Monday, March 21, 2016

Table Ideas of March

One of my daughters recently hosted friends for dinner. Her table centerpiece warrants publishing.

The foundation of the largest arrangement are three white hyacinth blossoms, augmented with golden solidago and hypericum berries. 
In the smaller white porcelain containers are mini lime-green plants that I believe to be baby tears (Soleirolia soleiroli).

Several elements give this arrangement appeal.  First, the color scheme of the greige-and-white striped runner on the table is a nice backdrop, in the room painted Benjamin Moore's Museum Piece gray. Second, the yellow-green foliage echoes the color of the ferns on the sideboard. Finally, the white bisque square vases combined with the round bisque tea light holders add interest.
All that noted, I am sure you can figure out what I think is the best part of this display!
p.s.  My other daughter has the same aesthetic, and she decorated her mantel in an eerily similar manner. As the saying goes, great minds think alike. (She used air plants in the smaller containers.)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Budapest, Hungry: Past is Present

We began our city tour of Budapest in the daylight by hiking up the steep hill behind our hotel to see where the patrician, silk-stocking bourgeoisie lived both in the past and today.
At the pinnacle of Buda Hill is the Hapsburg Palace which reminded me of a marble Disneyland castle.
However, its location and solid construction were not chosen for their entertainment value. Rather, the fortress was designed to protect the Buda village from Mongols.
It is easy to see why the castle and fortifications were built on this side of the Danube. The Buda Hills  provide an excellent defensive position for Central Europe’s main waterway.
Defense has been necessary to the population for almost as long as the nation has existed.

Celts from the north and the Magyars from the east founded Hungary in 1000 with King Stephen as their first king. At the time, Buda and Pest were only tiny villages.

In 1241, the Mongols invaded and destroying Pest and Buda. They burnt the crops and decimated the Hungarian population. Half of the population, about 1 million people, were killed or deported as slaves.  Famine and hunger followed. The leader of the Mongols died suddenly, and the invaders returned to Asia.

The departure of the Mongols allowed the next king, Bella, to rebuild the country. Understandably, he built a fortress on Buda Hills to defend against future attacks. The second Mongolian strike was stopped at Pest by the royal army thanks to these castles. Afterward, to bolster his numbers, the king invited settlers from Western Europe to immigrate as reinforcements.
When the Turks captured Buda, Matthias Church became a mosque.
The tables turned once again in the 15th century when the Turks invaded the country and defeated the Hungarian army.

It took 150 years before the Hungarians could reunite under the leadership of the Holy Roman Emperor, liberating Buda and Pest. However, the Turks did not leave without a protracted fight. In the siege the two towns were completely destroyed. The Royal Palace on Castle Hill was in ruins. Only a few thousand people survived the fights inside the walls of Buda. 

After the liberation, churches that had been converted into mosques were transformed back into their original functions.

Sadly, the defeat of the Turks did not bring freedom to Hungary. The country became a province of the Habsburg Empire. The Habsburg regime started large-scale reconstruction works in Buda and Pest. Baroque dwelling houses and churches replaced the Ottoman era buildings.

Eventually in the mid 1800s, the Hungarians partially gained their independence from Hapsburg rule and became the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy with Hungarian as the official language.

During World War I, Hungary allied with Germany and Austria. Near the end of the war, in 1918, the  country became the Republic of Hungary. However, in the peace settlement--the Treaty of Trianon--the country was split up and reduced from more than 20 million citizens to a country of less than 8 million.

World War II brought more hardship to the Hungarians. At first, they fought alongside the Germans against the Soviets. But the brutality of the Germans became increasingly obvious.

This sad chapter in Hungary's history is chronicled in the museum in the Jewish Quarter. The Great Synagogue located on the Pest side of the city shares space with the Holocaust museum.

Jewish martyrs are memorialized in The Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park located in the synagogue's side yard.
An enormous metal weeping willow, The Emanuel Tree, is the centerpiece of the park.

Inscribed on each leaf are the names of Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust.

Located just behind The Emanuel Tree is of the newest memorials in the park, a stained-glass wall depicting the flames of the Holocaust. 


The glass was installed to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved many of the city's Jews from extermination camps by issuing them protective Swedish passports.

As World War II continued, the Hungarian government tried to change sides from the Axis to the Allied countries. Unfortunately, the betrayal was discovered, and the Germans overran the country killing or deporting hundreds of thousands of Hungarians to German concentration camps.

After the defeat of the Germans, the Soviets took over Hungary occupying the country for 44 years.
In 1956, the people tried to overthrow this domination, but the attempt was unsuccessful and many were punished unmercifully.  

Soviet control lasted until 1989, when Hungary finally became an independent democracy. In 1999, Hungary joined NATO, and in 2004, became a member of the European Union.

