The Center of Nowhere – Tallya, Sucholow, & Dilove (Searching For The Center of Europe #4)

Alcoholism is a notorious problem in rural areas of Eastern Europe. With a lot of time on their hands and meager economic opportunities, many villagers take to the bottle. This is especially problematic in Hungary. Villagers are adept at making their own spirits. I witnessed this myself a few years back while going to visit a Hungarian in-law. During our visit, we were offered a libation before the noontime. I watched with interest as the drinks were procured from a sort of personal vat of homemade palinka (plum brandy). I did not take a drink, nor did I need too. The aroma of such a pure alcoholic beverage had its own dizzying effect. I say all this with the small town of Tallya, Hungary in mind. This is the next stop on our Center of Europe tours. Tallya has two things to recommend it. One is open to question, the other one requires opening a bottle.

The Middle of Wine Country – Tallya Hungary

Circling In – A Geometric Problem
Tallya can be found on the fringes of the Zemplen Mountains, one of the most beautiful natural areas in Hungary. Today, Tallya is a town which has seen better days. Most would find it hard to believe that at one time Tallya was the largest town in Zemplen County with almost 4,400 people in the late 18th century. The population has fallen by over half since that time. Tallya still has a few drawing cards. The most important is its location which makes it part of the Tokaj-Hegyalja Wine Region. The wine region is world famous. Cultivating wine around the Tallya area goes back to the Middle Ages when Walloons are believed to have settled in the area and brought their wine expertise with them. The trade was soon bolstered by Italians who came to repopulate the area after the Mongols devastated the region in the 13th century. Later, Tallya’s fame grew. Ferenc Rakoczi II gave a Tallya wine to King Louis XVI of France. This gift is also said to be the genesis for the famous quote, “The wine of kings, king of wines” about the region’s wine. It is not a coincidence that Tallya still garners interest in the wine trade today.

Tallya’s other drawing card came much later. In 1992 a declaration was made that a survey had found that Tallya stood at the geographical midpoint of Europe. The designation likely came as a surprise to its citizens. It is doubtful that they had any idea the town was smack dab in the middle of Europe. The notoriety this brought to Tallya was surely welcome. The town needs all the help it can get in garnering anything that might boost its economic prospects. A monument was placed in the center of town stating that Tallya was the Center of Europe. How the designation was arrived at is cloaked in obscurity. The town has benefitted little from being one of the many possible midpoints. While the claim has not been taken as seriously as several others, no one can say for sure whether Tallya is not Europe’s midpoint. For that matter, no one can say for sure where the midpoint of Europe is located. As the search for the definitive midpoint continues, it is worth visiting the town where all this midpoint madness first began.

The First of Many – Center of Europe Monument in Sucholow

Controversial Start – Staking A Claim
I doubt that Szymon Antoni Sobiekrajski had any idea of the centuries of controversy that would ensue when he began making calculations to find the midpoint of Europe. He did this by first finding the most extreme points in Europe, then calculated the exact midpoint between them. This just so happened to be Sucholow in northeastern Poland. The town was located close to one of the last stretches of primeval forest in Europe. That forest still stands today, as does the marker which was set in Suchowola which denotes it as the first of many claims for the Geographical Midpoint of Europe. Whether or not Suchowloa is at the Center of Europe is open to debate. No other claims have placed the Center of Europe in Poland. One of the most striking aspects of the competing claims is just how many nations have only a single claim. These include Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Lithuania. Belarus has multiple claims, perhaps hoping that will make a difference.

The importance of the claim for Sucholow has less to do with whether it is the true midpoint of Europe and more with the fact that it was the first claim. Sobiekrajski must be given credit for inaugurating a largely unscientific practice that is still going strong two and a half centuries later. The residents of Sucholow must be quite pleased with having such a notable, if trivial, attraction in their town. An added perk for anyone who visits the town is that Sucholow also acts as another midpoint. To its north stands the Augustow Primeval Forest, to its south the Bialowieza Forest, these are rare remnants of the old growth forests which once covered much of northern Europe. It is a rare and beautiful landscape, one that has almost entirely vanished from the rest of Europe. Sucholow is not the only midpoint claimant community to be found close to nature in both its pristine and primeval form.

Old Europe – Augustow Primeval Forest in Eastern Poland (Credit: Puszczyk)

Exceptional Claim – The Center of Nowhere
Ask anyone what river in Eastern Europe has been central to the region’s development and the answer will almost certainly be the Danube. Yet the Danube is only as mighty as the tributaries which flow into it. One of the largest of these is the Tisza River. Its most famous stretch winds its way through eastern Hungary. Less well known is the Upper Tisza which demarcates part of the Ukraine-Romania border. In sub-Carpathian Ukraine, close to the banks of the Tisza, stands another geographical midpoint of Europe monument. This one, a small white Obelisk with sky blue trim, can be found in the village of Dilove.

The monument was placed here after Austro-Hungarian geographers decided Dilove was the midpoint of Europe. Traveling to see the monument is a worthwhile pursuit, if for no other reason than the lovely nature which surrounds it. The Tisza flows wild and unchecked not far from the monument. The scenery here is just as wild as the claim that the Center of Europe resides here. While Austria-Hungary may have collapsed, the monument still stands. Empire’s love to make exceptional claims, but as we are about to see, so do nations.

Click here: The Center(s) of Europe – Into The Hearts of Belarus & Lithuania (Searching For The Center of Europe Tour #5)

Time Flowing Backwards – The Danube by Emil Lengyel (A Trip Around My Bookshelf #12a)

Every travel book I ever bought has offered me the dream of somewhere else I would rather be. Whether it was a guidebook or travel narrative, the books are modes of transport that can carry me away to another world. Travel books offer the ultimate in vicarious experiences providing an opportunity to explore the world through someone else’s perspective. The hope of having such an experience was what drew me to the travel section at one of my favorite used bookstores, Loganberry Books in Cleveland.

Because Cleveland has one of the largest Eastern European immigrant populations of any city in the United States, Loganberry has a broad selection of books devoted to the region. I discovered these books in the history section as a sub-category within the European genre. On my latest trip to Loganberry, I also managed to find interesting volumes on Eastern Europe in the travel section. Chief among these was The Danube by Emil Lengyel, a book, and an author with which I was unfamiliar. I would discover that the book was fascinating and the author even more so.

Paddling with a pen – Books on the Danube

Paddling with A Pen – Following the River
Anyone interested in Central and Eastern Europe must come to terms with the Danube. It is Europe’s most famous river for a reason, as it runs through four capital cities, past countless castles, and historic sites, winding its way from the Black Forest to the Black Sea. The river has inspired great works of culture, none more so than the Blue Danube Waltz by Richard Strauss. It has also lent itself as a subject for authors looking to capture its essence. The single, most famous travel book about the river is Claudio Magris’ seminal work, The Danube: A Sentimental Journey From the Source to The Black Sea. The writing is a powerful combination of history and anecdote. This lyrical account rises to the level of poetry at times. Magris’ literary skill is on full display in conveying his journey along the river into the heart of Mitteleuropa and further downriver into its lesser known, but no less fascinating reaches.

