The Lack of Words (Budapest 1992)

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New Year 1992/1993 I spent with a handful of friends in Budapest. It is maybe a little odd to spend this time of the year at an even colder place, but that’s how we were. Below a night view of a main land mark, the Matthias Church.

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How do I know it was 1992? One of us, the young lady below, was carrying a book and spending every free minute with it.

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The book was Robert Schneider’s sleep depriving novel Schlafes Bruder, which had just come out. 

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Democracy in Hungary had just been 3 years old, and capitalism showed its claws. You could get amazing Hungarian desserts for a fraction of what it was worth. Our last meal in town was at the Gundel restaurant. One of the dishes was an unforgettable goose liver together with an aged white Hungarian wine. I rarely eat meat these days, but this dinner I would repeat any time.

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Another interesting aspects of this visit was the language. Few people spoke any language we spoke. My best shot was to read the leftover signs in Russian, with my puny knowledge of that language.

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The picture above I took to be able to look up the name of the place. I was making assumptions here. Nyalóka means lollipop, even in winter.

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One of my interests back then was East Asian art, and Budapest has a famous collection that I wanted to see. To get there, I used a partial map with a few street names and and a cross for the museum in Gorky utca, Gorky street.  After a while, the map stopped making sense. I erred around for a while, until somebody took pity. I showed him the map and shrugged the shoulders. He started talking, but seeing my incomprehension, just shook his head and said Gorky utca, kaput.

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Evidently, Gorky street had been renamed. Fortunately, this information was enough. I ignored street names and just relied on the street pattern to find the museum.

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New year’s eve was a different affair, too. Street venders sold cheap noise makers in the (relatively) warm underground stations, and all hell broke loose. I liked this better than spending a fortune on firework.Unknown457

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The Roofless Church (New Harmony III)

Most churches I know make a clear claim about what they stand for. As one might expect, the Roofless Church of New Harmony, designed by architect Philip Johnson, is a bit different:

Trees, a brick wall, and behind all that, a hump. That is what it looks like from the outside.

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The distinction between outside and inside is already misleading. There is a proper wall on one side, a gate on the other, a door hidden by smaller piece of wall behind on the third side,

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and a large balcony on the fourth, with a view onto a lake. This gives the enclosure of the church the semipermeability of a skin, both offering protection and letting breathe.

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The interior is simple: A fountain, a few sculptures, no amenities like benches, chairs, or altar. The ambiguities continue with what I called the hump: It is a second enclosure, a large dome made out of cedar shingles, resembling both a bell and a flower that seems to hover over the earth.

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The appearance and the material are organic, but its function is to enclose sound. Lacking human visitors, birds have taken to it, exploring the echo of their voices. 

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I liked this place a lot. There is no force that locks you in or out. Wall and bell coexist in a paradoxical, perfect balance. It is your choice to feel inside or outside, to speak or to be silent.

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The Other Labyrinth (New Harmony II)

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New Harmony has an interesting history. If was founded by a religious group, the Harmonists, in 1814, and sold in its entirety to Robert Owen and William Maclure in 1825, who created an experimental community, offering a public school and library. While this community project failed, many people stayed on, and new and old traces of the traditions are still visible in this town.

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The Harmonists were fond of labyrinths for spiritual enrichment. The original version is gone, but there is a replica from 1939 that one can walk.

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There also is a marble floor plan of a more complex labyrinth. In its reflection, a third labyrinth becomes visible: The Athenaeum, designed by the architect Richard Meier. It is a labyrinth both in its interior and exterior.

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The term labyrinth is sometimes used specifically for the unicursal mazes used for meditation. The mythical purpose of the labyrinth was, however, to contain the Minotaur, and I don’t think a unicursal labyrinth would have helped.

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In the third volume of Julia Golding’s remarkable Companion Quartet, the author adds a twist to the labyrinth metaphor: Connie, the hero, has special abilities, she can bond with mythical animals. When evil forces (required ingredient in most children’s books) threaten to invade the maze of her mind, she makes a Minotaur to its sentinel. 

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In the fourth book, she faces the ultimate evil against which she cannot win, by definition. Her solution is mind bending: She lets it inside her labyrinth and makes it part of herself, becoming a new person.

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On top of  Richard Meier’s amazing building is a narrow bridge like passage, connecting the stairs that lead to the outside labyrinth with the winding stairs that lead inside.

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The Fence Had a Hole (New Harmony I)

The soul pattern of a bridge is a straightforward one, we use it to cross from one state into another. I have mentioned related patterns before, that of multiple crossings and that of the arch. Today we talk about the pattern of the closed bridge.

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This is the Harmony Way Bridge over the Wabash River in the town New Harmony (about which we’ll learn more next time). The bridge opened in 1930 and was used as a toll bridge, and was designated as structurally deficient, and has been closed since 2012.

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It has been clearly adorned with warnings, as you can see. But somebody cut a hole into the fence, and those who know me can guess what happened.

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Which brings us to the point of this pattern: A closed bridge can be used for crossing, but there is a price to pay. You don’t cross such a bridge casually, you hesitate.

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Angelopoulos’ mindshattering film The Suspended Step of the Stork distills this moment of hesitation. What happens in us when we consider to leave, to cross over? 

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Standing there, looking back, and looking forward can last an eternity. Don’t do this often.

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Revisiting Benton’s House (Utah 2019 V)

I have already written about Benton’s House for special needs cats four years ago. This year, we’ve revisited them.

While the world hasn’t changed for the better since, it was reassuring to see that the people at the Best Friends Animal Society still show the same dedication and compassion as four years ago.

This time they let us help with cleanup, cat walking, and general socializing.

If not for Benton’s house, they’d be euthanized by now.

In other cultures, these would have been goddesses.

Upper Namring 2019

There is a lot to say about a good cup of tea (and a good book). It’s time for my yearly post about the new First Flush Darjeeling teas.

My main source this year is again the Tea Emporium. I like that they are located directly in Darjeeling, use a traditional packaging, and have been consistent in quality over many years.

My favorites this year are the earliest invoices, in particular the invoice 3 from Upper Namring above.

Above are the leaves from 2018 and 2019 in comparison. I can’t see much of a difference, but the taste and smell this year is much more intense-floral.

Just before you steep the tea, rinse the leaves with near boiling water for a few seconds and smell them. There is nothing like this.

The Flow of Time (Utah 2009 IV)

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What if we had the opportunity to thaw, say 100 years after our death, and, for possibly only a limited time, contemplate and re-valuate our life and its historical context? Would we seek revenge or make amends?

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The flow of time is a tricky thing. Can we stop or even reverse it?

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This already is an intriguing topic, but Evgenij Vodolazkin in his novel The Aviator aims deeper: How does life gain meaning? Does it come from isolated actions of singular importance, or from repeating seemingly insignificant chores?

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Sometimes the timelines of several people can fuse in order to tell a story. 

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Warmly recommended.

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