From this cursory review of Hungarian history, tourist can see how the two sides of the capital reflect the country's history.
Buda still features the Gothic Palace and homes of the upper class,

while the Pest side of the city is dedicated to commerce. This quarter features fancy hotels,

the Hungarian State Opera House,

Image result for opera house in budapest

and St. Stephen's Cathedral named after Hungary's first king.

From touring Budapest it is obvious that joining the European Union has rehabilitated this country erasing pox marks left from the Soviet era.

Hungary should be proud of its resurgence. The magnificent parliament building,

the chain bridge,
and the Hapsburg Palace are certainly sights from the past worth seeing today.
Hilton-Budapest Castle


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Floating Down the Danube While Others Walked

My husband and I landed in Budapest, Hungary at the beginning of September to take a Viking River Cruise up the romantic Danube.
Hungarian Parliament in Budapest
That same weekend thousands of emigrants also arrived in Budapest en route to Germany and Sweden. However, they were detained at the city's train station by Hungarian police who were refusing to let them board.
Scene at the Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary. Photo: Reuters 
Undeterred, the displaced multitudes set out for central and northern Europe on foot.
 The distance from Budapest to Germany is about 300 miles! photo:
Just like the Syrian and North African emigrants, we began in Budapest then traveled west. Our boat stopped in Vienna, Austria; Melk, Passau, and Regensburg, Germany. We eventually disembarked in Nuremberg. At the end of the trip, we spent a couple of days in Prague, Czech Republic.
Our journey, however, was starkly different than the trip being endured by emigrants. We watched the Danube's scenic banks float by from comfortable deck chairs, while they trudged for miles.
As you can imagine, those on foot were never far from our minds. We increasingly felt the tug-of-war between compassion on those emigrating from danger and the citizens' fear of those immigrating to European physical and economic safety.

The debate was being carried out beneath our noses. Security police blocked our entrance to the Buda Palace,
because European Union leaders were in Budapest to reach consensus between the open invitation to refugees offered by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofeven and the closed-door, nationalistic policy of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. 

In spite of our empathy toward those fleeing danger, as we toured the historic sights in Budapest, we could at least understand the nationalism of Hungarian leaders.

Over the centuries, Hungary has been tossed between eastern Turkish empires and western Hapsburg monarchs.  After being defeated with Germany in World War I, they lost most of their land and population. During World War II, they switched loyalties and fought against Germany. However, in the peace agreement that followed, they were annexed by the Soviet empire. Only in 1989, did they free themselves of Soviet domination. For less than 30 years, they have been trying to regain stability as a free Republic.

As you tour Hungary, reminders of their conflicted history are everywhere. In fact, the whole region shares a repeated theme: citizens versus invaders.

As evidence, the landscape we passed is dotted with fortified castles, refurbished cathedrals, and innumerable war memorials.

Is it any wonder that Hungarians feel a strong nationalism and self-protectionism? 

Their pride in their beautiful capital, Budapest, is certainly justified. At night it is spectacular!

Budapest is a twin city like Dallas/Fort Worth or Minneapolis/St. Paul. Buda (the wealthy upperclass part of the city on the hilly west bank of the Danube) was connected with the more plebeian Pest district (on the flatter eastern river bank) in 1873, when engineers were able to construct a suspension bridge. Even today, the Chain Bridge is a marvel.
No wonder Budapest is dubbed "Queen of the Danube". At night, the illuminated Parliament building   is dazzling.

 Strings of lights twinkle from the now seven bridges spanning the Danube River.
In the post to follow, Budapest's landmarks will illustrate their historic struggles against outsiders. In turn, perhaps we can begin to comprehend the emigrant vs. immigrant divide. The past certainly helps us to understand the present.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ralph S. Mouse Rides Again

How many of you remember the adorable little imaginative character brought alive by Beverly Cleary, Ralph S. Mouse? This adventurous little fellow rode into our hearts on his red motorcycle.
Ralph was the celebrity at our third grandson's fourth birthday.
Here he is in his mouse costume, i.e. tail and ears! Surprisingly, his siblings and cousins even agreed to wear their mouse ears and tails! 

 Surprisingly, his siblings and cousins even agreed to wear their mouse ears and tails! 

A mouse on a birthday pastry? You know the little boy is obsessed.
Here is imaginative Nate designing a mouse under a volcano.  Where do kids come up with these ideas?

You can see where birthday boy gets his creativity. Here are strawberry mice his mama made for the party.

As quirky as Nate's fascination with mice may seem, you have to admit the hot-roding rodent is endearing.

However, this furry stuffed toy is as close as Nate got to getting a mouse for his birthday!