Another important work came from Nick Thorpe, who did the same journey as Magris but in reverse. This resulted in The Danube: A Journey Upriver From the Black Sea to the Black Forest, an accessible account of the river’s natural and human conditions. Other writers such as Andrew Beattie in The Danube: A Cultural History offered an account of the peoples and places found along its 2,850 kilometers (1,770 miles) length. I own copied of Magris’ and Thorpe books, along with other accounts that linked to the river such as Patrick Leigh Fermor’s multi-volume account of his journey on foot from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. At important junctures in those books, the Danube makes a memorable appearance. None more so than when at the opening of the Between the Woods and the Water, when Fermor crosses the Danube via the Maria Valeria Bridge, moving in a matter of minutes from Czechoslovakia into Hungary to alight in the city of Esztergom. On several other notable occasions, Fermor finds the river’s shores.

Flowing through history – Castle above the Danube River (Credit: Lyn Gateley)

On the Verge – A Changing Riverscape
I imagine that hundreds, if not thousands of books have been written about the Danube and topics related to it in a multitude of languages. While the ones listed above are some of the best-known English language works, there are many more I have overlooked. I know this from firsthand experience after purchasing The Danube by Emil Lengyel. It reminded me that illuminating history and travel writing can be found in earlier works as well. One of the more fascinating aspects of Lengyel’s book was that it not only covered the Danube’s history, it also was a part of it. Published in 1939, the book is representative of the time. When Lengyel traveled down the Danube, Central and Easter Europe were on the verge of a World War that would make entire stretches of the river off-limits to tourists for years to come. Lengyel experienced the river right before the world through which it flowed underwent irreparable change. His journey also turned out to be a homecoming.

Lengyel had been born in Budapest five years before the turn of the 20th century. He came from an upwardly mobile Hungarian Jewish family. Lengyel excelled in school and studied law at university. His studies were interrupted by the Great War, an event that would change the trajectory of his life. He did not join the army until 1915, which meant he avoided much of the deadliest fighting Austro-Hungarian forces suffered during the early months of the war, particularly in Eastern Galicia. Unfortunately, Lengyel would also find himself stationed on the Eastern Front. In 1916 the Russians unleashed the successful Brusilov offensive. Taken prisoner and transported across Russia, Lengyel ended up in Siberia confined to a prisoner of war camp.

The camps could be just as lethal as the battlefield due to limited rations and disease. During his time in the camp, Lengyel contracted malaria and his hair turned prematurely gray. About the only thing Lengyel and his fellow soldiers had a surplus of in the camp was time. He used this wisely by learning French, German, and English. Lengyel would become so proficient in the latter that he would author numerous books with it. One of his most famous works, Siberia, came out a decade and a half after his release from the camp. His writing belied an extensive knowledge born out of experience in this frigid and often misunderstood frontier land. A prisoner exchange at the end of 1917, done for soldiers in ill health, brought Lengyel’s time in Siberia to an end.

Dusting off the jacket – Emil Lengyel

Eyewitness – Taking In The Turmoil
He eventually returned to Budapest completing a doctorate in law. Interestingly, Lengyel sought work in journalism rather than law, writing for newspapers in Budapest and Vienna. He then went to the United States where he covered American affairs for European newspapers. Lengyel eventually found his way to the New York Times, as a European affairs correspondent. The position afforded him a front seat to witness the turmoil of the interwar period culminating in the rise of Hitler and Nazism, this would inform the next phase of his life and career.

Click here for: Warning Signs – The Danube by Emil Lengyel (A Trip Around My Bookshelf #12b)

Time Does Not Fly – Eastern Europe’s Airport Experience (Eastern Europe & Me #16)

Whenever people ask me about my travels in Eastern Europe I usually talk about Budapest, Lviv Krakow or Sarajevo. The magnificence of the Croatian coastline or the delights of Bosnia. Something which will reveal a hidden treasure awaiting discovery. One thing I purposely fail to mention is the mundane and monotonous side of these trips. Such as the fact that I spend a good portion of my travel time waiting. If there is one thing that has been consistent across twenty plus trips it has been playing the waiting game. This entails waiting in airports, at bus stops, at train stations, on the metro and at restaurants. Waiting at passport control, waiting on luggage, waiting at the currency exchange, waiting to check-in, waiting to check-out, waiting for the day of departure, waiting to arrive, waiting for the return trip home. Travel is a waiting game. There are many ways to play it and no way to win it. The second I touch down anywhere in Eastern Europe the clock starts ticking. My entire travel life flashes before me in just two weeks. The time passes in a head spinning, mind bending, mesmerizing manner. There is only one exception to this rule, airports. 

Captive consumers – Passengers inside Budapest Airport (Credit: Ato 01)

Extortionate Prices – Consumers Held Captive
“Time flies” is a phrase used so often that it hardly elicits a second thought. Everyone knows this means time is passing faster than we can possibly comprehend. This is especially true when we are having the time of our lives. Ironically, there is one place where time does not fly, in airports. This is the one place on earth where a traveler can experience geologic time in action. Every process from check-in to departure moves at a glacial pace. This is the reason I have come to loath airports. The ones in Eastern Europe are not much different from the ones in Western Europe or America. They may be smaller and more crowded, but the travel experience is similar. In other words, it is irritating to the point of maddening. In my opinion, the entire process is setup to cause maximum consternation. In this regard, it never fails.

I have never been in an airport in Eastern Europe where the food and merchandise would be considered affordable by local standards. Everything is overpriced. A soft drink or cup of coffee is at least double the price outside the airport. Food is the same and sometimes even costlier. I have experienced this on multiple occasions at Budapest Airport. This rather modest one terminal affair still sells food and merchandise at prohibitively high prices. For some reason, I was under the naive impression that because Eastern Europe is much more affordable for westerners the airports would be a better value as well. They are not. It did not take me long to realize why. Anyone who lives in Eastern Europe that can afford to fly will cough up the equivalent of five euros for a cup of coffee. They are held captive to extortionate prices because they have no other options. Airports are distant from all other competition for food, drink, and merchandise. This is true from Budapest to Bucharest, Podgorica to Prague.

