Sunday, May 30, 2010

Canadian Exports

Three weeks in central Europe and we’ve heard lots of Canadian music on the radio- Feist, Avril Lavigne, Celine Dion, Sarah McLachlan, Nelly Furtado- but one popular, omnipresent, grating band has been notably absent. That is, until we got into a cab today and Chad Kroeger’s voice began whining from the car stereo… argh! Nickleback finally found us!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ironic Spam is Ironic

Considering the mild to overt feminist bent of this blog, it's great that the only comments I get are spam links like this one.
Fancy may kill or cure. ....................................................

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

English? Français? Magyarul?

Linguistically, Hungary posed very few problems. I could read signs, menus, and descriptions of items in museums. Communicating with others was also fairly simple—either I could conduct a conversation on my own, or my sister would cover the more complicated stuff, like figuring out how to retrieve our delayed luggage after we arrived from Frankfurt. About a week ago, however, we left Budapest to spend four days in Vienna, and I am now writing from Prague.

Vienna posed some definite language problems. However, knowing both English and French we were sometimes able to extract a key word or two from many texts. German menus were sometimes more comprehensible than their English translations—for example, a menu that listed Wiener-schnitzel in German offered Anglophones Viennese Shred in its place. A local also told us that Austrian students have to take either English or French as a second language, which may explain why so many of the Austrians we interacted with spoke excellent English. Those who didn’t, however, were willing to play along with our apologetic sign language, with special props going to the pharmacist who sold me the highly effective decongestants. Prague, however, is different. Czech is almost completely unrecognizable, with the exception of contemporary words derived directly from English, such as ‘notebooky,’ meaning a notebook computer. This leaves us much more helpless than in Austria, and people here are a bit less patient when it comes to breaking through the language barrier.

When thrown into situations where you can no longer count on your linguistic skills, it’s interesting to see how far you can get. Airports and train stations are particularly easy, with big, pictorial signs pointing you in the right direction. Shopping, too, can often be done by pointing or with hand signals, or you can wander around the store until you find what you’re looking for. Eating at places with pictures of food is also helpful, allowing you to just point at the item you want. The potency of graphic design also becomes evident—despite the label that reads, “Lentilky,” it’s immediately evident that a certain candy package contains Smarties. Obsessed with the value and weight of the written word, it’s strange to live without it and still get by, for a short while, anyway. Having no common language with someone can either be a hopeful experience, with both people patiently working towards understanding each other, or an alienating experience, with one person either rejecting or exploiting the person with limited language skills. Knowledge of any language is a powerful thing—and we don’t lose much by sharing our expertise.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pick a Book, Any Book

("Books and Wine" bookstore in Budapest)

Budapest is full of amazing bookstores, many the kind with floor to ceiling hardwood bookshelves with rolling ladders attached. While there are many new bookstores including Libri, a Chindigo-type chain store, there are also countless Antiquariums that trade used and antique books. There are bookstores everywhere—I’ve heard that television dubbing in Hungarian is terrible, so maybe more people turn to books for entertainment, but whatever the reason, Hungarians appear to be voracious readers. They are also active writers—the shelves of these stores are crammed full of books written by Hungarians in every genre and style. This presents a problem for me—my Hungarian is decent, but not perfect, and as a result many of the books that line Budapest’s bookstore shelves are not readily accessible to me. Staring at huge shelves full of books that I can almost read, and knowing that I won’t be able to return anytime soon to choose more books as my reading skills improve, gives me an odd feeling of urgency and desperation (furthermore, I can only bring so many books home in my suitcase without exceeding my weight limit). It’s not just that the books look interesting, it’s that these texts offer the chance to gain a better understanding of the history and culture of a country where I am a citizen, but where I have never been a resident.

(Front of the Terror Haza museum)

Nowhere was this feeling more pronounced than at the museum bookstore at the Terror Haza (House of Terror) museum. This museum chronicles the reign of the Nazi Arrow Cross Party, and then the subsequent Soviet occupation of Hungary, in the building that both parties used to interrogate, jail, and execute their victims.

(Mural made of portraits of Hungarians who died under the Nazi Arrow Cross and then Soviet regimes)

In 1956 the Hungarian people unsuccessfully rebelled against the Soviets, with many of the revolutionaries meeting their end on gallows in the basement of this building.

(Reads "Those who died for you")

The revolution is of particular interest to me, since my father and his family escaped communist Hungary after the disorder of the failed revolution left the border to Austria open. The museum bookstore at the Terror Haza has so many books about the revolution that choosing was a difficult task, but I walked away from the store with a novella, a history book that follows the events of the revolution hour by hour, and an anthology of poetry entitled Piros a Ver a Pesti Utcan, or, The Blood Runs Red in the Streets of Pest. This sizable anthology contains nothing but poems written in 1956 about the revolution in Budapest. Though I haven’t yet had a chance to read through the whole book, the poems I’ve skimmed have all been great. Hungarian poetry has a clean, concrete, an onomatopoeic quality that sharply conveys the desperation and passion that started the revolution, and the tragedy of the revolution’s failure, which only led to further death, devastation, and oppression. I’m sorry that I can’t bring home cases and cases of books, but since I can only have a few, I’m glad to have this book. More than any other, this book captures a moment when an entire city came together for the sake of one common goal. More than any other book I could have picked, Piros a Ver a Pesti Utcan offers a condensed slice of what it has historically meant to be Hungarian.

(Reads "We live quietly")

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Airport Poetry

I've learned not to bring poetry books along with me when I travel. Not only do I burn through them in the first hour of the flight, but I also find that planes and airports don't lend themselves to a slow, deliberate, and contemplative consideration of poetry. This doesn't mean, however, that there isn't something poetic or literary about the experience of travelling. There's the peaceful experience of turning back to see the rows of people of all ethnicities and ages dozing under the flickering lights of their televisions in the middle of the night on a transatlantic flight. However, catching a moment like this means that you aren't sleeping. On the way to Budapest, we went about 35 hours without sleeping. The whole thing takes on a Kafka-esque, theater of the absurd feeling. The moving sidewalks turn over on themselves endlessly, carrying no one, you stand in lines 3 people long for an hour and a half, and you run from gate to gate, repeatedly promised spots on planes that all leave without you. Once you find an airline employee capable of getting you to the correct country, the experience is much less alienating. Reading is suddenly brought into sharp focus - correctly reading and understanding a sign becomes a thrilling experience. It's also surreal to me, on my first visit the country where my father was born, to find that all the stuff that we do that seems unique to Hungarians in Canada is the norm here. You can buy pogàcsa in every grocery store, and everyone speaks Hungarian (not surprising, I know, but strange to finally experience). My favourite poety thing so far, though, has to be the Hungarian Scrabble game in the coffee shop where we had breakfast this morning.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Goodbye Time Card!

Carpal tunnel and all I'll keep this short but... after exactly one year at my job, there'll be no more time card for me! Between now and school in September, I'll only have to travel and write. Of course, sometimes art is a punch clock. But not my art, anyway. :)