Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Last day in Budapest

The languages on this European trip are more difficult than the last. Speaking a bit of French, I could muddle my way through Romance countries last year -- France, Spain, Switzerland and Italy. This time, I have to deal with German, which I have no background in (though it's at least related to English); Czech, a Slavic language related to Polish (try to pronounce ctrnáct dnyí!); and Hungarian, which is distantly related to Finnish and, according to my phrasebook, is reputedly one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. Apparently, English has more in common with Sinhala (from Sri Lanka) than with Hungarian.

Europeans can be very polite people, and the Hungarian language is apparently very courtly. So, it was with some surprise that, when a waiter on the footpath in Budapest crashed into me with a tray of plates when he wasn't looking, HE said to ME, "Watch out." I was aghast and turned to Mai Li. "'Watch out'?!" We laughed at how rude it was, but it seemed strange; his manner was deferential. So, I had a look in my Hungarian phrasebook and realised that he actually said "excuse me" -- when spoken softly, the Hungarian word "bocsánat" sounds like "watch out." I had great fun with this at the Budapest train station when an old lady was blocking my way onto the carriage and I said to her, "Watch out!" and she politely moved out of the way.

On our last day in Budapest we planned to visit the House of Terror, a museum housed in situ at 60 Andrassý Street, the former headquarters of the Arrow Cross party (the Hungarian arm of the Nazi party) and the subsequent ÁVH (State Security Office), documenting the torture and murder of Jews and the campaign of terror against the Hungarian citizens by the Stalinist secret police. It looks like a very well done museum, but it is so confronting that, walking inside, we didn't even get past the ticket booth before Mai Li was so upset she wanted to leave. Afterwards, she was a bit annoyed with herself because she was very interested to see it, but it is a place you need to be in a certain mood for.

Instead, we went to Statue Park, a kind of mortuary for Communist statues that were removed from around the city and erected here, out in the unkempt rural suburbs, after the fall of Communism. There is Lenin, Marx, Engels, and Béla Kun, the leader of the communist Republic of Councils who seized power in Hungary in 1919. And there are Stalin's boots. In 1956, a popular uprising toppled an 8-metre tall statue of Stalin by sawing through it at the knees, and nearly toppled the Communist government until the Soviets intervened, invaded the country, arrested 20,000 and executed two thousand for their roles, however minor, in the revolt.

No comments: