Saturday, June 23, 2007


Vienna was unspeakably hot for the first two days: then a titanic windstorm blew through early Thursday evening during which I fortunately happened to be taking a nap at the hotel; they seemed like hurricane-force winds to me. It cooled things off considerably and when I arrived in Budapest the next evening things weren't nearly as sweaty as they'd been. I've now visited three cities bearing the stamp of the Habsburgs: monumental architecture arranged more or less symmetrically with the predominant landscape (Trieste--the curve of the sea; Vienna--the low hills; Budapest--the Danube and the hills of Buda to the west, the plain of Pest to the east). All three cities have tortured political histories; all three were more or less bastions of the middle-European culture to which Jews contributed so much that they--we--made the mistake of believing assimilation was possible, had even taken place. All three bear the mark, for me, of a terrible absence. In Budapest that absence is personal: my mother was born here in 1942, and just two years later was forced to move to the Budapest ghetto with her grandparents, while her own parents went to the camps (which they both, miraculously, survived). So it's a strange place to be a tourist, to snap pictures of and stare at--certainly one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen, maybe even more beautiful than San Francisco, which along with Paris has always stood at the top of my list. I haven't actually visited the Great Synagogue or ghetto yet--that's on my list for tomorrow.

Vienna I haven't much to say about just now. It's beautiful, too, in its way, but somehow colder (in spite of the heat). I was moved by my visit to the Freud museum, and I love the art of the circle of Schiele and Klmit--the latter's Beethoven friezes in the Secession Building are stunning. I've seen some incredible art on this trip, and I hope it all filters down somehow--all this sheer weight of data I've accumulated--to some level where I can actually think about it, take it in, make it part of me somehow. Central Europe, I recognize you, somehow, and I feel lonely too.

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