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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Justicia Regnum Fundamentum

Two weeks ago I spent a day and a night in Vienna. In this connection I would like to recommend the wonderful blog Merisi's Vienna for Beginners.

I offered my colleagues a very standard and unimaginative walk along Graben, across Hofburg, the beautiful Palmenhaus and Museum Quartier. However, next time I would really like to go off the beaten track but never mind.

While walking through Hofburg I came upon an inscription over one of the gates - Justicia Regnum Fundamentum - Law is the Fundament of the Empire. I can't agree more with the emperor who ordered it (does anybody know anything about it as I couldn't find anything on Internet?). Years ago, sometimes I imagined that I am the Bulgarian prime minister and I was thinking of my priorities. Not that I ever had political ambitions, it was simply an exercise of prioritizing.

Hofburg, Vienna

If I have to do it again, fixing the judicial system would be my absolute priority and I would spare no resources to do so. Maybe this is difficult to understand by people living in countries with well-functioning judicial systems.

Isn't the trust in the rule of law the invisible network that holds everything together?

Paradoxically, I am not the most law-abiding person that I've met. I usually have a critical approach to rules and I do not follow them blindly. I somehow like adapting the rules a bit. I guess I would be paying fines through my nose if I were living in Switzerland for example. However, I feel that you need reliable, fair and enforceable rules for a stable and just society.

And how can we break the law if there is no law? How can we try to improve the law if it is not enforced?

I have to say, though, that I am in favour of a set of laws that are not stifling and which do not kill creativity and the joy of life for the individuals and enterpreneurship and innovation for the companies.

Fortunately, there is no law forbidding the creation of
strange whispering eyeless figures and their sale

Sunday, April 26, 2009

No Limits to Technology

Yesterday I was listening to Radio France Internationale (RFI) in my car, a programme on the benefits of technology for sharing information between plastic surgeons located in different countries, even continents. The several guests in the studio - French surgeons themselves - were telling how nice it is to make a consultation with their colleagues overseas in real time.

Then, it was time for questions from the listeners (obviously sent by e-mail). The first question that the journalist picked was from a man from Abidjan 'I suffer from constipation. Is it possible to make the diagnosis through a video conference?' Then the plastic surgeon exploded into laughter (and so did I) which he tried to conceal heroically. His answer was 'There is no need for new technologies in this case. You'd better go and see a doctor in the nearby hospital'.

There are two explanations for this situation:
- either the man from Abidjan (rhymes well, doesn't it?) was seriously pulling their leg and then the journalist is to blame for picking such a question; or
- the man from Abidjan really suffers from terrible constipation and after having tried all possible local Abidjani treatments he just needed a plastic surgeon from overseas to have a 'look' at the problem.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pass the remote

I watch TV at two kinds of places--parents' home (mine or Ruslan's, all the same) or hospitals. What the two have in common is that there is not much other entertainment available, although parent's home beats the hospital in the quality of food by a large margin.

Until quite recently, Boris was so disinterested in watching TV that I worried (secretly) that I am raising a sociopath. Then he warmed up to Teletubbies and Bob the Builder, so no worries anymore.

Now that he is back in hospital and that I'm staying with him almost all day, we get to watch a lot of TV. This is what we have on the menu:

1. Cartoons on Minimax channel (dubbed in Hungarian)

2. American reality-type shows such as Supernanny and Next (dubbed in Hungarian)

3. Hungarian soaps

The choice depends entirely on the age of the person monopolizing the remote control.

Today Boris looked at me a bit puzzled and asked, "Bob the Builder speaks Hungarian...?" That I can deal with, but yesterday I saved myself a lot of explaining when he got up to pee just at the moment when two guys started smooching all over the screen in a dating show. Hell, I'm not ready for that! I had enough trouble trying to explain a while ago why I can't buy him a bra.

Anyway, just wanted to tell you all that Boris is slowly getting better but it might be a while until he is fully recovered. We will have to stay in the hospital for at least 4-5 more days, maybe longer. I'm trying to catch up with bloggy readings in the evenings when I come back home but I am usually so brain-dead that I can't leave meaningful comments, so do forgive me!

