August 29, 2010
Your morning eggs in Budapest are served up in the frying pan they were cooked in.
There are no mosquitoes along the Danube (or Canada geese), but there are Biblical swarms of moths. They fly around your head, up your pant legs and, if you’re not careful, down your windpipe. Their one saving grace is their beauty. They have long bodies, curved antennae with beads on the end (like a Victorian brooch) and white translucent wings like the fairies in Edwardian illustrations.
Freud was a big coffee drinker.
Everywhere you go in Europe there are reminders of battle. For me, the bullet holes speak more loudly than the fortification walls or lookout towers. In Budapest, there’s German machine gun fire on the stone facades. Deep in Germany’s Bavarian Forest, near the town of Passau, wooden houses dating back to the Middle Ages still bear the bullet holes from the muskets of Napoleon’s army.
In the past, most Europeans were born and died in the same bed. Little square holes cut out above the doors of German peasant dwellings gave the soul a place to slip away after someone died.
Front doors with tiny hinged doors in the centre are a sign that someone with the plague lived and probably died there. They picked up their meals on a long paddle through this opening. It’s where we get the saying, “I wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole.”
One secondary school just off Andrassy St. in Budapest has produced 8 Nobel Prize winners to date. (Sorry, I forgot to ask the guide the name of the school).
Johann Strauss conducted his waltzes by waving around his violin bow. Strauss was the Paul McCartney of the 19th century. Women screamed when he walked on stage and sought him out backstage. His personal and professional lives were constantly overbooked.
German and Austrian churches have a Holy Ghost hole in the dome or barrel vaults high above the congregation. At just the right moment in the sermon when the priest was praising the Holy Ghost, a church worker, hiding in the attic, opened the trap door and released a dove. It swooped over the congregation, they gasped and watched it land on the altar where the priest slipped it a morsel of bread for a job well done. People couldn’t believe their eyes. It’s one of the ways the Catholic Church stayed in power for so long. When the Church’s numbers were slipping, the bishops met to discuss ways to draw the public back into the fold. Doves, more gold leaf, and larger organs seemed to do the trick.
People who live in huts with thatched roofs and no windows were blown away by the detailing in the church. How could you not believe in God surrounded by so much beauty?
Chocolate/jam, chocolate/ jam, chocolate/ jam, chocolate/ jam: The filling in a typical Austrian teacake.
Most outdoor cafés in central Europe place soft shawls or cozy blankets on the backs of the chairs so patrons don’t get cold while they sip on their fluffed coffees.
Hungarian women look beaten down by life. The Viennese look pampered. That’s what happens when you get five weeks paid vacation.
Hungarians love smoked pork knuckles, truffles, wild mushrooms, goose liver, juniper and gooseberries.
Horse meat sausages are a delicacy in Germany. During WWII, they were the poor man’s food. Today, beer is considered a food group. Liquid bread. That’s why there’s no alcohol tax on it, unlike wine.
Women pay to use the WC in Europe, but men don’t. Maybe it’s because the mechanics for us are more involved. Maybe we’re paying for our modesty. Anyway, paying to do your business goes back to medieval times when women walked around the village balancing a yoke supporting two buckets of sloshing shit. You stopped her when you had to go. She placed the bucket on the street. You sat on the bucket and she wrapped a blanket around you so that all anyone saw was your head (and your expressions!) When you were done, she slipped her hand in her apron and pulled out a wad of grass (toilet paper). You dropped it in the street when you were done and paid her for her services.
Austrian gelato aspires to Baroque grandeur and it succeeds. Its sundaes are architectural masterpieces! Hungarian gelato is just as ambitious, but misses the mark. Ice cream cones in Budapest look like great mounds of undulating lactose on overworked cones. The ice cream also looks like it was dipped in green or red liquid rubber.
Peasant women in the Middle Ages who lacked a dowry — even a few modest pieces of lace, linen or a set of dishes — survived this life by becoming nuns or prostitutes. The choices were that stark.
A one hundred mile stretch of the Danube disappears underground into a network of deep caves. Scientists have slipped on wet suits and tried to follow it, but so far they haven’t been able to do it.
The British artist J.M.Turner, famous for his misty pictures of the Thames, painted the Danube river valley several times. Unfortunately, the national collections in Britain, where these pictures are housed, keep the works in permanent storage. I think the British government should present them as gifts to the people of Austria and Germany where they would be proudly displayed, not deep-sixed.
Saints don’t rest in peace, they rest in pieces! Bah Hah!
Germans didn’t sweeten their tea and coffee until Napoleon introduced them to sugar beets. Not even with honey. They had to turn it over to the pharmacist in the village, on account of its medicinal qualities.
Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had a tattoo of an anchor on her left shoulder. She got it in her fifties. It was an odd thing for a royal to do in the mid-19th century.