or two after us and stayed for at least two years.
Perhaps the sweetest part of the visit was a return to the school. Seniors each year have their pictures taken along with the staff and large framed poster size displays of these pictures adorn the halls of the school. The door was open and we explored without anyone questioning us. Working our way up from the the class photos for the 1960's on the first floor, we found those who graduated in 1998 on the third floor. I immediately recognized all of my freshman from my "1A" class. They looked mostly the same - a few of the boys less boyish. The names, faces, questions, responses, games, occasional trips to the principal office came flooding back. I truly thought I had forgotten most of these students but just like the Hungarian language - they were all locked somewhere in a forgotten corner of my brain.

Tomorrow off to Serbia so I may be off the grid for a while.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Smaller World

Since so much of my blog has concentrated on changes (or things that might have changed simply because I have no recollection of them as they currently are), I feel I must continue this theme for my former home of Jaszbereny: The place I should remember the most. What tricks would have my memory played on me, what would I delight in having still be the same, and what would I be sad that had changed or perhaps never been? I will get to that. It took a good half hour of quickly jotting down notes just to complete the list. Janine was convinced I was going to wreck the car when we first arrived because I was so immersed in memory-related overload. I will get to these memories and hopefully in a way that someone else might find interesting, but first…
Big Marion (or Nagy Marianne when translated and spelled correctly - so embarrassed - misspelled her name throughout my book) is alive and well - and more amazingly, I just happen to run into her - quite literally - on the streets of Jaszbereny. Marianne Nagy (names reversed in Hungary) was the head of the English department when we were in Hungary. She is one of the few people I felt would likely still be in town, and quite frankly, one of the few people I thought I might recognize. There are a few others that I spent enough time with that I might recall the face or the name but probably not both - I'm starting to realize that 16 years is really a lifetime.
Here's how this unlikely event unfolds. We arrive Sunday night and cruise the town. Checked in at Jaszbereny's only hotel (the clerk seemed shocked on our unannounced arrival). Went to find some dinner - difficult on Sunday night and my beloved Stella restaurant is no more! I go to bed early, Janine stays up too late doing family tree research for our upcoming trip to Serbia. Monday am - I wake early - raining. Janine wants to go for run but sleeps late anyway. We negotiate 11 am check-out with hotel (evidently 10 is standard). Rain stops. We run.
Around the little island behind the public pool. Out past my old school to the train station. Back towards town on the other side of the street. Half-way back we make way for a woman on her bicycle. She passes. I double-take. Nagy Marianne!! Nothing. I try louder. NAGY MARIANNE!! She slows. Turns. Michael? How in a city of 10,000 (officially 28 but no-way) can our paths cross in such a manner? Granted I realize when you are a pedestrian/bicycler your radius from home is SO MUCH smaller than those of us bound to the culture of the auto - but still. Exactly that 5 minute window along that short stretch of road on that given day. Very odd. She just completed her 30th year at the school and didn't seem to think the town had changed that much (yes and no - more on that tomorrow). Her mother whom she had always lived with had died. She was re-doing her bathroom (hence her errand today). I introduced Janine. Told her I was teaching math and computers - now in my 10th year at Hercules. She said we were both old - and yet I felt we looked and acted very much the same. It was a short exchange, but I was happy to see her. Between this chance meeting, reveling in the memories of the town again, and one my favorite pastries (isler - pronounced ishler - sort of a Hungarian moon-pie but hand made), the short excursion to Jaszbereny was certainly a high-light of the trip so far.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

More Melancholy over Change - The Quaint Valley of Wine is no More

Are there flying cars in my home town of Winston-Salem? I imagine there are if it has changed as much as the Valley of the Beautiful Women (more recently changed to "Nice Women" according to the signage). I approached the Valley, a favorite memory of my youthful drinking days in Hungary, on foot during a morning run. I didn't recall many houses around those 16 years ago - it seemed a bit suburby now. As I got closer, a dozen or so restaurants appeared before getting to the hobbit-hole like wine cellars that decorated this little dale. I've forgotten a lot, but I swear this was just a big field that tour buses parked in.

Returning later in the day with Janine, I found one of the few cellars that had not undergone a makeover and settled in for a pohar of bor. The old man who ran the place tolerated my Hungarian and also spoke a little English. I explained the best I could my story and asked if he recognized the cellar in the middle pages of my book. At first, he said without his glasses it was impossible. Some time later he found his specs but still could not tell. They all pretty much look like half cylinders carved into wet stone so it was a crap shoot we would find that particular cellar - not that I really cared, it just would have been fun. He confirmed the restaurants had not been there on my previous visit in 1994.

After we finished as much of the mid-day liter of wine as we could, we got the obligatory plastic 2-liter of his wine and were off to have langos (Hungarian Pizza) at the stand next door before tromping back to town. Eger is a tourist town. It's to be expected they would fall to the same kind of rampant commercialism that we had seen in Budapest. I wonder if my little town of Jaszbereny would still seem as quaint. I'll find out tomorrow.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Some quote-worthy quotes

In my quest to figure out what the heck I did on all those trips to Budapest that have obviously been purged from my memory, I went back and scoured my book for those events. I can somewhat remember intentionally leaving out a lot about Budapest - I wanted to try to stay away from the "went here/saw this" that made up a lot of my daily diaries. I wanted a nice mix of stories that captured my life that year and were somewhat entertaining and novel for the reader. The only substantial entry seemed to be when my former P&G co-workers came to visit us for the week. Still not much there but it covered a couple of highlights like the Opera, Turkish Baths, and video arcades (seriously). However there were a couple of quotes, attributed to my old friend Dave Worth, but just as likely to have been said by anyone (or not at all) that I thought would be fun to share. The first one my only be funny to me cause I can hear Dave's sarcastic voice in my head when it was suggested that he and I leave the shopping expedition the female-folk in our group had taken us on. His supposed reply was:
“I don’t know Mike, there might be some lace in the next shop that is better than the lace we saw in the last two shops.”

Later, when explaining our plans of "not much" for their stay with us in Jaszbereny, he was reported as saying:
"Sleeping, reading, eating, and walking around town. All your basic vacation groups."
This last quote seems to be summing up our current trip and I'm pretty happy with that.

P.S. The picture to the right is one of Anonymous. A statue in city park in Budapest that I definitely remember (YEAH!). I made up a tradition that writer's who touch his pen would have good luck.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Times they are a-changin'

What I didn't comment on yesterday is how expensive everything is. My memory was everything being cheap - even in by my "poor student/Midwest prices" standards. Beers at most bars were between 50 cents and a dollar - assuming they were Hungarian, same with wine. Any local food prepared in restaurants tended to be only a couple of dollars. Visitor attractions and metro tickets might have been a dollar. Our joke now is that everything is 2900 forints (a little more than 10 Euros or about 15 bucks). A crappy pizza near the Basilica (15 bucks), go into Parliament (15 bucks), stand on the sidewalk and gawk at the tourists (priceless). Without a doubt, part of the inexpensiveness of Hungary was the relatively modest standard of living at the time - they are no doubt doing what they can to catch up with their European counterparts. Another might be the relative weakness of the dollar these days, although I've always been shocked that the dollar has stayed relatively strong throughout the "Great Recession". Anyway - the $15 snacks and $30 meals are a bit of a fly in the ointment but I'll get over it - better that is was cheap then when I didn't really have it as opposed to now (rich school teacher that I am).

What has stayed the same, and one of the few things I have a fairly vivid memory of, is the Metro - the Subway. The second oldest in Europe (after London's), both the cars and the ticketing seemed not to have aged. The prices have gone up with everything else (in line with what I pay for BART) but the tickets are still the little pieces of paper (think old style move tickets) that get punched by a mechanical device before entering the station. It's still honor system (no turnstiles) and if you get nabbed without the ticket its still 20 times the cost of the trip if you pay it on the spot (a system that I always thought was inherently corruptible).