And at least while I am away Ruslan is here to entertain you and I'm sure he will do a great job :)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Devil Is Getting Married

Since I was a child I've liked it very much when the rain is falling and the sun is shining at the same time. I have just learned that it is called a sunshower. In Bulgaria they say that the devil is getting married in these cases or that the bear is getting married. The question is if there are different devils who get married or one devil gets married and then divorced in the meantime to be able to get married again or just there is one polygamous devil who acquires wife after wife. Or maybe the devil marries the bear.

Last weekend the devils and bears got married once again in Buda. These are pictures from our balcony.

Both pictures are taken from our terrace on Tulipan str. 16

A short consultation in Wikipedia reveals that in different cultures different animals get married: monkey (South Africa), jackal (Hindi and Bengali), rats (Arab), tiger (Korea), fox (Kerala and Japan), elves (Filipinos).

Isn't it fascinating that so many cultures liken sunshower to an animal wedding? Does anyone have a theory why this is the case?

Ah, in Poland they say that the witch is making butter. Maybe she is preparing a gift for the devil's wedding...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A furtive contact

Down with a sore throat, I am re-reading Roland Barthes' "A Lover's Discourse." It is structured as a glossary, so you can read entries in no particular order--wherever the book opens, perhaps, or when you come across an intriguing concept.

I like the way he deconstructs the language of love: intelligent, precise, sometimes ironic. He covers everything from jealousy to writing love letters, from waiting to scenes and to the inevitable i-love-yous. It's a good book to be reading if you are suffering from a heartbreak because it helps you look at it in a cool, surgical manner and you need a little bit of reason in the midst of that emotional turmoil. That was the case with me when I discovered Barthes seven years ago.

I would be quoting half the book here if I could because I like what he writes and how he does it. But here is a short paragraph taken from the entry called "Contacts: The figure refers to any interior discourse provoked by a furtive contact with the body (and more precisely the skin) of the desired being":

A squeeze of the hand--enormous documentation--a tiny gesture within the palm, a knee which doesn't move away, an arm extended, as if quite naturally, along the back of a sofa and against which the other's head gradually comes to rest--this is the paradisiac realm of subtle and clandestine signs: a kind of festival not of the senses but of meaning.

I love those secret signs loaded with meaning and promise--there's so much excitement and thrill in them, when you are still exploring an unknown territory and anything can be.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Boys They Love Flowers

Last week we went to the Bulgarian church in Budapest on Vagohid street to get a feeling of the Palm Sunday (Flower Day in Bulgarian) and hang around a bit in the nice sunny garden. I don't go to church regularly but I like doing it around Easter driven by a mixture of a heathen-Christian motivation.

Bulgarian Church in Budapest St. Cyril and Methodius

I can't tell you much about the service but I can publish some pictures of the boys picking flowers. They must sense already that above all God is masked in different forms of beauty.

Boris and Andrej picking flowers in the yard of the Bulgarian church

Paradoxically, exactly these activities caused the onset of Boris' disease which is a proof that the cause and effect relations in life are not that simple. Fortunately, a good, God-abiding deed does not automatically lead to God's grace and vice versa. I say 'fortunately' because otherwise it would be too easy to fake it and we would soon get to a situation of a hyperinflation of benevolence.

If you want to see how Charles Baudelaire looked at that check out La Fausse Monnaie in 'Les Fleurs du Mal'.

For me the key is in the paragraph 'Je vis alors clairement qu'il avait voulu faire à la fois la charité et une bonne affaire; gagner quarante sols et le coeur de Dieu; emporter le paradis économiquement; enfin attraper gratis un brevet d'homme charitable.' For those who don't speak French it says 'I saw clearly that he'd wanted to be at the same time charitable and to make a good business deal; earn 40 cents and God's heart; go to paradise in an economic way; or get a certificate of a charitable man'.