Small scale – Prague’s airport (Credit: Kenyh Cevarom)

Paying The Price – Eat, Drink, & Be Miserable
The exorbitant prices charged in airports are also possible because of the dreaded waiting game all passengers are forced to play. For many years I have vowed to purchase nothing more than a drink at an airport. Unfortunately, flight delays erode my willpower to the point that I find myself capitulating. Anyone who has been forced to spend extra hours at the Budapest Airport will know what I mean. Passengers waiting out delays are forced to eat, drink, and be miserable. These are first world problems, but they are still sources of irritation. How can they not be? Once the waiting game begins, the will weakens and so does one’s hold on their wallet. A great way to relieve anxiety is too purchase overpriced food . This is a sure way to cure anti-depression. There is nothing like lamenting an overpriced croissant harder than concrete.

I do commend Eastern Europe for having small airports. They are a throwback to the way flying used to be or at least that is what I want to believe. The problem is that with passenger numbers exploding since 1989, quaint has come to mean cramped. Comfort is sacrificed for a dilapidated sort of charm. The airports in places like Dubrovnik, Podgorica, and Thessaloniki are tiny by comparison to other European airports. This has an unintended psychological benefit for me. Smaller airports might be packed, but at least they do not have huge yawning spaces that make waits seem that much longer. It has been my experience that the larger the waiting area, the worse the wait. Vacuous spaces have a timelessness that makes the traveler feel as though they are trapped in a time warp. Minutes lose their meaning, hours become the true measure of time, and delays become everyone’s destiny.

Getting in line – Podgorica Airport (Credit: Rakoon)

Taking Flight – A Lesson In Patience & Gratitude
One side effect of delays is that they have helped me hone my people watching skills. I have seen cultural traits materialize before my eyes. These reveal greater truths. For instance, Eastern Europeans will tolerate greater levels of discomfort than those in the western world. That is because they have little choice. Anyone who has flown Wizz Air out of Budapest knows what I mean. The line for check-in is often little more than a melee that passengers tolerate with little complaint. The planes do not land at the gate. Instead passengers disembark on a tarmac that is often frigid or infernal. They are then packed inside a bus and shuttled to some anonymous entryway. They soon find themselves standing elbow to elbow with their fellow bleary-eyed passengers while awaiting luggage. This is met with a shrug of indifference. Stoicism is the preferred attitude to this accumulation of annoyances.

Considering Eastern Europe’s history of upheaval and hardship, airport inconveniences are certainly easier to tolerate for those whose ancestors were often forbidden to travel beyond their own national borders. For someone like me, who comes from a land of comfort and plenty, air travel in Eastern Europe is a lesson in patience and gratitude. The latter is especially important to keep in mind. The fact that in 2011, I flew from Budapest to Bucharest to Sarajevo in a matter of hours is nothing short of sensational when compared to communist era. As late as 1989 this would have been impossible. The experience was not as comfortable or leisurely as I might have imagined. The waiting game was just as excruciating as anywhere else, but the miracle of shuttling between countries that were once forbidden territory for foreigners makes me more than happy to play the waiting game. I just wish it was a tad less uncomfortable.

Click here for: Taken For A Ride In Eastern Europe – Hitting The Roads & Rails (Eastern Europe & Me #17)

Daring To Dream – The Greek & Roman Worlds of Dr. Walton (Eastern Europe & Me #14b)

Imagine if you will that a student of the classical world procured a copy of The Greek and Roman Worlds many decades ago. The book was used in a survey class they took on the subject. Unlike most college textbooks this one was enjoyable enough to keep as a ready reference. At some point, they retired the book to a shelf among many other volumes. The book sat there for years as the binding frayed and pages slowly turned to parchment. While on a yearlong study abroad in Eastern Europe they brought the book along with them. The Greek and Roman Worlds would come in handy when they traveled to Athens and Rome. They utilized the book as a guide to each of those cities and understanding classical history. Then one day they decided that someone else might find the book useful. The student traded it in for credit at Dani’s English Bookshop on Castle Hill in Budapest.  There it sat on the shelf for years.

Missing link – The Greek & Roman Worlds gap remains unfulfilled

Imagination & Inspiration – Legacy Project
English speaking locals considered The Greek and Roman Worlds a bit too high brow for their tastes. Only a handful of English speakers ever saw the book sitting there looking faded, forgotten, and forlorn. What those English speakers wanted was a guide to the history of Budapest or Hungarian history. What good would The Greek and Roman Worlds do them in Eastern Europe? The classical world was Mediterranean rather than Mitteleuropa. Little did they know that their stereotypical view of history was flawed. Not far from Danni’s Bookshop those disinterested visitors could have scaled Fisherman’s Bastion and looked down upon the Danube. On the Pest (eastern) side of the river, close to where the Elizabeth Bridge meets the Danube embankment, there once stood a Roman Castrum. Further upriver at what is now Obuda was the city of Aquincum which once had a population of 50,000. It was a vital part of the Roman province of Pannonia.

The classical world touched what is now modern-day Hungary in many places. The ruins of antiquity can be found scattered up and down the Danube. For instance, at Carnuntum in Lower Austria and Gerulata in Slovakia. The Greek and Roman Worlds made their presence felt far beyond the core regions in southern Europe. Likewise, the Greek and Roman Worlds were still making their presence felt in anyone who read the book of that same title authored by my close friend Dr. Brian G Walton and his colleague, Dr William R. Higgins. Just as the Greek and Roman worlds have transcended space and time to influence the world in which we live today, so too did the book. I should know since it is my avowed aim to find a copy. I have been in Danni’s bookshop on Castle Hill in Budapest on multiple occasions and the book was nowhere to be found. The scenario given above of the student who unwittingly brings the book to Budapest is completely hypothetical, it came courtesy of my imagination. And why not? Is such a scenario really that improbable? Nothing is beyond the realm of possibility for those who dare to dream.

The beauty of Byzantium – Mosaic of Empress Theodora in Ravenna, Italy

The Great Divide – Two Friends Between East & West
By the time I met Brian, his work on The Greek and Roman Worlds was well into the past. For many years, I helped Brian do research on a range of subjects beyond his academic background. He was a sort of pop culture polymath who found satisfaction in his later years doing data analysis of women’s roles in Hollywood films, creating an array of forgettable movie scripts that were somehow going to make us both famous, and dabbling in writing a zillion page novel about the soap operatic lifestyle of a car dealer in Georgia (the American state not the nation in the Caucasus region). If all this sounds bizarre, that is because it was. I can also vouch for the fact that it was good fun. Brian never lost his sense of humor, nor his interests in the classical world. The book that he and Bill Higgins wrote might have been relegated to obscurity, but he still spoke with reverence about the Greeks and Romans. He regaled me with no end of historical anecdotes. These tales led to my own interest in antiquity. Ironically, that interest was very different from Brian’s.

