Friday, January 4, 2013

We arrived yesterday, and today we are beginning to get oriented to the city.  I met the students about 10:30 and we walked to the Market close to Danko Utca.  I wanted them to see a local market before we went to the Grand Market next to the Szabadsag Bridge.  The walk was great.  Dappled sunshine peering through big fluffy clouds warming the earth and the air.  Still coat weather, but neither too hot nor too cold, it was lovely walking weather.

We arrived at the market after about a 6 minute walk.  We set a time to meet and went inside.  The students fanned out looking at the various produce and goods for sale.  This is a small market similar to a Farmer’s Market in the US, except that the stations are permanent and include a much larger variety of produce and groceries than a Farmer’s Market.

My favorite are the butchers.  It is so interesting to see what different parts of the animal are sold here in Hungary.  Pretty much everything except the squeak, cluck, oink, moo, baa, etc. is sold!  Would you like a calf tongue?  You can buy it whole!  Chicken feet?  You can get them by the dozen.  Kidney, liver, trip, head cheese, all piled up in luxuriously sized piles of richness.  Pork belly, 15 different types of bacon, pig feet, tails, etc. all shining clean and ready for your purchase.

I know that some of you are vegetarian, vegan, etc. and that the former paragraph may have grossed you out a bit.  It IS gross in the sense that many of the cuts of meat that are for sale are not the kinds of cuts that we typically use here in the US.  I won’t go into a justification of meat eating, that’s a much larger topic and I’m not sure I even want to try! However, I will say that I think the continental market butcher has a healthier approach to meat eating than the US butcher.  I don’t mean healthier in the sense of cleaner and less disease promoting among humans, but rather an attitude that seems to engender a bit more respect for the life given to provide the meat we consume.

I’m inferring this in part by the fact that the entire animal seems to be used.  There is little waste among these butchers!  Almost the entire animal is used whole and the parts that simply cannot be used whole are ground for sausage of some kind.  This parsimonious use of the animal’s life seems to me to be more respectful than the apparently “picky” selection of cuts offered in the US.  Perhaps I’m romanticizing this too much.  Perhaps the entire animal IS used in the US and we simply don’t see it.

However, the fact that you CAN see it in these Hungarian markets seems to me to offer the opportunity to engender respect in the observer.  When you see the entire animal there, on realizes that the provision of the meat required a death.  Understanding that sacrifice is likely to make a person more careful and respectful of the meat consumed.

How did I get off on this? I’m trying to write a description of what we did over the last few days and I’m caught in a reflection on differing practices of butchering and meat presentation.

Before I leave description of the neighborhood market, I want to comment on the fact that many of the vendors appear to be farmers from outlying areas.  Dressed in traditional dress, the women with a print dress, sweater, apron, and scarf and the men with dungarees, a shirt jacket and cap, they are much less sophisticated in the presentation, and tend to have the most seasonal of products.  It is very interesting to see them and realize that there still is a very simple and rural culture available in Hungary.

After leaving the market, we walked to the tram stop and hopped the tram for Blaha Luzja square.  We got there, and took the Red Metro to Astoria stop.  The plan was to get off there and then walk up Rakocszi Utca to Vaci utca and then take that famous shopping street to the Grand Market.  Well the best laid plans of mice and men!

When I stepped out of the Astoria station, somehow I got disoriented and we started walking the wrong direction, i.e. away from Vaci Utca rather than toward s it!  All I can plead is jet lag.  We walked about 30 minutes and nothing seemed familiar.  We walked all the way back to Blaha Lujza square again and I didn’t even recognize it.  We walked past the square and I still didn’t get it.  When I realized that I was lost, I began to find people to ask.  We talked to several who didn’t speak English very well and couldn’t show us on a map where we were.  I finally stopped at a Best Western Hotel and asked the Bell Captain he was so helpful!  Showed us where Vacit Utca was on the map—I knew that!—but also showed me where we currently were on the map—I didn’t know that!  He also showed us which bus to catch.

We got the bus and moved back to Vaci Utca without problem.  This time things looked familiar and I knew where we were.  We walked along Vaci Utca looking at the various stores along the way.  It really is an interesting sight with so many stores all aimed to the tourist lined up in a row.  It goes on and on.  We only walked half of it before we arrived at the Nagycsarnok, or Grand Market.

The Grand Market is similar to the neighborhood market in many ways.  The architecture is similar—built in 1896.  The lower floor is similar in the things it sells, i.e. groceries.   It is however, different in significant ways!  First of all, it is MUCH larger!  I would guess it is about 8 – 10 times larger than the neighborhood markets. There is also a much larger variety in about everything that is sold.   The upper floor has several restaurants as well as row after row of tourist items including leather, handmade linens of every description and size, dolls, prints, “secret” boxes, and on and on.  It is very interesting to stroll through them and see the various kinds of things offered for sale.  They are reasonably priced because of the competition.

Once we left the Grand Market, we took the84 trolley bus back to Kalvaria Ter and walked the last few blocks to the hotel where I left the students for the late afternoon.

I picked them up at 6:15 and we went to a concert at the Palace of the Arts.  This is the Budapest equivalent of Benaroya Hall in Seattle.  It was really fun to be there and the music was of a very high quality!  We heard Messaien’s L’Ascension, and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  The brass especially were featured in L’Ascension.  The entire first movement was an extended solo for the trumpet section; it was really beautiful.

This performance of Beethoven’s 9th was characterized by very rapid tempos.  Most of the time it gave a rather fresh impression that was quite enjoyable.  There were a few cases where I didn’t think sufficient time was afforded for the resonance of the notes—both instrumental and vocal—to sound.  The chorus was really wonderful and handled the inherent balance issues quite well in spite of being moderately sized.  I think there were about 70 singers.  They were all mature seasoned performers though and blended very well!  The soloists were all local musicians and quite good.  I was particularly impressed with the Baritone.

We rode Tram 24 back to Nepsinhaz and walked the few blocks to the Atlas Hotel without incident!

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