Later today while I was biking I was thinking that this short paragraph written in 1864 describes the attitude of many people in modern society. It even describes the politics of many modern governments. The desire to 'reach paradise too easily' is so strong sometimes.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Boris and I are enjoying the smells and sounds of spring, albeit from home.

He was ordered strict bed rest so we can't go for a stroll or have a picnic in the nearby Millenaris park. But we opened all the windows and the doors to the balcony so we can enjoy the view and fresh air (in theory we could stretch on the chairs on our balcony if the sun was not so strong).

We do go out twice a day, to take Andrej to school and to pick him up, so that helps decrease the cabin fever. It looks a little bit strange that Boris is in the stroller and little Andrej trots patiently next to him--it should be the other way round and I can see people looking at us confused. But, hey, as long as there is a promise of ice-cream, Andrej will conquer two hills and a good half hour worth of walking distance and won't budge. You can see how little bribes go a long way--literally.

Today I am happy that Boris is feeling better. The last two days were difficult because he got a stomach virus on top of the other disease and for the first time he looked really sick--pale and tired because of the vomiting and stomach ache. He is usually so healthy, just a bit of a runny nose and some cough here and there; it's been two years since he had to take antibiotics or even had a fever. Even in the hospital last week he was in the best of moods, all funny and cheeky with the nurses.

Fortunately, he he is back to his old (cheeky) self and I am reminded of a great song about renewal and rebirth--Primavera, by Carlos Santana. I'm attaching a youtube clip which is downright stupid but the song is beautiful.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

How Fragile We Are*

It's such a beautiful spring here in Budapest and I feel as a cup of joy filled to the brink. Body feels lighter having shed layers of winter shields. If different pains raise voices in winter time reminding me of sports exploits, they are silent now reshuffling their armies. Some favourable cocktail of chemical elements is running in my veins.

However, it is not quite like that. Spring does not mean we are not exposed to silent stealth attacks from unknown enemies. Several days ago my phone rings and I hear the voice of my son Boris' kindergarten teacher saying that Boris is not ok - crying and hardly walking. I phone immediately my wife and as she is closer to the place she goes and picks him. Boris cannot walk from pain. I leave immediately and take him to the hospital - the good old Semmelweis Child Clinic.

The doctor comes, looks and very quickly puts a diagnosis bearing the name of two German doctors - a disease called Henoch-Schönlein Purpura. The doctor is young and immediately prints a wikipedia descpription of the disease which we read hectically. It's not innocent but not that bad. It could get pretty bad in some cases but it's controllable.

That's what Boris drew from the hat of surprises, from God's hat of diseases. Actually, it is a good draw and I hope my boy will be fine again soon although he looks like a panther now. However, this reminds me how close we are to the bad news. This also reminded me of this faraway January in 1990 when my cousin (aged 11) complained of an innocent leg pain which we all dismissed as a sign of him being spoiled. However, it was a tumor, he passed away nine months later, this changed the life of my uncle, etc. Being 19 at that time and maybe looking for easy excuses, I promised to myself that I would live twice as intensively to compensate for him.

My point with this post is not that we should fear the draw. On the contrary, we should enjoy every moment when we are healthy (or relatively healthy) because this can be taken from us on an ordinary sunny spring day when we feel happy and fine as there is a draw after all.

* Part of the refrain of 'Fragile' - A song by Sting
On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are

Boris in hospital determined to beat the disease

Friday, April 10, 2009

In bloom

There is a sweet smell of spring in full bloom on our street.

In just over a week everything shot to life and where we had only the nuances of gray and brown before, now we' re seeing yellow and blue, violet, pale pink and green--lots of green.

The other day I was sitting with the kids in our yard, waiting for Ruslan, and I photographed some of the blossoms around me. This is spring on Tulipan utca for you.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Szentendre, l'esprit du sud

Szentendre is a small town about 20km north of Budapest but there is something southern, almost Mediterranean in its atmosphere. It is a charming little place, with cobbled stones and narrow, steep alleys, and many preserved buildings from as late as three centuries ago.