The words keep coming back but I'm still having trouble putting together anything other than subject verb object and those verb conjugations are highly questionable.

Great walk through the park and Jewish ghetto yesterday, stroll during the bridge lighting yesterday evening, and run along the river this morning. Last to-do on the agenda is the Gellert Baths.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Return of the King

Arrival at the Budapest airport did not bring back a flood of memories - far from it. Other than the occasional Hungarian word that magically appeared on my lips, very little that I saw in Ferihegy or later in the day in Budapest seemed familiar. The most telling of these events was a statue that is in my book - a picture of Dave and I on both sides of a small bronze child with a jester's cap. The caption in the book says "Dave and I in front of Parliament". Embarrassingly this statue does not have Parliament in the background but the Palace - in my memory it was firmly planted on the wrong side of the Danube.

Most of the rest of the day yielded streets I did not recognize and places I did not know. Fisherman's Bastion on Castle Hill was one of the few places I remembered fairly well but Matyas Church next door is little more than a blur. The streets of Varhegy are nowhere in my memory. I think I finally figured out that the hostel we sometimes stayed in was not on Castle Hill but Gellert Hill two bridges down - the Hills too had been merged into one by my muddled remembrances.

Perhaps I had traces of Gerbaud's café still clunking around in my aging brain and the Chain Bridge and it's wonderful Lion topped columns had made an indelible impression, but mostly this was a new city to me. Only the words of the Magyar tongue seemed to have taken any root at all - most surprising to me given my recent experience of learning Indonesian and losing almost all of it within a season.
Is it my age or something else? It will be interesting to see what else gets jarred loose over the next two weeks.

Janine loves the city. The streets of Castle Hill reminded her of Sienna with its many flag bearing neighborhoods. The statues abounding the Centrum are a constant source of joy to her. She just wish I was better (any good at all) in translating the myriad of historical placards.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Pre Flight Jidders - I'm leaving on a Jet Plane..

I'm always a bit introspective, some would say macabre, before flying. I know statistically the drive to the airport is far more dangerous than the flight - but I also feel somewhat in control driving. Fear of flying runs (rampant) in my family. I'm probably the least affected but I'm also probably more obsessed with death than the rest.

The first five minutes is always the worst - I always think of the end of "Say Anything", one of my favorite movies, and the statistic that most accidents happen within 5 minutes of takeoff or landing. Usually the anxiety level drops after we get in the air for a few minutes. I always feel like if the wing or engine was going to fall off, the first few minutes would be the stress test that would make or break the flight. For whatever reason, I don't usually get nervous on the landing. Weird.

So I say a little prayer, think about my life, see if there are any changes I should be making, and then feel gratitude for the great ride I've had so far. I know I've had some great adventures and done some good work - I hope to do more, but all things most end. Hopefully just not today.

Well here's hoping I make another entry - next stop JFK - then on to Budapest.

P.S. Speaking of adventures. Check out this great picture of my Mom and I on my scooter from the weekend. It was a great visit - she's taking care of Krypto while we're gone.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Burning Man Aside

Doing fifteen minutes of stand-up at Burning Man in Center Camp this year. Did it two years ago when the theme was Evolution. My favorite joke "In a thousand years when Palintologists start looking at our society, I wonder what they'll think. That's Palintologists, those who try to figure out all the crazy sh** Sarah Palin said."

This year the theme is Rites of Passage and the 10 concentric roads are named appropriately (Anniversary, Birth, Coming Out, Divorce...)

Here's my first take at an opening, I may post more as I work on it.


So our themes and the street names provide a pretty good outline for creating a little bit of observational humor. Although the alphabetical order of the streets doesn't quite allow the segues that I'd like.

So First of all - who besides me had to ask or look up Liminal. It has several meanings including the one most of you are familiar with with sub-liminal - which means below the consciousness. One of my favorite "laugh now" subliminal messages "laugh now" is one "laugh now" like the one "laugh now" that I just did.

But Liminal for Burning Man means between phases. So essentially all our rites of passages are liminal - passing from one phase of our life to the next.

