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On the Beautiful Blue Danube

Author: R.T. Budhram

Through the blue tinted windows in the rooms of Art'otel Budapest, my family and I gazed on the Danube River every morning. Its brown color transformed into one more favorable, more fitting, to Johann Strauss's waltz "The Blue Danube." Cyclers made constant use of the path on our side of the riverbank, ringing incessantly at posing tourists (at us. To be fair, the pavement was marked: half for walking, half for cycling). The Parliament building stood in clear view across the river. Illuminated until midnight, its beauty and magnificence seemed to dwarf that of anything I'd seen.

Upon stepping from the hotel we grew accustomed to the smell of sewage; our noses un-crinkled sooner with every expedition. But during most of these outings we walked across the Chain Bridge, and I whistled that brilliant waltz while we peered at the building (the largest in Hungary) and everything else. We craned our necks at the statues of lions that towered on each end of the Bridge. Tongueless, they roared as the river must have below and stood as symbols of power and protection. They stood in the way of those who dared oppose Hungarians' desire to be ruled religiously by anything other than Catholicism and its seat at the Vatican.

In the 1850s, the Chain Bridge was one of several built to connect two separate cities: Buda and Pest, pronounced "pesht." Art'otel (decked from top to bottom with "classy" [depressing] artwork) is in Buda. However, some of the best restaurants and shopping are in Pest. Pork is the meat of choice in Hungary, paprika, the spice and goulash, the dish. Variants of this dish are everywhere, as is palinka, a fruity and delicious liquor that is customarily imbibed in shot form upon entering others' homes. If there's any Hungarian custom I'll be sure to adapt when I've a place of my own, it's certainly this one.

In Buda, which is hilly as opposed to the flat Pest, we got a chance to see the city from higher places. Originally bronze statues turned sea green with age, cathedrals with intricately painted interiors, a castle built in symmetry with its Transylvanian counterpart...all of these, I took in stride. The people walking about them were more interesting. These people were kind and hospitable. Women were usually pretty and men were usually muscular, or so it seemed. The young (and plenty more) partied hard, and it was possible that the old (and plenty more) harbored prejudices.

Gypsies, people usually of Middle Eastern appearance in Eastern Europe, apparently live in ill repute in Budapest. Due to perhaps widespread perceptions in Hungary that these people escalate crime, that they hassle, harangue, and threaten, they are occasionally shunned. Given the fact that some make a habit of lumping people into groups based on appearance, I wasn't the only one in our party who wondered if we would be treated poorly during our encounters with the natives. In retrospect I don't believe that any such thing happened, but I know that rejection based on who or what I am would cut.

I found that one of the two English language news channels available in the hotel, Russia Today, keeps its mother country's rivalry with America alive and healthy. Among stories detailing Americans' ridiculous indignation over the Chinese origin of their representatives' Olympic uniforms, reports of outrageous American torture tactics, and bloody battle footage there were constant ads for a reality show called "Divers." In them, dumpster divers rooted through the trash of stores like Trader Joe's and made delicious-looking meals with perfectly unspoiled food while they rattled off statistics about exactly how much these organizations waste. Capping these messages were promos for the RT News app, which encourages viewers and users to "occupy Wall Street online!"

These perceptions and their overwhelming presence on an international news channel were eye opening, to say the least. I wished that we had such raw reporting in the stateside mainstream. But after long days with opened eyes, I started to brood. In the end, I switched to Japanese news in English. There, everyone was happy and innovative. (And yet, you say, it IS the most homogenous society on the planet. Yeah, yeah.)

DMU Timestamp: January 11, 2013 20:44

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