In the 1920s the town became an artist's colony; today, about a hundred artists live and work here. Szentendre probably has the highest number of museums and galleries per capita compared to any other Hungarian town--there are virtually dozens. The same goes for souvenir shops.

The name of the street (Szerb utca, meaning Serbian street) testifies to once very strong Serbian presence in this little town. Szentendre was practically depopulated during the Ottoman occupation of Hungary but then Serbian refugees starting ariving from the south and settling here. They were followed by other Balkan peoples: Bulgarians, Greek, Romanians. Together, they gave Szentendre the Balkan charm that it still has today.

It's not just the souvenirs--Szentendre also has quite a few churches for such a small settlement. At some point in its history, there used to be as many as nine Serbian Orthodox churches but not all of them are preserved. This one, on the hill just above the center, is a Protestant one (I think).

Fancy some red pepper? A shot of palinka? Some goose liver? Szentendre is a mecca for tourists nowadays (it's very easily accessible from Budapest) so lots of shops sell touristy things, like typical local foodstuffs (and did I mention souvenirs?)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

I Love Paris in the Springtime*

Last week I spent four lovely, bitter-sweet days in Paris. Unfortunately I forgot my camera home so it will be difficult to convey the freshness and excitement that were omnipresent in the streets during these first several spring days.

For me this trip was the real return to the place where I spent a year in 1995/96. Ever since I have been to Paris twice but only for several hours and in rather unhappy circumstances. So, I needed this trip just to convince myself that I can be in Paris without something bad really happening. It was also a reconciliation trip with my past self of 13 years ago. I had to thread in my past steps, take the same streets and squares just to prove to myself that there is still a connection between my old and new self, some continuity. I had to do this as well in order to feel the pain of the passing time and to recognize and accept that I have also changed. It was a process of mourning and acceptance.

But....of course it was a lovely trip as well. I deliberately took a hotel in the very centre, Le Quartier Latin, the end of Rue des Ecoles, close to L'Institut du Monde Arabe. I took the RER from the airport and got off at St Michele and my heart was in my throat when I went out and dived in the first real spring evening, in a neighbourhood which is loved not only by me.

I dropped my bags in the hotel and then took a huge walk along St Germain des Pres, the St Michele fountain, this wonderful neighbourhood between there and l'Eglise St Germain where I had some Vietnamese food, then Rue St. Pere, walked along the Seine at dusk, crossed the river, walked past Chatelet and Rue St Martin, entered into Le Marais, had a falafel in Rue Roserie, reached Place des Vosges, crossed the two big boulevards and the market Richard Lenoir into Rue de la Roquette and rue de Lappe, walked to our flat at 49 rue de Charonne and then back through Rue des Faubourg St Antoine, across La Bastille to Hotel de Ville, crossed L'Ile St Louis and was back to my hotel. That's a huge and exciting walk for those who know Paris but the itinerary would not mean much to the others.

The next day I started the day with some work in a cafe in the Place des Contrescarpe, the fragile, tiny square at the upper end of Rue Moufftard. I met my friend Alexandre Schnell who is already a professor in philosophy at La Sorbonne and with whom I am really proud. Alex had a lecture in a post-strike university (Sarkozy is giving it a try to reform the statute of the researchers) and then we spent an hour sunbathing and discussing life in Les Jardins des Luxembourg. Although Alex is an expert in time he would not tell me why it flies so fast. Then we went to cool down in a small Moroccan restaurant where we had mergez couscous. Alex played the bad guy criticizing the quality of beer but when the owner got really pissed I played the good guy saying that the couscous was really tasty which was the case.

Then the afternoon and the whole next day I had meetings but in the evening I travelled to Joigny in Burgundy to spend an evening in Alex's beautiful newly renovated house and to meet his new partner, Aurelie, and his 5-month old baby Anselm. Anselm gave me a happy smile and it was obvious he was already musing over the issue of time in Chinese culture. I am saying this because Aurelie is an anthropologist dealing with China and Alex is the master of time. We had a lovely evening discussing among other things why Chinese rip the skin and then dismember those who have assaulted the king and why these guys take this in ecstasy. We also talked about Chinese language and dialects, life in the countryside and what not.