Birth and Death were the two most obvious to me - not sure how Divorce beat out Death - maybe Larry and his crew couldn't think of anything for F so they thought Funeral would suffice - although I can think of an F immediately that every teenage boy would list, what they dream of - that's right Free Comic Book Day.

But let's start with Birth....

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What to pack

I've traveled abroad enough to have some proficiency in packing. I was try to think of anything that was critical - really, if you have your passport and money (especially credit card and ATM card) you can certainly get by without anything. Related to money, I sometimes think its fun to try to go somewhere and ONLY use the credit card - never actually change any money. It's completely possible - although it's always fun to see what the new money is like.

But as for my "critical" packing list, I always like to take a flashlight and a swiss army knife (assuming I'm checking bags, otherwise just a bottle opener). I guess if you have visual (glasses - which I do again) needs or medical needs (which I don't but strongly swear on carrying some ibuprofin - the old man's wonder drug) then you it's much easier to bring that kind of thing with you than get them in another country. A camera is always good, but now that I have an iPhone, I've got a camera/e-mail browser/map/tri-corder all in one. So the iPhone is a strong third after ID and money.

I really LIKE having a guide-book when in another country but it's not critical. I LIKE having a big thick sweatshirt for cold night's and as make-shift pillow. A deck of cards and a frisbee are also often in my travel bag. Clothes-wise I don't care too much - usually enough socks and underwear so I only have to laundry every third or fourth day. Almost always bring a button down and a tie - just in case of a nice dinner or an ad-hoc job interview.

Makes me wonder why I always pack a week ahead of time - guess there's just lots of stuff on the MIGHT WANT list: Sewing Kit, Sandals, Special Hat, Belt, Travel Towel, WHICH Shirts/Pants/Shorts will be best, Books, Magazines, Food stuffs (actually I always carry some food!), pens, paper, address book, earphones...


Tuesday, July 5, 2011


One of the reasons we are taking this trip is to visit the town where Janine's grandmother was born - a little town just south of the Hungarian border called Feketic. In Hungarian it's Feketehegy or basically Blackberg. Don't know what we will find there but are currently doing family tree research at library. Librarian directed us to this quaint little research device called the Internet. So much for their help. Now we wade through the deluge of name variations throughout Europe's migratory history.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Trying new app

The iPhone is awesome. For those of you who don't know I've written a few apps - just look up newtrickspublishing in AppStore or try my free one: Bazillionaire!

Currently using BlogWriter lite to post an entry - free version may do in a pinch.

Problem with most apps these days is so many of them have decent ratings but then every third review says how crummy it is - especially crashes. Spent an hour trying to find a decent Spanish dictionary. Ended up buying a 1.99 model because the 24.99 model looked questionable. I heard the other day that you might be able to get money back from apple for certain apps.

IMHO anything over 4.99 should have a money back guarantee - assuming you are not a reverse engineer downloading everything just for ideas. My first day with Bazillionaire on the AppStore I had 9 downloads from China. Feel it must be a lab just looking for the next big thing.

Enough for now. Big kudos to my friend David Hover - IronMan Austria in under 12 hours - #2 in the swim!!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hooray for Smashmouth!

Yesterday's entry described me putting the old book in new (e)print. But today they actually arrived - they may have arrived last night but I was too exhausted after hitting submit to go see if it had magically shown up anywhere. This morning I was able to download via Kindle and my wife's iPad.

Surprisingly easy process to reformat the book. I had art work already (thanks Mom!) but supposedly they have artists who'll do your cover for $50. What a deal.

Check it out here:
You can even read the first 30 pages here:

Friday, July 1, 2011

The new phone books are here!!!

Ten years ago I published a book: The Journey is the Reward: My Year Teaching and Traveling in Hungary. It was a labor of love and a great way to remember one of the most amazing years of my 20's. This year, I will return to Hungary and I will also e-publish the book. So as a shameless marketing scam, I plan to start blogging a bit about - well what do people blog about - stuff.

I'll try to stick to the upcoming trip. To travel. To writing. And of course, to teaching.