He was a historian of his time, dismissing late antiquity and the Byzantine Empire as a study in degeneracy. Mentioning Diocletian or Constantine, Justinian or Heraclius would elicit a frown. He believed that Rome descended into unrecoverable chaos during the Crisis of the Third Century. His interest was focused primarily before that period. For me, the later Roman Empire was where the fascination really started. The Byzantine Empire was an extension of this interest, one that I still carry with me. My interests and Brian’s diverged because of this. Ours was an east/west divide. If ever opposites attracted and clashed, it was because of our differing perspectives on what constituted the greatness of Ancient Greece and Rome. For him, that came at or near its peak. For me, it came during the empire’s decline and fall. Those troubled times when despite rampant chaos, resiliency trumped degeneracy. The Byzantines may have devolved down to a mere shell of the classical world, but they carried it forward into the future. When western Europe was descending into the Dark Ages, the Byzantines kept the classical world’s legacy alive.

The scholar – Dr. Brian G. Walton

Scholar & Student – Debts of Gratitude
If not for the Byzantines, I doubt that Brian would have ever written about Greece and Rome.  And if not for the Byzantines, I would not be on what has turned into a lifelong search for the book he wrote. We both owe a debt of gratitude to the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. On a more personal level, we owe a debt of gratitude to each other. Brian was the westerner and I the easterner. He was the scholar and I the student. He wrote the book and now I must find it or die trying. There are worse things in the world than to comb used bookshops in America and Eastern Europe in search of a single volume that means more than anyone can imagine to me. The Greek and Roman Worlds still exists. I know it is out there waiting for me. If I ever do find the book, I expect to regain the one man in my life who meant the most to me. Brian may have died in 2014, but he lives on. In the pages of his book and a place in my heart.

Click here for: Leaps of Imagination – Sighisoara Syndrome: The Eternal Citadel (Eastern Europe & Me #15)

An Elusive Search – The Greek & Roman Worlds of Dr. Walton (Eastern Europe & Me #14a)

We were spring cleaning in the garage. This was an annual affair and thankless task. The latest half-hearted attempt to provide a semblance of cleanliness and order to a chaotic mass of belongings. Old books were stacked haphazardly on dirty shelves. Many of the books were of little interest to me. I can still recall one on the Song Dynasty in China. None of the other books captured my interest enough to recall them twenty-five years later. Besides we were here to gather discarded items and take them to the nearby dump. We also gathered grime. This was a dirty business. Picking up boxes filled with all kinds of items that had not been touched in years. I opened one of the boxes to find piles of academic journals related to Southern History. I asked, “What are these?” His voice betrayed a hint of emotion, “I kept those for the girls in case they might want to read them when I am gone.”

I opened one of the journals and found an article by Dr. Brian G. Walton. Then I looked at the large stack piled high in the box. “Did you publish in all of these? “Yes, many years ago.” “Why did you stop?” He shrugged, “I lost interest?” He told me to set aside the box. It would stay. That was the first and only time I saw that box. Somewhere, perhaps with his widow or three daughters that box still resides. It also resides in my memory. I should have looked closer in that box. Perhaps I would have found the book I have spent over twenty years searching for. One day I will find that book. That is what I want to believe, what I need to believe, what I will always believe. 

Dreamscape – Library at Pannonhalma Archabbey in western Hungary

Going Back In Time – Booking A Trip
Whether it is a goal, a dream, or a hope, I try to find something to keep me focused on the future. For someone who spends an inordinate amount of their time looking back at the past, both personal and historical, it might seem strange that I would focus on the future. Paradoxically, I look forward to visiting places associated with the past. These are places that have deep personal meaning for me. Topping the list of these places are used bookstores. Used books are my portals to the past. The stores which sell them reconnect me with history. I have visited over a thousand used bookstores. These visits have given me countless moments of immense gratification. That is why I put them at the top of my list of places to visit during future travels. Used bookstores are part of the journey, they are also a destination. These are the places both at home and abroad where I find myself searching through stacks of second-hand books for volumes that will help quench my thirst for knowledge of Eastern Europe.

If I am in a city, the first thing I search for after checking into my accommodation is a nearby used bookstore. If I am on a road trip, several stops at used bookstores are planned along the way. In Eastern Europe, I try to frequent as many used bookstores as possible. During visits to Budapest, I always find my way to Museum Korut, where across from the Hungarian National Museum antiquarian bookshops line one side of the street. I go from one used bookshop to the next, inquiring about English language books. Sometimes these stores only have a shelf or two, but this interests me more than anyone could imagine. I am looking to discover a book that opens new avenues of interest about aspects of Eastern Europe. I cannot stand the thought that I might miss a book that has been waiting for me. On more occasions than I care to recount, I have left empty handed and strangely satisfied. The search then continues. It will not end until I find exactly what I am looking for, specifically a book that I have spent years trying to find.

Still searching – At a used bookstore in Eastern Europe

The Classics – A Lasting Connection
The book I am searching for resonates deeply with me even though I have yet to read a single word of it. The Greek and Roman Worlds by Dr. Brian G. Walton and Dr. William R. Higgins was published in 1980. I knew both men, but it was Brian’s influence upon me that was profound. I met him while at Western Carolina University where he taught history. Bill Higgins was his friend and co-author who taught literature at the university. The two teamed up to write this survey of the classical world. Since it was basically a university level textbook, the print run was short. This makes it a rare find, so rare in fact that I have never laid eyes on a single copy. It is my avowed aim to one day locate and purchase a copy. While I have done numerous searches on the internet for a used copy, these have turned up nothing. To be completely honest, the idea of purchasing a copy online does not really intrigue me. My goal is to find a copy gathering dust on the shelf of a used bookstore.

This is most likely to happen in America where the book was published, but that has not kept me from the dream of discovering a copy somewhere in Eastern Europe. This is the quest that keeps me looking forward. While the odds are not in my favor, I like my chances every time I step inside a used bookstore in Budapest, Prague, Krakow, Lviv and countless smaller cities in Eastern Europe. Each time my eyes scan a section of English language books in those stores there is a possibility that I just might come across a copy. I understand that this is an absurd leap of the imagination, but I believe that truth is stranger than fiction. And what could be stranger than finding Brian’s book sitting on a shelf somewhere in Eastern Europe? Well, there is one thing stranger than that, how such a book would have got there in the first place.

Click here for: Daring To Dream – The Greek & Roman Worlds of Dr. Walton (Eastern Europe & Me #14b)

Affirmation of An Obsession – Destiny’s Child: Stalking Alexander Asboth (Eastern Europe & Me #12)

The problem with an obsession is that it can control your life, first gradually and then suddenly. Every thought becomes consumed by it, every action relates back to it. An obsession does not just live with you, it lives inside of you. There is no escaping an obsession, wherever you go, the obsession travels with you. One becomes ruled by the obsession. This happens to such an extent that one’s personal happiness and self-worth become dependent upon the obsession. Satisfying an obsession can be a thankless task, but it can also offer immense gratification. An affirmation of an obsession can come at the least expected time in a far-flung place. Finding a previously hidden connection to an obsession can bring an incredible amount of pleasure as I discovered in Keszthely.

