Monday, November 14, 2016

Hungary, Tired, and Happy

That is not a typo in the title. No homily for the 33rd and penultimate Sunday of the Church year.  Returned yesterday afternoon from a three-day weekend in Budapest where I was a jury member for a two-day student exercise mimicking European Parliament negotiations.  The students were assigned to various political groups and ideologies that ranged from a dozen members to one young man who was the only independent.  On Friday they were given a budget problem to solve whereas Saturday's task was to negotiate four bills that required considerable political maneuvering. It was a fascinating though ultimately exhausting couple of days.  

In my remarks as a juror I focused on the personal, interpersonal and group dynamics, a very different take from the professional politicians and diplomats who organized the annual exercise and summarized the result as a political fail as they were unable to negotiate passage of the bills.  It was fascinating to observe a group of 19 to 25 year-olds begin the exercise in a slightly tentative fashion only to watch some of them emerge as leaders, provocateurs, negotiators, passionately advancing or defending their positions, or fade quietly in the background hoping that they could pass unnoticed.  As I know next to nothing about European or any other form of politics it seemed wise not to comment on that area.  Behavior and personal dynamics, however, are meat and potatoes for a psychiatrist.

Among the most impressive  accomplishments was that the entire meeting was in English.  I was the only native English-speaker in the room (and the oldest participant by 20 years or more. . . THAT was sobering).  Some of the students spoke almost colloquial English whereas others spoke with a certain awkwardness of syntax or pronunciation.  Because they were Hungarian (mostly), Slovenian, Russian, Belgian, from the "Stans", Italian, Indian, and a few other nations, there was no other language option. 

Following the Friday afternoon session two of the Hungarian students took me from the hotel to St. Ignatius College, the 60-student Jesuit residential college in the heart of Budapest (the Pest side) in what is called the University District.  A group of students wanted to hear about the combined vocations of medicine, psychiatry and Jesuit priesthood.  The students asked almost two hours worth of questions that were among the most difficult and well-thought out I've been asked in quite a while.  Afterwards five of them took me to dinner. 

We walked through the district to a nearby restaurant.  The district was alive with activity, lights, and the general TGIF mood of students.  The name of the restaurant was Zappa Caffe.  I looked at the name and wondered what Zappa meant in Hungarian, particularly as the name Frank came immediately to mind.  And then we went in.  Zappa means Frank in Hungarian.  There were murals of Frank Zappa scattered on the walls.  The menu explained, in several languages, that before becoming a restaurant the building had been a concert venue where Frank Zappa gave a concert.  Imagine being surrounded by murals of Frank Zappa at various stages of life while downing a beer and dinner.  The only thing better would have been his and Janis Joplin's music playing during dinner. 

The travel to Budapest was long.  Wayyyyyy long.  We arrived in the city from Maribor at the end of the expected four hours.  We hit Buda at 5 PM and had to cross the river into Pest.  At rush hour. Budapest is a city of 2 million plus.  When I mentioned that part of the trip one of the jury laughed.  However, I would probably respond to a stranger who seemed perplexed after arriving in the middle of Boston rush hour.  Alas, once in the city and looking for the hotel we experienced a massive GPS disaster. 

The hotel was located on an extremely long street.  While the name remains the same the designation changes from Street to Avenue or something to that effect.  The abbreviations for avenue and street are similar.  On our first attempt we found ourselves in the tourist heart of Pest.  A few random strangers gave the students some advice, the GPS was reprogrammed, and we tried again.  Eventually, after a few missed turns etc. we were informed by GPS that we were 200 meters from the address.  Alas, after walking approximately a kilometer in one direction towing our luggage we were told by some kind Hungarians that we weren't close.  Indeed, we were five or six kilometers away in the opposite direction.  Back to the car.  Dragging the suitcases.  Finally we arrived at the hotel and checked in at 7:30 PM.  There was a problem.  I'd been expected at a Jesuit College fundraising dinner by 6.  That didn't happen.  The dinner did.  I didn't.

Because of the conference schedule and the persistent rain  I saw little of the city in more leisurely fashion.  On the way to the college on Friday the two Hungarian students suggested we get off the subway one stop early and walk through the area.  We got to the exit stairs to be greeted by resumed rain.  One of them used a mild English epithet so properly and with such perfect intonation that I congratulated him.   

As this was a working weekend it is obvious I have to return to Budapest, ideally in the spring, with the camera, a tripod for nighttime photography as the city is spectacularly lit at night, comfortable shoes, and a good map.  Wandering through the University District at night alone could fill several hours of non-stop shooting alone. 

And yes the food and beer were very good. 
The Archbishop of Ljubljana, third from the right with his secretary to his right,  had lunch with the community.  About half of the community was present for midday prayer with the rest arriving by lunch.

The community is attached to a large retreat house.  The cook is very good.  She pays attention to presentation at all times.  This was the appetizer.

Ljubljanski Grad (castle) courtyard on a rainy day.

The view toward the north from the parapet.

The view to the west (I think).

Canon within the castle.

Ivy at the castle.  The overall effect of the autumnal color change was a bit more pastel than the screaming reds in Vermont.  
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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