The next day I travelled directly to Lille in Northern France where I had good meetings before returning to Paris for the evening to meet my old friend Krasi. Krasi is an excellent translator from French to Bulgarian and vice-versa and an interesting and amusing person. Although it is not easy to take the floor in Krasi's presence I didn't mind that arrangement as I was happy to listen to him, life in Paris, his changing attitude to the city, his working experience, the challenge of translating Arab poets into Bulgarian through French and many other things. Well, he talked, I listened. Now, I know how he is doing and he doesn't know how I am doing.

The next morning I had another adventure and I almost missed my plane as the trains didn't work so I and an Uruguayan girl had to be quick enough to get a taxi from Gare du Nord before hundreds of others. I was at the check-in 29 min before take off but managed to make it again.

* First line from Cole Porter's song 'I Love Paris'

Friday, April 3, 2009

A tourist for a day

We have friends over from Bulgaria and I offered to be their guide yesterday, since this was their first ever visit to Budapest. Because they had not been here before I thought it would be good to start their visit with the "biggies"--the Parliament, Szabadsag ter, the Basilica, Vaci utca and, of course, the panoramic route of the tram number 2.

So we took this well-traveled road and enjoyed Budapest in glorious April sun. It doesn't matter that I've seen these sights a thousand times--they still impress me and make me feel happy that I live in this of all cities.

This is the entrance to the Hungarian Parliament. It was built in late 19th century with a Westminster-meets-Gothic cathedral eclectic look--many Hungarian intellectuals at the time ridiculed the building as too gaudy. Being almost a century and a half removed from those times, we can be more forgiving.

The Hungarian flag flies proudly from the Parliament.

Szent Istvan (St. Stephen) basilica--the biggest and most important church in Budapest. The Austrian emperor Franz Joseph gave the speech at the opening ceremony. The legend has it that he was casting worried glances at the dome of the basilica because the previous one--the first attempt to build it--tumbled down in broad daylight. Fortunately for Franz Joseph and us all they employed a better architect after the incident.

A gigantic Easter egg on St. Istvan square, in front of the basilica.

I liked these flowers on Vaci utca.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My coffee paradise

I found it!

I found a place that sells coffee beans and makes wonderful coffee to boot.

It was practically under my nose for years, in an inconspicuous corner of our food market. Ruslan discovered it, by chance--we are such creatures of habits, for years going to one and the same corner of the market, never venturing beyond (mainly because the pancakes place is in that corner, that being our first stop).

One Saturday morning Ruslan was in need of his caffein fix (I forgot to make it for him at home) so, on our way to pancakes, we made a detour through Cafe Semiramis. I loved it at first sight. I even dared try their cappuccino--my first proper, non-decaf coffee in five years. Then I came back for more so my abstinence is now officially over.

Let me take you on a tour...

The cappuccino in question, nice and frothy, with a little bit of cinnamon on top. Resistance is futile.

There are about a dozen baskets full of coffee beans from all corners of the (coffee-producing) globe: Kenya, Antigua, Guatemala, India, Mexico, Ethiopia. You can buy them by grams but only in pre-fixed measures: 125g, 250g, 500g and 1kg. They grind it for you on the spot, if you want.

To the left are coffee beans from Ethiopia and to the right those from Guatemala and Antigua. "Becsi" means Viennese in Hungarian and it signifies that these particular beans are good for the so-called Viennese coffee. Looking at their color they seem like a medium-roast and therefore suitable for Turkish coffee as well--I will try them as soon as we finish the big Jacobs pack I bought in a supermarket.

This is a kind of place where you can easily lose all sense of time...

EDIT: You can find this place on the uppermost floor of the Feny utca market, behind Mamut mall.