Meeting again – Alexander Asboth plaque in Keszthely

Headed Abroad – The Escape Outlet
My obsession is Eastern Europe. I carry it with me wherever I go. Eastern Europe might be far away from me geographically, but mentally it could not be closer. At any time, the region might materialize in my mind and sometimes right before my eyes. I am always on the lookout for some kind of connection to Eastern Europe. In most cases I fail to make these connections. Just because we want something to exist, does not mean we can make it into reality. The same holds true for imaginary ties to Eastern Europe. Just because I want to find connections further afield does not mean that they are anything more than loose strands. My need to find connections can create patterns of belief that only have meaning to me. And yet sometimes, I come across a connection to the region that manages to be both real and astonishing.

One of the oddest was a role reversal where my American homeland and a human link to a relatively obscure Civil War battle appeared on the side of a building deep in provincial Hungary. This one occurred while I was walking down a street in Keszthely, Hungary, a small, elegant city of 15,000 located on the southern shore of Lake Balaton. While strolling through Keszthely’s immaculate city center, I glanced at a wall where I noticed a plaque commemorating Alexander Asboth (Asboth Sandor in Hungarian). I immediately made my way over to the plaque where I studied it with a surreal sense of bemusement. I took to snapping photos of the plaque. Reading and rereading the Hungarian words written upon it to the point that I was able to roughly translate them. I knew the name and the face. This was none other than the same Alexander Asboth who was a commander in Hungary’s failed war of independence in 1848-49. Asboth had two choices when the war ended. He could either stay in Hungary and risk capital punishment at the hands of the unforgiving Austrian Habsburgs or try his luck abroad. Fortunately for him, there was an escape outlet.

Foreign field – Pea Ridge National Military Park

Predestination – From Pea Ridge to Keszthely
Asboth made his way across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States. His military services would soon prove useful as another revolution would soon take place. This one saw the south secede from the United States and form the Confederate States of America. Asboth chose to fight for the Union which valued his military experience. He would not make the same mistake twice in siding with revolutionaries. During the Civil War he was commissioned as a Colonel in the Union Army. He commanded forces at several key battles fought in the western and trans-Mississippi theaters. Of the greatest interest to me was that Asboth commanded at the Battle of Pea Ridge. This was where I first learned about him on a visit in 2002 to the battlefield in northwest Arkansas. Decades later, I was standing before a plaque commemorating this son of Keszthely for his military exploits. I could barely believe my eyes.

I am a believer in destiny. In my mind, Asboth and I were meant to meet again. Some would call it randomness, others coincidence, I prefer to think of it as a pre-destined fate. This was a sign, one that deserved further study. What was the meaning of my meetings with Asboth. Call me crazy, but this man was trying to tell me something or at least that was I wanted to believe. Was this a case of trying to conjure up a connection with only a couple pieces of evidence? Pea Ridge and Keszthely are not naturally connected. I would wager that these two places have rarely, if ever been found in the same sentence. Asboth’s life connected them. My travels brought them together once again.  Perhaps Asboth was reminding me of just how far I had travelled from the moment I first learned of him on the battlefield. I had done Asboth’s journey in reverse. Our paths crossed, if not in time, then in space. There are not many things northwest Arkansas has in common with a small city on the shores of Lake Balaton. Alexander Asboth is the only one I am aware of. Sharing these two places with him felt like an accomplishment

Distinguished citizen – Alexander Asboth after the Civil War (Credit: Mathew Brady)

Career Moves – For Life & Liberty
After discovering the Asboth plaque in Keszthely, I began to scan every structure along its main street with my eyes in the hopes of making another one. There were no more Asboths to be found. One would have to be enough for that day. Of course, this being an obsession I was left wanting more, much more. Obsession is the opposite of moderation. Obsession is about going to extremes. My search for another Asboth like connection would now be ongoing. Fortunately, there have been enough history making exiles from Eastern Europe that I was bound to stumble upon another one. Most likely, when I least expected it. Hungarians are only one of the many ethnic groups from Eastern Europe that have been forced to flee their homeland. Like Asboth, many exiles were forced to reconstitute their careers on the other side of the world. Some of them came to America long before Asboth seeking to save their lives and fight for a liberty denied to them at home. They were from Poland rather than Hungary and I would stumble into the places where they made American history.

Click here for: Where You Least Expect It – Discovering Casimir Pulaski in Savannah (Eastern Europe & Me #13)

A Way We Will Never Be – Esterhaza & Lost Possibilities (Eastern Europe & Me #10)

We all know you can never home again, but sometimes home pays us a visit far away from the place we inhabited during our childhood. And so it was at a family wedding in Mississippi where I saw my father for the final time, ten years before he would drop dead in a supermarket checkout line. When I learned of his death I did not cry. I probably never will. Some situations can never be saved, just as some are never worth saving. My relationship with my father was one of them. That did not keep me from subconsciously trying to recover some semblance of what had been lost or recreate what had never existed between the two of us. I did not haunt cemeteries, read obituaries, or call distant relatives to learn more about my father. There was no use. Our life was over before it had really begun. The calls never came, apologies never made, and both side laid blame.

My father was a distant figure who made extremely infrequent appearances in my life. I could count on one hand over a twenty-five-year period how many times I saw him. Those times were fraught with tension and anxiety. In each case, I tried to obey the parental advice “don’t talk to strangers.” The few times we met I was overwhelmed by a sense of disbelief that we might be even distantly related. I was only six years old when he left and my memories of him faded fast. What never did fade was the feeling of abandonment. This only became apparent to me as I grew older. That abandonment sent me wandering through the world. It took me years to realize that my travels, most prominently in Eastern Europe, were part of the search for something irretrievably lost. Ironically, the further I journeyed from home, the closer I got to finding it.   

Walking into history – Esterhaza

Restoration Without Recovery – A Partial Existence
He was a multimillionaire and an absentee father who left me, my mother and two siblings in what amounted to a mansion in the foothills of western North Carolina, one that we could barely afford to keep up. He retired in his forties to a yacht. He was living proof that money may not buy happiness, but it can buy you distance from your deepest fears. In the absence of my father, our family led a strange small-town existence. We lived in what looked too many like an idyllic existence, but it took everything we had just to keep the lights on. In so many ways this reminds me of those grand palaces in Hungary, such as Esterhaza, also known as the Hungarian Versailles. Esterhaza is found deep in the countryside of western Hungary, not far from the Austrian border in the village of Ferto. The palace’s exterior is a stunningly elegant example of Baroque architecture. The interior is a much different story.

