Tag Archives: 20th century

Goulash and Fruit Salad

My wife Mara and I spent a wonderful week in Budapest, Hungary at the beginning of the month.  After suffering delays here and at JFK (as an aside you’d think terminal number whatever would have something higher caliber to eat in than a Burger King,) we arrived to a city singularly suited for visitors. That is if you like history, food, walking, convenient trains and buses, architecture, music and literature.  For bonus points you can throw in public mineral baths too.

Very sunburned men playing chess in water.

104 degree sulphur pool.

Beyond just wandering around we took some self guided walking tours and 2 quasi-organized group tours with an organization called Free Budapest Walking Tours.

Chain Bridge

Walking over to Buda.

The company ostensibly makes its money on tips.  I refer to them as quasi-organized because while the tour is scheduled and well-prepared – who comes and how many people there are isn’t.  The information simply says to meet at the Lion Fountain at Vörösmarty square at 9:30 or 3:30. (For future reference you should note that the public fountains in Budapest with cherubs, people, animals or gods spitting water are suitable for drinking from; it’s all potable and refreshing.) One of the tours we took was the Free Communist Walking Tour.  It was about two and a half hours, and was more about the whats, rather than the wheres; the specific sites were less important than learning about what happened.  The tour touched on the

Soviet Liberation Memorial

Soviet Liberation Memorial

Soviet “liberation” of Hungary in 1945, Hungary as a Warsaw Pact nation, the 1956 uprising, daily life, and the collapse of the Communist regime(s) in 1989-1990.

Our guide, Gabor, was 39 year old university educated political economist who labeled himself a “Cold War Kid.”  He gave a good overview of  the history and personalities,  as well as an honest assessment of how he grew up; what being a “communist” meant as a child, and how the collapse of the iron curtain affected him and the country.  There were only a few of us in a group of 25 who actually grew up and remembered the period.  We were fascinated to find out that his Saturday mornings were almost like ours – watching Tom & Jerry, the Flintstones, some English cartoons and Czech animations.  He never felt any sense of deprivation or that he was missing something since his standards of comparison were not the same as ours.  There were some specific socio-economic barometers he mentioned though, that were indicative of the differences between east and west at the time.

Three “events” stood out for him.  The first was the arrival of bananas, which only came 3-4 times a year and activated the universal neighborhood grapevine system (like how we all knew the ice cream truck was around.)  Somehow the word got out, and mothers across the neighborhood would send their children out to stand in line for them.  The second happening was the arrival of fresh citrus, like the bananas an occasion necessitating the use of the local grapevine and juvenile line sitters. The last indicator of ideological feast/famine were the several parades held each year.  May Day, Liberation Day and Independence Day were all celebrated with parades and mass gatherings – kind of like Red Square without the ICBMs and Brezhnev.  Why were they significant?  Balloons.  The only time Gabor and his friends remember being able to get balloons were at these parades. Of all the things we might take for granted.

– Richard

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Wendy Chronicles

It’s been a little over four years since Wendy Wasserstein died, and I still miss her.  Not, obviously, in the way her relatives and friends do; that’s presumptive in the extreme.  It’s Wasserstein’s literary absence that smarts, the loss of a wise and witty author gone too soon.

Best-known for her multiple-prizewinning play, The Heidi Chronicles, Wasserstein’s body of work also includes humorous essays and one smashing novel, the kind of fictional debut that hurts to read because it’s so good, and there will never be another.  As if to atone, Wasserstein did leave behind various recordings that, when read alongside her literary work, flesh out our posthumous portrait of the quirky, determined author.

Whip-smart, and packed to the gills with artistic and cultural references with which you might not be familiar — I made more than a few trips to the library the first time I read Heidi Chronicles — Wasserstein’s writings constitute encyclopedic coverage of women’s history within a particular context. Her entry in the Jewish Women’s Archive succinctly explains her singular position in contemporary American literature:

Wasserstein made a special place for herself in the American theater by being one of the first women to stage women’s issues with the astute and comic eye of a social critic. As her characters, accomplished women who are trying to find fulfillment in their personal and professional lives, discover that it is impossible to “have it all,” they gain a better understanding of who they are. Although she resisted being labeled a “feminist” playwright, arguing that men are not subject to such labels, she was seriously troubled by the unjust inequities based on gender that she saw in American society. Therefore, her plays continued to focus on women struggling to define themselves in a “postfeminist” America that still suffered from the backlash of sexism, homophobia and traditional values but also from the problem of liberal entitlement. Her writing not only reflected her passionate interest in women but also revealed the fact that she was Jewish and a New Yorker.

On the surface Wendy Wasserstein and I have next to nothing in common, but when she speaks of what unites all women — our desire to succeed on our own terms, and to make peace with women whose terms are not ours — I feel a sense of kinship that transcends the boundaries of age, religion, class and privilege.  Reading Wasserstein has taught me to keep my heart as open as my mind, and to laugh at the obstacles in my path, even as I work diligently to strike them down.

This is, of course, one of the reasons we read:  to learn from those who sing with different voices.  Their compositions are meant to encourage us, not to copy theirs, but to inspire our own.

–Leigh Anne
uncommon woman in training

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Shelf Examination: Historic Fiction

Ready to do the time-warp again?  Part three of this ongoing series whisks you around the world, by way of the wayback machine.

The Book: The Religion, Tim Willocks.

The Setting:  Malta, 1565

Check this out if you like:  Rogues, ruffians, and adventurers; extensive descriptions of bloody battles, religious or political intrigue, occasional touches of earthy eroticism, or subplots fueled by secrets and scandal.

book jacket

 The Book: The Sister, Paola Kauffman.

The Setting:  19th-century America.

Check this out if you like:  Domestic fiction, sisterly love, Emily Dickinson’s poetry, tales of quiet sacrifice, family secrets, courtroom drama, a restrained tone, or a heavy reliance on historical documents for background information.

 book jacket

The Book:  Saturnalia, Lindsey Davis.

The Setting:  Rome, 76 A.D.

Check this out if you like:  Hard-boiled mysteries, women on the lam, dry wit, races against time, competition between arch-rivals, or descriptions of ancient festivals and customs.

book jacket

The Book: China Star, Bartle Bull.

The Setting:  Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the 1920s.

Check this out if you like:  Transcontinental chases, scandalous love affairs, spies seeking revenge, reckless aristocrats with crisp manners, exotic locales, culture clashes, or detailed descriptions of lavish clothing and parties.

book jacket

 Can’t get enough of bygone eras?  See our extensive array of additional booklists.

And with that, this entry is history! As ever, happy reading.

–Leigh Anne


Filed under Uncategorized