History finally caught up with Esterhaza during the first half of the 20th century. When the Red Army swept through in 1945, the palace was pilfered. The family fled westward. The Esterhazy name, once the most elite in Hungary was suddenly a death sentence.  During the communist era, Esterhaza suffered from serious neglect before a restoration began. One which is in perpetual progress. Some rooms are immaculately restored, others in a state of partial restoration, while still others lay vacant. The restoration will never be fully complete because the splendor that once inhabited the halls of Esterhaza, now haunts them. The palace can never quite live up to its past. A way of life has been lost forever. The restoration may eventually be completed, the recovery never will.

A way we will never be – Inside Esterhaza

Life Expectancy – Equaling The Eternal
In its current form, Esterhaza has been partially put back together to provide a rough approximation of its glorious past, but there is no mistaking the fact that life left Esterhaza long ago. No matter how many square meters of marble still cover the floors, they will never replace what was lost. The palace’s value does not come from priceless material treasures, that is an illusion. Instead, the palace’s true value derives from aesthetic pleasures such as standing in the room where court musician Joseph Haydn led the performance of his string quartets. No amount of sparkling chandeliers can equal the eternal.  Haydn physically left the palace over two hundred years ago, but the love and inspiration of his creative endeavors can be felt in the room where some of classical music’s greatest works were performed for Miklos Esterhazy (also known as Miklos the Magnificent) and his guests.

A semblance of that genius still exists in those gilded chambers. The ambience is nothing short of spectacular and yet a sense of loss still permeates the palace. Life has left the building. The question of “What if?” hangs heavily in the air. What if the war had not happened? What if Hungary had not been overrun by the Red Army? It is cliché to say that “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone.” Well in the case of Esterhaza most are unaware of what Esterhaza really had to offer. It was less about lavish furnishings and more about life. Searching for the human side of Esterhaza today, is akin to chasing ghosts. I should know, since the search for them inadvertently brought me there and brought me back home.

Waiting for guests – Place setting at Esterhaza

Catching Up – Ghosts of a Possible Past
I have come to realize that the relationship with my father is akin to all that is missing at Esterhaza. By finding my way there, I was chasing ghosts of a possible past that existed deep inside of me. What my life would have been like with him is a “What if?” that will never be answered. That part of my life left long ago. Trying to find it would be painful and futile. I disowned the memory of my father long ago. Little did I know that it still lurked inside of me. Now I can see that it led me to Esterhaza as well as many other remote or abandoned sites in Eastern Europe. There is a reason I keep finding my way to these past their prime places. Some might say it is a love of history. That might be true. But it is not for the love of Hungarian history as much as it is my own personal history. That is something which I cannot escape. At Esterhaza my past caught up with me, my father almost did.

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Lusting For Life – Boldogko Castle: History Without Humanity (Rendezvous With An Obscure Destiny #40)

At the gates of Boldogko Castle I found a living relic of the past. A man was standing in front of me, on the cobbled walkway that led up to the castle interior. He was dressed in period clothing, looking like a cross between a monk, a sage and a weaponless knight. Dressed in all black except for a white cross emblazoned on his shirt, this man was the castle guide. He looked ever ready and extremely eager, as though he had been waiting all morning for someone, anyone to show up at the castle gates. Whether anyone wanted a tour or not, he was going to give them one. It was obvious he took his job seriously. The early morning temperature was less than freezing. While I was wearing multiple layers, including a toboggan pulled tight over my head.

The guide was bare headed, his clothes looked loose and thin, but he was sprightly and energetic, the polar opposite of the gloomy weather. I began to wonder just how many cups of coffee he had downed to achieve such a state. Then again, his enthusiasm seemed so genuine that I believed the castle and its history was his own personal meth. As such, he won me over not with his historical knowledge which was vast, but the seriousness of his enthusiasm. Here was someone who took history seriously. By his demeanor, I could tell that he believed his audience should do the same. As such, I was soon following closely on his heels, going upwards, to and through the castle’s interior.

The Hardcore - Guide at Boldogko Castle

The Hardcore – Guide at Boldogko Castle

Written In Stone – The Power Of Fragments
No matter how enthusiastic the guide, his tour lacked in one very important respect. He focused on the castle’s structure rather than the people who had created, owned and shaped its history over hundreds of years. This was problematic because though the architectural history of the castle was dynamic, with periods of construction, destruction and reconstruction the portions of the castle which existed today were neat, but did not form a cohesive whole. In that way, architectural history is much like human history, fragmented and chaotic. The problem with Boldogko Castle was that it had been partly demolished, not by an assault or siege, but during an occupation. After the Ottoman Turks had been forcibly removed from Hungary by the Habsburgs in the late 17th century, the Hungarians were at the point of rebelling against their Austrian overlords. The Habsburgs had fortress castles such as Boldogko blown up due to Rackozi’s War of Independence which lasted from 1703 – 1711. This was done to keep the Hungarians from using them in another revolt. Fortunately, not of all the castle was destroyed. Enough was still left that the castle could be partially reconstructed.

There was a gate tower and a south tower both reconstructed, a wing where the castle’s palace once was located, a mill bastion and another tower that went all the way back to the castle’s earliest days. All of this was interesting because it evoked the look and feel of multiple historical ages that had all but disappeared into the past. The castle was like a textbook of Hungarian history from the late 13th through the early 18th century, if only the guide could have interpreted rather than informed. What good did it do me to know the years that the tower was constructed or the many modifications the castle had undergone. What I needed was someone who could interpret the human soul and spirit that had made this place more than a mere prominence on a map. The architectural history divorced the castle from its human historical context. This resulted in a depth of meaning that never penetrated below the surface. Every part of the castle had a human decision behind its construction, but I never learned what those decisions were or why they were made.

The Cold Reality – Life At Boldogko Castle
Later I did a bit of research in which I discovered that the first owner of Boldogko Castle was likely the Amad family. They built the castle to guard the trade route between the Hernad Valley and the city of Kassa (Kosice Slovakia), as well as to exercise control over the surrounding estates. Unfortunately they made the mistake of getting on the wrong side of King Robert Karoly. The King turned the castle over to the Drugeths, a powerful family from Italy who were the largest landowners in the Kingdom of Hungary during the 14th century. Later there would be another foreign owner, the Brankovics, a Serbian family that was bequeathed the castle in return for Hungarian rule over Nandorfehervar (Belgrade). Among the other owners were a withering confusion of noble families full of strange sounding Hungarian surnames such as Czugar, Szapolyai, Rackozi, Pechy and Zichy. Their stays were all temporary, as was a more recent presence.

During the four decades of communist rule, part of the castle was transformed into a hotel. Our guide showed us this wing, which I found the most interesting, not because of any architectural features, but due to the fact that the patrons during the winter (if there were any) most have nearly frozen to death. The castle was drafty, dank and filled with a pervasive frigidity that chilled to the bone. The idea of staying in a castle might sound like a fantastical experience, but in reality it would be cold, hard and incredibly boring.  Visiting Boldogko Castle for a couple of hours was enchanting, a couple of days would have been irritating. The idea of Boldogko Castle as comfortable did not seem plausible, whether back during its historical heyday or now. It was built for security not leisure, to impose and impress with power. The energetic guide covered every room in the castle and interesting points to be found outside as well. The sum of his knowledge added up to a less than satisfying experience. All that information lacked the one main ingredient that can really move an audience, passion.

Path to the past - Boldogko Castle

Path to the past – Boldogko Castle

An Untold Story – The Human Aspect
To be fair to the guide, it was easy enough to inform visitors about what still existed, namely the structural aspects of the castle. All the people who had once ruled or inhabited the castle were an entirely different story, that was to remain untold. They were just as dead as the ages they had lived in. The human history of the castle could not easily be related. Understanding it required a deep knowledge of Hungarian nobility. Despite my feelings on this, I must admit that the guide’s charisma and emotion was a testament to his dedication and zeal for history. He served the castle well. The ability to bring its human past back to life was what he lacked. Of course, that is incredibly difficult, but at a place like Boldogko Castle it almost seems possible.

Click here for: Reaching The Point of No Return – Schloss Esterhazy & Haydnsaal (Rendezvous With An Obscure Destiny #40) 

Fellow Travelers – End Credits: Hungary (Eastern Europe & Me #4)

Do you watch the credits at the end of a movie? If so, then either you know someone who took part in the extremely involved and highly complex process of making a motion picture or you found something in the film that caused you to look at hundreds of roles, names, songs and locations in search of a specific detail. In today’s world, watching the end credits is a rare feat. Something that those looking for certain details can skip over since the internet is a storehouse of obscure information. Watching the end credits nowadays is an acquired taste. Those who do it might be an aficionado of filmmaking or a sadist trying to sate their appetite for specificity. Whatever the case, they are a rare breed that the information age threatens to make extinct.

On the inside – Reformed Church in Takos, Hungary

Indelible Images – The Memory Bank
Those in the film industry toiling in obscurity get 1.5 seconds or so of fame as their name rolls by during the end credits. The names might all be different, but the sheer number makes them seem all the same. The end credits help alleviate anonymity. Giving credit where credit really is due. It takes more of the anonymous than the famous to create a work of art. Without the anonymous a film would never get made. The same might be said for everything else in the world. Faceless and forgotten individuals propel the world forward each day. I have seen this for myself while travel in Eastern Europe. This includes all the people I have met for a few fleeting moments during those journeys. Memories of them are momentary and fleeting. We might interact for a few seconds or perhaps several minutes.

These people are not scene stealers, pickpockets, less than pleasant ticket takers or put upon hosts. The kind of people I would rather forget. No, they are the ones I recall at random. The ones who showed or taught me something if only for a few seconds. The ones who shook me out of the past or pulled me back from the future and forced me into the present. The ones who left a snapshot of themselves in my memory, indelible images of our interactions that reoccur to me for some strange reason. They are the signposts that lead back to moments that should have been lost forever. These are the people whose actions, expressions, and words will live forever deep in my mind.

Open door policy – Reformed Church in Takos, Hungary

Relative Anonymity – The Caretakers
They are the caretakers for churches who are nothing more than a phone number hand scrawled upon a piece of paper attached to a door. Rousted from domesticity, they arrive on their own time and appear as if by magic. They allow access to unimaginable treasures. Then, just as suddenly they return to whatever remote residence they inhabit. Now you see them, now you don’t. If not for such dutiful care takers I would never have seen the interior of an Arpad era church in the Budapest suburb of Ocsa or the intricate patterns adorning the interior of a wooden church in the obscure village of Takos. These women are the keepers of their village’s greatest secrets. Allowing visitors eyes and minds to be moved by sights they would otherwise never known existed if not for the kindness of a caretaker.

They are the ticket takers on Hungarian trains, some of whom are so indifferent to their duty that they do it without so much as a glance. Others prove that opposites are attracted to this job. Like the one I experienced on a railway ride from the city of Cegled back to Budapest. She scrutinized my ticket with an alarming intensity, then asked me a couple of questions in Hungarian. I replied with a look of perplexed indifference. She asked me again and I pointed at the ticket. She studied it once again with a laser like glare. I surmised that she thought the ticket might be less than valid. Fortunately for me, she could not quite make up her mind. After a couple minutes of furrowed brows, sighs, and suspicious eyes, she decided I was not worth the bother. Her sense of duty was a remnant of the pre-1989 age when rules always mattered. They still did, but only to her.

They are the unexpected helpers. Such as the middle-aged Hungarian man on the train to Nagymaros near the Danube Bend. His gentle eyes, relaxed voice, and pleasant demeanor were memorable to me because they were the exact opposite of the usual indifference most Hungarians show to foreigners. He was more than glad to help, but I cannot remember what I was asking for. That is not nearly as important as the gift of human kindness he gave to me. A few minutes of friendship that will stay with me forever.

A sneak peek – Reformed Church in Takos, Hungary

Acts of Kindness- Paradise Lost & Found
They are the attendants at the international ticket windows in Keleti (Eastern) station in Budapest. Those women who know how to read a potential passenger’s eyes and mind better than their words. My memory sometimes returns to a dreary evening, the station beset by dampness, the lone working attendant’s window besieged by weirdoes. A lengthy line of foreigners begging for a ticket out of this paradise lost. Through a thirty-minute wait in near darkness, I hoped to procure an early next morning departure to Lviv in western Ukraine. The attendant was able to decipher my scribbles, offer me the correct option, and provide a ticket to what felt for me like a journey to paradise. I could not have done it without her.

Those bus drivers who were kind enough to alert me that my stop had been reached. This was especially helpful in finding the pantheon of totalitarianism known as Memento Park where all the old communist sculptures and statues that once inhabited Budapest have gone to the afterlife. When the bus driver alerted me to the stop and opened the doors for departure, he made me an offer I could not refuse. Alighting onto a suburban sidewalk, I found myself a one-minute walk from a strange sort of cemetery, one that allowed the 20th century’s most murderous idea to stand alone and neglected.

The Hungarian flight attendant who allowed me to borrow her pen on a flight from Bucharest to Budapest. She worked for Malev Hungarian Airlines which would soon go bankrupt. I cannot remember why I needed a pen, but I can remember that I needed her kindness more. That is the only memory I have of that flight or her. The flight was just as fleeting as the airline’s future. The attendant will last with me until eternity. Her voice, her smile, her generosity. It was the latter that made me feel welcome. There are worse things to experience than small kindnesses and singular acts of hospitality. Hungary was full of them. I am glad I noticed.

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Metaphor & Mirror – From the Foothills to Fuzerradvany (Eastern Europe & Me #2)

I have spent years searching and finally come to the realization that I will never find what I have spent much of my life looking for. That is ok. I accept my fate. Acceptance does not imply that I will stop searching, but I have come to the realization that what I have been searching for is impossible to find. It was lost many years ago and can never be recovered. I am not saddened by this realization. I now understand that this is the inevitable outcome of a journey that I unwittingly took beginning at a very early age. Only as I grew older did I become increasingly aware that the search was doomed from the start. I do not find this realization troubling, instead it comes as a relief. Perhaps that is why I have enjoyed it so much and plan to continue this search as soon as humanly possible.  

Some people spend their entire lives searching for love, I have spent mine searching for something that was lost and it was certainly not love. When I was a child, my father left our home abruptly. This came without warning. If there was a warning, it never made any impression in my little world. I can still recall the moment my mother told me of my father’s departure. It was on a walk home from kindergarten. We had just crossed a set of railroad tracks that trains had stopped using long ago. We were now on the wrong side of the tracks both physically and literally. As we walked up one of the steepest hills in town, she told me that my father was gone. I do not remember anything else about that moment, at least anything I can admit to myself. This started me on a lifelong journey not to find him, but to find myself.

The Half-Life of Empire – Karolyi Palace in Fuzerradvany

First Steps – Discovery & Recovery
In retrospect, the moment my father left is fraught with finality. He never would return except for a few fleeting appearances. From time to time, he might appear in a red corvette (mid-life crisis) or driving one of the many “company cars” he bought for his business. Or he might show up at a funeral deader to me than the person who died. He appeared at my brother’s wedding as a strange sort of apparition that caused me to ask myself, “Is that man really related to me?” Awkward and creepy, disturbing and rather ridiculous, these appearances were calculated and fleeting, unlike his death. That was immediate and random, he was dead on arrival to me when I learned of it in the depths of a Dakota winter. This was the end of an affair, if there ever really had been one to begin with.

Of course, I was already involved in another affair, a lifelong one where an invisible force sent me searching in strange and obscure places trying to find myself. For someone from a dying textile town in the foothills of western North Carolina this was a step in the right direction. By taking it, I wrong footed my life and found a way out of a town fated with too many memories. Part of this was curiosity, not for my father, but a way of backfilling for that loss. This I now realize was the subconscious reason I fled as often as possible to Eastern Europe and still do. The trips started by watching tennis matches. Tournaments in places like Prague and Umag I found intriguing. Then came the travel guides. Flipping through what first seemed like fantasy fiction turned into a passionate pursuit to discover a hidden Europe. First it was reading to discover, then it was traveling to recover.

The piano – Karolyi Palace in Fuzerradvany

Decrepit Majesty – Standards of Living
I like to think the region is both metaphor and mirror for my loss. There was once such splendor and promise in those lands that I love. Much like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that happy historic place where I so often see myself at the turn of the 20th century. Never Imagining that I might fall somehow into the squalor and the pervasive impoverishment that could be found in so much of that sprawling polity. I imagine my life before the loss looking something like the Parliament Building in Budapest, electric, eclectic, and ecstatic. Never once did I imagine myself as one of those sweltering villages, crisscrossed with muddy roads, and potholes for its only prosperity. That I might end up stranded in eastern Hungary, sheltering in a derelict house with rain coming in through a thatched roof.

These two extremes have always been there, I visited each of them and neither quite lived up or down to my standards of living. Instead, I felt an abiding affinity for the creative destruction that occurred after the empire ended. Specifically, those crumbling aristocratic mansions sinking into overgrown fields. Palaces where the doors were stolen decades ago, the windows shattered with neglect, the inhabitants scattered by the ill-winds of two World Wars and a decrepit majesty still apparent after all these years. The beauty can still be sensed, the misery can still be sniffed, and the look of history is written all over these faded facades. A few of these have been restored to an approximation of their former glamor. Filled with hand me down antiques from distant storehouses, the sort of place setting that had come to occupy my heart.

Resurrection & restoration – Karolyi Palace in Fuzerradvany

Intense Trepidation – The Half-Life of Empire
Now I understand why I felt so at home in Karolyi Palace at Fuzerradvany, an anonymous village deep in the woods of northeastern Hungary. A place and a palace filled with the half-life of empire, the kind of residue that reminds me of my loss. A few period pieces in each room, failed attempts at splendor, reminders of what once was or might have been or still could be. There was a beautiful sadness in that palace. I was closer to that then my own father. The palace was a replacement piece for him and a puzzle where I could fit together disparate parts of my past. Creating a sum greater than the parts. There was the piano that never got played. The immaculately conceived portraits of family members with names no one could remember.  The bedrooms looked elegant and spacious or lifeless and lonely depending upon one’s perspective. The mood was never quite right. Disturbance was the only thing that could move you.

The wooden floors still creaked, the lights worked not when you wanted them to, there were no residents left, but if you listened long enough the ghosts could still be heard. Silences were penetrating, stillness maddening, and the memories burned low and hot as the candles that once lit the hallways. At a certain angle, the daylight streaming in through the windows offered a reminder that there was an entire world waiting outside to be explored, but in the room reality had long since been suspended in a state of perpetual tension. Time could only be told by a clock with no hands. It was fascinating and frightening. I felt a repellant attraction. Like when one sees a dead body for the first time at a funeral home and approaches the casket with intense trepidation in the knowledge that they must confront not only that person’s passing, but the inevitability of their own.

Decrepit majesty – Karolyi Palace

Coming To Terms – Restoration and Resurrection
The palace at Fuzerradvany reminded me of my life. I had to get lost twice just to find it in the first place. Located in the equivalent of the back of beyond, the palace is tucked into an area filled with hardwood forests amid a swirl of foliage. Why do tragedies always have such beautiful settings? I have found my way to the palace more than once. I consider this more than just a coincidence. Something drew me back there. I knew what it was, but could never quite admit it to myself, at least until now. I now realize the way to Fuzerradvany had long since been mapped out for me deep in my subconscious.

This was the architecture of my life. A beginning that was supposed to be brilliant (family life filled with promise and prosperity), followed by a series of self-inflicted tragedies (broken neck and substance abuse), left for dead (a series of false starts), then all but forgotten (wandering in the remoter reaches of America and Eastern Europe) followed by an astonishing comeback (career promotions and prosperity) followed by one last rupture. And now a life of exquisite decline. My entire life I have been searching and still never managed to find what I was looking for, but at Fuzerradvany I found something better, a metaphor for my life, a mirror into myself.

I have many things be grateful for, Fuzerradvany is one of them.

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